Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning from our mistakes

Tough week. Following on the heels of such a wonderful week of sailing for the first time on our own boat, this weekend was all about having things go wrong. We tried to get out sailing Sunday which was looking like a dream day. We are getting quite handy at the rigging and things were all set for a quick push off the dock, and out for some sailing on such a clear and beautiful day. Waiting for everyone to arrive found the wind coming in stronger and stronger from the north especially after noon.

Looking back I can see that the wind coming in from the north meant that as we came out of our slip pointing east/west, our bow would be pushed heavily to the south away from the direction we wanted to go. It certainly was. Our neighbours powerful boat was, after two attempts able to power through the turn, which was the technique I decided to follow. As it turned out, the wind was too much for our temporary dinghy electric motor mount. The wooden mount failed as I thought I had to up the throttle to try to make ground forward into the wind. I should have worked with the wind and swung south, using the wind, rather than having fought it.  Our sister boat, a 25 foot C&C, with our other neighbour at helm, demostrated just minutes after our failed attempt, just how easy it could be done with a low power dinghy motor by just looping around to the south using the wind to advantage. 

When the mount broke in half I, fortunately, had thought to attach an emergency line to catch the motor from sinking after the failure (I had even looked at the mount earlier and said to myself it looks like it might be warping...and surely I should have known it would fail sooner or later). Everyone remained calm. I asked crew to prepare to fend off as we began to drift for a couple seconds in the dock area. A familiar face happened to be motoring by in a dinghy, so, calmly, I asked for some help to get back into our slip as our motor had failed. They quickly agreed and began pulling our bow line around. Seeing that assistance was required, our neighbours helped us come in to dock without any further mishap. We also had another member come in as a backup to make sure all was okay. Help others when they are in need as you will surely need their help one day. 

Despite the safety line catching the motor, it looks like the battery may have been damaged by the water...what a sick feeling knowing that. Hopefully the motor system is still okay...I think it will be. I'll get a replacement battery and we'll be back on track with a significantly beefed up temporary dinghy motor mount (ideally, that will not be needed) and a great deal learned about the way to work with the wind especially if your boat is working under less than ideal mechanical repair.

Hard as this has been, and as hard as it is to have to take all the feedback from those that know better, this is what it is all about. Learning from the school of hard knocks is painful and hard to deal with at the time, but the kind of thing that expands your knowledge of the situation deeply and memorably. People will tell you, "I told you so", and they will be right, but they are the same people that would not have tried and would not have learned from those same mistakes. How do you deal with your boat when/if it loses power when going to dock...been there now. How do you deal with high winds coming across your port side when exiting your with the wind, and feel comfortable looping around to the south rather than always fighting the difficult conditions. Build repairs beefier and with better back up systems than you might initially conceive of. Like in baseball, anticipate what each component will do in a failure situation so that the backup systems handle them better. Think of the forces that will impact any and all of the systems on the boat, from lines, halyards, buckles, shrouds and pulleys, and imagine how well they will hold up under the worst possible weather conditions, not fair/average weather. Obvious stuff but particularly real once you've made mistakes.

When it rains it pours. Our home solar system is being held up from being turned on by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) which leaves me holding the bag on an expensive system that is supposed to generate income to pay for itself. After two months of waiting for our supplier/installer to work it out with ESA, still no resolution. Today our electrician has proposed a voltage transformer to try to address the concern. The waiting and not knowing is hard to deal with. You want to do something about it to move things along, you try to push, when things aren't moving, and you instigate a little forward motion, and then you wait some more. Hopefully we'll hear soon, that this will resolve their concern which my installer is telling me should not be a concern. Familiary story.

Similar story with the electric motor for the boat. Much of the current frustration with the electric dinghy could have been avoided had things simply moved along with fewer hurdles and difficulties. Life isn't like that though. Certainly we made mistakes in this process and we'll learn from them as well. Good things take time and they are hard, especially when they are the road less travelled. We are learning more than I could have imagined about things I had not even thought of. I know that all of this will become the backbone of what gets us through the tough stuff up ahead.

