24 April 2016

Preparing for an Extended Sailing Trip: The Three Year Plan

Captain Linda Perry Riera
The Three Year Plan = Bigger Sailboat + Smaller House + Take Off Sailing for a Year

The inception of The Three Year Plan came towards the end of a particularly tumultuous year and perhaps the difficulties experienced played in to the development of The Plan. Many sailors have embarked on travels much more extensive therefore this is not a particularly groundbreaking story but just the journey of one sailing couple.

We are late in life sailors with neither of us hoisting a sail, furling a jib, grabbing a mooring or cleaning a bilge until just 10 years ago when we were in our early/mid 40’s. But as soon as we took our first lessons at Boston Sailing Center we were both hooked. Our equal levels of naivete and enthusiasm proved to be a great formula for learning quickly as neither of us dominated but rather we leaned on each other and fumbled through challening situations together.

Learning the basics and then some on sweetly responsive open keelboat Solings

Racing in Boston Harbor

A little too much heeling on a C&C 30
We spent a few summers sailing very weathered club boats graduating from Solings to J24’s to C&C 30 class, and spent winters in navigation seminars and Caribbean coastal cruising classes including with Black Rock Sailing School.

ASA104 class with Black Rock Sailing School in the British Virgin Islands on a Hunter 52
Then we took the plunge and purchased a lovely Pearson 34, Fujin, sailing her hard and learning a tremendous amount about boat maintenance and repairs for four years as our passion for sailing grew.

Our first boat:  Fujin - Pearson 34 MKII

Tremendous learning about sailboat ownership, maintenance and handling with Fujin

Fujin on one of our many return trips in to Boston Harbor

Then the Three Year Plan was born: 
Step 1:  Bigger Sailboat... Added 6 Feet and a Zero 

We adored our Pearson 34. But as we considered the real possibility of serious, long term sailing and began talking about The Plan in earnest, we realized that we should move up in size.  And other major additions would be needed to allow true open ocean / blue water sailing in the future.

I had four criteria in mind as we tackled the very serious job of evaluating and deciding on what boat would replace Fujin:
  1. Strength - Overall quality and strength had to be high so that there would be no limitation on where we might go, including across an ocean. 
  2. Performance - We like to always try to sail well.
  3. Comfort - For extended cruising (and, unknown originally, to accommodate living aboard for more than a year before the trip).
  4. Pizzaz!  - Yes, she should be a head turner.
Tartan 4000
Although originally targeting and searching for gently used vessels, I quickly became fixated on the new Tartan 4000 at the Newport Boat Show fall of 2013.  After test sailing a few weeks later in Annapolis, crunching numbers, ruminating on future plans, and developing internal justification, the specs were finalized and production began in December 2013.  The price differential between Fujin and the new vessel would simply be an added zero. Cha-ching!!  A visit to the Tartan factory in Fairport, Ohio mid build in January further illuminated the precision and craftsmanship that goes in to this vessel.
Copious stringers and bulkhead mountings for extra hull strength
Vacuum infusion process for the fiberglass hull
No deck yet; all innards revealed
This eventually becomes the galley
Future living room
She's looking like a boat now
Dozens of stations at the factory work on components of hull #18

Argon is hull #18 of the Tartan 4000 line.  Our broker, Bill Shaw of New England Yacht Partners, was fantastic in hand-holding us all along the way including through some unanticipated complexities during the commissioning at Stanley's Boat Yard in Barrington, RI April 2014, only five months after finalizing specs.
Argon is commissioned at Stanley's Boat Yard in RI April 2014
We have completed two full sailing seasons on Argon logging more than 3000 nm via only northeast US coastal cruising and amidst busy career lives and can confirm that there are no regrets.  She is a fantastic sailboat.
Logging our first 1000nm off Provincetown Cape Cod several months after launching Argon.  We now have more than 3000nm after our fist two full seasons!!
 Smaller House: Subtracted a Zero

We sold our 3000+ square foot home spring 2014 but changed the equation a bit by not buying a smaller house, or any house at all, and instead moving on to Argon to immerse ourselves in to getting ready for the big trip.  This involved a dramatic downsize to about 300 square feet. Guess we took away a zero here so perhaps the bigger boat getting a zero and smaller house loosing a zero evens out??

