Tanked: mixology woes aboard

Jerry cans lined up on the dock

The dull thud of your heart sinking at that horrifying moment when you realize what you just did and consequences will follow: we all dread it. It happens anyway. Cruising comes with higher highs, and lower lows… pouring the wrong stuff in your diesel tank is one of those lower points.

In mid-2012, Totem was being prepped to move after five months mostly at a dock and a year and a half in Australia. This was the first step to depart Australia: shifting from dockside liveaboard to river mooring before sailing north to Papua New Guinea and beyond. Wrapping up school (the kids’ first and only formal stretch of four-walls education as cruisers), untangling the threads that weave a life integrated to shoreside people and places, packing up for multiple months off the grid and away from stores… we were a little busy, a little distracted.

One of our last steps before kicking off the dock: top of the water tanks. From below deck I listened to liquid gurgling in from the deck fill, and then came the unfortunate cry: “ah, shit.” Jamie doesn’t swear lightly. It hit me even before he filled in the detail, as sound locations processed: the water hose had been in Totem’s diesel tank fill.

Whoops. We own it now!

Water in the diesel tank

I dashed up to the cockpit and we looked at each other, mouths agape. Jamie got that faraway look in his eyes, then headed up to tell the marina manager we’d be late departing…regrets to the boat they had waiting for our berth.

The entire contents of our diesel tank were decanted and filtered, and like bad wine on a tropical island, salvageable.

Jamie started by turning off the valve between the diesel tank and primary fuel filter and lining up jerry cans to decant. Our magical dock neighbors, a French/South African family on the Dean 44 Merlin, offered time and support to get it done. Petroleum and water don’t mix, but kids play always!

Two little girls in climbing harnesses play by swinging in sailboat rigging

Greg helps his daughter, Clea, and Siobhan swing from the rigging aboard Merlin – Brisbane, 2012.

Greg brought over a diesel transfer pump they kept on Merlin which made the job far easier. Contaminated fuel was removed to jerry cans. At first we hoped that putting fuel through a funnel filter would remove the water – NOPE! Only trace amounts of water came out.

man using diesel transfer pump below deck on sailboat

Borrowing Merlin’s transfer pump to return diesel to Totem’s primary tank

Enter our old friend, Gravity. Allowing the water to settle to the bottom (it’s heavier) of a jerry can, diesel on the top could be pumped into a clean jerry can. Rinse, repeat with a series of jerry cans until the entire contents were filtered. Ten gallons of water were ultimately removed.

Gas in the diesel tank

Jump ahead to yesterday around tea time. This was a call from Serendipity, but not about serendipity. Anchored off Antigua with guests arriving soon and plans to head for Barbuda, it was time to top up the diesel tank. With their permission, sharing the event in Kevin’s words as related in the closed Facebook group for coaching clients, Totem Raft-Up (self-named – the TRU Crew!).

TRU Crew comes through again! This post is at my pride’s expense, but I’m going to eat the proverbial crow and share. It’s long but there are some lessons here and recommended gear that saved my ass today and could save yours.

They say bad decisions happen when you are forced into a movement due to timelines like company coming. Looking back, I think it played a part in my stupidity today. We have guests arriving to Antigua tomorrow, and we want to take them up to Barbuda Wednesday. I spent some time the last few days getting the boat ready, and one last chore was to fuel up with diesel. We were happy in an anchorage, it was Callum’s birthday (our 8 year old), and Stephanie was busy making a cake and cleaning up for arriving guests. I had a few hours to kill so I decided instead of moving the boat to the marina I’d just bring 30 gal worth of diesel cans in and fill them, then transfer to that boat. It would save us some time in the morning from having to motor into the harbor to fuel up. No problems…

TRU crew in Barbuda: Steph & Kevin from Serendipity (Live the Voyage) at center, Dave & Marcie from Kairos5 at right.

Well, as this plan was finalized Steph had a good idea to bring extra gasoline to Barbuda. We carry 15 gallons on the rail, but there is no fuel in Barbuda, and with guests from home visiting for week, we plan to spend a lot of time in the dinghy (snorkeling, tubing, etc). So I grabbed an extra yellow jerry can, wrote “GAS” on it, and proceeded to shore….I’m sure you know where this is going.

When I got back I unloaded the fuel, and started to fuel pretty quickly. I was distracted as it was Cal’s bday and wanted to get going. I used a shaker siphon to fuel, which is handy on a boat. I started the siphon and quickly put 5 gallons of fuel into the boat. I started my second can, and then went to clean up the first can and when I grabbed it I saw “GAS” written on the back side of it. Holy shit, 5 gallons of gasoline into my diesel tank. I seriously looked like Jim Carey on Liar Liar kicking my own ass!

Lesson – if you use a yellow can to fill gasoline, mark the shit out of it! 

Here is how TRU saved my ass. Going back to the fall, I lost my engine due to debris that clogged the fuel line. I got it running, but after had my fuel polished. Jamie was awesome help with this, and even though I didn’t use his recommended “emergency” polisher, I took his advice and ordered some parts that you may not think to have on board. It takes two pieces of gear to polish your fuel in a pinch. First, a 12 volt transfer pump, and second, a funnel with a filter.

You could pull the fuel out of the tank and back in through the filter, removing debris. Well, I didn’t use the funnel today but damn did that fuel pump earn it’s keep.

I opened the tank through one of the access holes and removed 23 gallons of contaminated fuel. I then used this handy pump to get the rest. I was able to empty all but maybe a couple ounces out of the tank. I’m going to put a minimum of 40 gallons in the tank before I start the engine. That’s 5,120 ounces. Even if there is a quart of contaminated fuel, that’s only .6% and only a fraction of that is gasoline. I think I’ll be okay, but damn, what a dumb move!

I called Jamie during all of this and he talked me off the ledge. Thanks! So don’t be me and don’t let distractions mess you up!

Serendipity’s crew recovered quickly. It helps to know you’re far from the first, and other TRU chimed in with their (mis)adventures in fueling. I didn’t even get to bringing up the story about our own cruising mentors and the time they added diesel to the water tank… a step further in the levels of cruiser hell. Our highs are higher, but our lows can be lower!

Meanwhile, this is Serendipity’s recent view. The squall passed; it wasn’t such a bad day after all.

TRU Crew anchored off Barbuda: thanks to Stephanie at Live the Voyage for this pic!

In both our situation and Serendipity’s, there was waste product that needed proper disposal. The water that settled in our jerry cans was contaminated, and the gallons of diesel/gas mix Kevin pumped out had to be disposed also. We were both fine, but finding a facility to take the waste fluids isn’t always easy the further out you get as a cruiser.

Gear to consider

A few bits that clearly can be really useful… and for more than just these scenarios, where the wrong liquid ends up in a diesel tank.

Twelve-volt transfer pump.

This diesel transfer kit from Orion Motor Tech would serve both Totem and Serendipity’s uses to pump tainted fuel out the tank. We purchased ours (similar to the model linked) just a few weeks after the water-into-diesel debacle in Australia from a cruiser unloading gear prior to selling their boat.

Other everyday cruising uses: our 12v transfer pump (see photo near the top of the post of Jamie using it) is currently loaned to another boat in the anchorage that needed to polish their fuel to try and remove a diesel bug (a microbial contamination gunking up their fuel, common enough a problem). It’s bailed us out from similar situations when we had a persistent diesel bug in Southeast Asia, and most recently helped polish dirty fuel we boarded at an outer island in the Bahamas.

