Monthly Archives: February 2015

Cleaning the Boat & Climbing the Mast

Now that we have the boat in Seattle, there are lots of cleaning projects to work on. We’re discovering new ways to contort arms + legs to get into narrow cubby spaces and lockers.

It’s amazing how much stuff accumulates in the corners of a boat – some of the surfaces we’re cleaning probably haven’t been touched in 10 years. It’s a 30 year old boat, so we’re also discovering stuff from the 90’s – old manuals for equipment that was purchased, invoices, etc. It’s interesting seeing some of the old sailing equipment ads, and tracing the history of the boat.

The canvas for the dodger, bimini, sail cover, and wheel cover probably hadn’t been cleaned in 4 years, and the deck stanchions had 4 years worth of dirt / moss accumulated around them. So those items were first on the cleaning list.

Canvas after cleaning and waterproofing

Canvas after cleaning and waterproofing

Dirty canvas on the dodger

Dirty canvas on the dodger

We cleaned the canvas by soaking in a solution of about 1 cup bleach, 1/4 cup dish soap, and 3-4 gallons of water. Then we treated it with 303 Fabric Guard, which is a waterproofing and protective solution.

Bleach water after canvas cleaning

Bleach water after canvas cleaning

I pumped out and cleaned the bilge – the boat has a dry bilge now for probably the first time in quite a while! And topped up the batteries which the surveyor had said needed water.

Bilge Before Picture (and this is the least dirty and shallowest of the 3 bilge compartments!)

Bilge Before Picture (and this is the least dirty and shallowest of the 3 bilge compartments!)

Bilge After Photo - Clean and dry!

Bilge After Photo – Clean and dry!

Watering the batteries

Watering the batteries

Going up the Mast

I also went up the mast, which is my first time doing that on any boat. It was a lot harder than I expected!

I used ascenders (climbing equipment that allows you to ascend a rope unaided) because we had found previously it was too hard for Natalie to winch me up.

ascenders

It was super tiring! Basically you inchworm up, moving 2 feet at a time, doing probably about 50 squats in total. But at the same time you’re trying to deal with the ascenders (not jam them) and avoid swinging into things protruding from the mast.

It was also scary. I didn’t expect this since I’ve climbed indoors a lot and outdoors a bit (mountaineering, a few rock and glacier summits) and heights don’t scare me normally. I think with climbing a mast it was different because you have no wall to grab on to – just a smooth aluminum mast – and if you fall, you’re likely to hit a spreader or impale your crotch upon the boom.

Fixing the Head

The next weekend Natalie and I worked on fixing the head (marine toilet). On the trip down from Canada it had clogged or something – the pump was very difficult to operate. We figured this was going to be a messy job and we might have to remove sanitation lines to clear a calcium build-up or other blockage. However, I realized the Y valve which controls where the discharge goes was set to overboard discharge. And the seacock for that line was set closed (as it should be, since discharging overboard is illegal close to land). So the pump was hard to operate because we were building up pressure in a line that had no where to go!

This ended up being the easiest head fix job ever.

Tight spaces getting at the seacocks

Tight spaces getting at the seacocks

Passage from Canada to Seattle

After our mishaps in Customs, we took off from Point Roberts as soon as possible (about 11:15am, right after the Customs officer released us) so we’d have time to make Friday Harbor comfortably before dark. There was a fairly strong 15-20 knot north wind, so that would make for some fun sailing.

As soon as we got out of the marina, the waters were pretty rough – there were 2-3 foot waves, with kind of two wave trains converging – mostly NW but some NE. This made motoring pretty uncomfortable – the boat was rolling whenever the stern quarter got hit by a larger wave. So we worked on getting the sails up asap – but this was our first time sailing the boat together, and we had forgotten to prep the deck before leaving dock.

Lone Star has an inner forestay, two aft checkstays, and several halyards that need to be moved out of the way of the sails. Natalie and Jeremy had to do this while the boat rolled as I steered, trying to keep us from being knocked about too much. Compared to the J/35c’s I’m used to, the LF38 seemed to roll more, but pitch less. Once we had the sails up, things were much calmer.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a dream.

Passing south into the San Juans, the waters looked like a vision out of a dream.

We literally couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It was sunny every day, and we had north winds following us for parts of every day. Temperatures were in the 50’s during the day, and the sun meant we weren’t cold even though it’s February.

