Good news. Ariose is back in the water, and we’re underway!
In fact, we already have 5 glorious days on the water in our wake. It’s taking a lot of focus as we scrape the rust from our sailing skills. Having been restricted to land for the past 4 years has resulted in some corrosion, but we’re relieved to find that our neurons are no different than many boat parts: a bit of elbow grease and a bit of use, and we’re beginning to feel quite polished. By the end of a full day sailing, however, despite great intentions of updating our blog, we just crawled into the v-berth to sleep. We’ve been completely exhausted, in the best kind of way.
Last week, though, the exhaustion we felt was of a very different flavour.
It had been a month since we left North Bay and towed Ariose to Kingston to launch on our sailing adventure. A month. A long 30 days. A protracted, hot, patience-testing, claustrophobic, on full public display, noisy, sleep-deprived month fighting wasps determined to move in with us. We had expected to feel euphoria as we finally set out, but no. As we departed this past Friday, we were able to fill Ariose’s diesel tank and jerry jugs at the marine fuel dock, but there was not much left in Tim’s and my tanks. Empty. Emotionally depleted.
The month had not been all draining by any means. We were in a well-run marina, in a lovely city, and as we’ve mentioned before, we have enjoyed time with lots of great folks. Being able to fit in a couple visits with my friend Sue, was all the more special in that I got to meet a few of her brood of grandkids.
A bit of cockpit socializing, a little touristing, interesting chats and daily cool showers to thwart the high temperatures helped keep us fueled. We got to witness Danny launch his newly refinished gorgeous wooden sloop, deservedly bumping Ariose from the prettiest boat in the marina honour. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.
A quick review of the past few weeks helps explain. Ariose was craned in the day after we arrived in Kingston and we set to work completing final preparations. Five days later, we were ready to step the mast with the expectation we’d set sail 1-2 days later. August 4th at the latest we’d be underway. That was the plan. We’ve learned, though, that our intentions and what actually unfolds are often not the same. For me, retired manager and consummate planner with a need for control rooted in my genes, I seem to require frequent refreshers on this life lesson. Sailing is an obliging teacher.
A memory lapse had resulted in us needing a quick crane out to check the security of the propeller before getting going. Then, as 9,000 pound Ariose was being lifted – bam! – a strap slipped and her rudder took the load causing irreparable damage. No rudder = no steering. We’d lost our way. Aimless. That happened August 3rd. We then lived aboard Ariose, mid-marina parking lot, for the next 21 days, hauling water, provisions, and our weary selves up and down the ladder. Each bit of progress whether projects we completed or good news about a replacement rudder, boosted our morale. Overall, though, our moods slipped and we grew increasingly inpatient each passing day.
The noise really began to get to us. Deafening planes overhead, trains across the bay, heavy equipment in the yard, halyards tapping rhythms on masts and alarms going off on unoccupied boats at night. We’re used to little more than soft sounds of the forest as we sleep. No peace here.
The heat was oppressive, typically high 20s/low 30s Celsius with humidex adding 10 degrees. We have no idea how hot it was inside Ariose. Her black bottom exposed to the sun soaked up the heat all day long. Then the few thousand pounds of cast iron in her keel acted like a heat sink, emitting that energy through the night to further warm her already over-heated inhabitants.
Once the new-to-us rudder was on, congratulations abounded. We had people keeping an eye on us and we chuckled when we received this enthusiastic email “I did a Happy Dance when I checked the webcam”, from someone home nursing a recovering Misty the cat 😉 . Although we appreciated all the excitement on our behalf, we felt strangely dissociated. I think we were just too exhausted to feel much of anything. And the work wasn’t over.
Boat Repair Guy had done an excellent job sourcing and repairing a rudder, perfect for Ariose. With Tim and the marina crew’s help, he got it back in place. Next, the propeller and drive shaft needed to be reinstalled, but at this point, Boat Repair Guy threw up his hands and shrugged.
Can’t help you there. I don’t do engine work.
He hadn’t hesitated to remove this same propeller and shaft in order to drop the rudder a couple weeks ago, but now, would not be a part of putting it back together. He did, taking a long drag on his cigarette, offer instructions to us. It’s simple, he said.
