05 July 2016

Sailing Boston to Nova Scotia - Shakedown Cruise

Captain Linda Perry Riera
1 July 2016 - 4 July 2016

For the short of attention span and/or uninterested (or red styles), an Abridged / Cliff Note version is provided immediately below.  Details and great photos are shared for sailing geeks and the otherwise curious.


The Good: We made it!! Boat and crew all safe. No seasickness. Dolphins. Whales. Learnings. Sunrises and sunsets. Increased confidence. We still like each other. We arrived relatively rested (un-exhausted?) thanks to sticking with our watch schedule.
The Bad: Wind directly behind us (requiring vigilance to avoid gybing and interfering with straight path). Misjudged ideal course causing slightly longer route (had a chance to put some in the bank Saturday but did not). Late with spinnaker both hoisting and dousing (resulting in slow progress for a spell, then quick broach and tangled chute in high winds).
The Ugly: Saturday night - heavy winds / bigger seas, hit something, flailing jib, scary venture on to foredeck. Humbling.

Stats: - Total trip distance 290nm, average speed 5.8kts, 4 Gal. diesel
Note: These are approximates because I unplugged the GPS receiver from the lap top that was tracking and saving our actual course. Whoops.
Departed Constitution Marina 0640 Saturday 1 July; arrived at Shelburne Yacht Club, Shelburne Nova Scotia 1210 Monday 4 July (54.5 hours which included about 5 hours of motoring).

Pre trip preparations studying charts

Unabridged Recount:

Shakedown cruise (def) - Sail conducted to assess the readiness of a vessel and crew.  Will serve to get the crew accustomed to the vessel as well as to adjust machinery and systems, and to determine additional needs prior to full commissioning.  Term origin is from when motor vessels were beginning to replace sailing vessels; the engines caused vibrations in the ships that were not present in sailing vessels, and engineers had scant experience with, hence upon initially commissioning it was important to see what would "shake loose" or "shake down" during practice runs.

Although this is Argon's third sailing season and we have logged over 3500nm already on her, a shakedown cruise focusing on open ocean sailing is prudent prior to the start of our one year trip that will involve several long open ocean legs. Open ocean / blue water sailing is fundamentally different and more challenging than coastal cruising.  Boston to Nova Scotia was chosen because it is a fairly short blue water trip (2.5 days vs. 5-8 days that are in the plan in the coming year; for reference, it can take 20 or 30 days to cross the Atlantic or Pacific).  In addition, we have never been to Nova Scotia thus would love to explore her beautiful coasts a bit.

Background - This was Argon's first open ocean voyage and a key milestone in preparing to sail off for a year starting in September.  We have been learning, installing, buying, doing, tweaking, and spending a lot over the past couple of years to get Argon and ourselves ready for blue water sailing and extended cruising. See the last blog post Converting a Tartan 4000. Although we have done extensive coastal cruising over the past 10 years including several overnight sails with solo watches, I have never sailed off shore; Bob has done just one open ocean passage to Bermuda last December crewing for a sailing friend on her boat.  See Melissa's blog at: Sailing Acedia Rhode Island to Bermuda.  Sailing to Nova Scotia was going to allow Bob and I to test ourselves and the boat, learn from our experiences and mistakes, and contribute to creating a final punch list prior to September, and importantly, allow us to assess if we can indeed handle Argon off shore with just the two of us.

Teamwork to prepare and execute our first offshore voyage
We had been planning to sail to Nova Scotia sometime in July based on a good weather window. During our recent Safety at Sea Seminar in Newport, we met Ken McKinley of Locus Weather and have since decided to use him as our weather router for off shore legs to guide us in selecting departure dates, and to provide valuable atmospheric and ocean data during the trips to help us plot our course and prepare for conditions along the way. Ken confirmed a good three day forecast if we departed the morning of Saturday 2 July. The prior week was full of non-sailing activities with Bob in NY and me finishing up my final week of work (I have resigned to take a career break for a year or two) so when we received the positive weather report, we had to scurry around all Friday afternoon/evening for final preparations (dinghy on foredeck, provisioning, chart review, systems review, new network router (because ours recently bit the dust), etc.  And, importantly, to get emotionally ready.  Late Friday evening Christian (my son) came by for a visit and well wishes - now I was ready (and so was Bob).