Fuel filter.

Mr Funnel filters come in a range of sizes depending on how much fuel you’re running through them. We keep a small one for gas going into the dinghy and generator. And a large one for diesel. We also have a Baja filter, which haven’t been made for over a decade. Note that funnel filters remove debris and trace amounts of water (but not more).

Fuel is almost always filtered before it goes in our tanks. The only time we don’t filter is at a high-volume dock or place with a solid reputation. If there’s concern about fuel quality, we put some in a glass jar and wait a few minutes to see if there’s separation.

Siphon hose.

Self-priming hoses mean you don’t get your mouth involved in the siphoning process (yuck!). There are no fuel docks in most of the miles we’ve cruised; siphoning from jerry cans is a fact of life, and it’s good to be prepared.

Sponsorship/advertising note: we have zero association with these brands listed above. These recommendations do use Amazon’s affiliate program, so if you click through a product link and purchase something (anything) on Amazon, that slides some coin in our cruising kitty (thanks!).  I point it out since a couple of people have asked if we had sponsorship from any of products mentioned in our new tools on Totem article recently. Nope! No affiliation with them at all, just like these; we’re just sharing some kit that’s working well on board. Do we have sponsors? Yes, we do. It’s a very few, deliberately kept to the select products/services that we love can be genuinely enthusiastic about, and in limited number to avoid ever being taken as shills. For more information, see our Values Statement.

New tools on Totem

It’s fun when you’ve been cruising for a bunch of years and can find delight in a few new pieces of kit on board. Here are a few new additions to Totem that earn their keep very nicely. What does that have to do with whales? read on!

Laser rangefinder. OK, this has been on Jamie’s wish list for years: in fact, I cited it in a blog post SEVEN years ago as lingering on Jamie’s wish list. It always seemed like the ~$150 we didn’t need to spend, and hey, we’re frugal cruisers. A generous friend gifted us with a Nikon Aculon rangefinder, and we’re really enjoying it.

Opened it at the airport. Yeah we couldn’t wait!

Within a couple of weeks aboard the rangefinder proved useful for more than just settling a bet on the distance to a mark. Jamie’s just gotten back to Totem from fending off one unattended boat that had dragged into another. Checking distance from boats around us helps us feel saver. A less conventional use: the rangefinder was a great way to also make sure we remained regulation distance away from humpback whales when daysailing in Banderas Bay. No kidding, we bounced it off a breaching whale, and yes, there are that many of them! Looking ahead, I expect primary use to be saving us some sleepless nights at anchor by knowing exactly how close to a cliff we are up in the Sea of Cortez this summer. Thanks, Dartanyon!

Solar-powered string lights. The folks at MPowerd have kept us all happy with those awesome inflatable LUCI lights for years, with incremental design improvements making them progressively more fun and useful. We took advantage of a buy one / get one offer earlier in the year to get Solar String Lights and I am in love with the mix of gentle ambiance and functional light they’ve added to our cockpit. Our friend, delivery skipper Judy Hildebrand, was

We splurged a little and replaced our old LUCI (succumbing to… ironically… UV damage) inflatable light at the same time. I love the gentle tones of LUCI Color Essence and we put it on what’s jokingly referred to as “disco mode,” a slow rotation through warm shades.Guess what – that BOGO is on again! Spring sale is for US mainland (lower 48), $50 minimum, free shipping: last day March 31.  BOGO over? Head to Amazon, for better prices on original LUCI, and maybe the string lights too.

GoSun solar oven. Long time readers know my deep and abiding love for our Solavore, and that’s unchanged. But we were recently gifted a GoSun portable solar cooker and it does the one thing I’ve never managed well with the Solavore: bakes CRUSTY BREAD. GoSun simply gets hotter, and we’ve been turning out dangerously good baguettes in it the last couple of days. I’ll try it out with meals, but remain skeptical about how easily it feeds a family and expect that to remain the realm of our Solavor. Good for a crew of two? Probably, and definitely a winner for bread baking. WOW.

Food processor. For years I’ve been happy (and proud) that Totem has only one piece of electric gear in the galley: an immersion blender. Our Braun stick blender has served well for over a decade. Well, enter this awesome host gift our friend Judy brought: a vastly improved immersion blender, Braun Multiquick 7, that includes a food processor attachments!

 

Oh and a whisk and masher and other goodies, but I am ALL about this food processor. It holds six cups, and so far has pureed fresh mango for daiquiris and sweet Mexican pineapple for delicious juice and best pina coladas ever.

Movie projector. Totem’s holiday gift for the crew is the Apeman mini portable projector.  Tiny – it fits in my little hand! – and paired with an inexpensive movie screen, it turns the starboard side of our main cabin into a home theater. There are less expensive projectors, but the tiny (literally, pocket) size form factor and ability to run off battery for a 90-minute movie sold us. The quality is beyond expectations, and our family movie nights have totally leveled up. The screen gets put away, but you can see it hanging behind Judy in the blender video above. Props to our awesome coaching client Steph (Live the Voyage), for tipping us off to this model – and for Seth from The Sailing Family for filling in the details.

Other news on Totem:

Annapolis Spring Show

Jamie and I are gearing up to head for the Annapolis spring boat show next month. I’m especially excited about the two-day Cruising Women course I teach with Pam Wall! It’s our fifth edition, and what’s really cool is reflecting on how many GRADUATES WHO GO CRUISING. Because that’s what they do, and we’re grateful to spur them to a successful realization of cruising dreams! More information and registration online.

Salty Dawg fall rendezvous

Our next boat show on the books is the fall show in Annapolis, and we’ve just signed on to support Salty Dawg. Call us fans of the Salty Dawg philosophy: provide knowledge and resources, enable skippers to make their own decisions, and then share the sail to beautiful places. Jamie and I will be keynote speakers at their Annapolis Rendezvous, at October 10, 2019, at the Maryland Yacht Club near Annapolis.  The event is open to all, but space is limited: click here to register.

Salty Dawg spring rally

Speaking of which: I only recently learned that there’s a Salty Dawg spring rally from the Caribbean back to the US. They depart from St Thomas, USVI, the first week of May; some boats head for Bermuda, others for the US East Coast. More about the spring rally on their website. And hey, if you’re considering it and want to have extra crew, hit us up. We just might know someone!

What else is going on?

If only I could show you the beautiful bioluminescence swirling around Totem at night lately. Last night, brilliant green light streamed behind the dinghy as we made our way back from an evening with friends on shore. Moonrise is during early morning ours, and darkness make the glow easier to appreciate. The night before, we stood on the side deck watching a school of fish morph into different glowing shapes under Totem, testing their reaction to the clap of a bucket upside down on the surface, gasping when what appeared to be a larger predatory glow streaked through to cleave the mass in two. Off our bow, the anchor chain extends in a glowing line to rest below.

Banderas Bay and La Cruz in particular have been a hub of activity for weeks as boats headed for the South Pacific finalize preparations and begin to peel off. Jamie’s assisting some with weather, and working locally to help with education — like this seminar Jamie and Mike (PV Sailing) did yesterday. Instead of a classroom seminar, they gave a rigging clinic with a volunteer boat in the marina.

