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Furbs and Refurbs

Furbs and Refurbs

After reviewing the “to-do” list – you know the one, that never ending list of boating jobs that despite how many things you cross off, just keeps getting longer and longer, I have decided to categorise the items into two groups.  First group is upgrades.  These are items that previously didn’t exist on La Mouette and cover things such as the roller furling, stereo system, electric pump in the galley etc.  The other category is the refurbs which cover existing items, and will be an R&R or a rebuild.  The reasoning behind this is that it’s all too easy to spend money on new, shiny things which give you a warm glow and a nice feeling after bolting them to your boat but invariably, the new, shiny thing is sitting next to an old, faded and disintegrating item that probably needs more attention than something that previously didn’t exist and could have probably been postponed.

Last weekend we managed to get a day on the boat just futzing about and not really doing anything, and it was extremely obvious that the starboard wooden rub rail was in desperate need of attention.  Some of the screws weren’t holding it in place and it needed a jolly good scraping, sanding and half a dozen coats of Cetol.  All in all, a weekend’s work.  It’s probably way more important to do jobs like this rather than spend money and do the easy jobs which essentially is to fit new equipment.

To become the blue water cruiser that we want this boat to be, both categories of work need to be done.  But the refurb stuff is increasingly becoming more important.  One reason is to stop any further deterioration, eg wooden things, metal things and fibreglass things are particularly prone to the laws of entropy.  And we all know that on a boat entropy has been turbocharged by the surrounding salt water.  Not only do we want a blue water cruiser, we also want that nice gin palace.  Yes, the venerable Compass 28 is so versatile that it can cover both roles.  And to be honest, having a nice looking boat, both inside and out, makes weekends away all the more enticing.  It’s not just the sailing but spending evenings in the cockpit watching sunsets etc that makes boating such a pleasure.

Okay, so it’s out with the scrapers and sanding machine and sort out that pesky toerail.  La Mouette’s new berth at Akuna Bay has the starboard side alongside the finger wharf, so access is more than easy, plus a power outlet nearby.  There are no more excuses.

I reckon that if we get two refurb jobs done for every upgrade job, things will progress quite nicely.  Not only that, refurb jobs such as the toerail, although work and time intensive, are quite cheap as we already have all the bits and pieces to do them.  Similarly with the fibreglass jobs.  I had a big spending spree on fibreglassing stuff when I did a stanchion base last year and bought quite a bit of stuff which should last a while.  The stanchion bases need some work and there are a lot of divots missing out of the gelcoat that need doing also.  Might have to buy a battery powered dremel but that’s about it.  That way we can take the boat out for a weekend and the jobs can be done at anchor or on a mooring ball just about anywhere.

Top of the hit list for the refurb jobs is the aforementioned toerail followed up by much needed maintenance work on the winches ie pull them apart, clean the bits and then re-assemble with new grease.  After these two jobs, an auxiliary switch panel with three switches that I have been working on can be installed.  Actually there is quite a bit of work involved in this.  I installed a new distribution panel a month ago as one of the fuse holders had broken.  The panel has only got six switches but we need more.  A galley pump and then some cooling fans will require two extra switches.  I have cut down the old distribution panel and bought three new switches and fuses to install into it.  After spray painting the new mini-panel and installing the switches and fuses it can be mounted next the existing panel.  However, this requires removing the wooden door where the current distribution panel and engine dashboard are sitting, and cutting out a new hole.  One of the laws of boating has it that if you start a job, it invariably leads to another job in order to finish the first which in turn will lead onto something else.  This is in fact happening with the mini-distribution panel.  After I enlarge the cut-out, I will have to re-locate the 12 volt power socket, but then there will be half a hole left right next to where the panel goes.  To fix this, I will need to buy a double 12 volt socket and butt it up beside the mini-panel, thus hiding the hole.  This in turn means extra wiring for the additional socket!  The timber on the door itself also needs revarnishing.  The laws of the universe are working as per usual.  But, by the time this is all finished we will be able to enjoy flowing water at the turn of a tap and deliciously cool air being wafted around by fans.  Suddenly all the work involved in refurbishing that toe rail looks nice and easy.

Using this philosophy, items such as the teak grab handles that I have got planned for around the inside of the saloon and on the companionway, will be done at a later date.  They are important and are totally necessary, but refurbishing sad and sorry existing items is much more important.

You may have noticed that I haven’t put up any pictures to go with this blog.  It’s all a bit philosophical and esoteric, this prioritising of boat maintenance projects, and it’s just as important as actually doing them.  I sometimes wonder if Neptune is laughing at us when we spend so much time doing maintenance and not enough time out there on the briny sea.  However, whilst we are tied up at the Marina, heads down and bums up in the bilge fixing things, Neptune can’t get us, but then we aren’t really being sailors are we?  Fixing things out at sea whilst wrestling with sea serpents and fighting off pirates truly makes us sailors.  But more about sea serpents, pirates and varnishing toe rails (with pictures) next time.

Oh Okay, here’s a picture … Dennis and myself about La Mouette

The Bay Run

The Bay Run

Since the last blog, La Mouette has had a change of address.  No longer a resident of Booker Bay, she is now happily berthed at Akuna Bay, a wee inlet off Coal and Candle Creek, one of the waterways that come off Cowan Creek.  It’s a flash marina and one of the D’Albora family of marinas – a big change from the previous marina.  It appears that La Mouette has had a few different homes in her past, Sydney Harbour, Pittwater and then Brisbane Water, and now Akuna.

Hopefully, the new marina will mean that we get out on the boat a lot more.  The biggest plus for Akuna Bay is that the water is really quiet.  No rip roaring currents and tides to contend with.  The high cliffs around the area shelter the bay from the wind and all in all, docking should now be a pleasant experience, not the heart in mouth stuff that it was at Booker Bay.  No more getting slammed into nearby boats as had happened a couple of times.  No more boats slamming into us, as had also happened on a few occasions.  No more coming down to the marina only to find a few more battle scars.  We had organised the berth several weeks before the actual move, and the fact that it took a week and a half to find a day with a suitable outgoing tide from Brisbane Water and favourable weather speaks volumes for the need to move.  The other major factor was the drive up to Booker Bay from Northmead.  On a good day it took an hour ten minutes.  On a bad day with heavy traffic on Pennant Hills Road and the motorway it could take an hour and a half.  The drive to Akuna Bay is now approximately 50 minutes, but it’s too early to tell whether this will be the average time or not.

