Happy New Year


It was a mild winter…up until this week when we got some cold, and then some snow. Warmer today, though.

I should write something deep and philosophical to see out the old year and welcome the new, but my brain is fried from working on our new web site design, so I will take refuge in a cool quote:

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.

Paulo Coelho

Phyllis and I wish you all the best for the new year as you take steps to escape routine, or continue to avoid it, as we do.

And thank you all—about a quarter of a million of you, according to Google Analytics—for joining us here at Attainable Adventure Cruising over the last year.

Winter Boat Care

The snaps are apropos of nothing at all, other than this was what I was doing on the last day of 2015—checking on Morgan’s Cloud at her winter in-water berth.


Winter boat-minding equipment.

Here’s what’s living in our car this winter to make boat minding easier and safer:

  • Working exposure suit.
  • Plastic shovel—doesn’t ding the paint.
  • Broom to keep the snow off the cleats.
  • Boat hook to open the door in the cover without risking a dunking.
  • Rubber mallet to beat ice off the lines and ladder.
  • New Sealskinz gloves, review coming.
  • Rock salt, every Canadian’s best winter friend.
  • Box of spare line in case something chafes through.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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14 comments … add one
  • Richard s (s/v lakota) Jan 1, 2016, 9:20 am

    great quote and i need a new year’s resolution too…maybe: have an adventure always at least in the offing or even two or three…richard in tampa bay (today’s fcst calls for upper 80s…71 now at 0700 hrs…but admittedly this is abnormally warm)

  • Jeff Totman Jan 2, 2016, 4:11 pm

    I’m interested in your thoughts concerning winter boat care in northern climates, especially during in water storage. From your photo I see you are storing in the water and we are also storing our boat in the water (Penobscot Bay) this year for the first time. Our rationale for doing so involved avoiding freeze/thaw cycles on our encapsulated ballast, avoiding removing and replacing the rig every year, and the ability to keep our boat plugged in so the batteries stay topped off and I can work on the boat whenever I wish. Indoor heated storage would be my first choice but cost prevents us from seriously considering it. Have you written about the subject of cold weather in water storage or do you have any thoughts to share about pro’s/cons or things to watch out for?

    • John Jan 3, 2016, 9:17 am

      Hi Jeff,

      This is our first time storing in the water in a cold place—we did live aboard in Norway above the Arctic circle for two winters—so, no I have not yet written anything on the subject, although I probably will later in the winter.

      One thing I will say is that preparing properly was a heck of a lot more work than I expected!

      Where in Penobscot bay are you?

      • Jeff Totman Jan 3, 2016, 5:43 pm

        Our boat is currently at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast but in the summer we can usually be found on our mooring in Bucks Harbor in South Brooksville. If you’re down our way, please stop by for a visit, it’s a really nice little harbor and after reading so much about you and your boat it would be great to meet you both!

        One concern I have is that the bilge pump water can find a way to exit in sub freezing conditions. All of our bilge pumps except for one are routed to a large vented manifold located well above the waterline. My concern is that water from the bilge might be pumped out of the bilge and through the lines that lie along the hull below the waterline but when it reaches this manifold above the waterline it could freeze solid and clog it. To help avoid this I placed a 75watt bulb next to the manifold, located in a closed hanging locker, to provide some constant heat and I have dumped some non toxic anti freeze into our bilge so any water being pumped out will have a freezing point somewhat lower than 32F. I replenish this anti freeze periodically but so far there has been very little pumped out. We do have one bilge pump that exits only about 6″ above the waterline and this one doesn’t pass through a manifold or vented loop so I feel confident this one is less likely to freeze up. Some good news is that our shaft doesn’t even drip when the engine isn’t running and we have gone more than a week without the bilge pump counter showing that the bilge pump has run so there’s not a lot of water needing to be removed. I think that most of the water that does make it into our bilge comes from down through the mast, fortunately not a problem in sub freezing conditions, but of course I want to make sure we are protected if water ingress from some other source occurs. Of course all below waterline seacocks are closed. I rarely go more than 3 or 4 days without going aboard and checking on our boat and never longer than a week, and there are workers and other boat owners constantly on the docks so I think I’d either recognize or be notified of a problem if one occurred. There are several other boats who have stored in water at this yard for a few years, along with a few hardy folks wintering aboard in the harbor, so I try to watch and listen carefully to what they are doing.

        • John Jan 4, 2016, 9:49 am

          Hi Jeff,

          Thanks for the thoughts. I too have worried about the bilge pump hose freezing and have taken many of the same steps, although I can’t claim a perfect answer. I’m also remote monitoring the boat and therefore will get a text message to my phone if the bilge pump runs. More in a future post.

