Note: This particular blog entry is divided into three sections. In Part one I answer a reader question about life on a boat. Part two consists of nothing but some randomly selected and annotated pictures from our last week on the boat. And, Part three is a technical story of a mechanical problem during our last passage.
Part 1: What’s it like to live on a boat?
Whenever I send out a blog article a flurry of questions comes flying back my direction. I enjoy the questions and typically learn far more from the discussion than any knowledge I might convey.
There’s one question I get repeatedly that I’m never sure how to answer, “What’s it like living on a boat? What’s an average day like?” It’s one of the questions I tend to ignore because there really isn’t an answer.
We’ve certainly lived much of our life on a boat. I was just thinking about it today. Boats have been a part of our lives for most of Roberta’s and my forty-five years of marriage. After two decades of owning smaller boats we bought our first Nordhavn twenty-three years ago within a month of my retirement, and since that time we’ve spent an average of three to four months each year on a boat. Thus, you would think we’d be experts at living on a boat, but the truth is all we know is how we
live on a boat, not what the proper way is, or how most people do it. I suspect fifty boaters would have fifty answers to this question.
One nice thing about living on a boat. No lawn to mow! Here’s a look at our back yard.
So .. with that preamble, I can describe our average day…
First off I should summarize by saying that we are on the boat enough that we treat it like a portable home, or a vacation home. We move it from place to place, but in between moving the boat our lives are very similar to life at our condo in Seattle. All 0f the normal household tasks such as laundry, making the beds, vacuuming, dusting, all of those things are no different on a boat than they are in a land based home. There are a few extra tasks, such as changing the oil, or washing salt water spray off the boat, and some tasks such as “taking out the trash” can be a challenge at times, but generally life on a boat is not that different than life ashore.
Roberta made it a priority when designing Sans Souci’s interior that from the inside you feel “at home” and not like you are on a boat
We have good internet on the boat and all the comforts of home. The boat is large enough and comfortable enough that on those occasions when I’ve asked Roberta if she wanted to check into a hotel or resort she has said, “Why? How would it be better than life on Sans Souci?” There is no good answer to that question.
When on the boat, a typical day is really not that different than what a day might be like at home. Roberta and I spend much of the day at our computers. She is working on a book (about the Irish Immigration) and spends several hours a day writing. Meanwhile, I have a small internet-based business which keeps me glued to my computer most days.
We justify the money we spend on the boat by telling people, “Imagine the cost of a waterfront home that can easily be moved to virtually any city in the world.” Hawaii, Athens, London, Los Angeles, Cartagena, Cabo, and hundreds more. What would it cost for a comfortable waterfront home in each of those places? We are saving money!
We think in terms of three different flavors of cruising:
- At anchor,
- In port (including being anchored in front of a marina),
- And underway.
It varies with the season, and where we’re cruising, but generally we spend about a third of the time in each.
The least “fun” is being underway. Typically the dogs are behind Roberta and I on the settee while we both sit at the helm. Running the boat is never completely comfortable. There is trip planning to be done, constant monitoring of the engine room, looking out the window for logs, looking at the radar, scanning the instruments, looking at the chart plotter, etc. It’s a little like driving a car, although admittedly in slow motion. You can chat while driving, but you can never completely let your guard down.
For the statistically minded amongst you:
Typically in a season we will run around 2,500 miles. If you assume a season to be 120 days on average you can see we typically move around 20 miles a day. Using my estimate that we are underway about a third of the time, then this indicates we move 60 miles on a normal “underway” day – or, about an eight hour run. There are longer days and shorter days, and no typical days. Long overnight passages are rare. In 50,000+ miles of cruising we’ve only done perhaps thirty or forty nights at sea. Lots of attention gets paid to range on these boats and how they handle in open ocean, when in reality the major ocean passages and overnight runs are not something you do very often. It is nice to know the boat can handle them, and that we can handle them, but its not what day-in, day-out cruising is really like.
We like to be near a city about half the time when we’re not underway, either in a marina or preferably anchored nearby. This allows us shelter, restaurants, the ability to buy provisions, and the ability to explore a new town. When we are traveling I will occasionally post restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor. I had thought that I rarely post reviews but I recently noticed that I had posted over 130 restaurant reviews, in over 20 countries and from over 80 different cities! We mostly dine aboard Sans Souci (where some of the finest food in the world is served!) but I mention it because it is part of the fun of cruising. We like to sample the local culture as we float around this planet we call home.
One side note about traveling internationally with dogs: When we walk down the street with the dogs it seems to help break the ice with the local people in whatever country we’re in. Very few tourists travel with their dogs. It puts us in a unique category and we tend to be perceived differently. Our goal with international travel is to feel like we are living in these countries, and not just “tourists” who usually see nothing more than the airport, a hotel, and a few tourist activities that the guide books point them to.
