Fishing For Car Keys

It is safe to assume that if someone owns a boat, they most likely have more patience than the average person. I have been patiently waiting for my boat to go in the water for some time now and was excited to see it on the mooring when I pulled into the boat yard. I arrived later in the day because I was not expecting the boat to be in the water. Mike was kind enough to call his friend to put my boat in because his hydraulic boat trailer has been in pieces for a while. I felt bad he had to call his friend for a favor, but at the same time I am paying him a lot of money and he has one job to do and that is to put my boat in the water.

By the time Tom and I finished rigging Big G it was happy hour so I bailed on sailing anywhere and we enjoyed some hard ciders and wine. The following morning I was up at 6am to start my first day of sailing for the season. The first order of business was to get a dead battery off my boat and into my car. I placed the battery on the rail of Big G and climbed down into my dinghy. The battery, combined with my weight, made the bow of my dinghy go straight under water and I immediately realized I made a terrible decision. It was too late to heave the 150 pound battery back onto Big G so I let it go. The battery and Little G went straight towards the bottom. Fortunately Little G rolled over, dumping the battery, and popped back up. I swam over to the dinghy and grabbed the bow line and tethered it onto Big G before pulling myself out of the water.

It is rather difficult pulling yourself up onto a boat when you are tired and weighed down with wet clothes and boots. One pull-up sounds easy but it can be quite difficult even with a ladder alongside the boat. I pulled Little G out of the water and bailed her out. She sustained some damage to the bow where the battery cleaned out a chunk of the rail when it dumped. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea and I cursed myself as I took my soaking wet clothing off and placed them on the rails of the boat. After placing my pants on the rail, I heard the clink of car keys and a plop into the water. Choice words were then said. I had lost my car key, two post office box keys, and my old man’s house keys.

Things were not looking good for my first sailing day of the season. After some amount of time I managed to grapple the battery by the rope handle and painstakingly lifted it off the muddy bottom, scratching the side of my boat and covering it in mud. A small price to pay for not thinking things through properly. After dropping the battery off and accepting the loss of my keys, I got under way in hopes of getting 10 miles or so before the small craft advisory at 2pm. I sailed out of the bay to Pemaquid Point, a couple of miles out, and was greeted with at 10-15 MPH head wind and respectable swells. I turned right around and went straight back to the mooring. I was not feeling lucky that day.

Seeing as how I now had some time on my hands, I went to see if Tom had a magnet I could use to fish for my car keys. I was not all that disappointed to be back on the mooring, I still had a few things to work on. After acquiring the magnet I began trolling it around the bottom in hopes of catching some keys. At some point it occurred to me that my keys may not be attracted to the magnet because they are stainless or brass. I tested this theory on Tom’s keychain and I was correct. Although the key ring did stick, so there was a chance.

To better increase my chances, I acquired a bigger magnet from Mike and strung them both together, along with a treble hook for good measure. After a couple of hours I just tied the rope to the rail and left it to drag along the bottom as my boat drifted with the tide.

After studying the weather and reflecting on my poor decision making skills, I decided to bail on sailing for the week. Lots of rain and East winds would make for very slow progress, and I wanted to be in Bar Harbor for the weekend so I could be with Stefanie. It was nice to finish a few projects on my boat and to spend a day helping Tom with his boat, so my week was not a complete loss.

Living in the Boat Yard

Living in a boat yard has its charms. It’s nice to be able to walk through the work shop past employees painting, or varnishing, in a towel to use the shower and no one finds this strange at all. I found a bar of soap on my boat from Utches Marina, in New Jersey. It kinda smelled like some sort of solvent mixed with strict USDA regulations and a hint of peppermint. Didn’t particularly care for it all that much. I could tell the shower had not been used in a while due to the pile of cleaning supplies inside as well as a respectable layer of dust.