We were going to move the boat on a Sunday, but the weather prediction was 30 knot winds from the South East and a big swell out on Broken Bay.  That would have made the navigation of the Brisbane Water Channel interesting to say the least.  The Wednesday after had a favourable tide and winds lightening up as the day went on.  We made the usual mad dash home on Tuesday night, threw our stuff in the car and headed out to the marina to spend the night aboard so we could get an early start in the morning.

The high tide was scheduled for 9:15 in the morning and we planned to sail at about 9:30, this would mean that the currents around the marina would be quiet, a good time to leave.  With everything rigged and stowed we left the marina for the last time.  It was the end of an era, old Keith, the previous owner had lived aboard at Booker Bay for a few years and we had been there a couple of years after that.  Booker Bay wasn’t a bad spot, but in this case, the grass was definitely greener in Akuna Bay.  The run past Hardy’s Bay and down the Brisbane Water Channel went well but we were extremely mindful of the recent reputation that had built up about the Channel as we approached Lobster Beach.  The local ferries had stopped running in this stretch of water over the last few weeks, as the channel was getting shallower.  La Mouette draws 4’ 2” and we should be OK on the high tide if we were careful in the channel.  Bearing in mind that the weather hadn’t been very good over the previous few days, we were wondering what awaited us in Broken Bay.  As we motored up past the dreaded Lobster Beach we stuck up the main sail in preparation for hitting the bar and out onto Broken Bay.  Having the main up would stabilise the boat in the swell, plus it was also a bit of an insurance policy should the motor die in an awkward spot.

Farewell to Booker Bay

Past Lobster Beach and Half Tide Rocks, we could see the last navigation marker and there were waves breaking on the bar – we would have to go through that!  It was upon us before we knew it, however, the venerable Compass took it in its stride.  The waves slowed us down but the engine and sail powered us on to the next wave and after half a dozen breakers, we were finally out of the channel and heading towards Lion Island.  There was quite a swell running and we debated the height.  Was it five metres or just three?  Either way, it was quite rolly but this stretch of water was always like this.

Crossing the bar at Box Head

Once past Lion Island and in its lee, we hoisted up the jib and set sail for Akuna Bay.  However, as exciting as it sounds to be free of the god of diesel and be under full sail, we still needed the motor.  The wind was flukey and not at all strong.  This was the first time that we had hoisted this particular jib, and it appeared that it wasn’t really suited for this boat.  We definitely didn’t like the cut of this jib.  Although the boat came with a complete set of sails: jib, storm jib, working jib and a genoa; none of them seemed to be really suited to our boat – and a furler with a new headsail abruptly moved up the list of things we needed.  After a quick sail change we were finally sailing and we had that magic moment when you switch the engine off.  Silence with just the sound of the water, waves and wind.  We sailed for probably an hour or so, and by the time we were level with Patonga it was time to switch the engine back on as the wind was dying and most of the time on the nose.

We motored the rest of the way, up past Refuge and America Bays; past Hallet’s Beach with a left hand turn at Cottage Point into Coal and Candle Creek.  We were nearing our new home.  A quick phone call to D’Albora before the phone reception died ensured they knew we were on our way and there would be someone there to greet us and catch our dock lines.  The last half hour of motoring was like going up a Norwegian fjiord.  This is a really beautiful part of the world, and although taking the boat out for a sail would involve a half hour motoring up Coal and Candle Creek each time, it was still a better option than the tricky Brisbane Water Channel.

Coal and Candle Creek

Before we knew it, we were at the marina and heading up the channel.  Berth B23, our new home was at the far end, but the water was calm, and so were our nerves.  This was our first time docking here so there would only be one attempt at getting the boat in the berth, no preliminary sweeps to check out the conditions, and no aborted attempts where you go back and try again.  It was one go and that was it.  As we turned the corner we could see Lars waiting for us on the finger berth and I headed towards him.  I had throttled back and we were just making weigh.  With about 20 yards to go, I put the gearbox in neutral and we drifted towards the berth.  Almost there, it was a hard to starboard on the tiller and then into reverse, our version of putting the handbrake on.  We got there in the end with a slight bump but with definitely no points awarded for style.  Nevermind, we were tied up and now it was the obligatory clean up and stowing away of stuff.  Somethings just don’t change.  We had done a car shuffle the night before so that we had transport home, but had one last trip back to Booker Bay to pick up our other car.

Approaching the channel at D’Albora Marina

A new era had begun.  Watch this space for further adventures of La Mouette and her crew.  But more of that next time.

First Time for Everything

First Time for Everything

After months of not being able to take La Mouette out sailing, actually it’s been over a year, we spent Easter out on the waterways of the Hawkesbury and Cowan.  As the title suggests there were a lot of firsts, however, everything pretty much went according to plan.  Except for a lack of wind, so the motor got a real workout, but that was OK as it’s the first real run the motor has had since the rebuild.  What added to the weekend was the wonderful weather, Easter can be cold, wet and windy, but it was almost summer, even out on the water in the evenings.

Thursday night was the usual mad rush of shopping, dropping the cats off and throwing everything in the car and heading up to the boat.  Internally, La Mouette still isn’t totally set up as the saloon cushions are still a work in progress but everything else was working.  In addition, we had our new Waeco fridge, very important for keeping the drinks cool.  It was wired in and tethered down.  The big question was how long would the power last with just the engine alternator to keep things charged – no solar as yet.

