Tag Archives: SV Yahtzee

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!

Busting misconceptions and charting a path forward

The crews of Arctic Monkey and Yahtzee. (L to R) Zoe, Leah, Rosie, Porter & Magnus. (Photo courtesy of Zetty Morgan.)

After all the hugs were given and the usual, “It’s not goodbye, but until next time’s” were said, we parted ways with the family and crew of five from SV Arctic Monkey. Our families — with five kids ranging from 3 to 11 — have been nearly inseparable for weeks, cementing one of those fast and lasting friendships that is truly unique to living on a sailboat and cruising.

Throughout the years and miles, making friends while cruising and living on Yahtzee has become one of the things that we cherish most about this lifestyle. Living in similar circumstances as other cruisers, sailors and adventurers, we form quick and deep bonds because we share the same highs and lows of life. And though miles eventually separate us, distance never matters.

After two weeks cruising Barkley Sound with Ryan & Autumn Helling (SV Velella) we were all smiles (except Porter and Magnus, apparently).

Over time, we have also come to recognize that this particular part of our life is commonly misunderstood from the outside. People often assume that by living on a sailboat and moving relatively often, and sometimes very quickly, we’re not developing deep and lasting relationships. Time and again, we get some form of a comment that without firmly planted  “roots”, lasting friendships must be hard for us to develop and nurture.

In general, we get the underlying sentiment but nod and smile knowing that it is simply a lack of knowledge on their part — which is fine. What we’ve found when making friends while cruising is that the barriers to fully understanding the joys, challenges, triumphs and frustrations of this lifestyle are already down. Accordingly, we’re able to instantly start on common ground when we meet new people in a far-flung anchorage or on the dock in the next port. And age is of no consequence. The connections can be — and in many cases are — quick, real and long lasting.

Boat kids from SV Blown Away and Yahtzee take a break from “helping” me make breakfast while rafted up.

With folks who don’t know what this all entails, it is difficult to help them understand. What we do is so different than a “normal” life on land, making it abstract, and hard to grasp. And even when non-cruisers think they’ve begun to rationalize the essence of it what it is, they’re still a long way off. It’s not good or bad or right or wrong, it’s just the nature of living the way we do. We get it, how we live is different. And different is hard for many people to wrap their minds around.

What we try to say is that our friendships are strong because they are born through a unique connection, people stay in touch and come visit, and we make an effort to meet up along the way. After all, it’s along the way where we encounter these kindred spirits that turn into wonderful friends. And when we come back together after all the years and miles, we don’t skip a beat. We hug, laugh, savor drink and food, share sea stories of water under our keels and make the most of our time together because we know it will likely be fleeting. We’re ok with that.

Sometimes an impromptu raft-up with new and old friends can last days on end, especially in Desolation Sound, BC. (L to R) SV Shearwater, Cambria & Yahtzee.

If anything, we’ve found these nomadic relationships to be incredibly fulfilling. They’re free from the the immense clutter of houses, cars, 401ks, traffic lights, more stuff and bigger everything. Instead, they’re untethered, genuine and hassle free. They roll with time and tide, which is the way we prefer to live life.

Looking towards friends on the horizon

Many readers of this blog know that we are full on live-in-the-moment type folks. We generally don’t make plans too far in advance because we know they’ll likely change a million times. It’s our style and it suits us well. But now that we’ve finished a full year living in one place, something we haven’t done in a long time, we’re starting to get an itchy keel and can’t help but turn a weather eye towards the future.

When our re-power is complete this fall, we’re looking at a winter’s worth of small projects around the boat before we get ready to leave Seward come late spring. Our “plan” then is to explore more of Alaska for the summer before turning south towards warmer climes. After living and cruising in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska for over six years and loving it, it’s finally time for our crew to say goodbye and chase a bit of summer. And a major catalyst for heading south is to meet up with friends and other kid boats.

With cruising friends already in Pacific Mexico, others on their way this fall and more set to depart next year, we’re ready to join the migration south. Though our actual plans are always written in sand at low tide, we’re feeling the pull of the middle latitudes again and are working hard to make that a reality. As always, we’re excited to meet more people along the way, so if you’re a cruiser planning on heading towards palm trees next year, let us know, we’d love to say hi!

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.

Home is where the boat is

I awoke to the sound of small feet pitter-pattering their way toward my bunk. Jill had left an hour earlier for work and I knew who was coming. Soon, Magnus crawled up to port of me and I threw the warm blankets over him as he said, “Good morning, Dad.”

