Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Dutchman

Flaking is folding a sail back and forth so it lay without wrinkles and creases. The Dutchman Flaking System is meant to do this for the mainsail automatically "once it's adjusted properly," as the manual states. Speakeasy has a Dutchman system, which isn't adjusted properly. It's also based on old lines, some of which have signs of chafe.

During the trip back from Michigan, the wind picked up so we decided to reef--something we had just learned how to do. Reefing reduces the sail area exposed to the wind and can produce a smoother ride that puts less pressure on the sail and the passengers. However, once the sail was reefed the Dutchman control lines were chaffing against the sail. I was concerned that the sail would be damaged and attempted to adjust the Dutchman lines. When I attempted to get the adjusting line out of a cleat, it snapped. We lost the adjusting line and the topping lift that holds up the boom. That was enough sailing for the day. We brought in the sails and motored the last 5 miles to Monroe Harbor.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Power of Group

A group of sailors from Columbia Yacht Club got together over the Memorial Holiday weekend for a sail, party, and any boat challenges they could find. This is the first big sail of the season and most boats are just back in the water. Any of the boats could have some little issue with rigging, engine, and so forth. Speakeasy and her crew made the sailors weekend. We had enough inexperience to need all sorts of help and had lots of challenges for the sailors.

I had just replaced both the number 1 and number 2 batteries before the 37-mile trip to Michigan City. Nonetheless, I still had the same problem I had before I replaced them--the number 1 battery showed no power, offered no power, and couldn't charged. Word spread fast that I had a power challenge. Not long after we docked, George offered to help. Armed with his voltmeter, he tested the batteries and switch. He also checked my installation work. In a few minutes he suggested I test the switch by reversing the cables to the "1" and "2" switch points. This I did, which convinced me that the switch was fine.

The next day, Woody got wind that I had a power problem. He wanted to look at it right away and took me from my glass of wine. He was nearly giddy that there was a challenge for him. Woody did some of the same tests that George had done. He did a think aloud while perform some of them so I could tell what he was thinking. In answer to one of his questions about where a cable went to when it snaked under a settee, he challenged my answer. He searched (as did I) for the inlet and outlet of each power cable. Then, Woody found another cable, which he dredged up from the bottom of the dark space. A black negative cable that was supposed to connect the Number 1 and Number 2 batteries. We tested the difference when it was connected and not connected. Bingo. Problem solved. A good challenge.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Michigan City with Cruisers

The captain's meeting was at 0800 where there was a brief discussion
of the weather for the next few days over sips of coffee. A front was
moving in and a storm predicted for Monday with 30 knot winds, gusts,
and thunderstorms.

The sail over to Michigan City was beautiful--a steady wind of 10-15
knots and blue sky. It was cold. We kept going below to find another
layer to add to our heads, body, and feet.

We had never docked Speakeasy in a slip and had only done the maneuver
once before. I mention this to Paul, the cruiser chief, before we left
the Club Ship. Since we were the last ones in, we had 2 dozen hands at
the ready--and watching every move.

There was chaos. Beth had the fenders on port as we were told. Paul
shouted that they should be on starboard, so Beth change them. Then it
became clear that the port side was correct after all. During the double switch, one of the
fenders went in the drink. A boat pole was called for and I abandoned
the approach with a hard reverse. We tried again with lots of advice
from shore. The approach was better and I learned much. The next day,
with the wind at our bow, the docking went very smoothly and there
were only a dozen hands to assist.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's Power

The Columbia 26 we sailed last year seems so quaint now. It had no running water or head (toilette to the rest of you). It had no AC shore power and it's DC power consisted of a single battery charged by an outboard motor and a solar panel. It ran the running lights and VHF radio when necessary.

Speakeasy is a bit more complicated and I've been slowly getting the hang of it. There are two massive batteries (4D in the business), a DC control panel, and an AC control panel. I discovered this week that one of the batteries would not hold a charge. I madly read everything I could about marine batteries. I learned about house and starter batteries and of matched pairs of batteries. I learned about alternators, regulators and panel switches. I learned that marine batteries are expensive. I bought two this morning. My back is telling me how heavy they are, too.

One way to charge batteries is with the engine, which runs an alternator for the purpose. It takes a long time for a small alternator to charge a flooded (wet) lead-acid battery--hours. An alternative method is to plug the boat into shore power--a power plug on the dock--but it still takes hours to charge. To replenish our good battery and see if more charging might help the bad one, we motored to the dock last evening and plugged in. There was no power! This power struggle is getting to me. However, more experienced sailors tell me that I missed a circuit breaker so I'm off to try the shore power again. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speakeasy Launch

There had been lots of anticipation leading to the day Speakeasy would be put in the water--into the Calumet River near Lake Michigan on the South Side of Chicago. Beth rose early on Thursday to be at the boat yard when she was picked up and carried to the edge of the river and lowered in. No scrapes, bumps, or bruises for Speakeasy. The bottom was painted and sides were polished. She had bright red letters spelling out Speakeasy, but would she float? I worried about the speedo that I screwed into a through-hull in the forward cabin. I'd never done it before. Was it water tight? Did it face the correct direction or would it only measure speed backward?

