Use it up! Wear it out!

Popped fender
I think that I have thoroughly worn out the fender in the middle…

Use it up! Wear it out! Make it do, or do without! –That’s the old cheapskate’s mantra, and one that it currently in use here on Idle Queen, where I am consistently trying to eke just a little more life out of each old component and piece of gear.

Not buying new stuff for the boat is one of the ways that I am trying to keep my boating costs in check, and it is a real uphill battle.  At every turn, there are shiny new pieces of boat gear just begging to be purchased.  It is true that there are a lot of things aboard old Idle Queen that really are quite worn and are ready to be replaced, but equally there are a lot of things that I just don’t need that I have to fight the impulse to buy and put on board.  For instance, there is currently a working anchor windlass aboard.  It is electric, and not a very large windlass, but it works and it pulls harder than I can by hand.  I want to replace it with a stoutly-built manual windlass that won’t require long runs of heavy electrical cable or place a big load on the aging batteries, but I don’t need it right now.  Instead, I should replace that rotten pile of dust that used to be a supporting member of the boomkin.  That is more of a necessity than the windlass that I want.

Keeping the boat’s actual needs prioritized and focusing my energy on actually whittling down the list from the most important to the least is a trying exercise in self-discipline.  I mean, shopping for, fabricating, and installing a new piece of spruce for the boomkin is hardly as much fun as shopping for marine electronics or even anchoring gear.  (I love shopping for anchors and gear–crazy, I know…)

I am trying to make as few trips to the marine stores as possible to reduce the temptation to get sidetracked on things that I don’t really need, and so far the strategy is working.  Staying out of the stores means that there are fewer opportunities to buy something on impulse.  I am taking that strategy further, though, by coming up with simple solutions to needs that I find aboard Idle Queen and reminding myself that I can go a long way with what is already on board, or even less.  Harry Heckle Jr., the original owner of Idle Queen, didn’t even add a windlass until he had been out voyaging for decades.  I don’t know how he dealt with hauling the hook up in a blow, but I know that I can rig up a block and tackle to a strong point to get almost as much mechanical advantage as some windlasses would provide, thus solving the problem with gear I already have aboard.

Getting Idle Queen out cruising again is going to be an exercise in frugality if I am actually going to make it work.  I will share what I learn as I go along.

New Sirocco Video

Just posted a new video to the Sirocco playlist on the Setforsea YouTube channel.  I have finally figured out how to cut bad parts out of the video and add narration.  Hope you enjoy this minute of footage from what was a glorious day of sailing.  At least it was, right up until a front came through and brought 30 knots of wind from exactly where we wanted to go…

Sailing out of season

Passport 40 wave
Pushing north under power on Pamlico Sound in winter.  The boat is a Passport 40.

I just returned to Oriental, NC, after helping to move a boat north to Annapolis, MD for a friend.  It is still a little bit early in the season to be heading north, and the crew was chilled by the biting north wind that slowed our progress.  Still, it was a successful trip made without any unpleasant surprises.

One of the most memorable aspects of that short (just under 360 miles in 4 days) trip was that it was marked by almost constant headwinds.  Our progress was slowed to speeds frequently below 4 knots, and to less than one knot for one short, but painfully slow stretch even though the boat’s powerful diesel engine was working hard enough to have pushed us at over 6 knots had we been in calm seas.  To have frequent northerlies at this time of year is to be expected, and we certainly had our share.

The same trip could likely have been made with warm winds at our backs in just another month or two, but then the anchorages and marinas would be crowded with others out enjoying the spring breezes.  In my own cruising life, uncrowded waterways and anchorages are among the reasons that can make cruising out of season an attractive venture.

I am often content to travel out of season and take my lumps.  It’s not even really necessary to get beaten up too badly by the weather.  This most recent trip was made through the contrary winds of winter in order to adhere to a schedule, but free of the push to be at our destination as soon as possible it could have been an easy trip even though it was still winter.  The beautiful days don’t come as frequently when cruising out of season, but for one who is willing to wait, there are still plenty of fair winds to be had even though the temperatures may be chilly.  One may enjoy the truly exquisite days when they do arrive with the additional satisfaction of having had to endure a little discomfort to “earn” them, and the uncrowded anchorage at day’s end or voyage’s end is shared only with the hardier of nature’s creatures.

Window dressing

Painted prop
Spray-painted prop recently spotted in a boatyard

The owner of this propeller has his boat on the hard and is doing some work himself.  Many of the other boats in this yard have propellers that have been cleaned and even polished to a nice, bright bronze.  I saw this boat when it first arrived, and it had obviously been neglected for some time.  The prop was covered in barnacles.  It seems that the owner looked around; saw the bright wheels (propellers) on the boats around him, and formulated a plan to make his look like the others.  That plan obviously involved a can of shiny, metallic-colored spray paint.  If you click on the picture above, you can see the spray paint overspray on the shaft.  Well, that is a quick way to get a shiny propeller, but I don’t think the spray paint is going to hold up well underwater.  It also seems that he is missing the point of cleaning up the propeller–to get better motoring efficiency.  Or, could it be that this guy knows something I don’t?

