Category: Weather

A Northern Winter on a Sailboat

I am not going to write about the wonders of winter sailing. I sailed to Maine in the Month of December before it really froze up here (I still had to break ice in Plymouth, MA to get out of that harbor), and I will tell you winter sailing isn’t much fun. You don’t do it because it’s a relaxing voyage, you do it because you have a purpose. I sailed here to Maine so I had a place to stay while I worked on a contract at the Shipyard. Living on a boat in winter is a different experience, although I have the advantage of shore power while docked, managing heat is still an issue when it gets super cold, like 25 degrees below zero and the wind is blowing through the harbor at 45 knots. Then it’s just hunker down under a few layer of blankets while the heater’s real job is to keep the bilge and bilge pump from freezing.


Here are a few pictures of a nautical winter wonderland.

The Second Leg to Kittery, ME

Boy it sure takes a while to get back into the swing of things after the holiday season. I and we have been so busy cooking and spending time with family, spending time with our own kids, and me working from my sailboat in Kittery, ME it has been near impossible to find time for my own personal projects. For instance, it took me several days to upgrade the electricity on the Fernweh, but that’s another story for another time. Right now, I am forcing myself to sit down and regale you with the challenges and adventures that occurred after docking in Plymouth, and sailing away again the following weekend.


As I mentioned, we pulled into Plymouth. When we pulled in, there were a few people working in the yard shrink wrapping vessels on the hard. I spoke to one of them about having pulled into the service dock, and what was going on and what the symptoms were with the engine runs fine for a while, but then loses RPMs and finally shuts down. I told him about changing/inspecting the fuel filters and going through the other troubleshooting steps described in my previous post. He said he’s one of the mechanics anyway, and to just call Monday to have a work order made up, and that he’d be able to service it before next Friday. I called first thing on Monday and had the work order created with the need to be able to ship back out on Friday. They said they’d get right on it and let me know as soon as they knew what was going on.


To shorten a long story that could probably be a post all on its own, they didn’t look at the boat right away, but when they did I was asked if I put gasoline in the tank. I said, I haven’t put any fuel of any sort in the tank. It was topped off by the previous owner before he sold her to me. The guys asked me if I am sure I didn’t put gasoline in the tank, and I assured him that if I didn’t put any fuel in the tank, then it didn’t matter what kind he was asking about. Anyway it turns out the tank has gasoline in it. Now one, this posed a serious problem on the water, the engine could have been seriously damaged by running gasoline. I am pretty sure it was just a top-off of gasoline in there, but it was enough to cause problems. So this is what was happening. Diesel engines run at a different compression rate, and have a different ignition cycle than gasoline engines do. Gasoline will ignite a lower temperatures than diesel will, which means when it’s in the fuel mixture, the fuel can ignite too early in piston cycle. So, that’s why the engine would run perfectly and like a top when it was cold, but when the engine reached top operating temerature, the gasoline started to ignite too early which caused a slight loss of power which translates to losing RPMs, and when the engine was warm enough it would finally just cut out completely and couldn’t be restarted for another 2 hours, it needed time to cool so that the gasoline diesel mix wouldn’t pre-ignite.


So, on Thursday I call to make sure the boat was going to be ready, and the answer was it was going to take longer to polish the tank (the gasoline made all the diesel algae fall off the sides), and it wouldn’t be ready which of course wasn’t acceptable. I had them give me and hook up an auxiliary fuel tank and I would deal with the fixing the fuel system when I got to Maine. THe hooked it all up, called me and said it was ready and running like a top. The captain I hired for this leg of the trip and I arrived Friday morning, and we go to start the engine and it wouldn’t start. Ok…So although it Saturday, the marina manager happened to be in the catch up on some paperwork, and since I just paid a lot of money to get the engine running, I asked him if he could do something about it. He called the mechanic and asked him to come in, and he got it running. Since the auxiliary tank is below the engine, gravity pulled the fuel out of the fuel lines, so the system needed to be bled again. Sigh…

So, the engine is running, we have everything ready to go, we start breaking the ice behind the boat, back up 2 feet, break some more ice, and so on until we have worked out way our of the marina and into the open water where the ice hadn’t formed. Off we go…


The trip itself was relatively uneventful, but because of the delay in getting underway, we spent the last several hours piloting the boat in darkness. Crossing the Boston harbor we saywsome giant car carriers, and boy they move really fast for such a huge ship. We were dodging lobster pots all night long until we reached Pascataqua River, the river which runs between New Hampshire and Maine and is also known as the Portsmouth Harbor home of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and Badger Island where we will be docking and where I will be staying for the rest of the winter.

