Three day sailing trip - many stuff ups and some positives

Notes from a three day sailing trip in January 2010. This trip was in many ways a stuff up after stuff up. Put the details online for amusement of some and to discuss what works well and what works badly

The original plan was to have a solid 8 day trip in December 2009, using the time between my Christmas and New Year break. In some ways this was not a realistic goal as I had many tasks to perform prior to getting my boat on the water. So instead of sailing I spent these hot, humid, still aired, and energy sapping days, working in the backyard, slowly but surely making small adjustments and improvements, in order to get the boat sea ready.

Changes made during late 2009 were

  • Reinforce the keel, increase its depth from 10mm to 25mm
  • Added two keelsons, each one inch above the deck and each approx 30mm wide. Keelsons were added to increase structural strength, to keep myself above any water if sleeping in the boat, and to protect the bottom if adding heavy sharp objects like the motor.
  • Paint on new registration numbers, the old stickers washed off
  • Build a new rudder, I broke the previous rudder
  • Reinforce the daggerboard case
  • Make repairs to the hull bottom - hull side, where structural failure occurred last time
  • Increase the strength of the gussets, by using more screws and thicker gussets
  • Build a bow trim/buoyancy tank of 60L.
  • Prepare the boat for a stayed Bermudan rig, as opposed to the standing lugsail used previously
  • Leaks in outrigger where water was getting inside sealed
  • Bungs added to the outrigger to allow any water that does get inside to be drained.
  • Increase the length of the aft crossbeam to allow for a wider stay angle.
  • Reattach one of the front crosswise floor beams to the hull bottom using epoxy and generous use of screws.
  • Reefing points were added to the mainsail
  • Extra cleats were added to the main mast
  • Cut a tarpaulin to size and add eyelets in order to cover the boat to provide protection from the elements
  • Add fittings to the hull side in order to provide the tarpaulin with tie down points
  • Add a 1 inch coaming to stop water coming from the front deck into the hull
  • Have a test run of the motor and buy 10L of fresh 100:1 two stroke petrol

Forward 60L trim-buoyancy tank
Of these changes the bow tanks was the most time consuming, taking several days of work. If this feature was fitted to the original boat, the time taken would have been most modest. The bow tank is 60L volume and the idea was to extend the front thwart forward, and add a bulkhead underneath. The tank adds to the structural integrity of the boat. The tank was filled with approx 30L of water, it assists in keeping the bow down, balancing the weight of the crew and motor aft. The inbuilt tank is much more robust than the plastic bags used on last trip. Additionally the flat top on on this tank is a good place to place cargo. The forward trim tank reduces the length of the boat where free water can flow by 2ft of so. This has the effect of making it easier to bail out any water that does collect.

It can be seen that there were many changes made to the boat to make it stronger, more robust and more seaworthy. The changes also had the unfortunate effect of adding weight to the boat. The changes were worth doing but were time consuming. Thus my long Christmas - New Year break was not spent sailing but was spent at home. Nevertheless many constructive things were achieved.

Three day trip - day 1
Saturday morning, woke up feeling very so-so about the trip, not really wanting to go, but I had said I was going to go, so no point in staying home this weekend. Spend the morning slowly going through all my gear. Could find most things, though I mislaid my GPS and small metho stove (trangia) decided to go without these items. Used the method of placing all the gear I was to take in a neat pile next to the boat, when the gear was ready, only then add it to the boat.

Needed coffee, went down the road, to get a little exercise, have a coffee in the coffee shop, read the newspaper and chill out. Good coffee is hard to find.. sigh, The only good coffee shop in this suburb is always packed out, have to go to the yucky coffee shop instead... hmm.

