Boat maintenance in an exotic location

It is said that sail cruising is mostly boat maintenance in exotic locations. We’ve given ourselves ten days to get Aurora ready before Selena and Brian arrive and, weather permitting, we head toward Sitka.  Here’s a running account of how we’re keeping busy.
Friday, May 21.  Wrestle full batten mainsail up on deck to free galley and port berth.  Take genoa and staysail up. Remove the buckets filled with rock salt, part of the winterizing routine that have kept the cabin dry. Put all the deck safety equipment back in place. Chat with Harbormaster Paul about the  mild winter.  Remove cushions – remarkably dry – from aft cabin. Find pots and pans under mattress they have held up and helped keep dry. Give surfaces quick wipe off to get rid of any mold.  Lunch on apple from Whitesboro, sausage from Portland, and granola bars from the galley. Tell neighbors, no we don’t have rats or river otters on board and brag a bit about the way we screened them out of the dorades.  Lay jib on foredeck and after a couple of false starts pull it up the forestay into place and roll it up. Empty out the duffel and stow away charts, books and our few clothes. Visit the legendary Hoonah Trading Company to read the bulletin boards and bring home fresh fruit, salad makings, mayo, mustard, and a pound of hamburger. Catch up with Bill at the liquor store while picking up gin and a box of Franzia Merlot. Have dinner. Make up the berth with fresh sheets, get the duvet in its big pillow case, wonder if our bedding will be this dry next year in Olympia, and, as the sun slowly starts to set, go to bed.
Saturday, May 22. Climb into the engine room.  Open both banks of batteries to check water level. Check fresh water in cooling system and transmission fluid in V-drive. Try starting engine and find the starter shorts out.  Move to deck work.  Get main out of bag. Slacken preventer and lower lazy jacks. Pull sail up on starboard atop dinghy and closer to mast. Start pushing slugs up the track while the Skipper urges me to fasten the halyard to the head so he can raise it.  Continue doing it my way, tying slugs to mast every so few, which is not necessary but which would work better if putting the sail on in a heavy wind.  Next the reefing lines and the cunningham.  Make many trips down into the cabin to look at the photos we took before removing them.  Finally pull the main up and realize reef lines tie below the boom.  Put them right, flake and tie the sail, put on the sail cover and bungie the halyard away from the mast.  Fasten the stay and hank on the staysail.  Next lunch of “Indian Tacos” to benefit the Mt. Fairweather Dance Group’s upcoming trip to Juneau.  Then go to the school/public library to catch some WiFi and clear mail. Come back and find Jack has WD40’d wires on the engine starter, which now works but still doesn’t crank the engine.  We distract ourselves by mounting the barbecue on the stern rail, which is going well until Doug walks by to say hello and I drop the Allen wrench in the drink.  It’s ten to six and the Hoonah Trading hardware store closes at 6.  I jog the whole way and arrive under the wire.   The sales people – think research staff in a tool library – immediately find the desired object and ring up my $1.59.  Return to boat and – more mindful now – tie all loose pieces to the rail  – wrench, barbecue, brace and brace knob – before putting them together.  Lose nothing to the sea this time. Tighten all the mooring lines, bringing above water levels the forward spring with a winter’s work of sealife growing on it.  Take a hammer to the barnacles on two fenders that have spent a couple of hours drying in the sun.  Things looking more shipshape now.
Sunday, May 23. Glowplugs most of the day. I’ve always thought the term glowplug sounds like some sort of kudos or award, where you bask in praise as others plug your talents. But so far nothing of the sort. Glowplugs are the little thingies that help the diesel in the high pressure fuel injected cylinders ignite.  No spark plugs on a diesel engine.  In fact, if you throw a lighted match into a pan of diesel, it won’t flame.  You need heat, glow, pressure, precision.  Thinking replacing the glowplugs would help start the engine, we set about it and took three and a half hours to change one.  