Category Archives: Projects

Road to Re-power: The journey begins with wax and paint

Have you ever re-powered a sailboat? No? Well, me either. There is a first time for everything, though, and I’m enthusiastically diving into this massive project with sleeves rolled and an open mind.

Yahtzee ambles her way down Port Ave in Seward to be put on the hard.

As luck would have it, we pulled Yahtzee on Friday and happened into a perfect stretch of weather to complete other projects first. Under bright beautiful sunshine and warm days (fall in Alaska?), I rented a section of rolling scaffolding and gave the hull a cleaning and waxing. One coat of 3M Restorer Wax, power buffed, and then two coats of hand applied Fleetwax brought her 34-year-old gel coat back to a gorgeous shine. Waxing and buffing is never a fun project, but it’s always satisfying when it’s done.

Shine baby shine!

Next, paint. It has been two years and many miles since we’ve had Yahtzee out of the water and I have to say I am once again impressed with Sea Hawk’s BioCop bottom paint. Just a thin layer of growth was present and almost no barnacles had hitched a ride in that time. Pressure washing the hull revealed few if any blemishes and I was happy to see that only one coat of paint would be necessary. That turned the whole job into a one day affair that included taping, scraping, sanding, cleaning and then painting. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to go quite so smoothly but, alas, it did.

The keel showed clean paint and almost zero growth once pressure washed.
Waxed and painted, looking oh so good.

While waxing and painting was underway, I also turned to the larger project at hand: the re-power. Putting a new engine in a boat is a multi-layered undertaking that unlocks the need to tackle many other projects at the same time. And the first big task is that of getting the old engine and sail drive out. I found time to do the first steps in the process and drained all the transmission and engine oil from each unit. To physically get the engine out of the boat we need to disassemble various parts of it so I took the alternator off, removed the air filter system and dismantled some of the raw water cooling system. With rain in the forecast, I can now turn my focus from the outside solely to the inside and hope to get Old Blue out soon.

We’ve had a good run, Old Blue.
Removing oily engine parts is just the beginning.

Of course, none of this is nearly as fun as actually being out cruising, but there is always a means to an end. With a departure goal of Memorial Day set, we’re in go mode with this project and many others. Plus, we have the looming Alaska winter to contend with, which will cut our work window much shorter. Fun times are ahead, stay tuned!

Tranny Troubles: Out with the old, in with the new

Outbound and nearing the end of the Seward breakwater, we needed to get the mainsail up quick. With a 15-knot southerly breeze on the nose and a building chop, Yahtzee limped  along at under two knots, yearning to get out of the channel and into open water.

When the main was up, we fell off onto starboard tack away from shore and our nerves abated. The engine went off in quick order and the jib got unfurled with a snap. Yahtzee’s boatspeed was soon up and we tucked in the first tack of many while beating down the western shoreline of Resurrection Bay. Such has been life aboard Yahtzee these days. Without the ability to fully power the boat with our engine we’ve been sailing everywhere, waiting for breeze and taking what we get — as a sailboat should, really. But we know we can’t do that forever.

Yahtzee sails upwind on Resurrection Bay. (Photo courtesy of Devon Bradley from SV Blown Away.)

Which leads me to this: our transmission troubles have led us to the decision to re-power Yahtzee. A big, expensive task, to be sure, but one that is necessary for a whole lot of reasons.

When we took a thorough dive into our ailing tranny back in the spring, my usual optimism quickly faded. It was ultimately decided that in order to properly diagnose and fix the transmission and sail drive, we’d have to pull the boat out of the water and then take the entire unit apart from the engine and out of the boat. From there a mechanic could rebuild it … maybe. As one would imagine, that option would not be cheap. And in all actuality, could very likely be the same price as a new sail drive.

From there I steered the conversation towards our engine. Old Blue is 34-years-old and has been a problem several times since we’ve owned the boat. Its efficiency has been waning in recent years too and when talk of a rebuild entered the overall picture, my thoughts turned in a different direction. Time to re-power.

