Alpha Happiness

Sometimes when you’re a sailor you want to get out there and sail fast and hard and just have a good hoot and holler. You want the sailing version of a rock concert. Unfortunately, Galapagos, as great as she is, is more the sailing equivalent of a night at the opera. She is lovely and cultured and refined, not fast and furious. That’s when it comes in really handy to have sailing friends with smaller boats. And that’s especially true when they are young and just getting feet wet in the world of sailing and want to turn all the handling over to you so they can watch what you do. Are you kidding me? Woo hoo! Let’s go! 20160917_161231

Thus it came to pass that we were taking a tour of our new friend James’ boat and he mentioned that he’d like for us to go out with him on his new-to-him Pearson 35 “Morgon Stjarna” (Swedish for Morning Star). He is new to sailing and looking for experience. We have a bit of that. All of us had filled calendars in the near future, so we decided to just drop everything and go. Don’t you love that? I really do. I love this ‘spur of the moment’ ‘let’s just do it’ kind of thinking. I mean, we can work on our boat anytime. And we do.  I vote for going sailing on a Pearson 35, especially as there was good wind today.

Sailing on this smaller boat reminds us of what we love about sailing. We like the feeling of the wind and the water, the heeling of the boat, the wheel work, the tweaking of sails. We love it all. And we love how easy it is to take that boat out and get her back into the slip.  Galapagos would have loved being in that wind today, but it was just so much easier to take Morgon Stjarna out, and the experience is completely different than sailing our queenly vessel, so high up off the water, so protected from the weather in our fine cockpit. We love out boat and we are glad to have her. She is perfect for what we want to do.  But we also love James’ boat for completely different reasons. Hey! Maybe we just love boats! fullsizerender

This would be James’ first real sailing experience on his boat and we felt happy to be the people on board with him and his roommate Kelvin, also new to sailing.   Checking the weather, it looked like wind of 11 knots with gusts up to 19. That’s good sailing weather for us but maybe more than the guys bargained for considering their inexperience. On the inside of the bay, the wind was great and we tooled along under full main and jib doing about 6 knots. Loads of fun and the boat was handling well. James and Kelvin were in their element.


Kelvin and James, safe and sound and still on board the boat.

As we got out toward the channel, we started getting whitecaps and steadier, heavier wind coming from the south west. I’m thinking that 11 knot forecast was, well, wrong. What a shock! Soon we were heeling magnificently, and while that can be fun, it’s not a very efficient way to sail and looking at the fellas, I saw white around all of their many eyes.  It was apparent that we were overpowered. We immediately reefed the jib but even so, there was a little too much heeling action and weather helm for it to be right. It was a brilliant opportunity to teach James about how his boat will head into the wind if you let her, and how if you release the main and spill wind she is going to pop up. Although it was a probably a little too soon in their sailing careers for those lessons, I’ll bet neither Kelvin nor James ever forget them!

We soon decided to just pull the jib in completely, and Mike and James went forward to reef the main as well. “Keep your center of gravity low, and keep one hand on the boat at all times.” It’s the mom in me. I couldn’t help this little reminder. This was James’ first experience really sailing his boat and it was a little bit of trial by fire. He already knows now what it feels like to be on the foredeck in fairly heavy wind. That’s a pretty exciting place to be, and not always in a fun sort of way. He did well, albeit with eyes wide open now to the force of mother nature in action.

You know, we forget how it feels to be brand new at this sailing thing. After years of sailing this bay, we take things like a quick heeling to 30 degrees for granted and don’t even break a sweat. We know the boat will come back up and what to do if she stays over too long. I was so glad for James and Kelvin they could see Mike and I loved every minute and were not in the least out of our comfort zones.

During a more sedate part of the sail. We were too busy sailing to take photos during the squirrels part of the adventure.

During a more sedate part of the sail. We were too busy sailing to take photos during the squirrely part of the adventure.

I remember years ago being taught how to sail our Catalina 27 and how I watched the previous owner who was on board with us. He was just calm and secure in his ability and in the boat’s ability. We had very brisk conditions and I could have been scared if he had shown any worry at all. But he didn’t, so I didn’t. I hope we were able to pass that on to James and Kelvin, in spite of all the joking about wetting one’s pants! The boat was not actually challenged in any way. We know from our experience that our boat can take more than we can. And that’s true of James’ boat as well.

