Travel 2018-2019

Ice in the Creek

Red Ranger is wintering in the water. It’s cold. 

But. The ice is thin, so, it’s not damaging in any way.

 Last winter, the port-side deck drain hose filled with water, and then froze, and dropped off the “T” fitting under the cockpit drain. 

This put gallons of rainwater straight down into the engine pan. And from there into the deep bilge.

The ice-and-rain water filled the the ice-bound deep bilge until it rose up over the level of the center-line fuel tank. It dripped through the worn-out gasket, filling the center tank with rain water.

What floats on rain water?

A duck. Correct, but only relevant when watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

What else floats on rain water?

Diesel fuel.

We spent all last year pumping diesel fuel out of various parts of the bilge. It took me a few months to think the whole process through and (finally) pump the remaining diesel from the center-line fuel tank actually solving the problem.

With me so far? 

The center-line fuel tank is about 100 gallons of fresh water. In an ice-filled creek.

It’s not going to freeze solid. If we were hauled out in some place like Duluth, then we’d have to worry very seriously about residual water anywhere in the hull. We’re in a creek in Chesapeake Bay: the historical low for January is 4°C. No risk of freezing solid.


Just to be sure, I managed to pour a gallon of antifreeze into the tank. The normal 1:1 ratio depresses the freezing point to -37°C. At 1 gallon antifreeze to 100 gallons of water, I think I’ve moved the freezing point down to -0.4°C. I’ll be adding antifreeze periodically to get to 10 or so gallons of antifreeze down there. 

It’s a very slow process. The old cover for the tank was replaced with a simple aluminum plate with only a vent hole. Pouring a gallon of antifreeze down ¼” line is very not fun. I really need to get some super-small hose and set up a proper siphon so I don’t have to sit there, pouring.

The product of choice? A nitrite-free ELC with OAT. Products like Prestone Command® seem to be the right thing to use. Died yellow (typically) these seem to be the long-lasting formulations that will work well in the context of the aluminum tank walls.

Winter Chills

Snow on the decks of Red Ranger.

The footprints are a technician from one of the service companies at Herrington Harbour.

There’s a strike rail around the edge of Red Ranger. It’s a wooden offset, between one a two inches deep, about a foot down from the toe rail.

On more modern boats, it’s a piece of vinyl, often mounted in a steel rail. On older boats, it’s a strip of ancient, weathered teak.

Some Whitby’s have “encapsulated” the rail. Filled the voids and chips with epoxy, wrapped it in fiberglass, filled, faired, primed, and painted. The original steel “strike plate” on the outside can then be remounted with all new screws.

Yes. It’s a lot of specialized labor. It’s got to be done. We’ve broken the wood and the steel in a few places, and it won’t last too many more seasons. 

For now, however, we wait patiently until winter ends in mid-March with the vernal equinox,

Safety Considerations

Read Safety at Sea: Preparing for Emergencies first. Captivating article.

On Red Ranger we have the 5 F’s of safety:

  • Flood
  • Fire
  • Falling Overboard
  • First Aid
  • Fatigue
  • And Famine.

Okay. It’s six. But they’re the life-and-death essentials.

Here’s Alvah Simon’s list — based on real Coast Guard data.

Fire. Red Ranger has fire extinguishers under each ladder. We check them annually. They’ve started to age out — a few no longer showed acceptable pressure and were replaced.

Steering. We have a complete emergency tiller system in case the hydraulics fail. And we’ve played around with it to be sure we know how to install it. And we’ve practiced steering with the mizzen sail. It works pretty well.

Flooding. We have two electric bilge pumps and two manual pumps. We’re pretty confident we have this worked out for the simple cases. We have bronze through-hulls with massive valves which we lube and turn annually. We have foam (and wooden) plugs near the large openings. We have repair equipment include plywood for fixing things.

Grounding. We have multiple chart-plotters and a new depth-sounder. We’re reasonably cautious. We have kedge anchors. 

Dismasting. We have two masts. Plus a whisker pole that can be made into a third mast. We have a spare VHF antenna in case the mainmast is compromised.

Simon mentions falling overhead in passing. We’ve got a bunch of PFD’s, plus throwable rescue devices. Plus jacklines and tethers for operations at night or offshore.

It’s kind of fun to read an article like that and review our preparations. We have a number of ongoing chores regarding fire and flooding, and they’re near the top of each year’s pre-season jobs.