Simple, maybe, if Tim didn’t have to squeeze into a cockpit locker with feet up and head wedged on the downward slope. Simple if there was access that allowed two arms in and a two eyes’ view rather than the one arm/hand, one eye (depth perception be damned!) elfin-sized opening. Simple if that tight space hadn’t been baking in the sun all day.
Tim got to to it, but each time he tried to tighten the propeller, the entire drive shaft would move. This was not good, so we tracked down Boat Repair Guy to help troubleshoot. He was still on site, on a break from another job, and provided more direction. (Seemed to know a lot about drive shafts for someone who doesn’t “do” engines.) This time he parked his smoke in one hand while offering demonstrative gestures with the other.
You just need to measure from the grub bolt to the opening of the coupler, he said, then mark that distance on the shaft from there to where the dimple is, so you know how far in to put the drive shaft. You need to line that up with the grub bolts. Then just tighten them and wrap with seizing wire. Like I said, it’s easy.
Yup. Easy. I glanced at Tim, and (as is often the case), couldn’t read his look, so we stepped aside to discuss.
Tim had already spent hours helping this person who was being paid to repair damage that was not our doing. We both were resenting this amount of labour. We were well aware that this work, if not done properly, could prove disastrous. We also knew that we had had enough of the delays. Tim, despite being exhausted and I feared, near hyperthermic, was willing to keep working at it. Tim’s proven himself time and time again to be able to pull off super-human feats of perseverance. I knew he’d eventually get it done, but I feared by that time he did, my sailing partner would be little more than a melted puddle at the bottom of the cockpit locker.
I over-ruled him – enough was enough – a marine mechanic should be brought in to do the work. Tim agreed, and headed off to the shade of our favourite maple tree while I tried to negotiate. The marina owner, who was paying for the repairs, explained that this wasn’t an option. There is only one marine mechanic who works on site. We had noticed this fellow at various boats, with his girlfriend/assistant at his side. They were conspicuously the only people wearing masks while outdoors.
Apparently, she has health issues that she believes would be exacerbated by the shot, so has remained unvaccinated. He was refusing to work on any boat that people had recently been aboard to ensure he didn’t contract covid and pass it on to her. That ruled us out. I haven’t researched the science, but I suspect the air and surfaces inside the baked-in-the-sun engine compartment would quickly cook the spike proteins of the feared virus, rendering them harmless as scrambled eggs. There was no interest getting creative and figuring out a work-around. Besides, he was over-booked.
So, a slightly refreshed Tim returned to work, putting in a couple hours that afternoon, and was back at it by 8am the next day. He emerged for food and water breaks, and soldiered on. As if the simple job wasn’t already challenging enough, there was an added hitch complicating things in the form of a teeny tiny metal bar. The drive shaft is held to the transmission by a coupler, and that little bar acts as a key to hold it all together. When Boat Repair Guy and Tim had slid the shaft in before BR Guy backed off the job, they had unknowingly (we think) dislodged the key, forcing it in, until it came to rest, wedged perpendicular deep in the coupler. (Disclaimer – author`s knowledge of what she writes is at a greater distance than it may appear. )
Whether I fully understood the mechanics or not, I did understand this was bad news. Miraculously, by the end of the afternoon, Tim retrieved the key. Tah Dah! Then I heard the slight sound of sliding metal on fibreglass, a soft kerplunk, and hard expletives from Tim. Then more expletives when stung by one of the ever-present wasps as he emerged from the locker.
The key had slipped, and splashed into the dark water at the bottom of the bilge. (For non-sailors, the bilge is the deep, narrow cavity, the lowest inner space in the boat, under the engine and floor boards. Its official purpose is to accumulate water that inevitably makes its way into the boat, along with dirt from living aboard and grime from the engine. Pumps are in place to keep larger quantities out. I think its real purpose, though is to elicit salty language from sailors when that critical tool or piece of hardware slips from fingers and slides in, lost forever in its depths.