Good bye lovely home on Knowles Farm Road
Downsized from 3000 sq ft to 300 sq ft
Bob retains a seriously truncated studio
The downsizing process was in full gear for 6 months prior to even putting the house on the market as each weekend was spent purging a closet or a room giving away, donating, selling, and throwing away. We now have one small storage unit nearby and realize that we could have done with saving even less stuff. Moving on to the boat enables us to not only adjust to living aboard in preparation for our trip, but also to focus on getting the boat ready for offshore and long voyages whilst still allowing us time for pleasure sailing amidst our very busy day jobs.

Take Off Sailing for a Year (or more): T Minus 5 Months

Preparing one's boat and life to truly throw off the lines and take off is a project management endeavor for sure.  Our multi-tab spreadsheet outlining "to do / boat projects", "to buy", "to learn", and "life logistics" has been instrumental in keeping us focused, organized and moving forward.

Multi tab spreadsheet forms the basis of our project management
We are following most of the extensive safety preparations dictated for the Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirements which is a version of the US Sailing's Safety Equipment Requirements (USSER).  This includes taking a series of workshops one recent weekend in Newport as part of the Safety at Sea seminar by the US Sailing Association.  Most of what we practiced we hope to never need!!

PFD and life raft practice in the pool
Flares, smoke signals, fire fighting on the beach
Damage control in the USCG trailer
Drogue options
In July, we initiate a test launch of The Plan as we head off to Nova Scotia.  This will provide important practice for double-handing our first off-shore voyage together.  After returning to Boston in August for family events and final preparations, we will take off in September likely beginning with some coastal cruising before shooting across the Gulf Stream to Bermuda in October.  Then onward to the Caribbean windward islands after hurricane season.  That is as definite as our itinerary gets at this point.

The proximity of departure is getting palpable with me preparing to leave my fantastic position as of July 1st and Bob having arranged a 25% remote schedule with his employer starting in September. Our return plans are open-ended including where exactly we will return to.

Transforming Argon from Coastal Cruiser to Blue Water Vessel

Many of our friends have been puzzled as to why we always seem to be doing one boat project or another.  "Your boat is brand new... what else could it possibly need?"  We have spent this past year upgrading Argon from a lovely coastal sailboat to a true off shore prepared cruiser.

Some of the projects and boat parts added this past year include:
Now, as our spreadsheet gets more complete with fewer pending items and Boston weather warms, the proximity of our departure is tantalizingly near.

Unknown Variables:  Joshua, Christian and Jon

We have known since the initial discussions that one or more of our three young adult sons could have needs or situations that might impact The Plan. The boys will be 28, 23 and 21 years old when we depart and are on forward paths of their own. And they all seem to be realizing that their parents are serious about this crazy adventure and looking forward to connecting with us on exotic islands next winter.
Looking forward to meeting up with our boys, Jon, Josh, and Christian, at exotic islands next winter

16 April 2016

Sailboat Projects: Spring Chores

Bob Damiano

After an early unwrapping (I believe we were the first in our marina), the boat projects began in earnest (who is Earnest?) in April. We finished up the Sat/Com Installation and a few other things. The biggest hump to get over however is some major work to be done in Barrington, RI at Stanley's Boatyard.

Isn't that a new boat?

Well, yes but "new" does not necessarily mean "ready for offshore".  Although we are not doing the Newport-Bermuda Race, we have made an effort to adhere to most of the safety requirements for that race. There are also some common sense things that needed to be addressed in order to transform Argon from a coastal cruiser to the offshore monster she needs to be.

Bilge Pump

Boat manufacturers install Manual Bilge Pumps on their boats. This pump allows them to check a box saying that it has one. In reality, they are absolutely useless.  Here is a video that we made last year testing how fast we could empty our bilge in an emergency with this toy.

The solution is to put a REAL bilge pump in.  We chose an Edson 18gpm bronze diaphragm pump.  This is one thing we wish we thought of when Argon was being built. Would have been so much simpler and cheaper to do it then.  This is something we hope we never need to use.

