Four Busy Days

Soon enough we were back at Duet again, for the planned 4 day weekend to replaced the main coolant pump and get Duet rigged for our offshore journey. The pump had returned, nicely rebuilt and repainted, complete with all the parts necessary to replace it. Unfortunately, as is often the case, since Ron didn’t remove the pump, it was difficult to figure out how to put it back. Anyone who has tried to reassemble anything that was disassembled by someone else is familiar with this problem. 

Jeff’s mechanic, Miguel, did his best to label everything, but it proved quicker for Ron to wait for Miguel to help, than chew up hours trying to figure out what went where. Ron does have the shop manual for Duet’s main engine, actually he has the shop manuals for just about everything aboard, but in this case it proved a little short on details. Once Miguel returned on Monday, the pump went back on rapidly and Ron can now remove and replace it himself.

We have found Jeff and his team to be very helpful and tolerant of Ron’s learning curve with Duet. Some yards do not like owners to observe work, nor are they happy with teaching you how to do things. We do not patronize yards which have such a policy. We take Duet all over the place, and if we had to wait for a mechanic to show up every time something needed to be replaced or repaired, we’d never get anywhere. We would also rapidly go bankrupt, as good mechanics and other boat support is expensive.

So Ron spent the rest of the long weekend, prior to Miguel’s appearance on Monday, setting Duet up for offshore work. We have some well established procedures, developed on our 46, which we have transferred to Duet. While the trip from Seattle to Portland involved only one offshore day and night, the principle is the same regardless of the distance, so we set Duet up as if we were headed offshore for weeks.

Ron and Nancy split the duties on Duet. The division is more pink and blue than we might like, but in our travels together that has worked best for us. Nancy knows a little about the mechanical side of things, having worked on her own car in the days when she couldn’t afford to pay someone else, but she’s not in Ron’s league when it comes to fixing or maintaining engines, electrical systems, etc. She does, however, handle navigation, charts, safety gear, flares, life jackets, life raft, fire extinguishers, licensing, etc., as well as provisioning and planning for any travel. So both Ron and Nancy were pretty busy during this brief visit.

Ron spent his time making sure that all preventative maintenance that needed to be done had been done. This included a new impeller on the back up main raw water pump (as described in a previous blog), making sure that we had plenty of Racor filters on hand, etc. The Racor filters in particular were critical, as we once spent a rather tense 24 hours changing said filters every 2 hours, in medium weather, off the Carolinas.

These filters ensure that Duet’s main engine gets nice clean fuel, rather than dirty fuel which might cause it to stop. Dirty fuel will also stop the wing or back up engine as well, so having enough filters on board can truly save the day. We had not yet taken this Duet offshore in bigger seas, which might stir up any sediment at the bottom of her tanks and block her fuel lines. Ron guessed her tanks were pretty pristine, based on what had come through the filters thus far, but you can never have too many filters on hand.

Nancy, meantime, focused on offshore food, which in this case meant buying frozen lunches and dinners, plus bagels and other normally outlawed carbs. We normally don’t eat lots of pasta, bread, etc. but when offshore our stomaches tend to crave this kind of thing and we have learned to make sure that offshore meals are tasty. We also want to include as much protein as we can, as otherwise one lives on bagels, cookies and chips, which makes you more tired than ever when the sugar wears off. Yogurt or cheese pasta are good examples of tasty but useful foods for offshore journeys.

On longer journeys Nancy cooks and freezes food beforehand, but for a short journey like this she cheats and buys ready made things. For this trip we had Annie’s Organic Vegetarian Roasted Vegetable Lasagna for dinner and Annie’s Organic Vegetarian Burritos for lunch. Breakfast was bagels with peanut butter and/or cream cheese and/or sugar free jam. Ron, who knows a good thing when he sees it, had everything. Snacks included nuts and lemon and blueberry cookies, as well as frozen Snickers bars for the night watch. We also had fruit aboard, a few grapes go down well when you are looking for something to snack on.

Nancy also assembled our overboard bag, which contains all the things we might need in the life raft, in the unfortunate event that we need to board it. The contents have been refined slightly from the 46, and is based on a list provided by Landfall Navigation, which sells great safety kits, gear, etc. In particular, right now we do not have a hand held water maker, so Nancy ordered some pre packaged water from one of the survival sites on the internet. We have found that survival gear is often cheaper from sites other than those designed for marine use. The same can be said of parts, although you have to be sure that substitutes can stand up to sea conditions. Our man overboard bag is in the center of the picture below, on either side are our exposure suits. We put gear out before departing, where it is easily accessible in the event of an emergency.