Finally got away at 2pm, not too bad as it is light till 8.30pm. Pushing 150kg of boat for an hour to the water is not fun, but it went as well as it could have been. Not too much hassle from the traffic. I was sweating a bit from the exercise and hot fun, but nothing to extreme. 3pm get to the water, slowly but surely start assembling the boat and getting things organised. I paddle the boat 15m across the channel to get to a lee shore and find a quiet place where I can chain up the trolley to a small tree. Discover that I forgot to bring some water bottles. Realise I have 1L of water, 1L fruit juice and 1L of tea,, would like more, but that will have to be sufficient. I drink some water here and refill my water bottle at a close by tap. Idea is to keep myself hydrated. Wind is very light and coming from the North, this is good as plan is to go SSW.

3.30pm, start the motor and follow the lagoon 150m downstream to the beach. Discover that I am there at a very low tide and that the channel is hard to find. Realise that to get to the water I will need to drag the boat over sand and weed filled channels. It is in this difficult 100m passage that I strain my back to some degree, the boat at 150kg is hard to drag over the shallows, The reinforced keel makes things that fraction harder. I watch 2 young boys with an inflatable RIB drag their boat easily over the shallows. I curse the weight of the boat I have. I feel I need to get to the water and underestimate the effort and time it will take. I slowly make progress, water depth is around 1 inch to 3 inches. Eventually I get to within 30m of the bay. I have realistation that I can take out a lot of the weight from my boat, this will make it easier to drag! Top of the class for the one peter.

I cut my heel on one of the rocks whist dragging my boat. Nothing too serious, but is not fun. Should have been wearing shoes. Sun is very strong, thankfully I am wearing a wide brimmed hat. Eventually get to the water, drag my boat onto the sand, see a power boat coming in, in order so that they can get some mussels, at least they were positive about my boat. Go back to where my gear is kept and add items to the boat once more. I am feeling stiff and sore from an hour or more of hard work. Notice that the tide is coming in! Spend about 30 minutes getting the boat sorted out and the mast up. I notice that the mast is a little loose, but conditions are benign, decide to get around to this later.

I only have the mainsail up and find the boat hard to control, the new shallow draught rudder does no have much directional control. I raise the jib and the boat is slowly drifting along in very very light winds going in the right direction, I try and organise things as best I can, I eat some food and drink some fluids in order to keep my energy levels up. Boat speed is very modest, bay is millpond flat, wind is from behind. Plan is to go through the night to Port Arlington, if worse comes to worse I can motor the last few miles. I still have things to do. The mainsheet rigging is not ideal, needs an additional 2 pulleys so give some mechanical advantage to control the boom. The mast (made by Rolly Tasker) and sails date from 1956 and are of very high quality, last time they were on a boat was 1962, so my father's mast and my fathers sail are in use for the first time in 48 years, I think he would be happy to see them used for their intended purpose.

Southerly front come through
All is going well till about 10pm. I can see what I think is the tall ship 'One and All' going on a parallel course about 3km to port. There is a cargo shipped anchored about 5km to the South of me, I use its lights as a rough directional aid, I keep that at approx my 10 O'clock. To my right about 8km are the lights of Altona. At 10pm the wind comes through. Did I check the weather report, no, I simply checked that it would be very hot, and assumed it would be the same as the hot still days of the previous weeks. At first the wind picks up and I am happy that I am sailing faster. The wind keeps picking up and I put on my lifejacket and try to organise a few little things.

What follows next was pretty unpleasant. I was outside my psychological comfort zone. The wind was picking up, the swell increasing with time, the strains on the rig very high, boat speed was impressive. The wind direction changes to the SW and I turn onto a Starboard tack, giving me some sea room. Is hard to estimate speed, but well in excess of 10 knots. The 40kg outrigger seemed at risk of raising up and the boat tipping. I am sure there was still a good margin in reserve, but visually it looked as though there was less than 10kg of outrigger in the water. The boat was pointing very high and going very fast. These new sails are much superior to my so-so lugsail in terms of performance. The wind is increasing over time. It is very dark with no moon. I have some waves coming over the gunnel, nothing to worry about at present, but if it gets worse over time I will not be happy. I worry about whether the 4mm Spectra line I have for a jib stay is strong enough (I find out later this is rated to 735kg)