There were other concerns. We'd not had a diesel engine before, just an old and finicky outboard. Beth followed the engine technician and annoyed him with her questions. Was the drip in the stuffing box too fast? It was! Will she sink? Did you tighten the bolts enough? Is the oil ok? Where's the filter? How do you test the oil level? How do you start it? How do you stop it?

After that exhausting morning, Beth called our launch crew to make sure they were still available. One was on jury duty and the other was coming from 80 miles away. We were all ready when morning broke. It was launch day. A neighbor patiently waited while we packed gear in his car, got coffee, and collected our crew. We finally arrived at the boat yard about 10:00 still a bit groggy. It was overcast with a light 5-knot wind from the North. It was good. We were lucky.

Speakeasy was set to be one of the first boats out that day, but we had to check systems again and rig the main. We didn't trust engines. John was a rigging expert and soon had determined the lines--although the outhaul remained a mystery. We fit the main sail in the boom and replaced a messenger line with the main halyard. Battens fitted and sail raised. Sail number 612. She looked good. Then we fiddled with the Dutchman flake lines for a while. Only John had any experience with these lines that let the sail down in a nicely folded pattern so that a short-handed sailor could lower the main without the sail dumping onto the deck. The clock was ticking. The Harbormaster wanted us off. We decided that the main was good enough to raise, which was the important thing if the engine failed.

John and Jeff fitted the anchor in case we got stuck without power--a last resort. Now we were ready to check the bilge pump screws (I had left one of them lose previously) and test the engine. All systems go. The dock hands through our lines to us. We were underway. Only two draw bridges and an elevator bridge between us and the Lake.

None of us had communicated with the bridge workers before. Fortunately, another boat was sailing with us and knew the routine. She called the bridge and a few minutes later it opened. We could see the Lake ahead past the tugs and barges. What we saw were white caps. The wind had increased from 5 to 15 knots. We'd be fighting waves and wind for the next 3 hours. There was nothing to do but bundle up and head North.

We put on hats, scarves, gloves, and anything else that would keep us warm. Huddled in the cockpit, we told stories and ate sandwiches whiles waves covered our bow and weather deck. The shoreline told our progress--63rd Street Beach, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Merchandise Mart, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. Monroe Harbor was next. The waves subsided inside the outer wall. It was an easy motor to North Juliet 23, our mooring can. Jeff grabbed the can with the boat hook and he and John fixed a line to it. Soon we had the mooring bridle shackled to the can and Speakeasy was home and secure. We were cold and called for the tender to pick us up.

Ryan's Hot Wave, the Club bartender's version of hot chocolate with Bailey's Bristol Cream, warmed us up at the Columbia Yacht Club. We were among the first sailors to have boats in the harbor. We had successfully launched Speakeasy.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Clean Boat. Green Boat.

The Practical Sailor tries to give its readers a way to pollute less and lower their carbon footprint while enjoying sailing. The May 2008 issue reiterates some of the simple cleaning techniques that one can use on a boat--inside and out. The main ingredients include white vinegar, salt, baking soda, margarine, olive oil, almond oil, ketchup, concentrated lemon juice, and, of course, fresh water. To this list, add elbow grease. The simple solutions one can make are less harsh that some of the ones one can buy. To make up for the chemicals (mostly acids) in off-the-shelf solutions one may have to apply scrubbing, soaking, and multiple applications. If you don't have a Practical Sailor subscription, similar formulas are published online for household and boat use.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Day 6: Little Harbor to Road Harbor

Our last day away from the charter harbor in Road Town was exciting. We sailed around Yost Van Dyke with 15-20 kt winds, favorable for beam reaches and a ncie wing-on-wing run near the northwest of the island. It was our best ailing day of the week.

Captain Beth had an unfulfilled agenda item--man overboard practice. Once we rounded the west end of Yost Van Dyke, our wind died down to 10 kts or less. The Captain went through some dry runs and eventually two gallon jugs, tethered at their handles, were sent overboard. The scenario assumed that I went overboard and the Captain was the only other crew--a likely scenario.

On the first pass, I got run over and keel hauled--my jug alterego did. The next passes were much better. More practice when Speakeasy is launched.

We sailed on with a better wind as we approached Soper's Hole. Once we sailed through the narrows at Thatch Island, we caught a small squall. Some nice sailing, but upwind, and then it passed.

