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Storing a boat in the tropics

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #127
January/February 2003
After a typical seven-to-eight-month winter cruise in Florida, the Bahamas or the Caribbean, a number of voyagers choose to leave their boats in the south and travel north to visit family and friends during the summer. Anyone who has spent time in Florida and points south in the summer knows how rainy, hot and humid the weather can get. The option of inside storage is generally unavailable, especially for sailboats. Left outside, the boat takes a beating in the south in the summer, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The authors' Tartan 34 Endeavour on the hard in Florida. For several years they have left their boat in Florida for the summer and have evolved a method for storing the boat. They take the teak wheel, dodger and the wind generator blades off and store them below.
   Image Credit: Dick DeGrasse

After four years of storing our boat in south Florida, while we return home to Maine for the summers, we have evolved a series of tasks to put the boat away so as to limit unpleasant surprises in the fall. Even when we do our best in securing the boat, in the spring we still expect to spend a week or more in the yard preparing the boat for our winter cruise. Our seven-to-eight-month fall, winter and spring voyage requires considerable time and effort to get the boat ready - especially since we sail in remote areas with few shore-side facilities. If any major projects are planned - mast removal and rig servicing, engine overhaul or the like - we expect to spend more than a week in the yard. The more effort we take to put it away in the spring, the less work we have in the fall.

Since we live on the boat, we plan to move aboard the day we get back to the yard in the fall. We expect the boat to be dirty on deck, but we don't expect critters in the cabin below. No sailor likes to live aboard in the yard, so we work hard seven days a week to get the boat in the water as quickly as possible.

We have chosen to leave the boat for the summer on the hard, rather than in the water. The cost of yard storage is usually lower than the cost of in-the-water storage at a marina, plus we believe the boat is safer from tropical storms when it is high-and-dry on jack stands, rather than tied in a slip. With the boat in the water, I imagine an entire summer of mooring-line chafing and rapidly fouling bottom paint. Even though the boat doesn't leak, somehow rainwater gets below. A failed bilge pump and high water during a tropical storm cause concern. And fall preparation is at least the same, or greater, when a boat is stored in the water. A boat stored in a slip will have to be hauled in the fall to properly prepare for the winter voyage. As it is, we monitor the weather at the boat all summer and call the yard after tropical storms. Finally, security is generally better in a yard than at a marina: A thief needs a ladder to get aboard in the yard!

Leaving a car

We store a car at the yard during our winter voyage. Our only hope is that it will start and run when we return. So far our only problem has been a dead battery. I can't imagine storing the boat at an island yard without access by car. We somehow manage to fill the car with food, clothes and boat gear when driving to and from the yard. Given airline luggage limits, flying home seems impossible with all our boat gear. Our list of off-the-boat summer projects is typically 30-items long, including sail repairs, dodger restitching, running-rigging replacements, chart upgrades, bottom paint, winter voyage spares and parts for fall yard projects - all of which must be loaded in the car for the trip back to the yard. Even at our island home in Maine during the summer our hearts and minds aren't far from the boat.

After seven months in salt water, we begin to put the boat away a few days before being hauled. This requires fresh water, so we either anchor in a favorite freshwater spot, tie up at a marina near the yard, or tie to the yard dock where it is available. The sails that go north with us are stripped and folded and stored on deck, ready to be packed in the car. They can be rinsed up north. Sails to be left aboard are rinsed with fresh water, dried, folded and stored below. We don't use soap or detergents on the sails. Sheets, traveler lines and other running rigging that have been exposed to salt water are washed in fresh water with fabric softener, coiled and stored below. All halyards are led forward to the bow so they won't rap the mast during the summer. We carry several small 10- to 12-foot lines used to secure various items on deck during the summer. The boom is secured top and bottom in two places. The topping lift is left tied off at the outboard end of the boom, with the main halyard tied off mid boom. The boom is held down and tied off using main-sheet mid-boom blocks, and a line at the outboard end of the boom is secured to an eye on the genoa track.

We scrub the anchor chain and rode with fresh water before returning it to the anchor locker. The boat is washed as best we can, knowing full well it will be dirty in the fall. We always request a pressure wash while the boat is in the slings. This is also a good time to see how the bottom paint held up. As recommended by the boat manufacturer, we leave the standing rigging tensioned.

Engine room tasks

The engine is serviced just before the boat is hauled. This is the time we take stock of spare engine oil, fuel filters and other spares. We carry spares for three oil changes, assuming 300 engine hours each season. I wash the engine with spray Gunk cleaner and then clean the engine and bilge with fresh water. The batteries are filled with distilled water. The watermaker is "pickled" according to manufacturer instructions.