Over time with the wind getting stronger I chafe my hands on the mainsheet as I have not rigged it with enough pulleys to give a mechanical advantage. I do not have cleats to tie the jib halyard to. The rudder which is ideal for shoal draught situations does not have a lot of direction control and whilst I can steer, it takes much longer to change course than I would like. It occurs to me that the loads on the rigging are a bit too close to their limit. I decide that things are not worth going on with, best to get the sails down, motor to somewhere protected and get some rest. As I get the sails down the boat is side on to the waves and has an unpleasant motion, I start to feel a fraction seasick, I thought that only happened to other people, guess not.

Start the motor and go for shelter
It takes a while and I get the sails down and the motor started, point the boat North and go towards Altona, I know when I pass the reef off Point Cook I can then turn 90 degrees to the left and head for shore, but is important to turn after the reef, and not before, here a programmed GPS would be most useful.

Under motor and not sail the mast is rocking a little, it seems the stays are too loose (not sure how this happened, they were taught when I tested it in the backyard), I cut a length of 3mm line and make a reasonably successful attempt at getting the stays taught, would have been better to have done this on shore, as opposed to 11pm at night, 8km off shore and in strong winds and an unpleasant chop (less than 2ft and less steep than what I encountered on my earlier 4 day trip). Under motor I get a little water over the side, nothing too much, am happy as long as the engine keeps working, and I have a safe course to travel in order to reach shelter. The emergency nav lights I have seem to have stuffed up, when a couple of motor boats pass reasonably close I shine the dolphin torch down onto the boat, better than nothing. One boat asks if I am OK, I reply I am fine, but nice of them to ask anyway, I assume they were not expecting to bump into an open boat out there in those conditions.

I reach shore a bit before midnight on a falling tide, tie a rope from the bow of the boat around a few bushes, as there are no trees to be found. Place a foam mat underneath me, a dry blanket next, tarpaulin over the top, fall asleep tired.

Three day trip - day 2
This was a fairly lazy day. I realised that by omission I had little water, so it was off to Altona, an easy 50 minute motor in slight winds, take the boat up to the beach, make some rigging improvements, get some coffee and water and then head off once more. Altona is a lee shore and the wind was coming from the South all day, modest early in the morning, but it picked up quickly and was strong all day. I spent this day adjusting the stays, getting them tight, adding cleats for the jibs, adding some extra pulleys for the boom. I got these changes made, but by then the tide had gone right out and i was stuck, with little I could do until the tide came back in. I did not want to leave the boat unattended for too long (too many valuable items aboard). I went away a few times for 10 to 20 minutes at a time to get coffee and go to the supermarket, nothing to worry about of course if I had lockable storage compartments.

I noticed that the outboard bracket was a bit loose, the high turning forces on the the bracket when the motor starts up had sheared some screws. I had a hand drill, screws and screwdriver, but decided against reinforcing the bracket (bad decision).About 6pm the tide came in. I put on thermals and life jacket and waited. The plan was to get out through the surf and then start sailing. I add 30L of water to the forward ballast trim tank. Surf was a modest 2ft or so. I motored out, and then bang, the wood had split on the outboard bracket. It was still functional. I was hoping that the motor did not fall up and end up in the bottom of the sea (I had not tied it on!) I was able to hold it upright, and although there was some grinding on the aft deck the motor got me a good 80m past Altona Pier.