The boat is owned by a couple of brothers from Norway; purchased in San Carlos, Mexico, not long ago. The survey done for purchase found nothing, but when two shrouds broke on their sail south they started to wonder. Mike and Jamie went over the rigging and sails to help the owners and about 16 students about materials and inspection.The brothers took notes…a lot of notes! Grateful for the guys who welcomed a group aboard to hear all about their rig problems with a smile and a positive attitude about what’s next. But this sharing knowledge, working together to arrive at solutions, just what happens in the cruising community… like hanging out with the affable skipper Heather Richard (she runs A Fine Day for Sailing in San Francisco: charter with her in the Bay, she’ll be back soon!) and talking about weather to depart, and routing strategies for heading north. Oh hey, another peek at the string lights, too!

Life in La Cruz is easy otherwise. Our girls sport vibrant hair dye in colors coincidentally nautical: port (SIobhan) and starboard (Mairen). Whales are beginning their northern migration, and whalesong through the hull is an occasional treat instead of a daily greeting. Our weekly rhythm often bends to the amazing chile rellenos served on Fridays at Doña Toñas (50 pesos, about $2.50, for a generous meal); on Sundays, market tents line the waterfront with local vendors selling everything from cheeses to produce to crafts.

Other projects are in the works, and I’m excited to share them… soon! …for now, we’re both heads-down. We’ve got a busy coaching schedule, but easy internet access in Mexico facilitates. Spending this much time at work hasn’t been the norm on Totem, but supporting people towards cruising dreams hardly feels like work: we love what we do! And good thing that work isn’t a chore, as we definitely feel the pressure with Niall’s college tuition added into the mix.

Life is good.

 

 

Totem’s Coppercoat application

Coppercoating Totem’s hull was a thrilling prospect, but pressure to do the application correctly gave me more anxiety any boat project in memory. The product features are substantial: a strong environmental case (nothing toxic ends up in the water, as with conventional antifouling paints), and solid financial value (the epoxy bottom should last for many years, a significant savings). But long term success relies on nailing the application. We did NOT want to screw this up.

Totem started from bare fiberglass bottom (no gelcoat) because a prior owner peeled it, presumably to resolve a blister problem. A clean gelcoat surface is best, ahh… if only! Our process to prep the hull, detailed here, took 18 steps. It also took a lot of ibuprofen! Honestly? This was the hardest part of the entire transition, because Coppercoat cannot be applied over existing bottom paint (every last bit of old antifouling must be removed) and the surface must be smooth. To understand why a smooth bottom is important, you must first understand a little more about Coppercoat.

The British Navy first used copper sheathing in the 18th century to mitigate marine growth. It was a miracle. Skipping ahead from wooden warships to fiberglass recreational boats, copper is still an effective method of deterring marine growth. That sheet form nailed to the bottom is a little problematic, though, so clever people worked out you can mix it into paints instead. Unfortunately, still problematic – the paint sheds, by design, which adds all kinds of nastiness into the water while losing effectiveness. Enter Coppercoat: pure, fine copper powder suspended in water-based epoxy.

Once applied and cured, the final step is to sand the surface to expose copper from within the epoxy. When done applying, sand the surface to expose copper from within epoxy. If the surface wasn’t smooth before Coppercoat, the final sanding will yield inconsistent copper exposure. Totem’s bare fiberglass bottom took much more work than a Coppercoat-over-gelcoat application.

Starting the second coat: not pretty yet. Not at all.

Although applying Coppercoat isn’t complicated, each step needs attention. Getting the application right is key to product success, and we felt that mixed reviews we read online stemmed from improper applications. Coppercoat provides a lot of information to help you get it right, from the UK company’s directions to Coppercoat USA‘s retailer’s six-page list of “do’s and don’ts” with additional tips and tricks. Phone support from the Coppercoat team in the UK helped us to get it right and mellowed my nerves.

Coppercoat epoxy kits consist of three parts: a container of resin, another of catalyst, and a bag of fine copper powder. Coppercoat UK directed us to also add isopropyl alcohol (must be 90% or greater) to add, thinning the mixture.

  1. Mix resin and hardener parts thoroughly
  2. Add isopropyl alcohol (four or five capfuls for the first two coats, five or six in later coats)
  3. Add the copper powder and stir until evenly blended

The mixing was easy: one kit at a time. It took three kits for coats one and two, four kits for coats three and four.

Application is a multi-person job for all but the smallest boats. On Totem, it required three: one person to mix and two people to roll it on. The mixer must monitor while rollers are busy applying, to ensure copper is not settling to the bottom of the container. With Mairen and Siobhan helping, we had four people; that gave one person a chance to rotate out for a spell, or freed someone to get drinks or sandwiches.  We did the work in early December at Cabrales Boatyard in Puerto Peñasco, where Totem rested for months to dry out wet fiberglass.

Application morning

We’ve never done this, never seen it done, and really didn’t want to screw up. Cabrales Boatyard’s manager, Salvador, has been there / done that with Coppercoat. He provided great support, helping us get rolling (sorry…) on application day. In reality it’s quite simple, but his presence and advice took the pressure off us Coppercoat newbies.

Humidity is highest at sunrise, so even in arid Puerto Peñasco (hello, Sonora desert) we waited for the sun to lower overnight dampness, warm our bones and warm the boat. A perfect time to clean the hull in final prep, right? We initially planned to do a wipe-down with isopropyl alcohol. Jamie had just wet the first rag and was wiping it at the bow when I had a chat with the Coppercoat folks in the UK who said – stop! They directed us to just do the dry wipe instead, and said that ideally, we’d have washed the boat with plain water and allowed it time to dry. We were out of time for that, but a dry wipe was sufficient.

Salvador Cabrales helped us mix to ensure that we were doing it right.

Rolling proceeded steadily. Each subsequent coat was applied over the last before it dries, “hot coating” to provide a chemical bond. At that point, the surface is tacky: that is, it’s still sticky, but no material comes off when touched. If any material comes off, it’s still too wet! With two people rolling full time, we completed one coat on the hull at just the right time to start a second coat. That’s great, although a break might have been nice…

The product mixer’s role – Mairen owned this! – included topping up the trays used by those rolling it on, and watching their timing in working through the product. If we had to wait for the next kit to kick, we risked falling behind and having product on the hull dry too much for hot coating.

Sisters working together: touching up around exterior fixtures

We’re lucky it wasn’t hotter weather in Puerto Peñasco, as that could have caused the epoxy to kick faster and made our task more complicated if we couldn’t keep up. If a coat dries, you default to physical instead of chemical bonding on the next coat: the first must cure, then get roughed up, then the application process can resume.

Initial coats go in more thinly; later coats were thicker, as the tacky layers beneath softened the application layer and grabbed more paint. These later coats used substantially more paint than the first. It was exciting to see Totem go from looking like a boat with a bad rash to a glittering metallic hull.

Application complete! This was one very long day. It was hardest on Jamie, who rolled for the duration. Although all four coats were applied to Totem in a single day, the project took a week in total. Three days were needed to cure before Totem could be lifted to move keel supports and jackstands to coat previously uncoated areas. Then, those areas need to cure before final sanding and launch.

Jamie supervises while Siobhan applies coppercoat under areas covered by jackstands.

Nearly four months in, we’re really happy with the bottom. It’s performing as hoped, and I wish the water here was clear enough to show it off better.

Next: what it costs, why it’s a good value vs. antifouling paint, DIY vs. professional, and how the bottom looks after several months in a high-growth area.

