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September 28, 2009     Post 28
Sara B Update



Playfair and Sara B

Two weeks after Sara B's Toronto cruise she attended a Sodus Point event for classic boats. Organized by Bob Wood of the Sodus Bay Captain's Assoc, the star attraction was the steel hulled brigantine Playfair, one of the two Toronto based youth training vessels. Another interesting Canadian was the Portia II, a magnificent restoration by owner Nick Hughes of the Peterboro area. Nick a professional shipwright was originally from New Zealand and had wandered on blue water with a Tahiti ketch before settling down to work in a boatyard near Ottawa. He spent five years restoring Portia II, a Ditchburn built yawl originally crafted for a Canadian senator before World War II. She was 29,000 pounds of top quality joinery, wood, wrought iron floors, bronze hardware, and copper riveted planking. She drew nine feet with her centerboard down, four with it up- a sixty foot gunkholer.


Ramsey of Ramsey's Dream and a Playfair crewmember
Cheerful Nick and his teen aged kids hosted visitors aboard the yawl all day. He dropped by Sara B Sunday briefly to check her out. His professional eye admired her sturdy main mast knees and the wooden boom gallows arch and he declared despite her aged iron fastenings “She's still got good bones” and was worth our continued efforts. One way to extend the lives of boats like Sara B is to sheathe the hull with a couple of layers of thin wood strips and epoxy to create a cold molded structural covering. Nick considered this to be a valid technique and we did meet a Nova Scotia built trawler in Toronto that had been “re-surfaced” with good results.

We enjoyed breakfast with Steve S and his son , both of Lotus, and swapped rot stories over pancakes and coffee before heading home. Steve gave us contact information for his boss at work, a skilled machinist with a sideline business restoring antique engines. He'll be able to re-line your tranny clutch Steve assured us. Maureen and Rich joined us Sunday morning for a fast romp home on a broad reach with reefed main and fore and two head sails. That was Sara B's last sail for many weeks to come.


Portia II
Once she was safely home we deliberated what to do about her slipping clutch problem and decided that we should go ahead and contact the machinist. It seemed prudent to address the problem lest a catastrophic slipping episode leave us stranded in a bad spot without an engine. I will not detail this project since I was only peripherally involved but I do know that to remove the tranny we had to lift the 800 pound engine up about 8 inches so as to pull it out past the prop and shaft.

Lifting the engine involved about 3 weekends of work in the bilges for Chris who had to disconnect wiring, coolent system, shaft connection bolts and last but not least, engine mounting bolts. These last proved quite stubborn and only after many hours and two broken ratchets and two broken off bolts and a broken right angle drill extension did we succeed in lifting the engine with a chainfall ( Chris cut a small hole in the cabin top for the chain to go thru and rigged up a sturdy strongback and blocking on the cabin sides). The mounting bolts we learned were somehow threaded into a metal 'nut' of some sort embedded in the engine beds. This complicated removal and reinstallation of the mounting bolts considerably. As of this writing Chris, after drilling out the last of the old bolts using the engine mounting feet and a sort of bushing insert as a guide to keep the drill bit centered, has used a tap to re-thread the hidden metal 'nuts' and we think we'll be able to tighten down all the bolts when it's time to put everything back together.


The lifting rig
A kindly Brit over in England came to the rescue of Lake Ontario's oldest living Thornycroft. He forwarded a manual for a RJD2 diesel (marine version).Thank you Lorry Man!! The manual had drawings, specs etc and was very helpful. (If anyone reading this needs more info on this model you can e mail us for a link to the pdf file). This information along with the tranny was sent off to the machinist in August and we await hopefully, a successful repair with its help.

As summer slipped into late summer we missed our old schooner. Jim and Rich stopped by to check on her as she snoozed the days away. She sat out the wooden boat show at P B and the spiders wove their webs and a mud dauber built a neat little chamber under her sail covers as the days shortened. The swallows flew away and summer ebbed. One afternoon we were sitting on Titania next to Sara B. The late day light gleamed off dozens of webs that festooned the old schooner, and perhaps might have partly motivated the next events. Chris got on the Internet and went boat shopping for a tug for Sara B.


Thornycroft transmission
We'll find a beater motorboat with maybe a 25 horse outboard and lash it alongside. Then we can get Sara B in and out of the dock and go sailing again. We quickly located scads of cheap old small motorboats on Craig's List and settled on looking at one in Rochester, a 15 foot 1972 Mark Twain runabout with 70 (!) horsepower outboard. We'll buy it, use it and sell it next spring and get most of our money back we declared. We found our prospect tucked away in a tiny city yard- the seller needed room to pile the snow from plowing his driveway and had bought a bigger motorboat with his friend. He offered us a test drive on the nearby Genesee and we were impressed to see how easily the boat launched and how promptly the motor started. A deal was struck and 'Tug' was towed home to be equipped with a half dozen large hardwood cleats and four used Geo tires for her new career as schooner consort.


