Camping versus Living

Almost two months ago, we left our land base behind to move onto our sailboat Tomahawk. At first, we thought of it as camping out for the summer, but now we are beginning to understand how you can live comfortably in such a small, isolated space.

If you truly want to make your boat a home, it has to have everything you need. We bought some bins at Home Depot recently, so that we can get our key items out of storage and have everything accessible on the boat. Our goal is to cut down our belongings to what fits onboard (other than Jason’s instruments).

To end the suspense, I’ll tell you now that the breaking glass was our friend Jamie’s French press crashing to the floor. English Bay can get a bit choppy and rocky, especially when the swells hit the boat side on instead of on the bow or stern. We promptly stowed all other items left out by Jamie in his chaotic haste to depart on time with the delivery boat and crew.

When our False Creek permit for Tomahawk expired, we successfully transferred our lives over to Paramour and moved the comparatively massive boat into the Creek. Soon, we will do the same in reverse. It works out well for us right now.

Last time, I mentioned that our brand new engine isn’t working right. When we start it, it stalls out as soon as we put the choke in. We’ve figured out how to keep it going by feeding it more gas than it should need to idle, but now we’ve encountered other issues. Once it’s on, it runs great, but when we shut it off, it refuses to start again for a while. We experienced this under uncomfortable circumstances when we were trying to motor back into the anchorage and ended up having to drop anchor to avoid hitting other boats or drifting too far into the swim area.

Of course, it decided to work perfectly right after we made that decision, so Jason had to pull the anchor right back up again. Lovely times.

(On the same outing, we learned we still have far to go before we can sail comfortably or efficiently… or even in the direction we want to go.)

Everyone says the problem is the carburetor, but we beg to differ, since we’re so knowledgeable and all. The reason for our opinion is that when we took it into the dealer, they charged us a hefty sum and proceeded to tell us that it worked perfectly. So we think the issue lies in the fuel setup. We still have our old tank from the original engine, so we are going to try hooking it up to that to see how it goes. Research internet suggests a vacuum is forming in the tank, which could explain why it won’t start the second time around.

Maybe.

 

Categories: Friend's Boat, Life Aboard, Misadventures | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Rock and Roll

Our first few nights on Tomahawk were peaceful, despite some bouncing around out in English Bay. We were a bit wary rowing into shore when the waves picked up, but we found a place to lock our Walker Bay onto the beach and all was well. However, I found myself suffering from an inability to get into anything, even reading, while sitting on the boat.

Jason rigged up a tarp for a sun shelter, but it flapped around at night making a ruckus. So that idea was scrapped. Most people have a proper Sunbrella cockpit shelter to keep the sun off. Bits of rigging make noise at night too, and not just on our own boat. We dubbed a neighbouring craft “Noisy Halyard” due to the pinging noise of the line slapping against the mast all day and night.

We soon discovered that English Bay was making us irritable and exhausted. So we moved into False Creek. The silence and lack of motion were a welcome respite from the effort of the bay. We anchored next to the dock, so it takes us much less time to get to shore. Plus we can sleep at night.

Back on July 1st, for our first night as liveaboards, we slept in the V-berth, a small cabin in the bow of the boat. If it was just me, I could probably sleep fine in there, but the two of us were way too cramped. Jason is also not as short as me and the weird angles made it extra confining. The boat cushions need replacing too. Musty smells added to our discomfort, so they had to go. Since then, we’ve converted the dinette to a berth (bed) and have been okay there. It’s a bit short for Jason and there isn’t much wiggle room for either of us. Luckily we like each other a lot and we have been settling in to a routine.

Last night, we stayed on our friend Jamie’s boat Paramour. We are boat-sitting while he’s away delivering another boat to Mexico (poor guy, hehe). It was much more comfortable, albeit a bit musty and rocky. After watching an amazing fireworks display all up close and personal, we woke up to the sound of glass breaking. But that’s a whole story in itself, maybe for the next post. Also a bit about our brand new engine not working right…

Categories: Friend's Boat, Life Aboard | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Refloating Again

A boat on the beach is always a sad image. Early one Monday morning in June, as I was getting up for work, I saw our friend Jamie had left me a voicemail. He’s a man usually more inclined to use Facebook or texting, so I knew something was amiss.

I feared for Tomahawk.