Storm Trisail

We talked to North Sails about building us a storm sail. This is needed if/when conditions deteriorate to hitting-the-fan levels and the goal is just to keep the boat safe.  It requires that a second track be installed on the mast. This work is  being done at Hall Spars and Rigging in Bristol, RI. North delivered our new storm sail in April and I was very happy to see how small and light it was. This is something we hope to never use.

Mast Tiedown

One of the safety requirement for offshore races is that keel-stepped boats have a means of securing the mast DOWN to the step. This is in case the boat gets dismasted. In this situation, if there is a significant amount of the mast left above the deck unsecured, it can hop off of the step and do serious damage to the boat (or anyone unlucky enough to be below when it happens). The solution is to install a simple pad-eye and a short cable to tie the mast down to the step.  This is something we hope to never use.

More LED Obsession

While the mast was down (ie: not requiring any climbing), I replaced the festoon bulb in our steaming light with an LED version. We are also replacing the halogen anchor light with a combination Anchor/Tri-color nav light -  All LED of course.  This requires Hall Spars to run an additional wire up the mast.

new festoon LED bulb in the steaming light

Getting the mast out 

Things got a little behind schedule from the start.

Uncooperative Wind

just as they got the crane in position to pull the stick, the winds came up to gusts in the 20s. "This isn't happening!" and the mission was aborted for that day - and the next as winds were even higher the next day.
"this isn't happening!"

Finally, on the third day at SBY, we had some very low winds.

Our mast is sealed in the deck partners with a product called Spar-tite.  It's an epoxy filler that forms a perfect shape to the deck collar and really keeps out the water. SBY was stressing a bit about this because sometimes, these masts just do not want to pop out. Bill Shaw and I did the spar-tite in 2014 when she was commissioned and we tried to do a good job including the waxing of the inside of the collar.  Apparently we passed the test as the stick popped out with no effort at all (well no effort for the crane at SBY anyway).

The stick hanging from the crane

It's always something

While the mast was laying on the saw horses in the yard, I noticed some not so nice looking wear to the carbon fiber around the sheaves for the jib and genoa halyards.

After some consulting with Tartan and Hall, we have a plan to address this. Hopefully, it will not cause any significant delay in getting back in the water.

Getting there is half the fun

Once again, I enlisted the help of my buddy Greg from s/v Piao as crew with me to get Argon to Rhode Island.  We left about 0700 on Friday April 8th into a pretty strong wsw breeze. The forecast was for this breeze to be strong but to clock around more to the north. We were looking forward to a nice fast sail down - and it started out that way.  But, by "to the north", they really meant "to the south" and soon we had mid 30s wind coming around on our nose.  It was pretty nasty for a while.  I was cranky and miserable. Greg was having a blast! We finally after a few very wasteful tacks, gave up and motored at around Plymouth and made very slow time going head-on into this wind and waves.  We ended up being late for the canal - like very late. The normal 45 minute transit took more than 3 hours in fact!

It was also a really cold day. This trip would have been all the more miserable were it not for the fact that Kinder Industries had just finished up the side curtains for the cockpit. We had a fully enclosed cockpit for this trip - and it was awesome!

We made it to Mattapoisette at about 2300 and anchored for the night. The next day we started at 0700 and motored the rest of the way in about 4kt of wind. I hate motoring, but compared to the previous day, this was a nice change.

As Linda and I labored to remove all the canvas and sails at SBY on Sunday, she said "So... it was really worth putting all the sails on just so you guys could sail 1/3 of the way here?"  "Yes it was"

Work in progress

Argon is hauled and the mast is at Hall Spars. Aside from the little surprise with the sheave boxes on the mast, there is nothing out of the ordinary.  SBY has said it's ok for me to stay aboard even when up on the jack stands. Linda smartly planned a work trip to the UK during this time. We're trying to minimize the life disruption while this work goes on. Everything we own is on that boat so it's a bit inconvenient.

My home office got a little smaller

Elevated house

My afernoon view from up on the stands