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The boat was super fun to sail. Easy to get moving in light wind, and easily handled in a variety of wind conditions. We were really happy that this trip confirmed we had made the right choice.

In Friday Harbor on Saturday (Valentine’s Day), we had dinner and drinks at Haley’s Bait Shop, which was slammed due to the holiday weekend and nice weather, but had Bale Breaker IPA on tap.

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Sunset at Port Ludlow marina.

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Happy hour on the boat at Port Ludlow.

The first (and only) problem of the trip came in Port Ludlow, in the morning of the last day when we were about to depart the marina. Upon starting the engine, the exhaust wasn’t spitting out any water – which could cause the engine to overheat and us to be stuck in Port Ludlow if we couldn’t fix it.

So we checked the raw water filter. Sure enough, it had a fair amount of grass and gunk in it, along with what looked like a green paint ball the size of a grape! I don’t know what a clump of green paint was doing in the marina, but it probably blocked the intake enough (from within the strainer basket) that water couldn’t get through.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

Going through the Ballard Locks.

The last day (Monday) we managed to sail all the way back to Seattle with almost no engine use (just to leave the marina, and for a few minutes when we got stuck in the calm south of Whidbey Island).

We made it through the Ballard Locks without issue, and excitedly motored into Seattle, docking the boat at her new home in Fisherman’s Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman's Terminal.

Sunset at Fisherman’s Terminal.

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Stuck in Customs

Friday we went up to Point Roberts for the start of Project Liberate our Boat from Canada that I mentioned previously. What follows is the story of how our boat got detained (in “jail”) by U.S. customs for 18 hours.

It was our own real-life version of The Terminal, the movie where Tom Hanks gets trapped by bureaucracy in JFK Airport.

The Drive Up to Point Roberts

Our friends Griffin and Jessie were nice enough to give Natalie, myself, and Jeremy (who came to help crew) a ride up on their way to Whistler. On the drive up the first premonitions of trouble came as the delivery skipper texted me saying he had arrived but customs was saying they needed three forms and wouldn’t come down to the customs dock to meet him (as mentioned, the broker and Anacortes Documentation Services had said the hired delivery to the U.S. was necessary to avoid paying both Canadian and WA sales tax).

The customs officer called me and sounded very irate. She said they couldn’t release the boat without a customs broker completing the forms. She was also incensed that the boat had arrived without 2 days advance notice. It was 3pm on a Friday by then, so the chances of reaching a customs broker on short notice were low, but I called the one they recommended and left a message (they were in a meeting).

Our position on the customs dock for the night and next morning

Our position on the customs dock for the night and next morning

Why I Thought We Were Following Proper Procedure

At this point I should explain how many people had given me outright wrong information. Multiple people had told me that we should hire a skipper to bring it out of Canada, to avoid being double-taxed, and then take delivery in Point Roberts and would not need a customs broker to go through Point Roberts.

  • Broker at Fraser Yacht Sales: Said purchasing a Canadian boat from the U.S. would be pretty straightforward, and we’d just need to hire a delivery skipper to bring it to the U.S.
  • Sonya at Anacortes Documentation Services (closing company): Said you didn’t need a customs broker to go through Point Roberts, but would at any other port. (this was a big reason to use Point Roberts, since customs brokers are expensive).
  • U.S. Customs officer at Point Roberts (via phone a week prior, unfortunately I didn’t write down his name): I told him we were having a delivery skipper bring the boat from Canada to Point Roberts and then were bringing it back to Seattle, and asked what we’d need. He said proof of ownership, $19 for the user decal fee, and filling out some forms which they’d have on hand in the customs office.
  • Delivery skipper: Didn’t stipulate any customs requirements, but he seemed to think the plan I emailed over would be no problem. He was a very nice guy, but he only does this once a year, and his information was outdated – customs might have waved us on through a few years ago, but has been cracking down with new regulations in the last year.

Ultimately I’m responsible for knowing what to do, but others were also responsible for giving me the wrong facts. People who work in the marine industry should know the rules – it’s their job to know this. Especially the U.S. customs officer who misinformed me – even the Customs office can’t get their story straight!

