If You Don’t Keep It Small, At Least Keep It Simple

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen
Idle Queen dockside.  This project is just beginning.

I frequently question my decision to move to the larger Idle Queen from my last boat, Sirocco.  After all, I am still very much enamored of Sirocco, and I have long been a proponent of smaller boats.

Not many people would consider Sirocco a complicated boat in her present configuration.  She has pressure fresh water and refrigeration, sure, but her windlass is manual and her compliment of electronics is adequate but simple.  Even so, she is more complicated than my “new” boat, Idle Queen, which has only a bare minimum of modern fittings aboard.  Idle Queen is missing many of the standard items found on modern sailboats, like roller furling, a winch for each jib sheet, and more.  She has only two seacocks below the waterline.  She is lightly powered, with her engine providing just over 1 horsepower for each ton of displacement.  The cabin sole is painted plywood instead of teak and holly.  Much of her paint comes from the hardware store.  These details aren’t very “yachty”, but they help offset the added expense of having a physically larger boat when it comes to maintaining and operating her.

I explained why I am moving to a larger boat in a previous post (see here).  The additional room aboard the larger boat will allow me to carry everything I need for more expended trips away from yachting centers.  Wonderful.  The big challenge, though, is that my budget for maintaining this boat is no larger than what I had before.  If anything, it is smaller because of the money that I spent this winter having a car in this area.  Cars will keep you poor.  I plan to make up the difference by not complicating Idle Queen one bit more than necessary.

So, specifically, how am I planning on closing the budget gap?  For starters, I am going to live with the unique interior of Idle Queen as she is for a while.  Harry Heckel Jr., the original owner, built a custom arrangement down below that is far from the traditional small sailboat layout.  One of the first things that I wanted to do with Idle Queen was to change the layout to one with parallel settees in the main saloon instead of the dinette that is currently onboard.  I can eliminate a huge expense and time-sink by just keeping the arrangement the same for now.  I’ll be losing some storage space, but the current arrangement has worked for two circumnavigations so far.

The tanks on Idle Queen almost all need replacing.  The two exceptions are a little 10-gallon fuel tank, and one polyethylene water tank.  The current plan is to make up the difference with portable tankage.  For water, I will carry as many 3-4 liter water bottles as I need.  I have been doing this for quite some time now, beginning when I discovered that the fiberglass water tank on my Contessa 26 was unusable for potable water.  I bought 20 gallons of drinking water in bottles at a cost of about $20, and have had 20 gallons of cleanable, portable, re-usable water tankage ever since.  I used the same bottles on Sirocco to supplement the tankage onboard, and I see no reason to abandon the system now.  I can empty the bottles into the small gravity tank that supplies the galley faucet to produce running water.  On the diesel tankage side, the little diesel engine on Idle Queen will run for about 30-40 hours on the currently usable 10-gallon tank.  I plan to build secure below-decks storage for an additional 20 gallons of diesel tankage in the form of 5-gallon jerry cans.  If I need more tankage, I can always expand the storage scheme.

For lighting, I know that there are many sailors who, in the name of simplicity, have stayed with kerosene lanterns.  Some have even kept their boats free of any installed electrical system.  My current plan is not quite as low-tech.  LED lighting has finally come down enough in cost for me to decide to use LED lights for the main cabin lighting solution aboard Idle Queen.  There will be a minimum of wiring involved, and it will all be accessible.  I will keep the current fluorescent fixtures until they cease to function before spending money on new fixtures, and I will probably end up assembling my own lighting fixtures rather than spending on the ridiculously overpriced marine lights currently available.  A few years ago, I compared the cost of changing Sirocco over to all LED lighting versus just buying enough solar panels to run the incandescent lights that she already had.  It was much cheaper to just buy more solar generating capacity.  Now the cost of LEDs have come down enough to make them an attractive option.  I already have 50 watts of solar panels on Idle Queen.  My goal is to keep my daily consumption under what they can supply.  I will keep a couple of kerosene lanterns around just in case lightning takes out the electrical system…  Backup systems are important.

