Sailing, Climbing the Mast, and Toilets

I hope everyone is surviving this crazy coronavirus pandemic. I never thought I would see such a thing in my lifetime. Practicing social distancing, I got on my boat and went as far away from people as I could. This was convenient, because I had to do this anyway to learn how to sail.

I’ve been out with my instructor Andy several times sailing and practicing docking the boat. One day he told me I did a “perfect” tack. Without getting too technical, a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, but you can sail up to about 40 degrees into the wind, so if you are going upwind you have to zig zag. This is called tacking. You shift your direction from 40 degrees one way into the wind, then 40 deg the other way.

Here I am executing an (almost) perfect tack.

Here is me filming Andy’s method of tacking.

Besides learning the basics of sailing I have been practicing docking the boat under various conditions, anchoring, and learning how to tension the rigging, which are the cables that hold up the mast and jib.

The weather has been great. A bit hot and humid during the day—up to 90 deg F, but mid 60s during the night. So after a long hot day I can enjoy a nice gin and tonic and watch the sun set.

Enjoying my cool gin and tonic.

My backyard at sunset:

Here I am after several gin and tonics:

That nice backyard sunset won’t last long, by the way. Florida law states that I do not have to pay sales tax on the boat (about $4000) as long as I leave Florida waters within 90 days of the sale. That means I have to leave Florida by May 4. My plan is to sail north along the eastern seaboard of the USA for the summer, going as far north as New York or Maine, then returning south as fall approaches. During the hurricane season I will just have to stay alert and duck into a harbor if one comes my way. Besides falling overboard and hitting something and sinking, hurricanes are my biggest worry.

Climbing the Mast

Otherwise I have been busy with numerous repair projects, one of which was to replace the light at the top of my mast. This required Andy winching me up on a little seat called a bosun’s chair 50 feet where I dangled above the boat and replace the light. Not for the faint of heart or acrophobic.

Here I am half way up replacing the deck light.

Then at the very top of the mast—50 feet up replacing the anchor light. Not a fun job.

Toilet Trouble

The only thing worse than dangling 50 feet above the ground changing a light is fixing a problem with the marine toilet, or “head” as it is called. If you’ve ever wondered how waste is handled on a sailboat, read on.

A marine toilet is quite different from your household toilet. There is no running water so you have to pump it out by hand. This involves just grasping the pump handle and pumping several times which draws seawater into the bowl. Then you close the valve and continue pumping until the bowl is clear. But where does the waste go? There are generally three options for waste disposal: you can just dump it overboard if you are 3 nautical miles offshore. This is the simplest method. But if you are close to shore or in a marina this is not possible. So boats have what are called “holding tanks” where the waste is pumped. When the tank is full you can have the marina pump it out for you for a small fee. The third option is if you have waste in the tank and are 3 nm offshore you can pump it out with a special pump.

Well as with everything having to do with boats, it seems, the toilet malfunctioned last week. Waste was backflowing from the system into the bowl. I am not a big fan of toilet waste, and I detest plumbing, so this was a serious issue. But I had no choice other than troubleshoot the problem. I have to disassemble the toilet and replace a special check valve. Not a project I am looking forward to.

The holding tank is on the right. It holds about 20 gallons. What do you think happens when you don’t empty it before it fills up? I don’t know, it is too disgusting for me think about. I was so obsessed about it I am installing a tank level sensor system so I know when the tanks are full. Those are the wires you can see in the upper right hand corner of the photo.

The other thing that has occupied my time is my dinghy, or small inflatable boat that came with the purchase of the sailboat. At first I thought this was a great deal…a $3000 dinghy along with the sailboat. But when I saw it I was disappointed—it was old, deflated and dirty. I have spent hours finding and repairing air leaks on this darn thing. But I really need it. Once I leave this marina I will be on anchor most of the time. I will use the dinghy to get to shore and buy supplies and groceries. I have put more than 20 patches on it so far but it still leaks. It’s driving me crazy.

Well that’s it for now. Wash your hands, don’t hoard and keep your distance from others. This will pass soon (I hope).