Tom and I have been keeping each other company while staying at the yard. Each night we have a happy hour and drink whatever alcohol is stored in the bilge, usually a bottle of home made wine or cider. We help each other with various projects and share tools. Tom helped me wire a flood light to the stay spreaders on the mast. Most boats have a steaming light about two thirds up the mast with a 12 watt halogen light for motoring at night. My girlfriend did not think this was bright enough for other boaters to see so she bought two 50 watt, LED flood lights to mount on the spreaders (she was contemplating a bigger one and decided the 50 watt was best). I only mounted one and I am pretty sure if I turn it on at night the boat will be seen for miles and could very well be a navigational hazard. I bolted it on and used wire ties and mousing wire to ensure it would not come down. Stefanie was excited after I completed the project and this made me happy. Mike however, just about slapped me upside the head when he saw my floodlight upgrade. “If the sails luff, it may rip a hole in the jib if it catches on the wire ties”. I told him I will pay attention when tacking or whatever. Unfortunately he is usually right and my jib will probably be swiss cheese by the end of the summer. I think it will be fine though.

I put another coat of wax on the hull and called it good enough. With any luck I will have the boat in the water on Monday the 24th. I am waiting on Mike to get his hydraulic trailer back together. It did not look too promising when I last looked at it. I have spent thousands on my boat in the last few months and want to do more sailing and less waxing.

Wax and Pain

I spent the last two whole days working on my rig, and would even go as far as to say I made some progress. Fortunately my friend Tom, who I had purchased the boat from last year, was also working on his new boat. Tom is an electrician and he gave me some much needed pointers. My girlfriend bought some rather large LED flood lights to mount to the mast spreader in order to light up the deck (so drunk boaters won’t run into us in the middle of the night while we’re at anchor). I was not entirely sure how to wire them in so I went to the owner of the yard, Mike, for advice. He gave me a complicated, long winded answer and after about 30 seconds all I heard coming out of his mouth was white noise.

Tom and I looked at my mast, which was set on a couple of saw-horses, and came up with a simple solution that seemed solid. Fortunately there were already holes in the mast from the former spreader light that was torn out so it did not take too long to snake in new wires and put on connectors.  I still have yet to find a way to mount it. I do not want it falling off the mast and cracking a hole in my boat or my head. I also need to place it in a location where it faces down and does not get caught in the sails.

Tom and I enjoyed happy hour together later that evening when I pulled out a bottle of home-made white wine from my bilge. It is nice to have a friend to talk to when staying at a boatyard. I later put a coat of wax on his already shiny boat to pay for his advice.

After feeling a little jealous about how shiny Tom’s boat looked, I decided to help myself to his cheap power buffer to see if it could tackle years of oxidation and carbon buildup from my engine. About four hours later, I had one side finished and my arms were pulp. The clean shine really brought out all the scratches and dings in the gel coat. It did look better though, much better. I was actually very proud of myself and happy I made my boat look less sad.

Mike seems to like me enough to tease me here and there. I think he went a little overboard when he saw my paint job on the dinghy. I think it looked fine, the only slight issue was that I painted the whole thing with bottom paint. “Hey Tom…Benton painted his whole dinghy with bottom paint!” “What! Awwww!” I specifically remember thinking, who cares what I paint my two hundred dollar dinghy with? It was good enough to cover up my heinous fiberglassing job, and it looked better than before. Who really cares?

Waxing the second half of my boat was not as easy. I bought a new buffing pad so I did not have to use Tom’s and that was a mistake. The new buffing pad seemed to take the cleaner stuff and smear it around and make a mess. After about four hours, I had a blotchy shine on the second half of the boat. I gave up when it started to rain, it did look better in a blotchy, shiny kind of way. Of course this is the side that people see when they drive by the boatyard, which is even better.

 

Firing The Toaster Oven

Summer 2016

I like my girlfriend, I like her so much I got her a toaster oven. Simply put, this statement sounds kinda silly seeing as how I don’t even have a toaster oven in my real life outside my boat. Getting a toaster oven to run on a boat off solar power and batteries in order for me to be able to bake a pineapple upside-down cake or whatever is no easy task.