Nothing like in marine diesel class at Portland Community College, where you work unobstructed on the engines that are rolled around on dollies. Nope, our glowplugs are really hard to reach: we work through two small doors in the aft cabin. Then you have to work around the fuel injector lines, which means you get about 15º purchase on each wrench turn. Add a trip to Hoonah Trading for the four different wrenches – two each for old and new plugs – but now we’re prepared there.  Since dropping tools in our engine room is only a bit less dramatic than throwing them overboard, we duct taped the wrenches and the flashlight onto a long cord.  We kept track of the little nuts that fasten down the wires on the top of the glowplugs by passing a length of sewing thread through them. It all worked.  As for the engine, it still doesn’t start.
Monday, May 24. The engine works.  We get some fuel in the system with  pumping and a full throttle.  In fact it starts better than ever with the new glow plugs.  It’s a hot day so we spend the afternoon on deck, slowly re-reversing the dock lines: for winter we’d put the eye ends on the dock cleats rather than the deck cleats. We scrub the cockpit with a brush and Simple Green, even the instrument panel.  Removed and washed the suction cups that hold a dozen of the 15 lines that run into the cockpit.  Arlen came by with the new dinghy and got the bilge pump working.  He’d taken it apart over the winter. Now we’re missing a clutch plate for the Torqueedo electric motor and have plumbing issues we need to decide to take care of or live with.
Tuesday, May 25 We decided we could flush the toilet with dishwater or bucket of seawater pending installation in the fall of an AirHead, the only portable composting toilet produced in the US and one with great reviews.  But Jack called West Marine in Sitka and ordered a new faucet for the galley sink.  Meanwhile I took some of the “Rescue Tape” that he had bought at the Wooden Boat festival to slow the offending leak.  Then Greg came by and we asked for a lesson on removing the secondary fuel filter, which is really hard to get to.   Since we’d just replaced the primary fuel filters during winterizing and found them fairly clean, he wondered why we’d wanted to remove it.  He pointed out that a diesel guzzling power boat uses the same filter.  Didn’t we realize that our engine only consume fuel teaspoon by teaspoon?  So filter is still in place.       Today was the day we gave away T/T Aurora.  I hated to see the pretty little skiff go but Mike, out fishing guide neighbor,   clearly likes her.  After hoisting her up on the halyard we dropped her down in the water, Mike got in and rowed her away, commenting on how nice she rowed.  Within the hour he had her in the shop for a bit of fiberglass repair and a new paint job.  Meanwhile Jack and I broke our new 8-ft inflatable out of its remarkably small bag and inflated it.  Jack had pored over the instructional manual for several hours.  The manual combines directions for a bunch of inflatables West Marine sells.  Not only was it hard to pick out which applied, the two pictures of how to put together the oars, clearly contradict one another.  But then we put it in the water and took a spin around the harbor and out past the island cemetery with its totem poles and Russian Orthodox Crosses, fish packing plant, to the fishing wharf  where we stopped to talk to a couple of  men who were reeling in fair sized Dolly Vardens.  I will warm to the new dinghy, which rows beautifully and is very light and easy to get up on deck.
Wednesday, May 26 Day off to go sailing!
Thursday, May 27 Emptied out all the lazarettes and hauled the stuff up on deck so that the sun (75º F) could do its work.  Brushed down the life jackets and washed the bags on the folding crab put and chair.  Cleaned out one of the bilge compartments, put in the former salt buckets and started to stock supplies.
Friday, May 28 We’re down to the easy stuff now.  Hauled the cushions from the V-berth and all the bedding.  Washed the duvet.  Cleaned out the nave station desk.  Mounted the solar powered windvane on the binnacle.
Saturday, May 29 Brought all the gloves, mittens and hats up  into the sun.  Moved canvas from V-berth locker to deck to air and to lazarette for the summer.   Aired all the ring binders with the technical manuals.  Sorted out of date port and marina info.   Filled the water tanks.   Failed completely to dislodge plastic plate from bottom of 10 qt pot being used as dishpan.