With reduced sail we made good time across the bay, trying to out run a rain system coming up behind us. It was no good, though. It caught us just as we were getting ready to start the engine and take down the sail. By the time we were motoring into the fairway, I was hunkered down underneath the dodger, staying as dry as possible, memories of Moonrise, our old Cal 34, floating through my mind. In the bay, Alpha Happiness stood witness to the wide eyed wonder of new sailors and to the happiness of these kind of older ones. Apropos. Completely.  p1100498

James brought Morgon Stjarna  into the slip, his first time docking bow-in, nailing it perfectly the first time. He’s going to love sailing this boat as he gradually gets used to her, learns her ways, and is guided by the many more experienced sailors waiting with open hearts to give him a hand. Sail on, Sailor!

Us. Having fun. Not working on our boat.

Us. Having fun. Not working on our boat.




How Do You Spell Relief?

If you’re old enough to remember that little slogan, welcome, fellow middle-aged-TV-watcher-of-yore.  The updated spelling is a little bit longer than the slogan would imply. The new, 2016 year of Galapagos-boat-work way to spell ‘relief’  is ALOFT MARINE.  Boaters know that it is really hard to find anyone who is qualified, knowledgeable, and willing to do work on boats; especially when you are not a billionaire with a huge mega yacht. It can be really hard to find someone you can trust with your vessel. Personal recommendations are the only way to go because the best folks don’t need to advertise. Word gets out and they have plenty of business.


Thus I was over the moon excited to have attended the South Sound Women in Boating conference back in the spring and to come away with a coveted prize of three hours of boat systems and rigging consultation by Jason at Aloft Marine in Olympia. How did I accomplish this feat? I bought 30$ worth of lottery tickets, put them all in the basket for this prize, crossed my fingers, spit three times, spun in place, sacrificed the nearest virgin, then won. That’s how it’s done, folks. It’s complicated, but I’m kind of amazed at how many things I’ve won since we started this little adventure. Kind of makes me think we’re on the right track when stuff like that happens. Hey, maybe I should buy a lottery ticket!

When I won the certificate, a friend of mine who is a racing sailor in Olympia told me how lucky  I was. She and her husband have had Jason work on their boat and he was really excellent, she said. She assured me I would not be disappointed. A personal reference from someone I trust! Yay! Plus, he is a racing sailor himself and has been on sailboats for many years.  Bonus!

So last Thursday Jason showed up exactly on time at Galapagos’ slip and brought his rigging tools and all his other accoutrements with him. He began with the rigging inspection, which has weighed heavily on me since we bought the boat. I waited anxiously for his report about whether we would need to replace our standing rigging before heading offshore because this would be a financial burden we’d have to meet at a time when we have many other things to purchase. The answer was no. It’s in good shape, with a few minor things we need to either check more thoroughly, or need to correct. He climbed the mast and took a look up top, noting a few things that need changing or fixing, writing them down in his little notebook. He said we can do all of them ourselves.  The rig seriously needs tuning, which we already knew. But no replacement? One sigh of relief.

On to the mizzen mast. This rigging might be original to the boat, so he suggested replacing it. We were not surprised at that, and the expense for this mast will be much less because there is simply less material to replace.

The only major concern, which we’ve been aware of since last summer, is that there is some kind of leak underneath the mizzen mast, in the step. We spent time at a lovely anchorage last year, off Tzartus Island, isolating this leak and confirming that the leak is, indeed, under the mast. Oy.

See the water leaking out where the hatch is held open? That’s been going on for a LONG time. Jason says this design is asking for trouble. I can see his point.

This is a long time problem, as is evidenced by the amount of water damage to the bulkhead in the aft cabin and in the aft section of the engine room. Every time it rains, water leaks into the aft cabin through the attachment point for the lid to the hatch in that area. At least the water comes out rather than just sitting there soaking the wood.  That’s probably what has allowed that area to still be basically sound over this extended period of time. When we bought the boat we, of course, noted that, but the price of the boat was so good, we took the gamble.

You can see water dripping inside, and see there the water has damaged the teak veneer.

The bad news, although it’s not really ‘news’, is that we will need to pull the mast to fix this. Jason’s idea is to redesign this mast step to avoid this problem in the future. All of us will be surprised if we do not find some deck rot in that area. And we will have to check this bulkhead carefully, but tapping around on it doesn’t give you that hollow sound you’d expect with rot.  So that’s a project that will need attention during the big haul out next spring. The good news is that when Jason started giving me an idea of the costs involved in doing that work, they did not feel daunting, especially since Mike and I can do much of the work ourselves if we need to. We recently cut our teeth on fixing wood rot in the anchor/windlass locker. So the idea that this project is actually doable mostly by us is really a relief. Big boats can cost a lot, and we want to do right by ours.