Actually, the whole weekend and the performance of all the new systems was a great unknown – the re-wire that I had done, including the voltage sensor relay, battery switches, fuses, distribution panel rewire etc etc all seemed to work beforehand, but hadn’t really been tested out in combat.  Especially, with everything being used in combination, motor, fridge, lights etc all going at the same time.  Would the system handle it OK or would boat explode in a mini mushroom cloud out on the water.  The engine rebuild was still untested, yes, we had run the motor (in gear) at the marina a few times, even had it serviced by the Lads at Minards Diesel, and even taken it out for a brief spin in the Bay (an aborted effort with lots of fumes etc) but it hadn’t gone for extended periods of time out on the waterways.  I must admit that I am always a bit paranoid when it comes to engines, constantly listening for any changes, listening for unusual noises, and fully convinced that it would stop, either with a big bang and grinding noises, or just simply die, leaving us at the mercy of the currents and wind.

Surprisingly, the electrics and the engine all performed superbly.  I really should have more confidence in my abilities, not to mention the abilities of Neil and James at Minards!  The engine just went and went and went.  Not even a hiccup.  Similarly, with the electrics.  Not an errant spark or anything.  At one stage, we did a night sail (under motor) with both battery switches on ON, motor going, lights going, fridge going and it all went fabulously.  If anything was going to go wrong a weekend like this would soon have any problems coming to the surface very quickly.

Things did go wrong, but not dramatically.  Going out through the Brisbane Water Channel was quite easy, no wind and a favourable tide, however once out of the channel and into Broken Bay and then past Lion Island, we were running against the current and our speed slowed down to an average of about 2 knots despite nearly full throttle.  Full throttle on the old design Yanmar single cylinders will have them blowing black smoke and lots of unburnt diesel.  Something was definitely not right – the earlier aborted run up to Paddy’s Channel a few months before had us going at 6 knots with the current and towing a dinghy.  Here we could barely make 2 knots.  Everything looked OK and the revs seemed fine – no tachometer, so it was all guess work, but the engine seemed to be performing adequately.  The only explanation could be a fouled propeller, barnacles, a plastic bag or something else.  We had hired a diver in December to clean the hull and prop, but in our marina with a fast warm current, it doesn’t take long for the barnacles to build up.  The long run was good for charging the batteries however.


Next day at Refuge Bay, I jumped over the side with a scraper and sure enough, there were barnacles on the prop.  I managed to clean one side before the knot on the lanyard came undone and the scraper went down to Davy Jones Locker.  It was a new one, and hopefully Neptune saw it as an offering, not litter.

Sunday saw La Mouette and her steadfast crew heading further up Cowan Creek to Waratah Bay and this time we were averaging 4 knots with the engine thumping away a steady speed.  At Waratah Bay, another prop cleaning session, this time with a new scraper and a face mask, and with a clean prop, the night run back to Refuge was brilliant. It was a beautiful clear, moonlit night.  I was really dreading the night sail as I had not taken the boat out at night, however, I imagined that it would be pitch black, but in fact it was quite clear.  Unfortunately, there was no wind, so it was the motor all the way.  Now I am quite looking forward to having a go at sailing at night.  The prop clean by the way made a big difference.


What I thought the night sail would be like


What the nightsail was actually like

Once back at Refuge Bay and rafted up to our friends Dennis and Anna, I had that dram of scotch that I had previously forgone because of the night sail.

The main reason for the night sail was that Waratah Bay is another hour or so up Cowan Creek from Refuge Bay.  Next day we wanted to catch the morning tide to get back to the marina, and to go from Waratah Bay would have meant a really, really, early start.  By going back to Refuge Bay meant that we could catch the morning tide at a more reasonable time.  As it was we left Refuge around 8:00 am and hit the marina at 10:00 am, right at the top of the tide.  We have found that high tide, or just after is the best time to try and dock in our marina, when the current is quiet.  Any other time is fraught with danger, and can be quite a traumatic experience.

Overall, for what was pretty much a shakedown cruise, everything went well.  Our provisioning was a wee bit disorganised which led to a messy saloon in the boat, but we coped with that.  If the boat hasn’t been used for a while we will need to check the growth on the prop.  The motor performed flawlessly; the electrics and batteries didn’t let us down and we had cold drinks all weekend.  We took the dinghy and outboard for a run which was basically its maiden voyage and explored the area around Refuge and America Bays and are quite happy with the money that we spent on the tender and it’s outboard.  These things are not cheap!

First real session with the rebuilt engine.  First time the electrics faced trial by battle.  First night sail.  First long run go with dinghy and outboard.  First time docking with no current!  All in all it was a successful weekend with no disasters – the only breakage was one of the chocolate Easter rabbits which got crushed during the passage across Broken Bay.  We were on a high for quite a long time after the weekend, even though we were totally knackered after.  Back at the marina, we had to clean and wash everything down.  But even that drudgery that didn’t dampen our spirits.

A successful weekend afloat was just what we needed to boost our motivation and get out there again.

Sailboat Care And Beautification

Sailboat Care And Beautification

Sometimes it’s really tough to sit down and write another blog especially when there is a bit of a gap since the last one. You would think that over a period of time there would be more to write about, however, sometimes the boatwork isn’t all that interesting and trying to write a scintillating blog about how you fixed the sink plug isn’t something that you can write very much about. In this case, a lot has happened since the last blog hit the ether. La Mouette has undergone some pretty dramatic changes over the last month or so. Paradoxically, the really big changes that have occurred over the last twelve months such as an engine rebuild and a lot of work to the hull are quite unnoticeable. Passers-by on the marina wharf wouldn’t notice that anything has happened, and a casual observer looking inside the hatch would see a few changes. The casual observer would notice that the carpeting on the hull inners have been replaced. There are now dishes in the dishrack – a brand new Corelle ware dinner set. There is a fridge on board. The wooden trim around the companion way hatch has a nice glossy finish of Cetol, as has the teak handrail on the cabin top. The wooden rub-rail on the starboard side is almost done – gone are the grey patches, to be replaced by that beautiful brown teak look from the Cetol. Back to the inside, and all the cushions have vanished, with the exception of the v-berth cushions which are still fairly new – I might add that this is only temporary as new cushions are not too far away. The old ones were removed as we thought that with new carpeting etc, it was counter productive keeping the old contaminated cushions aboard.  No more radios, although a new VHF unit will be fitted soon, as soon as a practical spot is found. All in all, La Mouette is starting to look quite nice, although lots more work needs to be done to get it to where we want it to be. Visual changes are one thing but possibly the biggest change noticeable is the smell. The very first time we stepped into La Mouette’s cabin, the first thing that hit us was the smell, a horrible cigarette smoke smell combined with salt and mould. We are glad to report that there is no more stale smoke/salt/mould smell. The new carpeting, plus the painting of a few lockers and the clean out in the engine compartment has totally transformed the boat. Hence removing the cushions – you can now notice the smell as you enter the garage! The smell hasn’t quite gone but been transported some 20 miles inland. At least it’s not on the boat anymore.