Good morning, Magnus.

In that moment, I truly felt home — back to the life we love.

The slog of moving our stuff from the rental cabin in the woods back down to the marina is finally over. Actually, it was over a few weeks ago. But we’ve been taking our timing getting settled, making new routines and reaquiaintimg ourselves with the space in Yahtzee’s cabin. 

While moving all the clothes, toys, tools, books, dishes and food aboard, we’ve found ourselves increasingly happy with the work we completed to the boat’s interior over the winter. The goal of moving off to make Yahtzee better was certainly achieved, and then some. 

New drawers make previously unused space functional.

The two new drawers I crafted in the aft head way back in the late fall have swallowed toiletries and opened up storage in other parts of the boat. And a new system of storage for the boys’ clothes in the the V-berth has opened up space there, too. It’s amazing how taking everything off the boat has allowed us to come back with an eye toward utilizing our space more effectively. And we even devised some creative new storage solutions on the fly during the move-in process — which is always a plus on a 40-foot boat that houses four sailors.

A new hanging organizer for tools was a nice touch.

All the nitty gritty of moving aside, my favorite part of returning to Yahtzee has been watching the boys’ overwhelming excitement at being home again. Whether it’s climbing around on deck, taking off for a paddle in the kayak or helping me with projects, they truly haven’t skipped a beat. After all, this is the place they’ve each know since they were hours old. When I asked Porter what his favorite part about being back on the boat was, he turned quiet then said with a glowing smile, “I don’t know, everything, I just love being home.”

That summed it up perfectly. After a winter ashore, we’re all loving being home.

Porter drives the dinghy to a friend’s boat in the marina.

For us, living on Yahtzee and the dream of cruising far-and-wide has never had a time stamp on it. The one year, two year, five year, etc, plan isn’t something we’ve ever thought about. And now, after six years of owning Yahtzee, we know more than ever that this latest chapter in our family adventure is a worthwhile one. This is our life, our dream, and we’ll continue to strive for and live it to the fullest with our feet set in the present and our eyes turned toward the horizon. But we also know that no matter where we are, home is where the boat is. 

A dinghy decision made easy

An inevitable purchase finally happened for the crew of Yahtzee. After owning our beloved home for over six years and doing a substantial amount of cruising, we finally got two things we’ve never had before: a rigid-hulled inflatable dinghy (RIB) and an outboard engine.

The new dink about to hit the water!

Some may wonder how it took so long, and the truth is that it was a combination of being content with what we’ve made work and price. Our first dinghy came with Yahtzee. It was an awkwardly rowing inflatable with a soft floor and no real transom to mount an engine. We always knew that it wouldn’t be suitable for more than two adults so when we got our family kayak (two adult seats, one child’s seat), we found the inflatable a better home.

Porter and I heading out for a spin at Jones Island on our first inflatable.
Stable yet roomy and nimble, the kayak has made an incredible tender.

The kayak then became our sole landing craft and has worked exceptionally well over many years, miles and adventures. Surprising well, actually. As our family grew, though, it too could only take us so far. Next came the 8-foot sailing and rowing dinghy to help carry our four-person crew. It has also proven to be sufficient, and is super fun to sail. Then came our standup paddleboard, which was a great addition to the fleet as well.

Sailing the dink, “Hornpipe”, in Glacier Bay.

The thing about all these tenders is that, in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve rarely had to travel very far from where Yahtzee was anchored to shore — which is a luxury compared to many cruising grounds around the world. Sure, have there been times when we could have zipped 10 to 20 miles in a fast dinghy to a glacier, beach or even a grocery store? The honest answer is yes. But we couldn’t, until now.

With the boys getting physically larger and our cruising plans evolving to Alaska and beyond (yes, south!), we finally gave in to what we’ve always known: our family will greatly benefit from a boat that can safely hold us all and travel farther and faster. Happily, we’re already enjoying the fruits of our decision.

At over 17 knots, we reached this special place quite quickly.

What we did and did not want:

The learning process about powerboats and dinghies started when my grandmother first taught me to drive one (I think I was about 10). Years of experience cruising on the east coast and in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean then refined my thoughts on what I wanted in a proper tender — and since that time Jill and I have used many different types and have researched many others. After all, a dinghy is a cruiser’s “car”, which means buying one isn’t a task that should be taken lightly. It’s also a task that is different for every boater, as you have to know what your specific constraints and needs are.