Some rules specific to off shore were established in advance (part of risk mitigation):
  • Life vest at all times; tether to jacklines whenever venturing out of cockpit (regardless of how calm the seas may seem)
  • Tether in cockpit when alone on watch or seas/wind at least moderate
  • Adhere to watch/rest schedule as much as possible to mitigate exhaustion
  • Prophylacetic sea sickness medicine; stay hydrated with plenty of water; eat light, healthy, carefully chosen food to go easy on our bellies
  • No alcohol
  • Take it all in; experience it; be in the moment
Some rules were added to the list above during/after the journey as our wisdom expanded (aka after making mistakes or not mitigating certain risks):
  • Foredeck and general check/inspection each evening prior to dark - to look for anything amiss.  For instance... Do both the jib sheets have stopper knots?? Is the furling line caught around the windlass??  See more below for why these items are called out.  Basically - is there anything that does not function properly that would require a risky and unnecessary trip to the foredeck?
First 24 Hours
This leg of the trip was the most challenging as well as the most informative.  It was filled with inconsistent wind, many sail changes, a few mistakes, and (to be honest) a scary night.

Watch Schedule:  After working together for the first four hours, we implemented a modified three on three off which included a couple of four hour shifts to hopefully provide better rest time.  Three hours off usually means only two hours of rest as there were many times that we were both needed to handle sail changes, confirm weather, prepare a bit of food, etc.

It took us an unexpectedly long time to even get out of Boston Harbor and the initial several hours of our sail were extremely active.  After first topping off diesel (maneuvering in the high and building winds) we decided to start with a reef main as we headed out the harbor alongside a docked battleship.  However, we had a foul in the reefing line causing the main to flog and flail violently in the now 20+kt winds and for the harbor police to blow their whistle at us to scoot us away from getting too close the battleship.
Harbor police had to direct us away from approaching this docked battleship too closely as we struggled with a jammed reefing line
The building winds unexpectedly softened and shifted direction but then were back up to 28kts resulting in lots of sail configuration changes.  By the time we hit Grave's Lighthouse (less than 10nm from home), we had tacked and gybed several times as well as reefed the main, unfurled the jib, unreefed the main, sailed wing on wing, furled the jib, unfurled the genoa, furled the genoa, reefed the main, unfurled the jib, etc.  

During all this wind shifting and sail changing, we quickly learned that the dinghy (secured upsidedown on the foredeck) was too aft interfering with the the jib sheets.  We nudged the dinghy a bit forward, re-secured, and switched the rigging for the jib sheets from the manual tracks to the self-tacking set up.

Finally, after passing The Graves, we were on a steady course of 74 degrees COG (course over ground) pointed at Cape Sable Nova Scotia about 250nm away broad reaching with a reefed main and genoa in 17kts of wind forecasted to increase.  Phew - a lot of activity during these first few hours...  And the Step App on my phone was sending me a message that I was not being active enough! I don't think so.

Finally passing The Graves Lighthouse Saturday morning almost 10 miles from Constitution Marina
My first solo watch began and I would periodically peer over my shoulder to see the Boston skyline dwindling.  Beautiful blue skies, comfortable temperatures, very few boats in sight as Argon pulled further away from land.

Pulling away from the Boston skyline

Boston now out of sight
The winds were lighter than forecasted all day Saturday (but stronger than forecasted at night, we would learn).  Our sail configuration during the day ended up being too conservative since we were anticipating stronger winds that did not come so we shook out the reef and hoisted the full main. After several hours of only 12kts of wind, we finally (later than we should have) dug the spinnaker out of the sail locker and hoisted her around 1600hrs. This was our first mistake of the day - we should have put up the chute much sooner as we lost about two hours given our modest speed.