There are a few other items that I will be going without that make it onto the “must have” list for many cruisers:  items like refrigeration; roller furling; a bimini; an autopilot (IQ does have a windvane); and so forth.  If I can pick those items up for little money along the way (or better yet–free!), then it’s not like I am opposed to having them.  I just need to keep reminding myself that the most important things to take care of on the boat are keeping the hull sound and the running gear strong and functional.  Almost everything else is just budget-eating, boat-cluttering stuff that can probably be lived without.

Interview With Dutch Yacht Selena After Mast Loss

Oriental has a bit of a reputation as being a place that sort of sucks people in.  All sorts of folks show up here planning to only stay a day or a week, but for one reason or another they end up staying longer… sometimes much longer.  This lovely little town is full of stories of folks who came to visit, and later ended up buying property and settling down.

Bas and Selena probably knew that they would be here for more than a few days when they pulled in.  Their sailboat, Selena, had lost her mast hundreds of miles from the coast while sailing up from the BVI’s, and then suffered major engine damage when two engine mounts broke from the cast block of their forty-three-year-old British Motor Company engine.

To watch the following video interview with better quality, please see it on YouTube here.

Bas and Monique are enjoying the friendly atmosphere of Oriental, but also wondering how they will be able to sail their boat back home.  Selena is a lovely yacht, and it would be heartbreaking for them to have to give her up due to their recent misfortune.  When visiting aboard, it is immediately obvious that much time and attention has been given to Selena throughout the 43 years since she was first launched.  Bas was friends with the original owners and has been sailing on Selena ever since 1970.  Now I am trying to spread the word to help them find a new rig to bring Selena home.

To read more about Selena‘s “adventure”, please see my previous post here.

Visiting Dutch Boat Loses Mast 330 Miles From Beaufort

Visiting Dutch sailors Monique and Bas discuss their predicament
Visiting Dutch sailors Monique and Bas discuss their predicament

Last week, while sailing Idle Queen back to her slip after a short daysail on the Neuse River, I greeted a couple on a Dutch-flagged boat.  The man in the cockpit waved as we glided silently by.   I motioned at the mop handle that they had rigged in the place where their mast should have been and said that there must be a story to go along with it.  He said that there was, and that I should come by to hear it later.

A couple of days passed before I saw them again, as I was busy working on preparing Sirocco to go back in the water.  I was happy to finally catch up with them, as they seemed like very friendly people who obviously were having more than the usual share of boat trouble.  I was invited onboard Selena, their 33′ steel sailboat, introduced to Bas and Monique, and offered coffee and tea while Bas recounted his tale about what happened to the mast.

After visiting the BVI’s together, Monique flew home to take care of some things while Bas headed north toward Beaufort, NC.  During the trip, Bas had been experiencing the usual varied weather that comes this time of year, but nothing terrible.  Daily runs were good–up to 140 miles with his Aries windvane doing the steering.  On March 26, the wind began to pick up a bit to force 6-7, which is not bad, but against the Gulf Stream the seas soon grew to steep, short-period 10-footers that made life aboard challenging and uncomfortable.  This was nothing worse than what Bas and Selena had been through before, though.  Bas thought nothing of the conditions, and just worked through all of his daily chores, such as cooking and writing the log, with one hand while he held on with the other. (Brings a whole extra level of meaning to the term “singlehanded”, eh?)

Things took a turn for the worse at 0330 (why does everything bad happen then?) on Wednesday, March 27.  Bas was down below when he heard a big bang, and the boat’s movement suddenly slowed.  He knew what had happened before he even made it on deck.  His mast had gone over the side and was now hanging suspended by the twisted rigging.  When he got on deck to survey the damage, he was greeted with, in his own words, “a surreal sight, in the light of the half moon, in the clear blue water–a mast with sails upside-down.”

After briefly considering what to do next (“What now, sit down and cry, activate my EPIRB and wait to be rescued?”), he knew that he must fight to get back to shore on his own.  He acted quickly to free the rigging, as the sea state was still rough and the mast and boom were banging against the side of the hull.  He studied the situation and concluded that there was no way to safely retrieve any of the gear.  Bas disconnected all of the rigging and let his mast, boom, sails, and radar drop 4,000 meters to the ocean floor below.