Our list of requirements for a new tender were:

  • Had to be a RIB (Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat); aluminum preferred, no inflatable hulls or wooden floors
  • Had to have Hypalon tubes over PVC (Hypalon is more durable and weather resistant)
  • Had to fit at least four adults with a modest amount of gear
  • Had to be less than 10 feet to fit on Yahtzee’s foredeck
  • Had to have an engine to get the boat on plane

What we got: The path to the dinghy we actually bought came with remarkable ease and timing. Had it not, we’d still be looking. When I found out that my friend and fellow editor at Three Sheets, Marty, was getting ready to buy a dinghy at an auction last fall in Seattle, I texted to let him know we were interested. Knowing that Marty’s list of requirements paralleled ours, I hoped we could both come away with something at a fair price.

Sure enough, Marty scored. He came home with two brand new dinghies still in their original packaging, and Jill and I bought one. As luck would have it, the new dinghy literally ticked every box on our list of requirements. It’s a 9-foot, aluminum-hulled AquaPro that holds our family and more.

Then, when I was down in Seattle in January for the boat show, I arranged for it to be put on a ship in Tacoma and sent to Anchorage. Easy as that. Later that weekend out of sheer curiosity while at the show, I walked around looking at dinghies that had the same specs as ours. To my pleasant surprise, I learned that we paid half the amount of a similar “boat show priced” dinghy.

After our new boat’s journey to Alaska, we finally dropped her in the water and, thus far, we’re very happy with the boat and engine.

The dinghy and Yahtzee meet for the first time.

Engine-wise, we tend to agree with our good buddy Sam Landsman of Slowboat.com, who lives by the mantra, “Slow boat, fast dinghy.” Meaning a relatively slow moving liveaboard cruiser like a sailboat or trawler is enhanced with a fast dinghy as a car. In our minds, and experience, if you’re going to buy a RIB, it has to be pushed by an engine that can really make it get-up-and-go. It has to plane.

The boys faces when we first got the new dinghy up on plane. Says it all.

For us, that meant electric outboards were out, so too were the tiny 2.5 hp outboards that barely get the boat moving, let alone up on plane. A 6 hp engine would probably get the boat going with one or two people aboard, but with four, plus gear and provisions, the obvious choice was to go with a 9.9 hp or more.

At first I looked at new engines, but then realized that we lived in a place where used 9.9 hp outboards are actually readily available. Many local fisherman use them as “kickers” on their boats, and when I went searching through Craiglist and on the Facebook Marketplace, I quickly found exactly what I was looking for: an early 90s two-stoke Johnson 9.9. These engines are timeless, relatively light, easy to work on and, as a mechanic friend put it, “those engines are bulletproof.”

After a Facebook live video of the engine running, I met the owner and took it off his hands for a screaming deal. Once again, easy as that. And I’m happy to report that the engine purrs like a kitten, runs smooth as a top and turns our new dinghy into an absolute speed demon.  Also, it’s the same type of engine I learned on with Grandmom all those years ago — a perfect ending.

Who needs a transmission when you’ve got sails

Sitting to leeward of Yahtzee’s helm, I could see the dark gust coming from way across the bay. Counting down until it hit, I turned up slightly, let the boat heel hard, and then watched the starboard rail bury deep into blue water. Frothing whitecaps whipped by, yet from the high side our two deck monkeys held their faces to the strong wind and laughed in unison. “We love this!” they shouted. Clearly, the moment was no bother to them.

I was in it, though, trying to get us safely into the harbor after a great weekend but with little help from a finicky transmission. After tacking back-and-forth as comfortably close to Seward Harbor’s breakwater as possible, we struck the sails, started the engine and limped our way into the marina with the troublesome tranny.

Since heading out on our cruising weekends this month, Yahtzee’s transmission has been acting a bit cheeky. Sometimes it runs fine. Other times, well, it doesn’t. What happens is that when we power up in forward past about 1,000 RPMs, the normal amount of thrust that should occur never follows. That’s an issue. In low revs and reverse, though, everything is fine. Ho hum, boat problems happen. And in our minds, if there’s wind, we’re sailing!

But we’re not naive. Boat problems don’t just fix themselves. Accordingly, I’ve taken the wayward transmission apart to inspect the gears inside and from what I can see, and from the confirmation of a competent mechanic, nothing seems to be amiss. So, needless to say, we’re still sorting through various options on that.