Chute finally up; humming along beautifully; until the winds shot up.....
Enjoying the sun set from the foredeck
GPS showing us about a third of the way to Nova Scotia
After several hours of comfortably sailing under main and spinnaker, just after we had enjoyed a beautiful sunset, we made our second mistake of the day which was to leave the spinnaker up too long as the winds steadily and quickly inched to around 20kts and we progressed from broad reach to beam reach; suddenly we broached. The boat had been tipped to starboard severely (about 50 degrees) and the spinnaker dipped in the water during a gust.  The wind was consistently blowing over 20kts now (having quickly built) and it was a real struggle to get the sock down to douse the spinnaker. Bob was on the foredeck fighting with the spin (clipped in with tether!) while I steered and loosened the sheets. We messily got the spinnaker down and then quickly reefed the main bouncing around the building seas. We let out the jib back on a broad reach and composed ourselves.

Spinnaker tucked away as the winds built
By now it was time for Bob to begin his off deck time and he asked me if we I thought we should furl in the jib since the winds were a steady 20+kts.  I replied no, we were fine... third mistake of the trip.

Life vest on and clipped in with tether while steering in the cockpit
Less than an hour in to Bob's rest shift, in the pitch black moonless but starfilled night, I heard and felt a substantial thud under the boat, potentially on the rudder. Crap - I hit something but had no idea what. Nothing evident behind us or nearby. [Bob: I usually don't ask "what was that"? when I hear a new noise. But this time after the thud, I heard "Bob!" from the cockpit]  The steering seemed to work fine and I could only hope nothing was damaged but my heart was racing a bit.  More importantly, I was struggling to keep control of the boat as the seas were building to 6+ feet (coming up along our rear port quarter) and winds jumped to 30kts.  We needed to get the jib in and I could not do this alone so time to call Bob up again in the cockpit for help.

The jib fiasco:  The winds were whipping, the seas were tossing us around and it was pitch black (about 2200 hours).  The jib is always difficult to furl in when there is so much load on the sail but something was wrong.... the jib furler was jammed completely and we were unable to bring in more than a couple of feet of sail.  We were healing over severely since we were overpowered and then the jib sheet pulled out of the block and in addition to the foresail, this thick line was flailing violently in the wind forward.

Needless to say... there are absoultely NO pictures of this night as we had all we could do to handle the boat for the next many hours.

We were confused as to why the jib would not furl and now a bit frightened about how to fix this mess especially with the starboard side jib sheet loose from the winch. Whatever we did, had to be quick since the sail was up there flogging itself to death. The wind and seas were howling and with the added noise created by the angry snapping of the foresail, communication was difficult; throw in some subpanic emotions.  Bob then ventured up on deck with headlamp on and tether secured to jacklines to try to fix the jib.  Venturing on the foredeck at night in conditions like this is very serious and I admit I was slightly terrified.  Although he was tethered in, there are so many ways to get hurt in conditions like this; falling overboard while tethered keeps one attached to the boat but can result in hanging over the side getting banged up against the hull; there is no easy way to get back on the boat, especially at night in rough seas.  Having a flailing jib and not yet knowing what the issue even was, having a loose jib sheet, and being 100nm away from land in these conditions.... this definitely was a test of skills and emotion.

Bob was able to retrieve the jib sheet and thread it back through the various blocks (and re-tied the stopper knot!).  Apparently, when trying to furl the first time, the two jib sheets twisted upon themselves making furling impossible.  With the sheets now untangled, the jib could be furled in.  The next morning, we would also learn that the furling line was fouled around the windlass also interfering with furling (see new rule above).

