Anchoring Solo and Using Safe Anchor App

When I came to Medicine Beach it was under duress.

I had heard about the anchorage before.  This is my third year sailing solo to Canada in the late summer/fall, and this was  my second trip this year. So far I have always checked into customs at Bedwell Harbor, Poet’s Cove Resort, Marina & Spa (my favorite part) and then stayed at the marina to enjoy their pool, pub and view as well as get a massage at the spa. Before my first trip a friend told me about the channel between Bedwell Harbour and Port Browning (dinghy and small boat passage only) and that the closest liquor store was at Medicine Beach.  I filed this info away for another time, but had never had occasion to use it given that Poet’s Cove had a small liquor store on site as well as a great little pub on the property.

I had booked my massage appointment from a mooring ball at Matia Island and I was anxious to get checked into Canada, see if I could move my massage up, and head to the pub for some conversation since I had been solo for five days and had grown bored of my own company. The pool and hot tub were calling me too.

As I approached, I called the marina to ask about the unattached dock (no electric or water) and was told that a Sea Ray convention had booked everything. Although that dock was usually first come/first served, it was not today. I could see that less than 20% of the dock was occupied and couldn’t imagine such large power boats camping out on what is typically a dirtbag sailor dock.

I processed through customs easily and started thinking of what to do.  The mooring field was full. I had not checked it out before, but there are quite a few balls there, just dinghy to shore to pay the provincial park fee.  (It is right around the corner from the resort and I may chose this in the future.). I called Port Browning which was also full.  Although it was Labor Day weekend in the states, I had been here before at this time and never had a problem so I was u pleasantly surprised. My choices for other marinas or mooring fields was limited and I suspected I would have the same problem throughout the southern Gulf Islands.

So, anchor it had to be.  This sounds easy enough but the thought came with a great deal of anxiety.  I have a manual windlass and I had anchored successfully a few times with a friend, but also failed just as many times. I had never done it alone.

I had been thinking about this for some time, and had actually addressed the problem before the trip in several ways.  The windlass was manual, not made for this boat, and not positioned in a way where it was useful.  It might as well be a hood ornament. I had 100’ of chain and a 25# CQR anchor.  Manually putting this out and taking it back in was an exhausting process, and if it didn’t set the first time, I had lacked the stamina to try it again in times past. So, I modified my tackle in several ways.

I bought a 25# Mantus anchor and stowed the CQR as an emergengy anchor.  I shortened my chain to 50’ instead of 100’ and left the other 50’ on the CQR.  I still had 200 feet of line and rarely anchored deeper than 20-25’ of water, so I felt co fide t with this arrangement.

However, once I had the Mantus, I discovered that it didn’t fit well on my old roller which also didn’t allow the addition of the cradle that helps keep the anchor from hitting the bow.  A new Mantus roller arrived soon after and was installed. I was given an unexpected and wonderful gift of a Mantus swivel, which although a little large for my purposes, would work on my size chain. That’s pretty much it, the anchor, the roller, and shortening the chain.

I looked closely at the chart for Bedwell Harbour and found 25’ areas at Medicine Beach.  I approached with much trepidation because if this didn’t work, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. The anchorage contained only one derelict appeari g boat, and I found my spot, lowered the anchor, backed up and set it. That was too easy and a brand new experience. I backed up again because I didn’t believe it could be so simple, and came to a jolting halt and sprung forward – indeed set.  Just to be sure, I used the Safe Anchor App, along with my Bad Elf GPS receiver and set a perimeter alarm…then I waited. I watched for hours and as the lines on the app changed color with the time, I was relieved to see them all in the same quadrant of the perimeter.

I stayed put, finally relaxed, and wound down with a book and some dinner.  During that time I used the tiny bit of reception that I had to see what, if anything was at Medicine Beach.  Visually there appeared to be a park entrance, but not much of a beach.  The only thing I found online was that there was a Nature Sanctuary here, and a short walk up the road, a liquor store.  That was it.  Although the beach didn’t look like much, it was fairly populated for a Friday afternoon.

Since I went to bed with the sun, I woke up early.  I was still in the same spot and in more of a mood to explore than I had been the day before.  I managed to paddle board to shore and hiked the small trail through the Sanctuary.  The trail is about a mile and my Fitbit showed about 17 flights of elevation. The trail came out on a road that was surprisingly busy.  I headed back toward the road leading to the beach, but ended up taking Schooner Way at the intersection because I saw some signs ahead.