Ron, after making sure he had enough of everything to meet any eventuality, set up the life raft. On the 46, we had the life raft in a soft valise in the salon, so it could be thrown overboard from the cockpit. On the new Duet, the life raft is mounted in a cradle on the boat deck, just behind the starboard fly bridge stack below the davit arm. It is equipped with a hydrostatic release, so it will automatically release from the boat when the boat deck is underwater. In a slightly better scenario, Ron would go on the boat deck, release it and throw it over the side. It is too heavy for Nancy, even fueled by adrenaline, to manage safely.

After rehearsing Ron throwing the raft over the side around the davit and trying to hang onto the short painter (line) which sticks out from one side, we figured there had to be a better way. There is, for which we must credit well known Captain Milt Baker on the Nordhavn 47 Bluewater. Milt’s raft is in the same position as ours. He attaches a long line to it, runs the line off the boat deck and down to the aft cockpit, where it is tied to a hawsehole. 

That way, when the raft is thrown into the water, it definitely stays attached to the boat, without the thrower, or anyone else, having to do anything. It can then be cut free when everyone is aboard. The line is attached to the boat deck rails with small cable ties, which break easily under the strain of the rope pulling away. It looked like it should work perfectly. We tested the cable ties, Nancy could break one easily.

We also moved the crane out of the way, so the raft wouldn’t get tangled in it when it was thrown. Rehearsing this kind of event goes a long way to ensuring that things go right when the time comes. Captain Ron, in his role as Dr. Ron, the anesthesiologist, spends a lot of time preparing for emergencies. This skill has come in very handy on a boat.

That settled, we moved on to the sea anchor. We always carry a sea anchor, mainly in the event of a breakdown. The anchor, which looks like a parachute, will keep Duet’s head to the seas while Ron fixes whatever the problem is. We had ordered a new sea anchor, the necessary rode (line) and a drogue, from Fiorentino, a California based maker of safety gear. We had seen the equipment at the Seattle boat show and were impressed with it’s quality. Several heavy boxes had been manhandled onto Duet by Jeff’s crew right before we arrived and proved to contain all that we needed from Fiorintino.

On the 46 we would rig the sea anchor, with it’s chain leader running over the bow to the samson post, and the rope rode running down the starboard safety rail back to the Portuguese bridge, where the anchor itself sat, ready for deployment. On this trip we didn’t go that far, we were not expecting any weather and would only be out there for 24 hours, so Ron figured he could deploy the anchor easily enough if we needed it. All of it was set ready in the salon.


We didn’t think we would need the drogue either on this trip. The drogue is designed to be streamed off the back of the boat to keep her from broaching, which is when her stern comes around in a big wave and she turns sideways to the seas, rather like skidding in a car. We did put the drogue out though, just in case. We would use the same rode for the drogue as we use for the sea anchor, as there are very few, if any, scenarios where we would use both simultaneously.


Last, but not least, was our new Brownie Third Lung. On the 46 we kept a scuba tank for Ron to dive on the boat and remove or repair whatever needed attention. He dove on the boat quite a bit, mostly to change the zincs, but once, memorably, in the ICW just north of Charleston, to clean the keel cooler which got a bit overgrown during a long stay in that wonderful city.

The biggest problem with the tank was the weight, and also, getting it refilled. We considered a dive compressor, so we could fill it ourselves, but it seemed a bit overkill. The Brownie is essentially an endless tank, connected to a long hose with a regular on the end for the diver to breath through. It is a great solution for diving on the boat, and, as we don’t dive recreationally any more, it seemed a better fit for our needs.

We rigged the Brownie up and tested it, to make sure it worked. It started up just fine and even Nancy tried it out. Scott from Sea Eagle, as an experienced commercial diver, had also provided Ron some good tips on how to handle diving on Duet in the open ocean. The biggest issue is the boat rising up and down in the seas, you have to be very careful not to get hit on the head. Scott even sent us a link to some great very sharp knives, which Nancy picked up at Seattle Marine before our departure.

The Brownie comes with a long hose, shown below, as well as a regulator. Ron brought the rest of his scuba gear on this trip, so he is all set.

Last, but not least, we rigged up a jackline from the bow to the scupper on the starboard foredeck. A jackline is a specially made line most often used by sailors. It is shown in the photo below, passing through the scupper. It runs from that scupper to the hawse on the staarboard side, as shown in the second photo. The other end is attached to one of the samson posts just behind the windlass.