Putting a new engine in the boat has been something I’ve been thinking about and researching for a couple years. The bottom line is that we want to own and cruise Yahtzee for years to come, so re-powering would become inevitable anyway as miles passed our keel and the engine hours stacked up.

Essentially, we’re choosing to stop throwing money at engine and transmission problems every year or two. Also, we’re paying for peace-of-mind instead of constantly worrying about what’s going to fail next on the engine and how much it’s going to cost. Which is something that has been in the back of my mind while cruising in such remote places the past few years.

Ooo la la, Beta 50.

As I write this, a new Beta 50 with sail drive is being assemble for Yahtzee in North Carolina. It will soon find its way west to Seattle before getting on a ship to Alaska. My plan is to get the old engine out and the engine compartment refurbished early this fall. And then we’ll get going on putting our new power plant in when we move into another cabin for the winter here in Seward. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that will make our boat better in the long run. And that’s really what it’s all about.

Headliner Tetris won, it’s on to more projects

After fitting the final piece of Yahtzee’s new headliner on Saturday morning, I stood back and looked at the finished product with a discerning eye. Something was amiss. One of the pine slats didn’t look right and, while it worked in theory, I couldn’t live with it.

So, I went about crafting a new piece to complete the large Tetris game that I have slowly installed on Yahtzee’s ceiling over the past two-and-a-half months. During that time there have been numerous starts and stops, a postponement for materials, and a two week foray to the lower 48.

When the final piece was cut, painted and fit on Sunday, though, I was a happy craftsman. I’m glad to have this enormous undertaking completed and am incredibly satisfied with the results. But a funny thing happened when I started cleaning up the cabin underneath it all — I moved forward to what’s next rather quickly.

Headliner complete, lots of cleanup needed.

I guess it’s no surprise for me. I’ve never been one to dwell on past projects; when one is complete, I’m already moving towards what’s next. And though we’ve accomplished a lot since moving on to terra firma in late September, there is more to do before we sling our stuff back aboard in early May.

Of course, one project leads to another and our next is paint. Jill and I ended up liking the Pettit Satin EZ Cabin Coat so much on the headliner that we ordered another quart and are going to paint all the yellowed fiberglass around the various cabins to give it a fresh face. It’s easy to work with, provides a finish that is mildew-free and has already brightened up Yahtzee’s 34 year-old interior — so we might as well keep going.

With the paint will come our new Dickinson Alaska heater, which is a much appreciated Christmas gift and will make the perfect replacement for our failing Sigmar. After that we’re looking forward to tackling some projects that have been in the works but, as happens, have taken a backseat while I’ve been playing Tetris on the ceiling. Onward we go.

Headliner update: One road to the finish

Several productive weekends have gone by since I started work on Yahtzee’s new headliner. Overall, the project is taking about as many man hours as expected, and it’s turning out far better than I anticipated. I’m loving the look — especially when compared to what we had before.

Since last checking in, I’ve fully finished the starboard aft cabin and have completed about 95 percent of the main salon. By far the hardest part of working with the pine tongue-and-groove bead board is getting all the cuts close to perfect so that everything fits snug yet is able to be taken down without too much trouble. Another difficulty is in making sure to keep the edges of the boards damage free. If the tongues and grooves don’t work well, a whole board can be wasted.

Starboard aft cabin painted and fitted.
Getting everything cut and fitting perfect is a bit of trick.

One major roadblock that I’ve hit is quite literally a road between me and getting the last of the supplies that I need. Due to a change in my design while constructing the headliner, I am now missing several long sections to finish everything. And, as many people in rural Alaska are, I’m now at the mercy of Anchorage and the road connecting it to Seward. Such is life.

The Seward Highway stretches 120 gorgeous miles from Yahtzee to Anchorage. Shortly after leaving the waterfront, the two-lane road starts climbing up, winding through alpine lakes and snow-capped mountain peaks. In the wintertime, when snow has fallen, temperatures are cold and the road is slick, I’m not in a rush to spend hours driving there and back in one day, let alone two. And on a day like today, it’s not even possible because a rock slide has closed the corridor. Also, delivery is not an option.

