There were times this past winter when we wondered if it was ever going to be over. But like every other year, it finally was. In as much as we’re still in isolation due to the pandemic, it’s not a really big deal. My wife, the Blonde had returned to her desk at the office to work. She’s an architect and her specialty is troubleshooting and she’s really quite good at it. She had been working from home, or the boat as the case may be. She was back less than a week when she approached her boss and asked if she could continue to work from home. She was allowed and we’ll see how long that lasts.
We’ve experienced several intense nor’easters and a blizzard that was far more powerful than anything I have seen in a lot of years. If we can make it living aboard during this, we’ll make it through anything. With the prospect of more storms to come, I spent some time strengthening the winter cover. Because we’re always aboard, it’s not the strongest one in the yard. Once in a while in winter, we like to take a jaunt underway. With that in mind, the cover is meant to come off in about forty minutes and go back on in somewhat less.
Also, because we live aboard in harsh weather, we installed a very effective hydronic heating system a few years ago. We also have an A/C unit with efficient reverse cycle heating, which we depended on to keep us warm for several years when we first set out on this adventure. One winter, however, it got cold enough to freeze water pipes in the galley. That was enough. I vowed that if I couldn’t keep us comfortable during cold weather, and not have to worry about things freezing we’d give it up and move back ashore.
Back when we started, the intent was that we’d head south to warm weather in the fall, play around in Florida for a while, visit the islands and follow the weather north again when things started to warm back up. For reasons that I won’t go into, that hasn’t happened yet, although I’m still hopeful.
The yard we call home is very well protected. We tie up at the gas dock for the winter. Which side depends on wind direction. If high tides are forecast, we hope the lee is on the outside. If that’s the case we rig a bridle around Patty O’s hull and tie that off to a large plow anchor set in the middle of the cove. A buoy is made fast to this and another large Danforth anchor is hooked to the middle of the chain which is five eights stainless steel. I cannot imagine the boat getting free of that. If it did, I’m sure there would be substantial damage.
As well as making sure we have very good heating, we’ve also done all we could to insulate the boat from the cold.
This involved installing insulation wherever we could. After a great deal of research, it was decided to use spray-on foam. Not the cheapest, but the advantages outweigh all the negatives as far as I am concerned.
First and foremost, it helps keep the boat warm. I have noticed a significant reduction in the amount of fuel used by the hydronic heating unit. An added benefit is the sprayed foam also absorbs sound. Since applying the foam, Patty O’ is exponentially quieter. Just as she’s warmer in winter, she’s cooler in summer. A win-win situation all around. Next, was what to do with the windows?
If I thought that insulation was hard to choose, marine ‘storm windows’ took much longer. The problem grows with sedan cruisers like Patty O’, with large windows and windshields that seem to suck the heat right out of the boat. Curtains of dense material work to some extent but lose efficiency rapidly in the wind or extremely cold weather.
A quick and dirty solution is to use bubble wrap, a packing material found in any post office. Aboard Patty O’ I used shade cloths on the outside secured with snaps with bubble wrap held against the window on the outside. They are rolled up and stored below before getting underway and replaced once arriving at our destination. This works well, but if I see something that looks like it would work better, I’ll be on it in a minute.
As I mentioned before, The Blonde had returned to the desk at her office but had requested and had been given permission to return to work from the boat. Before returning, her boss had asked about me.
I had been offered early retirement some years ago. This included a substantial lump sum buyout. Carefully invested, this is mostly why we have been able to live the way we have. I had worked at a company as a software engineer for years, so I had a lot of equity built up. From time to time, I do some freelance work, having taken great pains to stay current in my field. It seemed they had some work for me if I wanted it. I did.
It felt strange to be in reversed roles, me putting on a tie and heading into the office.
For some strange reason, they had neglected to keep their software updates current and now there have been several costly mistakes. Hence, hiring me. I had done this for them years ago and it was obvious that it had been done maybe once since then. Three weeks of intense work brought things up to snuff, and put some extra cash in our coffers. It also convinced me that I’d done the right thing taking the early buyout back when. I doubt I’ll do this again.
I kept a close eye on the weather. After that work experience, I had an intense desire to get away from it all for a while. The Blonde thought it hilarious. She put in her time at the dining table in Patty’O’s salon. I had rigged a sheet behind the table so she was live chatting with wouldn’t know she was working from a boat. We have a very fast albeit expensive Wi-Fi system, necessary for working aboard. When this was first suggested, there was some talk about how well this was going to work for this very reason. The Blonde spent several hours online with her boss before he agreed to allow her to ‘boat work’ as it were. It works out well tax-wise, too. And the Blonde is given an allowance for office supplies.
It took almost two weeks before a good weather window appeared. When I was positive that we weren’t going to be buried in snow, I wasted no time getting the cover off. Mustard, our little Century runabout was sleeping in my friend Ritchie’s heated barn, but I saw no need for anything other than Patty‘O. Initially, my thought was to head up river, but driving up along the bank that plan went out the window. Ice almost all the way across. One thing Patty’O isn’t an icebreaker.
Getting underway on a Monday seemed strange but I wanted to get underway at low water to avoid the big chunks of ice that an ebbtide would drag down the river. The short trip across the sound to West Harbor would take little time. In fact, we were there before noon.
After getting anchored up, one port and one starboard, the Blonde whipped us up a delicious lunch.
“I’ll dig out the grill.” I said. “I picked up a couple of nice tenderloins.”
“That’ll be nice in the middle of winter.” She answered.
Toasting her with my tea, “You know that!” I said.
“I do indeed.” She said returning the gesture.