We take canned food off the boat, as cans can rust and even explode and make a mess. We remove all perishable items. The other foods are either packed to go home, and items such as rice and flour are either removed or sealed airtight. We have in the past found bugs in flour left for the summer. All fruits and vegetables are removed. Sealed items are left on the boat.

 

Since we will not be using much fresh drinking water or diesel fuel the two or three days before we haul, we add three tablespoons of Clorox to each water tank. We also top off the main fuel tank with jerry can fuel and add diesel fuel stabilizer at the same time. We try to have all tanks as close to being topped off as possible. Fuel stabilizer is added to the gas tank of the outboard engine. The outboard is flushed with fresh water and serviced before hauling. We then leave the outboard covered on the stern bracket. The inflatable dingy is washed and scrubbed with soap and water, deflated, rolled up, stuffed in its bag and stowed below.

We spend a lot of time rejuvenating the brightwork, stripping the varnish and laying on many, many coats of Cetol in hopes of defeating ultraviolet rays. At the suggestion of the yard, we do not cover the boat, since covers are known to have a very limited lifespan and blow off with the first strong wind.

The engine is shut down in neutral. When the boat is in the travel lift slings or on the jack stands, I rotate the propeller to check on the cutlass bearing. The prop shaft should turn snugly in the bearing and not move side-to-side. I shake, move and twist the rudder to see how the bearings, stuffing box and rudder shoe are holding up. The rudder should not wobble, particularly in the shoe. Hull items are noted in anticipation of fall yard work. If a new cutlass bearing is needed, it saves yard time to source one ahead of time. Zincs are replaced annually. No external ground plates are used, since our radio ground plane is inside the hull. Any dings in the hull and keel are noted.

Electrical issues

To minimize the effects of a possible lighting strike during the summer, the backstay antenna lead is disconnected from the automatic tuner in the lazarette and grounded. The VHF antenna is disconnected. All electrical equipment is turned off with the exception of our solar array.

The solar panel is mounted on top of the dodger, but we remove the dodger from under the solar panel for repair and then remount the solar panel. The boat batteries are switched to "all," and the solar panel is left connected. The panel will charge the four batteries all summer to a level of 13.8 volts, as limited by the charge regulator. Our experience charging the batteries this way has been excellent - the batteries are fully charged when we return in the fall. The wind generator, however, is switched off; the blades are removed and stowed flat below.

A diluted muriatic acid solution is flushed through the head plumbing to limit calcium deposits. The holding tank is flushed with fresh water and pumped. Pine-Sol or other cleaner is added. On deck, the fuel, water, and waste cap threads are greased.

Image Credit: Dick DeGrasse

Belowdecks, the authors strung up anti-mildew packets and covered the kerosene lamps with plastic bags. They put reflective screens in the cabin ports.

Since it rains with a vengeance in south Florida during the summer, it is important to level the boat in the jack stands so the cockpit drains function properly. We have previously returned to the boat and found standing water that had been in the cockpit all summer and was inhabited by sticky frogs and other marine life. Our most intrusive intruders have been mud wasps. They get in anywhere there is an opening and build nests that are discovered regularly during the winter cruise. To prevent mud-wasp infiltration all through-hulls are plugged with rolled-up fiberglass screen. Engine exhaust and head through-hulls are plugged with copper scouring pads. Having a mud-wasp nest in the engine-cooling water intake when you first set out in the fall is an unpleasant surprise!

We remove the dorade vents and cover the holes. To prevent mildew, four packets of Die Gas are hung in the cabin just before closing and locking the hatch. The Die Gas works to prevent mildew and kills any critters hiding below. The Die Gas packets are effective for two to three months and must be replaced by the yard mid-summer. The ports are backed by silver foil to limit sun on the curtains.

Dick de Grasse and his mate Kathy live on their Tartan sloop Endeavour in southern waters in the winter and summer at Islesboro, Maine.

 

After
seven
months
in
salt
water,
we
begin
to
put
the
boat
away
a
few
days
before
being
hauled.
This
requires
fresh
water,
so
we
either
anchor
in
a
favorite
freshwater
spot,
tie
up
at
a
marina
near
the
yard,
or
tie
to
the
yard
dock
where
it
is
available.
The
sails
that
go
north
with
us
are
stripped
and
folded
and
stored
on
deck,
ready
to
be
packed
in
the
car.
They
can
be
rinsed
up
north.
Sails
to
be
left
aboard
are
rinsed with fresh water, dried, folded and stored below. We don't use soap or detergents on the sails. Sheets, traveler lines and other running rigging that have been exposed to salt water are washed in fresh water with fabric softener, coiled and stored below. All halyards are led forward to the bow so they won't rap the mast during the summer. We carry several small 10- to 12-foot lines used to secure various items on deck during the summer. The boom is secured top and bottom in two places. The topping lift is left tied off at the outboard end of the boom, with the main halyard tied off mid boom. The boom is held down and tied off using main-sheet mid-boom blocks, and a line at the outboard end of the boom is secured to an eye on the genoa track.