Trying to Appease Customs

On the drive up we stopped at an Office Max and I printed out the 3 forms Customs was talking about from the Internet. They looked pretty silly (a couple of them wanted a manifest of all your cargo, gross tonnage, and how many tankers you had onboard – these were forms intended for bulk cargo carriers!).

At Point Roberts I rushed to call customs because they closed at 5pm and it was 4:30. We had plans to leave early at 7am tomorrow, so we had to get checked out of customs before they closed. The customs officer, someone named Riggie, said we must get a customs broker before they would release us.

So next we drove the mile to the US-CAN border with the transfer skipper to speak to them in person. Our friends on their way to Whistler were being super patient taking time out from their long drive up. At Customs, Officer Riggie was there, along with her manager (who was nicer, but still taking her side), and she had also called a higher level customs supervisor in Bellingham.

Basically, we were royally screwed. She wasn’t going to let us leave without formal entry by a customs broker, and the chances of getting one on short notice on the weekend, with Monday a U.S. holiday, were low. We wouldn’t be allowed to fill the forms out ourselves, and even though I had proof of ownership, WA registration and no taxes were due on it, she wouldn’t let us operate it. If we took the boat and left for Friday Harbor customs in the morning, technically we would be breaking the law.

I asked could we have the transfer skipper take the boat out back to the Canadian border (couldn’t we “change our minds” about coming to the U.S.?) and then have me sail the boat back to Point Roberts? Since the reason we weren’t being allowed to self-import (without a customs broker) was that a foreign (Canadian) hired skipper brought the boat into the U.S., if I brought it in I would have been allowed to self-import with just a form and some documents. She got rather flustered when I suggested this idea.

I think what she was trying to say is that as soon the foreign skipper brought it into the U.S. without 48 hours advanced notice or properly filed customs paperwork, they decided to hold it. It’s like the boat was in jail, except that customs doesn’t have a jail big enough to fit a boat, so they detain it by their word only.

We were discovering Customs agents have superpowers without normal legal due process. Normally in the U.S. legal system you can self-represent yourself without being required to hire a third-party; at customs, that’s not the case apparently.

Saturday was Valentine's Day, so while we were still detained by Customs, I decorated the boat with hearts.

Saturday was Valentine’s Day, so while we were still detained by Customs, I decorated the boat with hearts.

Maybe the hearts would give Customs sympathy to our plight and release us.

Maybe the hearts would give Customs sympathy to our plight and release us.

Trying to Find a Customs Broker

Cell phones don’t work in Point Roberts, except if you walk to just the right section of the land, and Wifi required me to walk around hunting for a signal. So it was doubly hard to contact customs brokers on a Friday night before a holiday weekend. McClary, Swift & Co ignored us and never returned our messages. I can’t say I’m surprised because most don’t want to do last-minute work for a measly yacht – customs brokers spend most of their time importing multi-million dollar container ships and such. Two others we called we just got voicemail. I emailed two more around 10pm after a friendly marina guy working late told me the name of the hidden WiFi access point.

If we weren’t able to get an emergency customs broker clearance Saturday morning, we would miss our departure window for Saturday and have to stay another night on the customs dock. If we weren’t able to get one Sunday either, we would probably have to abandon the whole trip – move the boat to the marina for a week (at $40/night), find a ride back to the U.S., and then next weekend hope the weather was good and we could find a one-way ride back across two borders again.

Luckily, Jones & Jones customs brokers saved us. Michael Jones was checking email late and replied at 1am from Phoenix with info on what we were being put through (formal entry). We would need to pay for a surety bond for the vessel, plus his normal customs broker fee, an extra surcharge for weekend/after-hours work, and a 5% handling fee. Given Customs was holding us indefinitely I seemed to have no choice.

Michael had a doctor’s appointment at 10am, so we rushed to get all the paperwork done Saturday morning and faxed over to the marina office. Then I had to sign and return it, they’d enter us into the Customs electronic records, and fax over six forms to them, and Customs would send an officer down to release us.

Freed at Last!

At about 11am it was finally all done, and a nice elderly Customs officer drove down to release us from jail. He said he himself had not known about this policy we were being run through. This makes the second Customs officer who didn’t know their own rules. However he was friendly and got the final paperwork done for us, and we were able to cast off dock and head south to the San Juans. We had just enough time left to get safely to Friday Harbor before dark. More on that in the next post.