Anyone who had to go forward of the Portuguese bridge when the boat is offshore clips their tether to this jackline and then slides it along until they reached the anchor, for example, if it were to come loose. On our 46, every time Ron took the dogs onto the foredeck to relieve themselves, he would clip to this jack line. The dogs also wore harnesses, and were on leashes. Nancy remained in the pilothouse, with her finger on the man overboard button.

So we were ready, or as ready as we were going to be. We flew home to Reno for three weeks, prior to our departure.


Cruise to Spencer Spit


After what seemed like an endless refit, but was really only about the half way point, based on Captain Ron’s list for Duet, we decided we should actually take her somewhere to try out all this new gear. So we returned to Seattle in early April and set off for the San Juan Islands. The trip north was uneventful, we left on a weekday so there was little traffic and the weather was calm. While we will probably never say locks aren’t a big deal, we are comfortable enough with the Ballard Lock now that we approach it with caution, as opposed to trepidation, which makes for a much easier journey. During the trip Ron spent some time communing with Duet’s main engine, although Nancy thinks it looks more like he’s reading it a bedtime story.

Ron and the main engine


We anchored at Spencer’s Spit, which, funnily enough, is the first place we anchored with a chartered Krogen 42 back in 1997. We had just bought our first boat, a Monk 36, after years of chartering sailboats. We had chartered a Monk on the Chesapeake Bay, our home cruising grounds at the time, and decided that trawlers were for us. The Krogen charter, as is often the case with boats, immediately convinced us that we needed a larger boat, even though we had only had the Monk for about 6 months.

Part of this power versus sail decision was based on Tristan and Maggie, our two Labrador retrievers, who didn’t do well with life on a sailboat slant. Also, frankly, we like our creature comforts, and after figuring out that we would need at least a 50 foot sailboat to manage A/C, a generator, etc., we decided that trawlers were a better answer. Nordhavn was part of our lives, even then, as we had seen a 46 in Dana Point the previous year. Our salesman, Dennis Lawrence (now with Kady Krogen in Seattle) advised us to purchase a small trawler and learn more about boating, before embarking on the purchase of a 46. So we did. 

Anyway, anchoring at Spencer’s Spit brought back memories, and we spent a pleasant evening reminiscing. We deployed the new flopper stopper, which worked like a charm, fending off ferry wakes and other motion with ease. The new hook also worked beautifully, setting like a rock on the first try and holding despite our increasing efforts to pull it out.

Duet at Spencer Spit


Our anchoring process hasn’t changed since we started boating, we set the hook slowly (creeping up on it, as Captain Ron likes to say) and, once all the chain has been laid out, we pull harder and harder in reverse. Ron monitors our position using binoculars and anything he can use as a range ashore, while Nancy stands ready to shove the shifter into forward if things don’t work out as planned.

On the 46, we would back down on the anchor at engine RPMs that replicated the forces of particular wind speeds. Ron had constructed a useful table of wind speeds versus engine RPM. In this way, we could reassure ourselves that the hook would hold in the highest wind that was expected. We have not yet constructed such a table for the 50. The engine on the 50 is so much larger, and it seems to develop awesome thrust at relatively low RPM. So far the big Rocna has been up to anything we have thrown at it, but we have never backed down at more than 1150 RPM. Cruising RPM on this boat is about 1650.

Ron still wasn’t happy with the way the chain and the windlass were interacting. Nancy, who watches from the pilothouse while Ron deals with the anchor, has seen literally miles of chain pass across windlass gypsies over the years, and she was sure something wasn’t right. One for the punch list on our return. Ron still hadn’t installed the new aft chain roller, but since we were putting chain out, rather than pulling it in, we had no issues with the anchor coming up over the nose, just with the way the chain ran off the gypsy.

 The next morning we considered going ashore. Unfortunately, it appeared that our dinghy, while it had nearly everything else, did not have an anchor. Or, if it did, we couldn’t find it. This sounds funny, but in the year we have had Duet, we had found several compartments we didn’t know existed, full of exciting gear. Most of it has been parts, but we also found several nice salon cushions in a storage area, which was under a storage area, which was under the pilothouse bench seat. They appeared to have never been used, so it is possible that Duet’s previous owner never found that compartment either.

