Suddenly Sailing - Some Assembly Required

Suddenly Sailing - Some Assembly Required

On July 1st, Blackthorn arrived at Seaview Boatyard, set to be relaunched on July 5th. On July 13th, we moved aboard with all of our belongings. Shortly after, Robin and Jackie headed back to Europe to look for Blackthorn’s replacement.

A Boat out of Water…

still looks ridiculous to me. But, the boat arrived right before the 4th of July Weekend and the boatyard was closed for the holiday. This meant several days of Blackthorn sitting up on blocks without any rigging. The Sir was out of town for work until Sunday the 3rd, the same day that Robin and Jackie would be arriving to help us get Blackthorn back in working order. On Saturday, I bused over to the boatyard, climbed up the ladder strapped to Blackthorn’s side, and had a heck of a time remembering how to open the companionway. A boat’s companionway is designed to be secured from the inside or out with a variety of latches on either side and a sliding top that can also be latched into position. Thankfully, no one was around to watch me try to break into my  own home.

Inside Blackthorn, I eventually found a very confused and sleepy bumblebee tangled up in the companionway’s mosquito-netting cover. However, the immediate impression was that I had just teleported myself across an entire continent and stepped down into a place that existed in Portsmouth, Virginia. It felt very unreal to be standing several feet off the ground in a deserted boatyard, removing dust-covers and tidying up our new home. There were bags with sails in them on the settees, the gaff and several other long poles occupied the floor on the starboard (right) side, and the walls and bookshelves were practically empty. In similar fashion, the deck was covered in rolled up and secured sections of galvanized wire rigging.

On Monday, all four of us met at the boatyard and went over Blackthorn, figuring out which tasks needed to be taken care of before she went back in the water. Some bits of anti-fouling were coming off and needed to be reapplied, the mast and boom needed a thorough scrubbing to remove road-grime, seacocks needed greasing (What the heck is a seacock, you ask? Keep on reading!), the prop needed some protective grease, and for the most part, the rest needed to be done once she was back in the water.

Seacocks and Cooking with Jet Fuel

Unfortunately, seacocks are neither aquatic fowl nor an awesome euphemism. Instead, they’re valves that are put on thru-hull fittings (a fancy word for holes in your boat). As an example, Blackthorn’s diesel engine uses raw-water cooling. Similar to how a car’s engine has cooling water that runs to a radiator to dissipate heat, the diesel engine has a seawater thru-hull which brings water in so that it can go through a heat exchanger, cooling the engine, then out the back of the boat. Seacocks are a common point of failure and are notorious for seizing up, so they need to be greased and exercised regularly.

As for the jet fuel, our boat has a Taylor cooker with 2 burners and an oven. It’s designed to run on kerosene, but our boat god-parents let us know that it runs cleanest on jet fuel, which is what we currently have in stock. Before Blackthorn even went back in the water, Jackie gave me a lesson on refilling the cooker’s tank. The cooker itself is quite unique in its operation if you’re used to propane and/or electric, and I plan on writing about it specifically at a later time. Thankfully, refilling it is as simple as hand-pumping fuel from the storage tank in the bilge into a little jerry can. It can then be poured into the cooker’s pressurized tank, which must be pressurized by hand-pumping. The only downside to this is that the pump can only be easily reached with my left arm. I have weak nerd-arms and am right-handed, so it takes a while.

In transit, four patches on the hull had been polished smooth where they sat on the supports. These would need to be roughed and re-painted before launching again, but due to environmental restrictions in the boatyard, we could not do the work ourselves. The antifouling paint contains a large amount of copper, a natural biocide. This works great for keeping barnacles off of your hull, but too much copper finding its way back into Puget Sound gives the local wildlife a rough time. We took care of the tasks that could be performed while she was on land and then turned in for the night.

We showed up to the boatyard early the next morning. After a long weekend of being nearly deserted, the yard was lively with workers taking care of various tasks. The mast and boom were lifted aboard using a crane, a painter came by to take care of the patches on the hull, and before we knew it, the boat was being loaded up onto the travel lift. It was about this time that they said they needed me in the office to take care of paperwork (and paying bills). In the general confusion surrounding the holiday, things hadn’t been entirely squared away, so I spent the next 10-15 minutes sorting out the invoice. The entire boatyard visit came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, which wasn’t unexpected but was still a large sum to swallow.

Blackthorn was lowered into the Pacific and Robin, Jackie, The Sir, and his brother climbed aboard while I finished getting my card run. However, when they tried to turn the engine over, nothing happened. We’d checked the voltage on the battery the day before and hooked up the solar panels, and everything had seemed to be in order. So, ropes were tossed and pulled and Blackthorn was pulled up to a dock where we weren’t exactly supposed to be. We plugged in and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the diesel glugged and grumbled to life after a short refresher, and we were on our way. Robin helmed Blackthorn to her new slip just a few minutes away in the marina and the real work of recommissioning the boat began.