In the mean time, this past weekend was another one of those magical moments on the water that only makes us want to stay out cruising forever … and ever. Though this one was a bit more drippy than the last, our crew did what we usually do and made the best of each special moment. We sailed to Thumb Cove and back, hiked beaches, played with friends, messed about in boats, ate well, and laughed long into the night. It truly doesn’t get much better.

Besides the transmission part, pictures probably do it the most justice…

Porter steers Yahtzee into Thumb Cove.
Jill takes a leisurely spin on Hornpipe.
Beach treasures always find their way aboard.
As always, Porter heads out when the anchor is down.
Be free!
Magnus and Porter chase Jill back to Yahtzee.
Our buddy Devon spins around the cove on Hornpipe.

Finding our sea legs on an epic weekend cruise

Hand over hand, I pulled the mainsail up like a mad sailor who could hardly wait to shut the engine off. I couldn’t. Outside the breakwater in Resurrection Bay, a 15 to 20 knot northerly whipped through the rigging and when the sail was set, Jill twirled the helm to starboard. The main filled quickly and off we shot like a rocket down the bay towards snowy peaks and sparkling wave tops.

With the engine off, all was right in the Yahtzee world again. Our crew was all smiles pulling lines, grinding winches, steering and walking on deck. Porter and Magnus both gushed about loving being out and the sentiment was mutual between us all. It was great to be getting our sea legs back.

Porter was one happy sailor.

The destination for the weekend, which coincided with my birthday, was a spectacular bay called Thumb Cove; about 8 miles south of Seward. Hot on our heals was a full crew of friends aboard Blown Away, a Beneteau First 42, and when we peeled into the confines of the cove together the scene changed. Gone was the wind and waves, and glacial-lined mountain peaks towered above a flat pane of water.

The breathtaking approach into Thumb Cove.

When the anchor was set in a small nook up against the beach, Blown Away rafted to our starboard side and the fun and festivities commenced. Porter was eager to get on the standup paddleboard again and quickly made his way to the beach while everyone else shed layers and simply soaked in the scenery. Without a doubt, this little pocket of Alaska is one of the most amazing places on the planet.

Porter the Adventurer heads for the beach.

The plan for the afternoon and evening was a simple one: Play on the beach, explore the woods and water, laugh a lot and make some delicious food around a fire. I’m happy to say we accomplished that and then some. We were in our element, loving every minute of it.

More than anything, it was fun to watch the boys living a life they know so well. And being able to share it with friends their age made it all the more special. For the adults, it was a perfect way for three couples to get away for a weekend and leave the stressors of life ashore behind. No cell service, no news, no errands, just hanging with great people.

The boats rest at anchor while the crews gather on the beach.

Magnus and Amelia run the beach.

Sunday morning seemed to come too soon and though we all needed to get back at some point, nobody was quick to move. The crews headed to the beach again for some exploring and then the kids swung around in the rigging like monkeys while we basked in the sun. Shortly after noon, I could see a southerly kicking up on the bay and about an hour later when we set sail it provided the perfect boost back north towards the marina — perma-smiles still plastered on our faces.

Porter and Amelia play in the rigs.

I don’t throw the term epic around lightly, but this weekend was it. Downwind sailing both ways, unbelievable scenery, awesome friends, warm weather and lots of outdoor time made it so. It was truly one of those energizing sailing adventures that we’ll ride high on for days to come. Which is how it should be.

Yahtzee and crew spring into the new season

With Yahtzee’s companionway hatch slid fully open, sun poured down below, filling the cabin with light and warmth. I stood there in it for just a moment, soaking up the beautiful rays of spring and dreaming of the future.

This past weekend was warm and sunny, and we were primed to get to work putting Yahtzee back together. On Friday afternoon the boys and I pulled sails from our cabin, loaded them in the car and made for the boat. The day was windless, warm and long, which made it perfect for getting our old rags put back in their rightful place.

Porter pulls the genoa to the car on his sled.

While the boys played on deck, Jill and I hoisted and furled the genoa, set up the stack pack and bent on the main sail. Our junior rigger, Porter, was then sent aloft to reeve the lazy jacks through their blocks on the mast. He was also looking forward to swinging around for a while.

Magnus watches Jill prepare the genoa to go up.
Porter hangs out on the rig and enjoys the view.