I don’t plan on any of this sort of window dressing for Idle Queen–no shiny bits intended only for show.  She’s going to be rough and ready…  Maybe more towards “rough”…

Lessons Learned-Overhangs

Pearson Vanguard Merry Way
Here I am on my first floating home.  Note the graceful stern.

My first cruising keelboat, a very experienced Pearson Vanguard named Merry Way, played a big part in shaping my current opinions about what traits are truly desirable in a cruising sailboat.  Merry Way wasn’t exactly the boat that I had wanted at the time, but she was the best boat that I could afford.  As it turns out, to this day she was the most expensive boat that I have ever owned.  Where to spend my cruising funds was one of the things that she taught me–an important lesson, as these days I don’t have nearly the money I did when I was working full-time as an engineer (as I was when I bought Merry Way).

Here are the some of the important particulars of the Pearson Vanguard:

LOA-32′ 6″    LWL-22′ 4″    Beam-9′ 3″    Draft-4′ 6″   Displacement-12,000 lbs (actual weight; brochure lists 10,300 lbs)    Sail area-437 sq ft.    

Sailors spend a lot of time looking at those numbers for different boats and comparing the numbers from one boat to another.  They give a pretty good overall feel for the size, heft, and power of a boat.  

In this case, one of the things that can be seen in the numbers is that the Vanguard has long overhangs–the difference between the LOA (Length OverAll) and the LWL (Length WaterLine).  The Vanguard’s overhangs are over 10′, or almost a full one-third of her overall length.  That’s a lot of boat hanging in space above the waterline just looking pretty (and I admit that it felt great to be told how beautiful my boat was by passers-by!).  When it comes to a cruising sailboat, however, all of that overhang is mostly just wasted length.  It is true that the stern wave will come up under the counter (stern overhang) of a boat like this to increase its apparent waterline when it is moving, allowing a higher top-end speed for the boat, but that be achieved more effectively by just getting rid of the overhang and actually lengthening the waterline by design.  The long overhangs were put there mostly to help the boat achieve a favorable rating under an old racing rule. 

 The characteristics that caused me to grow to dislike the long overhangs of the Vanguard affected everything from the maintenance to the sailing, and even the habitability of the boat.  The first thing that I noticed on my trip home was that the long overhangs contributed to “hobby horsing”–where the boat tends to pitch when traveling into a sea.  Rather than just riding up and over the waves, the bow would first soar up into the air, and then then plunge down in the troughs, adding an uncomfortable element to the already uncomfortable exercise of trying to sail or motor upwind.  The excess pitching slowed the boat, prolonging the agony of having to endure adverse conditions.  Merry Way often behaved like a rocking chair, with the bow continuing to rise and fall even after a wave had passed.  The pitching was made worse by having cruising gear such as anchors and solar panels near the ends of the boat, but storing gear near the ends is necessary on a cruising boat.  I tried to put only light objects there, but even a few pounds contributed to the problem.  

Maintaining the boat was more difficult because of the overhangs.  Keeping the hull clean in the area where the stern overhung the water required feats of acrobatics.  That area needed frequent cleaning because of water splashing under there which caused algae to grow on the topsides.  I spent hours hanging upside-down from my legs while I reached way under the back of the boat to scrub off weed and grime.  I tried doing it from the dinghy, but couldn’t reach all of the hull.  I tried a brush on a stick from the dock, but the long lever arm reduced my scrubbing pressure to almost nothing.  It was easy to clean when the boat was out of the water, but that only happened once per year.  Hanging over the rail was the most effective method of cleaning that area of the hull, but I always ended up with bruises for days afterwards from draping my body over the edge of the boat.  

I have heard others complain about the noise made when wavelets slapped under the counter, but I didn’t mind them.  Every once in a while, though, a big wake or an ocean wave would get under there with a solid thump that was impossible to ignore.

The overall effect of having a boat with long overhangs in a cruising boat is to cause the boat to become apparently smaller.  The ends would optimally be kept empty to avoid hobby horsing, but that isn’t practical.  Waterline length is reduced–even if the stern wave comes up under the counter, the bow still has unused overhang not contributing to waterline length.  This reduces the speed potential of the boat, as the longer the waterline length of a boat, the faster it can move through the water (we’re talking about displacement boats here that don’t get up on the surface of the water and plane).  Basically, the Vanguard is functionally similar to a heavy 25-28′ boat.