Fortunately, the work can still go on, and there is certainly plenty left to do. The boys and I created a painting shop in a heated and insulated space underneath our cabin and we’re cranking out coated sections of the headliner daily. Given that it all needs three coats, it’s going to take a good amount of time to finish everything. Plus, I can get going on all the stained and varnished trim work that needs to get done as well.

Porter and Magnus work on painting sections of the new ceiling.

Looking ahead in our schedule, we have a planned trip to Anchorage coming in January, so the road will only stand in our way for another month. When we’re back with everything needed, this is a project that I’m excited to see in its final form.

The crafting of a headliner

With a green Bic pencil tucked back behind my ear, I picked up the saw and rained dust throughout the makeshift workbench inside Yahtzee’s main salon. Music blared in the background as I fit the next piece in my linear game of headliner Tetris, and I stood back, took a sip from a cold Rainier and admired the view.

It looked good. Better than I anticipated, to be honest. But it’s not done. Not by a long shot.

After re-finishing the wood on the main bulkhead and deciding to tackle the laborious job of replacing the old headliner, it took Jill and me a bit of time to decide what we wanted to put in its place, then how to source the material.  What we knew was that we wanted something different than the vinyl wrapped plywood that had been up since Yahtzee was built in the early 80s. It was time for that look to go.

Old headliner pealed down, ready to go.

What we ended up getting was planks of pine beadboard that have a tongue and groove fit. When investigating these, I was a bit unsure about the longevity and quality of this type of wood in the marine environment. But my research overwhelmingly suggested that other do-it-yourself sailors had been successful with it in a variety of interior applications, so I figured we’d give it a shot. Now, after working with it over the past few weekends, I’m very confident that we made the right decision. Also, a final finish of Pettit’s satin EZ Cabin Coat will provide a nice look along with a durable finish that will withstand the humidity of a boat’s interior.

In with the new.

I started the project with a test section in the starboard aft cabin and when that turned out well, the main salon was a green light. So far, I’m working in stages and have taken down and covered the entire starboard side. I’ve been impressed with how easily and cleanly the material cuts and how durable it is.

Test section in the starboard aft cabin.

Along with the new headliner, I am also taking the opportunity to install some new lighting and opted for a very low profile dome light by Lumitec that turns on and off, and from white to red, on a bezel. The first one is in, and I’m impressed with the upgrade.

Looking aft down the starboard side of the main salon.

Stay tuned for more updates as I keep chipping away at this project. It sure is a satisfying one to work on.

What the heck’s going on aboard Yahtzee?

There’s been a lot of progress going on aboard Yahtzee these days. While Jill’s been working during the week, I’ve been getting as much done with the boys as possible and then when the weekends come, I’m on it. The thing is, I’ve found that even though a number jobs have been started, there aren’t many that have been finished. And the ones that have been completed would probably be noticeable to only Jill or me. Ahh, such is the life of boat projects.

Thankfully I get to walk down to all the boat projects with views like this.

Upon last report, I’d ripped out some plumbing to the sink in the aft head and built a new drawer, re-finished the windlass motor and basically gotten the boat ready for an Alaskan winter. Since that time there has been a flurry of things happening, decisions being made and lots of indecision about which way to go on a few projects.

Though a lot may not be “finished” yet, here’s what’s in the works:

Re-finishing Woodwork

A primary consideration when thinking about moving off the boat for the winter was that we could tackle some work we otherwise wouldn’t with four souls aboard. Sanding and varnishing was very near the top of that list.

While Yahtzee has some nicely finished brightwork down below, there were some places that had become a little lackluster over the years. Chief among them were the areas around the companionway and the main bulkhead behind our cabin heater. Due to a lack of heat displacing material, heat from the diesel fireplace dried out the wood and made the finish look a bit off. Also, there were a few dings that needed fixing.