        • Eric Klem Jan 12, 2016, 3:12 pm

          Hi Jeff,

          I have spent one winter aboard in the northeast and cared for a few boats that are left in during the winter. Hopefully my experiences can be helpful to you.

          It is my opinion that the bilge pump basically shouldn’t run in the winter if you are storing in the water even with a stuffing box (I have actually usually been forced to turn it off for a while in the middle of the winter). The cover will take care of the vast majority of ingress points leaving the stuffing box, the mast, deck leaks and hull leaks. Deck leaks and hull leaks are problems that are ideally already dealt with. The stuffing box can be tightened slightly for the winter to stop dripping if it is the flax type although you will shorten the life of the packing somewhat as it takes a set. To deal with the mast, a good mast boot, good sealing of the cover and a masthead cover will do the trick. Our Genco cover actually came with a winter masthead cover.

          It still isn’t a bad idea to make sure that your bilge pump can function. To do this, you need to plumb your lines so that there are no low points where water can accumulate and freeze. Also, you want to avoid metal in the plumbing as it will steal heat from the water much more quickly and could potentially make almost freezing water actually freeze. Water has a decent heat capacity so as long as there is not ice in the line to start with, you are usually okay. It is worth noting that bilge pumps are actually a major source of winter sinkings on smaller boats as well as things like exhaust thru-hulls. You need to make sure that any snow or ice on deck can’t cause your outlet to go under water as any failure of your vented loop would cause a siphon and fill your bilge.

          I believe that the most important things to do are probably related to noticing a problem and handling it quickly. Befriending the liveaboards is a great start as they are the most likely to spot a problem. I would recommend putting your phone number in an obvious place on the outside of your cover so people can get to you in an emergency. A loud high water alarm can likely be heard by your neighbors. I have actually responded to another boat’s alarm in the middle of the winter likely preventing a sinking. Finally, be sure you know what you will need to do if something happens which includes having all of the relevant numbers programmed into your phone. A few winters ago, ice pushed open some seams in the stern of the Timberwind while it was still in Rockport and it was only due to the harbormaster’s quick thinking that things turned out okay. He called the fire department first and then the coast guard and the fire department was able to effectively dewater the boat. They were very lucky that the railway at North End Shipyard was empty but even so, it took 3 days to dig out the railway so that the boat could be hauled and a boat for the tow down there had to be found.

          One other thing to note is that personal safety on docks in the winter is a big issue. It would be very easy to go in the water and not have anyone notice until too much time had passed for a rescue. There are a bunch of ways that you can try to mitigate this and it is worth thinking about.


          • Jeff Totman Jan 12, 2016, 5:48 pm

            Thanks Eric, very good idea about posting my phone number on the boat so anyone noticing anything amiss can contact easily. I’ll plan to do that ASAP and hang it from the lifeline facing the dock!
            Yes, walking on docks and getting on/off a boat in icy conditions requires always taking special care and discipline to never let ourselves get casual about it. If I have something in my hands that I need to get aboard, I set it on the deck before stepping aboard so my hands are free to grab a lifeline or stanchion if I slip. Once I’m aboard I move whatever I previously set on the deck into the cockpit or wherever it needs to go.

          • John Jan 14, 2016, 8:50 am

            Hi Eric,

            Great stuff, all of which I agree with. Your last point bout the dangers of falling in, is, I think, particularly important.

    • Petter ;-) Jan 4, 2016, 4:46 pm

      Hello Jeff,
      I am based in Norway where the harbour freezes during winter and my vessel has been in the water for the last 4 seasons. I do not yet live on-board during winter. Here are some thought to get your mind into gear;
      – to keep the ice away from the hull, we either use a bubbling system that sends air into the water around the hull or a sunken electric propeller that circulates the water. Alternatively, let the vessel freeze in with bow north and when the spring comes, the ice around the rudder disappears first, to allow space for movement.
      – fresh water tanks are pumped dry
      – shower water heater is drained and blow dry (see below)
      – then a small air compressor is connected near to the fresh water pump and the whole water system is blown dry
      – compressor is also used for salt water faucet, deck wash and toilet. The salt water inlet filter is where the air enters.
      – toilet bowl is filled with anti-freeze
      – then all trough-hulls are blown dry, shut while there is positive air pressure, and then the hoses partly filled with anti-freeze.
      – engine sea water cooling system is filled with anti-freeze from the salt water inlet filter
      – the vessel is alu and bone dry, so the bilge pump is not running – I hope
      – as for keeping the batteries topped up, the wind generator does most of the job, and one or two times per winter I connect shore power.
      – there is no heating on or electricity connected or used
      – to remove any spring condensation, two “dry-bowls” are placed in the galley and near the nav station

      This is at least what I remember from the top of my head. Hope this may be useful in making your own checklist.