My Grandma used to say tough times don't last just tough people. These things will be overcome and the extra difficulties will make them all the more satisfying once accomplished. Sometimes you just have to take it, take it from everyone as best you can, take it from yourself when you are harder on you than anyone else and come back out fighting harder than ever to make it happen. Dreams don't just happen, you have to fight to make them real, and they don't happen without mistakes. Kick yourself and tell yourself to do better next time. Your dream is worth it. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sailing is such a joy

Last evening we went out for a sail around Toronto inner harbour with some future sailors. Ian and Claire Wilson, my wonderful crew, easily fell into their roles, helping their cousins  David and Cassie (and aunt Kathleen), get into the swing of raising the sails, tacking and jibing. Such a wonderful warm evening to let each of the younger kids take a turn at helm. Seeing that twinkle of wonder as these youngsters commanded our 35 foot sailboat around the harbour, tacking with just the touch of their fingers. Claire's friend Andrea also took a turn at helm and was handy around the lines and sheets.

With just two or three knots of wind we were able to start raising the main sail on our way out of the dock area at QCYC. Our small electric dinghy motor only needed about a minute of run time before I was able to shut it down under main sail power as we exited the club dock area. A beautiful gentle cross breeze took us directly out of the club, into the harbour area on a close reach. Initram is such an easy boat to sail under light winds, she calms her skipper, and allows her junior mates to learn quickly and safely.

Tacking back and forth across the harbour was such a joy, my heart leaps at the thought of how we so elegantly slice through the water in our steady and solid boat. Silently gliding through the water, on a gentle breeze, a slight churn of water off our stern proving she makes excellent headway even under these light winds, the beautiful view of the city on our tack north, the quaint Toronto islands on our southern tack, and the odd propeller plane gliding in over our heads towards the island airport. Freedom. The mere thought that at any moment we could make for the eastern gap, exit out of the harbour onto the expanse of Lake Ontario, and head out, and one day, out to the oceans, through the St. Lawrence, to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific from the Panama Canal, South China Sea, Indian Ocean, the Med, and back to the Atlantic, all by the power of the wind, and the idea, that yes we can, and we will head out around the world one day soon enough.

Dream. Always dream. And then make your dreams happen. Happiness. Find your happiness. (Have been reading Slocums book about sailing around the world on my iPhone)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

First sail on dinghy electric motor

We finally "got off the dock". Today, son Ian, Dad, Leigh, Claire and I went out on our sailboat, Initram, with the dinghy electric motor, a Torqueedo electric outboard, rigged to the back of 35 foot C&C. This is the first time in a few years that Initram has been out for a sail. What a great feeling after so much waiting.

Last Thursday night I spent a few hours jury rigging the Torqueedo, lithium battery powered electric motor to the back of our C&C 35. I basically clamped some hard wood to the swim ladder. We've been using the dinghy with this amazing well built German electric motor for a couple weeks. It has lots of power. I'd read that it could push 14 foot boats and perhaps bigger ones. So, since our Electric Yacht kit is still another week or two away from being fully installed, and we have been aching to get out and sail, we decided to try this temporary solution.

First of all, the boat is new to us so we had to figure out how to rig up the jib sail for the first time. I've worked the main sail up and down a few times at the dock so that was ready to go. We did a double check on all safety equipment, reviewed our plan for taking the boat out, and off we went.

Silently I reversed with the Torqueedo motor jumping a bit as I didn't have the ladder held down in place for reverse. Still, she moved slowly back quite nicely, sputtering a bit but kept moving. Once we'd pulled into the middle of the lagoon, between all the other boats, we hauled in the fenders (not wanting to have to buy everyone at the bar a beer on our first run out), and engaged full forward thrusters captain! Away she went, quietly past our neighbours, to the right of a few sailors coming in to dock, and past the Wards Island ferry dock. A few butterflies churned in my stomach, as I hoped that we would not run out of battery power until we were well clear of the docks and some fellow sailors who have said I am crazy.

