Thursday, September 5, 2013

And We're Off

You've been waiting for this post, I'm sure. I've sure been looking forward to this day! Sometime in the spring, we sat down to pick a departure date. We'd read that without a hard deadline, many sailors find it difficult to leave the dock. The Pacific NW coast gets dicey in the fall, so we knew we wanted to leave in early September. It seemed pretty obvious to us both to choose September 3rd, Bryan's birthday, as an ideal day to sail away.
First, we had to move aboard. We'd purged a lot when we left our house and little by little worked to let go of more after we moved in with Bryan's mom. But there was still an insurmountable pile to deal with in the last few days. We drove several car loads up to the boat and on Saturday, spent one last morning at the house getting (we hope!) the last of our things packed. Bryan's mom and aunt left today for a month in Africa and Amsterdam, so they were in the middle of their own packing frenzy, but somehow we made it out.

In a caffeine fueled frenzy, the girls and I spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday "stuffing the stuff" while Bryan worked on drilling holes in the boat to install the new, external chainplates. He broke a drill bit off inside one stubborn hole and spent most of the day trying to find a solution.

Our work started out tidy and sensible and devolved into randomness as we got closer and closer to Sunday night. Finally we stashed the last few boxes in the trunk of our car and went to bed because Monday was...
The Bon Voyage Party!
We'd been saying smaller goodbyes for days, even had a picnic in the rain at the park near our church for those who couldn't make it to St. Helens. But many of our friends and family had never even seen our boat, and we wanted to give them a good picture of our home for the year. Monday morning, Bryan spent more time drilling the chainplate holes and the girls and I found hidey holes for everything below.

Many of our dear ones were able to join us. We tested the buoyancy of our vessel for a few family pictures and spent a delightful afternoon shifting from the park to the boat to see everyone "one last time." 
I'd said to Bryan the night before, "I wish I could filter out all the exhausted and the freaked out and just leave the excited for a little while." At the party, people from all of our circles—family, church friends, sailing friends—intersected and their excitement for us overshadowed, just for the moment, all the hard work, the frustrations of the past months, and the uncertainty about the next. We've read other sailors' accounts of these events and imagined our own, but nothing prepared us for the outpouring of love, food, cards, gifts, and well-wishes.

OK. You're reading a sailing blog, so I know you're not too annoyed with sailing lingo. But just in case you don't know, the chainplates are the lower attachment points for the shrouds (the side cables holding up the mast) and ours were fiberglassed into the hull of the boat, 50 years old and un-inspectable. We'd manufactured new ones out of aluminum-bronze (that's a story in itself!), and planned to install them on the outside of the hull where we could inspect and maintain them more easily.

Before we could leave our dock, with readily available power and borrowed power tools, Bryan had several holes to drill, starting on the outside of the boat, working through the old chainplates, piercing through to the inside. He'd already finished the starboard side before the party, and it had gone relatively smoothly. Tuesday started off well, with 5 chainplate holes drilled in 2 hours. but this one hole on the port side seemed to be actively resisting. He broke several bits, dropped a few more (we've more than paid the obligatory sacrifice to Neptune) and borrowed a bigger drill. Nothing seemed to help and every pass with the drill produced a miniscule amount of metal shavings, just enough to keep him at it. Bryan assumed he was drilling through the old chainplate and likely a tie-bar, originally installed across all three chainplates, but even still, we couldn't figure out why it was taking so much longer than the other holes. Some friends (H&A) stopped by with helpful essentials—fresh strength, good attitudes, and gatorade. After 5 or 6 hours of drilling in the sun, the bit finally broke through to the other side. The whole marina heard us shouting! 
Later, the men realized they'd likely hit a weld and that bit of reinforced metal, in addition to the ½-¾” of stainless steel they'd drilled through was the reason our friend thought we'd discovered a new element—Un-obDrillium.

We scrambled to get cleaned up and our generous friends took us out for a celebration dinner. I don't know if we were more excited to celebrate Bryan's birthday or the fact that we'd finally poked the last hole in the boat. Either way, we took over a corner of the local Thai restaurant with our cheer.

By the time we walked back from dinner and cleaned out the truck one last time, Bryan's mom and aunt had arrived to see us off. We debated tossing everything on the deck and motoring over to nearby Sand Island, just on the principle of making our deadline. But Bryan's back was starting to seize up from the day's work and we made the sensible decision to stay for the night. “What if our first port of call is...the lovely St. Helens Marina?” Bryan joked. “It's conveniently located, with very friendly locals, and it seemed to take no time at all to get here!”
We said a last goodbye to Bryan's mom and aunt, off on their own adventure, and walked back to the boat, breathing a little deeper than we had in weeks.

Epilogue: It was Wednesday afternoon before we raised the drifter and eased away from the dock under sail. H&A had come back with more provisions (the boat is so loaded down with treats from friends—chocolate, quick breads, miso soup fixings—I think I could have skipped provisioning) and stood on the dock taking pictures and cheering as we slipped across the river to the Sand Island dock. Our journey of (many more than) a thousand miles had begun, not with a single step, but with a sail just about as short. Hannah, the official log-keeper, enjoyed recording the exact times of our departure and arrival: 4:07pm and 4:15pm. Symbolic? Yes. But meaningful just the same. We'd untied the lines from our old lives and crossed the river into our new one.


  1. So true necessity is the mother of invention. The old saw about "Cruising is fixing your boat in paradise" applies to Lilo and she is not even close to Paradise yet!

  2. By any chance could you elaborate on the fabrication of the bronze chainplates? Especially on how you decided to bend them. I am going to fabricate our next week for our hc33 and have already obtained the aluminum bronze. Ours measure 3\8" thick. Any info on your experiences would be great!



  3. Jon and Shannon,
    I don´t know if you´ve already finished fabricating your chainplates. In case this info is still helpful, we asked around until we found a friend-of-a-friend who owned a hydraulic press and a big drill press. He let us come to his shop and play for an afternoon. Then, my brother-in-law rounded the edges for us at his metal and wood shop. But assuming you have access to the right tools or have friends at a shop somewhere, you can make some templates to help get the curves right. We held pieces of cardboard perpendicular to the boat where we planned to put the chainplates. Then we taped a pen at a right angle to a stick about 4 inches from the end of the stick. We ran the tip of the stick in a vertical line down the side of the boat, from the gunwales down the hull to where the chainplates would end and the pen stuck out sideways and copied the curve onto the cardboard. Here´s a link to the photo album from our project. Maybe it will be helpful.
    Thanks for reading our stories! I hope everything goes well with your project.