With the boat and crew now under control (only a reefed main was out) and the winds 25-30kts and the seas tossing the boat around, I spent a couple more hours of active manual steering in the dark of night unable to even gaze up and enjoy the stars momentarily as every ounce of focus went in to controlling the boat and keeping an eye out for traffic (which was sparse, thankfully).  It was important that I be in the cockpit alone so that Bob could get some rest and, importantly, so that I could practice helming in these conditions alone as this is needed off shore. Bob came up to relieve me after midnight to continue the struggle through the difficult night while I went below to rest.  Several ours later, just as first light was appearing, I awoke to relieve Bob; the wind was calmer although the seas still 6-8 feet. We made it through a challenging night.

Second 24 Hours:
Except for sunny skies with mild temperatures, Sunday was dichotomous to Saturday. The winds were pleasant and consistent at 15-22kts from the W/SW.  We were averaging 6.5kts sailing lower than ideal as our COG was closer to 80 degrees instead of the target of 72, but the conditions were wonderful.

Beautiful ink colored water as far as one can see

Sailing happily enjoying the solitude
In the light of the morning after the sun had risen, we discussed the prior night critiquing and reviewing what had happened, how we handled it, what we should have done differently, what we did well; and we both admitted to being frightened.  It was probably one of the top three most scary times sailing we have experienced.  Had we not been so far off shore, we probably would have had much less fear.  We discussed that had we not been able to get the lines unfouled and the jib in, the next step would have been to release the jib halyard and pull her down (although getting the jib below deck would be quite difficult given that our forward hatch is covered by the tied down dinghy).  Experiences like this are humbling but help keep us alert and driven to be prepared.  And today, we enjoy the calmer conditions while staying alert for shifts and changes.

Enjoying the many visits from schools of dolphins

Calmer seas, good breeze

Another beautiful sunset
As we sailed in to our second evening, our speed increased as we rode a positive current. At times Argon hit 9kts SOG (speed over ground) and was consistently over 7kts. This night I took the midnight to 0400 shift and I was thankfully able to gaze up at the multitude of stars and clear cottony Milky Way.  I kept a close eye on the anemometer staying alert for signs of upward trend but the wind remained steady at 15-20kts all through the night.  The rolling waves coming up upon the stern quarter necessitated using the preventer to keep the boom from flopping in the swells and from accidentally gybing.

Temperatures drop during my night watch around midnight (I suspect most of our friends celebrating the holiday weekend in Boston were not bundled up like this!)
Slightly more northern latitude brings very cool mornings; seas are calm and we are close enough to our destination to enjoy a cup of coffee for the first time during the trip (we avoided coffee earlier to lessen the chance of getting sea sick)

The Final Leg to Shelburne:
Monday morning brought calmer seas and lighter winds.  Our previously positive current had now turned against us and with the lightening winds, we eventually fired up the diesel and motored our way along the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. As we were now only six hours from our destination, we both stayed up enjoying more visits from dolphins and whales as well as the first sites of land.

More than a dozen whales frolicked off our port about 15 nm off the Nova Scotia shore
Cape Negro Lighthouse
Sandy Point Shelburne Harbor

Motoring up Shelburne Harbor.  Hello Canada!!
Shelburne Nova Scotia is a beautiful coastal town with a population of less than 2000.  Fishing and ship building are the primary industries which used to support a population of five times the current.  Upon arriving to a new country by water (similar to by land) one must check in with customs.  Shelburne Yacth Club is an official port of entry for Canada so our first order of business was to obtain clearance from authorities.  The procedures and requirements differ from country to country but one commonality for boaters is that one must initially raise a small yellow "quarantine" flag upon arrival to indicate that permission to enter the country has not yet been granted but is in progress; the skipper of the vessel is to immediately initiate the procedure and, when permission has been granted, the yellow quarantine flag is replaced by a flag of the hosting country.

Hoisting the yellow quarantine flag in Shelburne Harbor
To improve efficiency and cut costs, the Canadian government has instituted a fantastically simple way for most boaters to clear customs.  The TRS/M is the Telephone Reporting Site/Marine and requires a phone call to the authorities from an official port of entry and provision of information about your vessel, crew and intent.  Then posting of your permit number on the vessel.  Not even a fee is collected here.  Thank you Canada!  Prior to each country to be visited, I will research the requirements and will add to a developing spreadsheet for quick reference as it is different everywhere.