The Tug takes Sara B out for a sail
Two days later we launched 'Tug' and she fired right up and idled over to the dock. The plan was strap Tug onto Sara B's quarter, back her out of the dock, swing her around and head out into the bay. Then once out in the bay we would anchor our motor boat, raise sail and depart. When it was time to return to the dock we'd come back and pick up our anchor using a fender on a line next to the motorboat, drop sail and then strap Tug back on to the quarter to push back to the dock. A light northerly was blowing. Astern lay the waiting weeds. What can go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually, it turns out.

The first time we went sailing with Tug's assistance the process went amazingly well. Yes a 70 horse outboard could pull (and stop) a twelve ton schooner quite readily at least in flat water and light wind. Under way we steered with Sara B's rudder. Getting in and out of the dock we steered primarily with the outboard which swung Sara B around quite nicely. When we first raised sail at least thirty spiders fell to their deaths, though the vast majority of the population landed on the cabin top and ran for cover and escaped. Then we dropped our anchor line and slipped off under sail with a quiet whisper. After a long quiet summer Sara B came to life again. It was a delight to ghost along with the quiet creak of the gaff rig on a nearly empty bay of September blue. Emboldened by our success, the next weekend Chris Sue and Jim Aspenwahl met again to try another session.


A lonely Tug awaits Sara B's return
We thought perhaps it would be prudent to leave a note on Tug saying something like “Be back soon” so no one finding her anchored out in the bay or lake would think perhaps she was either abandoned or that her operator had gone overboard and initiate a major search and rescue effort. Again we anchored, set sail and had a pleasant ramble around the bay. At times a puff came along that heeled the old girl a bit and brought her to life. Then it fell calm and we drifted to another catspaw. The noon whistle sounded. I had a 2:30 sailing lesson so suggested we had two hours to go one mile and maybe we should start now so we headed for Tug. This was old school sailing. You wait for the wind. No schedules.

We picked up our anchor line and lashed up with a half hour to spare and the crew started to raise anchor. Maybe we should try starting the outboard before we break her out? Chris climbed in and gave her a jolt with the starter. She spun away but no roar of power. He did it again. She cranked and no pop. No smoke. No nothing. You flooded it! Remember what the seller said about how touchy it is. Undaunted, our tug driver kept fiddling with the mysterious starting level and spinning the starter. Deader than a three day old flounder. Pretty soon the battery was dead, too.


Back at the dock
Discussion about our various options ensued. Should we blow up the dinghy? Try to dry out the spark plugs and hook up the spare battery? The dock was almost dead downwind and not far away. I could see the waiting sailing student sitting on the dockside bench. We could just put the jib up and drift down to the dock. So we did, towing Tug astern on a short line. We swung a bit wide but a helpful bystander caught our line and pulled us in.

Well ok. We're learning. Sunday was a day of sapphire blue water, ten to twelve knot steady sweet onshore winds and perfect sailing. A dozen white winged sloops were tacking up the bay on the breeze as we trooped out on the dock with picnic lunch and gear-let's go sail our schooner on the lake! Three “sailors” plus two guests and a dog climbed aboard and once again we made a smooth exit from the dock. It seemed to me we were getting out of the dock better than some of our 'normal' departures. A few wakes bounced Tug around on Sara B's quarter as we pushed up the bay but the lash up survived just fine. We pushed up the channel and entered the wide blue lake. At last. Freedom.


Another outing
It took several tries to anchor on the rocky bottom but at last it caught. We taped our note on Tug and hoped for the best. If she drags, we'll at least be able to sail Sara B back into the bay with the onshore breeze blowing down the channel. Wonder if we should have put up an anchor shape? Hope nobody swipes her. Was it smart to leave the key in her?

Sara B romped off with real enthusiasm and pointed her bowsprit for Canada. Tug quickly dwindled to a white speck and then was gone- a lonely little white runabout festooned with Geo tires bobbing around in the lake. But it was wonderful to really sail again. We had missed the old girl. She put her rail down and stepped along smooth and easy and in no time we were five miles offshore. Sure was nice to sail in a straight line for more than ten minutes. We broke out the crackers and lemonade and celebrated this sweet September sail. The brief fall afternoon spun away astern and day light dwindled. We noted that the sun was getting low and the thought occurred we really should go in before the wind dies. We reluctantly turned Sara B homeward. She surged along on a broad reach and as we approached Tug we remarked that the waves had picked up- they're a good one or two feet now and the wind sure hasn't dropped any. Man this is really getting bouncy-look at that little thing jumping around. How is the Tug driver going to get in there? Our first pass at the buoyed off pick up line misses by 75 feet. The second and third pass also miss. Four is my lucky number announced the helmsman as we approached the buoyed line once again.