Here was the famed Medicine Beach Liquor Store, but there was more.  A pizzeria where you could buy by the whole pie, or by the slice, a convenience store (Penderosa) with free WIFI, a coffee shop, garbage drop off ($3/small bag), and a post box. There are tables outside of the coffee shop and a picnic table outside of the pizzeria.  The convenience store seemed relatively well stocked, but rather more like a store near a campground than a 7-11.  The liquor store had a large selection of beer, wine and cider in addition to the usual fare, but the prices are steep.  Tax was included, and I know the exchange rate is in our favor, but an average box of wine was still double that of the states after the exchange rate conversion.  I settled with a can of wine – yes…a can.  It was novel, and a brand I knew, and not horrible. That is the best I can say. I sat at the picnic table outside the pizzeria and used the WIFI to check email and communicate with the world.  All in all, this little place was a surprise to me, and I will be happy to come back here.

PS, I got that space on the dock on Sunday and my massage on Monday.

Bum Oven

March 2017

The igniter in the oven had long since stopped working, so I have had to use a long tipped butane lighter to get the oven lit for the past couple of weeks. One day everything worked fine, the next the flame went out as soon as I stopped depressing the thermostat knob. Uh Oh. Trying to be an optimist, I tried it again the next day with the same result.

I purchased my Seaward Princess three burner stove and oven in the fall of 2014 to replace the old forced alcohol stove that came with Rubigale.  Shortly after, I realized that the oven wouldn’t stay lit for long after I started it. I discovered through trial and error (mostly staring at the burner with a flashlight after I lit it and sniffing for propane) that leaving it open for 15 or 20 seconds after lighting it seemed to solve that problem.

I called the dealer Sure Marine about it, and found that this was apparently now a known problem with the Princess (these are very popular stoves for RVs and boats), but to fix it, I’d have to bring the stove in. Given the hefty bill I had paid to get it installed and the tight fit, I decided that holding the door open for 15 seconds wasn’t a terrible hardship and I’d deal with it.

A few months later I found that two of the three burners on the stove wouldn’t light right away using the ignitor, so again I switched to using the butane lighter. I had been on many boats where the ignition didn’t work, so I thought this a normal stove failure after awhile like many grills. One day while tinkering with the stove I discovered that if you take the ignition switch knob off, there’s a AA battery in there! I replaced that, and that pop pop pop sound and spark was on amphetamines compared with what I had become used to.

The two burners still didn’t light right away, and through experimentation I learned that if  I didn’t have a pot on those burners, they would light with the switch. If I waited long enough with a pot on there, it usually involved a big WHOMPH sound and a little scream from me. Maybe the smell of singed hair once. A friend with the same stove said his lights better with a pot on it – so you might need to experiment if this is happening with yours.

The next problem was that the oven no longer lit with the ignition switch. Since I was used to being disappointed with the automatic ignitors, and had the butane lighter right there, I just started using that. I did consult the dealer and it was suggested that I clean out the jet which sounded like a long and involved process so I continued to use the lighter for several months.

Last weekend I was craving biscuits.  The oven worked the day before, but on this day each time I stopped holding the thermostat knob down, the burner went off.  Trying to be optimistic, I decided to just let the oven think about it, and I would try again the following day. Not surprisingly, there was no difference the second day. I called Sure Marine and later received a very detailed email from them with photos of the internal organs of my stove/oven. I understood very little of what I read…I am a veterinarian, not an electrician. So, I did the only thing I could think of and procrastinated.

Eventually the craving for baked goods won out and I disassembled the top of the stove and stared at a lot of copper wires and matched up some of the photos the dealer had sent. I got out the voltmeter. I had no idea what to do. The instructions were not meant for the novice. I wasn’t sure what to attach the voltmeter to, or exactly which thing corresponded to the description in the instructions.

Stove Top Off

I started with the electromagnet which seemed to be the easiest fix. I had no idea how this system worked, and I had the solenoid on thinking I would need to test voltage with it on. As I started to loosen the nut holding in the magnet, I heard the hiss of gas and smelled propane. Solenoid OFF!!!!