1100 watts is a lot of juice to pull from a battery for more then 30 seconds and I found myself making a spreadsheet on electricity coming in from the solar panels and engine and what is going out to the toaster oven among other instruments. After doing lots of simple math I came to the conclusion that I needed a 100 amp inline bus fuse. These are quite hard to find in stores but I got one off Amazon and then realized a circuit breaker would be a better idea. I pondered the idea of a circuit breaker but soon realized I was getting in over my head. I blew two of my three fuses by accidentally letting the positive wire touch metal objects.

First order of business was getting an 1100 watt inverter to run straight off the battery. Found one on Amazon and installing it was a little frightening. Anyone can hook up red and black wires. The question is, can you do it with without catching things on fire or overheating the battery? It does not help that my battery bank is about 6 inches away from my diesel tank. A little research showed diesel fumes are not that explosive unless combined with chemicals from an exploding battery. When powering the inverter for the first time I was a little skittish and concerned something was going to spark or catch fire.

After installing and mounting the inverter I began plugging small things into it to see how many watts various items pull. My cellphone and all the LED christmas lights did not even register on the inverter. A small heater about half the size of a loaf of bread pulled a whopping 262 watts. Its enough to warm up my hands and I could run it for an hour before the batteries were low if the engine was not running.

The next question is, how long I can run my batteries before they are dead? (I later tripled the size of my battery bank to three marine D batteries). So we start the engine and run it at on a sunny day and get somewhere in the vicinity of 500 watts output. I somehow estimated this to be 30 minutes of toaster oven. I could make a small pizza, endless happiness. The cake requires 375 degrees for an hour or whatever and I then began doing some slightly more complicated math in an attempt to figure out at what temperature is the toaster oven most energy efficient for best cooking results. High temperature for short periods or lower temperature for longer?

To get that additional 30 minutes we have a few options. 1) I could buy a generator and be done with it. Not my first choice, kinda loud and bulky, although not any louder than my engine. 2) Double the size of my battery bank, which I eventually did and still could not run the toaster oven. Then I started asking myself where to draw the line on this toaster oven. I like my girlfriend and she likes my boat and I want to keep it that way. We also started talked about a small fridge at one point (300-ish watts).

I find it rather refreshing to think about to be honest. When I visit with family and friends it is the same old issues, we need a better job, a bigger house, a partner, a car, health insurance, and the list goes on. My biggest problem at this moment in time is powering a toaster oven so we can make a cake.

About a month after the request, I plugged the toaster oven in and it would shut the inverter off at about 300 watts. After talking with an electrician we came to the conclusion that the inrush current was too high and the wire connectors need to be soldered. I almost got a coffee maker to work, if it hit 500 watts I think it may have been fine.

Today the toaster oven sits in our apartment and we complain about it because it does not make toast fast enough.

Spring Repairs

It’s nice to feel Spring breaking free from the grips of Winter. Any time I see sunshine I move to the window and sit in the sunbeam to help ward off seasonal melancholy. Motivation is hard to come by these days, and I have relied on staring out over the bay on a calm, mildly warm day imagining how nice it would be to not worry about time and meander my way up the coast. It’s the small things in life.

There will be some nice weather next week and I think I will spend a couple days on my boat getting everything ready. It took skill to fit a vintage bicycle, the boat dodger, a sail and all the clothes I own into my car. A rather odd combination of things if one did not know I owned a boat.  My friend Tom will also be at the boat yard working on his rig and I may attempt to do a little labor bartering. I’m hoping I can help him turn some wrenches in exchange for his expertise on wiring some lights into my mast.  There will come a point where I will just put it in the water regardless and work on things while under way. If the boat floats, the sails and engine work, what else do you really need?

Smashed Antenna

Unfortunately the antenna on my car was smashed off at some point and run over, which bothered me a little. Being a man of statistics, it did not take me long to find the antenna. I deducted that there was a high probability of it being in the driveway because the easiest and most effective way to break off an antenna is by cleaning the snow off your car with a long brush swinging it like a baseball bat.

