Took the Boat Out for the Winter

Having saved our boat from disaster the day before, we decided we needed to take the boat out for the winter as soon as possible before another wind storm hit. Since there was no severe wind today, Sandi took the day off work and we brought it out.

The backup motor.

We staged our towing vehicle and trailer at the boat ramp, then went down to where the boat was and cast off. The water the day before had been 4' waves. Today the water was as flat as the heart monitor on a corpse. We decided we were not even going to try to sail. Instead we just motored up to the boat ramp.

We experienced some motor trouble as it has been cutting out at low speeds. As we got near shore, the motored died and we actually paddled in the last twenty feet. The boat ramp was nearly deserted, so we felt no pressure as we maneuvered the boat onto the trailer using just lines, and using the boat hook as a boat pole.

We then brought the mast down with our mast raising system. After securing everything, we hauled the boat to its winter storage spot. Examining the boat out of the water, we verified that there had been no damage from the day before.

Thus concludes our first season sailing Fantasia. We will have more adventures doing maintenance during the off season, but we will not be in the water again until spring of next year.


Boat Disaster Narrowly Avoided

We narrowly avoided seriously damaging the boat in a wind storm this weekend. As first-time boat owners, we were attentive and worried about our new boat with the first couple of gusty days in the 30+ mph range, but became more comfortable as we'd weathered each wind or rainstorm without any issues.

From October through about March each year, Western Washington periodically experiences severe wind storms. These storms generally have little or no precipitation, but the wind speeds can be very high. Normally, these heavy winds blow down from the north as a front pushes through, and the geography of the lake provides a natural breakwater that protects our moorage. But in this weekend's windstorm, the high winds were driving the waves from the south, bearing down on our boat with the full force of every wave. Just to the south of us, Hunts Point measured gusts as high as 51 mph. Further south, in Oregon, they measured gusts as high as 94 mph from the same storm. These hurricane force winds knocked down lots of trees in our area and there were power outages throughout the city.

On Sunday morning, the winds had died down quite a lot, but they were still blowing pretty strong across Lake Washington with winds still coming from the south. We went down to our dock to see the boat, not because we were worried about how it had weathered the storm, but to show a friend who was visiting our lovely Fantasia. As we headed down towards the dock, from a distance, we could tell things were not normal. We could see the mast swaying side to side, more than ever before. Once we could see the dock and the boat, it became clear why. There were swells about 4 feet tossing the boat around continuously and the starboard aft line had snapped, allowing the aft of the boat to swing out away from the dock with every wave.

The combination of up and down motion of the boat from the large waves, along with the intense stretching from the force of the waves, had caused the aft mooring line to wear against the cleat. While the line snubbers helped, they weren't enough to absorb all the force from these strong waves. This created a situation where our lines were rubbing up/down and being stretched across rough metal cleats. The starboard aft line was shredded, rubbed through until it finally snapped. The starboard bow line had held, but just barely. It was worn about 2/3 of the way through. I don't think it would have survived another hour.

If that starboard bow line had snapped too, the boat would have been held just by the downwind lines on the port side of the boat. From the port bow, we tie off to a concrete post which is situated about five feet aft of our bow. When launching and docking, we have to pivot the boat around this post since there is also a hydraulic boat lift directly to the port and aft of where we tie up. If the starboard bow line had also snapped, each incoming wave would have been smashing Fantasia up against that concrete post. The fiberglass hull would have been severely damaged and it is quite possible the boat may have sunk right there.

Needless to say, we were very lucky that we went down to have a look at the boat early Sunday morning. After some frantic scrambling, we managed to re-secure the boat while it was still being tossed around violently. We attached some new moorage lines. Greg tied the remaining good part of the bow line, with the snubber attached, to a much thicker line with a sheet bend. A sheet bend is a great knot for joining two lines together especially when they are different thicknesses. There are other knots that may have worked well too, but we had very little good line left on the section with the snubber.

Examining the boat as best we could in those conditions, we could detect no damage. The wave action made it impossible to even attempt to get the boat away from the dock, so we secured her the best we could with a few much heavier lines. We reviewed the weather forecast and decided not to push our luck. With more heavy winds predicted for Tuesday and our seasonal rains in full swing, Monday would be the day that we would pull Fantasia out of the water and trailer her for the winter.

Wind storms like this one do happen regularly here in the Pacific Northwest throughout the fall and winter and sometimes they can be wicked. In 1979, a wind storm hit the Hood Canal region to the west of us with sustained winds of 85 mph and gusts estimated at 120 mph. The floating bridge on Hood Canal sank in the storm, and Douglas firs, 3' thick, snapped like popsicle sticks. Fall and winter weather in the Pacific Northwest can be a challenging environment for any moored boat.