Electromagnets for the oven, right, and burner, left

Not a stellar start, but had two hours before the dealer closed and so I put on my grown up pants and continued. I still didn’t actually know what I was supposed to test with the voltmeter, so I moved on. I extracted the electromagnet and took it to the dealer and asked them to test it. SHAZAM!! It was bad.

Graham at Sure Marine was kind enough to show me what was happening. A couple in the store came up close behind me and asked if they could watch. It was a riveting demonstration. Graham hooked a wire with a thermocoupler at one end and the connector on the other to the top of the magnet (the red end of the wire below). Using a butane torch, he heated the thermocoupler while pushing in the spring on the bottom of the magnet. On mine, the spring unsprung. On the new one, it stayed compressed.

The Offender – Bad Electromagnet

I am a visual learner, and I now understood much more of what was happening. Of course if the flame comes out, you don’t want propane flowing. If the sensor isn’t kept hot (and he demonstrated this by removing the flames for just 2 or 3 seconds), the spring unsprings. The heat sends electricity to the magnet. So if I had flame (I did) and it was heating the sensor (it was), and the thermocoupler worked (didn’t know), and it still unsprung, the electromagnet was bad. His test took my thermocoupler out of the equation which was wonderful news because the access to this would require un-mounting the stove and disassembling a side panel.

Thermocoupler in the Oven

I was ecstatic! I did ask about the voltmeter test, and I would have needed to be an octopus to do this by myself for the oven. I happily paid $18 for my electromagnet and rushed home to put everything back together. I did a few test runs and the oven worked fine. The insides received a good scrub and everything was reassembled.

This was a great visual lesson for me and thanks to Sure Marine for their assistance!

Make a New Sail Plan Stan


Tartan Crew

A couple of years after I began sailing, I charted a 35’ Tartan for a week in April and took 5 girlfriends to the San Juan Islands. Crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca without a flotilla of boats was a first for me, and I was nervous. I handled this unease by meticulous planning. By meticulous, I mean I had a 9 page printed sail plan with two alternate destinations for each night. The alternates included exceptions for weather changes, distances, enlargements of entrances and anchorages, tides, currents, sunset and sunrise times. Sure, it was overboard  cruise planning, but I wanted contingencies and I wasn’t taking any chances.  Better to plan to much than not enough.

We left on a spring tide and rode the ebb north at a screaming pace. The goal was to get from Shilshole to Stuart Island on the first day. About half way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca (PUCA), a strong west wind started to blow and building waves on our beam started to make the skipper and crew a little green-faced. It also slowed us down considerably and it was clear that an alternate destination was needed. One of my alternates for that day was MacKaye Harbor on the south end of Lopez Island, and we made a bee-line for it, anxious to get out of the wind and chop.

Micah Rescues the Boat Hook

Micah Rescues the Boat Hook

We tried to set an anchor several times, but only managed to harvest kelp. Daylight was waning, and the group was tired and seasick, so The group decision was to  grab a mooring ball. They were all private but forgiveness could be begged tomorrow.

Because of the spring tide, we were at a higher high tide that day. We approached the mooring ball, and grabbed it with a boat hook, but the ball was at the top of it’s available chain, and there was nothing left to pull. Both Megan and Micah grabbed the boat hook, but because of the wind I couldn’t keep the boat stopped, so rather than pulling the ring to us, the ring pulled the boat hook to it. That wasn’t on the sail plan.

We needed that hook and we also didn’t want to pay for it. We tried a couple of passes to pick it up, but the wind was still building and we weren’t able to grab it. Our brilliant spur of the moment plan was to put Micah in the dinghy and life-sling her around the mooring ball until she got close enough to retrieve it.

Once Micah and the boat hook were back on board, tied up to an empty, private, seagull excrement encrusted, floating dock for the night. If admonished, we would all gladly pay a moorage fee. Despite the windy, rolly harbor, we managed a nice dinner, libations, and celebrated two birthdays and a relatively successful first day. We sailed away the following morning, rested and grateful.