But to avoid keeping you in suspense, I will say right off that Tomahawk was sitting perfectly safe and sound where we left it. We had recently moved after an uncharacteristically petulant call from the VPD Maritime Unit. They said we were in the swimming area off Kits Beach, but the guy on the phone, allegedly a police officer, didn’t seem to know the anchoring rules or what our permit was for… and he asked if we were using a brick to anchor because we have a spare anchor on our bow… weird.

Anyway, so Jamie’s boat Paramour had landed on the beach exactly where Tomahawk was last fall. I called work to see if I could come in late and they gave me the okay. Jason and I took our shovel down to the beach to dig it out. Jamie’s brother Michael arrived shortly afterward with more shovels and we all madly set to work. As usual, the media came by to make a story our of it and many spectators stopped and chatted. A few people offered to help, all fellow boaters, while the majority simply sipped coffee and stared.

It turned out his anchor hooked into a tire on the bottom of English Bay, leaving the boat free to drag. With so much trash around here, it seems like it was bound to happen eventually. Knowing how easily that can happen is a good motivator for setting your anchor properly (pulling back on it with your motor in reverse) every time.

I had to go to work, but Jason and the others managed to kedge off. Jamie and a couple of others put out three anchors to pull Paramour out at high tide.

Another successful refloating!

Categories: Anchoring, Friend's Boat, Misadventures, Troubleshooting | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liveaboards

We have been living on Tomahawk for a week now (which is a good excuse for the lack of posting). There are still a lot of things to do to get settled in, so we are busy: buying propane, hooking up a battery/electrical system, scraping and painting the bottom, cleaning inside and out, organizing our stuff into bins and compartments, etc. Lots of ups and downs, sometimes literally, especially on windy days!

Soon I will post further updates about our various adventures before and after moving on board, such as refloating our friend Jamie’s boat Paramour and fitting everything into storage. Also, yesterday we were sort of trapped on the boat because our dinghy is hard to get into on a choppy bay. Today we plan to remedy this by buying a fender step to hang over Tomahawk’s side.

If all goes well, I’ll be updating a bit more frequently again in the near future!

Fender Step

Our new fender will look something like this

Categories: Cleaning, Electricity, Getting Started, Life Aboard, Practical Stuff, Supplies | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

One Month

At the end of the month, we plan to move aboard Tomahawk. We have so much left to do to get the boat ready and we continue to have obstacles thrown at us.

Recently, our Zodiac got stolen. The person cut the ring off of where it was patched to the boat, leaving our lock on the dock. Luckily, we had just purchased a new Walker Bay hard shell tender. The new tender has a wheel in the back (stern), but it isn’t enough to carry it all the way from where we have it in storage down to the water. It’s several city blocks of sidewalks and pedestrians and traffic.

But we don’t want to leave it at the public dock overnight after all our other negative experiences.

Once we move onto the boat, we will be keeping it with us except for a few hours during the day. With a lock, it should be fine (knock on wood).

We’ve also ordered a new outboard engine. It’s a 5hp Tohatsu with a five-year warranty. If we maintain it properly and run it regularly, it should give us lots of use and peace of mind. And it puts up the value of our boat for resale, especially if it’s still under warranty at the time. The Walker Bay would too, but we plan to keep that when we upgrade.

Speaking of upgrading, we have started looking at bigger sailboats in the 35-40′ range. Last week, we took a trip to Nanaimo to check out a C&C Landfall 38 and a Hunter 35. In the morning before we got on the ferry, we visited a Catalina 36, the big sister of Tomahawk. All were appealing, but requests for advice led us to understand that we need an offshore boat, even though we don’t plan to go offshore for a few years.

That eliminates the Catalina and the Hunter, which were both built for cruising in sheltered waters. People have crossed oceans in them, but people have done that in rowboats too. We would prefer something designed for that purpose.

So within the next few weeks, we have to get or build some sort of cart for the dinghy, haul out Tomahawk to clean and repaint, take the old motor off and install the new one, and clean the boat inside. We also have to sort through our stuff to see what we will get rid of, put on the boat, and put in storage.

So much to do, so little time! If we can’t do the haul out this month, we might have to beg a friend to let us sleep on their couch for a few days in July, so that we can get that all done.

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Our First Sail

Tomahawk has officially belonged to us since last September, but our first sailing outing on our boat didn’t happen until April 21st. As usual, nothing went smoothly, but everything ended well.

Our engine recently decided to stop spitting water out of the cooling system exhaust. I’m taking a basic boat and engine maintenance course through the North Vancouver branch of the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron. After I described the problem to him, a marine mechanic who taught part of the course deemed our engine not worth fixing; for the price of repairs, he said, we could replace the whole thing.