This isn’t all meant to sound overly negative.  I lived with the quirks of the Vanguard for a few years and sailed many enjoyable miles on that boat.  The sweeping overhangs paired with the beautiful sheer drawn by Phil Rhodes are beautiful to look at, and that is worth something.  The Pearson Vanguard is a pretty good sailing boat if she is kept light, especially in the ends.  It is still a reliable, old-school racer/cruiser design that can be pressed into more serious cruising service, if one is willing to accept the tradeoffs.

From the past- My First Cruising Boat

Merry Way at Dutch Wharf
Merry Way at her home dock in Branford, CT

I bought my first cruising sailboat 2001.  I had owned a couple of smaller boats, having bought my first boat when I was 14 (a Newport 21), but ever since I could remember I had wanted a cruising sailboat that I could actually live on.  I lived in an apartment, and then a house after graduating college, but soon grew restless.  Living more than a 30-minute drive from the water wasn’t where I wanted to be.  I had always lived close to the water, but I really wanted to be on it.

Searching for a boat suitable to turn into a floating home became almost an obsession.  I would comb classified listings in print and online.  I immediately flipped to the back sections of magazines to look at boats listed for sale.  I started driving to marinas up to 10 hours away on my weekends to look at boats that I had seen advertised and to walk the back rows looking for others that might be for sale.

From years of reading sailing books I already had a good idea of what I wanted.  I focused on “classic plastic” sailboats between 28 and 35 feet long of the type that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s–mainly “CCA” type boats with moderate beam, cutaway keels with attached rudders, and long overhangs.  These boats were solidly built and I felt that they offered a good value and go-anywhere strength.

Merry Way 1On one long day trip to Florida, I found a Pearson Vanguard 32 with a “For Sale” sign on it.   Her owners were serious cruisers, and had outfitted her with solar panels, radar, mast steps, a tillerpilot, and a cockpit enclosure.  She was in pretty good overall condition and was priced reasonably.  A deal was soon struck and I was suddenly the new owner of a proper cruising sailboat!  She was my key to adventure; a floating realization of a long-held dream.

My brother and I brought that Vanguard up the coast from Florida to Connecticut in February and March.  It was cold and rough and I only had two weeks off from work, so that meant a lot of long days of powering into biting north winds.  It seemed that I didn’t need a chart or compass–I could just point the bow directly into the wind, and that was where we needed to go!  The full cockpit enclosure was praised again and again.MWay 2 April 30, 2001

An offshore passage from Norfolk, VA to Sandy Hook, NJ seemed like a small challenge for my sturdy new boat.  We headed offshore in pretty good weather, and motored straight for the entrance of NY harbor.  That night we were hit by an awful squall.  We were motorsailing along with most of the genoa out when my brother called me up to take a look at something strange.  I peered into the gloom and could see what looked like a bright patch on the water, sort of.  After a couple of minutes, it became apparent that it was actually a white line just above the horizon, and it appeared to be getting closer.  We quickly secured all sail.  Just seconds later, the boat was laid over on her beam ends with no sail out.  I revved the engine and pointed our bow into the wind and spray and Merry Way came back upright, but the wind was so strong that the boat was being forced down into the surface of the sea.  Water was gushing up through the cockpit drains!  (Water never backed up those drains again in the time I owned that boat–even with 5 or 6 guests onboard for daysails.)  It was all over in a few minutes and we continued on over a confused sea with lots of rolling and banging around.

The next day, I found a huge crack in one of the Sta-lok backstay insulators.  It was hanging on by a thread and ready to go at any minute.  I quickly rigged a support for the backstay by tying lines from above the insulator to the aft mooring cleats.  I also cranked down on the topping lift and main halyard aft.  We made it in to Sandy hook without further problem and anchored to catch up on sleep.

The 12-hp Yanmar had its biggest test on the last stretch of the trip.  First, there was the East River.  At one point, people in wheelchairs in a riverfront park were moving faster than we were.  Then, once we made it to Long Island Sound, there was an ENE wind to contend with.  Well, actually, it was a gale of wind.  I had to be back to work, so we pushed into the teeth of it, motorsailing back and forth across the sound trying to make headway into the steep seas and bone-chilling wind.  If you ever want to test out a boat, I can recommend taking it to the west end of Long Island sound during a NE gale and waiting for the tide to change against the wind.  That stretch of water gets rough.  It took us two and a half days to make it to Branford, CT from NY city, which is double what it usually takes for even a relaxed trip in settled weather.

All that was just on the trip home.  I lived on that boat through two winters in Connecticut, and had plenty of other sailing adventures before finally selling her and moving back ashore for a short while because the marinas in the area where I was living stopped allowing people to live aboard their boats.

Merry Way at Jeckyll Island, GA
Merry Way at Jeckyll Island, GA