Safe on the Dock, Mackaye Harbor, Lopez Island Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

Safe on the Dock, Mackaye Harbor, Lopez Island
Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

The plan for day 2 was Patos Island, so we headed that direction. The weather was great. In San Juan Channel a bald eagle dove just a few feet in front of us and snatched up his dinner, startling and amazing us.  When we arrived at Patos Island there was an hour of sunlight to spare, but both mooring balls were taken. We made a few attempts to anchor despite the guidebook’s hint that it was poor. They were correct.  It was only day 2 and we had to make an alternate choice again. Daylight was fading and Sucia Island was the best option, although NOT in my 9 page sail plan! A mooring ball awaited us in Ewing Bay, the northwestern most bay. It worked out quite well.

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

Mimosas in Ewing Bay, Sucia Island

Dinner and drinks, morning mimosas in the sun. What could be better? After a short hike on Sucia Island, we headed to Matia Island which WAS in the plan. We played in Boundary Pass for awhile, then arrived in time for dinghy diversions and a silent moment at sunset.

The last detour from the plan was opting away from Fisherman’s Bay and anchoring outside Friday Harbor instead.  The narrow, shallow entrance, even at high tide, challenged my comfort level with 6′ of draft.

Ultimately, I am glad I made that crazy sail plan even though we only followed it half the time. Just the act of putting the plan together made me more familiar with my cruising ground.  I became faster at deciphering the chart and tide tables. Each evening I listened to the weather, pulled out the charts and discussed which anchorages appeared safe under upcoming conditions.  We all learned crucial cruising building blocks. Flexibility is one of the most important skills of being a good sailor, and for some of us, takes a lot of practice.

Sunset in the San Juans Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

Sunset in the San Juans
Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood


Blundering Around the Bilge

The sound of the filter screen hitting the water inside the bilge was barely audible.  What came from my mouth a half second later was clearly audible.  This was about to go from a minor project to a major project. Par for the course.

I live on a 43 year old Challenger 32 sailboat, Rubigale.  There is one big bilge in the center, mostly obscured from view by the diesel tank, and quite deep. I have been able to see the tops of the keel bolts on occasion, but I’ve never seen the bilge dry, nor do I ever expect to.  I would delight to see it scrubbed clean of oil and dry as a bone, but I doubt that’s in the realm of possibility.  A girl can dream.

No maintenance records were available when I purchased Rubigale over two years ago and the engine hour meter for the Perkins 4-108 had stopped at some time in the unknown past at almost 4000 hours.   I knew when I finally found someone to service the engine that the impeller should be replaced as well and naively went to a marine store with my type of engine and was handed an impeller. I could have done the replacement myself, but some cabinet disassembly is required so I waited for the engine inspection to save some work.

Things never go that smoothly and it wasn’t the correct impeller by a long shot.  Meanwhile, after taking the water pump plate off, a pint or so of sea water spilled into the bilge.  This was not fresh sea water, but the kind that smells of long dead sea creatures decomposing and creating a miasma of a magnitude that was surprising. Meanwhile, the inspection was completed, a list of parts made, and the spill rags and roll under the engine and in the bilge were changed.

The smell from the seawater lingered heavily and had to be dealt with.  I flipped the bilge pump to manual for a minute, then had the bright idea of pouring in a couple or three buckets of fresh water with a dash of bilge cleaner. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I should have paid more attention to the water level before pouring more in. The pump came on automatically and continued to run. After getting out my flashlight and peering into the deep dark hole I could see the water level wasn’t changing. I ran outside and found no water coming out.  Insert expletives here.

Seemed Like a Good Idea

Seemed Like a Good Idea

To get to the pump and the strainer I have to remove my dining table, pole that holds it, and the floor it sits on.  That done, I checked the hose clamp to the pump, which was still in place.  The strainer looked black so I decided to clean that. But try as I might I could not get it to budge and eventually needed to remove it with a strap wrench. The filter was indeed fouled with oil and cat hair and I scrubbed it with a brush it until it shone silver again.  I was having a little trouble getting the top screwed back on, and the filter wasn’t seated just right.  I pulled it out, bobbled it and watched it fall into the dark deep bilge under three buckets of water.

Strainer Screen

Strainer Screen

I called a nearby marine store to see if they had the part I needed and was told they did.  I rushed there on my lunch hour and bought the whole $30 strainer and housing, though I later learned that I could have just purchased the replacement screen separately for about $12.