Project Liberate our Boat from Canada

The U.S. and Canada have kind of a friendly rivalry. They’re good at healthcare and hockey, we’re good at BBQ and football. This weekend we’re hoping to rescue our boat back from Canada and return it to its original U.S. roots (it was built in Rhode Island, and had one or two previous owners in Washington).

I’ll talk a bit about the logistics of buying a boat from Canada when you live in the U.S. First, obviously there’s the exchange rate to think about. Historically USD – CAD has favored Canada for the last 5 years or so, but in the 1 1/2 months since I put the offer in on the boat, the US dollar has had a terrific run to strength. Here’s what 1 USD will get you in CAD since December:

USDtoCADgraph

The broker used a U.S. title / closing company to handle the closing and currency exchange. They do the title paperwork, pass the money through an escrow account, and handle your Washington registration and sales tax. Their fee was $400. I started researching options for a good exchange rate through my banks or using an online exchange transfer like TransferWise, but it turns out the titling company was able to get near par (mid-market) rates.

To bring a boat back to the U.S., you need to bring it through customs at a U.S. port. The documentation company told me you basically have to do it through Point Roberts or else at the other ports (Anacortes, Friday Harbor, etc) you’d need to hire a customs broker.

I learned I couldn’t take delivery of the boat in Canada, because doing that would risk Canadian revenue authority perhaps thinking I owe them Canadian sales tax (GST/HST at close to 13%). Then I’d be paying double sales tax! (9.5% Washington and 10+% Canadian). This was a surprise to me since I hadn’t recalled the broker saying this when we had initially toured the boat. It meant I needed to have a delivery skipper bring it to Point Roberts.

This is kind of disconcerting to me since I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person. The idea of having someone else drive the boat even just a short trip is a little unnerving. It’s kind of like handing your manual transmission car over to a valet driver who might mess up your transmission if he doesn’t know how to drive stick well. But the skipper sounds good and it’s a short run (32 miles) so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Point Roberts is a strange little corner of Canada that is U.S. territory even though it’s not accessible by land without leaving the U.S. first. We’ll have the pleasure of driving through border security twice in one hour.

I called Point Roberts and they said we’d need to fill out a form [link], show proof of ownership, and pay a $19 fee for the user decal (not sure what this is for / does, but it’s one of those required government bureaucracy fee things). We don’t have to pay an import duty (typically 1.5-2%) because the boat was built in the US.

If all goes well, we’ll be bringing it back this weekend. Here’s an approximate route we may follow: (we haven’t decided yet if we’re going through the San Juans via Friday Harbor or around them)

TripMap-SanJuans

TripMap-Seattle

Sale closed!

The sale is finally closed! It closed last Friday, and then we drove up to Vancouver over the weekend to do some prep work on it.

We had a list of 12 jobs or so, and only accomplished about half of them – everything takes longer than you think on a boat! But it was still pretty productive considering we only had a day (needed to get back for the Superbowl on Sunday).

Taking a break for lunch!

Taking a break for lunch!

Fresh bread, salami and smoked mozzarella from the Granville Island market.

Fresh bread, salami and smoked mozzarella from the Granville Island market.

Natalie tackled cleaning up the mold in the cabin lockers and galley cabinets, during which she swore “This is so gross!” multiple times. I scrubbed the deck which had probably months worth of dirt and moss on it.

We assembled the salon table, which needed to be installed since it was removed for more cabin space by the prior owner. It was more tricky than expected. First we discovered that the table used square recessed screws, which was the one tool we didn’t bring, so we had to make a run to the Canadian Home Depot. We also went to Canadian Tire to pick up an electric heater. Surprisingly Canadian Tire is not a tire store, it’s the Canadian equivalent of a Bed, Bath & Beyond. IMG_1458

We also attempted to go up the mast for an inspection, with Natalie hoisting me on the main halyard. This proved to be impossible because it was too hard to turn the winch with my weight on the line and just the halyard winch ratio. I’m looking into new options – probably ascenders since I already have climbing experience and all the other gear.

We also did a full inventory of the boat. It’s important to know where everything is and figure out what we already have for emergencies or repairs. There are a lot of spare parts on board since the owner prior to the prior one (from Yelm, Washington) had planned on going to the Philippines. Some of the spares are old and getting rusty, but some of them could come in handy.

Now we’re working on plans for transfering the boat back to Seattle.

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