Anxious to GO

It’s June. This is ridiculous.

I had all winter to work on my boat to make it close enough to perfect. Did I use winter to work on anything? Heck no. Why? I’m going to cite craptastic weather and my access to 30 amps of continuous power as the main productivity-draining culprits. You know what they say: power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. My faithful laptop is my conduit to the rest of humanity, and if you look long enough, you can find things on the internet that are interesting/funny/stupid/frustrating/insightful and on and on. Darn internet.

Now that the vestiges of summer are peeking through the skies, I’m impatient to pull up that pesky anchor and get the heck out of here. But, since I did nothing to improve the boat over 7 months of dock time, I have to do it all now.

First things first: sailing safety.

The survey pointed out that my running lights were pooped out. The red light had bleached to pink and the green light didn’t work at all. Running lights aren’t totally necessary if you only sail by day, but sooner or later, for one reason or another, sailing by night happens. The wind dies, engines fail, you have to go with the tides, things like that. Everyone should be prepared to sail out of their comfort zone, and that may include having to travel in the dark. I’m fine with that, actually, and think it would be fun to travel in the early morning or late evenings. Therefore I had to fix the running lights. Besides, I don’t need to give the Coast Guard any reason to board my boat.

The light repair brings up a frustrating truth: I’m 28 years old and this is the very first time IN MY LIFE that I’m learning about electrical wiring. You know when you’re in school, usually high school when you have the teenager “I know everything,” “this is stupid,” and “I just want to graduate,” attitudes, you scratch your head in some classes and wonder, “Will I ever use this?” In all my essay writing, study sessions, and AP testing, I was never taught anything practical. Have I used things I learned in high school? Certainly, but I’ve not used anything in day to day life. How many times, for example, have I flipped a light switch? Do I know how a light switch works? NOPE. But hey, I can identify motifs in books, that counts for something, right?

Side note #1. When Mr. Right and I find each other, wed, and do the kid thing, we will teach those kids about electricity, plumbing, and basic carpentry.

In order to swap out my useless running lights for new ones, I had to know something about wiring. I’ve been reading Sailboat Electronics Simplified by the great Don Casey, and have padded myself with enough knowledge to get things done; wiring on a boat must be copper, preferably tinned, and to prevent corrosion it’s best to solder the wires. Having never soldered anything before, I hopped on the ever helpful internet and found a YouTube video. Looks easy enough, but of course the guy demonstrating how to solder was doing so at a table in a workshop. How cute!

A trip to a few hardware stores was also in order.

A second side note. I’m not sure if I’ve written it before, but I hate yard work. Hate it. When I hear people talking about it, mainly my parents, I feel dizzy and lightheaded, claustrophobic and antagonistic all at the same time. If my mom had any say in this blog, she’d chime in right about now with, “Courtney, I didn’t like yard work at your age either.” Fine. Perhaps when I’m in my forties or fifties, the idea of pulling weeds will elicit a better response and not cause my spine to fall out of my back, as the idea does now. When I was thinking of buying my first house about a year and a half to two years ago, I always kept my mother in mind for all things yard. She loves plants and weeding and all that other nonsense–I can’t write about it anymore, I’m about to faint.

Continuing on the side note, when I was a young girl, I didn’t have dolls, wear dresses unless my mom dressed me, and I never had a tea set. I liked blocks, then Legos and model airplanes, and built my projects with a focus that amazed my parents. I’d lock myself in my room all day and build. They weren’t sure what I’d make of myself as an adult, an artist (I drew a lot) or an engineer.

A lot of girls get excited about shoes. I confess that I do not understand the appeal of shoes. Perhaps it’s because I wear size elevens and cannot find feminine shoes. Whatever it is, shopping for clothing items and accessories is a real bore and I do it as infrequently as girlishly possible.

However, when I went shopping for tools needed to work on my boat, I got excited. Ecstatic, actually. Like when I first used a table saw. Oh the power.

After purchasing some much needed items including: a Klein AWG wire cutter/stripper/crimper, solder (60% tin, 40% lead), hex wrenches (needed them anyway), pliers (sure I’d need them at some point) heat shrink (an assortment of sizes), and other useful and nifty stuff, I got right to work. What I need now is a sweet toolbox for all my little, useful friends…

My running lights have to be disconnected and rewired in the anchor locker. I now understand why many people, who originally had the flush mount running lights for their boat, opted to refit their vessels with lights that mount right on top of the bowsprit. Cutting, stripping, and splicing wires located in the anchor locker is a pain the upper arms, shoulders, back, and abdomen, and requires someone:

  1. with a small upper body,
  2. who isn’t claustrophobic.

It also gave me splinters in my forearms. I’m not sure what kind of splinters, but they were tiny and couldn’t be seen. Hopefully they’re not toxic.

There is a real satisfaction in working on your own boat, I have to say. Sure, I was dismayed to find the original wiring to the running lights wasn’t tinned copper, but I was tickled that, once the wires were connected, the lights turned on no problemo. The borrowed soldering iron didn’t have a long enough cord, so I picked up an extension cord at our local marine exchange (in addition to two, never been used brass cabin lights!), AND when the running lights are done, I can cross “running lights” off my list of boat projects. With the tools and knowledge I now have, I can tackle other lighting issues in my boat, mainly the dull LEDs in the main cabin and the ugly AC lights.

