Arcturus TransAtlantic

Friday Column: Trans-Atlantic Journal: Canadian Maritimes

Friday Column: Trans-Atlantic Journal: Canadian Maritimes

Seven knots over the ground! Thanks to a north setting current, we’re now just off the northern limit of Georges Bank, again sailing through heavy fog. This morning after my 0200-0500 watch, my hair was wet enough so it appeared I’d just taken a shower…The boat is really starting to come together now. I put my tools away at noon today (the power tools anyway…). 

North to Sweden, Pt. One

Yesterday my marina neighbor John was watching me climb around in the cockpit locker of my boat, tangled in battery cables and covered in engine grease. It was the 18th day in a row that I’ve put over ten solid hours of work into the boat. He asked me where I got my motivation; it was an easy answer – in two months, I’ll be sailing towards Sweden, and the boat just has to be ready.

As I write, it’s late in the evening and I’ve just finished yet another 10-hour workday, the 19th now since returning from Sweden on April 1 (‘nothing goes to weather like a 747!’). I left my fiancé Mia back in Stockholm to finish up her university degree and plan our wedding (!). Returning April 1 would give me exactly one month to finish fitting out the boat, a project we started in earnest last summer in Annapolis where we spent three long months living in the boatyard while we took the boat apart just to put it back together again.

Arcturus – our 35’ Allied Seabreeze yawl that is going on 50 – needed some shoring up for the North Atlantic. But we’re almost there, which is a good thing, as I’ve barely a week and a half left before ‘real’ job obligations finally take over and I have to leave town again.


Writing in Stockholm, mid-winter 2011

The plan to sail to Sweden has been evolving ever since we bought the boat in 2008 on the Chesapeake Bay. The story of the sale is an emotional one, filled with serendipitous moments (which I live by). Mia and I took delivery only two or three days before heading to St. Martin for the summer to skipper a boat full of teenagers for Broadreach. Since then, Arcturus has gone through stages of being lived on, worked on, and left under a cover for long periods as Mia and I bounced around between Sweden, St. Martin and Annapolis, trying to figure out how to sustain a life without real jobs. We’d always dreamed of going ocean sailing, but never really had a destination in mind, and didn’t really put much effort into fitting out our boat in earnest, as we had no specific plan. Then we got engaged. As the wedding would be in Stockholm, that became the obvious goal.


Mia, skiing on the ice in the Stockholm Skärgård

I’ve always believed that once you make a decision to do something, the world sort of lines things up in such a way as to make them possible, even probable. Ideas take on a life of their own once they leave your subconscious. Thus began a two-year period of strange coincidences and opportunistic meetings that have given us the confidence to even attempt this voyage.

It’s only recently that I’ve begun studying charts for the route which, serendipitously, were given to me by Yves Gelinas – the inventor of the Cape Horn windvane who circumnavigated via the Southern Ocean in his Alberg 30 – after we met and took up a correspondence. We’ll sail north from Annapolis towards Halifax. If time permits, we’ll cruise the Nova Scotian coast before setting off towards Ireland, the west coast of Scotland and the North Sea. The pilot charts indicate a 50% chance of fog along the Canadian Maritimes in June/July (not to mention potential icebergs) when we’ll be passing through. Once off soundings east of the Grand Banks, we’ll be sailing generally along the path of the Gulf Stream as it branches towards the UK, which may give us half a knot or so. But the frequency of gales is a bit higher that far north, and the sustained westerly’s we should experience are in the Force 4-6 range. I spoke to a friend of mine who sailed that route single-handedly a few years ago; “there’ll be plenty of wind, and get ready to get wet,” was all he said. We hope to cross the North Sea by September before the winter (and the gales) kick in. People ask why we don’t stop off in Bermuda and the Azores, the more typical route across the pond; well, because that’s the more typical route, and we’re up for a challenge.

But today, the North Sea might as well be the moon. Arcturus is coming along, for sure – the engine is mounted again (though not connected to anything), the steering system is on the re-assembly phase, the new sails are being stitched, the Cape Horn windvane is installed (well, almost), and I nearly have a working electrical system. If I think about it, the work that still remains to be done seems overwhelming and impossible. And yet when I think back on the last 19 days, I’ve already achieved the impossible. 

At the moment, I’m exhausted. When we set off in June, I’ll be ecstatic. The idea lives – there’s nothing to stop it now.