Woodwork isn’t necessarily difficult, but neither is it interesting or fun to write about. It’s just time consuming and relatively messy. I’ve spent days sanding, cleaning up the dust, varnishing and then sanding some more. And then I put in some new aluminum flashing to protect the wood.

Part of the companionway before…

Continue reading What the heck’s going on aboard Yahtzee?

Our quick and easy preventer explained

When I recently wrote about some helpful upgrades that we’ve made to Yahtzee, I included a new preventer setup that I think needs some clarification. Well, I finally had the time to set it up at the dock and take some photos that will help explain it a bit better.

In my mind — and experience sailing downwind — a well devised and rigged preventer is an essential piece of gear aboard. And if it’s done right, it should be easy to set up, release and switch sides after an intentional jibe.

What any good preventer should do is catch the boom in the unfortunate event of an accidental jibe. That being the case, I like to lead the preventer line as far forward as possible. But, and this is the big caveat, every boat’s setup will be different. There is no one size fits all. After safe ease of use, what you want to achieve is a fair lead so the the preventer isn’t chafing.

Here’s Yahtzee’s preventer explained:

When installing a permanent preventer that can be quickly deployed on either side of the boat, the first thing I wanted to achieve was making it so that it could be stowed easily out of the way on the boom. To make this happen on Yahtzee, I measured and cut a length of Dyneema, attached the aft end to the bail at the end of the boom and then ran it about 3/4 of the way forward towards a cleat. At the forward end of the Dyneema I spliced in a stainless ring. This ring can then be attached to a short piece of bungee from the cleat to hold it taut, or to the second portion of the preventer line when it’s fully rigged.

Dyneema runs from the end of the boom forward when not in use.
A short length of bungee cord with a clip on the end can attach to the ring on the Dyneema or hold the coiled preventer that will run forward to the bow while deployed.

When it’s time to rig the full preventer for use, I can simply unhook the coil or Dyneema line and ease the boom out to where I want it while broad reaching or running. The secondary line then runs forward to a low friction ring on a snap shackle that I can move from the bow to the toe rail depending on how and where I want the line to lead.

Boom eased out over the starboard side with the preventer fully rigged.
Preventer running forward to the bow.
At the bow the preventer can get cleated on either side or led through a low friction ring and run aft.

The great thing about this setup is that when it comes time to jibe, Jill or I can un-attach the two lines without having to lean out over the side of the boat. The Dyneema can get quickly stowed on the boom with the bungee and then we can move the other section of the preventer to the new side. Once the jibe has been completed, the ring-end of the Dyneema section gets taken off the boom and re-attach it to the secondary line. When it’s all set, we can tighten the whole thing up and sail on without worry. Simple, quick and efficient.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me (andrewcross8@gmail.com) or ask in the comments below.

At home among friends in British Columbia

After a quick jaunt through the dense, electric-green forest on Portland Island, we came to a grassy clearing that sloped quickly down to the sea. I laid my backpack on a rock, grabbed a water bottle, two beers and snacks from inside and passed them around, officially kicking off our family’s impromptu celebration in honor of being back in British Columbia’s beautiful Gulf Islands.

The boys were soon off exploring and I stood next to Jill for a moment taking in the sunshine and gorgeous views of Salt Spring Island across Satellite Channel. It was great to be back in that spot and Porter echoed the feeling when he found me to say, “Dad, I’m so happy to be back here.” The sentiment absolutely melted my heart — he was right.  Continue reading At home among friends in British Columbia

Yahtzee is back in the water!

After six weeks on the hard and being worked on nearly every day, Yahtzee is finally back where she belongs — in the water. Of course, when we pulled her out in mid-October to address a tiny leak, it turned into a much, much larger, time consuming and expensive job than we ever envisioned. As usual, we’ve made the best of our time off the boat and learned a few things along the way. Fortunately, though, it’s done now. And we know that we did it right.