Once we'd gotten past the entrance to QCYC, our club, we put the bow into the wind and began hauling up the main sail. After futzing with a double winched line, we got the main sail nicely up and started plowing through the water. I turned off the forward thrust on the electric Torqueedo, to conserve as much battery as possible for our return to dock, and we began hauling the jib up.

She sails beautifully. Smoothe as silk. Feels so well balanced you can hold course with just a finger on the wheel. We had fair winds and so were moving along very well. What a joy to be out in the Toronto Harbour, at last, sailing in a good breeze, with all the other sailors.

After some high fives, hand shakes and self-congratulations we enjoyed a couple hours of sailing. While at the helm the crew mutineed the idea of taking her out through the eastern gap for some open lake sailing. Not yet, apparently not everyone felt ready. What a great feeling just to tack back and forth on this beautiful speedy boat. We all had a blast taking turns at helm.

Finally, we got the word, time to go in. I was a bit worried about whether we'd have enough juice in the batteries to get us back to the dock under some kind of propellor driving power. I was prepared to use the main sail a bit in case we ran out of electric engine power. I kept the throttle in maximum distance setting and we slowly came into the QCYC docks under slow speed, red buoys on the right of course. What a day! The adventure continues. Soon we should have the full blown big 10 kW electric motor kit from Electric Yachts and Odyssey batteries (AGM, 1800 series, rack mountable), and the Analytics super military/marine grade charge controller. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ready for electric motor

We've cleaned out the engine compartment with some "green" cleaner that Leigh found in the pile of cleaners on the boat. That, and some extra elbow grease, and the boat is starting to look and smell like roses. Okay, so maybe I washed down the grease in that engine room, all 40 years of it. And now, here you can see Leigh actually cleaning it. Now we are ready to mount the new electric motor. We are hoping to see it arrive this week some time.

You can see that the water is a couple of inches higher on the water with the gasoline engine removed. We'll see how the battery and electric motor weigh in. 

I also went around the entire set of lifeline railing on the boat and tightened up all the uprights as some were actually popping out of their hold fittings. 

To the left are pictures of before and after the engine compartment was cleaned. What a relief to get that old crud out.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gasoline goes, electric is on the way

Today we removed the Atomic 4 gasoline engine that had given our boat 40 years of service. This paves the way for cleaning up the space for our electric motor. Thanks to Paul and Lorne, the process went very smoothly. Paul used his dinghy to push us to the crane. We then hooked up the cranes hook to a special U shaped piece of metal for pulling engines out of boats recessed engine compartments. We hooked up a steel chain to the old Atomic 4 engines circular hole in the center on top. Up she went and then out. What a relief. Now the fun begins. We'll clean up with sunlight and then paint to get ready for the electric motor that should arrive this week.

Dad (to the right) did all the hard work of cranking the cranes hook up and down, as well as side-to-side. Lorne, in the top picture, takes care to keep the engine from going astray as we move it onto shore. With the old gasoline engine out of the boat we can now see what 40 years of burning gasoline leaves behind (see photo below).

We're getting close on the choice of batteries. Getting quotes from my solar system provider and a local distributor of Odyssy batteries as recommended by Electric Yachts. Lorne is narrowing in on a military grade charge controller. New elelectrical work is being completed by Lorne to upgrade AC and DC wiring to latest requirements as required for our insurance. Lorne has new electrical panels ready and will do final hookup shortly. Lorne has also got a plan for a battery bank platform and box to ensure the batteries are firmly secured. We are looking at a fairly heavy set of 4 x 12 volt batteries that may come in at about 500 pounds. So with the electric being about 200 pounds lighter than the gasoline engine and removal of gas tank we should be about even on the weight.