The group wanted one more chance to snorkel, so we moter sailed to Pelican Rock and were lucky to get a National Park mooring ball. With an hour left to reach Sunsail, we cast off for the last time and made a beeline for Road Harbor.

I thought it was strange that we could hear Moorings Charter communication on the radio, but not Sunsail. We thought we'd be able to pick them up when we got from behind Pelican Island, but we still heard nothing in the middle of Sir Francis Drake. We were relieved when reports began coming in and that a dock hand would steer thhe oat to a slip from the B Dock. All we needed to do was get to B.

I was at the helm and gentle poke our bow down B. This is not what I expected. No room at either end of B for another yacht. I decided to back out and wait for a sign. A dock hand reminded us of our dinghy painter, which I had forgotten. Beth and Bob monitored the dinghy and drew in the painter. We were free to peek on the other side of B Dock for room or help. Beth kept Sunsail apprised of our situation.

Before we had time to do much more, a very bad thing happened. We lost reverse. No problem, I thought, I'll keep the speed down and circle beyond the dock. Then, just as suddenly, we lost forward too. We were a drift and heading broadside at a catamaran at the A Dock. Bob jumped in the dinghy, which was tethered on the port and pulled us away from the cat. Meanwhile, a Moorings hand took our dock lines and helped us raft to the cat.

We sighed in relief and took stock for a moment. We did pretty well. We had fenders at the ready, Bob took the dinghy, we had found help on shore. Is this what the ads mean by Miller Time?

In a few minutes, a Sunsail hand come to our rescue in a dinghy. He asked some questions and went off again. When he returned, he had a plan to push us to what was left of a T dock on the far side of B Dock. There awaited two hands, who took our lines and secured us. We were home.

Julien, who had given our chart a boat review a week ago came around to see what the fuss was all about. He mused that it could be oil in the transmission fluid, a broken shift at the helm, or a broken shift cable. That last, that was it. A broken cotter pin allowed the clevis pin to work itself lose. This was waiting to happen for some time. Perhaps all week. "WD-40!" Julien shouted. "Why don't they spray with WD-40." There's a tip. Speakeasy is getting sprayed with WD-40.

After all took a long shower, we gathered to ride in Mr. Maloney's taxi to The Dove, where we had a 4-star meal a week ago. We were tired. Most of us were happy to be in civilian clothes again. Perhaps not Betty, who slipped getting back in the boat from the dock. More bruises. Damn, those high-heeled sneakers. Bob helped us toast the event with a very good bottle of Chardonnay. There would be no ordering off the appetizer menu on this night. We all gorged from the main menu and had desert.

We slept like babies while it rained all evening and through the night. The next day was a race to taxis, ferries, and planes. For a few hours more it was peace.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Day 5: Norman to Jost Van Dyke

A bit after dawn, we headed for a day mooring at Treasure Rock for some peaceful snorkeling. We nearly made our get away without paying the mooring fee, but all of a sudden a boat pulls up along side prepared to accept $25. The snorkeling was splendid.

Our aft water tank went dry at bedtime so we switched to the forward tank and planned a trip to Little Harbor on Yost Van Dyke, which claimed to have water and was near Sidney's Peace and Love and Foxy's (at Great Harbor). We got underway before breakfast so we dined on autopilot. Quiche Lorraign. The provisioner had made delicious meals for us.

Such light air, we had to motor to Little Harbor. Once passed Soper's Hole on Tortola, we tries the sails, but we quickly doused them again.

Our mooring was near a rocky shoreline that went nearly straight up to over 400 meters. The trees near the water were a Pelican rookery so we got to see Pelicans fish and groom. Snorkeling was not as good--too grassy, but we did see a Barracuda up close. While on board, we saw another turtle and schools of fish. Bob and Corkey never got close to any of them with their tackle.

Some of us walked the track from Little Harbor to Great Harbor to visit Foxy's. Bob and Sue took the dinghy. Sidney, who had visit our boat when we arrived to hawk his restaurant, appeared with two massive lobster and exclaimed that it was our dinner. Now we had incentive to return from Foxy's.

Foxy's had the usual island drinks, but it also had beer made on the island with Oregon hops. The men had to sample the red and brown ales.

Back down the track to Sidney's Peace and Love, our table was waiting. While Sidney commands the kitchen, his daughter is host and runs a boutique. That leaves no one to tend bar so it is self serve. Customers helped me get a bottle of wine and sign on our slip. When I got back to the table, five lobster halves were in front of all but Corkey, who had barbecue. I've never seen such large lobster or so much lobster on a single table.

What about the fresh water for our aft tank? "No water on the island. No water for us. No water for you." We and our guide book were misinformed. We went into conservation mode with only one day left.