And, then there are the days at anchor. These are the ones we love most. We check the weather (wind direction and strength) several times a day while at anchor, but generally life at anchor is unbelievably relaxing. Civilization can’t reach us. We are isolated from the problems of the world. Tension melts away. We get quiet time on our computers, we have long discussions in the hot tub while drinking our morning coffee. Roberta likes to spend the days cooking, we play with the dogs, sometimes we drop the kayaks – swim if the water is warm -- or explore in the tender. If I get really bored I change the oil in the generator. Days at anchor are mostly about relaxing and goofing off. After three days to a week anchored in one location we do tend to get bored and will be ready to head to the nearest city, but we’re never in a city for more than a few days before we want to go back to anchor.
Part 2: A week in pictures
We spent a few spectacular days at anchor in Montague Bay and then headed to the dock at Ganges. It’s a cute touristy town and we needed to provision.
We needed to load up on groceries in that we knew we were heading to anchor and weren’t sure when we’d see a town again. We wanted to be able to return to civilization when we finally decided we wanted to, and not because we ran out of something.
While we were at the dock at Ganges (on Salt Spring Island) we were delighted to see the boat Starr arrive. Starr is almost home to Seattle after traveling 4,500 miles from Hawaii up to Dutch Harbor Alaska, into Prince William Sound and down the inside passage. We cruised alongside Starr during our GSSR adventure in Japan a few years back.
After Ganges we returned to the nearby Montague Bay anchorage. We liked it there and wanted to “stage” for our next run north. We would need to time our departure precisely in order to go through a narrow passage and departures from an anchorage tend to be much easier to precisely time than departures from a marina. At anchor you just “pull the anchor and go” whereas in a marina you can encounter surprises that slow you down.
A major complication of cruising in the northwest is that you always need to be focused on currents and tides. Tide swings can easily be 10’ or more, and currents through narrow passages can run to nine or more knots. Trips have to be timed to arrive at the passages at precise times. Here you see the current at Dodd Narrows. This passage is only 44 yards wide at one point. Boats line up on each side of the pass waiting for their turn to go through during the short period of slack time before the current turns
A Nordhavn 46 anchored next to us at Montague Bay. The Nordhavn 46 was the first model Nordhavn made and I believe they no longer make them. Nordhavn’s first two models, the Nordhavn 62 and the Nordhavn 46 are legendary in their efficiency and seaworthiness. I wanted to say hi to the skipper but our tender wasn’t down so we merely waved and smiled
The view from our back deck dining table. It don’t get much better than this. Dangling down you see one of our roll-up shades that I should have rolled up more neatly. One frustrating thing about dinners on the back deck is that we can’t control the direction of the boat while at anchor. Dinner time is when the sun is low and inevitably the boat will rotate such that the sun is in your face during dinner. We want the view, but not the sun. Thus, we have a series of shades that allow us to drop “just enough” shade to block the sun but not the view. Sometimes this becomes a game of musical shades as the boat rotates and the sun moves.
A brief look around the boat while at anchor. All it shows is that we anchored “out in the middle” away from all the other boats.
The video above shows us anchored at Tribune Bay on Hornby Island. The only noteworthy thing about the video is that you see Sans Souci is in the boondocks of the anchorage. We prefer the privacy of being alone, as well as having plenty of swing room. The water was only 32’ deep when we dropped the anchor but I still put out 300’ of chain. It was way too much but I’d rather have out too much than too little should a surprise wind come at night. Also, in computing the chain to put out you need to look at what the tide is doing. Water can rise and fall ten or more feet in this area. The 32’ I dropped in could easily be a 40’ depth within hours.
Ken giving Toundra a ride. Toundra is wearing a life jacket, and Ken probably should be…
We’ve finished an excellent dinner. Roberta made a low-carb shortcake, with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert, accompanied by a good red wine. Nice! The doggies also think so and want some – shortcake, that is! Soon after this picture was taken we let one dog lick my bowl clean and the other Roberta’s.
We have netting around the back of the boat. This is so our little dogs don’t fall overboard when underway, or more likely at a time like in this picture. Keeley sees some seagulls and might dive in to chase them if that net weren’t there
After several days anchored we were forced from the anchorage by good weather. You might think that seems backwards. Why would good weather make us move, as opposed to bad weather? The answer is that we would be traversing the Strait of Georgia which can be quite lumpy in moderate or bad weather. We are big believers in traveling on flat water. Sans Souci is built to take large waves, but that doesn’t mean we like them. We live nice flat windless days at sea. The weather report indicated that the Georigia Strait would be seeing wave heights of 0.1 foot and wind speeds under 5 knots. That’s music to our ears and it was time to move.