I had been unable to be of much help to this point. I do have had lots of experience garnered while painting lockers, installing the self-steering windvane and mucking around in Ariose`s innards, of fishing out losts bits and pieces from the bilge. Tim returned to the maple tree and I got to work.
I sponged out the small quantity of water, which, thanks to the thorough cleansing Ariose got this past year and the lack of use this season, really was water and not the hazardous goop that usually haunts the bilge’s depths. I got down on my belly, and reached under the engine armed with a long screwdriver to lift and a spotlight to peer under hoses. Spotted it! The nifty reacher/grabber gizmo given to us years ago by my father was the perfect tool for the job. Got it!
And get this. We were rewarded with a bonus: I also found $2.40 in change that had slipped from Boat Repair Guy`s pockets. Now that`s one tip from him that we were happy to accept.
The marina crew stayed a little late to crane us back in – uneventfully this time.
Next task: ensure the engine would start. It had been 4 long years since Ariose`s Yanmar had been run. Last fall, Tim had performed the Houdini trick of removing the fuel tank from under the cockpit floor (muscling it this way and that, one millimeter at a time). He installed a sight-tube so we can be certain about how much diesel we have, and gave the tank a thorough cleaning. Good thing he did. There was a shocking amount of thick, fist-sized, gloopy gunk, probably from bacterial growth in the old fuel, that had settled on the bottom. So we knew the tank was clean, but he proceeded to spend the morning offering lots of TLC to increase the likelihood of it starting. Once fresh fuel was in, he cranked the starter. What a relief to hear that lovely sound of a diesel engine grumble to life.
Then, it was over to the crane to step our mast, and another day of getting rigging in place and dealing with other essentials that kept coming up.
On the day before we departed, Tim erupted. From the soaked state of his t-shirt and beads of moisture on his face, it looked like he had just emerged from a clothed swim. He hadn’t. He’d just been taking care of the usually easy task of inserting the cotter pins and rings that fix the shrouds and stays in place. These cables, in turn, hold the mast secure.
As an aside, as I think about these small cotters that prevent essential rigging hardware from slipping out and causing a catastrophic dis-masting, I can’t help but see the covid analogy. Sometimes, it’s the smallest of things that keep the supports we need in place, that hold us upright and allow us to be safe and function at our best. For many of the “fortunate” ones, although not tragically affected by the pandemic, it seems like the virus has removed the small daily life cotter pins, like Thursday duplicate bridge nights or tai chi gatherings. I worry about the effects on those I care about most. How much are they, like a mast without adequate support, at risk of toppling over?
Anyways, back to drenched-in-sweat Tim, and his late-afternoon outburst: I just want to pack it in and go home! He spit this out but I had been thinking the same for days. Like the relief felt after a late afternoon summer storm, Tim’s thunder clap did dissipate the growing tension, and we continued the slog forward to get away.
Finally, departure day. Danny, marine surveyor extraordinaire, somehow made time in his many priorities, to show up at 7:30am to complete the in-water portion of the inspection. It felt more like a personalized 3+ hour tutorial, with his willingness to patiently answer all our questions. What a rich source of learning, so affirming to have him confirm the quality of improvements we’ve made to Ariose, and so helpful to hear his suggestions (none urgent, thank goodness).
Water tank and jerries filled, and we just needed food provisions before launching. It’s only a kilometer or so to the grocery store but by now it was mid-afternoon and once again, scorching. Then, perfectly time, down the dock came Claudia, to see if any assistance was required and to bid us farewell. I gratefully accepted an air conditioned lift and her company, and picked up enough food for us to eat well for a month!
By 6pm, we untied the lines and set off, on a short hop to anchor in Parrott’s Bay for the night. We had begun.
Next post, we’ll grumble less (I promise) as we share a little about our first week under sail, through the beautiful Thousand Islands, and into the St. Lawrence Seaway. We’ve had an amazing start to the on-the-water portion of our adventure.
We’ll wrap up with this photo taken as we departed Collins Bay Marina. We were feeling utterly depleted, but with the tiniest seeds of anticipation beginning to stir once again, we passed one of our dock neighbours out for a dusk sail in her cute little catboat. Her boat’s name?
What a perfect reminder of why we push through the patience-testing times.