Breaking the daggerboard
Now I had to get the boat sail ready before I was blown onto the pier, thought I had a few minutes and hoped that would have been long enough. Things did not turn out too well. I had to raise the mainsail, thread the jib cleats to the jib stay, put the motor in the front of the boat. It was here I realised that I could have saved time by making sure the cleats were on the jib stay, with a bungee stay to keep the jib down. After this was up I started reaching parallel to the beach at quite reasonable speed. Trying to tighten the mainsheet I realised that I had not tied a knot at the end, waste more time getting this sorted. Attempt a reef, but sail shape is awful, undo the reefs. Things are not going well. I see the need to get to windward and away from the beach and into deeper water. I cant get the boom tight, with the small rudder to go to windward, I need the jib loose and the mainsail tight. I see the board is up, better put that down, that should help me get to windward. The boat keeps traveling parallel with the beach, about 100 yards out. The trouble with this beach is that it is very shallow a long way out, and that means trouble. The boat slows, this is not good, ahh the board has hit the sand, I go forward and try to raise it, it does not come up. Boat is side on to the waves and wind with sails up, Crack, bye bye dagger board. About this time I move in an awkward way and pull a side muscle, not feeling pleased. Stuff this, get to shore and sort things out there. I just sail on, to a quiet part of the beach, no need to worry about raising the board as that is no longer an issue.

I get to shore, probably only 20 minutes after I left, feels like longer, is starting to get dark, I just leave the boat wallowing in the shallows, it is not going anywhere, feeling pretty dejected. I must not have looked happy as someone inquires about my welfare, asking if I have food, if I have money, if I have a place to sleep, answers are yes, yes and yes. Take my time, get the sails down, organise a couple of things. One option is to stay the night here, but that does not seem appealing as there is a busy road behind the beach, on a Saturday night, all sorts of rowdy undesirables are likely to be out.

Feeling miserable, time to motor out

After resting, contemplating life, talking to someone who asks it my boat is a Wharram (no it is not, though I expressed to him my intent on selling it, $10 seemed a good price at that moment) and analyzing the situation (realisation that I cannot sit on this beach indefinitely!), I decided to walk the boat out through the surf and then motor to Point Cook. Firstly I had to sort out the motor, it was angled high up, as what happens when you hit a rock, so on the beach I spent 10 minutes trying to get it to sit vertical as it should. It is dark and I am tired and moody, I recall that you have to lift a lever, bring it more up before the motor can go down again, I pull the leaver and give it a heave with my feet and it goes too far up. Spend another 5 minutes trying to work out how to get it down again, I find that combining lifting the lever with brute force seems to work! I then places the motor in the boat, with intention to place it in the well when the water depth was sufficient. Get moving, go out through the surf, go quite some way, it gets shallow, it gets deep again, just keep going, after about 100 yards and almost waste deep, I decide that is deep enough. Get in the boat, place motor in well, it starts, and am away. Get into deep water and I can relax. Look to my feet, and there is lots of water there, hmm why? I see that the fitting that I place in the daggerboard slot when motoring is absent, on every wave water had been gushing through, sigh. Keep moving, bail some water, I sit on the gunnel and hold a line with my left hand, so that I do not loose balance. Motor stops, not sure why, I check the throttle, the choke, I worry about water contamination. Look at the motor once more, the fuel valve is shut off, well opening that may be useful! I assume the motor ran a few minutes with the fuel in the line before fuel starvation got to it. Open the valve, motor starts again in about 4 attempts. Moving south once more.