WIth everything put back together, I turned the manual switch, and no water filled the strainer.  From the little I knew about plumbing, I figured that either the hose was blocked or had a hole, or the pump was bad.  I once saw a raw water intake hose cleared by blowing a fierce breath in to the hose, so I was emboldened. I detached the hose from the strainer and gave a healthy puff, creating a huge burp in the bilge water. If you were wondering, yes, it was gross as it sounds. Disheartened, I replaced the hose and clamp after scrubbing my face and brushing my teeth. It was time to move to the pump, right after work, which meant putting the floor and table back again.

New In-line Strainer

New In-line Strainer

I took up the table and floor for the fifth time in the last few days, sprawled across the top of the diesel tank and shown a light on the pump. I had done a little research the day before because I knew it didn’t look like the bilge pumps I had seen in the stores, or the water pump I had installed. I wasn’t actually expecting to find it. It was belt driven, sat in a higher, dryer section of the boat and looked practically medieval to me, or perhaps a steam punk prop. Research and a call to a friend told me this was probably a diaphragm pump and I found a few online that looked similar, so I had narrowed down my choices.  I was on the search for a model, or if I couldn’t find the pump, a rebuild kit.

 The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The label on the motor had long since deteriorated and I couldn’t make out one word on it.  Much of the pump was hidden under the diesel tank intake line, but I eventually found a metal label near the base.  Much of the label was gone and the serial number was illegible, but most of the model number was there and was enough for a search. I found that it was an old Jabsco 6680J which was now the 36680 series and readily available. It looked exactly like my pump, just 40 years younger, and the specs matched what I could read on the old label for GPM and amperage. Replacement parts were also readily available.

Last Identifying Marks

Last Identifying Marks from Old Bilge Pump

The question now was whether to buy the rebuild kit or get a new one. The rebuild was at best $115, compared to $350 or more for a new pump. I had friends that could help me do the rebuild, found instructions online, and it would be a good learning experience. A year ago I might have done that, but it seems as though Rubi has hit the magic boat age where things are falling apart at the same time-diesel heater pump, fresh water pump, accumulator, fresh water hoses, etc, so my gut told me to get the new pump and use the old one to learn on some day in my retirement.

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

The new pump arrived, the table and floor came up again, and a throw pillow was laid on the diesel tank. I find it frustrating and at the same time hilarious that screws of every type and size were used everywhere on this boat, often on the same item.  I have learned to prepare for all types before contorting myself into an uncomfortable position. Only two of the four legs of this pump were attached- one with a Phillips head, one with a square drive (P.O.s loved square drives), one had rusted off and left a flathead behind, and one just had nothing. I removed the pump and also a variety of screws attached to nothing in particular.

I had replaced my fresh water pump not long ago, so thought this should be straight forward. No. Both the old and the new pumps had two black wires coming out of one opening with no discernible differentiation. This baffled me. I had been expecting a red and a white wire like the water pump. I looked at the diagram…no explanation. L

This is the Phone a Friend part of the story, and I left a hectic message in TinySpeak that may have sounded like this: “I am trying to put the bilge pump in, and I have the fancy butt connectors with the stuff you squirt in there to protect it (Dielectric Silicone Compound), but there is a brown wire and a black wire coming from the boat, and the pump has two black wires coming from the same hole with no identifying marks on either wire, and nothing on the diagram to tell me what goes where and this is nothing like the water pump!” Insert foot stamp here.

J called me back within 10 minutes, and the explanation took less than 2 minutes because he speaks Tiny. “That is a series pump, hook it up this way, and it spins this way, hook it up that way, it spins that way. You have a diaphragm pump with a piston and valves, and it doesn’t matter which way it spins. Just don’t put the male connector on the brown wire”.

“I can do that!” I thought. And did.

The physical attachments to the boat took awhile because it was a tight space, and I needed to remove more random, useless screws. Fortunately the legs of the pump pivoted so I could get around some obstacles. Once the hoses were attached, everything worked like a dream, a dream of getting smelly dead sea creatures back into their natural burial place, and to finally moving on to the engine service that had started this whole mess to begin with.

The happy ending to this was that I could now see the filter screen that I had dropped. It was definitely out of my reach, so I taped a fork to a pole and was able to fish it out, clean it up, and have a perfectly good spare strainer on standby.

As seen in Three Sheets Northwest


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