Exactly how big is Dani?

A kind reader of this blog wrote us an email asking an interesting question. How big is Dani? Maybe you’ve wondered yourself? The reason for the inquiry is that his wife is five feet tall and might be wondering exactly how big and strong one has to be to operate a sailboat.

Burning man 2009

I thought I would share our answers here, since it was an interesting question and I’m sure there are other readers and dreamers and bloggers out there wondering about the physical strength and skills required to go sailing.

Dani is what I would consider a small person, though she thinks she is 8 or 9 feet tall at least.

Dani painting bilgekote

In reality, she is 5’5″ and well… (I’ll just say she isn’t fat! can’t risk revealing the weight). I am 6’2″ tall and about 230lbs. When we started sailing Dani was having a lot of trouble hauling in some of the sheets and hoisting the sails. That was when we started. Now she does it all herself. I think in the beginning we hadn’t really “gotten it” yet.

There were some very real other factors due to neglect. The main sail was almost impossible for me to hoist at first. I attribute this to its lack of use. Lots of junk in the track, old sticky winches, no lubrication, neglected mast sheaves, etc. It goes up and down a lot more easily now. To help Dani on the sheets, I installed much bigger jib winches and they provide a lot of power for her to haul in the sheets. We may not have needed bigger winches, but the old ones were so worn that there was no knurling at all left on the barrels, which would make the sheets slip when we tried to pull in. So all in all, I would say most of the physical problems were related to having an old and neglected boat.

That addresses the lines aboard. Another part of the question was about the tiller. This too involved learning. The W32 has a nasty habit of heading to weather (weather helm) when it has too much sail area aft. In a big blow you have to put a lot of pressure to hold her true. Over a long period of time this can be exhausting. Of course the correction for this is reef the main and to tighten the forward shroud. In short, you have to balance the boat, which is something that just must be learned. It took us a lot of practice to get it and we’re not perfect at it yet, but as time has progressed, we’ve made life on ourselves a lot easier.

how big and strong one has to be to operate a sailboat

The third part about sailing is handling the boat itself. I’m just big enough that if I put all my weight up against a piling and push I can deflect Sundowner off. But Dani (and anyone much smaller than me) simply cannot. We’ve had to learn the rules, no body part should EVER go between the boat and anything else. That is what fenders are for, etc. But this isn’t really a problem for anyone of any size since no one should do it anyway. She isn’t like the smaller sail boats we play on, the little 20 something footers that you can manhandle around in a slip. Its more like trying to move a bus.

These days things run much more smoothly. The boat is in a lot better shape and we know a lot more about what we’re doing. Its been a combination of practice, learning, and fixing.

Dani flying the Spinnaker

Something that might encourage anyone, is that the couple that owned Sundowner before us circumnavigated 3 times! The woman who was aboard was named Molly Firey and she is only 5′ tall and weighed very little. Roger (the man) said that men’s jaws would drop when they’d see his little wife sail up someplace handling the sails and the ship. They set out cruising in their 50s and continued sailing for the next 27 years. I believe they were both around 75-80 when they swallowed the anchor. So if 5′ tall Molly Firey could do it well into her 70s I imagine anyone could do it too if they have no infirmities. You can read some more about Roger and Molly’s extraordinary journey’s here: Previous Owners

We aren’t quite sure how the anchoring will work out quite yet. We have an older manual windlass and I know that I can operate it pretty easily. I suppose if it is too hard on Dani we’ll figure something else out, but knowing her, a veritable giant crammed in small frame, she’ll get it.

In the end, man’s greatest power comes from his mind and not his muscles. Fulcrums and levers and leverage are where you get your power from. I recall Bernard Moitessier figuring this out while in the southern ocean. He had bent his long metal pipe bowsprit and it clawed at his soul to see it sticking off to one side like a broken finger. After all his frustration, he realized that using a block and tackle he could bend it straight. Imagine that, a man bending a huge piece of pipe with just some ropes and his brain. I don’t think sailing will be easy, but I think Dani’s got a big ole brain in a little bitty body, and that makes her plenty strong enough.

When Dust is a Good Thing

Something rather remarkable happened the other day. Dani had gone to the boat after getting off of work and she sent me an email with the following photo attached.