We scrub the anchor chain and rode with fresh water before returning it to the anchor locker. The boat is washed as best we can, knowing full well it will be dirty in the fall. We always request a pressure wash while the boat is in the slings. This is also a good time to see how the bottom paint held up. As recommended by the boat manufacturer, we leave the standing rigging tensioned.

Engine room tasks

The engine is serviced just before the boat is hauled. This is the time we take stock of spare engine oil, fuel filters and other spares. We carry spares for three oil changes, assuming 300 engine hours each season. I wash the engine with spray Gunk cleaner and then clean the engine and bilge with fresh water. The batteries are filled with distilled water. The watermaker is "pickled" according to manufacturer instructions.

We take canned food off the boat, as cans can rust and even explode and make a mess. We remove all perishable items. The other foods are either packed to go home, and items such as rice and flour are either removed or sealed airtight. We have in the past found bugs in flour left for the summer. All fruits and vegetables are removed. Sealed items are left on the boat.

Since we will not be using much fresh drinking water or diesel fuel the two or three days before we haul, we add three tablespoons of Clorox to each water tank. We also top off the main fuel tank with jerry can fuel and add diesel fuel stabilizer at the same time. We try to have all tanks as close to being topped off as possible. Fuel stabilizer is added to the gas tank of the outboard engine. The outboard is flushed with fresh water and serviced before hauling. We then leave the outboard covered on the stern bracket. The inflatable dingy is washed and scrubbed with soap and water, deflated, rolled up, stuffed in its bag and stowed below.

We spend a lot of time rejuvenating the brightwork, stripping the varnish and laying on many, many coats of Cetol in hopes of defeating ultraviolet rays. At the suggestion of the yard, we do not cover the boat, since covers are known to have a very limited lifespan and blow off with the first strong wind.

The engine is shut down in neutral. When the boat is in the travel lift slings or on the jack stands, I rotate the propeller to check on the cutlass bearing. The prop shaft should turn snugly in the bearing and not move side-to-side. I shake, move and twist the rudder to see how the bearings, stuffing box and rudder shoe are holding up. The rudder should not wobble, particularly in the shoe. Hull items are noted in anticipation of fall yard work. If a new cutlass bearing is needed, it saves yard time to source one ahead of time. Zincs are replaced annually. No external ground plates are used, since our radio ground plane is inside the hull. Any dings in the hull and keel are noted.

Electrical issues

To minimize the effects of a possible lighting strike during the summer, the backstay antenna lead is disconnected from the automatic tuner in the lazarette and grounded. The VHF antenna is disconnected. All electrical equipment is turned off with the exception of our solar array.

The solar panel is mounted on top of the dodger, but we remove the dodger from under the solar panel for repair and then remount the solar panel. The boat batteries are switched to "all," and the solar panel is left connected. The panel will charge the four batteries all summer to a level of 13.8 volts, as limited by the charge regulator. Our experience charging the batteries this way has been excellent — the batteries are fully charged when we return in the fall. The wind generator, however, is switched off; the blades are removed and stowed flat below.

A diluted muriatic acid solution is flushed through the head plumbing to limit calcium deposits. The holding tank is flushed with fresh water and pumped. Pine-Sol or other cleaner is added. On deck, the fuel, water, and waste cap threads are greased.

Since it rains with a vengeance in south Florida during the summer, it is important to level the boat in the jack stands so the cockpit drains function properly. We have previously returned to the boat and found standing water that had been in the cockpit all summer and was inhabited by sticky frogs and other marine life. Our most intrusive intruders have been mud wasps. They get in anywhere there is an opening and build nests that are discovered regularly during the winter cruise. To prevent mud-wasp infiltration all through-hulls are plugged with rolled-up fiberglass screen. Engine exhaust and head through-hulls are plugged with copper scouring pads. Having a mud-wasp nest in the engine-cooling water intake when you first set out in the fall is an unpleasant surprise!

We remove the dorade vents and cover the holes. To prevent mildew, four packets of Die Gas are hung in the cabin just before closing and locking the hatch. The Die Gas works to prevent mildew and kills any critters hiding below. The Die Gas packets are effective for two to three months and must be replaced by the yard mid-summer. The ports are backed by silver foil to limit sun on the curtains.

Dick de Grasse and his mate Kathy live on their Tartan sloop Endeavour in southern waters in the winter and summer at Islesboro, Maine.