As usual, it’s the small easy fixes that have the most dramatic effects. Underneath the engine box sits an immaculately rebuilt engine, gleaming with its new paint work, but you would never know it. When you hit the starter button it still sounds the same, however, when you step though the companionway into the cabin and put your foot onto the step which is the top of the engine box, you immediately notice that there is a new piece of carpet there. Similarly, while sitting down at the dinette looking aft, you notice the new carpet and how dramatically it has changed the interior. Under the dinette the carpet has also been replaced with the same blue ribbed carpet that sits on top of the engine box


Added to this is the new hull carpeting in the dinette, and the boat has a whole new look and feel, and smell. The old hull carpeting was pretty gross to say the least. I am not sure if it was the original 40 year old carpeting, or if it has been replaced at some stage but it was pretty grungy – with lots of mould, cigarette smoke, salt and other assorted contaminates.

I would imagine that the cruising life style consists of the day time spent sailing, or exploring on the land, or even fixing things on the boat, whilst the nights would be spent inside. If it’s a rainy day, then most likely the days will be spent down below also. Therefore, having a nice homey interior is important. It stands to reason that a lot of boat work should be devoted to the beautification of the interior and trying to make it as attractive as possible.

Last week I took some leave to have a go at fibreglass repairs on the stanchions. The port forward stanchion had seen a bit of action in the past and the top screws had ripped right out of the fibreglass. A makeshift repair with silastic had been done but it was time to bite the bullet and get it fixed properly.

It was an interesting week and despite grand plans of fixing 4 stanchions plus a few other holes, it basically took the whole week to get just one of them done. We stayed on the boat for the most part, and although we were still in the marina, at night with the curtains closed, you could imagine that the boat was anchored off Refuge Bay!

The stanchion repair progressed from removing the stanchion and cleaning out the area, to grinding out the damaged areas and a few surrounding holes in the fibreglass.

Following on from the grinding was the actual laying in of polyester resin and chopped strand matting (CSM), then a bit of filler to get the area smooth.

Once I was happy with the repairs, the gelcoat was next. This was always going to be a problem due to the original gelcoat colour “Compass Beige”. I had a pot of cream tint from Whitworths, and in the tub mixed with the gelcoat, it seemed to look OK, but on application, it was different. I ended up gelcoating a large area as I was fixing up a few holes and divots as well as the stanchions. It took several goes to get it right but in the end I was happy, although there were still a few imperfections.

The last bit was the actual rebedding of the stanchion. This involved drilling and tapping new holes and sealing the holes once all was screwed in. If I may say so, it didn’t look half bad and more importantly, it was quite strong as well.

That’s one stanchion done and another 3 or 4 to go! Good job I bought a litre tin of polyester resin. But more of that next time.

Spring is Sprung

Spring is Sprung


Spring is sprung 
The grass is riz 
I wonder where the birdie is 
The birdie is upon the wing 
No, that's absurd 
The wing is on the little bird

So goes the famous rhyme – and it’s certainly spring here in Australia. We have gone from winter to summer in just a few days, although the ski fields in the Snowy Mountains are still experiencing the best season in over a decade.


Spring is sprung and the grass is riz. Whatever riz is. I wonder where the birdie is – this weekend boat chores includes a wash and a scrub and cleaning all the bird poo off the boat. It’s not too bad at our marina, although whilst the hose is out, we give the jetties a good hose off as the pelicans leave lots of deposits behind on the marina. No, we don’t wonder where the bird is/was – we know quite well! On the wing? Or on the boat, jetty or someone else’s boat. Our marina has lots of ducks but they just make a lot of noise. However, you do have to keep an eye out for them whilst driving around downtown Booker Bay as they stand around in the middle of the road a lot.

Spring brings that last flurry of boat maintenance, getting ready for a summer of navigating the waterways and exploring up the Hawkesbury and always being on the lookout for that perfect anchorage, sheltered without being crowded. Space and moorings at the famous Refuge Bay will be at a premium as the Riverias raft up, blaring their music and totally destroying the beauty that the place is famous for. “Refuse Bay” is the epithet that it is usually known by. However, it’s still a beautiful spot, famous for its waterfall and lovely ambience.



Sometimes we just don’t appreciate the beauty that can be found in our own back yard. We eagerly watch the Youtube sailing channels of the cruisers having their adventures in the Caribbean, South Pacific Islands, Pacific North West or the Mediterranean and gaze in awe at the beauty of these places, and then dutifully write them down on our wish list of places to visit, not realising that there are places just as beautiful and a lot more accessible in our own backyard, just a stone’s throw from Sydney.

We are definitely looking forward to exploring other bays up and down the Hawkesbury and Cowan Creek. It’s also a good time to practice our anchoring skills. One of the attractions with Refuge Bay and the nearby America Bay is that there are quite a few mooring balls, so it’s quite easy to quietly come in, grab the boat hook and grab a mooring ball. It also means you can have a few gin and tonics, as you don’t have to watch your blood alcohol level on moorings like you do at anchor. I think the Americans call it gunkholing. Exploring little bays and inlets. Also another good reason to have a smaller boat, rather than a 50 footer.

With the electrics all sorted, new batteries, rebuilt motor and a freshly varnished tiller (due to be installed this coming weekend) La Mouette is just about ready to leave her berth and go gunkholing, or gung ho sailing or whatever. Just laps up and down Brisbane Water will be good tonic for the soul and then back at the marina, we can enjoy the other sort of tonic, mixed with ice and gin. Docking our boat in its berth is not for the faint hearted. You have to pick the tides and currents as the current in the berth is quite fierce. The usual practice is to go in and have a scout around to see what the current is doing, and if too strong, pick up a mooring ball and wait for it to subside a bit. A gin and tonic is most definitely in order after the docking ordeal is over.

