Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cold Weather, Warm Camaraderie

This week’s outing was our first winter-weather trip on Spray, complete with watery eyes, heavy frost and icy mornings.  It was also the trip where we discovered that our on-board heating system is dead.

Spray with frost on her boom and ice on the docks.
In port, we have two different heaters we can use running off of shore power:  a fan heater that heats up fast and chases away the humidity, and an oil-bath radiator that gives off a steady (and quiet) heat for the night.  When we’re at anchor, however, we have to rely on the boat’s heating system, which runs off the diesel fuel for the boat.  It worked well a month ago (when we didn’t need it), but stopped working now that it’s really cold.

Alone on Hoedic Island ... with shore power !
But when you have neither shore power nor on-board heating on a cold night, the next best thing is to be rafted up in between two big friendly boats with warm saloons and crews.  We met up with two boats from our local sailing club (Aldiana, an Oceanis 323, and Argo, a Romanee) and spent a lovely evening moored at Belle Ile, bouncing between the three boats:  drinks and munchies on Argo, back to Spray for dinner where we could heat the boat with our own cooking, then over to Aldiana for desert, and a quick jump into our winter-weight sleeping bags back on Spray.

Sailing with other boats means photos of yours under sail !  Thanks, Argo crew !
In between the cold weather and warm camaraderie, we actually managed to fix a few things.  Since the weather has turned cool, we noticed that the GPS takes almost 20-30 minutes to home-in on 3 satellites necessary for a position fix.  I suspected condensation and a bad contact, and after heating, drying, and insulating the connection to the antenna, things work brilliantly.I’ve been complaining for some time about our schizophrenic auto pilot, and after moving a 12 kg anchor that was just below the flux gate compass and re-doing the entire sea trial calibration (swinging the compass, auto-learn process), things work very well.  Having a reliable auto-pilot is a huge relief when sailing short-handed.  Patrick bravely fixed the toilet for a second time.  He replaced the pump assembly a couple of weeks ago and everything worked well for 3-4 days before seizing up again.  (For the more curious among you, the answer is NO, we do not put anything down the toilet that has not first passed through our own bodies.)  After reading some helpful hints on sailing forums, he dumped a bottle of cooking oil down the pump assembly and that seems to have done the trick.

Our 5:25 pm sunset and a late arrival into port this week also gave us the opportunity to realize that none of our running lights were working.  They had been working well a few weeks ago. When the electricians came to check out the heating system, they found some very unorthodox mingling of wires between our AIS system and the running lights, including one completely melted wire. Once the wiring got straightened out, we had to change the bulbs that had been fried during some mystery power-surge.  That, of course, meant climbing the mast and changing 2 bulbs.  Long story short:  wrong bulbs and stuck light-cover casings meant FOUR trips up the mast in very cold weather.   

Winter not only brings cooler temperatures and shorter days but also storms, and Spray’s mooring lines suffered severe chaffing over the last 2 weeks during several gales that had her tugging and bobbing on her mooring ball.  If we hadn’t had the protective garden hose on the mooring line, it would have been cut in two.  Of course, we always have 2 mooring lines attached, just in case…  We’ll be very glad to move Spray into the port of Vannes at the end of the month !

Winter storm chaffing.

Today the high temperature is 2 C (35) and we’re enjoying a cozy day at home…getting price estimates for boat heater replacement.  They don’t make replacement parts for our 20 year old heater anymore, so it looks like we’re in for a new system.

Just think, starting in 2013, we’ll have a boat docked a comfortable 15 minute walk from home and all her systems and sails will have been recently repaired !  Glass half full, glass half full, glass half full…   

*note:  this issue was resolved several months later when I discovered the notion of TTFF:  time to first fix.  The fact that the GPS was taking forever to get a fix when we first fired it up in cold weather had nothing to do with the cold weather or condensation, but the fact that we weren't sailing as much in the cold, and thus, had not turned the GPS on regularly.  When you turn on the GPS, it has to download a lot of information.  If you've turned it on recently, those updates are relatively fresh and take less time.  If you don't turn it on for a week or more, you'll have to wait. (Some sources say up to 15 minutes... we waited 30-40 after leaving it off for a month.)  

For more articles on winter sailing, visit The Monkey's Fist !