Being optimistic sailor types, we ventured out of False Creek by sail and paddle. At first, the sailing was working fine, but then our bow started pulling us around in circles. Our thought is that the headsail was trimmed for a close haul when it should have been on a run based on the wind direction. After some frantic maneuvering where we seemed to be losing steerage, we pulled out the paddles we’d bought recently. The current was in our favour (we planned it that way), so we rode it out to English Bay.

Yes, we got some strange looks and some people asking if we needed help, but we were quite happy to do it that way. Eventually, we got under the bridges and out into the bay, where we popped our sails back up and went for a glorious ride.

The winds were picking up, which was both exhilarating and scary. Tomahawk was heeling over pretty far, but I wasn’t sure if that was normal. Jason thought it was and I think he was right.

After our joyride, we were planning to anchor in the bay. We had bought an extra length of heavy chain, so as to avoid a repeat of last fall. No more groundings for us, please! However, we hadn’t rigged up the new chain to the old rode, or even figured out exactly how we were going to set it up.

We hove to, which is a maneuver that basically consists of putting your sails at odds so that they work against each other. Essentially, you park the boat. (Obviously, the current continues to play, but if you have enough sea room, you don’t have to worry about hitting things.)

On that day, the current was strong and pushing us out to sea, which was very distracting. Freighters were anchored all around us and we didn’t want to hit one. Also, the wind was getting stronger and stronger and there didn’t appear to be any other boats out – just one crazy windsurfer who seemed to be loving the high winds!

To make a long story short, we had no steerage and ended up dropping our sails to keep ourselves from moving too fast into a freighter. Without a working engine, it had become impossible to get into the anchorage and we ended up getting a tow from the Coast Guard. They were friendly and helpful and left us at the Granville Docks. Our friend Jamie towed us the rest of the way into False Creek, where we reanchored pretty much where we were before.

We talked to a few people and took stock of our mistakes and what happened. As it turns out, the growth on the bottom of our boat seems to have played a role in loss of steerage. At the same time, apparently it’s just really hard to sail into that anchorage. Plus we had the wind coming at us and not enough momentum to tack properly to get to where we wanted to be.

It was a great learning experience. Though nerve-racking at the time, it’s a great feeling to be out on your own boat, sailing around. Even when you get stuck out there.

Categories: Anchoring, Misadventures | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

House- er, Boatkeeping

The boat is tidier than it’s been in a long time, but don’t get me wrong. It’s far from tidy. We threw out a bagful of crap that the previous owner left on the boat. Evidently, he was of the mindset that you should keep everything, just in case, which is laudable, except that you only have so much space on a boat. To be fair, a lot of the stuff has been sitting doing nothing all winter and probably deteriorated since he decided to keep it.

We’ve also replaced our lost paddles (you can read about that adventure here) and bought a kayak cart. It works great, even though we haven’t inflated the tires yet. So we took one of our kayaks home to our balcony and tucked the other inside the boat’s cabin, since we had cleared it out. I told you it wasn’t actually tidy in there. Keeping it in there reduces the risk of theft, though, which has hit home pretty hard recently.

One of the oars from our dinghy got stolen along with our friend Mike’s rowboat that he built himself. When Jason told him, he seemed surprisingly blase about the loss. “Living on a boat is a good lesson in perspective,” he said. “You’re always wondering what you need to figure out next.”

I suppose this is true of owning a house, as well. Or even a car, in some cases.

Among other things, we stocked up on the required safety equipment for our boat’s size (manual bailer, sound signalling device, fifteen-meter throw rope, etc.). I made a rope ladder by following the instructions in a book about knots that we bought on sale a while ago.

We ordered oarlocks to replace the broken one on our dinghy, but when they arrived, they do not fit. We paid twice as much on shipping and customs as for the oarlocks themselves, which is a bit off-putting. We are going to try to return them, but we probably won’t get much of our money back. As of now, we are considering ways to rig up straps for a temporary fix. Of course, we also need to buy new oars, since someone thought it worthwhile to take one.

Jason is starting a woodworking course soon, so he will try to construct something sturdier once that gets on the go.

Categories: Getting Started, Practical Stuff, Supplies | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beautiful Seas

(Disclaimer: it was a bay, not a sea.)

The day after our adventure with the kayaks, our friend Jamie took the three of us out on his 43-foot cutter-rigged ketch Paramour. Until that day, I had no idea what those words meant, although I had seen them in some sailing publications and blogs.