Valuable lessons learned:

  1. Not all windstorms are created equal. Take into account the effects of geography, wind direction and how much protection from wave action your moorage provides.
  2. While your mooring lines may be sufficiently rated for the boat you have, they may not be nearly enough for the weather you might need to endure.
  3. We either need to have well protected moorage, behind a good breakwater or we need to take the boat out of the water before fall/winter weather sets in (no more waiting for one last sunny day).
  4. Not all cleats are created equal. Some are very smooth, but others are rough to provide more friction for stability. That friction can bite you if it damages your lines in heavy weather.
Tip: Slice a section of rubber garden hose and wrap it around your docking line anywhere there may be a friction point, like a cleat or edge of a dock. It will protect your lines and is cheaper to replace than good quality docking lines.


Cheap Wind Direction Indicator

Yarn tied to the shroud.

We went out for a sail. Nothing too different from many other times we have been out on the lake this season.

When sailing, it is useful to know what direction the wind is coming from. You can add expensive wind indicators to the top of the mast. We have plans to do that some time. Until then, we have a really cheap and easy way of finding the wind direction that works pretty well.

We acquired a skein of yarn, that had both blue and red at different points on the length. We cut off about 10 inches of each color and tied them to the rear shrouds about six feet off the deck. We put the red one on the port side and the blue on the starboard, to match the colors of the tell-tails the jib. You do not really need two different colors, but we like the correspondence.

Now we can just look at the yarn to tell the wind direction. It is useful to have more than one, because occasionally one will get stuck to the shroud for a little while.

Boating Safety Equipment

Every boat in Washington State is required to have certain safety equipment aboard. For boats in our size category, this is the equipment we need on board.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

We require that everyone aboard wear a Personal Flotation Device (life preserver to landlubbers) at all times above deck. If the person is in the cabin, we require that they keep one handy, but not necessarily on, unless the person is 12 years old or younger, in which case they need to keep it on at all times. Washington State's law is actually less strict than this, and merely requires that everyone have a PFD at hand.

All of our life vests are Type II Near-Shore Life Jackets. We have two that use CO2 canisters that inflate upon immersion in water. These are more comfortable than other types. We will be acquiring two more of these by next season so that all crew members will have them.

We also have a Type IV horseshoe throwable PFD on a bracket on the port side railing. We have a 100' of light floating line attached to it.

Visual Distress Signals

Washington State WAC 352-60-040 follows the US Coast Guard regulations. They require that you have a Visual Distress Signal available for daylight and another for night time. For daylight, you can have an approved Distress Signal for Boats Orange Flag or various kinds of flares. For night time, you can have an approved Electric Distress Light for Boats, or various kinds of flares. Some flares can act as both daytime and nighttime Visual Distress Signals.

ACR DistresSOS 1842 Electric Distress Light

Here is the drawback to flares: They are expensive and they have to be replaced every 42 months. To meet the minimum requirements, you can get by with just a Distress Sign for Boats Orange Flag and the Electric Distress Light for Boats. However, oddly as it seems, nobody seems to be making a Coast Guard approved Electric Distress Light for Boats any more. This seems like a business opportunity for someone! ACR Electronics made the Coast Guard approved DistresSOS (product 1842), but it is no longer being made. Other lights do not have the Coast Guard approval, so will not meet the state requirement. I bought one of the ACR lights on Ebay used for about $30 plus shipping.

The flag is orange and has a square and a circle in black.

Flares come in various forms. If you get them to act as both day and night Visual Distress Signals, there are a couple of types that will qualify. You will need three in total, although you can mix and match what kinds you have on board.

Hand-Held Red Flare Signals (160.021)
Parachute Red Flare Signals (160.024)
Hand-Held Rocket Propelled Parachute Red Flare Signals (160.036)
Red Aerial Pyrotechnic Flares (160.066)

The critical label that makes this the only approved Electric Distress Signal

Although flares came with our boat, they expired in the early 1990s, so are not legal. The Coast Guard regulations require they be replaced within 42 months from the date of manufacture. We will replace all of our flares by next season, but with the light and the flag on board, we do not necessarily need to replace them at the Coast Guard's replacement rate.

Fire Extinguisher

We have a Type B fire extinguisher on board. This is required by Washington State law.

Air Horn

We have a hand operated air horn. This must be loud enough to be heard for half a mile.


Seattle Rainfall

Sailboat with spinnaker flying

We went out for a sail, taking Greg's parents. It was a beautiful day, and there were more sailboats on the lake than power boats, many with their spinnakers out. We were briefly entertained when one sailboat lost control of the spinnaker lines as they tried to raise it and they struggled for a while trying to reclaim their spinnaker as it flew about.

These beautiful days are going to become more infrequent here soon. The Seattle area is well known for its rainfall, but much of the rest of the country thinks that means frequent thunderstorms and heavy rain. It is not like that at all.

Here is a Seattle joke: A guy visits Seattle and stays at a hotel. He comes out of the hotel the first day and it is raining. The second day it is raining. The third day it is raining. He sees a kid on the street and says, "Hey, kid, does it ever stop raining around here?" The kid replies, "How should I know, I'm only five!"

