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Thoughts From Sea

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During lengthy summer cruises I habitually make notes about topics that might be worth writing about. They are never stuffed into the same hiding place, so I find them a few at a time as I clean up at the coming of the fall season. Often, they are irreverent, sometimes a few may be useful or interesting, but they all salute a wonderful way of life. Following are a few ideas from six weeks at sea this year.

I'’ve met many who curse it as an embarrassing price paid for cruising in dirty waters. It’s a diesel stain, they say, pointing to arcs of brown rising from the waterline at the stem and into fan-shaped blobs that trail aft for several feet. Sadly, I say, “It’s all about bad housekeeping.”
Brown lips are mineral stains, not leftover diesel smudges. A hull that is regularly well cleaned and thoroughly waxed and buffed does not have brown lips.

Bring those beautifully illustrated books only to wow your guests, you shouldn’t need them. I’ve not seen a boating issue that couldn’t be resolved by one of three knots—the half hitch, the bowline, or the clove hitch.
I first met the bowline when I was an 8-year-old Cub Scout, and, yes, it involved chasing a rabbit around a tree and down a hole. A friend introduced me to a razzle-dazzle method of bowline tying last summer. It involved a lot of twirling and twisting. I’ve been chasing the rabbit so long I can do it standing on my head with my hands behind me; I’ll not change.
The clove hitch is effective but sometimes I’ll need to tie one twice to get it right.
The half hitch—don’t go to sea without it. If a half hitch doesn’t work, a bowline will. It is simple and almost universal and it holds well, too. I only wish I could tie my shoes with a half hitch.

If you step aboard a boat (not yours, of course) with hints of diesel in the air, don’t believe or accept any of the owner’s excuses. It’s not old age or a small mechanic’s spill; there’s something terribly wrong down below. If it were for sale, I’d go look at another boat.
I met some folks who bought a boat with chronic diesel stink, and somehow were led to believe it was only a tiny leak at a fitting or something like that. They endured for a couple of years and then hired some pros to find the source. It was a small leak—in the bottom of a fuel tank.
Speaking of bad smells, I learned last summer that a couple of guys cruising all season without female supervision also can stink up a boat in other ways.
The weather was cool and doors and windows were closed while we cruised far north. We cooked, drank beer, and sweated some. My crew rotated ashore and in between personnel changes I hauled everything I could think of to the laundry. Yet, arriving home after six weeks and more than 900 miles of motoring, the boat plain stunk.
Working with some female advice and following my own nose (!) I removed everything that wasn’t glued or screwed in place from the staterooms and the head. Bed cushions came out, the underlying pads (supposedly they prevent condensation from reaching bedding) came out, and all blankets, the custom sleeping bags, pillows, and etc. and etc. left the boat.
The two custom bags went to a commercial laundry where they were made new—at $40 a set. They smelled brand new; there was no hint of Bob, Joe, Dave, or Bill.
The berth cushions, which radiated waves of bad aromas, were put on display on the west-facing deck of my home. By then the sun had arrived, and for days they soaked up warm afternoon rays, gradually giving up bad aroma. I opened all the zippers for better ventilation and did use a little stuff from a spray bottle, and that seemed to help, too. Everything else went into my home washing machine and it labored for days.
In between, I was on the boat scrubbing every hard surface with a mix of detergent and Clorox. The plywood panels that support the berths were cleaned and then flipped for an inspection of the bottom side. No surprise, mildew was found. It was scrubbed away. Components of the VacuFlush system are beneath the master stateroom; they received the same scrub-down treatment.
I moor in a gated marina and my space is covered, so the next step was possible. I opened everything that would open to fresh northwest breezes and left the boat for a couple of days.
Finally, I put it all back together and invited my female adviser aboard. She entered carefully, walked around, and in and out of sleeping areas, and finally, she said: “I don’t smell anything.” Yes!!!

Summer cruising 2011 took my 31-year-old boat and her much older crew into a remote wilderness inlet. There was nothing there but water (much of it too deep for anchoring), snow-topped mountains, evergreen forests, and a few abandoned logging camps. There were no towns or marinas, no moorings or boatyards or espresso shops. We could hear the Canadian coast guard; I’m not sure we would be heard by them. (Didn’t try.)
There were eagles, ospreys, crows, ravens, and bears we didn’t see and fish and crab we couldn’t catch. We were all alone and dependent on our wits and the reliability of a boat built in 1979.
So, the greatest thrill every day was to reach for and twist the black key in the starter switch and to smile as the diesels surged to life. There’s no better sound when you’re 400 miles from home, somewhere near the end of the world.