So just to be clear, a ketch is a sailboat with two masts. A cutter has an inner and outer forestay (thick wires that support the mast and where the foresail clips on).

Anyway, it was a beautiful day and he had us do most of the actual sailing. Muna steered while Jason and I were in charge of tacking. Jamie also showed us his autopilot, which I had been curious about since watching Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story. (It’s on Netflix, if you want to check it out.) I didn’t really understand how a boat could have autopilot.

Now I know that it basically takes control of your rudder to keep the boat on a chosen course. The downside is that if the wind shifts, which it does a lot around here due to all the mountains and buildings, the course may no longer be the best one for the current sail trim. So basically, you still have to pay attention, but it is useful for taking a lunch or bathroom break. It also means you don’t have to stand at the wheel all day.

We went out farther than we had been so far, past the freighters but still not in fully open waters. Of course, you have to go pretty far to get to open waters around here, what with the Gulf Islands in the way. That’s a good thing for newbies like us though!

In addition to a crash course in sailing, Muna took some photos, which you can see below. See? Sailing has good times too! :P

Paramour at sunset. The wake in the foreground is from the dinghy we are sitting in.

Paramour at sunset. The wake in the foreground is from the dinghy we are sitting in.

Aw, family shot!

Aw, family shot!

Jason enjoying the view

Jason enjoying the view

Me chilling in the cockpit

Me chilling in the cockpit

Jamie and Jason on Paramour

Jamie and Jason on Paramour

Categories: Friend's Boat, Good Times | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Cold Dunk

My sister Muna has some experience kayaking, so we did something a bit unconventional. We only have two kayaks and they are by no means seafaring ones. They’re each six feet long and they lack a spray skirt, as well as storage compartments. Not exactly top of the line.

Before she even arrived in town, Jason and I had checked the weather for Monday and planned to get out to Tomahawk to do some cleaning and possibly paddle in to False Creek, if we couldn’t get the engine going. We had little faith in our little Honda engine, since we hadn’t had any luck so far. So we thought Muna and I could double up in one kayak and he’d take the other.

So far so good. I had my backpack full of boat odds and ends on my back; Jason had his on his lap. It was a fine day but the water was a bit rocky. That should’ve been our first warning. We carried our kayaks down to the beach, along with our newly purchased paddle board paddles to use for said paddling, if necessary. Before we put the kayaks in the water, we noticed a guy swimming in a wet suit and commented on how cold the water must be. It must’ve  been an omen.

Jason set off first and then the two of us managed to get on our way with a bit of an awkward start. Our combined weight set the kayak very low in the water so it was almost awash, but not quite. Some splashing and Muna’s almost fetal position notwithstanding, she managed to paddle us all the way across English Bay, which is no small feat. We got to the boat okay, where Jason was waiting with a length of line in hand.

Our major mistake, although not obvious at this point, was not tying our kayak docking lines onto the kayaks before heading to the boat. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s impossible to reach the front tip of a kayak when you’re sitting in it. So he was having some trouble tying up and we had a bit of mental scuffle with the issue of getting our kayaks attached to the boat.

This was our second mistake. We should’ve sat back for a moment and sorted it out, sitting very carefully. The waves rocked the kayaks enough as it were, without us shifting our weight around trying to solve things so unnecessarily urgently.

I saw Jason’s kayak starting to capsize, but couldn’t formulate a warning before he went over. A moment later, Muna and I were in the water too, dumped by our own rocky kayak. Jason had the presence of mind to grab his pack and Muna got our paddle and her hat, but the paddle board paddles and Jason’s kayak paddle went down.

If we ever had any doubt about the importance of lifejackets, we are now hardcore believers in wearing them at all times, unless you’re sitting in the cabin, or in the cockpit on a calm day. Muna’s hair didn’t even get wet. The buoyancy kept us above water even with the shock of the cold and wet, not to mention the weight of our backpacks.

Somehow, Jason managed to haul himself up over the stern of the boat, by climbing up the engine. I should remind you that Tomahawk is a 27-foot boat. Although extremely small in the wide world of boats, our boat’s stern is probably at least three feet above the waterline. It’s not easy to pull yourself out of water in ideal circumstances, let alone when the waves are tossing you and you’re quickly losing motor function.

I’m not sure if I would’ve made it out normally, but my sodden backpack was too much weight for me to pull in addition to my own body. Jason found a thick line on deck and I was able to give Muna my bag and pull myself up with Jason’s help. Then Muna was up and we helped her into the cockpit.

