Friday, August 15, 2014

Sweet to Salt

For my freshwater friends.

You can read all the blogs you want on cruising and the salty life but until you are actually out here you don't realize how literally salty it really is. From your hair to your shoes the salt is there and doing it's thing. Now that my hair is a tad longer it gets that Einstein look after a brisk day on the water. Deb actually broke out laughing one day as it looked like I licked the battery cables.
I had a pair of docksiders break down in months from saltwater. They have been relegated to engine room duty. By the way, Sperry docksiders just don't last out here. Don't waste your money.

Tools. My god don't buy expensive tools if you come out here. They rust quickly unless you clean and lube them and who remembers to do that all the time. Electronics will eventually crap out as well but we are not to that point yet. Backups. Make sure the hard drives and tablets are backed up to the cloud or a thumb drive.

All those years of freshwater sailing gave us a good resume but it didn't prepare us for the effects of the saltwater environment on you and your stuff. Some folks warned us  and we listened but it was still surprising. Here are some of the changes we had to get used to and remember we have not been offshore very often and have pretty much been ICW bound. Imagine when we head out this fall!

  1. Dock lines. In the Great lakes you kept your dock lines on the bow and stern after you leave the dock. You coil them nicely and keep them handy for when you get back from a day or a weekend on the water. Down here those docklines turn to salt encrusted UV faded skin shredders after a few months. Your $100 dollar smooth line is now a disfiguring weapon if you toss it at a kid helping you tie off. You really feel bad hitting a guy in the face with one of these lines. After we leave a dock now, the lines get stowed.
  2. Standing Rigging. Up north you might survey your standing rigging once every ten years. Every spring you give it a once over and shrug, "Looks good to me." Down here it gets so corroded so quickly that every tack or jibe you cross your fingers and say a little prayer. I'm sure it's fine but it looks like hell.
  3. Running Rigging. See docklines.
  4. Engine cooling. In lake Ontario your engine gets a fresh water douche every time it runs. Very refreshing. Down here it's getting a saltwater enema every time it runs. Sometimes it even gets a creature or two. After you shut the engine down all that brine sits there and eats your little Yanmar. 
  5. Dirty Bottoms. In the cold waters of lake Ontario we would haul our boat in October if we were hardy and the guys at the marina would give it a spritz with the pressure washer and then put her to bed. Here you need a diver every every six months with an assortment of scrapers, brushes, chisels and scotchbrite pads to reduce the biology from the hull. You could do it yourself if so inclined, but it's way harder than it looks and the last time I was getting in the dinghy and fiddling with lines in the water there was something large and grey that swam past me about three feet down. Sometimes you forget you could be dinner. I didn't think much of barnacles either until I left the swim ladder in the water for a few weeks. Damn things are sharp and they smell really bad too.
  6. Stainless. What stainless? It's all stained.
  7. Sunglasses. You can't live without them and you better have a backup pair. You also have to clean them about ten times a day from the salt accumulation. I had a string of bad luck recently and broke my sunglasses and regular glasses at the same time. I can't even imagine being on the water without polarized lenses. Always keep a line on your glasses. From all the sweat they can slip off your face. 
  8. The dinghy. So sad really. Our dinghy is only a few years old but it looks about twenty. In NY I would keep the dinghy covered and routinely washed. We had a zodiac for ten years that looked maybe a year old. Down here the dinghy is your car. It gets scratched, rubbed, stained, faded and covered in birdshit. It's ugly, but so is everyone else's.
  9. Sea life. No comparison. In Lake Ontario if I saw a fish offshore it was dead. Once I spotted a large fish in flat water from a distance and that was the only time in twenty years. In the bay we would see bass and pike and other fish all the time but out in the lake no way. We know they are out there because we see them on a hook off the back of a boat. Saltwater creatures we see all the time. We had a Ray fly out of the water next to our dinghy, spotted dolphins leaping out of the water next to us, flying fish, crabs floating on the surface, sea turtles popping there heads up, sharks in a marina, manatees, and many bottle nosed dolphins. Amazing and wonderful to see.
Some other differences that we were not really prepared for:
  1. Deep water. There isn't any down here. You have to go more than ten miles offshore to get into what we think is deep water. In Lake Ontario we were in 30 ft after we left the dock and over 100 in about a mile offshore and 200 to 800 depending on where you sail that day. Now we get excited if it's over 20 feet!
  2. Traffic. Ontario is wide open and traffic free for many miles offshore. The only freighters are running the borderline so unless you are crossing to Canada you are unlikely to see one. Sailing near Toronto or the St. Lawrence Seaway is a different story of course. Down here its crowded! Boats of every kind are moving constantly it seems. I can't tell you how much AIS has removed some of the stress of travel. I wish it was mandatory on all commercial vessels especially tugs on the ICW. Offshore fishing vessels at night scare me the most. Sometimes I feel they are asleep on autopilot dragging their nets. We have played hide and seek with some very large ships at night and without AIS its difficult to determine their heading sometimes.
  3. Hazards. Ontario hazards are the occasional log in the spring and a particular sailing vessel on autopilot with crew sleeping or doing whatever. Some lake sailors will actually run into the weather buoy from time to time :)  Down here you better keep your eyes peeled. Sunken boats in anchorages, crab pots, fish havens, logs, pilings, shoals, disabled boats, whales... 