Onward to the engine room, Mike finally got to consult with a marine engine professional about the engine mounts, confirm his plan to keep parts for an extra exhaust elbow on board, and in general, get someone with more experience than he has to lay eyes on the engine room and its systems. All to the good and another big sigh of relief all around.  14237499_902686499835969_5984000133208390165_n

By the end of our consult, we were so impressed with Jason’s professionalism, his communication skills (SO important!), and how down to earth he is. I really appreciated that he understood that keeping costs under control and telling us how to do things ourselves were primary concerns for us.  I also loved it that he has other resources in people he works with who do different things well, like finish work. This is what happens when people are secure with themselves and their business. You can have a real working relationship and not be afraid you are getting gouged in the wallet.  I asked him why he didn’t advertise more, and his response was that he actually didn’t need to. So there it is.

We feel so confident in turning some work over to Jason that we’ve decided to haul out next year at Swantown, down in Olympia, before we leave. That way he will be able to work Galapagos into his busy schedule without having to travel to Tacoma. We feel a big sense of relief in having found found someone we can trust to work on our girl for us and help us prepare her for the big trip.  In the boating world, finding a professional like Jason is the real prize. Thanks, Universe!



The Mysterious Case of the Sulphurous Smell

When we bought Galapagos almost three years ago, she came with a lot of things. She came with great equipment, generous storage, a lovely salon, and a world class cockpit and hard dodger. She also came with an unfortunate smell. This was the kind of smell that caused people to turn up noses, look around for the offending issue, and to then look at us in that way that people do when their basic manners keep them from expressing their complete disgust.  Boat people know that boats have smells and accept a certain level of stink as just part of the lovely experience. This smell, however, was beyond the pale.

Looking happy to get those old hydraulic lines out. Were they responsible for the terrible smell? They were not.

Although the smell has always been there, we didn’t exactly put up with this smell so much as fail to locate its source. From the first day we bought her we were both busy doing things that make an old boat smell better. We pulled all the old head hoses out and replaced them with pvc. We cleaned out the bilge, sterilized it, and painted it before the new engine went in. Recently Mike pulled the old hydraulic steering lines which we are sure had a small leak somewhere and replaced with with fancy new lines, keeping stinky steering fluid out of the bilge. We re-cleaned the bilge. We have replaced old cushions with new.  And still, that smell remained. We’d think we had it licked, and we’d come down the next day, do a ‘smell report’, and find ourselves back where we started.

Clearly we needed a detective with a sensitive nose. Ordinarily I would call on Nancy Drew and her sidekicks Bess and George. I’m almost 100% positive that Bess has a bloodhound’s nose since she’s so sensitive in every other way. Between George’s athletic abilities getting into tight boat spaces, Nancy’s superior brain power, and Bess’ nose, they probably could have saved us loads of embarrassment. Alas, they have been busy over on my friend Ellen’s blog, solving the Case of the Missing Anchor. It was up to investigators Mike and Melissa to locate and neutralize the source of this smell.

This is the junction of the galley and the workshop, the area in question.

Let’s start with the clues:

One: It was not the head. Really. It wasn’t. Most people think if a boat has a bad smell, it must be coming from the boat toilet. In our case, that just wasn’t it. Our head does not smell. Even though the vented loop goes through the engine room, much to Mike’s annoyance,  you can put your nose right on it and it does not smell. The cabinet where the tank is stored does not smell, either.

Two: It was ephemeral. That’s right, I was beginning to believe that the smell was actually a disgruntled spirit on the boat attempting to call attention to himself. It came and went in a way that made it very hard to pin down. Could it depend on wind direction? Temperature?

Three: It seemed to get concentrated in the cockpit, especially if the boat had been closed up overnight. When we approached the boat, which we do from the port side, we could begin to smell it. When we entered the cockpit, it seemed to be concentrated there until we opened the windows to allow air to flow through. Then you could still smell it but not nearly as strongly.

Four: When we would open the companionway cover, and stick our head down in the cabin, we could smell it but it would shortly dissipate after air was let into the cabin. We could smell it below but it was not as heavy, and mixed with the normal diesel smells from the engine room, it was hard to pin down the location. It was not present in the salon or the forward cabin.  Nor was it present on the starboard side of the boat where the holding tank is located. The aft cabin sometimes had a whiff of it but you can also smell the engine room there. FYI, our boat lists slightly to port. Water will collect on the port side of the boat.

Five: It seemed worse during warm weather.

We want to be the boat with the fun cockpit, not the smelly cockpit. With Tate and Dani McDaniel and John Miller. Great times.