Approaching the very friendly town of Shelburne and Shelburne Yacht Club
Various boat information needed to relay to customs official were prepared and handy to facilitate the process

Secured safely at SYC with Canadian courtesy flag flying after clearing customs
We will be in Shelburn only for two nights and then venture off to another harbor northward somewhere depending on our moods and the wind.  Until then, we will explore the area by foot, clean the heavy layer of salt off Argon, top off the water tanks, and rest up for our next passage (short passage!).
Post Script:  We stayed in Shelburne only one night afterall departing about 1800 the evening of the next day.  And.... we did not do a short passage but rather 80+nm through a very foggy night all the way to Ludenburg.  More to come about this trip!

14 June 2016

Tartan 4000 Becomes an Off Shore Sailboat

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Argon Graduates:  Converting a Tartan 4000 from a coastal cruiser to a sailboat suitable for off-shore and extend cruising

Argon, a 2014 Tartan 4000, was purchased as part of preparing to set off sailing on our first extended voyage (see the April blog post The Three Year Plan) and is entering her third summer sailing season.
Argon, a Tartan 4000, was chosen for her strength, performance, comfort, and pizzazz
Many of our friends, both sailing and non-sailing, have commented that they are surprised (or confused) as to why we are always so busy with boat projects considering that Argon is a new sailboat. Sailboats (well, boats in general) always have endless project and maintenance lists, however, in addition to the standard items, we have been busy converting Argon from a fantastic coastal cruising sailboat to a vessel suitable for the open ocean and extended cruising as we prepare to leave for a year or so excursion. Our sketched out itinerary includes at least several multi day open ocean legs sailing short handed (just the two of us) including Boston to Nova Scotia (July), Newport or Norfolk to Bermuda (October) and Bermuda to ~Antigua in the Caribbean (November) hence we will often be many days away from land and, when island hoping, will have unpredictable access to retail boat parts and marinas. We plan to anchor the majority of time in harbors and will be off the grid for long periods of time.

The key related projects as part of the conversion can be grouped in to the following three categories:
  • Safety
  • Sailing and extended cruising
  • Comfort
We endeavor to do projects ourselves but have employed professionals for a couple of the more thorny ones.


The vast majority of the projects (and spend) have been to maximize the odds of staying alive and just getting to where we intend to go. We have used the Newport Bermuda Race Safety Requirements (NBRSR) as a guideline adhering to the majority of the specifications. The NBRSR is an adaptation of the US Safety Equipment Requirements (USSER). Some of the safety related projects have included: 

AIS (Automatic Identification System):  
In addition to keeping tabs on the sparse traffic while short handed in the open ocean, AIS has proven a helpful add on for coastal cruising during overnight legs and bad weather. We also find AIS helpful while informally racing to keep tabs on our competitor's speed and bearing to anticipate wind shifts.
AIS is important off-shore to keep watch for traffic, especially large commercial vessels at night or during storms and poor visibility.
Satellite Communications:  
For weather downloads and communications - We went with a compact KVH Fleet 1 satellite system for data / phone through Cay Electronics in Portsmouth, RI. The dome is mounted on a custom bracket designed and manufactured by Edson to the unique specifications for mounting on the transom mast. The system worked perfectly and was very easy to configure. The data is very pricey and so this is only used for critical communications off-shore. The $50/month subscription gets you a whopping 10MB (yes, M, not G), with additional data costing $0.50/MB.  This is plenty to download a few GRIB files and basic text email and SMS with people ashore.