Downrigging the Mizzen

The work continues on Arcturus. Mia is on day four of scraping Cetol, and the rigging project is making progress.
After school yesterday we headed back down to the boat on our bikes, the best purchase I've made in a long time. Mia had been at the boat all morning, but the scraping was still not complete, so she got back to work. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out how to get mizzen mast down on deck without breaking it in half. 
We rigged the main halyard to the top of the mizzen mast by connecting it to the mizzen staysail halyard. With the main halyard tight, we slacked all the mizzen shrouds, and rigged the topping lift as a hoist to the stern (the boom had already been taken off). Mia manned the main halyard and I stood aft at the mizzen, and slowly it tipped forward out of its step. We lowered it to the deck using the mainmast halyard like a crane, and the operation went off without a hitch. 
The deck was a tangle of wire and halyards from the mizzen, so I started about taking everything apart and cleaning it up. I must admit that it was nice having a sloop for a while - the  cockpit nearly doubled in size without the mizzen back there. But I still want a two-masted boat, so it will go back up. The shrouds came off very easily, including the tangs on the mast, which I need to replace to accommodate the synthetic rigging. We were able to recycle one of the lower shrouds as a bike lock! The mast is currently laying on deck, radar and halyards still attached, but all the rigging coiled up and stowed away. I will begin splicing and installing new 7mm Dynex Dux to fit to the mizzen.
I re-designed the rigging on the mizzen to eliminate the triatic stay and remove the spreaders. By moving the chainplates for the upper and lower shrouds aft about 10 inches, I will be able to eliminate the need for running backstays in all but the worst weather, as well as eliminating the spreaders - by moving the uppers aft, it widens the shroud angle at the mast to within the acceptable 10 degrees, thereby making the spreaders an unnecessary complication. I'll also be installing two intermediate shrouds that will 'drift' forward about 25 inches from the mast, thereby letting us remove the triatic. All of the mizzen shrouds will be lashed to the toerail in place of chainplates.

Fitting Out Arcturus, Part 1

Mia and I have been steadily chipping away at our long list of projects to prepare for the upcoming trans-Atlantic to Sweden. The Miami Boat Show starts next Thursday, so we've been focusing on getting the boat ready for that, primarily.
Unfortunately that's meant making the boat look pretty, which wasn't exactly one of my priorities for ocean sailing, but nonetheless I think the effort will pay off at the show. Mia has spent the past four or five days scraping old Cetol off all of the exterior wood. I bought her a heat gun the other day, which has made the process slightly more bearable. You don't realized how much wood the boat has until you start a refinishing project like this. The only saving grace is that Ben, the former owner, replaced the teak toerail with aluminum, saving hours of labor. Mia's about 3/4 of the way done scraping, which will be followed by three stages of sanding (60, 150, 220), and finally slapping on 8-10 coats of varnish. We'll be happy if we can get just three coast by the show, continuing to build it up after that as the weather permits. 
I, on the other hand, have been up and down the mast re-doing the standing rigging one shroud at a time. The re-rig was our number one priority before the trip - the old stainless rigging was going on 25 years of service - nearly all the swage fittings were cracked, and I wanted to upsize the wire. Plus, the reason we're in the boat show in the first place is to display the new synthetic rigging we're using, thanks to John Franta at Colligo Marine for the sponsorship ( He sent us  a spool of both 7 and 9mm Dynex Dux synthetic rope (for the mizzen and main, respectively), and all the requisite fittings (deadeyes, thimbles, lashing line, etc.), plus new titanium mast tangs. 
Yesterday I cycled almost 15 miles to Broward Bolt to pick up a new 1/2" stainless bolt to attach the new mast tangs with. I swung by Lowe's to pick up rubber washers for insulating the titanium against the aluminum mast. Surprisingly, the old bolt and tangs came off quite easily, even with the added difficulty of dis-assembling it from the bosun's chair. When it came apart, I found the bolt bent alarmingly, and the pin holes on the tangs severely deformed. The new titanium tangs are vastly stronger, lighter and thicker, and should prove a definite improvement. They went on without any trouble. (I would have had to replace the tangs regardless of the wear on the old ones - the thimbles that the Dux are spliced to are significantly wider than a swage or Sta-Lock wire end fitting, and would not fit next to each other on a typical double-lower-shroud tang).
I had previously measured and spliced the lower shrouds from the 9mm Dux. It rained much of the afternoon yesterday, and after having gotten soaked while up the mast, I sat in the cabin in my underwear getting dry and splicing line. The 12-strand Dux is very easy to splice - with practice, I am able to complete a perfect splice in about 10-15 minutes. The thimbles have deadeyes built into them where the lashing line is then rove through, attaching to another deadeye that gets pinned to the chainplate. This eliminates the need for turnbuckles and adds a very traditional look to the boat, which I rather like. Tuning is more laborious, but once set-up, it works very well.
Due to the lashing line, measuring the shrouds is not as imperative as with turnbuckles, because any  length difference can be made up with the lashing line. I measured the lowers with each other, meaning both the aft and forward lowers are the same length, but they are not as long as the wire ones were. The lashings are about 24" long, making the lower thimble of each shroud come to about the top lifeline. It's important to measure the shrouds to matching lengths so it looks nice, but the actual length of them is  less important.
I'd previously spliced and installed twin backstays in place of the original split backstay (due to the twin chainplates of the yawl configuration). A challenge remains of finding a way to efficiently attach both thimbles at the masthead, where only one wire was attached before. Currently there are several shackles and toggles doing the job, but we'll need a better solution before heading offshore, as there are simply too many links in the chain, so to speak, and I need to simplify and strengthen this. However, having twin backstays seems vastly superior to a split stay for ocean sailing.
I've also reconfigured the mizzen mast to do away with the triatic stay, thereby independently staying each mast. To do this, I consulted both Brion Toss' book 'The Rigger's Apprentice' and Donald Street's 'The Ocean Sailing Yacht.' Both books agree that to get a sufficient staying angle on a shroud, there must be at least one inch of 'drift' for each foot of height. I'll be installing intermediate shrouds on the mizzen mast to act as forestays - they will attached 16' off the deck (21' total mast height), and will 'drift' forward a full 25 inches, which is plenty of drift to support the mast when going to windward. This will eliminate the triatic. Similarly, I will be eliminating the spreaders, and moving the chainplates for both the uppers and lowers aft about 10 inches, to get a wider mast angle, and create enough 'drift' aft so as not to have to rely on running backstays except in heavy weather. I basically copied the proportions of Donald Street's yawl 'Iolaire' when doing the calculations. Since the mizzen is so small and the forces so little, I'll be able - using the synthetic shrouds - to lash the shrouds right to the toerail (whichis through-bolted), using shackles smooth enough to accept the lashing line, providing a myriad of options for placing each shroud, instead of having to move the chainplates. 
When it's all said and done, I'll have what I believe to be the ideal ocean-sailing setup - a wire forestay that will accept a hank-on 100% jib; a synthetic inner forestay, with a hank-on storm staysail; a genoa furler, independent of the forestay for my 150% big sail, which can be lowered in rough weather without interfering with the forestay; an independently stayed and vastly stronger mizzen mast; and, finally, outboard chainplates, also of titanium (from Colligo), that will eliminate deck leaks and make for better shroud angles. 
Photos and more on the final product next week.