Without the amazing work done by our fiberglass guy and new friend, Ethan, “doing it right” never would have been possible. His quality craftsmanship is not only something to be admired, but his attention to detail and assurance that he wanted to make it better than when it came out of the factory provides us with a peace of mind that can’t be matched. For an in depth look at how he fixed everything, check out his thread on the project at Cruisers Forum.

The new rudder and repaired skeg ready to hit the water.
The new rudder and repaired skeg ready to hit the water.

The new rudder caused the biggest wait while our home was on the hard, and it was worth it. We don’t know how long the old rudder was cracked and filled with water, but spending the time and money to get a new one now gives us a baseline and a fin that we can be 100% confident in. Thanks also goes out to Al and the rest of the team at Foss Foam Products (newrudders.com) in Florida for a job well done on the rudder.

And I couldn’t write this post without giving a big and sincere thank you to the many friends and family members who supported us along the way. With two children, not being in our home was difficult at times, but we made it work because of the people in our lives. Thanks to Mike and Maurisa, Lief and Kate, Matt and Katy, and Marcus and Ashley for your hospitality while all of this was going on. Opening your homes to us was amazingly generous and hugely helpful — so thank you! And to Darren and Erin for providing us with an open-ended offer of a place to stay. Your house is truly a home away from home for us, and we are forever grateful.

Yahtzee heading for the water.
Yahtzee heading for the water.

After being out of the water for so long, we need to get moved back aboard and wipe off the weeks of boatyard grime that inevitably come with being on the hard. We’ll be back out exploring soon, cruising the Pacific Northwest and sharing our adventures as we go. And for that, we couldn’t be happier.


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A rudder is born

Unswaddled and ready to meet its caretakers, a beautiful rudder is born.
Unswaddled and ready to meet its caretakers, a beautiful rudder is born. And it even came with instructions.

As the FedEx Freight truck rumbled its way into Canal Boatyard yesterday, I was high atop a ladder swirling wax into Yahtzee’s gel coat. When I turned and saw it, I nearly fell down the rungs in excitement. And I was so giddy that my signature was unrecognizable on the receiving papers.

Watching our sweet new baby being lifted from the truck and then unwrapped this morning for its first meeting with its new (to it) boat, I couldn’t actually believe it was happening. I still can’t. After a three week wait, Yahtzee’s new rudder is a thing of beauty, and allows us to finally see the light at the end of a very long, sometimes scarily dark tunnel. We’re closer to being home than we have been in a long long time. And it feels great.

There's still a short adjustment period for the boat and rudder to get through before they can be in the water together.
A short adjustment period for the boat and rudder is yet to come before they can be in the water together.

That said, there is still work to be done and a holiday to contend with. But as far as timelines go — which are never good for a boat in a boatyard — we’ll all be back in the water again fairly soon.

Welcome home!
Welcome home!

Stay tuned, folks, we’re getting there…

Working hard to get back on the boat, but having fun

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The sign above hangs in our friend’s bathroom and every day that we housesit here provides a reminder about what we’re doing to get back aboard Yahtzee.

For us, there certainly is a lot of truth to it, and while “better” is a relative term in this case, different might be more apt. Living on land while we work on Yahtzee is just different, and not what we’re used to. In my last post I laid out why living and cruising the way we do works well for us, and the sense of fulfillment and purpose we find with our nomadic life has only increased as work progresses on Yahtzee. 

So what’s going on with Yahtzee?

The boat basically has two major areas that are being worked on: the rudder and the skeg. In order to work on the skeg, we had to completely drop the rudder from the bottom of the boat, which was fairly straightforward if time consuming. Once it was out, I was moving it and heard water sloshing around so I drilled a hole in the bottom and a large puddle of water proceeded to pour out. Not good. Continue reading Working hard to get back on the boat, but having fun

On the hard | Lessons from traveling and the boatyard

The wind howls outside as I sit comfortably in a warm house. It’s nice, but I’d rather be anchored somewhere cozy or moving fast with the following breeze. While many boaters hibernate this time of year, we keep moving. But right now, we can’t. Not yet anyway. And it’s painful.