When the sails were complete, we turned our attention to a number of other tasks over the following few days. I won’t go into detail on everything, but we got a lot accomplished. The last major project before moving back aboard is to rework our freshwater plumbing and I made huge strides in that department.

This rats nest of old hoses can certainly be executed better.

Next, Jill and I installed the reconditioned windlass motor and then did some general cleaning around the boat. I re-bedded the stack for the new heater and finished the last few tasks needed to get it up and running. While working on deck, I also took the time to install new dorade vents, which is a small project we’ve wanted to complete since we bought the boat six years ago.

Of course, a spring weekend wouldn’t truly be complete without some actual time on the water. We dropped the kayak in and while I plugged away at projects, Jill and the boys paddled around the marina and took a trip to the beach. By all accounts, the weekend of work was a huge success. Yahtzee is looking like herself again and signs of the new season are cropping up all over our little corner of rural Alaska.

The boys back in their element paddling around the marina.

Spring, or “break-up” as we call it in the Great Land, is showing its head in more ways than long days, slightly warmer temps and melting snow. Our stack of split firewood is dwindling and we have one piece of salmon left in the freezer along with two moose roasts. That right there is a sure sign that life is shifting. Pretty soon we’ll be moving back aboard Yahtzee full-time, fishing again and spending weekends exploring coves, anchorages and bays we got a small taste of last summer and fall. And that is something we are all excited to do.

Cruising friends rejuvenate the sailing soul

It’s the second-to-last day of February and I find myself sitting behind the computer thinking, “Wow, what an awesome month it has been.”

The boys play on the beach at Tonsina Point.

Winter in rural Alaska continues to inspire and captivate at every turn, and living here through the offseason has been far more rewarding than we could have imagined. But even though we’ve enjoyed all sorts of outdoor wonders this month, our crews’ current enthusiasm is rooted on Yahtzee. I guess that’s what finishing some big projects and hanging with sailing friends will do to the winter psyche. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the amount of daylight here is growing in leaps and bounds.

After triumphantly finishing the headliner earlier in the month, we made our way north to meet friends for some skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood. Ryan and Autumn from SV Velella came up from Seattle for the long weekend and it was truly one of those friend moments you instantly want to repeat again and again.

Ryan looks out over Cook Inlet.

Skiing and snowboarding at Alyeska was incredible, and showing them around Seward was a ton of fun. But it was mostly refreshing to be around great cruising friends again — it probably didn’t matter where we were. To talk about boats and destinations, dreams and projects, and even to share a few sea stories over laughter, long campfires and hot toddys was perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

The crews of Yahtzee and Velella back together again.

With them headed home, we were back to our normal routines of playing and trying to make headway on boat projects. Like clockwork, our new heater arrived in the mail from Fisheries and that job vaulted to the top of the list. Fortunately, because our old heater was similar, is was mostly a plug-and-play job with just a few small kinks to get worked out.

The new heater installed and ready to be unwrapped.

While I was getting that sorted, our friends from Anchorage came down to spend the weekend and work on their Beneteau 42 Blown Away. They have kids of a similar age so we decided to stay at the marina for the night to have dinner and hang with them. Good times.

I could look at charts for hours…

They’re relatively new cruisers, which made the fun of the night pulling out charts of the area to talk about routing and anchorages. A two week cruise to Prince William Sound is on their summer schedule, so we got to reminisce about our time there last year.

More than anything, though, it was energizing to be back in the marina aboard boats with friends again. There’s something about the connection that rejuvenates the sailing soul and makes us even more excited to press forward towards our dreams.

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.

Cruising truths, Part 2: Plotting a course for 2018 and beyond

With a fresh blanket of snow covering our cozy cabin in the woods, Jill and I sat inside crunching numbers. Plotting a course to set sail.

She rattled off expenses, I typed them into a calculator and then read her back the totals. On we went through our financials from the past three months living in Seward. It felt like a good thing to be doing on the last day of the year. Sure, it wasn’t nearly the wildest New Year’s Eve we’ve ever had, but it was by far the most focused.

After an amazing 2017, we’re determined to do everything we can in 2018 to get our family back out cruising … whenever that may be.

The overarching goal of the exercise was to obtain an idea of where we’re at and to set ourselves onto a smooth course for the new year. We need to know what it will realistically take to get us going again, and doing a thorough assessment of our finances is the only way to put our feet on solid ground.

The good news? We’re on the right track. The not so good? We’ve got a long way to go. 