Our email conversation went like this:
Dani: It is so dry its dusty.
Tate: What have we done?
Dani: It is like the Sahara.

What had we done indeed? After years of boat ownership, our bilge had dried out. Completely. To the point that dust bunnies are swirling around below. A major milestone.

Many non-boat owners won’t understand this, but boats are notorious for leaks. Every fitting, thruhull, bolt, and crevice is a potential for leaking. The whole boat shifts all around while sailing. Imagine taking your entire house and shaking it constantly. Shaft seals where the propeller shaft goes through the hull will drip water. Basically, it seems like there would forever and ever be water in the bilge. But somehow, as if by miracle or divine intervention, our bilge had run dry.

But this was not some miracle. It was many hours of hard work. From rebedding port lights, deck hardware, and the hull to deck joint, all the way to installing the drip less shaft seal so that the slow and annoying trickle of water would stop. Every little bit got us one step closer to drying out. And now finally, in the final hour of our refit, we’ve attained the holy grail of a dry bilge.

So I say to all of you that read this blog while doing your own refits, do not give up. Stay vigilant. And don’t let the people around you say that it cannot be done. It just takes time and effort and good materials. The credit for this belongs in Dani’s little caulk stained hands. Bless her, she pushed and pushed for this day to come and now she can reap the benefits of a leak free living space that is smelling better and feeling better every day.

Enough gloating… With my seemingly endless bout of illnesses at bay, I plan to start making our final push to close our the refit. Coming soon on Sundowner Sails Again:

  • Installation of the fresh water system and my notes on constructing a cheap filtration system
  • Installation of our new Monitor Windvane
  • Install of the new solar panels
  • We order a ton more stuff, including anchor chain and a fridge
  • Installation and notes for installing the stove and propane system

And some other big news. You may have noticed that our ticker on the right sidebar is slowly making its way closer and closer to Day 0. We’ve had a weather eye on that little time ticker all these many years. Its telling us that it is almost time, and not being one to ignore its insistent ticking, we’ve decide to move aboard by the end of October. We gave our landlord notice. Its official. No turning back now. For the first time in our lives, Dani and I will be house-less, but not quite home-less.

Until then… May your bilge be like the Sahara.

Beauty and the beast

I like how my wife can make blog posts about what vaccines we’re getting and post a photo of herself smiling with her cute little bandaid on her arm. I, however, cannot.

 photo 452_vaccination-5-things-you-didnt-know_flash.jpg

When I was younger I got a vaccination that caused a reaction in me that was very bad. The doctors at the time said I had a reaction to the serum and thus the vehicle of the vaccination was dangerous to me. So I just didn’t get any more vaccines. No boosters. Nothing. I was even weary of things like steroid shots they give when you get sick. I wouldn’t let them near me with needles. One time when I went into the doctor when I was about 25 for some illness, the doctor prescribed a steroid shot or something. I told him no thanks but he didn’t listen. Later a nurse walks in with a needle and takes it out. I told her no but she was coming towards me with the “This won’t hurt” speech. I had to shout at her to stop and explain the allergy risk, but you know, it was in that moment I was getting ready to physically have to defend myself from a nurse. Crazy.

But as our deadline for departure approached, it became even more crazy. This whole problem just doesn’t sit well when you’re thinking about sailing off to 3rd world countries where certain diseases such as yellow fever are dangerous.

Enter, the allergist. I started to see an allergist to find out for once and all exactly what I was allergic to in the vaccines and if there was a way to at least get a yellow fever shot before leaving. The allergist ended up determining I had been misdiagnosed and that I was okay to have vaccinations. This involved much sticking of my arms with needles, vaccines, and waiting around to see if I would die. I lived. I have to admit I had a lump in my throat when they first gave me a 1/10th dose of Hep B vaccine.

On the up side, I discovered that giving blood is way more painful than getting shots. It had been so long since I had a shot, I had forgotten what it was like!

So now that I’m all clear to get vaccinations right… Dani sends me off to the doctor with a sheet of paper that looks 3 miles long with instructions for what vaccines I should get. The doctors and nurses looked at it, looked at me, looked at it, stole it from me, huddled. Then they came in with an arsenal of needles and a box of bandaids. The nurse that was going to give me the barrage actually ran out of room for the bandaids she was prestaging by opening them and sticking them to her gloves. This gave her pause and she looked at me and apologized. She didn’t say for what, she just looked at the bandaids sticking off her gloves in all directions making her hands look furry. All in all, I was stabbed at least 8 times. Fun stuff.