Yahtzee coming out of the water at Canal Boatyard in Seattle.
Yahtzee coming out of the water at Canal Boatyard in Seattle.

With jackstands pressing against her hull, Yahtzee sits high and dry in a concrete boatyard. She’s just as out of place on land as we are not sailing and living on her — and the difficulty, unfortunately, has just begun.

When we left Yahtzee at the end of August, we were excited for an extended visit with family, to deliver a boat on the East Coast and to attend a friend’s wedding. I came back for a short stint to work and do projects on the boat, and now that we’re all here, that’s what we’re up to again. Yahtzee needs some love and it’s quickly becoming one of life’s curveballs that tests our resolve as a family, but also teaches us along the way. As always, we’re rolling with it.

Boatyard Blues

It’s no secret that a lot of miles have passed over Yahtzee’s rudder in the past two years of cruising and racing. But with that many miles come obstacles, and there were some that we couldn’t avoid. We’ve hit a few logs along the way and they’ve taken their toll (including the strike at the end of the Oregon Offshore Race). Continue reading On the hard | Lessons from traveling and the boatyard

What’s up with Yahtzee?

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Yahtzee and crew. After finishing our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island and spending time in the San Juan Islands, we made way for Seattle. From there we flew to Michigan to be with family for Labor Day and had an absolute blast. It couldn’t have been a better time and it was wonderful for the boys to play and hang out with their cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles — which they’re still doing.

Seven of ten cousins on the dock where it all began.
Eight of ten cousins on the dock where all the sailing began.
The boys and their cousin George riding big wheels.
The boys and their cousin George riding big wheels.

I ventured back to the boat solo and cruised up to the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, and in between have been working on boat and work projects, and seeing friends. After spending so much time underway over the past two years, we’ve had some upgrades to make and, with the crew off the boat, I’ve been tackling those one by one. Continue reading What’s up with Yahtzee?

Sunshine, solitude and a taste of spring in Pirates Cove

Sailing north under Big Blue
Sailing north under Big Blue

When we woke up on Saturday morning, we didn’t expect to see the sun shining so brightly through our cabin windows. A brilliant blue sky followed and we quickly readied Yahtzee to get going north from the Dunsmuir Islands in Ladysmith Harbour towards one of our favorite spots in the Gulf Islands — Pirates Cove Provincial Marine Park.

About an hour later, Porter and I pushed our spinnaker Big Blue up on deck and prepared it to fly. With Jill at the helm we got it rigged and set quickly and Yahtzee bounded forward like she knew where she was going. As we ticked off the miles, I trimmed the sail to the shifting breeze while Jill held a steady course and the boys reveled in the sunshine. It was a perfect morning to be out for a sail.

Magnus and Porter hanging out as we sail
Magnus and Porter hanging out

Continue reading Sunshine, solitude and a taste of spring in Pirates Cove

A beautiful day to replace a halyard atop the Space Needle

The view of Seattle and Mt. Rainier from the roof of the Space Needle
The view of Seattle and Mt. Rainier from the roof of the Space Needle on Thursday

A while back I remember watching some celebrity on the news raising the 12th Man flag atop the Space Needle. At the time I thought, “I wonder what kind of line they use for that halyard?” That’s kind of an odd thing for most people to think, but it turns out the halyard is a Dyneema loop, and they use a sailboat rigger to build the assembly.

When I got the call from my buddy Ken at West Marine Rigging in Seattle (where I lend a hand on a very part-time basis) asking for help installing the Space Needle’s new flag halyard, there was no hesitation on my part. Lots of people go up to the top the Needle to enjoy a meal in the rotating restaurant or to take in the spectacular 360-views of Seattle and the surrounding area from the observation deck, but very few get to climb atop its highest roof. Continue reading A beautiful day to replace a halyard atop the Space Needle