Having a car is essential unless you are sailing, then it’s deadweight. Parking it at my old man’s house while off sailing did not seem like a terrible idea, seeing as how he is retired I did not think he would drive all that much. It gets much better gas milage then his truck so he only drove my car unless he needed to move something.

Having no place to live and driving between my parents houses, girlfriends place and my boat I had time to stew on my broken antenna. For some reason the religious stations still came in perfectly clear while public radio always got fuzzy. It’s a long, pleasant drive to my boat through small towns you would never know existed. It is hard to get anything exciting done to the boat and I usually just go to make sure it is still there for some reason. It is hard to find motivation to work on anything because it is painfully cold out and there is no warm weather in the near future. I did however wire my solar panels back into my battery bank so they do not die a slow, cold, painful death. The Mast was taken off the rails of the boat and set on some saw horses alongside Big G. The spreader was placed on a board to keep it out of the mud and cables dangled on the ground in an unorganized manner. As usual it was a sad looking sight and I tried not to think about it.

Stefanie wants some flood lights wired into the spreaders on the mast and I am not even sure how to fix the lights that are already on the mast not to mention completely wire in new ones. I took some time to look for the guy at the yard but usually can’t find him when I need him so I dropped him a line and he instructs me to buy a better light and wire them in when it’s warm out. I will probably end up watching a youtube video on wiring, attempt to figure it out, break something then call the guy at the yard again, in that order.

Having driven a good distance to Bittersweet Landing, I wanted to feel like I accomplished something so I cleaned up Big G and kicked some show off the deck before raiding my alcohol stash under the seat cushions and beginning the long, slow drive back to nowhere in particular.    

The Waiting Game

It is difficult to get anything done on my boat because I have to rely on the folks at the yard to put the mast on as well as put it into the water. I also need to learn how to wire things inside and outside the mast, which may prove difficult, however there is a video on Youtube for just about everything. Fortunately I can fix a lot of things while under way or at anchor if I am not drinking to much. It has been rather cold in the last few days and it is probably best if I wait a month or so before I put Big G back in the water. Depending on the weather I may make a run for Nova Scotia before I have to start work if I am feeling ambitious.

There is never a shortage of things to repair on the boat though. Believe it or not I am pretty handy with a sewing machine and I have reupholstered the plastic on my dodger, bringing it back to life. Choice words were used at times when sewing it due to its thickness. The former plastic did not like the cold and shattered when I stomped on it dozens of times while taking sails down. Sometimes I like the quiet and boredom but most of the time I want to get back out and have another adventure.

Ice Beard

When the anchor snapped, there was no loud noise, just a little thump. Nothing to raise much alarm.

01/08/2017

At that point in our trip, Stefanie was paranoid at every sound. She checked the anchor alarm and realized we were dragging anchor at two knots. I knew exactly what had happened, so I started the engine right away before we were on top of the Inner Delaware Bay breakwater. We were lucky it snapped while we were awake.

We knew there was an inlet a short distance away with a town dock where we could tie up. The wind was blowing at gale force and the visibility was around 50 yards with snow blowing sideways. There was about 10 feet of depth outside the breakwater and the waves were big enough to break as I was driving towards the inlet. I was quite terrified when water started breaking over the boat. I advised Stefanie to put on the survival suit. We radioed the Coast Guard to inform them we were concerned and not sure we could make it to the inlet. We gave them our location, which was about a mile from their station. They acknowledged us and took no action.

It took an incredible amount of focus to keep calm and stay properly oriented into the wind and waves. I looked behind me and saw a silver pilot boat emerging out of the blizzard with a red stripe and shark teeth on the bow. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief at the sight of the metal shark pilot boat. A second pilot boat motored ahead of us and gave us directions on the safest way to get into the inlet.   

The two pilots overheard our previous radio traffic and were kind enough to come out in a blizzard and stay with us until we were safe. I am sure the pilots could hear the urgency in Stefanie’s voice while she she was talking to the Coast Guard.     