Running the wires up the transom mast and attaching all the parts one mild March day on the dock
Finished product - communication satellite atop the specially designed and manufactured mounting bracket, along with the radar and wifi router
This is what the cabin (aka our living room these days) looked like in the middle of the satellite project
Storm trisail from North Sails and track from Hall Spars & Rigging:  
Hall Spars and Rigging installed a track on the mast for the storm trisail sail and North manufactured the sail. We will certainly practice in good weather so that if / when the crap hits the fan, we will be ready.
Test hoisting of the new storm trisail while still at the dock; next we need to practice out on the water during a windy day

Jack lines (deck and cockpit):
We will attach ourselves to jack lines during rough weather or big seas to ensure we do not get thrown off the the boat. There has been controversy recently as to whether jack lines should run outboard along the sides of the deck or more inboard along the cabin top. We opted for the traditional configuration to be used with dual attachment tethers. A couple of added pad eyes in the cockpit enable easy attachment while at the helm.

Lee cloths: 
For port and starboard settees.
Bob testing out the new lee clothes; yes, we will need these to keep from falling off the settee in big seas off-shore
Expanded and updated paper and electronic charts:

One can never have enough charts - We have many handed down from other sailors who have finished cruising long distance and we have purchased many new ones.  New chips for the GPS were also secured to cover our expected range.

Safety at Sea Seminar in Newport sponsored by the US Sailing Association: 
This was a fantastic experience well worth the two days time and cost this past March. One day was packed full of safety related topics such as off-shore communications, heavy weather issues, crew preparations, crew overboard, etc. and the second day was hands on including pool time with PFDs and liferafts, practicing with flares and fire extinguishers on the beach, and damage control practice in a USCG simulation trailer. 

PFD and life raft practice including pulling an "injured" person in to the liferaft

The USCG had a damage control trailer to simulate a vessel taking on water and provide practice with various ways to control the flooding; it was quite stressful but incredibly helpful!

SOS Danbuoy (Man Overboard (MOB) device):
To be thrown in the case of a crew overboard situation to mark where they are to aid in retrieval.   We've had mixed success with this device so far. We have not needed it (yet) but it has already once spontaneously inflated in the cockpit while sailing. We may be swapping this out for a MOM device.

Edson manual bilge pump: 
Boat manufactures are required to equip vessels with automatic and manual bilge pumps.They tend to do the minimum, especially with regards to the manual pump. Tartan equipped Argon with a Whale brand plastic handle pump. We wanted to see if this very weak looking pump would keep up with an ingress of water. We poured 55 gallons of water in to the bilge and marked lines every 15 gallons (with nail polish). We worked the manual pump for a while and managed to get through about only half the water after quite a bit of effort. If we were taking on water at even just a moderate rate and lost our electric bilge pump, there is no way this pump would ever keep up. Check out the video we made of this experiment. We drained the second half with the electric pump. 

The video above shows our testing of the standard manual bilge pump that came with  Argon.  After this test, we quickly decided to upgrade to a much better pump.

We decided on an 18gpm pump through Edson. Stanley Boat Yard installed this pump under the port side coaming. This pump is a beast compared to the former Whale! (No video yet) .

Bob squeezing in the transom locker to do the final mounting work for the Edson manual bilge pump.  The small stainless plate above his right hand is the only part that shows in the cockpit.  A handle provided (or any winch handle) is attached and one can sit and pump at a good rate
While squeezed in the transom locker, Bob epoxied G-10 blocks to the underside of the coamings with threaded rod suspending the outboard side of the pump to add additional support to the very strong and heavy bronze pump body

AIS Beacons for PFDs:
We have secured Automatic Identification System (AIS) beacons to our inflatable life vests. These AIS beacons will send a "DSC" signal to not only Argon but also other nearby vessels to aid in locating the crew overboard. Of course we hope to never need these. The DCS alarm on most modern VHF radios will wake the dead.  We've heard ours go off once when a nearby cruise ship lost someone overboard near Gloucester.  For boats so equipped, it will also show the position of the victim on the chartplotter.