Jim at the helm and Mary Gwen
This time we snagged it though in the ensuing melee the flogging jib sheet sent my eye glasses to Davy Jones. Tug was dancing along side with real vigor as the driver sensibly if belatedly donned a life jacket and waited his chance to get aboard while we tried with the boat hook to keep Tug from bashing Sara B. The tug driver finally disembarked telling Sara B's first mate keep your cell phone on! This time the motor started immediately and we cast her off and turn to getting up the anchor. I'll skip the details and just sum up with it's good thing Sara B has a windlass.

Well, that one was a little more exciting than we had bargained for. But we were game to try again. It sure was fun to sail the old girl and the novelty of trying to use our brains as we attempted to get Sara B from point a to point b without her engine had not yet worn off. Still, after the latest outing I'm beginning to understand just how sharp those old timers were as they managed their unwieldy ships. They used every trick in the book including push poles, grapels, raffee sails, kedging and sweeps plus more I don't know about. And they didn't have cell phones.


Wing and wing returning up the bay
On Sept 26 the weather man predicted 10 to 13 mph winds from the south. Perfect- mild weather, flat water, nice easy sailing. Lets go! We took along two co-op members for this one and expected a sweet gentle September sail. We hoped to make a day of it and arranged to meet at the dock at 9 am. When we assembled, we noted the wind stirring the tree tops looked a tad stronger than 10 mph. Maybe more like 20. Well, that's ok. We'll just reef the main as a precaution. We can always shake it out. This time the writer took on the Tug job. I wanted to see Sara B under sail. The plan was push her out of the dock, then follow her out into the lake where she would anchor and I'd come along side and shift anchor to Tug before sailing. We'd be under the lee of the land with nice flat water this time so it should be dead simple. Piece of cake.

In the open bay with the puffy brisk wind Sara B's crew raised just reefed main and staysail. She took off like a race horse and broad reached down the bay at hull speed. I followed in Tug and marveled at the way she ran- she flowed over the water with such effortless grace. Other people have told me she looks magnificent under sail. They weren't exaggerating. She was spelendid that day even under shortened canvas. She leaves no tracks as Chris puts it.

But out in the lake hard on the wind was not effortless. She put her rail down and clearly had plenty of wind. Under the Park Bluff the crew opted to tie in a second (!) reef while we secured Tug to the anchor. With Tug anchored in ten feet in a nice mud patch we raised sail again and fell off on a reach. Sara B stepped right along under a scrap of sail as little white caps blossomed on the green water around us. In minutes we were a half mile off shore and well on our way to Oswego. Maybe we ought to go the other way close hauled and see what it's like. We tacked around and headed back and upon feeling the full weight of the wind close hauled and hearing it not just moan and sigh but outright whistle with a shrill sound through her rig, we said you know it's kinda brisk out here. Let's bag it. Let's just see if we can get back into the bay!

We beat our way back to Tug and picked her up and lashed alongside uneventfully in the calm water. Then we headed for the channel. As we turned upwind against gusts to 25 knots or maybe a bit more, Tug bounced and plunged through the chop and strained hard to shove 12 tons of wood and gaff rigged windage up the channel. We crawled along barely maintaining steerage and when the bow tried to fall off were able to crab her around again and keep moving. We wondered how the home made cleats and the tight stretched spring line would fare. Just fine it seemed. They made good sturdy fiberglass motorboat decks in those days. It was slow going though, and Tug sucked up the fuel doing it. About half way in Chris hefted the tank and found it alarmingly light. Wow. Hope we don't run out of gas. We had started out from the dock with at least four gallons! We decided once in the bay we would drop Tug so Chris could go get some more gas. We then would tack towards the dock.

We plugged Sara B down the bay under short canvas and hooked up with Chris and the refueled Tug off Meadow Cove for an uneventful tow into the dock. There we declared that was about as interesting as we wanted to make it. I suppose if the wind had been a bit stronger we could have gotten on the phone and started calling around for a tow. Maybe Elhanor the old Wheeler and Norm Vanderbilt could have helped out.

conclusion
I suspect there are a few folks (maybe quite a few) who would think this whole tug business was ridiculous. Sensible people would simply haul their schooner early if they couldn't use it and maybe get to work on fixing her deck. But it had been a strange and at times disturbing summer. Life, they say, is like a roll of toilet paper. When you get to the end it goes fast. We'd heard of far too many folks that had been caught short by the toilet paper roll of mortality over the last few months. Though we seek perhaps unwisely to make permanent the impermanent, we know Sara B's days with us, like our own, are numbered. She needed to go sailing again! And so she did.






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