We told the Coast Guard we did not need a paramedic. They sent one to the town dock anyway, they were waiting for us when we arrived. I am glad I did not know anyone in the town, it was a bit embarrassing. As we pulled up to the dock, I could see a medic walking down the ramp taking pictures with his phone. I can imagine it was quite a site to see; a sailboat covered in snow and ice, battered by waves, in a state of chaos with ropes going every which way pull up to the dock in a blizzard. And at the wheel of this sad looking tattered vessel was a tall man in a red jacket, khaki pants, and a ginger beard covered in more than an inch of ice on the right side. Quite a sight to behold.

After tying up to the dock, the medic asked if we were okay. He told us there was a coffee shop just up the road with “coffee and shit” before scurrying back to his ambulance to get warm.

I knew this was the end of our sailing voyage and the beginning of the next chapter that included getting the boat home and serious financial issues. We parked the boat in a slip at a local marina and went home. I had to get a running start to get in the slip because it is a little shallow at low tide. This walk of shame made me a bit sad until I realized that achieving a goal is not necessarily a good measure of success. It is easy to achieve simple goals. Ones that test your will and sanity may take a few tries.

When I got back to my mail, I owed thousands in taxes and various other bills I probably should have taken care of before the voyage. Ignorance is not an excuse, that is the motto of the Revenue Service. My mottos are a little more impulsive, which does not jive too well with the Maine Revenue Service. I accepted defeat, payed my bills, and learned to knit to pass the time while staying at Stefanie’s very domestic and quiet parents’ house. At times, I would take my frustrations out by tearing apart hats or whatever I was working on when I made a mistake. I can tell you for a fact that it is easier on a relationship to live together on a boat in the freezing cold than to be broke at a parents’ house with a spoiled cat that makes my eyes itchy.

After recuperating on land, Stefanie said she wanted to ship the boat back to Maine. I was not a fan of this idea because I knew it would cost thousands more and neither one of us had the money. Stefanie knew that if I sailed the boat alone I would take more risks and would be doing it in the spring in very unpredictable weather. I could not find anyone else to sail it back alone or with me, and it would have cost about the same. And of course I could have just gone anyway against Stefanie’s wishes, however this would be bad for the relationship because the point being she cares about me. I felt a bit backed into a corner and lots of money unfortunately seemed like the most practical way out. I wanted to live my life but I was having impure thoughts about selling Big G, finding an apartment, drinking beer, and buying questionable fürnitüre like every other American.

Stefanie created a GoFundMe account under my name to pay for shipping the boat. We ended up posting it under my social media accounts. This was our first major fight. I do not like asking for money from my friends, whom I cherish very dearly. In the end, I was happy she did it. No one really cares and will probably forget it a day later anyway.  A lot of people donated money, which gave me mixed messages. We raised enough money to cover a quarter of the cost to have it shipped back to Bittersweet Landing. I can deal with losing money and laughing at myself, but I am not a fan of charity. I would rather be poor, kind of like ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.

It was a relief to have Big G back in Maine and on blocks. After worrying about it every day for two months, it was almost worth the $4,000 just so I could have piece of mind and move on. Every time the wind blew or a nor’easter passed through, my anxiety would increase a little.

Midnight Tow

He was a friendly, sympathetic captain and by the book. I saw no reason to haggle a price with the man and hoped that he would cut me a break if I was calm, professional, and kind. I was not so fortunate, but found comfort in the fact that I made the guy’s job a little easier and put a meal on his family’s table. I thought about being more aggressive, however I was not in a position to negotiate and I had a feeling this was not his first rodeo.

01/03/2017

The Sea Tow dispatcher was not as friendly, and I found myself apologizing for bothering him. He seemed to be agitated about getting a call from the Coast Guard after midnight on January 3rd, looking for a tow as soon as possible. I saw nothing wrong with this, it is after all a 24/7 tow business and I am not sure who would not want their boat off the sand bar before the tide goes out and it begins to list.  He knew exactly how much I was going to pay his captain and could have been a little more sympathetic, seeing as how I was the calm one and my boat was getting battered on a sand bar in the middle of the night with 15 mph winds and rain, and have to eat the tow bill. The coordinates for my location were relayed wrong (not sure if this was my fault or the Coast Guard’s) and they came back to a location in Florida, so the Sea Tow captain ignored the first call. The Coast Guard clarified my location over the radio and relayed it to the Sea Tow captain and he arrived an hour or so later. After having spent time living and working in New Jersey, I knew this attitude was the norm.