Inflatable life vests are activated by water pressure; in addition, our PFDs have a signaling beacon to aid in location of a crew overboard
Life raft: 
The four person Plastimo life raft that used to be stored in the bottom of a sail locker (difficult to deploy) was replaced with a six person Viking in a hard case deck mounted; an enhanced "ditch bag" was assembled as well. This included a handheld VHS with DSC (digital select calling), extra batteries, sea-sickness pills, basic medical kit, reading glasses, an EPIRB and a secondary PLB.

The viking bracket fastened down to the cabinhouse

The new Viking six person life raft attached to the bracket on the cabin house

Mast tie-down: 
In the event of dismasting (very bad), this will keep the lower part of mast from flailing below deck causing even more damage or injuring someone.
Mast tie-down is one of the less common safety features for off-shore sailing vessels but often a requirement for off-shore racing

Full medical kit: 
This is not the cute little pouch from West Marine with some band aids and gauze, but a fairly robust set of equipment that may be needed given the amount of time we will be out of reach of medical care for extended periods. The kit includes a variety of medications such as steroids, sea sickness medicines, antibiotics, etc.

Travel clinic visit at Mass General Hospital: 
Resulting in vaccinations or medicines for Hepatitis A, tetanus, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Malaria. And some preventative measure counseling.

Spare anchor and rode:
Our primary anchor is 35 lb Delta on a windlass with 120 feet of 3/8 inch chain and 200 feet of rhode. We secured a 15 lb Fortress anchor which will be our reserve. We also put together a new rode with some 5/16 inch chain and some 7/8 inch nylon line (the latter will double as our drogue rhode). This spare ground tackle is whimpy compared to our primary setup, but will hopefully do the trick as a secondary/backup.

A drogue is a sea anchor... to be used in stormy seas when we need to slow the vessel down. We went with a Shark Drogue by Fiorentino. The drogue can also be used as a steering device should there be damage to the rudder (in fact practicing this technique is a requirement for NBRSR).  We've reworked our secondary anchor rhode to double as the rhode for the drogue.  We also replaced our tiny danforth dinghy anchor with a 15 lb mushroom which will double as the sinking weight for the drogue. As with the storm trisail, we will be practicing using the drogue in the coming weeks before our first off-shore trip.


Sailing and extended cruising

We sold our home and became live-aboards more than a year ago as part of our logistical and emotional preparations for extended cruising. The following items have proven important or at least convenient given Argon will continue to be our home for quite a while longer and we will often be anchored in remote locations.

Solar panels: 
We opted for three flexible panels made by Solbian purchased through Cay Electronics (2 x 100W and 1 x 137W) with individual Genesun controllers. Kinder Industries fashioned zipper attachments and covers for UV protection for the wires for the bimini and dodger .

Two 100W solar panels lay atop the bimini and one 137W panel is secured to the dodger. Bob has unplugged from shore power many days to test out the solar panels which have kept up nicely with his high powered work laptop and the refrigerator nicely. Thus far in our northern latitude, we have seen 220 Watt output from the system.

The Genesun controllers connected up and ready for mounting

LED lighting: 
All internal and external lighting has been converted to LED. Some of the lights were LED as standard but we were surprised this was not throughout. Cockpit, anchor, and various internal lights were upgraded. We also went with a tricolor LED masthead light to serve as redundant navigation lights.  This makes a huge difference in energy consumption.

Dinghy and davits: 
We purchased a new nine foot AB dinghy with an aluminum V bottom and a Tohatsu 6hp outboard last year. The davit installation project was featured in a blog post last year. We have been very happy with our custom Kato davits.
Kato manufactured custom davits; we did the install. Drilling holes in the hull is a bit nerve-wracking

Carrying our dinghy,  Neon, on the davits off the transom
More recently we practiced mounting the outboard on a rail mount homemade by Bob and rigged a lifting sling to enable hoisting of the dinghy on to the fore deck which is needed for off-shore passages.
For off-shore passages, we will have to tie down the dinghy on the fore deck as large following seas would make using the davits dangerous. We recently practiced hoisting the dinghy on the fore deck and figuring out how we will tie it down securely

First test mount of Bob's nicely designed and fabricated outboard motor mount bracket off the port side stern rail

Acrylic companionway hatchboards: 
These replace the very attractive teak ones but are much more practical / easy to slide in and store and the visibility a plus. These were custom fabricated by Custom Marine Plastics in Bristol, RI.