Seasons come and seasons go. As we get on toward winter, we need to strike Red Ranger’s sails, winterize Mr. Lehman, take the food out of the galley, upend all the cushions to let air circulate.

We replaced the T-shirts keeping the direct sun of the spare fuel.

It’s not like we need spare fuel for pottering around the Chesapeake. But. Before too long, we hope to take off again and see more of the world.

We rearranged the mizzen cover a bit. It needs some serious sewing.

CA made the covers in 2010? I’d have to check back through the old blog to see when she made them.

We’ve squeezed a lot of years out of them. They need to be rebuilt.

Here are the fenders sleeping in our bed.

It seems to very wrong and sad to be keeping fenders inside the boat.

Among the sadness, a note of joy, though.

Last year, we had problems getting Mr. Lehman to start. I put in new house batteries. Then — mid-season -- I also replaced the starting battery. 

I’ve been noting when the engine fails to crank and start. I worry about the starting motor. 

At the Whitby Rendezvous, I talked with folks about my starter being irregular. 

The response was a resounding nope. Starters aren’t really an “irregular” kind of thing. They either work or they don’t. If there’s irregularity, it’s electrical. Batteries. 

But the batteries are all new! The solenoid is new! What can possibly lead to intermittent starting?

Today. I think I figured it out.

1.  It’s gray. It’s cold. There’s hardly enough sun to charge the batteries.

2.  When we try to start Mr. Lehman there isn’t even a click from the solenoid. NOTHING.

I look around. I notice the switch for the starting battery is off.

It’s likely that it’s been off since I replaced the starting battery.

We have a voltage-sensitive relay (VSR) that bridges both batteries together *after* the starting battery is fully charged. When the starting battery slides below 13.8 volts, the batteries are isolated. 


Up until today, I’ve been starting in full sun with both batteries at high power. I think we’ve been starting only because the batteries were bridged. And any irregularity in starting stemmed from the odd voltage fluctuation that left the VSR off.

Today I think the VSR was open. Nothing was connected to the starting battery and it was switched off. So. Zilch.

After turning the starting battery on? Kaboom. Started immediately.

Yacht Club Cleanup

CA and I (and a handful of others) chose the “Cleanup Sticks from the Rip-Rap” job for the fall cleanup at West River Sailing Club. We have a large checklist of things that need doing. In previous years I helped rebuild the dock. This year after something went wrong with my ankle, I didn’t feel confident working on the dock. Instead, I limped around picking up sticks.

We filled a utility trailer with sticks. Filled. 8’ x 4’ by maybe 3’ deep.

And this.

That’s a recycling tubby half-full of plastic. We filled two of those.

Sadly, it’s a mixed stream of every kind of plastic, so it’s not generally recyclable. It’s effectively trash.

Same with the stray pieces of pressure-treated lumber we picked out of the rip-rap: they can’t be chopped for mulch. They’re trash.


CA also found a nearly complete fish skeleton, courtesy of some carnivore who ate the fish, leaving the bones essentially intact.

And. What might be a seagull skull. Super light-weight bones. 

The volume of trash was remarkable.

It’s not that the sailing club is a particularly trashy place. Quite the opposite. We’re generally pretty good about keeping the lawn clean even when there are big regattas and lots of visitors.

This is simply the global plastic problem, writ small on a little peninsula in the West River off Chesapeake Bay.

When they tell you there’s a planet-wide Garbage Gyres in the middle of the ocean, your response should be anger. Unmitigated anger that plastic is not relentlessly sought out and recycled as soon as humanly possible. Separate recycling bins should be everywhere civilized people live. Everywhere.

The idea that we can simply throw plastic “away” is utter stupidity and needs to be actively and constantly fought. Plastic is a curse. It has a limited purpose, and it must be immediately recycled as soon as its purpose is met. Alternatives to indestructible plastic need to be put into places decades ago.

It was a beautiful day. The sailing club people are wonderful to hang around with. It’s great to be with people who love the water and love to talk boats.

Center Fuel Tank

I think — or perhaps I hope — I’ve solved a serious problem. I have a theory about diesel fuel in the bilge.

Last winter, a hose clamp for the deck drains failed. The winter rains and snowmelt poured into the engine room, and the deep bilge. It froze. The pump broke. The bilge filled to a remarkably high level.

See The Drain Hose for some background. We have diesel in the bilge and on top of the center fuel tank. 

I pumped the bilge dry, carrying bucket after bucket to the bilge-water recycling barrel.

