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. Internet research suggests a vacuum is forming in the tank, which could explain why it won’t start the second time around.


Categories: Friend's Boat, Life Aboard, Misadventures | 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

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

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

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