There are still a lot of jobs to get through, some important and some that can wait a bit longer. With summer almost upon us, we only have a short window period in which to do some of them before it’s too hot to apply paint or varnish, or spend extended periods down below doing stuff like replacing the carpeting.


The carpeting on the inside of the hull is old and mouldy and along with replacing the cushions, probably the single biggest improvement that can be made to the boat – getting rid of the remainder of the cigarette smells (which is pretty much gone now) as well as the mouldy, salty, dusty smells. A few of the lockers have been done with two coats of Bilgekote and it’s starting to make a real difference to the smell of the boat already. By the time all the lockers and the bilge have been painted, plus new cushions and carpeting as well as a bit of varnish on the woodwork here and there it, La Mouette will smell almost as new as those plastique fantasique boats that you have to take off your shoes to climb aboard at the boat shows. Although, the Admiral makes everyone take off their shoes to climb aboard La Mouette also.

Hopefully it should be a good summer, with lots of sailing and weekends at anchor before the season changes yet again to Autumn – a cooler time and more of those tricky boat jobs can be dealt with.


But more of that next time





Showboats at the Boat Show

Showboats at the Boat Show

It’s already halfway through August and I am wondering where the best part of this year has gone. It didn’t even make a sound as it whizzed by!  You would have thought that things whizzing would make a sound, but in the case of time, it doesn’t.  Half a century has been and gone and not even a flutter or a rustle.  The tide comes in and out, the length of skirts goes up and then back down.  Hairstyles also go up and then back down and the wheel of life goes round and round.  The bearings on that wheel must be well lubricated as it doesn’t emit even the slightest squeak.

August is when the Boatshow comes to Sydney. The calendars of boatie type people have the Boatshow weekend highlighted – and we are no exception.  It’s a day like no other.  It’s on this day of the year that we take our shoes off and off umpteen times while we clamber aboard the new boats and dream away about how fantastic our lives would be if we owned one of the luxurious cruising vessels.  Not just sail either, gorgeous stinkboats fitted out with every luxury imaginable and sometimes unimaginable.  Also unimaginable is how we could possibly afford one of these things.  One particular stinkboat with huge twin diesels had a fuel capacity of 5,800 litres.  Pulling up to the fuel wharf at the marina which charges approximately $2.00 per litre soon puts a different perspective on all this luxury.  Eleven thousand bucks just for fuel!

The boat show is definitely a day for dreams, but also a day of reality. After a lovely ride up the Parramatta river on the river cat all the way to Barangaroo, the morning was spent at the wharfs in Darling Harbour looking at actual boats and the afternoon was spent in the Exhibition Centre going around the stalls, looking at dinghies, fridges, winches, watermakers, radios, cameras, EPIRBS, anchors, furlers and all sorts of assorted boating bits and pieces.  It can get quite tiring, continually talking to sales people, asking questions, listening to their spiel.  Although it’s probably not as tiring for us as it is for them.  After all, they are working and they probably say the same thing hundreds of times that day to prospective customers.  As they day wears on, our bags become heavier as we collect books, pamphlets and other assorted sales brochures on the things we have been looking at.  Occasionally added to the growing pile of paper is the odd receipt and invoices of things that we have bought.  This year, our major purchase was a Waeco fridge.  A 28 litre four wheel drive type camping fridge.  We already have a 40 litre Engel for the Landrover, but that is just a bit too big for La Mouette.  The Waeco is smaller and less power hungry and will oneday be a permanent fixture on the boat.  It’s a big adventure as we are confirmed Engel-philes and are certainly venturing outside our comfort zone in purchasing a Waeco.  A few years back when we were doing the great Aussie outback tour, we saw a poster in a pub somewhere (I think it was at Cameron’s Corner) that said that Waeco was Swedish for warm beer.  I hope that poster was wrong!

A young guy called Ben talked to us about the virtues of Sirocco dinghies, as did another guy from Achilles dinghies. Although we didn’t buy one on the day, we later worked out which one would be good for us and now there is a Sirocco Airhull 220 sitting in our garage.  As with the Waeco decision, we rather surprised ourselves about the outcome.  Dinghies have been on our radar for some time.  Our current dinghy, La Petite Mouette aka “The Dinghy of Death” has proved itself to be very unstable and being the tender for a 28’ yacht, it’s a just a touch too big to store on the foredeck or cabin top whilst crossing Broken Bay.  Towing it across Broken Bay isn’t an option due to the swell.  It rows okay and I personally prefer a hard dinghy for that reason – not all that keen on having an outboard.  Consequently a folding dinghy such as one of those Porta-Botes looked like the perfect solution.  An expensive solution but a good one nonetheless.  Quite a few of the Youtube sailing channels use them which tends to confirm our beliefs.  However, we now own a rubber dinghy and will most likely get an outboard as they are difficult to row.  I don’t know how difficult yet, but will find out in the next week or so when we take it out and christen it.  So, we now have to find somewhere that isn’t in the cabin to stow petrol.  That boat with the 5,000 litre fuel tank is starting to look more practical.  However, we can clamp the outboard to the pushpit railing and deflate the dinghy and store it down below for the bay crossing.  It will work out in the end.  But best of all, it won’t tip me out when I reach out to grab the wharf – it was that unstable!

By sunset on Sunday, our feet were well and truly weary, as was our brains from being continually bombarded by bits of information from enthusiastic sales people, all of whom were really nice people and easy to listen to and talk to. That makes a big difference.  Nothing is worse than pushy sales people who just want to make a buck out of you.  We ventured out in the morning with our list of things that we wanted to have a look at and for future projects on La Mouette.  Things like a dodger, solar panel arch, mainsail boom bag and yet, for some strange reason, the people that make these things didn’t have representatives at the Boat Show.  I wonder if it’s like this in other countries.  Very strange.