We planned on moving to an anchorage that was near where we were going to go through a narrow passage, but during the ride we hit a mechanical problem. I’ll talk about that during Part 3 of this blog entry. So...given the mechanical issue we decided it might be better to head to port, and phoned Nanaimo to ask if they had a space for us.
As I approached the dock I could see plenty of easily accessible space available, but the marina said they wanted to put me in a location impossible to reach and more impossible to depart from. The slip they assigned me was back a narrow passage with boats lined up on both sides. To exit I would need to back up the boat through a narrow gap over 100 yards long. I debated the topic with the marina but they held firm. As I made my way through the narrow passage we collected an audience of people on the dock who wondered how many boats I’d bump into. They seemed disappointed when I reached our destination safely. No worries, they get a second chance for excitement when I try to back out of here later today.
Here you can see where Sans Souci is tied up. What you don’t see in this photo are all the boats, including a very wide catamaran that were tied up on the dock behind me when we first entered. Did I frighten them away?
The marina office is only a couple hundred yards away. But, getting to it is a very long walk around the outside of the marina
My view out the port window while docked at the Nanaimo marina. Two tiny tug boats were passing by. I thought to myself, “Ahh that’s cute. A mommy and two little baby tugs.”
Part 3: And, a little something for the mechanically inclined
Within minutes of leaving our anchorage at Hornby Island an alarm went off in the pilot house indicating that our hydraulic system was overheating.
At first I assumed it was an error. We have an oversize hydraulic tank and it’s just something I’ve never had a problem with. I had just been in the engine room and all looked good. I checked the temperature of the hydraulic fluid as 127 degrees. That seemed fine to me. I looked back at pictures I had taken of Maretron from our trip north and saw that the temperature had been 107 degrees, measured at the same point. Yes. Something was wrong. 127 wasn’t high, but was edging toward a level where there could be a problem. And, as I looked back at the screen, I saw that we were at 128 degrees.
Roberta took the helm and I headed to the engine room. All still looked good. I used my IR gun to verify the temperature at the tank. It was indeed high. Not good.
I looked under the floorboard at the spinners that show water flowing in the cooling lines. No luck. No cooling water was flowing.
The hydraulic system has been the most reliable system on Sans Souci. It’s the one system I’ve never had to mess with, and there really isn’t much I can do to repair it when underway, should it ever fail. The system operates under extremely high pressure and the hoses are not of a type where you can just tighten a hose clamp if there’s a leak.
The hydraulic system powers the thrusters, the stabilizers, and the windlass that raises and lowers our anchor. The first two I can live (not comfortably) without, but not being able to raise or lower the anchor would be no fun at all.
I shut down the system while Roberta kept us on our route.
Sans Souci has a central seachest into which the cooling water flows. From there it is distributed to all of the devices that need cooled.
The heat exchanger that cools the hydraulic system on Sans Souci. The hydraulic fluid is cooled by this heat exchanger. Raw water (sea water) is pumped into this tube while hydraulic fluid is cycled through it. Heat is transferred from the hydraulic fluid and then pumped overboard.
The primary hydraulic cooling pump
This is the pump that should be spinning, but wasn’t. I have a backup pump but have never had to use it. I knew there would be a valve somewhere to disable the primary pump and enable the backup pump, but, where?
Ken has to be creative to read the label on a valve that is under the floorboards. In this picture Ken has held his cell phone camera beneath the floorboards looking upwards to see if this valve was part of the hydraulic cooling system. Nope.
The backup hydraulic cooling pump
After a LOT of searching I found the backup pump and the valve that needed turned. I flipped the valve and…nothing. No water moved through the system. Crap. So much for my backup plan. Now what?
I phoned my hydraulic mechanic, Doug James of Pacific Yacht Management in Seattle who was a very good sport about receiving a phone call at 7am on a Sunday morning. He said to try putting a wrench onto the hydraulic cooling pump and see if I could break it free. I did that and was only able to turn it a tiny amount. It was frozen solid.
The nearest marina was Nanaimo and space was available, so we headed there. I figured I could sort it out at the dock.
As I was closing the door to the engine room I glanced at the primary pump and the darn thing was spinning. I turned back on the hydraulics, and they were being cooled! Good! Somehow four hours had been spent crawling around the engine room. I was exhausted and we were approaching port. And, finally…
That’s it for this issue of the blog! Thank you for reading!
Ken and Roberta Williams (and, Toundra and Keeley)
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