We tried to go to the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, RI, but it just didn’t work out.
Got the dinghy set up for a sail and set off in a brisk, beating wind. We quickly realized that the current was against us in a big way. Tinker is sailing to windward better than ever before, but it doesn’t matter how high we can point into the wind if we aren’t sailing faster than the tide is going out. The tide was sucking us right into the Mount Hope Bridge channel and the wakes of dozens of inconsiderate “pleasure” boaters stopped our progress again and again.
Decidedly not the way we wanted to start the day.
After two hours of trying everything to make windward (including striking the sailing rig and rowing along the shore), we still only made a direct line from the boat across the bay. That was when we got our first indication of how off we were. James felt like he was being misunderstood and Dena felt like nothing made sense.
We weren’t making shit happen like we are used to doing.
Turning back to the boat, we consigned the museum to an unlikely later trip back to the area. Making directly across the channel wouldn’t get us to the boat – we still had to beat into the wind, pointing far up the shore from the boat, in order for our lee to carry us down to the boat.
Strangely enough, that went perfectly.
The frustration was too strong, though. I (Dena) retreated to the forepeak with my smartphone and Kindle app to read Treasure Island. I (James) read my book for a while, but ultimately fell asleep.
When we started to stir again, just before noon, we decided it would be a good day for some much-needed projects. When everything seems to be going wrong, sometimes you can power through the day and then just sleep it off. On this boat, the “powering through” mindset can be dangerous. Whatever the states of mind that led us to feeling such emotions, we would be bringing them with us into a narrow channel with strong winds and currents and we have to have better control than that.
It’s a bit like calling in sick for mental health reasons.
We broke out the tools and set up our priorities. First, we shipped the dinghy for our upcoming offshore trip to Cuttyhunk Island. We don’t plan to go ashore before Onset (or wherever we wait for the right tide to go through the Cape Cod Canal). That project went surprisingly well, again.
Then we went to work on our solar panel setup, which we’d noticed wasn’t producing as much as it should be. We wanted to move the panel back onto the keel of the dinghy and lash it down properly as well. I (James) removed the deck fitting for the solar panel electrical feed wires and discovered that it was completely encased in green and white corrosion. I took the fitting apart and cussed a lot while cleaning and reassembling it. Upon further inspection, I discovered more corrosion at the junction where the wires meet the panel. I cut back the wires until I could find some uncorroded copper strands and reconnected them. The voltage tested at a fluctuating 20 volts, which isn’t supposed to happen but I decided to hook the panel back into the system anyway. Immediately, it started producing 2-3 times what it was producing prior to my repair.
While I was doing that, Dena suited up and jumped in the water for the setup of the Aries windvane self-steering gear that has been on the boat for 4 years but has remained untested. Our Tiller Pilot is a piston style auto-helm that drives the tiller in a linear fashion – it moves in and out in response to changes in direction of its internal fluxgate compass. Those movements are translated to the tiller via a pin installed on an aluminum bracket and the whole system works just fine.
A windvane self-steering system uses wind and water power to steer the boat, but the Tiller Pilot draws electricity from the batteries. Now that we’ve stopped keeping the fridge cold all the time, it is our biggest power draw. If you’ve heard us talk about our boat, you’ve probably heard us talk about keeping our power systems small and simple.
Also, windvanes steer to wind direction rather than compass direction, so they keep the sails full more effectively.
When these systems work properly, they drive the boat better than a professional helmsman can over the course of hours. A person might do somewhat better in the short term, but human attention wanders and windvanes never hesitate. Our Monitor windvane drove us to Hawaii from the San Francisco Bay and we never tired of watching the simple elegance and utter efficiency of that mechanical helmsman.
I (Dena) pulled the control lines out of the bottom after James fed them to me and tied them to the servo-rudder spindle. Tying knots above my head while treading water is strenuous, but I used the ever-lovely bowline, which I can tie in my sleep. Next, I put the serv0-rudder in place, liberally coating the stainless/aluminum interfaces with Lanacote. Still while treading water.
The rudder is supposed to swing back and forth, but also twist. It was swinging just fine, but very stiff on the twist part. I figured there was no diagnosing the problem from the water and climbed back on the boat.
The whole system was so stiff that we broke out the dry spray lube and coated all the moving parts. It loosened up some, but not enough to respond properly to the wind. I went to the internet and discovered the parts that are the usual suspects in an Aries that begins to freeze up. It’s the roller bearings just below the vane section and the servo-rudder spindle tube itself within its housing.
Back to lubing and moving the parts, I was able to get the vane section to move perfectly well, but the spindle, though certainly not seized up altogether, never worked its way loose enough to turn effortlessly. A light wind should be enough to turn it, and it takes a pretty good push.
This four hour project ended with us disassembling the entire thing and stowing the parts so we wouldn’t have to see it again for the rest of this trip. We will either buy a very expensive rebuilt kit or sell the Aries and put that money toward a Monitor. We know and love the Monitor, so that’s the way we’re leaning.
This only added to the frustration, the strange and unusual tension we both felt. We were that much more certain that we’d made the right decision not to head off. A bad day at anchor is far less dangerous than a bad day at sea.
In sum, we achieved an important improvement in our solar charging system and a very strong lashing system on the solar panel and dinghy. We aren’t worried about a replay of the solar panel breaking loose. In the negative terms that express our feelings yesterday…at least we didn’t break anything.
Today is a new day.