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In just a couple weeks Roberta, I, and our two doggies will start another season of cruising.
We haven’t cruised as much as we’d like or as far as we’d like in recent years, but hopefully that is about to change. That said, this year our cruising will be somewhat limited. We’re building a new home that is scheduled to finish sometime this summer. We need to be available at any time to answer questions for the contractors or (fingers crossed!) move into our new home.
Because it has been nearly a year since I last posted a blog entry, I’m catching up with some pictures from last year.
A forewarning: The pictures aren’t that exciting. Our summer 2022 was a non-event. Roberta and I wanted to cruise but we were working on a new video game (https://www.colossalcave3d.com). We spent the entire summer glued to our computers. We had hoped to work while cruising but quickly discovered that Starlink (Elon Musk’s satellite internet system) worked fine when sitting at a dock, but miserably when the boat was turning at anchor.
We started the season with bold ambitions and wound up barely leaving the dock.
Random memories from the last year
After July 4th we decided to start our cruising up the Inside Passage to Alaska, by clearing into Canada at Victoria.
Our trip was a disaster. We made a short run of maybe 20 miles from our home base on San Juan Island over to Victoria Canada. Clearing into Canada was easy, but within hours of arrival I started feeling “queezy.” We had gone through two years of Covid never falling ill, but here we were having just entered Canada and a self-test kit confirmed it: I had Covid!
A few days earlier I had stood in a crowded line at a restaurant at the Roche Harbor Marina on San Juan Island. I remember saying to Roberta at the time that I shouldn’t have been in that line. Oops.
We had heard rumors of Canada locking up persons with Covid into hotel rooms. I had no idea what would happen if we were discovered with Covid in Canada. Rather than find out, we stayed inside the boat until I felt marginally better and then slinked back to the US. Once we were back in the US I was able to clear in via telephone and we stayed at anchor for several more days, waiting for enough time to pass that I was no longer contagious. Our big trip to Canada was a total fiasco.
We returned from Canada on a beautiful clear, windless, sunny day. But on a boat you can never completely relax. Soon after departing we encountered thick fog, and then minutes later our Seakeeper, which helps keep the boat stable, overheated.
I was still as sick as could be, and the water was calm enough that the Seakeeper wasn’t needed, but I wanted to solve the problem, so into the engine room I went.
The problem was easy to fix. I have two different pumps that feed cooling water to the Seakeeper. There is a valve that chooses whether water should be taken from pump 1 or pump 2. It made no sense that the wrong pump would have been selected, but after tracing the flow, I decided that “yes” that was the problem. Someone had set the pump selector to the wrong pump. Maybe a mechanic during the off season? I was just happy that it was an easy solution.
After a couple weeks of recovery, for both of us, Roberta having gotten covid from me, we re-entered Canada and this time headed to the Ganges Marina on Salt Spring island. The marina is a bit rickety but a great place to be, with very nice people, in a fun little tourist town.
The marina is popular in summer and sometimes struggles to have sufficient electricity to handle the boats. We had some challenges with tripping the shorepower breaker, and the power randomly going out, but its highly recommended as a place to just hang out.
We were actively working on our video game, and needed internet. Starlink worked great while in a marina, but once at anchor we would lose internet every time the boat would rotate. Ordinarily this would be tolerable, and we could work around it, but not this year. We were working 12 hours a day with a remote team and constantly communicating with the team via internet using live video streaming (Microsoft Teams and Zoom).
After a few days at Ganges we desperately needed time at anchor and headed out knowing internet would be a problem.
We have a new boat, a former coast guard boat, a Safeboat Defender 25! Our new home is on an island 25 miles from the mainland. Rather than depending on the ferries, which can have extremely long lines and delays in summer, we can now run quickly to the island and back any time we want. We could use our big boat, but then we’d need to find moorage each time we head to the mainland. We bought the Safeboat partially for the boat itself, and partially for the convenience of moorage. We have a slip at a “rack and stack” facility where they store the boat in a warehouse and we can ask for it to be dropped in the water at any time. The Safeboat can run at speeds up to 35 kts, and can be run safely in virtually any conditions. It may not be pretty, but it is fun to drive, and gets us where we’re going, quickly.
Preparing for a new season
There are some items that are automatically on the list, year after year.
- Change the oil on the main engines and generators
- Change the fuel filters (if needed)
- New membranes for the watermaker
- Exercise the passarelle and the tilting mast
- Fill the propane tank (BBQ)
- Clean the BBQ
- Wax the boat
- Fill the fuel tank
- Haul the boat, paint the bottom, change the zincs
This year, while the boat was out of the water, we removed the main engine props, and thruster props to have them checked and balanced. I hadn’t hit anything with the props but it’s still something worth doing periodically.