We began asking anyone who was friendly enough to come on board to tell us what they thought it was. After we got over the basic, ‘It’s the head.’ response and people paid more attention, everyone described the smell as ‘sulfurous’. It wasn’t the kind of sulphur you smell when you strike a match, but rather the kind you smell with hydrogen sulphide; kind of a rotten egg smell, but not quite. Still, enough people said ‘sulphur’ as they wrinkled their noses that we knew it was probably either electrical or organic. Mike ruled out the batteries and the anode in the hot water heater. The bilge is squeaky clean right now. You can stick your head down there and you won’t get that sulphur smell. You’ll get the smell of old fiberglass with only a slight whiff of eu de bilge.

Finally last week one of my clients who is sensitive to lots of things, including but not limited to people’s auric fields, ghostly visitors, etc, came on board for a coaching session. Turns out, her nose is awesome. Soon as she stepped into the cockpit she crinkled her sensitive little nose, and said, ‘What’s that sulfurous smell?’.  Ahhhh. A ‘smells detective’ had dropped into my very lap.

Knowing a good resource when I stumble upon it, I engaged with her in that most primitive way: through the sense of smell. ‘Wander around the boat!’, I said, quivering hopefully. ‘Tell me what you smell and where you smell it!’, I said, opening the doors to the engine room. “Follow your sweet little nose directly to the source!”. I was positively expansive in my opening of cabinet doors.

She closed her eyes and sniffed, walking slowly on the port side of the boat, turning her head this way and that, stooping to investigate a space. She stuck her head in the engine room. ‘That’s just diesel.’, she said, dismissively. Standing in the area of the galley by the fridge, she spread her arms wide and declared the smell to be emanating from that specific area. We had our session, then retired to the cockpit to sniff further.

Just a really pretty little boat on the Foss Waterway. I can’t take a photo of the bad smell.

As an interesting aside, this person also sees a ghost on our boat. Apparently his name is Thomas. Fine by me. He seems a friendly sort and we may be able to use him on those long night passages where we get sleep deprived. Corporeal or no, I’ll take all the help we can get. During our session her eyes kept darting toward the port side of the boat. Upon my inquiry of what she was seeing there, she described a dark shadow in the air and asked if I saw it. Usually it’s Thomas she would be seeing, but this time it wasn’t. Well, I have to say that I did not see it, but then I don’t have the level of ‘gift’ that she does. Sulphur. Dark shadowy stuff. Brings up some pretty archetypal images, no? I wondered if she was seeing the smell visually.  (Note: my client is not a weirdo. She is a professional woman who is intelligent and fun but sees many things other people do not. That’s sometimes a burden for her. I’ve known her for many years.)

Following her nose into the cockpit and then off the boat, she turned and confirmed that yes, the smell was coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the mid-port side of the boat and it was organic in nature. I thanked her nose for its service, said farewell,  and stood staring at that side of the boat.

What could it possibly be? There is nothing ‘organic’ on that side of the boat. The fridge is fairly new and doesn’t leak. The cabinets in the galley do not smell. There was no plumbing on that side except for the deck drains. The grey cells began firing. The deck drains. That one deck drain that stood proud of the deck surface where no water would flow down into it; keeping it rinsed clean. What if?

I leaned in, put my nose close and gave a big sniff. Bingo! Disgusting sulfurous smell! Maybe we had our culprit! And thus, that deck drain was taken out and replaced that very day. Afterward I mixed up some baking soda solution, took the hose and flushed fresh water down the drain, then followed up with the baking soda and water.

The next day I came to the boat and there was no smell. I stuck my nose in the drain and sniffed. It smelled fresh and just fine. Today is day three and still, no smell.

The starboard side of the boat where the head tank is located. No smell here. Thank goodness.

Time will tell if we have solved this case, but the prospects are good. We’ve never gone three days without smelling the thing. My hypothesis is that with the drain standing too high above the deck to do any good, organic material could still fall down into it, but would never be rinsed out. Likewise, some small creature could have gone up into the thru hull and died, then with no water coming in, his remains would have….remained. Seawater will be in the drain up to a certain point, and unless the drain is rinsed regularly, bacteria will grow and smell putrid, just as salt water standing in your holding tank hoses will putrify and smell bad.

Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, so it’s going to waft slowly. Our boat is almost always pointed into the wind in this marina, and the deck drain is slightly in front and to port of the cockpit entrance. The gas could easily get concentrated in the cockpit where it would have no way to dissipate and would then be drawn down into the cabin by way of the companionway door.  Hydrogen sulfide gas is detectable to the nose in very small quantities.  In large quantities it is dangerous. But ours was less danger than stink.

We’ve stuck our noses in every other drain on board, including the cockpit drains, and they are all fine. That’s the only one that smelled bad. So we are really hopeful that this is it.

Next time my client comes on board, I’m going to ask her about that dark patch in the air. Is it gone?  If not, I’m going to need to hire myself a ghost buster.