I’ve also put a outboard block on the back stanchions, to get the heavy outboard motor out of the water when I’m sailing. What’s yet to be seen is if I have the coordination to remove the outboard from the dinghy, lift it while balancing myself inside the dingy, and securing it to the mounting block. I see lots of tying and securing in my future. Or else a big splash followed by a litany of profanities. Inflatable bottom paint is in transit, then I can scrape off the various lifeforms taking refuge on the dink, then paint that sucker so I won’t have to clean it for the rest of the summer.

Spring sure does make stuff grow, and fast. Libby shows me daily how the local coral reef is coming along. I can’t wait to haul out and paint the bottom.

Next project? Another easy one, replacing the mainsheet with a smaller line, one that fits the blocks better, making sheeting in and out a less-stressful experience. I’m also on the search for an affordable tiller extension that is available now and not on back order (this is harder than I originally thought). Then I’ll have to strip the gorgeous varnish work on my beautiful tiller to install it. But it’ll all be worth it when I can sit, sail, and see all at the same time. When possible, I borrow tools rater than buying them, as I have limited space aboard. I’m now on the lookout for someone local who has a heat gun for varnish stripping.

Then I’m out of here. I can’t wait to go!


  1. Dan Wierman June 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Sounds like things are progressing well. But the list of work items really never goes away. I complete items off my list while adding more. As soon as the weather improves consistently for a few weeks, I too need to rework my teak. I use Cetol light with a clear overcoat. I like it, Easier to apply and reapply than varnish, but not quite as durable.

    I live in a house and I too hate yard work. Fortunatly, my neighbors are not great at yardwork either so they never complain when the weeds grow between our homes!

  2. Bruce Rawlins June 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    I am 51 and hate yardwork too. So don’t count on liking it any better in 20 years or so. Hey we’re sailors. No yard is a good yard. Let Mother Nature take care of the yard work. We’ll watch it on the hook.

    Now if I can just sell my house and get a real boat that I can live on, I won’t have to live vicariously through Blogs like yours.

    In the mean time, Thank You sincerely.

  3. Pingback: Anxious to GO | Courtney Kirchoff

  4. Rick Dettinger June 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Hi Courtney,
    I like to solder, and have been doing it for almost 60 years, but I have found that most authors of electrical books for boats like to crimp connections. You do need a good crimping tool to get a good job, but it doesn’t need electricity. Either way will do a good job, but I am sure that the pros all crimp. I doubt there are any exceptions. Also, please make sure that you know exactly what you are doing when you work on AC circuits for a boat. Especially the part of the system from the shore power to the main panel. I was an engineer for a power company for 36 years, but boat wiring is different than house wiring, and I have a good book and am still learning! The grounding system is the most critical, and some boat owners have altered their ground system, and created a dangerous situation. And don’t fall into the water in a marina. The water around here is cold, but can be very “hot”, electrically.

    Rick Dettinger

    1. Courtney June 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Rick,
      I have a great respect for electricity, especially AC. So far I’ve just worked on DC systems, and I’m still careful. I haven’t tackled any AC projects, but when I do, I’ll probably have someone with my experience standing by, making sure I don’t kill myself. And I’ll be sure to turn off all of the power, as I do when working on the DC system.

  5. kent June 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

    When I replaced the mainsheet on Jazzed my Bahama 30, I used 3/8 inch, and for a few bucks more replaced the blocks with Lewmar size 50 blocks. They are not that much and made a huge difference in how easy it is to pull the main in. Also look at Defender Marine on line, unless you have a commercial account somewhere, they have some of the best prices!

  6. andy June 2, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    If you want inexpensive boat parts work at West Marine. They give a great discount for employees. I’ve been doing it that way for a long time. I’m down to only about 4 hours a week stocking shelves, less during the off season. Makes boating almost afordable. The Seattle store is still hiring, not sure about Bremerton.

  7. Fred Facker June 4, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Size 11?!! Sounds like you actually own three boats!

    I just did my fixed ports this weekend. The Texas heat is already getting unbearable. I just have to climb the mast one more time to swap out the anchor light, and I’m finished with all my spring projects. Unfortunately, I don’t get “to go.” It’s always back to the office on Mondays.

  8. andy June 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    A good place to check out for getting wire sizeing right is

    fill in the blanks and it tells you what size wire you should use. I have found it very helpful.

  9. June 16, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I dont think any wires are ever soildered on boats for good reason. If you have a short, or a load, the soilder can heat up and melt away. All connections for lights, nav etc are always, and forever done with heat shrink crimps. Have you read any books on wiring? Hate to see you go to so much trouble doing the wrong thing.

    1. Courtney June 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm

      I crimped and heat shrunk them. Not to worry, I read up and was informed by fellow liveaboards that crimping is the only accepted way. Which works out nicely, as soldering is a real pain.