Weather waffling: the passage departure decision

I watched from Totem’s cockpit yesterday as friends sailed out of the La Cruz anchorage. Their next stop: the Marquesas, French Polynesia’s nearest island group to the Americas, around 3,000 miles away. This week’s weather window spawned the first wave of South Pacific-bound departures from our corner of Mexico. When a big passage looms, evaluating options stalls many crews: this one is closing, and the next wave now plays the waiting game. Jamie wrote these observations while we were on weather watch for a significant passage of our own some years ago. 

The last leg of Totem’s Pacific crossing stared back at us in the form of the setting sun. From a calm anchorage in New Caledonia we watched changing colors stain nearby reefs and islets; and we discussed the weather. The core question was simple: were the conditions appropriate for the 900 mile passage to Australia? The dilemma is that the sources for weather forecasting don’t agree, ranging from moderate to rough conditions. So we sat, watched, and waited.

At moments of indecision about uncertain weather forecasts, two phrases get hurled about like cannon shot: weather waffling and analysis paralysis. The meanings of both reside in the shallows between a retreat to the calm anchorage and the bold move to weigh anchor – big seas be damned. Both phrases carry an intrinsic sense of stubborn cowardice as reflected in perhaps the most famous weather waffle in history.

When Captain William Bligh announced his plan to sail Bounty around Cape Horn to reach Tahiti, his otherwise joyous crew became anxious. Upon reaching “the horn” and subsequent month of snow and storm conditions trying to round it, Bligh waffled. After investing so much in one route he ordered the Bounty to turn eastward to begin a journey 4/5ths of the way around the world to anchor at Point Venus in Tahiti. As we know from history, things did not go well for the Captain.

Due to several variables that didn’t exist during Bligh’s time, contemporary use of weather waffle has more to do with pre-departure indecision. With technology and centuries of accumulated knowledge, we easily and accurately know what was previously unknowable. With GPS, a cruising guide, and a VHF radio I know our exact position, how to safely get into a new anchorage, and when the supply ship will be in with fresh produce. Weather forecasting is an amazing discipline of science that accounts for most of the variables most of the time. Unlike a GPS giving latitude and longitude, weather forecasters with the aid of satellites and supercomputers can and do get it wrong. Who hasn’t been out on the boat listening to a NOAA forecast broadcasting sun with light and variable winds, when in reality it’s so windy you’re just trying to keep your ears affixed to your head?

When one experiences an incongruity between forecast and reality, the tendency is to check several sources of weather forecasting. This gets to the heart of the weather waffle. When the sources agree, you can confidently announce to the crew what to expect. When the sources disagree, the next logical step is to seek out more information. Invariably this leads to more confusion and with time a demoralized, and dare I say mutinous, crew. Well, are we going or not?

The frustration of not knowing which path to choose can unhinge novice and salty sailors alike. Our buddy boat apologized in advance of our session of waffling in New Caledonia, saying “I know this week is going to make me grouchy.” The reality is that the accumulated stress of passage prep capped by weather uncertainty can make many people become grouchy. In our particular situation, overlaying the already unsettled weather is the beginning of cyclone season.

Sunset squalls: Grenada, 2017

At this tenuous stage, that is, having downloaded countless GRIB files and text forecasts and reading a weather router’s opinion, two trends emerge. The first is that you want to do something- anything- to avoid further waffling. Often, emotions push the “let’s just go” approach. The supporting logic being we’ve been in worse weather before, and besides, maybe it won’t be as bad as the so called expert weather router says. That is true, but maybe it will be that bad. The second trend is “group think.” This occurs as the crews of various boats with similar routes get together to discuss weather. Everyone present has the same unspoken hope: that someone with unquestionable authority will walk among them and say, “the time has come to go sailing, and we will be safe.” Unfortunately this usually doesn’t happen.

Then, just as despair is creeping up over the swim step, a glimmer of hope comes as the various weather sources begin to agree on wind speed and direction and sea state that fits within your comfort level. A genuine weather window is finally here.

Somewhere between Sri Lanka and Maldives, 2015

Lessons Learned

Although weather waffling carries a negative connotation, it is clearly born out of good intentions for the health and welfare of the crew. Every crew has different abilities and comfort levels. Every boat differs in capability and handling. Every trip brings different demands on both crew and boat. Mismatching what the crew or boat can safely handle with adverse weather is simply poor seamanship. Choosing poorly is the cause of many unfulfilled cruising dreams. When a crewmember experiences discomfort or fear, they naturally don’t want to be in that situation again. When faced with uncertain weather, the captain and crew must make decisions that suit their own needs. If the people anchored next to you choose to “go anyway,” you don’t have follow them out. Weigh anchor only if it is right for you.

We choose to cruise knowing some of the days in paradise may resemble hell. Playing follow the leader can be just as misguided as choosing to never leave the dock because it may be too windy. After nearly two weeks of waiting, we finally had weather conditions that make sense for our departure. Some would say we waffled for nearly two weeks. The uncertainty of when to go was frustrating, but we spent hours of cowardly time swimming with sea turtle, giant trevally, and sharks.

The passage to Australia was mostly uneventful. Here in Banderas Bay, we’ll wait and watch and live vicariously as the next wave of boats waits for their weather window. Mike Danielson (PV Sailing) shares his extensive weather knowledge to help the fleet with departure decisions, Jamie’s been helping coach cruisers on how to use PredictWind and become better at interpreting forecasts for themselves — like the PPJ event pictured below. It’s a great place to base while getting ready to take off! We hope to be lining ourselves up for another run at the South Pacific from here at this time next year. 

Weather prep: Jamie talks the fleet through GRIB interpretation with PredictWind last week. Thanks Flo for the pic!

 

 

Morning Glory at anchor, Maldives, 2015

Cruiser karma: alive and well in La Cruz

Nine years ago this month, Totem rocked at anchor in this exact curve of coastline on the north side of Banderas Bay where we find ourselves today. We basked in the same sunrise over the sierras to the east, were enchanted by the same distant fireworks from Puerto Vallarta resorts in the evening, and maybe even gasped at the same glistening humpback whales breech and splash into colossal spires of whitewater. (There’s Siobhan in the midst of provisioning chaos in our main cabin – age 5.)

Our little crew had been cruising a year and a half: those months grew our confidence in cruising fundamentals, but also reinforced how much we didn’t know. Departure for the 3,000 mile passage to French Polynesia loomed ever closer. Perched on the edge of the cliff, staring out at the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the first big leap is intimidating.

That cliff-edge marks multiple inflection points on the way to realizing cruising dreams. It keeps some boats languishing at the dock, waiting indefinitely on unnecessary improvements as stand-ins for the psychological barrier to embracing “ready enough.” It stops others short from the level of cruising they hoped to achieve, as the numbers of kitted-out boats who never go far, parked in places like La Paz or Langkawi attest.

Sunrise, Banderas Bay, just before we heard whalesong through the hull

In overcoming those hurdles, support from fellow cruisers has been among our most important factors: the presentations we saw before we left, the mentors who nudged us forward. It’s an incredible privilege to be on the other side of that relationship, and help others leap whichever hurdle they’re currently facing. Much of this has been through our coaching service (it’s SO COOL to see the rising number of ‘graduates’ from the TRU crew out there cruising!), but more recently, it’s been through formal and informal presentations. A LOT OF THEM.

The day after Niall flew back to resume classes at Lewis & Clark college in January, Jamie and I were winging our way to Toronto – and a few days later, on to Seattle – to give seminars at their big annual boat shows. We estimate giving about 25 hours of seminars between them. Bonus: good times connecting with our TRU crew in both cities!