After a day of dreaming about boats and all the nice things that we can fit into La Mouette, it’s back to the reality of the refit – for that’s what it has become. No good beating about the bush, the boat has not left it’s berth for over a year, except to get slipped and that was only 50 feet away.  In anybody’s language, an engine rebuild, extensive hull repairs and an electrical system overhaul is a refit.  Hopefully , there is light at the end of tunnel and hopefully that light will be on top of the mast and brightly lit so that we can find our way back in the evening after a brief sojourn ashore in La Petite Mouette deux.

But more about that next time.

Time and Tide

Time and Tide

It’s been a while since the last blog – sorry about that. Time has been doing what it’s best at, and that is slipping away. They say time stands still for no man, or is it time and tide wait for no man.  Very appropriate for a sailor.  Robert Frost had a version also, “Time and Tide wait for no man but always stands still for a woman of 30”.  Someone should write down a list of those Murphy type laws which apply to sailboats and their owners.  Time and tide will be there somewhere, but the one that is particularly relevant at the moment is that when you start fixing something, it will inevitably lead to the need to fix something else – the “while you are there syndrome”.  Whilst the engine is out of the boat I might as well clean and paint the engine bay.  Whilst I have a nice clean engine bay , it wouldn’t be a bad idea to replace the bilge hoses as they are looking a bit manky.  The pump end of the manual bilge pump hose, the bit that goes down into the bilge needs to be sorted so that it’s in the best spot to suck up any water.  Etc etc and so on and so forth.

What turned into simply replacing the batteries, has now become a major project. The wiring on La Mouette is a bit of a rat’s nest and desperately needs sorting.  I have decided to replace everything from the batteries up to and including the distribution panel.  As the new batteries are a lot bigger than the old ones, it necessitated building a new tray for them.  Attached to the new tray is a new negative bus bar, a fuse block for the distribution panel feed and a permanently live auxiliary bus bar for things such as the bilge pump and head.  Keith, the prior owner, had the head macerator power supply wired straight to a battery, as was the bilge pump (unfused!).  Not too sure if it should go through the distribution panel, or straight to a live power source, but I have decided to wire it up that way again.  It shouldn’t cause any voltage loss when the boat is unattended, and as I am going to install a small solar panel to top up the batteries during the week, it shouldn’t matter.

Old battery tray

Okay, so I made up a new battery tray out of an old television cabinet. Yes, I know that you are supposed to use marine ply, but I used Tasmanian Oak for the runners around the edge and once together and it fitted correctly, I put on four coats of epoxy resin sealer and then two coats of varnish.  I was originally going to paint it with white paint, but it looked pretty good with the sealer on, so I decided to varnish it instead.  It’s still the pale wood colour, and maybe I should have stained it, but hey, it’s a battery tray and is stuck down in the port quarter berth locker.  I quite like the wood look as it breaks up the stark whiteness of the fibreglass.

New battery tray in situ

The dramatic departure from the original wiring setup is going to be two separate battery isolation switches along with a Voltage Sensor Relay so that the solar panel and engine will charge the start battery first, and then the house battery second. Previously, it was the old One/Two/Off/Both combination switch.  I had been using it on the “Both” setting when starting the engine and motoring around and switching it to “Two” on the house battery setting when moored or anchored.  I have since learned that starting the engine on “both” is not acceptable practice and will shorten the batty lifespan.  Going through the Mouette folder, I discovered that the previous batteries had been purchased around 2008.  So that is almost 10 years, not a bad life span actually.

The other major departure is having fuses for all the major circuits, which was severely lacking, plus a negative bus bar, or common ground.

As I type, the VSR and the three switch system is currently in the mail and heading in my direction and I hope to get them installed this coming weekend.   It’s been a long road in coming to understanding how boat electrics actually hang together.  There was no light bulb moment, but just a long slow process of gradually coming to understand it all.  Still not there by a long shot but I am finding that different people have different philosophies on how to do it.

I have found that it’s absolutely essential to have your wiring diagram and follow that. I have drawn up a few of them by now and getting quite good at it.  Still haven’t got my final diagram, but when I do, I will have on it on the dinette table in front of me, a set of crimpers in one hand and a highlighter in the other and off I go, crimping and connecting  wires from point A to point B, and then highlighting it on my diagram.  It’s worked fairly well so far, but have discovered one of those other laws of boating in the process.  Any job that is scheduled to take a certain amount of time, double that time and it will be getting close to how long it will actually take to do it.  Just measuring out your piece of wire and working out its route, crimping on the connectors, heat shrinking the heat shrink protectors and then installing the wire takes a lot longer than I imagined.  That’s just one wire!

By the next post, I hope to have actually started the engine using the new wiring and be able to read my Nigel Calder book by the glow of the cabin lights and plan what the next project will be. Hopefully, fingers crossed, and deity willing, I can do those planning sessions sitting at anchor in a quiet bay somewhere up the Hawkesbury, and not stuck at the berth in the marina.

But more of that next time.

What Maintenance Really Costs

What Maintenance Really Costs

One of the boating rules of thumb that I keep coming across in my travels around the internet and YouTube is that your maintenance bill generally works out as a percentage of the cost price of the vessel. For example, if you paid $50,000 for your yacht, then the maintenance bill, averaged out over a few years will work out as a percentage of that $50,000.   Not too sure what the actual percentage is supposed to be, but I would imagine that it can vary.  Depending upon the age of the vessel, how much it cost in the first place and how much maintenance is actually done.  I once knew someone who stated that their maintenance costs on their car were $0.  That’s right, zero!  But, we argued, you need to change the oil and buy tyres etc.  Nope he said, I don’t spend a cent, doesn’t matter if it needs oil or not, I just don’t spend money on it!   That’s a pretty good philosophy; however, it may leave you stranded by the side of the road at some stage.  If you used that philosophy on your yacht, it’s a recipe for disaster.  Not to mention, that the yacht will undoubtedly have a say in that – and just when you don’t want it to happen, a vital piece of equipment will fail and you will be forced to spend money.

Apparently the maintenance percentage is pretty accurate – you might go for a couple of years with just minor stuff and then spend a few bucket loads of money fixing the big ticket items which will balance out over a long period of time. Bigger and more expensive boats will definitely have a higher maintenance bill that smaller and cheaper vessels.