Fiddling for Days

Thankfully, our slip neighbor was gone, and we’d ended up with a 50 foot slip due to an overwhelming lack of availability. This allowed us to angle the boat diagonally and leave the masthead dangling above the finger pier where it could be easily worked on. Everything needed to be put together in a very specific order. Electrical systems had to be disconnected so that rigging lines could be looped over the top of the mast and slid down, the crosstrees (the two little boards sticking out to the sides well up the mast) needed to be reattached, but not before they were re-coated with cetol and some of the rigging was slid down past their fittings. I may have mentioned this previously, but Blackthorn has A LOT of lines. And backstays and shrouds, and so on, and so on. We would put things together, then realize that a vital piece had been missed, and so take them back apart and reassemble them. At one point, I’m fairly sure I had reassembled the masthead light three times in the course of a day.

After 3 or 4 days we were ready to raise the mast. We’d attached all the lines and taken care of filling some no-longer-used holes with epoxy, and touched up spots that needed a coat of protective cetol and some rust spots that needed painting. We brought The Sir’s brother along to help, and the lot of us were able to walk the mast back far enough that the base would rest over the tabernacle – the big metal fitting that holds the mast to the deck. We then set about raising up the a-frame. This large tube of metal is incorporated into the Wylo II for the purpose of allowing for the easy raising and lowering of the mast. On a boat without it, you normally step the mast using a crane. Using a block and tackle, we brought the a-frame perpendicular and then attached the forestay, a piece of rigging which normally runs from the crosstrees on the mast to the a-frame. The ship’s windlass, normally used for raising and lowering the anchor, then attaches to a block and tackle on the a-frame, and as the a-frame is pulled back to its original position, the mast is raised.

The rear of the boat with the mast horizontal across the boom gallows. A large metal a-frame is standing perpendicular to the boat's deck.
The a-frame all set up and ready to go.

I operated the windlass while The Sir kept tension on the line running to the windlass. So, mostly I was pressing a button and watching to make sure the plethora of cables, wires, and ropes didn’t become terribly tangled as they went up. Once the mast was vertical, we ran a large bolt through to secure it and went about securing the stays, large galvanized wires which help to stabilize the mast. This was about the time we collectively realized that we had screwed things up majorly.

On each side of the boat, two stays run from the cross trees to the deck. Each set of fore and aft stays are connected to each other by the pinrails, literal rails with metal “pins” that lines are secured to. Each stay has a large hoop at the end that loops over the top of the mast, and all four stay hoops stack onto each other. When we tried to secure the other ends of the stays to the deck on the port side, it quickly became apparent that one stay wouldn’t reach. We had somehow managed to stack the stays in the wrong order. And that’s how we ended up taking the mast back down, and disassembling and reassembling a fair number of parts before putting it all back up again. Needless to say, it was a disheartening realization, after finally getting the mast up.

A man holding the boat's shroud, which is not taut. The pinrail is attached to the shroud near where it is being held.
Robin holding up the stays with pinrails.

We did eventually get the mast up, in any case, and then were able to begin working on a multitude of other tasks: securing and tightening rigging, putting on the sails, and much more. Robin and Jackie had some boats to check out and another Wylo II owner in the area to meet, so they headed out for a few days. In the meanwhile, The Sir and I wrapped up what tasks we could and enlisted The Sir’s family to help us get moved aboard.


The initial moving day left us without any open horizontal surfaces on the boat. All of the settees and births were populated with bags and tubs and boxes of stuff. It took about two days to figure out what to stow where for the majority of our belongings. The Sir dealt with the items that would reside below the forward berth, while I sorted through how to organize the contents of the lockers under the settees and in the galley. Let’s just say that I like to be dynamic, and my storage selections are an ever-evolving work in progress.

Aside from a few items temporarily stowed in a garage, everything fit well enough. In the months since, we’ve slowly migrated or gotten rid of many of the items that were not moved aboard initially.

The Little Pipe That Failed

When Robin and Jackie returned, we set to getting Blackthorn ready to sail in earnest. I had to return to my job at the office for a portion of the time. The Sir and Robin spent one of these days installing a new exhaust manifold on the diesel engine. So, I came home from work to learn from them that our engine had developed a pinhole leak in a proprietary part… which we filled with epoxy and taped over as an interim solution. Robin said he would get in touch with the manufacturer in the UK about replacing the faulty part. Thus began our first lesson about engines and home builds.

Wrapping Up

As is often the case, we managed to have things in good enough order just before Robin and Jackie were set to head out. Parkinson’s Law, or something like that. By some act of God, the weather cooperated, and we were able to go out on a sail before seeing them off. Granted, I also came within 3 inches of knocking our bowsprit into the piling at the end of our pier on the way back in, but the image of Blackthorn sailing majestically across Puget Sound is much more romantic. We spent about two hours out on the water with the sun shining and a light wind carrying us along.

We saw them off and took over Blackthorn’s care in earnest.

Thank you for taking the time to read through. If you have any questions for me, or just want to hang out with some cool folks, feel free to hop on the Creaturista Discord server!