Toronto hotel room view: terrifying for these warm-weather humans!

Returning to La Cruz this month, we’ve put more than a dozen free seminars on the calendar. It’s that déjà vu all over again, in the best way! To be in the same room were “Kavenga” Steve showed us his ideas for routing through the Marquesas and Linda from Jacaranda helped us think through long-passage provisioning… and sharing from our experience. Well, it’s alternately thrilling and something that wells up a deep gratitude inside.

After the seriously hectic last few months, we’ve shelved to sailing back to Barra de Navidad and south to Zihuat in favor of chilling out here. Although “chilling out” means playing catch up and giving a lot of seminars – it’s all good! There’s so much to do here – La Cruz is full of resources for cruisers. It is a sweet base during peak season, whether you’re looking for camaraderie, or some day sailing, or tapping the awesome resources available for cruisers.

Our daughters aren’t little kids any more (I can still see them bombing around the marina on their scooters, aged 5 and 7, blonde terrors on two wheels), the La Cruz Kids Club is a great outlet – they have fun and help wrangle the littlest ones.

Siobhan (l) and Mairen (r) bombing around La Cruz: Feb 2009

Siobhan (l) and Mairen (r) bombing around La Cruz: Feb 2019 edition, the LCKC beach cleanup! thanks Kat for the photo!

On the east side of the harbor is Cruisers Comfort, a shady palapa meeting space next to (and hosted by) PV Sailing: it has a lending library with pretty much any cruising guide/reference you could want, and has been the meeting space for the PPJ (as French Polynesia bound “Pacific Puddle Jumpers” call themselves).

Talking ’bout South Pac planning in the palapa! thanks to Scuba Ninja for the photo.

The VIP lounge at the marina is our main seminar venue: I stopped counting attendees, but it was around 50 joining Mike Danielson (PV Sailing) and Jamie to learn about finding a weather window for jumping to the South Pacific yesterday.

Mike and Jamie talking through passage dynamics for the fleet at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz yesterday

Movie nights under the stars? Yes please! The marina’s open-air amphitheater has weekly feature films and an ongoing environmental series. You can BYO or buy brews and cheap delicious eats (would you like grilled pineapple on your burger? Bacon? Cheese? The works? That’s about $2.50 and SO GOOD).

And then there’s just the sweetness of this anchorage. OK, it gets a little rolly sometimes, but it’s nothing we can’t manage in stride. And you know what we’re hearing through the hull, in early morning calms? WHALE SONG. Right through the hull. And when you can hear it just sitting on a settee, it’s impossible to resist going for better quality sound: click below, and let yourself be carried into a bit of marine meditation.


 

It all adds up to the reasons La Cruz is a kind of ground zero during peak season for cruising in Mexico. It’s why we based here to prep for the big South Pac bound passage in 2009, and it’s why we’re enjoying it so much now.

In the area? Come to a seminar! Our Events page is up-to-date with seminars planned for Feb & March, plus a peek ahead at what’s in store for Jamie and I at boat shows later this year.

Meanwhile, if you’ve thought about taking the two-day Cruising Women master class with me and Pam Wall: make plans for Annapolis NOW, this year could be your last chance! We are hoping to point Totem to French Polynesia in 2020, and that could make the hike back to Annapolis a squidge too far. Jamie and I are giving a bunch of seminars and will head back in April and October this year. The full schedule for Cruisers U is here; to register for Annapolis, visit AnnapolisBoatShows.com.

Crewing on Totem

For the 800 mile run from Puerto Peñasco to Puerto Vallarta, two coaching clients responded to our spontaneous offer for sharing the sail; Sam shares their experience in this guest post.

David read the email before I did. And he’d already made up his mind not to go when he came upstairs to tell me.

“It’s too close to Christmas and too long to be gone.”

“Where would the kids go?”

“What if I can’t get the time off of work?”

“What if the plane tickets are outrageous?”

And my response to these arguments?

“Of course we’re going.”

Two weeks later we were on our way to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico to crew on Totem for the 800 mile passage south to La Cruz. Normally one doesn’t blast their way past all the wonders of Baja or spend cold nights on the Sea of Cortez in winter, but Totem’s got a fancy new paint job on her newly dry bottom, and she made it back in the water just in time to retrieve Niall from Puerto Vallarta on his winter break.

Schedules are typically frowned upon in cruising—for good reason—but the weather gods acquiesced to these unusual circumstances, and we were able to leave the dock and head south on Friday morning, December 14th.

My husband, David, and I became enamored with the idea of sailing about a year and a half ago. It came out of nowhere, really. We’d never sailed. We don’t know anyone who sails. It just happened, and it’s awesome.

After we’d made up our minds to cruise with our two young kids, we took the plunge and became Jamie and Behan’s coaching clients in May of 2018, shopped for boats all summer, and bought our vessel in November.

Told you it was serious!

Serendipitously, we were actually scheduled to sign all the purchase paperwork for our boat the same day we received the email asking if we could come crew on Totem. Clearly a sailor’s life is the life for us. We’d taken every bit of email and video chat advice the Giffords had given, and now we were on our way to learn from them firsthand.

After a long day of travel by car, plane, and shuttle bus, Jamie and Behan invited us aboard. Climbing down Totem’s companionway was the first time I felt I was descending not just into a boat but into a home, with evidence of their happy memories and hard work everywhere I looked.

So there we were, work, parenting and holiday preparations put on hold to take advantage of our first crewing opportunity. As inexperienced as we are, I’m not sure we were much help, but I have a feeling that was kind of the point.

David and I learned so many things about ourselves, about passage making, weather, sail trim and so much more, that I believe this was a better investment than any class we could have taken.

Just a few of the things I discovered:

  • The magic of butyl tape
  • I get queasy the first 36 hours on passage
  • Good food helps
  • So does Dramamine
  • Lee cloths are a delightfully cozy cocoon
  • A Barber Hauler is superior to a jib sheet at every point of sail except close hauled
  • Baja is 100% worth coming back for
  • Just not in winter
  • Old gray pelicans look like wise wizards

But this wouldn’t be a full review of my experience if I didn’t mention the day that made me want to reevaluate this lifestyle. It was a nasty 24 hours of steep-ish, closely patterned waves when we left the southern tip of Baja and headed east to Mexico’s mainland. Totem was treading a fine line between keeping her sails full and keeping the waves astern of the beam. It required near constant steering and eyes on the water.

I found myself in a dark mood after that, questioning if I was making the right decision to one day do this with my kids…and without the Giffords by my side. If this is what cruising is like, maybe it’s a little too much adventure for me, I thought.

I knew I was too exhausted and frayed to think reasonably about it, so I told myself to wait it out. Don’t make any decisions about my future until I’ve had some rest and a chance to see the big picture.

I’m glad I listened to that voice instead of the anxious, overly tired one.

The truth is, passage making is only about 5% to 10% of the cruising life, and cold, winter passages with a schedule to adhere to are virtually unheard of. After 10+ years of cruising, the Giffords only had 3 or 4 stories to share with us about less-than-ideal conditions…all of them manageable and none of them even close to resembling a storm at sea.

This is the biggest decision we’ve ever made. It’ll change our entire lives and give our kids a very different childhood from the one they might have on land. So I don’t take it lightly. And neither do Jamie and Behan. Every decision is carefully calculated, and they’ve planned for all contingencies.

