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On Living Aboard

I can say without reservation that this past winter has been the worse since we have been living aboard Patty O’. Heavy p

recipitation driven by gale force wind with temperatures in the single digits struggling into the teens went on for days. The little coal stove was wholly inadequate even running full out. There was one time that the temperature in the salon stood at thirty nine degrees. My wife, the Blonde spent almost two weeks ensconced in a hotel. Sitting in the salon looking at the thermometer mocking me, I was close in agreement with those who think us bereft of our senses for choosing this lifestyle. The one positive thing in all this is that the winter cover remained completely intact in spite of the heavy rain and sleet that attacked it. Thank goodness for the hundred mile an hour aircraft tape. It’s not cheap but I’d gladly pay double for the peace of mind not having to worry about the cover taking off into the ether. We’re tied up on the back side of the gas dock, where we have been for the past several years. We used to tie up on the outside which makes it much easier to get under way. The problem with this is that in a Nor’easter the boat is to windward and is pressed up hard against the dock. This can, and has, caused damage to the topsides when a fender wiggles free in the serge. To prevent that from happening, I would rig a bridle around Patty O’s hull with a line running to a shackle hooked to a fifty foot length of chain attached to our seventy pound Bruce storm anchor when strong northeast winds were imminent. As you can imagine, this is not an easy task. The last time I did it, I waited too long thinking that the storm wasn’t going to be too bad. I was wrong and had to rig the whole thing in wind and rain in the dark. Not only did it take considerably longer, but it was extremely dangerous. Since then we’ve wintered on the back side of the dock, with the bridle permanently rigged and tied off ashore. This, of course, puts our goal of getting under way in fifteen minutes in summer and a half hour in winter in jeopardy. We haven’t put it to the test yet, and the way this winter is going, most likely won’t. We chose to pick these underway goals for two reasons. One, it has allowed us to enjoy some very pleasant winter cruises, and secondly, it helps to maintain a clutter free boat. We have seen some live aboard boats that are so disorganized that it would take days to get underway. We enjoy living aboard, present times excepted, but Patty O’ is not only our home, but she brings us a great deal of pleasure while under way. Our bubbler system is also getting a workout this year. With these extended low temperatures, there has been not a little ice around. Thin ice moving along the waterline of a wooden boat is not a good thing. In a very short time thin ice can saw a grove into a plank, and if not tended to will cut completely through. This is very difficult to repair, often requiring that the plank be completely replaced. The heavier than normal rain and other precipitation are also cause for concern. With the wildly swinging temperatures, there is the definite possibility that tiny cracks can, and will, open up on the weathered decks. When these cracks fill with water and the water freezes, the cracks expand and water gets down into the boat. This has the potential to cause rot to form. I found this out the hard way a few years ago much to my chagrin. During spring fitting out a while back, I found a soft spot on the starboard sheer strike. Pulling the ceiling boards out in the cabin exposed an area of extensive rot. It was a major repair job made easy by the help and advice of my friend Ritchie McGill who is a woodworker par excellence. After that expensive lesson, I spend a lot of time on preventing it from happening again. The yard employs bubblers around the pilings that secure the floating docks to keep the water moving, thus preventing the formation of ice. The bubbles are formed by forcing compressed air from hoses located just beneath the surface. They can be pressed into service via a timer, or a temperature sensor. The yard uses a temperature sensor, but they rely on yours truly to check the operation. Thick ice pushing against the pilings can easily cause them to lean over, resulting in an expensive repair. To prevent this from happening, there are a line of bubblers along each line of pilings. The docks themselves are removed for the winter and one by one are brought into the shop to be checked over and any necessary repairs are done. If a dock is deemed to be in poor shape or would be cost prohibitive to repair, a new one is built then and there. This keeps the yard crew busy in the off season. If there is snow in the forecast, the crew goes into snow removal mode once it comes. A plow is mounted on the yard truck and the yard tractor is equipped with a bucket and these help keep every corner of the yard accessible. Not all yards do this, but by keeping everything open make it easy for EMS people as well as the fire department to get around if necessary. At nights and weekends, I keep watch on the bubblers and the yard in general. On weekends, Ray, the yard foreman, drops by both days for a peek. I have his cell phone number and he carries it with him everywhere. He keeps it on the stand beside his bed, and he has repeatedly told me to call anytime of the day or night if there is anything that I think needs his attention. When the Blonde is staying at the hotel, and I am alone aboard Patty O’, she has admitted to being concerned for my welfare to the point of losing sleep. Like Ray, I keep my cell phone with me always, and it’s never turned off, unlike in summer when I sometimes have to call it to find where I left it. With this in mind, I did some online research and bought a Medical Alert System. This is a device that you can remotely allow you to call four numbers as well as optionally, 911. It feeds through a regular wired phone line or a cell phone with an optional coupler. A friend has one that he bought for his elderly mother who lives alone and recommends it highly. The yard graciously allowed me to use the shop phone line which is different than the office/store line. You plug the unit into the phone jack and then plug the phone back into the unit. The remote hangs around your neck and has a range of six thousand feet. I have Ray’s number as well as my friend Ritchie’s along with the Blonde’s programmed therein. It works quite well in all corners of the yard, even with boats between me and the shop building. They say that the thing is water proof, a claim that I have no intent on checking. Also, when I’m out and about I wear a construction vest life preserver that inflates automatically when it senses water. I know that all this has made the Blonde able to sleep better, but to be honest I’m a bit more at ease as well. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about replacing the coal stove with something else and have pretty much decided on a Diesel furnace. This unit can be mounted easily in Patty O’s engine room. It would also give me an incentive to lose a few inches around the middle to wiggle around down there. These things come in two different delivery methods. The first and less expensive delivers heated air throughout the boat. The other is a hydronic unit that uses hot water. I liked the hot air system due to its relative easy installation. However, everyone who knows anything about these things recommended the hydronic unit. They make the claim that not only is it more efficient, but it’s more suitable for those who live fulltime in their boat in the winter in the north east. Based on the weather this season, we are going to go with the more expensive hydronic system, a project to be sure. A side benefit is that it provides domestic hot water as well, allowing us to remove the electric water heater. My phone rang and I saw it was the Blonde. “I’m bringing us a treat.” She said. We haven’t gone out to eat in several weeks, mostly because I’m usually beat most of the time. That and we are trying to stay away from crowds in an attempt to keep from contracting the flu. “Should I put on a tie?” I asked. “Wiseacre!” she said. “I’m at the end of the dock.” “Be there in a sec.” I said hanging up the phone. And life is really good.

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