With all these differences good and bad we feel we can never return to the Great lakes. At least that's how we feel at the moment. Ask me in ten years. We love the sailing in Ontario when the weather cooperated but the season was too short and the cruising too limited. We are not cold weather sailors anymore and this really determines our cruising destinations. Some day we would like to explore Maine, but the thought of a cold damp fog to wake up to is not very appealing right now. Hell, we even have the chills when we wake up and it's in the sixties.

If we are discouraged by any one thing in our new salty life it's the lack of actual sailing. We are determined to change that, and I think we can do it now that we are not so nervous about our surroundings. Our big plan was to head into the Chesapeake Bay to just sail around, but little Aiden changed all that. Some day I will remind him of his messing with our plans :)  We might sneak in a few weeks of the Bay before we head back down the coast.

Sorry we missed all you lake sailors on our visit. There just wasn't enough time. Damn rental cars are expensive and the marinas aren't cheap either so we had to hoof it back to avoid eating rice and beans for a month or two. If any of you are heading south at any time please look us up and come out to the boat for a while. We will even clean out the V-berth for ya. Well, not all of it but the toilet paper pack makes for a nice pillow.


Do any of our friends up north have a photo of our going away get together on the deck at Katlynn? I can't find a copy. Not sure who took the photo.


  1. Ah salt......get used to it as it's your life now. Our Keens have held up pretty good for footwear. Some portion of our stainless is always stained as we rotate around working on it. 6 months between bottom cleaning? OMG - you are going to need to increase that as you go south - BIG TIME! We do our own bit by bit every week. But you know all this now so small challenges are worth it. :) Oh - we don't sail as much as we thought we would either but we explore way more than we ever thought and that is what matters to us so it's ok.

    1. I will have to overcome the fear of being a snack and get into scraping some biology off the hull. Not looking forward to that but we need to become more self sufficient. I know it's all worth it, just like to whine a bit :)
      Hope you are having fun back in the states.

  2. Enjoyed reading this post ... it gives us a good idea of what to expect. We'd better start stocking up on cheap polarized sunglasses! =)

    1. I'm really bad with glasses. I seem to break them from time to time. Bright light off the water can trigger a migraine for me as well so I am very picky about what sunglasses I wear. Polarized are the only lens for me.

  3. Ok, well I had a snappy comment but it disappeared and I've only had one cup of coffee. Suffice to say we're considering soft standing rigging to carry as replacement for our regular stuff should it need replacing on the go. An also grey shapes are not amusing to me. Shudder.

    1. That's a good idea. I have considered it. Problem is you usually find out your rigging is bad because of the mast lying across the deck.

  4. I know those who grew up sailing big salt are laughing at us, but making the transition from fresh to salt isn't for the timid, or the lazy. The aircraft tech in me cringes each time I see my tools now, but for the most part they still get the job done. A rusty hammer hits just as hard as a shiny one. (Pliers are a different story.)

    I'll know heaven has arrived on earth when someone invents a bottom coating that the sea critters find inhospitable. We will pay to have the bottom scrubbed here, I'm not diving in the New River. Around here the ducks are dying from the stuff in the water.