Custom  hatchboards - We never have these in while sailing along the coast.  However, when off shore, we will often have one or both secured in place to keep water from getting down below in the cabin when we take on large waves in the cockpit.

Spare Parts: 
Lots of stocking up on spare parts (e.g. macerator pump, bilge pump, fresh water pump, filters, belts, blocks, shackles, tons of fasteners and hardware, etc.). Basically, everything that's broken has been replaced with two items: the one that broke and an extra for next time it breaks. Where possible, we try to eliminate the root cause of the breakage. See the former blog post Water, water everywhere.

With so many parts and equipment, we endeavor to stay organized. In addition to many labeled containers that are stored behind the settees and in cabinets, there is a chart to label the contents of many of the more hidden spaces.

The bins as of a few months ago.  There's more now.

Comfort / lifestyle 

A few more features are mainly to just help us be more comfortable.

Full canvas cockpit enclosure:  Fabricated by Kinder Industries for cold weather sailing and for general living aboard while docked in the cool spring in Boston. The panels are easy to remove and store as it will quickly become a sauna as the temperatures inch up. 

Internet:  Unlocked hotspot with WorldSIM SIM card; bullet WiFi router on radar mast. Bob is working 25% during the voyage and needs decent connectivity for data and voice.  We will certainly try to hijack any free wifi we can find (perhaps when anchoring near a resort or other civilization), but the unlocked Alcatel hotspot will probably be the primary connectivity.  The data on the World SIM card is pricey and varies depending on which country you are in.  They partner with local carriers in 180 countries (the whole Carribean for sure). Because the hotspot is unlocked, we're also free to plug in any locally purchased pre-paid chip (if we find something cheaper than worldsim's data).

Defunded Projects

Perhaps as important what we did do, is  what we did not do. Below are a few items we discussed (often at length) but opted not to do:

Storm jib:  After consulting with North Sails, we believe a double reefed main or the storm trisail (mentioned above) and the ability to unfurl just a wee bit of the jib will provide appropriate sail plan options in heavy weather. We considered getting a "gale sail" that slips over an existing furled headsail, but our self-tacking jib has a very large clew-board (where the line attaches) and it probably would not work.

Single Side Band (SSB) radio:   The communication satellite was chosen instead but we also purchased a simple SSB receiver so we can listen in on conversations as another source of information.

Water maker:   It will be interesting to see how we manage filling our water tanks with the jerry jugs when dock side drinkable water is difficult to come by. Time will tell if it was the right choice to forego a water maker. Argon's carbon fiber "pocket" boom is also a pretty good water collector (as our passengers find out when we hoist the main after a good rain). We will definitely be collecting as much rain water in the Carribean as possible.

Windvane:  Although common for off shore boats to aid in steering over long distances, we are opting to use a combination of our autopilot and human power.

Wind generator:  We are fairly confident that with smart monitoring of energy usage and our efficient solar panels, we will have sufficient electricity so we opted not to also secure a wind generator.

As our departure date nears, there will surely be additional projects - there always are on boats.  But the above represents most of what we need to have in place for our big adventure. In addition, my last day of work looms near which also means my final paycheck. And Bob's 25% work schedule will start soon afterwards. Therefore it is a good thing that the money outflow will be easing up.

Lastly and importantly, one can have an ideal boat tricked out with all sorts of equipment, but good seamanship, judgment and situational awareness will reign supreme in keeping a vessel and crew safe and comfortable and getting us on to the next port.

Next stop..... Nova Scotia!!!