When we arrive the current is running upriver about 4 knots. The memorial bridge is only about 200 feet down current from the face dock of the marine where you have to dock when there is a current and move your boat to your permanent slip when the tide slackens. So we motor up close to the bridge, and turn the boat toward the dock and into the current, and we drift sideways across the river toward the dock. Everything looks really smooth until we actually dock…When we hit the dock and my captain hops off to begin securing the lines, a neighbor comes out to help, and starts tying down lines, but something we hadn’t noticed is that the current runs out from under the dock…I.e. it’s pushing the boat away from the dock and it’s doing it very swiftly. We get the boat tied up, but the bow was pulled a good 8 feet away from the dock with the current trying to push it out farther. The current is running under the boat almost broadside, and its way to strong to the pull the boat in. The propeller and rudder are too far away from each other to gain an steering benefit while the stern lines are secured, so after struggling for about 30 minutes, I decide we’re going to release the springs, and lastly the bow line while the stern line is payed out just enough for the boat to dock on the other side. We release the bow and the boat swings out away from the dock until it’s against the dock after turning 180 degrees. We tied up, check everything is secured, and end our frustrating end to our journey. We finally get to bed about 0200, and let Elyse know we arrive safely and we’ll see her in the morning and we go to bed.


The next Tuesday after work the tide is just slack and I move it to my permanent slip and there she stays. In the last few weeks I have been working on projects to upgrade her a little at a time in the afternoons after work, but otherwise the Fernweh has been a great place to stay so close to work that I can walk to work in the morning. Not too shabby. Maybe I’ll lose a few pounds walking to work and back.


Sailing to Kittery Maine

So my latest adventure included joining a contract in Kittery at the Navy Shipyard. The drive is about 2 1/2 hours each way from where I live in Waterford CT. Although I am accustomed to lengthy commutes, that my friends is just a little bit too far. Elyse and I looked into apartments to rent, and the minimum available rentals were for no less than $750 a month, and that did not include any of the utilities. So went on a quest for a budget sailboat large enough and sound enough to sail to and live aboard for my stay in Maine this winter. We got on Craigslist, and started calling people with sailboats they wanted to part with. We looked at 3 or 4 and there were a few others that were great steals from all appearances but the conditions to get to them were a little too much effort and had to happen too fast to make it worth the effort. One of the boats we looked at stood out as a solid boat, still in the water and being sailed by its owner and in pretty good condition from an appearances point of view. It is a Standfast 33, which is a 32 ft blue water sailboat designed by Frans Maas, and built-in the Netherlands by Standfast Yachts in 1979. With a little negotiation, and asking for an item or two to be remedied by the seller, we bought the bought, and I started making trips to Defender Marine to get the boat outfitted for a winter (well, in reality late fall) North Atlantic voyage.


After another few thousand dollars and time spent ripping out old equipment and replacing it with new equipment, gear and supplies (stove, heaters, foul weather gear, food, etc.), she was ready for the voyage. There was a short window before really bad weather set in for the winter, with a few days of projected nice (for winter) weather and favorable winds, so I hired a co-captain to go with me so we could sail with as few stops as possible on the way to Kittery. Well the first captain I hired injured himself on another yacht delivery, and the second captain I hired backed out due to a scheduling constraint and he couldn’t miss a family event that required his attendance. I hired an ordinary seaman to help me along the journey, which meant I was going to be the sole captain of this journey, but sometimes you have to get there. This wasn’t a pleasure cruise after all and the boat had to be in Kittery on time.


We set sail on Thursday December 8th, and about 2 hours underway, the engine started to act funny. It was running like a top, then it started losing RPMs until finally it shut down. We were already well out of port, so we raised the sails and headed to the first way point in Buzzard’s Bay called Fiddler’s Cove Marina which is a Brewers Yacht Yard marina in North Falmouth, MA. We sailed there slowly because the airs were light, but we were getting there. Along the way while sailing, I was trouble shooting the engine and one of the things that because apparent was if I let the engine stop running for an hour or two, the engine would start right up and run like a top again. At the time I didn’t know if was temperature or what, but I checked the water lines and the water was running clean, so that wasn’t it. So at various points we started the engine to get a little boost in speed for a while until we got to Fiddler’s Cove.