      • Jeff Totman Jan 6, 2016, 12:33 am

        Thanks Petter,
        I really like your idea of using an air compressor rather than the large amount of non toxic anti freeze I’ve been using. I happen to own just such a small compressor that I use to power a nail gun so next year I will try using it to blow dry my lines.

        • John Jan 8, 2016, 6:15 pm

          Hi Jeff and Petter,

          A local boat yard tried just blowing the fresh water system lines out without anti-freeze one year, it did not end well for several boats that suffered damaged water systems. Seems that it’s impossible to get water out of the low spots with air.

          Having said that, I think blowing out with air before filling with anti-freeze (as I do) is a good idea since I can use less anti-freeze and still be sure that the system is protected.

        • Eric Klem Jan 12, 2016, 3:21 pm

          Hi Jeff,

          I have had better luck than John with blowing out lines. In our current boat, the lines are well pitched and by pure luck, there are T connections at the lowest point so I simply need to open those to drain the system and then cycle the pump dry. On our previous boat, we were not quite so lucky so we used a compressor. I have actually successfully used compressors on systems using many hundreds of feet of plumbing but it is tricky. So far, I have never had a broken line due to ice (I am now dreading next spring having said that).

          The size of the compressor tank is very important as a small tank will deplete very quickly. The actual compressor size is not important other than requiring longer amounts of time to recharge the tank. You also need a large diameter hose and fittings so you don’t have too much flow restriction. It is very easy to blow air past water in the lines so the lines really need to be well pitched to start with almost no low spots. You are very unlikely to ever be able to blow water up any distance so you really need to blow towards a low outlet. In a system with a lot of T’s, you have to blow both ways a few times to capture the water that you blow down the wrong hose. Finally, leaving everything open is hugely helpful. If you look at where pipes burst in houses, it is always between where the ice is and the end of the line, never on the street side. The street side can never build pressure because you just push a tiny bit of water back to the street. This is the reason why people leave faucets that are known to freeze just dripping on really cold nights. It probably won’t prevent the frozen pipe but it will prevent the break by keeping the pressure from building.


          • John Jan 14, 2016, 8:48 am

            Hi Eric,

            I think you are right, blowing out can be done well. Having said that, as you point out, it depends a lot on the configuration of the boat and the diligence of the person doing the work. Consequently, I would not recommend it as standard practice.

  • Wilson Fitt Jan 4, 2016, 2:39 pm

    For about ten years I wintered afloat in a berth very close to where Morgan’s Cloud now is. If it were a bit closer to home, this would still be my preference, but the convenience of being hauled out in a local yard that is five minutes drive away has convinced us to put the boat on the hard last winter and this.

    I have always felt that a boat is much better off in the water, where it is supposed to be, evenly supported without point loading on the hull and keel. Probably does not really make much real difference if the boat is blocked properly but it makes me feel better. My considerations are a bit different than most because our boat is wooden and I don’t want it to be in a dry environment for too long (like baking on an asphalt lot on warm days in fall and spring). I pull the mast for varnish each winter regardless of where it is stored.

    The only real difference in my preparations for wet storage as opposed to dry were to close the seacocks after dumping a bit of antifreeze down each line. I vacuum the last bit of bilgewater out and always found the bilge stayed dry all winter so there was no need to pump. (I seem to remember being told one time that fibreglass boats don’t leak …) The lines and fenders and chafing gear need to be checked of course, but I always trussed the boat up heavily and there were no problems.

    Boat covers were touched on in another thread but I’ll add my 2 cents on the topic to this comment. I have a home made and fairly robust wooden frame that is affixed to the stantions and tall enough to walk around inside. The frame hangs outside the rail by four or five inches, giving lots of ventilation. Each year I cover it with a new big white plastic construction tarp secured in place with wooden laths. A second inside layer of light plastic eliminates condensation, and solar gain is enough to work inside in reasonable comfort on all but the coldest days. The cost of wood for the frame (I am on my second one in 15 years) was about $600 plus another $250 or so each year for a new plastic etc . It takes a day to put together each fall and less to take apart. If we are in the water, the frame and cover extend down about 8 or 10 inches below the rail; if we are ashore I just extend the frame uprights to the ground and add more longitudinal stringers and plastic to create a skirt around the bottom part.

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