Soaked, disoriented, and freezing, we collected ourselves reasonably well. But when Jason took off his boot to shake out the water, it flew overboard. I guess the loss of limb control was stronger than it felt. I saw it land in the water and was going to try to jump after it, until Muna and Jason reigned me in. They were right, of course. It was just a boot. Another sacrifice to the sea gods.

Jason’s kayak had drifted off, but luckily ours was tied on by this point. Also lucky was the fact that the current was going into shore, rather than out to sea. Mike, a nearby liveaboard who we met briefly last fall, picked it up in his dinghy and returned it, but that was later.

For now, we were stranded and unable to start the motor, although Jason gave it a good try. Muna unhooked the mirror from the bathroom wall to flash some light toward shore and Jason got out the air horn. It gave a couple of good toots and then died miserably. So we got out the flares and fired one off.

This was when Mike showed up towing our second kayak in his spiffy, motorless dinghy. Not realizing how muddled we were feeling, he asked us questions about what we wanted to do and told us stories about random people slashing up his dinghy while it was on the beach. I couldn’t fully follow, but Jason gave him some contact info to meet up sometime in the near future. He offered to help us sail Tomahawk into the Creek if we couldn’t find another way.

Four officers from the police marine unit arrived shortly after this. They asked if we needed an ambulance. We said no, even though we could see flashing lights on the shore through the trees. Someone in the gawking crowd on the beach must have called 911.

We explained the situation and fortunately, they didn’t tell us off for having two people in one kayak. Their expressions made their views clear enough. After some questions about our ages and who the boat belonged to, they dropped us off at the ferry dock. None of us resented the questions; if something harmful had been going on, they may have preempted it. But our story was so stupid that I think they believed us pretty readily.

They offered to put the kayaks back on the boat and told us to wait in the parking lot for a ride home. The young woman took a while to get there, but we were in the sun and the shivering had mostly subsided. She was friendly and didn’t tell us off either. I have to say, so far the police have been extremely professional and pretty helpful at all times (this is our third time dealing with them in relation to the boat. For the other two, read this post and this one).

Once home, dry, and warm, we had a good laugh about it and threw all our clothes in the laundry. My phone is toast and Jason lost his sunglasses and hat, which sucks. But those are small things compared to how badly it could have ended.

Here’s what we learned:

  • prepare the end of your trip as well as the beginning BEFORE you set out
  • always wear your lifejacket (we already knew this, but it was certainly reinforced)
  • if the water is too rocky, don’t go out into it. In other words, respect the sea and don’t be overzealous

Clearly we weren’t too shaken up about it, because the next day we were out on the water with Jamie on Paramour. But that’s a story for another post…

Categories: Misadventures | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Big Test

Last Sunday, we had to rescue Charly from the cold waters of the Georgia Strait before hypothermia set in. The rescue involved a series of maneuvers including tacking and trimming the sails for a beam reach and then a broad reach. With a sharp 90-degree turn, we were able to fish Charly out of the water with our boat hook.

Did I mention that Charly is a life jacket? I imagine the folks at Simply Sailing would have to pay someone a lot of money to get in the water this time of year!

Day three on the water of our sailing course drew on all the skills we’d learned (or not) so far. It was the last day and our instructor Larry put us to the test. Then on Tuesday, we had the immeasurable pleasure of writing the knowledge test for PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator Card – like a driver’s license) and Basic Cruising.

It’s been an eventful time and a busy month. I had to rearrange my schedule to get the days off, which means I don’t have a whole lot of free time. Jason, on the other hand, has kept working until midnight on Saturdays; in other words, quality sleep isn’t really in the cards for him, since we met our instructor at the docks at nine in the morning.

The first day saw some engine troubles (which seems to be growing into a theme with us…). Joel was super calm and professional and we benefited from the incident, in a way. We had to scull back to the dock. In other words, we paddled a 24-foot sailboat through False Creek into the marina.

All in all, the class was worthwhile. Despite a lack of pedagogy in the on-water sessions, we were able to grasp what we need to get started on our sailing adventure. We are both fully licensed and have been making lots of sailing plans (more like sketchy possibilities, but hey, it’s a start, right?).

Our friend Jamie is back in town and he offered to take Jason, me, and my sister (who arrives from across the country for a visit tomorrow!) out on Paramour, his 43-footer that has put 40,000 miles of water behind it. Sounds awesome!

(As a side note, I’d just like to point out that I got my boating license before my driver’s license. For some reason, that amuses me.)

Categories: Getting Started, Lessons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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