Bas called Monique with a satellite phone that she had given to him as a present to help stay in touch.  He told her that he was 330 miles from the Beaufort inlet and that Selena was now a motorboat.

Soon after calling Monique, there was another loud bang aboard Selena, followed by hissing.  The liferaft had inflated and blown overboard and was now trailing at the stern!  Bas struggled for four hours to successfully get it back on deck and secured.  He then rigged the mop handle on the mast step and to it attached a running light and his spare VHF antenna.  Now, only to motor over 300 miles to the coast…

The engine was in good condition, but Selena did not carry enough fuel to make it to shore.  Bas motored to within 40 miles of Beaufort and then radioed the Coast Guard, who brought extra hands and sufficient diesel fuel in jerry cans to get him to Beaufort.  Selena suffered some damage when the cutter bumped heavily against her side in the still-rough sea, but that was not a big problem.  The bigger problem arose when Bas was told to put the engine in gear to move away from the side of the cutter.  Nobody had noticed that one of the Coast Guard sailors had left a line trailing in the water, but Selena‘s propeller soon found it, stopping the engine with a thump.  With the engine now out of commission, the Coast Guard towed Selena in the rest of the way.

Bas had nothing but good to say about his experience with the Coast Guard.  They were friendly and courteous as well as going about their work in a professional manner.  He said that they were very apologetic for the extra damage and offered him forms for the repairs to be covered by insurance.  Bas was surprised when Coast Guard sailors would come by just to chat and hear his story while he was in Beaufort deciding what to do next.

After recovering for a short while, and having Monique rejoin him, Bas decided to continue north up the ICW.  They motored out of Beaufort with a battered boat, but grateful that things weren’t worse.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that there was more damage to be discovered.  While motoring through Adam’s Creek Cut, Monique smelled burning coming from the engine room.  It turned out to be coming from the shaft packing.  On closer inspection, the root of the problem was worse than expected–the two rear engine mounts had broken from the casting of the engine block.  This was a major problem, as the engine was English-built (BMC, British Motor Company) and almost 45 years old.  The chance of locating parts for it was next to zero.

Selena out of the water for repairs.
Selena out of the water for repairs.

Selena made it to Oriental under her own power, and Bas and Monique took her to Deaton Yacht Service to begin working on getting at least the engine in working condition.  Bas says that if they are not able to find a solution to at least mounting the engine that they would just have to let the boat go, as an old steel sailboat with no rig and no engine is not worth much, and re-powering would be cost prohibitive, as Selena‘s insurance refused to pay for the rig because Bas was alone on the boat when it failed.

So, now Bas and Monique are stuck in Oriental with time ticking on their visas.  The yard is working on the engine while Bas and Monique work on other repairs.  They have been able to explore the area a bit, but they are growing anxious about what to do next.  One of the biggest questions is how to get the boat home next season.  Crossing the North Atlantic west to east is not a passage to be taken lightly.  As Bas said, they have already done the easy part (the east-to-west crossing), and now the challenge is to get home again safely.

One of my first thoughts after hearing this story was that there must surely be a good rig somewhere here on the east coast that could be had at a fraction of trying to re-rig Selena with new gear.  Hundreds of boats have been wrecked in storms in the past few years, and I am certain that someone wants to sell their “used but good” boat parts.  What is needed is everything above deck-level:  mast, boom, sails, spreaders, wire–all of it.  If we can find  a rig in good condition, I am sure that Bacon Sails of Annapolis or somebody similar would have sails at a reasonable price.  I am asking anyone who knows of anyone selling a rig to please comment here or contact me through the contact form here.

Links to marine salvage yards and the like are useful.  Please send along anything that you think might be helpful.  For instance, surely someone knows of a 32-34 foot boat somewhere that was totaled but still has a good rig.  Bas and Monique are not looking for free stuff, but rather something that is more modestly priced than buying it all new.  They are a wonderful couple and I hope that we can help them avoid having to give up their boat.