Having said of all this, La Mouette doesn’t seem to fit into this equation. We originally purchased the boat quite cheaply as it was a deceased estate, and although it wasn’t in too bad a condition, we didn’t think we were going to spend anywhere near the amount that we have so far to date.  It would be fair to say that La Mouette is slowly undergoing a complete refit and overhaul.  So far she has had a new mast and rigging, engine rebuild and is just back in the water after some extensive work done to the hull.  Thirty or forty years of antifoul were removed, the blisters ground out (31 of them) and re-glassed plus a few other items such as a through hull fitting, and new boot stripe.  To date, we have spent more on these items than the original purchase price of the boat, quite a lot more in fact.  Even allowing for the mast to be replaced under insurance, the amount of money that we have had to fork out is considerably more than double the original purchase price of the boat.  There are still a lot of big ticket items to go, such as dodger, solar arch, boom bag, roller furling, new anchor and winches just to start the list off.  At the end of the day, we will have spent way more than what the boat is actually worth, and definitely way more than can be recouped by selling the vessel at market price, however, we will have a really nice seaworthy boat.   A lot of people say that it’s cheaper to buy a well-equipped boat in the first place as someone has already spent this money, but I somehow think that whatever condition it’s in, it will still require some work and refitting to be done.  Even brand new boats still need stuff done to them, especially if you want to go offshore.  Granted that you won’t have to spend a small fortune in refitting the vessel, certainly not approaching the cost price, but you would end up spending a few thousand at the very least.

Sometime in the future, when the spending spree has subsided somewhat, and La Mouette is looking brand new, both inside and out, we will have a very nice boat. It won’t be worth what we spent on it, but if we don’t plan on selling it anytime soon, then it won’t matter.  However, it raises the question, that if we anchor off some secluded cove and sit back in the cockpit enjoying our sundowners after a nice day’s sailing, how much will that weekend really cost?  Would it be cheaper to fly first class to a resort on the Queensland coast and spend the night drinking Moet Chandon than to spend a night at anchor drinking gin bought from Aldi and eating baked beans on toast?  I don’t think I will do the calcs on this as I might not like the answer!

In the meantime the work continues. La Mouette is now back in the water and my current project is installing new batteries.  As the new batteries are a higher amp hour output than the old ones, they are also quite a bit bigger, so the battery compartment needs modifying.  On La Mouette, the battery compartment is in the port quarter berth and the batteries sit on a plywood platform.  I have removed the old batteries and the plywood.  Underneath the plywood was a lot of filth and black sludge, plus a few washers and nuts that had fallen in over the years.  The whole berth was cleaned out and so far I have put in one coat of Bilgekote which has made a huge difference.  The battery project should be completed soon and then it’s onto the next job.  But more of that next time.





The Wonderful World Of Electrickery

The Wonderful World Of Electrickery

As soon as one major project is finished, the next one is champing at the bit to get started, or recommenced, or finished, or something. We have known for some time that the batteries were just about dead.  The main house battery hasn’t been holding a charge for some time and the smaller starting battery is probably near the end of its life also.  The designations for which battery is the house and which is the starter are purely mine.  Old Keith, the previous owner is no longer around and has gone off on the great eternal cruise, so apart from whipping out the Ouija board, there is no way of knowing what he had in mind when he began modifying the electrical system on The Gull.  I believe it was Keith that put the dual battery system in, as well as upgrading the lights to LED.  The folder that we inherited when we first took ownership of the boat tells the story of the last couple of decades of La Mouette.  It is full of receipts and instruction books, surveys and sales brochures.  It is a very interesting read indeed, and from reading between the lines, and a close examination of purchases, much can be revealed.  For instance, the rust in the gearbox we encountered was due to salt water ingress and we have discovered receipts where the gearbox was repeatedly flushed to get all the salt water out.  We still have no idea how it got in there in the first place but there are lots of blanks that we would desperately love to have filled in.  The sales brochure from a boat broker that is about 10 years old plus various survey pictures show us a slightly different boat to the one I am currently the owner of.  It’s not that dissimilar, but there are lots of little differences, mainly cosmetic, but the distribution panel is different, as are the curtains, cushion covers.  Telling the story of some overhauls by Keith.

Ten years, however, is a long time in boat years, so it’s not really surprising that it’s now time for a major refit of all of The Gull’s systems. The rigging and mast have been done, the engine has just been overhauled and now it’s time for the electrical system.  At this stage everything is pretty much an open book – do I completely strip every last wire, switch, relay and fuse out of the boat and begin from scratch with a new system, or do I break it down into sections and replace them one at t a time?  What electronic gizmos do I want to incorporate in this brave new world, or is it just the same system as before but newer?  Well solar charging is definitely on the agenda as is a stereo system.  I have a portable blue tooth speaker box, and it pumps out great sound but the battery only lasts a half hour before it needs recharging.  Music is important, so I think a stereo, probably with Bluetooth, and decent speakers are definitely on the agenda.  New radios are also on the list as is a new distribution panel.  The old one is one of those cheap rocker switch types you see in the chain chandleries for about $35.  The other big question is do I do it myself or pay someone of unknown quantity or quality to do it for me?

Truth be known, I am not an expert on electrics. The wiring diagrams that I have been looking at are very abstract and no doubt that people more experienced in electrical matters than I can read them very well.  I am also struggling with a lot of stuff such as bus bars and where do you put them,   I do have the wonderful Nigel Calder book on Boat Maintenance, plus a few other books on refitting marine electrical systems but they all seem very confusing.  Hours and hours of research are paying dividends bluand some of the fog is clearing but it’s a long and winding road.  I have learnt a lot of things however, which leads me even more in the direction of a total rewire.  For instance, the main power feed to the distribution panel comes from the engine ignition switch.  Yes, that’s right, there is a red wire coming from one of the ignition terminals up to the panel when it should be coming from the battery switch and have a fuse somewhere along the wire.

