All Systems Go(ish)

After a long winter of repair, maintenance and systems replacement, a summer cruise puts everything to a real-world test.

It’s an early October morning and we’re on the ferry to Seattle from our home on Whidbey island. The crossing is calm, almost serene, the morning sun reflecting brightly off rippled seas–a perfect day to go boat shopping. At the end of last summer’s boating season, and after a decade of dedicated ownership, my wife, Gwen, and I decided it was time to sell our 38-year-old trawler and downsize to something smaller, and newer. Last week we looked at a 35-foot Nordhavn coastal cruiser but had concerns about its compact interior, so now we’re looking at bigger boats, with bigger price tags.

Today we’re checking out a 45-foot trawler I found online. The boat is located at a marina on Lake Union where the broker will meet us. We’re early, so I decide to check it out beforehand. In person, the boat is disappointing. The gelcoat is faded, brightwork is starting to peel and the boat, overall, looks run down. In pictures it looked promising but in person it has a boxy appearance and too much windage above the waterline. I call the broker and cancel the showing.

As we’re about to leave, along comes Peter, a yacht broker we had worked with the previous year. When Peter hears we’ve restarted the search for a new boat, he smiles and says he has something special to show us, just down the dock. When I see it, I tell Peter, “It’s too big and too expensive!” Of course Peter, the ever-friendly boat broker, replies, “It costs you nothing to look.”

We look at Peter’s boat, a one-owner 47-foot 2003 Selene Ocean Trawler — a beautiful yacht with a raised pilothouse, a Portuguese bridge and traditional trawler styling. Our kind of boat. Gwen loves it inside and out. But what about our plan to downsize? Poof, goes that notion. In a short time we’ve negotiated an acceptable purchase price, and by the first week of December we are the new owners of a handsome motoryacht that we will rename Kika, for one of our granddaughters.

It’s now the summer following the purchase of this new-to-us yacht, and we’re setting off on a six-week shakedown cruise through the Canadian Gulf Islands and to Desolation Sound. I spent the entire winter attacking a list of deferred maintenance and repair items, as well as undertaking a few big system upgrades, including a new navigation system for the pilothouse, new freshwater toilets and hoses to replace the old saltwater heads, and — the biggest and costliest project — installing a complete heating system, which took three weeks to complete. In addition to the furnace, we replaced the old water heater with a new dual-coil copper-lined tank and installed an engine heat exchanger to deliver waste heat underway. To cap things off, we installed window defrosters in the pilothouse and a heated towel rack in the master head.

But that was then. Now it’s late July and time to go cruising, so we can “field test” all those expensive and labor-intensive improvements.

Our route for this six-week cruise will take us to mostly familiar destinations. This is not an adventure cruise but rather an opportunity to actually use all of Kika’s systems in cruising mode and, we hope, not end up with too much of a To-Redo list when we return in September.

Leaving the San Juan Islands in our wake, we enter Canadian waters and report to customs at Bedwell Harbour. Cleared, we move on to Saltspring Island, a short 90-minute passage across Haro Strait.

Given its swift-running current, Haro is a good place to dump our holding tank (permitted in British Columbia) and to put into service the new diaphragm discharge pump we installed as part of the head upgrade. Diaphragm pumps are an excellent choice for this purpose, because they never clog and they can run dry. So here goes our first “trial run.” I switch on the new overboard pump and … nothing! The pump is running but there’s no outflow. I call the installer on my cellphone.

“Did you open the overboard valve?” He asks. Of course I didn’t. It’s a stupid mistake that means I will have to disassemble the pump in order to pull out the rubber vane that got sucked in when the closed valve created a vacuum.

After dropping anchor in Ganges Harbour, our first order of business is to fix the pump. I fetch the tools, a disposable baking pan to catch the dirty water and rubber gloves. This is stinky work, but in no time I have the rubber vanes pulled back into position and the pump buttoned up. It works! To prevent this from happening again, I will install a Blue Seas circuit breaker toggle guard, which will prevent accidental discharge and serve as a “reminder” to check the position of the overboard valve before I energize the pump.