When we arrived, it was well after-hours and because the engine didn’t run reliably, I was reluctant to try to pull in dockside under my own power, so we pulled into the cove, and dropped anchor in one of the holes where the boat could swing safely and we went to bed. The next morning I gave the marina a call and asked explained what was going on and they came out to meet me in case the boat needed a nudge while docked. While pulling the anchor up, and once in daylight we discovered we were anchored in the middle of an oyster/scallop trap field. The field is only marked at the corners, and the traps are connected via long lines, so we didn’t see that we were in someone’s fishery. There they were pulling traps. It was lucky that my anchor didn’t fouled any traps or lines. As a side note, when I saw the fishermen later that day, I did take the time to apologize sincerely about not seeing the field, he really appreciated that I said sorry at all because most people just don’t care one whit. So please take note of this…watch where you anchor in New England, because most of the water is actively fished in one fashion or another, but if you do inadvertently stray and anchor in someone’s trap field, take the time understand you dropped your big fat anchor on his traps and lines and just made life a little harder for him or her. Take the time for a sincere apology if you can muster it.


So we dock, and I go up to the marina office and talk to the mechanic to see if he has any idea what the issue might be. Because I am a Brewers employee the yard manager asks the mechanic to just come down to the boat and spend some time with me to help me troubleshoot the issue. We look at the fuel filters, they both look clean (and I changed the Raycor filter while we were there). Anyway, the best that could be figured was the fuel line must be collapsing because it’s sucked up some diesel algae. Well, I don’t have any time, and I have a hired hand I have to pay for so we decide together that we can sail the rest of the way and use the engine on an as needed basis. We prepare to shove off, and then well off we go up Buzzards Bay to the Cape Cod Canal.


On our approach the tide was going the wrong way, so making way to the canal entrance was slowly getting slower and slower until we were at the very mouth of the canal and the sailboat was pretty much sailing at 5 knots through the water, but our speed over ground was next to zero knots. The Army Corp of Engineers hailed us on the radio to ask what we were doing, and I explained we were just waiting for the tide to change, and that we knew it was expected to start swinging not too far in the future. So we waited until I was able to make a little over 1 knot of headway and I radio ACE Canal Control for clearance to enter the canal. In hindsight, this was definitely a good situation to be in, because the tide helped move us through the canal at over 10 knots over ground. If we had to fight the current the entire way, it would have taken half a day to get to the midpoint of the canal and at the height of the current, we’d have been sailing backwards. As it was, it took us two hours to sail through the canal. And this is where it stops being as much fun.

As we start going off-shore the wind really starts picking up. It’s a westerly wind, so it’s coming from shore, but it’s picked up way more than forecasts. So much so, that I am forced to pull in the jib, because the jib was creating a lee helm and kept pushing the boat heading downwind. Our next step was supposed to be Plymouth Marina, it’s really the only next stop and it’s about 6 hours away at our present speed which is about 4-5 knots with just the main up. Although we were making good headway, the force of the wind and the gusts coming for different directions made it very difficult to keep the boat on course. Although GPS was showing we were making steady forward progress and not zig zagging through the sea, I don’t see how that was possible. The seas were probably only 6 feet, but there was lots of 2 to 3 foot chop riding the swells, and it made for a bumpy ride. When we got to Plymouth, the wind had picked up even more and there was no way I could navigate through a channel, regardless of how broad and wide it was with the winds throwing us around. If it were high tide, we might have had some forgiveness, but it was low tide and I wasn’t going to chance it. We decided to anchor as close as we could get to the windward shore under power, and dropped the anchor. Made sure everything was secured, and we went below. I made some from scratch beef stew, and we went to sleep taking shifts to check the anchor.


The next morning despite forecasts that the wind would settle down, it did not. It looks like a North Atlantic storm between Greenland and Iceland decided to reach its arms out and pull some air from New England and that’s where all this wind was coming from. Anyway, after another day on the hook and without a window of fair weather to continue sailing on toward Kittery, nor fair enough to navigate through the channels by sail, it was time to blow the whistle and call this leg of the journey to a close. We made it halfway there safely and intact and without any serious issues other than annoyance at the delay and the weather turning sour, so I used my SeaTow membership and had us towed into the marina that was already expecting us. We arrived on Saturday, and Elyse came to pick us up, and home we went. I called the Marina first thing the following Monday morning and asked them to figure out what was wrong with the engine. I’ll explain that in my next post, along with the next leg of the adventure but the short answer? The tank was topped off with gasoline. (nope I didn’t do it)


Hopefully I’ll have the second half of the journey posted by the end of this week, but that will depend on how busy I am. Being busy is why it’s taken me almost three weeks to write this post.





Crummy weather

Yeah, it’s crummy out. Not storming, not freezing, but that drizzling breezy rain, just enough to keep you wet even when under the cover of a Bimini.