Night navigation is difficult

I look over my left shoulder and see the Southern Cross, it gives me reassurance, had not noticed it in many months (is what happens when you live in a city). I look up and see a shooting star, I cannot recall having seen one in 25 years. The boat has a very pleasant motion, waves are modest as I am out past the surf zone, stars are out, no other boats to spoil the occasion. I study the chart and my compass closely. Going from landmarks at night is harder than it looks, I was going parallel with a line of lights that I thought were on the shore, but they went SW whilst the shore turns South, lesson is trust your chart and compass, dont use road lights as navigation queues at night. I am looking for light that marks the reef that is in front of me somewhere. One the chart is says 3(10s), I observe a light in front of me, I count three flashes, then a ten second wait, realisation that the markings on the chart actually mean something, 3 flashes with a ten second delay. That information could come in useful in the future. I take a bearing off the marker, it says SSE, go a bit further and bearing is SE, obviously I am getting closer, time to turn to shore and get some sleep. I steer due west and go for shore, I get within 20 yards, hear small breaking waves, I shine the dolphin torch, but cant see any beach, hmm maybe it is Mangroves here? Reverse course, go out to deeper water again, try a bit further up the coast to the sand where I spent the previous night. I find some sand, not as nice as the previous night, but it is 1am, I am tired, and this will do. I look at the boat once more, there must have been 80L of water still in it. Did it leak into the boat after I had bailed last time? structural damage? In time turns out there is no leak, just that the water had gone forward and the trim of the boat kept it there, I had no idea as I was bailing aft, and could see no water where I was sitting. All this weight forward must have given the boat a slight bow down trim, because the boat motion was most pleasant indeed.

It turns out that the first place I attempted to get ashore that there were no mangroves there, just that the tide was very very high, and the water was right up to the dunes. Lesson learned, it is very hard to read a shoreline from a boat on a dark moonless night. Sleep under tarpaulin once more.

Three day trip - day 3
Wake up at a decadent and lazy 9am. It is going to be hot. The boat has not dragged too much. I had a line tied to the boat and kept underneath me as I slept, thus if the tide rose and the boat started to lift away I would be aware of it, and I could tie the boat up again. I take my time and slowly get the boat organised. I look around to where I slept, making sure I did not forget anything, I did not want to wait too long in case of missing the tide. Turn the boat into the wind and get the sails rigged. A few strokes of the paddle and I am away.

The wind is from a favourable quarter and I am reaching and at times I change course to downwind. Wind speed is ideal, about 8 to 10mph, the boat is easy to control though it keeps wanting to turn into the wind. The rudder has limited affect taking a long time to gain directional control, without a board I am making a lot of leeway, visually is looks like 10 degrees or so, this is no issue with the course I am sailing, if I was going upwind it would make things hard. The lack of battens affects the sail shape, something that I have to rectify, I get a lot of speed when reaching, but speed drops off when going downwind. A very lazy and decadent 2 hours of sailing. In these light to moderate winds I may have been making 6 knots or so when reaching, very pleasant. I have the idea of inclining mast a few inches forward to assist in sail balance on any future sailing trips. I decide that I will worry about that at another time, is the sail balance issue due to small rudder area, to lack of any fin, or to mast placement. Moving the mast forward 40cm to the forward mast step seems too much compensation for the problem

About 1pm I get into the estuary. Is a fraction difficult to work out exactly where is where as areas that were exposed sand bank previously are now covered with water. I end up about 300m off the entrance proper, so I amuse myself by dragging the boat through six inch deep weed covered water for 20 minutes. At least the depth of the water means I do not have to strain. I find the channel proper, paddle very slowly over to the north bank, retrieve my trolley, paddle to the south side where the boat ramp is and start unloading. It takes best part of an hour to disassemble the boat and get in onto the trolley. The outrigger feels so heavy (thanks to having strained my back a couple of days previously) I realise that I cannot go lifting 40kg outriggers onto boats indefinitely. Fully loaded I have 150kg to push the hour back home, went quite well but then again cant really rush with such weight. Home mid afternoon, feed the cat, drink beer, chill out, sigh, almost 40 and feeling it.

Despite the setbacks of a broken daggerboard and some scares here and there, and a little sunburn it was worth going. why, because it pays to push oneself. Yes a few things went wrong but I gained a lot of experience, I learnt a lot of what worked well, and what did not. I did not spend a lot of money. I used my fathers mast and sails for the first time in 48 years. I got out of the house for three days and got some 'spark' back. I built up my fitness and resolve. I learnt more about life, more about sailing and more about the water. I will try and break down what went well and what did not and conclusions to be drawn. As to the longer term, I dont think keeping my boat is sustainable, the weight involved, the large size which means sailing clubs will not store it, the lack of a car, the space it takes up in the backyard etc, all mean that the logical thing to do is end my experiment with a converted rowboat and sell the boat as a rowing boat - motor boat , a task it performs very well.