I already suspected we’d chosen our cruising coaches well, but after seeing them in action, practicing what they preach, I know with certainty my family will be successful in our cruising life if we continue to heed their words.

I’m grateful for all of it. The night we anchored in Honeymoon Cove will be fodder for my future cruising dreams, and that last day in Banderas Bay before our flight home gave me the rest—and perspective—I needed. But I’m especially appreciative of that long 24 hours of grumpy seas and practically no sleep. It was hard, but we did it. And we know we can do it again.

I can’t tell you how much comfort it brought me to do my first passage under the full guidance of the Giffords. I wish everyone on the path to family cruising could have this same opportunity.

Sam, David, and their kids are counting down to cruising! Bookmark their pending blog, Muse and the everyday epic, to follow along. Totem and crew are now in Barra de Navidad, revisiting favorite haunts with Niall while’s aboard for winter break. Find out our schedule for boat shows in Toronto, Seattle, and Puerto Vallarta area seminars on our Events page.  

What 2018 taught us as cruisers

Two Dolphins in sailboat bow wake

Pausing for reflection at the transition into a new year: living so much in the present, it’s worth stopping to draw out significant events that too easily slide into the misty past. Continuous learning is one of the great opportunities of cruising, and a few lessons stand out in 2018.

We didn’t screw up homeschooling.

Niall’s return to Totem for winter break from Lewis & Clark college confirm he’s happily transitioned. I credit him as an individual and not our efforts to direct and shape with homeschooling, in truth, but will let myself wallow in pride and gratitude at his accomplishment in making the changeover from an unstructured nomadic life afloat, to a highly structured academic environment—and thrive.

Mexico is just as awesome as we remembered.

Our first year and a half cruising was spent in Mexico, but it was eight years prior; we wondered what it would be like to return after the intervening countries and miles. Turns out it’s hard to beat the combination of beautiful coastlines, interesting places to visit, friendly people and general security. We’re happy to extend our time here after closing a circ loop in Zihuatenejo last spring!

sailboat at anchor next to stunningly rugged desert coastline in Baja

The incredible light of the Sea of Cortez

Inspiring is a gift.

We added more than 50 new coaching clients in our “TRU crew” this year. Amazing! Working as mentors to realize their cruising dream is profoundly fulfilling. Jamie would tell you I’m like a broken record after our calls: “we get to work with the best people!” I’m so happy we have grown a niche to make a difference.

This view was earned with sweat, not drone skills! Isla Danzante

There’s hope to normalize cruising.

Appearing on TODAY with Megyn Kelly may land among the most unforgettable experiences we ever have. But it was behind-the-scenes crew that are the real stars, no disrespect to a celebrity interviewer intended. The crew offered us interest, kindness, humility, and grace. From the producer who first reached out, to the reporter and crew in California, to the security guard who knew exactly how to calm a few flickering nerves – they didn’t see the freaks, the Weird People, the spectacle of the week… as you might expect from non-boaty crowd. That they sought us out, heard our story, and helped us amplify the gifts offered by this wonderful life afloat gives me hope.

crappy phone pic. way to nervous for more than that!

Sharing the sail is fun.

A spontaneous decision chased by an email resulted in two of our coaching clients joining Totem for a week long passage in December. David and Sam had just closed on the boat that will be their family’s magic carpet. They don’t have much experience. We didn’t need crew. This wasn’t a paid gig. It just felt like a cool opportunity to connect something we could offer with something they needed. They were great additions and learned a bunch: Sam’s upcoming guest post will share the experience.

Sam & David before flying home from Puerto Vallarta

Totem’s 2018 statistics

We love our statistics, and Jamie’s database makes metrics for the year easy to grab! Here’s another dimension to a great turn around the sun.

Countries visited: 5. OK, so you can do that in a couple of days in the Caribbean. We might have added four more, but sailed from Costa Rica to Mexico without visiting intermediary countries. Something to fix in future years.

Days on passage: 20. We count a “passage day” if we were underway at midnight. Most of this happened as we legged our way north from the Panama Canal to the northern Sea of Cortez between mid-March and mid-June.

Anchoring depths: our deepest spot in Panama’s San Blas islands was 65’, exactly half our deepest ever (Maldives in 2015); the average was around 26’.

Distance traveled: 4,916 nautical miles (5,657 miles). Far from our biggest year, but remarkable in that we spent MOST of this year…not sailing. There were six months in the shipyard, and 43 days at a dock (most of those in Colombia, where anchoring wasn’t safe). In the remaining period we averaged about a thousand miles per month: suddenly, it feels like a bigger year for sea time.

One last lesson

Holy cow, how did I almost neglect this one? On April 7, we learned in a wholly new and internalized way that the earth is in fact round when Totem and crew closed the loop on a circumnavigation in Zihuatenejo, Mexico. 2018: you were one for the memory book!

Totem and crew are southbound in Mexico right now, making plans to head north in a few weeks for the Toronto Boat Show and Seattle Boat Show. Want to learn how to go cruising? Please join us in Seattle for a special extended seminar! Details on the Totem Events page.

 

Give the Cruising Dream! Last minute, no-shipping gift ideas

Need a little something at the last minute? Here are a few ideas to help inspire the hopeful cruiser in your life… or, put a smile on that cruiser across the anchorage from you! My favorite elves above, three years ago, on our mad road trip across South Africa to catch up with family in Yzerfontein.

Gift certificate

Give the Gift of Cruising: our mentoring service, for standard durations (monthly increments) or our holiday special: a one-time session (up to an hour and a half) for $50. Several versions of gift certificates are available to personalize! Contact me for availability (limited number offered); printable PDFs will be mailed for gifting. See rates at TRU Coaching) and contact us for a certificate.

eBooks

While a general gift certificate on Amazon is awesome, you can also give a specific ebook to someone – and, time it to work for a holiday surprise! Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Amazon Kindle store, and search for the book you want to buy – maybe Voyaging with Kids?!
  2. On the right side of the page, below the “Buy Now” button (or in this case, Read Now – I already own this book!), click on the button that says “Buy for Others.”

3. The next screen provides options to personalize you gift message, then — choose your delivery date, so you can keep the surprise intact! You can also have the gift email sent to yourself instead of the recipient (see that tiny text under ‘Recipient email?), then print to give them directly.

Make something!

While we were in Puerto Peñasco, we were gifted a bag of citrus from shipyard friends (thank you Nicole!). What bounty! Enough to enjoy and make citrus-based gifts in return. Oranges and lemons became marmalade, lemon peels turned into a percolating jar of lemon essential oil infused vinegar (fantastic for cleaning), lemon curd for holiday baking; a tasty bottle of limoncello came our way too. You don’t have to be skilled at canning or DIY boatkeeping. Things you can make and give are myriad: prepare a mix for your fave sailor to make hot buttered rum (just add rum/hot water), or chocolate chip cookie mix in a jar for example.

Donate

One of the best kids our kids ever got needed no wrapping paper. Our friend Brian of the MV Further (now based in beautiful Philippines) gave them funds with Kiva. The kids then browsed for micro-lending candidates to choose which to support. A great gift for our kids while supporting fellow humans! Our 2016 holiday gift guide includes a list of marine-related charities and foundations, one of which might just hit the mark.

Hope this was helpful for you! 