Another Seattle joke: We do have a summer in Seattle. Last year it was on a Wednesday.

Temperate rainforests in North America
(from Karl Udo, cropped, GFDL)

These jokes are something of an exaggeration, of course. Seattle falls within the Pacific temperate rain forests ecoregion. This rain forest extends from Northern California, all the way to Alaska. In a rain forest, there are really only two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season.

In Seattle, the wet season begins some time in September or October and ends about May or June. During the rainy season, we have as many as 19 days a month with measurable rainfall. There are many other days with no rain, but no sun either, being clouded over the whole day. Thunderstorms are infrequent, and even when we get them, they are usually short and unspectacular.

During the dry season, there is still measurable rain, but tapers down to only about five days a month. People here complain that Californians come up here for a vacation during the dry season, see how nice it is, and move here. Then it starts raining and they gripe for the entire rainy season.

We recently watched a TV series called "The Killing" that is set in Seattle. It is obvious to any Seattlite that the writers and producers are not from here. It is actually filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, not Seattle. However, Vancouver has almost exactly the same weather patterns as Seattle, so that does not explain the rain in the show. The first sign of non-Seattle production is they have a guy carrying an umbrella. We just do not do that.

Seattle's rain is typically more like the mist machines in the lines at Disney World. It gets you a little damp, but it evaporates almost immediately. The amount in inches is negligible. However, in The Killing, it is obvious that they film using rain machines, because the rain comes down like it does in Florida: heavy. There are exceptions in Seattle where the skies open up, but it is infrequent. In Seattle, you are more likely to wear a lined rain coat than carry an umbrella.

Average high and low temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches

You need the lining for warmth. Seattle has an average temperature of 76°F during August, the hottest month of the year. We get little snow, though, because the average temperature during the December through February, the coldest months, is 36°F. The coldest days usually do not have snow because clouds trap in heat, and you need clouds for snow. We get this equilibrium where it might snow, but the clouds hold in enough heat to bring the temperature above freezing, so it just rains.

When it does snow, Seattle is frightening. Since it happens infrequently here, drivers do not know how to drive in it. The first thing they do is jam on the brakes and slide into the thing in front of them, rather than pumping the brakes and steering. The city shuts down with 2" of snow, as nobody can get to or from work with the freeways jammed with accidents. At one particular intersection at the bottom of a hill, in one hour during a snow storm, Greg witnessed 17 accidents.

In a typical year, we might get one week above 90°F and one week below 32°F. The hot is actually more of a problem than the cold. Everyone has heat, but most houses, including ours, have no air conditioning. When it is above 90°F, it is miserable. We have an air conditioner for the hottest room in the house, but no central air.

During the rainy season, we may go days without seeing the sun. This causes problems for some people. They get Seasonal Affected Disorder, which is a kind of depression induced by the lack of sunshine. The lack of sunshine from the clouds is compounded by the fact that we are at about 47° latitude. This causes the sun to set at about 4:10 p.m. on December 5th. On the other hand, it does give us very long days during the summer dry season. You can still hit a tennis ball without lights after 9:30 p.m.

All of this makes for perfect sailing conditions in the dry season, and miserable conditions in the rainy season. We are starting to make plans to pull the boat out some time in the upcoming weeks.


Lake Washington Water Level

We went out for a short sail for about an hour out on the lake. We hadn't been on the water or visited the boat for almost two weeks, having been out of town. As we got to the boat, we noticed that it was riding much lower in the water, with the fenders almost too low to protect the boat from the dock. This is due to the annual lowering of the lake level.

Lake Washington is fresh water, but has two locks that exit into Puget Sound. Some time next season, we expect to venture out through those locks in the boat. The Army Corps of Engineers controls the locks and flood gate, which also controls the water level in the lake. During the winter, they normally lower the water level about two feet from the level they keep it at during the summer.

Lake Washington Water Levels
Lake Washington Water Levels

The extra water during the summer serves several purposes. The lake drains about 8 million gallons of fresh water every time they use the large lock. The water also serves the fish ladder that allows salmon to traverse the locks. During the winter, the lower level keeps down erosion on the shores, as well as allowing repairs to docks and other lakeside fixtures. We had a choice of another docking space, but when we took into account the lower water level in October, it was just too shallow.

In just the last three days, the Corps has let water through the flood gate to lower the lake level by about three inches. That is a huge amount of fresh water from a 26 mile long lake. I'll bet the people experiencing the drought in California wish they could acquire some of that!

Round turn and two half-hitches.
Round turn and two half-hitches.

After pulling back in, we adjusted all of the fenders to ride a few inches higher to put them between the boat and the dock.

Tip: To tie a fender to a life-line, you will want to use a "round turn and two half-hitches.". The picture shows this knot. This is one of the essential knots to know.

We will be pulling the boat out for the winter soon, but we still have a few good days of sailing left.