Suddenly Sailing - The Great Haulout of 2018 - Part 1

I'm sitting in Blackthorn, who is sitting on blocks and stands in sight of the Duwamish River in a southern district of Seattle. Work is officially underway, but we've given ourselves enough time on the hard that we're not in a rush. I wanted to write about the process of getting the boat hauled and the preparation that went into it while it's still relatively fresh in my mind.

Boats that stay in the water are generally hauled out every year or two. There are certain maintenance tasks that can only be done while the boat is out of the water, the most common of which is painting the bottom. Why would you paint the underside of a boat? Much like a house, boats need protection from the elements. Left to its own devices, the sea will eat away at the materials boats are made of, and creatures like barnacles and mussels are more than happy to build their home on boats that spend time at a dock.  To protect the boat, it is usually painted with an "anti-fouling" paint below the water line every few years. The paint eventually wears out or wears off and needs to be re-applied.

There are a few types of anti-fouling. Blackthorn's hull is coated with ablative paint filled with copper and other biocides. Truth be told, it's not particularly eco-friendly, since you're trying to forcibly discourage creatures from colonizing your boat, and the topic of bottom paint regulation is one that comes up in legislation. On the other hand, the amount of antifouling that sloughs off the hulls of pleasure-craft pales in comparison to that of military, government and commercial vessels.

 The haulout was one of oh-so-many looming boat tasks. We'd seen Blackthorn hauled in Virginia, and spent some time in the yard reassembling her in Seattle before she went back in the water, but orchestrating the haulout on our own and figuring out all of the logistics was intimidating.

One of our goals as boat-owners is to be able to perform most of our own maintenance. Because there are so many regulations surrounding bottom paint, this significantly narrowed our boatyard options: only a handful of yards in Puget Sound will even allow boaters to prep and apply their own paint. We began searching for a boatyard in May, and by June, we'd narrowed our options to a yard with a very reasonable rate and good reputation.

What does it cost to haul a boat? Some factors depend on the size of the boat, and others are fixed. I've listed some example costs below.

  • Haulout (calculated at a per foot rate, either round trip or one way)
    $9/ foot roundtrip
  • Dry Storage (per foot per day/month
    $10/foot per month (pro-rating available)
    We found a well-rated yard that allowed you to do your own work, but ran $80/night for our boat!
  • Pressure Washing (per foot)
    $3.50 per foot
  • Environmental Fee (sometimes per foot, sometimes a flat rate)
    $65 flat rate

While we really want to get some good sailing in this year, our priority is the care of the boat. If we take good care of her, she'll last longer than we will. With this in mind, we allowed for a month on the hard. So, supposing we spend a full month out, our cost comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000. It's not an insubstantial cost, especially when the only "work" being done on your boat is the pressure wash. The largest reason for allowing so much time was to avoid stressing ourselves out. We're just two folks without much experience under our belts, and I need to accommodate my remote work, not to mention that if there were any unexpected discoveries, we might have to wait for parts to ship and repairs to be done. We settled on July 11th, a Wednesday when the yard had availability. We hoped that by hauling in the middle of the week, we'd avoid the weekend boating crowd out on the water.

While we gave ourselves plenty of time to work, we also did a fair amount of preparation ahead of time.

The most important task aside from finding a yard was researching and purchasing bottom paint. We ended up going with Petit's Hydrocoat SR, and managed to get West Marine to price-match a second gallon at half their list price. This matched the paint that was on the boat previously, and had held up well. How much does bottom paint cost? The range is enormous, but to give you an idea, we were able to acquire our paint for about $160 a gallon, with two gallons needed.

Another project was researching the replacement for our current head. Blackthorn had a Blake's lavac style head with a small-capacity holding tank. Rather than storing sewage in a fiberglass container in the bilge, we decided to switch over to a composting head. These toilets are designed to separate solids from liquids, and should allow us to sail for about a month at a time without needing to empty the solid waste container. Solids are combined with coconut fiber or peat moss and agitated by spinning a handle on the outside of the toilet, eliminating the odor. We determined that we didn't necessarily need to replace the head while we were out of the water, but having a good idea of how the new toilet would be installed was very useful while removing the original.