Cafe Rustica

My back hurts from sitting on the sofa. It was comfortable for the first hour or so, but you can only change positions so many times before you've gone through them all. 
I'm back in Ft. Lauderdale, back at the Cafe Rustica where I spent a lot of afternoons last spring either before work at the River Taxi, or after school at MPT. The same dude is still running the place, the music is still excellent, and the atmosphere stimulating. The only difference is that Mia is sitting across from me, instead of 4000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. This is a good thing.
We arrived in Pompano on Sunday night, after deliriously navigating through the 22nd and final drawbridge of our longest day yet on the ICW. It was only 63 miles, short by comparison, but took an agonizing 14.5 hours of hurry-up-and-wait motoring. Most of the bridges on that southern section of the waterway are restricted, and it's easy to get in sync with their hour and half hour schedules - if you're a powerboat. Arcturus was about half of a knot slow, and we continually arrived at the next bridge exactly as it was closing. We waited the full half-hour four times, adding two hours to our journey's last day, a day when we were tired but excited, a day when all I could think about was that frosty German bier and two pound pork shank waiting for me just behind our new dock. That thought alone, after ten days without meat or alcohol was enough to drag those half-hour waits into infinity. 
But we finally did make it, and Checkers, as it's known, was still open, even though it was 8:30 on a Sunday night. We were the last patrons, but we were without a doubt the most appreciative of the lot that day. The Bavarian music played over the speakers, and that first bier was a waterfall running down my gullet. Mia and I had eaten so little in the previous ten days that I actually couldn't finish the pork leg, a first. I did manage to drown a second liter of bier though, and it was delightful.
We've got the rest of the week to figure out how to stop Arcturus from sinking at the dock - the packing has been leaking so badly as to fill the bilge in little over twelve hours. Without an automatic pump, we resorted to manning the hand-operated pump in the cockpit, pumping nearly 100 strokes per hour underway, an exhaust leak adding to our troubles. On Sunday we fly to St. Lucia for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, where we'll greet the incoming yachts en route from the Canaries, 2800 miles across the ocean.