I have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of fuses. The automatic bilge pump was connected straight to the battery with no fuse.  I installed an inline fuse early in the piece.  It seems to be a common feature of boat ownership in that you spend a lot of time and resources fixing up dodgy repair work from previous owners.  I would guess that the reason why a  lot of people end up with DIY electrics (and a lot of other stuff) is because the boating industry is so expensive.  Maybe if goods and services were a bit cheaper, and more reliable and trustworthy, then boat owners would make more use of professionals – and they wouldn’t have to charge as much.  But this is fairy tale stuff – like living happily ever after!

The basic theory in the coming electrical refit is to keep everything as simple as possible. Not too many complex systems.  There will be interior lighting of course, the outside boaty type lights, radios and of course engine electrics.  A solar charging system and a few nav instruments and that’s about it.  We will probably get a fridge one day, so provision for a few other items will be built into the system.  The major change that is planned is to create an electronics station just above the port quarter berth.  I will make up a wooden panel where the new distribution switch, radios, stereo, 12 volt outlets etc will go.  The engine dashboard will remain in the port inside companion way bulkhead where it is and possibly a couple of engine gauges. The system will be totally DC of course – shore power currently consists of an extension lead and a power board.  It will stay this way – no shore power when you are on the hook or on the mooring.  It’s only at marinas you have access to shore power, so we don’t really believe that a complete electrical system is really justified for those odd occasions.  Besides “off the grid” means “off the grid”.  The only thing holding us to the dock should be the mooring lines.  Certainly not power cables.

Like most plans and projects, things will change and evolve somewhat – “oh look at the shiny thing – we must get one for the boat”! Lin and Larry Pardey didn’t have electrics in their boats and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.





Starboard and Larboard

Starboard and Larboard

It’s so easy to get carried away with technology and to enhance your lifestyle with whizz bang gimmickry. We are all suckers for the latest gadgets that promise to revolutionise our hobby/lifestyle, or at least take a little bit of the drudgery and hard work out of things.  Yachts certainly fall into this category.  Which is a good reason for not going to boat shows.  Boat shows are definitely dangerous places for the unwary and you can get suckered into buying all sorts of stuff, whether you actually need them or not.  In most cases, you probably don’t need them.

You go to the boat show with a note book and a few ideas and end up with a skip load of brochures, or even worse, invoices! Loading up the boat with the latest electronics and the must-haves that we are told we need.  However, look at it this way.  What do we enjoy most about sailing and cruising – it’s actually sailing the boat, isn’t it.  Once the sails are up and are catching the wind with the boat moving through the water, we start to enjoy the magic of sailing.  Then we get to our destination, pick up the mooring ball or drop the anchor, and after a tidy up, it’s time to enjoy that gin and tonic in the cockpit watching the sun go down.  Enjoying a home cooked meal – either warmed up or cooked from scratch then it’s relaxing in the evening playing board games, or just chatting in a moonlit cockpit under a starry canopy, or the glow of a kerosene lamp in the saloon.  How can a spending spree at the boat show possibly improve on these magical moments?  The truth is that it can’t.  Magical moments are certainly not dependent on gadgets, technology, things or stuff.  Technology certainly can’t do anything for the less than magical moments such as washing dirty dishes, changing the oil, following a bit of wire through the boat trying to find where the electricity is leaking out, or trying find where the water is leaking in.  No matter how many stretch marks you put on your credit card, you won’t lessen the drudgery that is boat maintenance and cleaning.  We are conditioned into being good consumers – it’s part of the world we live in. Well maybe an ice maker will enhance that magical cockpit experience by speeding up your gin and tonic and getting you into the glow of the sunset sooner – and whilst you are relaxing you can remotely programme your favourite sunset musical selection to add that necessary enhancement to the evening while  you rest your gin and tonic on a special, purpose built cockpit table and cut up your cheese with a special marine grade cheese knife.  Stop!  It’s a boat, not a home theatre with massage chairs, aerated foot spas and mood lighting.  Didn’t we buy the boat to get away from everything, not take it with us?  Isn’t that why camping is so appealing, getting out in nature and enjoying a simpler way of doing things?  Ok, so a live-aboard boat isn’t supposed to be as primitive as camping, but it doesn’t have to be complex either.  A simpler existence means less expenses and less things to go wrong.  There are plenty of those on a boat as it is!

There seems to be two distinct species of boater out there living and cruising in their sailboats. On one end of the spectrum are those that go for simplicity, the marinarus simplisticus.  No complex systems or galley appliances for these people.  A cheaper outfit with less things to go wrong.  It usually involves a smaller boat which is invariably usually an older boat.  Their whole philosophy is to leave a smaller footprint

On the other side of the coin is marinarus complexicus.  All the stuff you have spent years collecting in your house must necessarily come with you when you go sailing.  How else are you going to survive out there?  Fridge, freezer, washing machine, popcorn maker, plasma TV etc etc  all totally essential items for life.  There is no possible way that you could ever contemplate doing without them.  The boat must be big enough to accommodate all these items and more. Goodness knows how some of these people even leave the shore in the first place.  The truth is that most don’t.  The live-aboard life, or the cruising life is not for them and they are condemned to the oversized MacMansions in those brick venereal wastelands called the suburbs.  A few may eventually become grey nomads and buy a Winnebago, but the vast majority won’t leave their couches and plasma screens.  However, a few do leave land and go back to the water.  Just like our distant ancestors who gave up the security of the ocean, evolved legs and walked ashore all those millions of years ago.

Both species enjoys the outdoors, scenic waterways and life afloat, but both have totally different philosophies about how it’s done.

The big problem of course, is that after decades of collecting “stuff”, what do you do with it when you move aboard. Three quarters of it is mass produced consumer items with built-in planned obsolescence.  That stuff won’t be a bother because by the time we are ready to move aboard  it will have reached the end of its short lifespan and be knackered.  It will go out on the footpath ready for collection by the rubbish collectors.  That leaves all those precious items, books, heirlooms, presents and stuff handed down from previous generations, such as Grandma’s vase and Dad’s war medals.  What do we do with this stuff?  Can’t throw it out and can’t take it with us.  Big conundrum .  A very big conundrum indeed.  It will take a while to work out.