Off Day, Day Off

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.



  1. The number one binding spot with the Aries is the stainless servo shaft passing through the two shaft bearings due to salt and air expansion. But I have found another spot at the lower end of the link piece (swivel) that sort of looks like a turnbuckle. If we find you again we shall check it out. Once she is free from binds it is a great unit and has no s/s welds to fail. There is a rocker test to try at anchor to make sure all is well. But it(we call ours Popeye) demands to be used. As they say… men (peoples to be correct these days) and ships and yes even windvanes rot in port without use. LOL

  2. Well there’s the bad dream, that sucked. What a mess! I was rooting for you after your description of the windvane, what steampunk magic that gadget is. And mighty ups on your power sucker, you earned the boost.

    Two things:
    > I’m noticing how your sensible prudence is a theme, and how you allow it to follow an experience-informed intuition. If that’s your internal autohelm, it makes me less scared you’re going to be lost under the sea. Thanks for walking me through step by step. I bet I’m not your only learner.

    > I do love it when you talk knots.

    Cheers, New Day.

  3. …And what a beautiful day it was! We sailed all the way down the Narragansett Bay today and it was an incredible ride that was indeed well worth the wait.
    One day, September 1st of 2001 actually, We were making-ready S/V Sovereign Nation for another unforgettable off shore adventure from Newport, OR. to Eureka, CA. We were, both of us, definitely off our game, we both knew it but we kept on working as if we were really going to do it, as if we were really going to take our 27 ton wooden sailing vessel out into the Northern Pacific Ocean without being absolutely sure of ourselves and our abilities to cope with the extremes of that environment. We started the engine, put on our foul weather gear on and were about to toss off the lines when Dena said to me, “I have a bad feeling about this.” I quickly said back, “me too!” We both smiled and made the first and only amendment to our wedding promises to each other, we promised to never undertake and adventure even if one of us even felt there was a chance it could go wrong in anyway. We didn’t go sailing that day, instead, we walked 10 miles to take pictures of a lighthouse, and what an incredible adventure that turned out to be, but hey, that’s another story…

  4. Do not miss the Herreshoff Museum. You probably may dock your big boat there for a few hours. I have been there 2 times.


  5. Hey thanks Heinz, but, we never got into the town of Bristol, RI. Being the son of a Herresoff man the museum was very high on our must-do-if-at-all-possible list but alas, we went there in the absolute worst time of year… Everything was going against us. The wind, the tide, the psyco-4th-of-July’ers in their evil power-boats, they all totally turned us off from ever getting within a mile of that little town.
    Now we’re in Buzzards Bay, MA. and won’t be going back that way again.

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