All cleaned up, we can relax at anchor and enjoy the beautiful sunset playing out over the anchorage. Unfortunately, later that night we experience high winds that require an anchor watch through much of the night. Thankfully the ground tackle earns its keep and holds us in place, which is a relief, because on my list of routine maintenance and repairs after buying Kika was “Check the solenoid switch to the electric windlass.” Glad I did, because it was corroded and needed to be replaced. Better that I found and fixed it at the marina rather than on a pitching bow at anchor.

Departing Ganges, our next stop is supposed to be the port city of Nanaimo, but we miss slack water at Dodd Narrows and have to squeeze into Pirates Cove for the night. The next morning, with the wind still up, we move on to Nanaimo where we tie up and wait a few days for the straits to settle down.

When the wind drops to 15 knots, we make the crossing to Egmont in Jervis Inlet where we rendezvous with Michael on Candor, a Willard trawler the same as our previous boat. The B.C. forest fires are still burning and have darkened the sky with smoke and ash, turning this usually scenic wilderness into a drab and unappealing backdrop. So rather than make the hours-long haul up the channel to Princess Louisa Inlet, we decide to stay over in Egmont and hike the trail out to see the notorious Skookumchuck Rapids, famous for treacherous whirlpools and six-foot deep overfalls, where tidal currents can run to 13 knots.

With smoke from the wildfires blocking the sun, the day turns chilly, providing us an opportunity to use the new diesel furnace I installed last winter. The good news is the 45,000-Btu furnace heats our boat’s interior quickly and evenly. The bad news is it appears we have a small leak somewhere in the system. A gauge on the boiler indicates we are down a few pounds of pressure. It doesn’t require immediate attention, so it gets noted on the winter projects list.

Marine diesel heating systems fall into two categories: forced air and hydronic. We installed a 45,000-Btu hydronic furnace made in Holland by Kabola. The unit weighs 175 pounds and is in the lazarette. When it’s fired up, the boiler heats water to 185 degrees and pumps it to a manifold in the engine room. From there it circulates via 5/8-inch PEX tubing to five separate radiators throughout the vessel; each is wired to a thermostat that controls a small 12v fan that delivers heat to the various living spaces.

Another problem we discover is the thermostat in the companionway off the two staterooms is not functioning correctly. It reads 10 or more degrees higher than the other thermostats, so it turns off the heater fans before the space is adequately heated.

Later in the year, while fixing the leak in the circulation system, I learned that the thermostat unit itself was absorbing indirect heat from the PEX tubing that runs behind the wall it’s mounted to. Fixing it will require moving the thermostat to the opposite wall. It’s not a difficult job, but it will require new wiring and filling in the empty screw holes left in the teak panel.

SEPT. 8-14
Upon arriving at Prideaux Haven Marine Park and navigating the narrow entrance into the protected bay, we find a great spot to drop the anchor. From the pilothouse we have a picture-perfect view of the Coast mountain range to the east and a parade of boats arriving and departing through the bay’s skinny entrance. But best of all, the weather is perfect — warm and sunny with a gentle afternoon breeze — and dead calm overnight.

We spend our time at anchor here trying to understand how to best utilize our freshwater system. Our previous boat had a single 300-gallon tank. We simply filled it and consumed water until it needed to be refilled. On the Selene, fresh water is stored in two separate tanks: a 145-gallon tank forward, below our bed, and a second tank of similar size amidships in the engine room. Our problem is that the tanks don’t work as a single supply source. We need to monitor each tank separately, and when one is near empty, we go into the engine room to turn it off and open the other. We’ve also learned that the tank under our bed, if left half-full, will slosh around and keep us awake if the boat is rocking. And did I mention how loud the water pump is? I will look at the water system for improvements, including a quieter water pump.

SEPT. 14-16
Located on B.C.’S Sunshine Coast, the village of Pender Harbour is a popular vacation place for mainland visitors and a busy departure point for vessels transiting the Strait of Georgia. If space allows, we tie up on the government dock; if not, we’re happy to anchor off Madeira Park or in nearby Garden Bay. With two grocery stores, a pharmacy, a liquor store, a bookstore, and numerous cafes and restaurants in the village, Pender Harbour is always a delightful place to stock up on groceries, booze and boat supplies — but mostly we just soak in the ambiance.