Taking the dinghy ashore without an anchor was a nonstarter. The PNW has considerable tidal range. The dinghy is heavy. Once we got it ashore, we weren’t sure we could launch it again, if it ended up too far up the beach during a falling tide. Conversely, during a rising tide, it stood a good chance of floating away, and Nancy wasn’t in the mood to swim after it. So we stayed on the boat, doing various tasks and getting used to being out on the hook again.

After several nice days at Spencer Spit, we decided to return to Seattle, albeit a few days before our original plan, to avoid a weather front working it’s way down from the Gulf of Alaska. We departed early in the morning, having used Nobeltec’s new (to us anyway) route planning tool to calculate our departure and arrival times, incorporating the current.

We have found this tool, after some testing, to be relatively accurate. Unlike some cruisers, we enter waypoints along the way, rather than prior to departure, although we do put together a rough idea of how the trip will look in the route planner. This rough analysis gives us approximate distances and an estimate of the overall trip time, which is useful for planning.

In our experience, things tend to intrude on carefully planned routes. These things include, but are not limited to, other boats, dredges, buoys which have moved or are temporary, etc. In one memorable instance, we arrived at the Cape Fear outer buoy at around 3AM, to find that the entire channel had been moved while we were in the Bahamas. In this case, the intrusion was to be the US Coast Guard, who decided to board us.

We have never, in all our years of cruising, been boarded by the Coast Guard. We have no idea why, as we have traveled in areas known for boarding and many of our friends have been boarded on the same routes we took. Finally, however, it was our turn.

Duet was southbound, just outside the channel in Admiralty Inlet. For those not familiar with the geography of the PNW, the San Juans are north of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, while Seattle is south. The inbound Straight ends at the northern end of the Puget Sound, on which Seattle is located. So, to return to Seattle from the San Juans, one must cross the busy shipping lanes of Juan de Fuca. There are traffic schemes which define which vessels go where in this crowded area. Admiralty Inlet, where the channels all come together, is similar to a traffic circle used by automobiles. In the chart below the center of each traffic scheme is shown in purple. All traffic keeps to the right, respectively.

Admiralty Inlet

While traveling in crowded areas with a lot of commercial shipping, we make a point of staying out of the traffic lanes whenever we can. Ships, tugs and other large vessels remain in the traffic lanes and are limited by their draft. Duet, while considered a relatively deep draft boat by some, nevertheless is able to operate in water depths of about 10 feet without undue concern. We are big believers in the rule of gross tonnage, namely the bigger guy is always right, so we always get out of the way.

So there we were, chugging along southbound just outside the southbound traffic lane, rather like a bicycle on the side of the road. Ahead was a Coast Guard vessel, moving slowly, even further off the lane than we were. In the water just ahead of it, was a small fast moving inflatable, chasing a large motor yacht. Nancy, who watches these interactions with great interest, said to Ron “look it’s the Coast Guard and they are going to board that motor yacht”. Ron, having listened to Nancy’s theories about what’s going on out there, which sometimes are right, but can also be wrong, made a noncommittal noise and kept Duet trucking on her course to Seattle.


Coast Guard mothership

After watching the inflatable catch the motor yacht, and the Coast Guard personnel board the yacht, and getting Ron to watch said boarding, Nancy proposed another idea “they are going to board us next”. Ron, again relying on years of experience with Nancy’s theories, and what he regards as almost a paranoia about authority, replied “no way”. The Coast Guard personnel then departed the yacht and returned to the mother ship, which had been keeping pace with us and the motor yacht. Ron, having been married a long time, carefully said nothing. Nancy said “ they are going to have lunch and then will board us”. Ron again said nothing. Since it was lunch time, we had lunch.

In the meantime, we continued south, at about 8 knots. The Coast Guard vessel, now with it’s inflatable back aboard, kept station with us at a similar speed about ½ mile off our starboard side. Once we (and presumably they) finished lunch the inflatable went back in the water. Nancy refrained from commenting on this. Ron, comfortable in the knowledge that the Coast Guard would definitely call us on the radio before boarding, sat in the helm seat watching our course.

Within about 5 minutes, without a radio call, the inflatable came alongside the pilothouse door. Nancy stepped outside, without making any comments to Ron (although she was sorely tempted) to see what they wanted. The personnel on the inflatable had two questions, first, how many people aboard, and, second, did we have any weapons? The answers, two, whom you can see in the pilothouse and no, made them comfortable enough to say we are going to board you.

Coast Guard inflatable


Since this was a new experience, Ron and Nancy weren’t sure how to proceed. We asked if we should slow down, they said no, maintain speed and course. So Ron stayed in the pilothouse and Nancy went aft to greet them, while keeping her hands in plain sight. Two members of the three member team came aboard, a female officer and a male crewman, while the inflatable driver remained with his vessel. 