Some of NJ is charted, but the depth is significantly wrong. Most inlet channel markers are not charted and the only way to make it through NJ, aside from going a minimum of three miles offshore, is by seeking local knowledge and following temporary markers, not charts or GPS.

We strayed from the channel to anchor in a thoroughfare for the night. We later learned there were channel markers once upon a time, but the Coast Guard had pulled them up for the winter. We relied on our charts (which was our first mistake) dropped anchor in 12 feet of water and all seemed well. The charts and GPS showed 20 feet of depth and plenty of space. The wind shifted during the night and the anchor line got wrapped around the keel, making us side to the wind, and we began to drag anchor. I still can’t quite figure out how the anchor line got wrapped around the keel and not the rudder. The wind always kept tension on the line, and currents must have been involved.

There was too much tension on the anchor line and I could not haul it in. I did not want to start the engine for fear of getting the rope in the prop. I tied some jugs to the anchor line and cast it off. It was too late. We were in four feet of water and unsure of which way to go. It was high tide and the tidal range in the bay was only two feet. After motoring and trying several different methods to list the boat, I called the Coast Guard and they sent out Sea Tow.

Waiting for Sea Tow was the hardest part. We stood in silence, soaked, with rain beating against the cabin, listening to each wave push the keel further into the marsh. It was a sad sight, and an even worse feeling. We found comfort in the fact that someone was en route to help.

The captain was kind enough to go back for my anchor (wouldn’t be the last time I lost my anchor) after getting us off the marsh. He was a bit sad that he had to bill me. It could have been an act, but he seemed genuine. I asked the captain how many boats he tows off the marsh in his small stretch of the NJ Intracostal Waterway. He said about 550 boats each summer, and that is with all the channel markers in place. I suddenly got sick to my stomach, thinking about how far we had left to go.

Drifting the East River

New York Harbor

12/29/2016

It was a foggy day the first time anyone hailed me on the radio. He just politely wanted to make sue I got out of his way. The East River was a busy place and I did not want to be that guy that got in the way of large commercial vessels. I stayed as far right as I dared  to go, drifting by the heavy vehicle traffic on the Interstate about 30 feet away. At times, I would be passed by joggers making there way down the sidewalks along the river. It was the most pleasant experience I have ever had in New York. I did not have to worry about taking wrong turns. No one seemed to bother me if I hugged the right side and slowly motored towards the Statue of Liberty.

Things got a little more stressful when I got into the Upper Bay by the Statue of Liberty. There were commercial vessels going every which way. I could not figure out where the channel was or which side of the markers I should be on. We took a couple of pictures and were happy to get back into wide open spaces and make our way towards New Jersey.

We soon learned New Jersey was the most terrifying place of our entire voyage. We spent New Years Eve in Manasquan Inlet, which we soon started calling Manashit Inlet. They claimed it was the safest harbor in New Jersey, probably due to the fact that it is a large mud flat at low tide. We spent two nights there, tied up illegally to the only dock that had enough water at low tide for our draft. We unfortunately had no other options except the gas pump docks, which had strong currents pushing the boat up against the pillars. We made an attempt to leave on New Years Eve but were forced back due to a large head wind and very impressive sized swells. It was hard to keep our moral up in such a miserable place with old rusty fishing boats abandoned in the mud. We got our bikes out and found a very expensive dive bar and got a hot meal and some beer.    

On New Years Day we made our way to Barnegat Bay, running aground twice on our way through the inlet. This is when I realized GPS and maps are of no use in New Jersey. Fortunately, I was able to motor off the soft bottom. Only a few onlookers noticed.