Aside from some looking ahead on our biggest projects, we also needed to research what might need maintenance that we hadn't thought of. There are a lot of obvious tasks that make sense when you're out of the water: replacing the zincs, greasing seacocks, cleaning the prop, etc... But, for relatively new owners like us, there are things that we just aren't aware of, due to inexperience. For example, we have a PSS Dripless Shaft Seal in place of a stuffing box -this is a device that makes sure water doesn't enter the boat at the point where the prop shaft exits the hull. We had no record of when it had last been serviced or what might need to be done to it. Between contacting the original owners and asking the seal's manufacturer to look at their records, we were able to determine roughly when the seal would actually be due for servicing.

July 11th drew near as we watched the weather closely, hoping for a pleasant, uneventful trip to the boatyard, about 18 nautical miles from where we normally moor. We had lists of things we needed to check once Blackthorn came out of the water, and supplies we would need to pick up. We planned a day buffer into the schedule, hoping to leave Monday morning, spend a day relaxing at Blake Island, and then depart Blake Island early and reach the boatyard near high tide but before 3:30 PM, when the bridges along the river would be closed due to road traffic.

The day before departure, we checked over a number of things, making sure any devices were charged and the water tanks were filled. There was one item on the checklist that I neglected to check. I didn't really want to run the engine for just a few minutes since it had run perfectly about a month prior when I'd changed out the fuel filters. And, of course, that was the thing that bit us in the ass on the morning of our scheduled departure.

We had the rudder in place, the shore power unplugged, and the lines ready to go. About 10 minutes before our planned departure, we fired up the little beta 25, and it chugged along happily. But, shortly after starting,  water stopped coming out of the exhaust. Not a good sign at all. We shut the engine down and opened up the engine box, wondering what could have gone wrong.

It took us a few minutes to determine that fresh water wasn't flowing up to the raw water strainer. This was actually one of the better problems that we could have had, since it was the first leg of the raw water system and meant that something (probably) wasn't wrong with the engine itself. We spent a good while trying to figure out what was blocking the intake, unsure if something had become lodged inside, or had just blocked the thru-hull by becoming suctioned over it. Eventually, we borrowed the neighbor's drain snake and were able to clear some growth from mouth of the thru-hull. Apparently, some mussels had decided to take up residence there in the last month.

Our engine was operable, but slackr had already passed: The current was building up speed through the marina, and we decided to wait until the evening's slack before heading out. Our trip to Blake Island by motor was uneventful, and we found a nice location south of the island's western buoys to drop our anchor for the night. It was only our second time dropping anchor, but we managed to set it properly on the first go, in about 15 meters of water. Of course, we were checking the shoreline routinely to make sure that we hadn't drifted further than we thought we should have. I have a small anchor-watch app on my phone, but it has a nasty habit of losing contact with the GPS and blaring its siren at random intervals.

While we were sitting out on our back porch to enjoy dinner, we were treated to raccoons, a family of river otters, a bald eagle, and Canadian geese going about their business, along with numerous little swallow-like birds that never held still long enough for me to identify. Every time we've visited this island, the wildlife has been incredibly abundant, which is surprising, considering the daily boat and tourist traffic to the island. When we arrived that evening, there were already 5 boats moored there, most of them on buoys.

The sun setting behind mountains with water in the foreground.


A little spider in focus, suspended on a background of the sunset over the water.


A masculine figure silhouetted against the sunset.

Sunset on the water with lots of orange light.


The next day was peaceful, though neither of us had slept very well. I spent a portion of it working, and we finally got to test out our "hang out" a single-bar hammock that we'd received from family at Christmas. Attaching it to the stays'l halyard and running a second line down to the pinrail on the bow worked remarkably well. The rocking of the waves made it impossible for me to read without eventually getting motion sick, but for pure relaxation, I think it would be hard to beat.

After another night of not-entirely-restful sleep, we weighed anchor and headed up north of Blake Island. We brought up the sails and were making decent speed, but the wind was coming almost directly at us. With plenty of ferry traffic in the area and a schedule to keep, we weren't incredibly keen on tacking back and forth, especially since the wind out in the sound always picks up speed as we near Seattle. I don't particularly enjoy dropping the sails in heavy gusts, so we brought them down and motored the last few knots to the mouth of the river.