Boarding was somewhat precarious, as Duet throws a wake at the transom, we were moving at 8 knots, there was a slight sea running and our swim step is about 6 inches wide where they chose to board. Also, it was raining, so everything was slippery. Nevertheless, the two made it on board safely. They were wearing foul weather gear, lifejackets and boots, and carrying radios, hand guns, cell phones, handcuffs and a clip board. Rather like the Nevada Highway Patrol, but without the Taser, and with the lifejackets, foul weather gear, boots and clip board.

Nancy fetched Duet’s documents binder, which was given to the junior crew member to review and complete the paperwork. The female officer wanted to see our bilges, our heads and our engine room. That being Captain Ron’s domain, Nancy took the wheel and Ron set off for the tour. In addition, Nancy also explained that all our fire extinguishers had recently been inspected (thank you Jeff for insisting on that) and that we had two automatic systems (one in the engine room and one in the lazarette), as well as at least 5 extinguishers in the various compartments of the vessel. This seemed to satisfy the fire extinguisher review.

Ron took the officer below, showed her our holding tank overboard valve with it’s cable tie, which was satisfactory. We did not, however, have Waste Management placards affixed near each head. This was a new requirement for Nancy, she didn’t recall seeing it anywhere, but, whatever, we didn’t have the placards. We did have a Waste Management Plan (namely how we manage our trash) as well as a Waste Management placard affixed to the side of the trash compactor. We also have a ‘No Oil Discharge’ placard in the engine room.

Fortunately, the officer was nice about it, and wrote us a warning about the placards. She did inform us if we were boarded again without them we would get a ticket, so they went on Nancy’s immediate buy list. It turns out, for those interested, that West Marine has free Waste Management placards, which we taped to the inside of the locker doors where the head valves are located in both heads.

The officer then asked to see the engine room. Since the engine was running, Ron brought up the subject of ear protection, as he doesn’t like folks going into the engine room without it and we have only one set of ear muffs. She had no ear protection, so we satisfied the engine room inspection by showing it on our engine room camera, which fortunately can zoom and pan.

Meanwhile the junior crew member copied down all our information, and checked us with the mother ship via radio. Duet is a Coast Guard documented vessel, so she has a Coast Guard number, as well as a MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identity) for emergencies. She also has licenses for her SSB radio and for Captain Ron to operate it. These are not required in the US, but since we plan to visit foreign countries, we figured we would get them now. Our documentation was in good order.

Funnily enough, they didn’t inspect our flares or life raft, just our life jackets. Nancy, who had carefully sorted out all the flares, as we keep them all, even if they are expired, was disappointed, but apparently we were “inshore” and so did not need flares. They did count life jackets, but since there were only the two of us aboard and we had our Mustang Survival auto inflating jackets hanging in the pilothouse locker, we were OK there.

The Coast Guard departed on good terms, after about 20 minutes. The boarding of the inflatable was even more hair raising than the boarding of Duet, Nancy was only hoping their mother ship was able to assist, as she really didn’t want to go in the water if one of them fell in. Nancy did consult a retired Coast Guardsman, whom she swims with back home, about this practice. He said that boarding vessels underway is a macho thing, and he wasn’t at all surprised that they did it this way.

Fortunately, this experience didn’t slow us down much, although it did give Nancy a great opportunity to say “I told you so”. Having been married for many years, she didn’t and got Captain Ron tea and a cookie instead. Duet rumbled on, and we arrived in Poulsboro without further incident. There we offloaded the dinghy, with no fanfare thanks to the new davit, and went ashore for ice cream, which we felt we deserved after all this excitement.

During our stay at Poulsboro, Ron installed the new aft anchor roller. We held our breaths during testing, but it worked like a charm. The hook came up, the aft end of it tried to lift, the aft roller kept the chain down, and the hook, with a loud thump, came up onto the roller without further ado. We tested it multiple times, same result. So Ron judged it fixed, but kept it on the watch list.

New anchor system

The chain, in the meantime, still wasn’t playing well with the gypsy. A close examination of the chain noted that it was stamped G43, which according to the research materials we had access to, is the same as G40, which is what we thought we had. So we decided to discuss this with Jeff on our return.

We returned to Seattle several days later. Again, our time on Duet was far too short, but we were pleased with the results of our new gear installations, and were much looking forward to returning Memorial Day week.