Aurora goes into hibernation

It’s called winterizing a boat and we’d never done it before.  

In his hefty tome, Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual: How to Maintain, Repair and Improve Your Boat’s Essential Sysetems, Nigel Calder offers his usual weighty, complex, comprehensive advice on the topic.   But when we actually, started talking to folks on the docks, we discovered putting a boat into hibernation mode involved lots Nigel missed, including a good mix of  common sense and folklore.

Harbormaster Paul assigned us a great slip near shore  kitty corner to his own boat and just opposite the  slip of Assistant Harbormaster Arlen.  He told us to dock bow out (or, rather, into the bad south winds) and to tie up real tight, lines dock to deck.   Some people, including wooden boat owners, go for loose tie ups but Paul says he tightens them all lines up no matter.     And woe to those who tie up deck to dock with leftover line laying about: those lines gets chewed up in the snowblowers.


But we weren’t even there yet.  First we needed to change the fuel filters which meant retrieving the emergency supply of diesel from under the dinghy.   Easy lift using the halyard and the Milwaukee Wrench, the unsung hero of the cruise, which deserves a picture.  (Normally when sailors want to reduce effort they install spendy winches and hydraulic davits.  Hardly anyone realizes that a $400 Milwaukee Wrench with a little adapter can perform as well if not better.)

Then there was an overdue oil change.  Just when we thought we had it down to a system, it ended up taking all afternoon.   Suction pump on the blink, oil spraying about, horrible hot sweaty day, everything invisible behind the forest fire smoke drifting down from the Yukon.   To add insult to injury we couldn’t get the  oil filter off and spent an hour retrieving the wrench when it got stuck.  As we were taking a break from our discouraging slide down the learning curve, Howard from the Perseus walked by and told us to tell him if there was ever anything he could do for us.    So we squeezed him into the space , provided light and orientation, and he got the thing off.  Lesson learned:  hand tighten the oil filter.

Then we topped off the tank with diesel to prevent any condensation.  It was low tide and the attendant  up on the fuel dock at Hoonah Trading lowered the hose 45 feet to reach us.   Climbing up the little ladder to pay, I saw the Aurora from a new angle and realized I’d missed a photo op.


Tying up was heart wrenching:  the absolute end of our cruise.   Next we removed on to the sails, taking pictures of  the cunningham and the reefling lines so we can get them back in the right place next year.    The sails more or less flaked themselves right on the deck and we commended Carol Hasse for the generous cut of the sail bags, which helped us get them on with no trouble.   

One morning Jack woke up with a solution to a nagging problem.  On the deck of Aurora are three dorades or air vents big enough to accommodate a weasel  or other animal that might choose to shelter  their nests in Aurora.  He ran off the Hoonah Trading for supplies and set to work.   He cut ovals of wire screen, fit them over the dorade openings and clamped them on with 8-inch circle clamps.    Brilliant.   (I took a picture but it seems to have gone missing.)

The next job was to put new antifreeze into the fresh water system and, for good measure, into the raw water system: we closed the throughhull, dumped the antifreeze into the strainer, and briefly started the engine to suck it in.    


On the last day we drained the water tanks, closed all the throughhulls, and dumped something pink and non toxic called Arctic Ban into the tanks, the sinks and the toilet.   We put pots under the aft cabin mattress to let air flow under it and piled other cushions and sleeping bags onto it.   We pushed the sails through the big hatch in the V-berth and brought them into the salon, where the mainsail goes clear from the head to the galley sink.    Into the V berth we chucked the rescue equipment from the cockpit.  

Then I hosed the mud off the anchor and scrubbed the deck, tying or bungee-ing halyards and lines off the deck surface, and fastened the dodger and covered the windshield, winches, hatches and rails.   

We didn’t tarp, although many of our neighbors said they do.   Sailboats are designed to  have water wash over them; power boats are not.  

We supplemented two small electric dehumidifiers with five buckets of rock salt, which are supposed to drink moisture out of the air.  We opened up all the lockers in hopes that air would move around our clothing and bedding 

That’s Aurora there in Hoonah Harbor, the tall mast behind the blue tarp.   It was really hard saying goodbye.