It's worth mentioning that approaching strange ports is often confusing. From an angle or above, it's usually easy to spot the channels. However, when you're at the water level, it can be much more challenging, and sometimes you aren't certain that it's a channel until you're right in front of it. We were similarly hesitant when we came into Tacoma looking for the Dock Street Marina last year. Eventually we confirmed our location and began motoring upriver.

There were three bridges between us and our destination. The tide was rising and would eventually hit positive 10 feet. The first bridge had a clearance of 55', the next 48', and the final one, which we'd definitely have to open, was only 34'. Blackthorn comes at least 44 feet up out of the water, plus the height of the antennas for the instruments. From my experience, bridges always look like they're too low when you're approaching them, even when the clearance is in excess of 10 feet.

We went under the first bridge with plenty of room to spare. I used the binoculars to read the little placard and confirmed what I'd read online—the bridge had a clearance of 55 feet at the mean high water mark. We weren't quite at high tide, so we had closer to 61 feet of clearance at this time. On we went, through a channel surrounded by barges, container ships, and industrial buildings. Terns with black heads and vibrant red beaks flew by occasionally. I'm not certain of the species, but I never see them out in the sound.

The next bridge looked a little low. But, I had read it was 48' and the tide wasn't still coming in, so we should have had plenty of room. Still, it seemed low to me, and I asked The Sir to stop moving forward. I looked at the placard through the binoculars after confirming with the bridge operator that he wasn't sure how much clearance he had right now. That's when I saw that the 48' had been measured at the Mean Low Water mark. With tides routinely ranging from -3 to +11, it made a huge difference! I asked the bridge operator to open it up, and he was happy to oblige us, though it takes several minutes: Traffic has to be stopped, and this particular bridge was a double. Just as we'd confirmed with the operator, we were hailed by a tug who was moving a barge downriver, occupying most of the channel. We scooted off to the side to allow them to pass by us.

Eventually, the barge moved past, and we were able to motor back into the channel from where we'd been idling near the edge with the wind persistently pushing us toward shore. The last bridge opened without issue, as I'd phoned ahead, and we arrived in a wider part of the river. We'd been instructed to park at the guest dock temporarily, a stretch of about 30 feet of floating dock that stuck out from between two large trawlers. We were able to tie up on the second pass and wrangle Blackthorn into place without any real trouble.

The boatyard we had chosen had no travel lift, and instead hauls boats via trailer. It's a unique setup, but they also operate a boat transport company. Blackthorn had arrived in Seattle via trailer, but we hadn't been present when she was loaded. The folks at the yard had a very no-nonsense look to them. It was obvious by the end of the first day that they worked hard, loved boats, and took pride in their work. They spent a few minutes puzzling over Blackthorn, now that she was actually parked there for them to examine, and then left to go set up their truck. The harbormaster, meanwhile, had to leave to deal with some boaters in distress.

We scouted around a bit, and within an hour or so of our arrival, they instructed us to just ease the bow of the boat toward them as they stood on a ramp running down into the water. From there, they directed her onto a trailer and then slowly hauled her up the ramp. The entire process was over quite quickly and  not really dramatic, though I couldn't help having a bad case of nerves as our home and everything in it was dragged up out of it's natural place in the water.

After I was sure the boat wasn't going to slide off the trailer and go tumbling onto the ramp, the first thing to draw my attention was the growth. I'd left my phone onboard, so there aren't any pictures of this, but beneath each thru-hull and over the hull zincs was a sizable cluster of mussels and other assorted sea life. I think that if you piled every critter that came off of our boat together, you could have filled up a medium sized trash can with them all.

The yard workers pulled the zincs off and took the pressure washer to the hull before blocking the boat up for the evening. After rolling some stairs into place, our home was officially on the hard.

Looking up at Blackthorn on blocks and stands from the front.

Thank you for taking the time to read through, and I hope you found some useful tidbits! 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!


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