Stopping cruising and moving back ashore obviously wasn’t what we’d hoped to do in 2017. Not at all. (See part 1). But we knew we had to if we wanted to keep going, which we definitely do. The thing is, moving ashore to “save” money isn’t — as we knew — all that easy. That’s not how the world works.

Even though we’re a dual income family, and Jill’s position is granting her valuable work experience, we now have bills that we haven’t had in many years including moorage, a car and all its associated fees, rent and utilities, and other incidentals that come from living on land for part of the year. What we figured out on New Year’s Eve, though, is that after all of our monthly expenses are covered, we don’t actually have very much extra left over. It wasn’t a comforting realization.

Our current situation is that the goal in stopping is to work on Yahtzee and to pay off a sizable amount of debt in the process. And while we’re doing both, we now know that we need to focus more on the debt in 2018 and less on the boat and other expenditures. In the interest of being straight up here, the debt we accrued while fixing Yahtzee’s skeg and rudder late in 2016 is like a massive anchor that continues to not only weigh us down but is in jeopardy of dragging us farther under water if we don’t cast it free. That’s what we’re going to do.

We’re comforted in the fact that Yahtzee was ready to cross oceans when we pulled into Seward in August — heck, we were even planning to sail to California that very month! She just needed a few tweaks and if we could lavish some gifts on her such as new sails in the process, great. Well, once we’re done with the projects that we’ve started, this round of gift giving is over. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves tied to the dock for years spending money on the boat and putting a little bit here and there towards our debt. That won’t cut it.

We’re not the type of sailors to comfortably sit at the dock and ramble on about someday getting out there while constantly working to sail away on a boat that never will be perfect. Never have been, never will be. Our family has been out there before and we all want it back in the worst way. So we’ll work to make it happen.

And while we love Seward and Alaska immensely, it isn’t time to settle somewhere yet and it may never be. That is reality for us. Wandering this big old world under sail is what we’re after — and life’s too short not to do what we love with the people we love.

Memorable moments | Saying goodbye to an incredible year of cruising

Crouching at the water’s edge, I picked up a smooth black stone and gripped it in my palm. Magnus stood next to me — clad in his wetsuit with boogie board in hand — and I talked him through his latest attempt at setting out into the cold water of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Then he went for it and I smiled watching him splash his way into the clear blue water before launching the rock far beyond him.

Later, sitting next to a fire and fresh caught salmon roasting over hot coals, I thought aloud to Jill while watching Yahtzee bob just offshore: “Does life get any better than this? I don’t think it does.”

In many ways, that’s how 2017 went. By any and every measure we can think of, it was an amazing year of cruising aboard Yahtzee. Here are a few of our most memorable moments:

Fish On!

Continue reading Memorable moments | Saying goodbye to an incredible year of cruising

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.

Giving thanks for life, family and others

Sitting behind a group of kids at story time in the Seward Public Library, I watched and listened while the librarian introduced the topic and books for the day: Thanksgiving.

Before reading, she explained to the children in general terms what the occasion meant and then asked each child what they were thankful for. One-by-one they listed things they own, toys, stuffed animals, etc. When she got to Porter, who was sitting in his usual spot in the front row, he simply said, “My little brother.”

With wide-eyed excitement, the librarian turned to Magnus and said, “Magnus, did you hear that?! Your brother is thankful for you!” At that point, the boys looked at each other and embraced in an emphatic hug.

In the moment I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or both. I was so happy, proud and thankful. Thankful for the life we’ve been able to provide Porter and Magnus. Thankful to spend so much time with them each and every day. Thankful to have lived and cruised on Yahtzee as a family for the vast majority of their lives, showing them what an amazing world we live in and how to enjoy it to the fullest. Thankful for our future plans to continue doing just that. And thankful for the families we grew up in, with parents who guided us and showed us that all of this is possible.

Quote of the week at the Seward Public Library

Shortly after leaving the library, my thoughts turned from us, our lives and this upcoming Thanksgiving to the past and to other people. I silently reminisced about those who are no longer with us, to things I’d seen living in Ethiopia and to a blog post I’d written prior to Thanksgiving six years ago while there (read it in bold at the bottom). I thought about what Jill and I experienced — the good and the bad — and how it all changed our perspective on many things moving forward in life. And I’m thankful now more than ever for that experience because it taught us about an incredible country and people, and set us up to be exactly where we are right now. Continue reading Giving thanks for life, family and others