I don’t see this spoken about often, but a huge issue for us is “shade” when dining outdoors. We often have the misfortune to want dinner at the same time that the sun wants to be low in the sky, rendering dinner hot and uncomfortable.
We’ve experimented with various kinds of roll down shades over the years, and never found a solution we like. It’s more complicated on a boat than you might realize.
When sitting at anchor the boat rotates with the wind. We like to have a view of the water when having dinner, so we drop a sunshade only the side of the boat facing the sun. On our prior boat we had a series of rolled up sunshades, any of which could be unrolled to shield us from the sun. The system worked, but was a pain in the tail. Every time the sun would move (in reality, the boat would rotate) I’d spend 5-10 minutes fussing with the shades only to return to cold food on my plate.
We had a bid to do something similar this offseason, but then decided that a better approach was to do something that is kind of a brutal hack, but that I think we’ll like much more. I found some simple stick on hooks on Amazon, that are allegedly easily removable, yet hold 80 lbs of weight. I’m planning to stick a few of these on the overhead of the flybridge, and then use shade material (also on Amazon) that has grommets every 18″. Moving the shade should only take seconds.
We have tiny dogs, but like having them on the flybridge while we are dining. We’re always afraid that a sudden wave hitting the boat will send one of them overboard. I asked the mechanics to put netting around the rails of the boat. It’s ugly, but better than a swimming pup.
In Europe virtually all boats have a passarelle (the fancy word for a gang plank.) The marinas ask that you back into your slip, and there are no finger docks. Your only way off the boat is via the passarelle. Even though we’re not in Europe now, we like to extend the passarelle annually just to keep it ready for action.
We ordered wool carpeting when the boat was new. It didn’t hold up well at all. We re-carpeted with a vinyl weave material that looks and feels very different, but will hopefully last a lot longer.
Starlink has gone through a lot of changes over the last couple of years. The pricing has been jumping around. At one time the service cost $99/month for unlimited data. The newest pricing is at $250 for 50gb of data, $1,000 for a terabyte of data, and $5,000 for 5 terabytes of data, per month. It’s expensive, but both Roberta and I are hardcore internet users. As we saw this last year, without internet we get glued to shore. We now have Starlink Maritime which should give us fast internet everywhere we go. I’ve been testing it and expect to be impressed. This should be the best internet we’ve ever had at sea.
Those of you who have followed our adventures over the years might remember a famous quote by an Alaskan commercial fisherman, Bill Harrington, who was aboard our prior boat in the Bering Sea. As I was training Bill on the boat, so that he could take shifts at the helm, Bill suddenly exclaimed, “This isn’t a boat, it’s a fricking video game!”
Bill was right. Because we spend months aboard the boat, comfort is important. We want fast internet, streaming TV, multiple ways of getting internet, remote monitoring, etc.
The picture above shows the electronics that are located beneath the helm seat. We struggled with that area overheating last year. We had everything removed, rearranged, in some cases replaced, fans installed, holes drilled for ventilation, and basically made better. Overheating will not be an issue this year.
The picture above shows a slot for our VSAT satellite internet device. Thanks to Starlink it may never be used again. It cost a lot of money, so I hate to throw it away, but I also hope never to turn it on again. Vsat is slow and way more expensive than Starlink.
And of course, this is only a tiny piece of all the electronics on Cygnus… There’s the whole Maretron system, Network data server, navigation electronics, security cameras, communication systems, and more.
Roberta and I are stuck in the Pacific NW again this year, because of the move into our new house. You don’t need to feel sorry for us. There’s nothing wrong with cruising in the Pacific NW and 99% of the boats who are here never leave. It’s a wonderful place to cruise.
That said, I consider myself a warm water cruiser. I like to be in the Med during the summer, where I can find white sand beaches and swimmable water. Roberta and I have an ongoing debate, in that she doesn’t really like the Med, because of all the wind we have to deal with there. Finding moorage in the Med for a larger boat is challenging, which means we are often stuck anchored in conditions that are not comfortable, or are dangerous.
We both agree that it is time to resume international travel, but where??? The current momentum is towards spending this winter in the Sea of Cortez (Mexico), and then running the boat to Costa Rica. Then next year, we would take it through the Panama Canal and up through the Caribbean. We’re not sure though. We’ve also talked about shipping the boat to Florida from Mexico, and starting our cruising there. We’re not worried about it. We know we’ll suddenly get an inspiration for something to do, and that’s what we’ll do.
That’s it for this edition of the blog.
Cruising starts in June!
Ken and Roberta Williams, along with Keely and Pixie!
Grand Banks 60