We love our visits to Pender Harbour, but after a couple of days it’s time to move on. After leaving the dock, Gwen goes about her routine of retrieving fenders and storing the dock lines, and I notice we aren’t getting a GPS feed to the navigation screen. This has happened before but I still don’t know the cause. I restart the electronics and fuss with the computer. With the government docks close behind us and lots of boat traffic in the harbor, this is not the best time or place to troubleshoot an electronics problem. Then something occurs to me. I check the ship’s inverter and find that it’s switched Off. I’ve been turning it off when we anchor, to conserve battery power — we rarely need AC power, except to reheat coffee in the microwave — so I turn the inverter on, and voila! We now have GPS.

What’s going on, I learn later, is the computer hub that collects the various data signals that feed into the PC is powered by 110VAC. With the inverter off, the hub is “silent.” This device and the Surface Pro tablet running our ship’s navigation software are configured to operate on 110v household current. One of my first “fixes” after our shakedown cruise was to convert the tablet PC and the data hub to run on DC power, simply by using an inexpensive DC converter that bumped up the boat’s native 12v power to 15v. Easy.

SEPT. 18-22
Ganges is famous for its huge Saturday Outdoor Market where one can find everything from crafts and artwork to clothes, tools and flowers to musical instruments and local entertainers. The market attracts visitors from as far away as Vancouver and Victoria, but every Tuesday the park is taken over by local growers who bring in seasonal organic produce, fruit, and home-baked pastry and bread. And like the big Saturday market, this smaller event is a great place for people watching.
With a well-stocked hardware store just up the ramp, and nearby marine and auto parts stores, Ganges is always a good place to catch up on boat maintenance and smaller DIY repairs. Since beginning this summer cruise, I’ve been checking the status of our 1,200 amp-hour battery bank. For some reason the new SmartGauge I installed to monitor the battery bank’s SOC (state of charge) never shows it to be more than 80 to 85 percent charged, even after being connected to shore power for several days. The voltmeter shows 12.9VDC, so I know the batteries are fully charged. So why is the SmartGauge showing a percentage less than 100? I find the answer when I reread the installation guide: Instead of connecting the instrument’s sensing wires directly to the positive and negative posts at the battery bank, which are located in the engine room, far from the pilothouse where the gauge is mounted, I connected those wires to positive and negative lugs on the DC electric panel. I’m not sure why it makes a difference, but within 48 hours the “smart” battery gauge is reading accurately.

Sept. 25-27
From Roche Harbor Resort, where we have spent a couple of days, to our marina in Anacortes is only a three- to four-hour cruise, but since we’re in no hurry, we decide to visit Rosario Resort on Cascade Bay in Eastsound, Orcas Island. It’s so close to home, yet we’ve never stopped here in the past. This is our first visit to the recently renovated marina and historic hotel originally built as a residence by Robert Moran in 1903. We like what we see, and because it is so close to us, we hope to return for a winter getaway.
Leaving our slip at Rosario, I have a difficult time turning the boat in the confined space available to me. Wind is a factor too. On our previous boat, also a single-screw full-displacement trawler, I had replaced the original rudder with an articulating rudder that proved to be nothing short of amazing for maneuvering in tight quarters.
As I write this story, a newly fabricated articulating rudder from BEI is being installed on our Selene and we will test it in the coming weeks.

Sept. 26-Oct. 2
We wait for the morning fog to lift before we depart Rosario for our homeport of Anacortes. Since neither of us is in a hurry to end this trip, I manage to stretch a 90-minute run into a slow-motion two-hour cruise. Back in our slip at the marina, we enjoy a further few sunny days on board. We hang out, give the boat a good scrub down, visit with our marina neighbors and catch up on email and personal business. Both Gwen and I agree we could easily live aboard full time, if we didn’t love living at our island property as much as we do.
Before we leave, we have one more chore to complete. The new outboard I purchased before this trip needs to be delivered to the dealer for servicing. It is a heavy and awkward beast to hoist down, but we get it loaded into a dock cart, up the ramp and into the car. After being on the water so long, driving a car is always an odd sensation for me. I tend to drive slower and more cautiously.
The summer shakedown cruise was a big success. All systems operated as expected, and with the exception of the discharge pump fiasco, we had no significant repairs to deal with, but like every skipper who completes a long cruise, I now have a new list of boat projects that will occupy me over the long and wet winter months ahead.