In the planning process for tossing the lines to the dock and heading out for our initial voyage away from Canada, we attended many courses and presentations put on by Bluewater Cruising Association. I don’t think there was a single one that did not add knowledge and give cause for thought about how we typically do and have done things aboard the sailboats we have owned. The debates about what is the correct way of doing many things are always interesting, and often the opinions of people who have tens of thousands of miles of offshore sailing experience and many years of knowledge can be quite different from each other. In my (much less experienced) opinion, no one is necessarily completely right nor wrong. The discussion and thoughts provoked by each presentation or course we participate in are in themselves valuable tools. Whether you agree or not with their method of doing things, you cannot help but gain as you will either agree wholeheartedly, or have to think about the reasons you do not. Even if your decision is not the correct one, you will have added to your knowledge base of the possibilities of how to do things.
Regular Trips Forward
One of the things we have always done, and with which I am very comfortable, is moving about on the foredeck during much less than ideal conditions. The lines on our boats have never been led back to the cockpit, with the exception of furling lines and sheet lines for the foresail. I have never had the discussion with people who do have their lines aft as to how often they go forward to do inspections of rigging, etc. In our years of sailing, we have had a number of situations where being comfortable with movement on the deck in all types of conditions has allowed some big repairs to be done while underway. One such event happened to us while sailing down the coast of the Baja in Mexico. We had torn our foresail; the sail was old so the damage was neither terribly surprising nor tragic – more of an inconvenience. The three of us aboard went forward to drop the sail from the furling track and assess the damage. Once the sail had been successfully lowered, I was walking back to the cockpit. I found a large washer on the deck off to the side of the mast. I had a feeling of dread as I looked up and wondered just what above me had such a large washer, and more importantly how we were going to determine that and then replace it. I then found a nut the same size and continued to check everything near the mast. I realized that the eye bolt that drops down through the boom to attach it to the mast was where the washer and nut had come from. The bolt had wiggled its way upward and there was less than ½” of the 4” long bolt remaining where it belonged. The boom was now in danger of becoming detached. There was no positive outcome possible should that happen. The boom was, however, at an angle that meant the bolt could not merely be dropped into place. After assessing the situation and discussing our options, we all agreed that it was neither the time nor place to repair this. We opted to immobilize the boom by lashing it with tie-downs to the mast. The lashing held and once we were able to anchor hours later, we set about repositioning the boom so that the bolt could be put back in its proper place and secured with the washer and nut.
I kept recalling a presentation by BCA at the Nanaimo Yacht Club a few years back: Rob Dodge was the presenter. He was most adamant that he did not like lines being led to the cockpit. To paraphrase, his belief is that lines led aft remove the need to go forward on the deck, thus perhaps reducing the frequency of inspections and leading to a complacency regarding these inspections. I agreed with his thinking then and my opinion has not changed since. We have had many circumstances over the years where going forward during far less than ideal conditions was made less formidable by the familiarity created by all the trips made there for more routine sailing.
Learning at Anchor
In spring of 2018, we made arrangements to head to Canoe Cove to have our rigging redone. We were intending to leave for Mexico in the fall, so it seemed logical to give up our marina berth to save the duplication of moorage costs, as we knew we would be in Canoe Cove for the best part of the month of June. As would be the norm, we did not leave for Mexico until later than originally planned, so the months of July through September were spent in various anchorages. The month of August in particular was a rough one. We were anchored in English Bay. Most of September we were anchored in Mark Bay in Nanaimo. There were many nasty days of weather and for most of August, we were immersed in smoke. North Vancouver was only an illusion – it was not visible many of the days.
Other than the cost savings, there were several positive results of all of this anchoring. There were many days when we never left the boat; there were also days where the boat was tossing and sleep was broken at best. Although we were not actually standing watches, we were definitely in the ready mode for what may come next. And come it did: the broken anchor snubber line; and the boat who dragged anchor, hitting us and rolling down our side (that one of no damage, as I was restless so sitting up on deck, noticed the boat coming, and had time to blast the air horn to alert the other boat owner and then drop a fender between us). I believe living aboard for a long period gives you a familiarity that is extremely helpful when things start to go wrong. Anchoring for extended periods is the next step to that familiarity, including less than perfect conditions.
Doing it Yourself
The boat we own now is an older boat. It required a lot of things be upgraded or redone altogether. We have certainly hired professionals to do those parts we felt were beyond our skills, but have also done much of the work ourselves. We rebuilt the old manual windlass, and did a lot of the disassembly of the mast and boom prior to the refit. We sanded and stripped the mast and boom of the failed paint. We installed the new electronics, including a new hydraulic pump for the auto helm. This alone took many tries before we got all of the air purged from the lines, including the air from the new pump. We removed the hydraulic cylinder, sent off for a rebuild and then reinstalled it. We even traded work we could do on other peoples’ boats for work they could do on ours. Although this is certainly not the most time efficient way of getting things done, it does make you more aware of the components of your boat.
Our boat, as I said, is an older boat; it also has a unique layout. Many of the areas of the boat are only accessible to a smaller person. This meant for us that the person more knowledgeable and with more physical strength did not fit into the places where electronic or mechanical items had to be either added or maintained! Thus, team work was required. Often, I was in these tight quarters using my hands and eyes to install items that David definitely had more understanding of. The functionality of these items that seemed to follow our work, speaks to good teamwork in accomplishing things as a crew.
Whether it be working on all parts of your boat, making yourself comfortable with being on the fore deck, or anchoring so you know how you respond to rough conditions, being as comfortable with your boat as you can is, I think, crucial to a safer and more enjoyable journey wherever you cruise. The courses we take and the fellow cruisers we look to for knowledge and encouragement are very valuable as a foundation for the experience. As we enjoy our second Mexican winter, this time on the hard, working on the boat readying it for a new on-water adventure, I feel a gratitude for the people who have taught us along the way. I will let you know how the latest upgrades turn out!