Schedules, cruising, and the 800-mile passage nobody wants to make

Sailboat motoring with distant coastline ahead

“After this, no more schedules!” Jamie ranted a little while coiling lines at the mast possibly a little more vigorously than necessary while we motored into Banderas Bay yesterday morning. It’s a basic principle of cruising to avoid a schedule. Usually we’re pretty good at it, but this last week we sailed Totem more than 800 nautical miles, passing stunning cruising grounds, all to make a deadline. Jamie is over it.

pinterest image schedules and cruisingWhat’s the problem with schedules, anyway? Our pre-cruising life was run by schedules and routines that kept life nicely on the rails for a busy family. But for cruisers, schedules are incompatible on a few levels.

Weather. This is the primary enemy of the schedule: weather is unpredictable, and non-negotiable. The catchphrase for many is “weather always wins,” and it does. Want a current example? Check out the Golden Globe Race, where competitors are dropping like . Plan to depart on a particular day if you want: the weather may cooperate, and it may not. Weather does drive our big picture schedule: anticipate hurricane season, and be somewhere that minimizes risk. Swapping hemispheres is a nice way to do that.

Rushing through paradise. Time moves differently when you’re cruising, and feeling the minimum of experiential satisfaction in a place takes time; and then, there is always more to explore. Living in a world of 12 days annual vacation makes us look ridiculous when we express feeling totally shortchanged that we could only spend two and a half weeks sailing in Vanuatu before moving on to New Caledonia. But that’s exactly the conversation I had with Good Old Boat editor (my Voyaging with Kids co-author!) Michael Robertson recently; we both felt cheated by the couple of weeks we’d spent in Vanuatu. His family even flew back from Australia to Vanuatu in order to see more of the country they had only been able to cruise in for a few weeks on their way to the big land down under.

shrimp boat leaving puerto penasco

Shrimper leaving Puerto Penasco, not long before our own departure to sail south to Puerto Vallarta

Schedules are also the enemy because they get in the way of the ability of spontaneity. Being able to adapt plans on the fly because you’ve made a friend on shore and he’s like to lead you up ‘his’ volcano in a few days is the kind of flexibility you want to have in your life as a cruiser!

Kid boats. When we work with coaching clients who will go cruising with kids aboard, we try to impress the importance of flexibility so that when they connect with another cruising family and the kids (and parents!) hit it off, it’s not a big deal to make a last-minute change in plans to facilitate playdates or movie nights or whatever kid community is needed. And yet, we see new cruisers committing months ahead to places where friends or family will fly in “to see their new life!” that force the need to move on, to sail in an opposite direction from those new friends. One family wondered to us why they were struggling to connect with boats, not connecting the dots that their schedule-driven route wasn’t compatible.

Rugged Baja mountains glow at sunrise.

What about visitors?

We like to describe having intentions, vs. having plans. Of course we make an effort to match the one that lines up with their arrival, but have to impress the point that we might not be able to despite best intentions. When we’ve had crew fly in, they’re advised to consider booking a hotel for at least one night – just in case.

Next month, a production company is coming to Totem to film our life aboard (kind of exciting! Kind of scary). When we determined some weeks ago that we might not make their first choice of timing, she laughed and reminded me that when we were first discussing possibilities with them, I told her (sort of joking, sort of not) what we tell all our guests: “you can pick the date, or pick the place, but not both.” We were pretty sure we could manage the boatyard project timeline to arrive at their chosen place on the chosen date, but the weather was a wild card and entirely out of our control. The timeframe for filming was shifted to one we’re 100% sure of aligning date/place around, since we’ll spend the next few months in a relatively small range of the Mexican coastline.

Hanging out in the cockpit, mid-Gulf of California

This aspect of the evils of scheduling can be hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been cruising yet. A few times we’ve seen carefully outlined itineraries; multi-year routing plans with arrival dates and departure dates from one place to the next. Sometimes they even come with marina reservations! And sometimes I have to bite my tongue. “Your plan is never going to happen the way you imagine” is not a supportive response. But sometimes, people get so wedded to the schedule that when it fails, so does the cruise; our goal is to get people successfully, happily cruising on their terms. Schedules sabotage that success for most people. And really: when you find paradise, why rush through it, just because you laid out a timeline?

That 800 n.m. passage…

Our deadline was wholly worthwhile: meeting Niall’s flight into Puerto Vallarta, where he’ll spend winter break on Totem. But those 817 miles wound through island-sprinkled cruising grounds that many take months and even years to explore. Not gonna lie: it smarts a little! But it’s OK: we’ve been there, and we’ll be back next year, and we’ll take our time then.

dolphin spotting from sailboat bow

Yes, we have crew aboard! Sharing this passage with two of our coaching clients

This passage… it was pretty cool, honestly. A shakedown to be at sea for pretty much a week straight (we anchored one night, about halfway through) after six months on the hard. A chance to feel that slick new Coppercoat bottom. A chance to share the sail with a couple of our coaching clients, too, something new for us that enriched the experience.

Dates and deadlines inevitably creep in, but we make every effort to hold them at bay. Cruising on a schedule is an oxymoron: learning patience is the reality. Instead of rushing, we invest in our present environment as much as possible. It’s why we went cruising, after all: breaking out from a scripted life to seek the unexpected.

We did it! Decorating Totem this morning with ALL THREE kids aboard

~

Update: we have an EVENTS page now! Speaking dates / locations, boat shows, etc. at a single point of reference. Yes, I appreciate the irony of this in a post about how we avoid schedules! Ahhh… right. Embrace scheduling a little and come meet us!

Email subscribers: please note our events post about January speaking engagements in Toronto & Seattle included the wrong date for the Seattle Yacht Club. The correct date is Thursday evening, January 31st. Details on the events page.

 

Preparing Totem for Coppercoat

Two girls talk next to a sailboat on a hardstand.

 

Coppercoat’s advantages in durability (=savings!) and environmental friendliness (=how we live!) have made me more excited about antifouling than I believed possible. As if to complete the picture, Totem’s shiny new metallic hull is dazzling in the Sonoran sun. Once sanded to activate the copper the hull will oxidize to rich shade of verdigris, but for now it is stunning. Applying Coppercoat was an intense day of work, and an even bigger effort to prep. Researching our options confirmed how critical good prep is for this unique antifouling to be effective: here’s what we did, and why.

Two men scrape paint off the bottom of a sailboat
Jamie and Rudolpho tackling the bottom in June

  

Prepping for Coppercoat: two people examine the hull of a boat on a hardstand.

1. Stripped. Bottom paint and barrier coat were stripped to bare fiberglass last June, shortly after getting hauled in Puerto Peñasco. Totem didn’t have gelcoat left, the surprise that greeted us after blasting decades of accumulated bottom paint in Grenada. We painted on paint stripper, and scraped it off; not a perfect job of paint removal, with some visible bits in the valleys of Totem’s not-very-smooth hull, but sufficient for the summer. Boats with different substrates (e.g., gelcoat, metal hulls, etc.) get different prep.

2. Dried. From June until November, Totem’s wet hull dried out on the hard in the Sonora, Mexico. That’s Sonora, as in The Sonora Desert, where heat and low humidity provided an ideal climate to dry out during the summer months. Elsewhere (like the US east coast, or mainland Mexico, or further south) would have taken many months longer or required additional equipment (e.g. heating pads) or both.