Some lessons learnt from my three day trip

  • The structural reinforcement I added to the boat was worthwhile, the boat felt solid and secure and was robust throughout the trip
  • The forward inbuilt 60L trim - buoyancy tank was a big success
  • I need to treat the water more seriously, bad things can happen for those unprepared
  • Learn to look up the weather forecast in detail, do not assume that high temperatures mean little wind
  • Preparation is important, doing lots of the small things that need to be done, early is prudent

  • The Bermudan rig pointed very high and had a lot of power.
  • The difficulty of reefing this rig is an issue, I would have much preferred a good standing lugsail with jib
  • A stayed mast which cannot be taken down at sea is not ideal, I would prefer an unstayed mast that can be taken down easily
  • The outboard bracket was a bad idea, the simple robust method of threading a 4x2 timber through the two hull-sides would have been stronger, simpler, lighter and more robust
  • The dolphin torch worked well, as did the small metal $4.99 LED torches from K-mart (the waterproof ones with a screw on top)

  • Having a grab bag close at hand was a good idea, it contained food, water, a torch, a spool of 3mm line, beanie, a thermos, some fruit juice, a hat, a compass, flares, some pliers (for shackles)
  • I had a knife on me at all times, was essential
  • Every item in the boat was tied onto the boat in case of an incident
  • The weight of the boat is a huge issue, it is too heavy for me to drag over shoals or to drag up on a beach, there are many ways weight can be reduced on any future boat
  • The outrigger worked well, it was heavy to lift, especially with my strained back (from the first days dragging of the boat) my outrigger weighs 40kg, and yet the same length outrigger from the Raptor 16 weighs only 8kg, obviously there is lots of potential for weight reduction
  • The crossbeams performed well, but are over-engineered and overly heavy

  • Based on the speed of the boat when the Southerly front came through, I would estimate that the 40kg outrigger was heavy enough, I cant see any justification performance wise to increasing the weight over 50kg (including ballast) in any future boat
  • I have recently heard about the method of tieing 5L water containers on the outrigger as ballast. This seems a simple, easy and effective method increasing performance.
  • Using a daggerboard is daft, best to go with a leeboard of centerboard of some type.
  • I read in a book that a 1:2 ratio keel and reasonably similar performance to a 2:1 keel, a bit slower but not amazingly so, I think the board used in the Marples 5m tri, looks like an ideal setup
  • The small paddle I had worked OK, but I could not get much speed out of the boat with it, say 1.5km/h

  • The shallow draught rudder which permits beaching without rudder removal had insufficent direction control and was thus disappointing
  • An ideal setup would be to use a kick-up rudder
  • Keeping tools and el-cheapo digital cameras waterproof would be a good idea (reason why there are no photos)
  • The additional rigidity and buoyancy from the forward 60L was welcome as it meant that and water that did get in would be easier to bail out
  • Wearing thermals, a life-jacket, carrying a wetsuit, having a compass around my neck at all times were all good and prudent measures

Writing this text a week and a half after the event I have mixed feelings. It was good to go, but the rowboat conversion has many downsides. For the purposes for which I am using the boat, a craft a lot like Joe Henry and his boat Flaquita would be a much better choice. Being me and being stubborn I would want to change some things, like try a lugsail with jib, maybe a bigger outrigger and use a arc shaped centerboard. No photos on this page, my apologies, there are some photos from my earlier trips on this website. I think there is a photo of the boat with the 100 sqr feet bermudan rig in my backyard out there somewhere too. Hope this text is of some benefit and or amusement to others, regards N Peter Evans