This post is a bit more technical and more for other sailors interested in propellers. Hopefully it may come in handy someday for those with AutoProps, because there isn’t a whole lot of community info on them that I could find.
We have an AutoProp propeller on our boat. It’s like a MaxProp, which is also a feathering propeller, except that the AutoProp is also dynamically pitching – instead of a fixed, preset pitch, it changes its pitch to match operating conditions.
It’s really a very clever piece of engineering – dynamic pitch means that in theory it’s always at the optimal pitch for our speed and engine power. This mainly applies when motor-sailing (which is pretty common in the Northwest) – our sails can contribute some speed while the AutoProp contributes some as well, but allows our engine to work less hard – meaning lower engine RPMs, saving on fuel but getting the same power as a higher RPM.
As I set the sails in Elliott Bay under blue skies with a perfect 8-10 knot breeze at my back, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed with joy at the successful completion of our haul-out. In five days we (myself + the yard) had gotten a ton done, nothing had gone wrong, and the haul-out was completed on schedule. Amazing. And no leaks!
It felt really good to have the boat back in her natural element, and as we glided smoothly along I noted it felt faster than before – probably thanks to the freshly painted bottom and prop, but more testing is needed to say for sure.
If you’ve ever done boatyard work, you know that haul-outs are stressful times. In a short period of time we take the boat out of water, do some of the most critical projects of the year and also incur our biggest expenses of the year (in one week, a haul-out doubles our yearly maintenance cost). It’s easy to see why some people avoid / postpone them as long as possible. But we want to get the boat into prime cruising condition, and delaying bottom paint any longer wouldn’t have been good.
Hard growth on our keel – a few mussel and barnacle families had taken up residence!
It’s winter, and for us that means it’s project season. Nearing 3 years of too many projects to count (but also a lot of sailing), I’ve been asking myself – did we actually end up with a project boat? While shopping for a boat, the one thing I was sure of was we didn’t want a project boat!
I had heard of people buying project boats and spending years working on them without sailing. I have a lot of admiration for people who do that, but for us sailing and cruising was always the number 1 goal. If a project boat meant we couldn’t cruise, we’d be better off continuing to charter and sail in clubs.
I’ve written before that eventually I realized all boats are project boats (“What Exactly is a Project Boat Anyway?“). And even though living aboard has made it easier to work on projects, the project list hasn’t gotten any shorter. For every project finished, we discover one or two new ones.
[Note: I’ve added a Projects page to the site, listing most of the major and minor projects completed]
Haul-out in June 2015
Another reason I didn’t want a project boat was I understood that boats are expensive but not in the initial purchase cost – an old boat is only as much as two new cars, which many middle-class families have (and if you told them two cars are a luxury rather than a necessity, they would probably disagree). The real budget killer is in the carrying costs – yearly moorage and maintenance.
Sailboat maintenance and refitting often involves many difficult, frustrating jobs – diesel engine work, rigging, fiberglassing, boatyard work. So it’s really nice to have some easy, fun ones mixed in sometimes. If you only did hard projects all the time, you’d probably burn out.
Easy projects are short, cheap and rewarding because they quickly make some small improvement to your life. They’re simple enough that unlike most boat projects, there aren’t 10 different things that can go wrong.
Ice Box LED Light
The first one, which I should’ve done a long time ago, is add a light to our fridge / ice box.
You see, our ice box is a great, giant, cavernous hole in which my beers sit at the bottom in the dark. So last summer when I wanted to find a beer, I’d often have to grab my headlamp or handy pocket flashlight. As everyone knows, beer is important to sailors. And often when cruising BC, we had a variety of types to try (Lighthouse IPA, Red Racer, Russell Brewing’s mixer pack, etc), so I couldn’t just grab any blindly.
Finally I realized a cheap solution to this inconvenience: motion activated LED light bars which you can find on Amazon for about $10! And this one came with a 3M adhesive strip on the back, so all I had to do was stick it on a surface inside the icebox.