Hull moisture meter readings were around 25% when we left. Eight blue-tape boxes were masked off to ensure repeat readings were in the same location; during our five months away, Cabrales Boatyard manager, Salvador Cabrales, would take periodic readings. He’d write the new measurement on the blue tape, then send a photo of it for us to see. Great peace of mind on progress while we were remote! The readings were at 6% to 7% at the end. During the drying period, the boatyard pressure washed the bottom to remove glycol, the sticky byproduct of a Polyester / Vinylester resin and a wet hull, that migrates to the surface as the hull dries.

 

A man writes on blue tape affixed to the hull of a boat.
Salvador updating measurement on the blue-tape reading area
Excel chart showing hull moisture readings declining over time
Homeschool bonus: charting the readings over time
Moisture meter showing reading.
Lower every time!

3. Stripped again. Totem’s bare hull was a rough surface, with flecks of paint remaining in the crevices. Brushing on paint stripper (we used Aquastrip) softened the remaining paint, which came off completely with a pressure washer.

Man brushes paint stripper on a boat.

 

Man powerwashes the bottom of a sailboat.

 

4. Sanded. The entire hull was sanded with 80 grit. After a full day of holding a vibrating sander mostly at or above shoulder height, Jamie hired a couple of guys from the yard crew to speed the job along and save his back.

Man in tyvek suit and face protection sanding a sailboat hull.
These guys helped a lot, but Jamie’s basically been in pain at night for a few weeks. 

  

5. Epoxied. If you’re at bare fiberglass, like Totem, the substrate (fiberglass) is porous and rough. After was wash and acetone wipe down, one coat of West system epoxy went on. When it was tacky, a second coat of West System with 410 micro-balloon filler to thicken the mix to work towards a smoother surface. Adding another layer of epoxy on top of a tacky prior coat is called hot coating: this creates a chemical bond between layers. The alternative is curing between coats and replying on roughing up the surface for a physical bond.

Three people measuring up epoxy to roll on a boat.
Mairen and Siobhan help mix up epoxy

 

6 – 9. Cured, sanded, washed, then wiped with Acetone. Epoxy was given a few days curing time before sanding. Sanding the thickened epoxy coat greatly improved substrate smoothness. Washing the hull got rid of the dust, and wiping with Acetone prepped for the next layers of epoxy.

 

Two people wipe rags on a sailboat hull while wearing heavy gloves
Wiping on acetone. Every once in a while need to demonstrate that I am not just behind the camera! 

 

10. Epoxied again. Several times actually: three coats of West System (two with 422 barrier coat additive) were applied to Totem’s hull bringing the total to five layers of epoxy, minus the 80 grit sanding.

Man in respirator with sander working on hull.
Looking pretty shiny after all the West Systems was applied! Fashion by Goodwill of Phoenix.

 

Siobhan uses a sharpie to mark rough spots that need more sanding; evening guard, Federico, looks on.

 

11 – 14. Cured, sanded, washed, and wiped with Acetone…again. Very intimate with the surface area of Totem’s hull at this point.

Drying the hull after a last rinse before the barrier coat went on.

  

15. Barrier Coat. Three coats of Interlux Interprotect 2000 were applied over the West Systems. Interlux recommends five coats, but with five prior coats of West System (including two with barrier protection additive) we feel confident that the combined eight coats will serve.

Three people work together to apply Interlux barrier coat to a sailboat hull.
Barrier coating as a family affair: Mairen stirs, Jamie and Siobhan roll on.

  

16 – 18. For the third time: cured, sanded (lighter, much lighter), and wiped down– but this time, no acetone! The hull was dusted with rags instead to remove debris from sanding, and leave a surface primed for Coppercoat. For future Coppercoaters, we have done even better to gently pressure wash one or two days in advance.

Consumables list – I’m probably forgetting something:

  • gloves – decimated a box of 150, plus a half dozen heavy-duty pairs for paint stripper
  • 80 grit disks – 175
  • 320 grit disks – TBD
  • paint brushes – 4
  • 3/8″ roller covers – 10 (Interlux Interprotect 2000)
  • 1/8″ roller covers – 6 (West System epoxy)
  • Acetone – 3 gallons
  • blue tape – 1 big roll
  • rags – large bag of clean, lint-free rags
  • mixing sticks – 20
  • spreaders – 10
  • Aquastrip  – 5 gallons
  • West System – 4 gallons for 5 coats, plus 410 filler and 422 additive
  • Interprotect 2000 – 7 gallons for 3 coats

A note on safety equipment:

Toxic stuff is all over this project. One of the reasons we’re excited about Coppercoat is how environmentally friendly it is, compared to alternatives, but getting to that point is not – really, a lot of boat work is pretty nasty, and this prep is no exception. Take care of skin, eyes, and lungs!

My friend Kate Laird (Check out her expedition sails and homeschool expertise!) called out safety kit shortcomings in some pictures posted, and she’s right. We should be better about how we’re protecting ourselves, and I also seemed good at capturing moments when we weren’t! Here’s an equipment list to help with planning ahead, with products we like.

Kate Laird from Seal expedition sail sanding paint on her boat's hull.
Kate- or is that Hamish? Or one of their teenage daughters? Working on the hull of their expedition vessel, Seal.

Respirator: Jamie and Kate both like this 3M 6200 half-mask. Bad luck was the straps on Jamie’s broke just before we started. You can get replacement straps and other parts – it’s one of the nice things about the respirator.

These reusable respirators have filters for particular matter (these pink ones) and VOC fumes (white ones here). Hot tip from Kate: keep the VOC filters in a ziploc bag to extend their useful life. They actually keep filtering away in there!

Jamie decided to try these disposable Moldex-Metric respirators this time. They were easy to source, lighter weight, and relatively comfortable. However, they’re really for “nuisance levels” organic vapors vs. fumes of OSHA PEL standards.

Skin protection: Tyvek jumpsuits are the standard, and they did get modeled around Totem, but the Goodwill in Phoenix turned out to be a good place for quick, affordable cover-up (50% off on Saturdays, and help from the Jollydogs crew picking things up for us!). We needed a few warm layers, anyway: we were NOT PREPARED for cool weather here in the late fall, and didn’t have clothes for it. Jamie’s happy: he hasn’t had a single day of gritty itchy boatyard yuck.

Eye protection: Jamie wears glasses but adds goggles over them when he’s worried about exposure. We picked up inexpensive eye protection in a hardware shop in Peñasco that worked fine for the girls. For more souped-up protection, this full-face respirator (3M 6700) Kate recommended is gold standard: big, single lens for easy viewing.

Further note on toxic junk, and being outside the US: I don’t know if there are any standards for the toxic waste produced in boatyards but the practices here mean we’re doing work that wouldn’t be handled the same way in the USA. Some things can be addressed by individual boaters, with some planning ahead. A shopvac using HVAC filters to capture and dispose of dust off sanders (Jamie’s got a bag on his that he’d empty regularly, and dispose – amazing how much of that stuff comes off – but no special filtering). You couldn’t just paint on stripper and pressure wash it off on a hardstand spot like we are, but set up for catchment and hazardous waste dispo…no, actually, you probably couldn’t because there’s probably not a hazardous waste facility. In the US, you’d stage the boat for this at a place where runoff is captured. For the most part, our lives are an incredibly light footprint environmentally: every once in a while, they’re really not.

Totem has 12 coats of epoxy right now. TWELVE. OK, so some got sanded off in the process, but even if we lost a couple of coats – it’s a long way from the bare fiberglass that peeked out when we blasted at Grenada Marine last year.

Coppercoat application: next post.