The battle of attrition

“I start from the premise that no object created by man is as satisfying to his body and soul as a proper sailing yacht.” ~Arthur Beiser

Owning a sail boat has been a dream of mine for quite some time.  And, thankfully, I found a partner who was inspired by that dream and made it her own as well.  My experience with sail boats up until we bought The Red Thread were as crew: novice, useless underfoot, graduating to rail meat, utility, trimmer, and finally bowman.  Let me be blunt about it: there’s an incredible ease of mind when you are on someone else’s boat.  You aren’t responsible for things that break (unless you break them through negligence), you don’t have to shell out the costs of ownership in moorage, mortgage, fuel, insurance, and a thousand other bank account deflating costs.  However, the price you pay is that you are at someone else’s whims.  You never get to select where to go, and unless you have a stout relationship and credibility, you rarely get to tell them what or how to do anything (even if you may be better at it).

Nothing to least for a moment.

Nothing to fix…at least for a moment.

With the glory of owning your own sail boat and charting your own courses, finding your own sweet destinations, you take on that responsibility to maintain her, to care for her, and when her figurative knees are creaking and arthritic, to put on your surgeons gloves (rags and paper towels), take out your scalpel (wrenches), and install some new knees.  This is, for many, the inglorious part of boat ownership.  And, it is why every day we walk the docks and see derelict vessels rotting by the quay, waiting for someone to come and love them back into their former beauty.  I’ll admit, this aspect of boat ownership was one that neither Jessie nor I were fully prepared for – and how could we be?

Haulout“The second best day of your life is the day you buy a boat, the first is when you sell her.”  I can’t count the number of times we heard that.  For some mariners it is certainly true.  I almost thought it was true for me too.  You see, we were just as doe eyed and dreamy as any other young adventurous couple.  When you embark on the adventure of owning your own boat you often have whimsical dreams about how great it will be.  You pull out maps and books and start imagining what it will be like to get to this place or that, and wonder at what you’ll see alone the way (seals, whales, and birds, oh my!).  You don’t think of the (sometimes) scary failures that’ll happen along the way for which you have no idea how to fix.  You just have to figure it out along the way and keep feeling the pulse of your yacht beneath the calloused soles of your suntanned feet.

The Red Thread has certainly had her fair share of curveballs for us, from electrical, to mechanical, to sewage problems.  I’ll share the top three with you to help keep this brief.  These aren’t in any order of catastrophic measurement, rather measured more by our capability in self-sufficiency at the time, urgency, and nature of the issue.  Let me state that this boat had been diligently maintained before we bought her.  Though survey’s can never catch everything, our surveyor was clear that he thought she looked like she’d hardly been sailed (when in fact she had over 44,000 blue water miles already on her – you can imagine his surprise when he learned that detail).

1)      Engine ovBilge Loathingerheating.  Let me first say that with all engine troubles Occam’s razor prevails: the simplest plausible answer is typically best (at least to start).  After a routine haul out to get fresh bottom paint, the engine began experiencing overheating troubles.  I also noticed that she was low on coolant.  After replacing the raw water impeller and seeing that 50% of the spines were missing, we sallied forth to find them.  We drained the coolant, disassembled and cleaned out the heat exchanger (eureka!), and checked for leaks.  We had to file down one brass cap for the heat exchanger so it would seal properly, and discovered that the coolant/fresh water cycle pump on the engine was leaking.  We replaced it and she was back up and running.

2)      Electric winch.  We are blessed to have an electric winch in the cockpit to make raising and lowering our main a much less sweaty task.  One day we noticed some oil leaking from a ceiling panel in our aft cabin, right under where the electric winch is installed, and also noticed that the winch labored more to raise and lower the sail.  Long story short, the gear box had to be replaced.  This is where I raise a one finger salute to the people who designed that gear box to be replaced instead of repaired.  Additionally, the winch had originally been installed to the deck and sealed using 3M 5200.  This substance has incredible sealing properties and is wonderful… right up until you need to remove whatever it is holding together.  This is where I raise my other middle finger.  It took two hired hands half a day with heat guns and gorilla-like force to get the winch off the deck – taking chunks of the gelcoat with it.  Hey, at least I got to teach myself to gelcoat, right!?Winch motor & gel coating3)      Low batteries.  Coming home from our “Engagement Sailcation” as my beautiful bride loves to call it (kinda catchy!), we discovered about halfway down Jervis Inlet that the batteries didn’t appear to be as full as they should’ve been considering that we’d been motoring.  A rough night in Pender Harbor where we had to, at 2 am, figure out how to manually release more anchor chain due to increasing winds, and a night in a marina to get some shore power, we made our way back to Friday Harbor.  There a very good friend, and the former owner of the boat, came to our rescue to assist us in installing a new alternator and power regulator, fixing the issue.

There are more stories to tell, of course.  I could talk about our sea water toilet not flushing (calcium build up in the discharge – a little disgusting to clean out), heating issues during a cold Seattle winter, mold throughout the entire transom, and more.

The moral of this story?  You are more capable, more resourceful, and more blessed with sources of information than you can even imagine.  I wasn’t an expert on marine diesel engines, or boat electrical schemas, or epoxies before we bought The Red Thread.  Hell, I am still a far cry from daring to call myself even competent.  But, I believe in myself.  With each issue that gets resolved I get more confident, more comfortable with her, and get confirmation that this was the right choice for us.  I also find new ways to bang my head on something, get a scrape or boat bite, and discover wonderfully inventive new pairings of strings of expletives which I would be ashamed to say in front of my mother.  It isn’t all glorious, but there are merits all around if you ask this young salt.

5 thoughts on “The battle of attrition

  1. Just spending time looking over your blog again and wanted to give you a vote of encouragement.. Boy do we understand what it’s like to have things happen with a boat. Nothing teaches you to trust yourself and your resourcefulness like boat ownership. Except maybe those 2 AM wake up calls to put out more anchor chain. It really makes life interesting. We join you in the one-fingered solute to manufacturers who look at replacing instead of repairing, too. Oh, and a tip on that calcification in the sewage system: vinegar. It won’t hurt your hoses, but it will certainly help keep calcium build up at bay. When we took the 30 feet of sewage hose out of our current boat, there was so much calcium build up in the hose that water could barely get through. Yuck.
    Looks like you guys are leaving in the fall. Maybe we’ll meet at a nice anchorage between now and then, if we ever get our boat up here.


    • Thanks for the vote of confidence! We’re always finding new boat tasks that require ingenuity and grit to get through them, and it is all great practice for when we’ll be “out there” without the conveniences of being dockside. I would love to swap stories with you if you ever make it up this direction, or if you are in our path as we head south from Seattle. Hope all is well!


      • We are still keeping our fingers crossed that we will have our boat up in the Puget Sound sometime this summer. I’m sure there will be time to meet at an anchorage near Seattle at some point. We plan to moor her at the Foss Harbor Marina in Tacoma.


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