Well back to my beautiful wife. She was beaming with her cute little bandaid after getting her shots.

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been shot in both arms, running a fever, shivering, and looking like death warmed over. To add insult to injury, my skin looks like its been burned by the bandaids, which caused some sort of reaction. Oh well. Some of us can’t be beautiful as we slog through the final stretch. Never the less, I’m truly overjoyed that I’m finally able to have vaccinations again. I should have done this sooner.

Please, please don’t rain!

Go to Part 1 of caulking the deck seams for more detailed instructions.

Please, please don't rain

I don’t usually ever plead or beg to the unknown for things that I want in life. I guess I feel life is just going to be whatever it is (and I make of it) and it would be pathetic and self serving to put hope in begging for things to go my way. This isn’t to say I’ve never done it. It’s funny but it is at those most desperate of times in my life when I’ve found myself actually begging, pleading for things to work out.

In those circumstances where I can physically do no more my last, very last resort is to beg. This weekend I found myself doing just that. Now boat projects don’t really fall in the “desperate” category for me but I worked so hard on Thursday and Friday to prepare the rest of the teak that I just really really really wanted it to not rain.

Starboard Teak before pics:
Starboard before
Starboard caulk before picture

All of the caulk removed using Teak Decking Systems Reefing Hook
Caulk removed

Oh yeah I made a short video of the tool in action. As far as I can tell there isn’t another manual tool like this out in the market. I swear this job would have taken at least 5 times as long without it.

Tackling the rest of the teak this go around I needed more time so I started early on Thursday night after work removing caulk and then again on Friday where I finished sanding/cleaning everything. Saturday was the day I was going to wake up early (6am) and tape as fast as I could and caulk the remainder of the cockpit. I needed to be done by 4pm so time was of the essence. Thanks to VERY flaky weather the forecasts were changing by the hour. On Thursday Saturday’s forecast was 20% rain but by Saturday morning it was 60% starting at 1pm. UGH. Oh well, I’ll give it a shot, maybe it’ll work out.

I taped faster this time by leaving out the tabs. I found using a small screwdriver I could easily remove the tape.
Starboard Taped up

Clouds were passing overhead and by this point I was so far invested I resorted to pleading. Please, Please don’t rain. Come on, help me out! Please, I never ask for anything and so forth. LOL. This time around I caulked the battens first and then came back and did the long borders. I found this to disturb the caulk less.
Caulking and Taping
Middle caulked

The weather gods had mercy on me and held off the rain just until the moment I had closed up the last seam.  My makeshift rain protection in the first picture kept all of the caulk dry except this little section. The little drizzle doesn’t hurt the caulk at all though.
Rain on the middle caulk

I removed all the tape and found I had better caulk seams overall.
Caulk lines

Of course there were still the imperfections at the junctions but these will sand out easily as shown in the second picture.
Caulking Mistakes

Imperfection sanded out on the Port side (Part 1) with no problem.
Port side after sanding

And just like that I was done! As I sit here and type this I can hardly believe it.
Middle before

Middle finished
Starboard side finished

I actually sanded the previously completed port side (left) with 120 grit like TDS recommends and got out all the imperfections as well as toned down the black color a bit. If you have a discerning eye you can see the starboard side seams are blacker.
Cockpit completely finished

This second round of caulking took me 18 hours since it was more area, so in all about 33 hours to reseam the cockpit teak working by myself. Not bad and I would do it again in a heart beat. Everything looks brighter and more defined, it’s lovely. It’s sort of like how sweeping and mopping your floors at home makes all the difference. I Can’t wait for sundowners in Sundowner’s new cockpit.

Well truly that was my last big project on Sundowner (for now) and I can finally fall back into the Captain’s Apprentice role for the multitude of projects Tate has coming up! (Install the windvane, solar panels, propane and stove, water tanks and plumbing, anchors and chain, engine shifter) It’s hard for me to believe just how far we’ve come.