Adding solar power to Violet Hour is something we’ve been meaning to do since returning from our cruise last summer and having trouble keeping our batteries charged because we weren’t motoring enough. Most sailboats in the PNW do a lot of motoring, which allows their engine’s alternator considerable time to charge up the batteries. We prefer to sail, and were sometimes getting less than 15 minutes of alternator time per day.
Surprisingly, it’s common to hear sailors say they were “motoring to charge up the batteries.” This is apparently one explanation for SMDs (sailboat motoring downwind). This seems incredibly silly to me, and is something I’ve always vowed to never have to say. Burning diesel to convert it into electricity while pushing an 18,000 pound boat through the water is terribly inefficient. As a believer in Muscles Over Motors, motoring your sailboat around just to run your fridge seems downright sad.
Solar panels will allow us to sail more while still keeping the fridge cold enough to not need to buy bags of ice or allow premature spoilage. It may also allow us to anchor out more since we’ll no longer have to visit a marina once a week to top up batteries (although we may still visit marinas to make groceries + laundry easier).
Solar has come down in cost a lot in the last 20 or so years. A 200 watt system is only about $1000 ($1400 minus the 30% solar tax credit*), if you can install it yourself. In other words, enough energy to power a fridge for 5 years with zero pollution costs less than half what the average American spends on gasoline in one year. From this perspective, solar is a no-brainer.
*A quick note on the solar tax credit if you’re not familiar with it: It’s a tax credit to incentivize clean solar energy replacing dirty energy sources. It might start getting phased out in 2020-2022. It can be applied to your second home, which a boat counts as if it has a galley and head. Anyway, our boat is our first (and only) home currently. Also, a tax credit is not like a deduction – credits are for anyone who pays any federal tax at all. (note: I’m not a tax advisor – do your own due diligence of course).
The system may even pay for itself after about 5 years. The electricity cost savings are small, because Washington’s plentiful hydro-electric plants provide cheap energy rates, but all the little savings add up:
- Reduced electrical consumption at dock while living aboard.
- Abstaining from shore power hookups in BC marinas once or twice a month ($5-8 per night typically).
- Skipping 1 or 2 marina visits per summer cruise ($50-60 per visit).
The hardest kind of boat project, in my opinion, is any involving getting stuck things out of the thing they’re stuck in. Seized bolts, corroded screws, prop shaft couplers, etc. You may recall 3 months ago I started the project of rebedding our Navtec U-Bolts that connect the rig to the tie rods and chainplates.
Three months later I had completed 5 out of 6 but still had one stubborn one remaining – the first one I had started on, the last one to finish, and by far the hardest. For whatever reason, the starboard aft U-Bolt was more stuck than all the others. It wouldn’t pull free despite trying all the methods I had used on the others – a 2’ long pry bar, heat, PB Blaster, mineral spirits, BoatLife Release, hammering. I even sailed on it with the nuts slightly loose, and tensioned the shroud to 1500-2000 pounds (this didn’t do anything at all).
Tensioning the U-Bolt with the main halyard while simultaneously prying with the pry bar
Recently we passed the 2 year anniversary of owning our boat – two years since Feb 14 2015. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in that time – with many major projects completed (a rerig, rudder removal + steering system repair, rebedding lots of deck hardware, etc), plus two major summer cruises (lower west coast of Vancouver Island, and Seattle to the Broughtons and Back), along with lots of weekend sails in between those.
Somehow that 2 years feels like much longer.
One project we still haven’t completed is redoing the nonskid on the deck. In some areas the old non-skid was literally worn away – it was so smooth behind the helm that when sailing upwind our feet would gradually slide down the floor until we wedged them against something. So before leaving for our 3-month sail last spring, we painted the cockpit with KiwiGrip. That was a great help – but there are still more areas to do.
It would seem that choosing the best non-skid paint would be simple, but it’s not. Any time there are 5 or more product choices available for one purpose in the boating world, it’s a good sign there’s no clear winner. If it were a simple answer with a clearly superior option, there would only be 1 or 2 products, not 5-10.
There were three things we wanted from a non-skid paint:
- The non-skid part (not slip and slide around on it)
- Look reasonably nice
- Not hurt our butts or bare feet when we sit or stand on it.