Then it was summer and time to go sailing. Most times we got back there would be diesel in the bilge. I’d shut off the pump, manually pump out the bilge, and carry bucket after bucket to the bilge-water recycling barrel.

Tedious, messy stuff.

I think I must have pumped at least 30 gallons of bilge water contaminated with diesel. Possibly more.

My theory is the drain hose filled the center tank, and the diesel is floating on top of the water, and leaking out around the cover plate the same way rain water is leaking in. Indeed, there’s an exchange: each gallon of water leaking in displaces a gallon of diesel to leak out.

You can see the red-died fuel in the middle of this picture, with the vent hose sticking out of it.

This weekend, I finally had time to take it very seriously.


There’s a tiny vent fitting on the top of the tank. With a vent hose. I can take the hose off, and use the wand on my oil-change pump to pump fluid from the center tank. I pumped out something like 10 gallons of fuel, and the pump started gurgling because the level had fallen and the pump was only getting air.

I pushed the wand in exactly one more inch. Pumped out another eight to ten gallons of fuel. The third round — I’m now down to about 4” — I got another eight to ten gallons of almost entirely fuel. The fourth round — 5” in — I get water! 

I pumped until I get down to air, and most of what I got was water. Water with a little bit of fuel. At this point, there are still traces of fuel in the center tank. If I’m right, and it’s the source of diesel in the deep bilge, I won’t see anything for the next few years. Then, perhaps, traces of diesel once the tank is full again.


I’m wrong and the fuel is coming from a massive hole somewhere else. A hole that only seems to leak when we’re under way. A leak that doesn’t let fuel into the pan under the engine, but somehow lets fuel into the deep bilge. And it’s not leaking onto the floor of the pass-through. Nor is it visible on the sides of the hull above the bilge. Somehow it’s leaking in a way that means it’s only visible on the top of the center fuel tank.

About The Temperature Gauge

On Thursday, we dialed the speed up to 7 knots. This means a bit over 2,000 RPM on the tach. 

And the temperature started to increase. And increase. I don’t often check the temperature. But I did manage to notice it in time.

Did I mention we had guests? 

We had guests. See Friends and Boats. First-timers on Red Ranger, too, so everything’s mysterious and a little scary.

I pull the throttle back. I run below, calling out, “Nothing to worry about. Remain calm.” As if that makes anyone feel calm.

There’s no cooling water spraying around the engine room or bilge. (whew!) There’s a lot of steam coming out the exhaust pipe. With the gauge over 200°F, Cooling water is boiling away. Which makes sense. 

There were no alarms. Yet.

At low RPM’s, the temp fell. At high RPM’s it rose. 

Possible cause 1. Blockage in the input — i.e., grass in the strainer.

Possible cause 2. Failing impeller in the raw water pump.

Remotely possible causes include broken or leaking hoses or jammed up heat exchangers. 

Saturday, CA cleaned the strainer. She found grass. ✅

I took out the impeller.  You can see a vane partially missing. ✅

I poured the water out of the oil cooler and didn’t see any obvious rubbery parts. So. I’m guessing the busted up pieces flowed on through the system and out the exhaust.

Ran the engine at idle to pressure test it when I was done. Worked.

Now to run up the RPM’s and race around at 7 knots again to see if it’s fixed.

Friends and Boats

Brought some friends — David and Bo — along to move Red Ranger from West River back down to Herrington Harbour. 

They’d never seen Red Ranger before, and hadn’t fully appreciated how much boat she is.

The winds were light, and — of course — on the nose, so we motored for an hour or so. Revisited old times. Talked about family. Planned future parties.

When the wind clocked a bit, we could put up the sails for another couple of hours, and drift down the bay, close-hauled.

It was an ideal afternoon.

They had to continue on to Virginia Beach, so they spent a night in a nearby hotel before leaving in the morning to continue south.

Whitby-Brewer Rendezvous 2018

Another year of fun and sharing! There’s a lot we can learn from other sailors with the same boats and a wide variety of experiences. An important lesson from this year is how long it takes before we’re talking about the ship’s head. (For non-sailors, read “toilet.”)

For the 2018 edition of the rendezvous, we had four boats at the dock of the West River Sailing Club:

  • Red Ranger
  • Shooting Star
  • Wild Oats
  • Allegria

We had almost two dozen attendees reflecting — perhaps — a dozen boats. James and Christine won the prize for coming all the way from Calgary, Alberta, some 2,300 miles. We keep Red Ranger at Herrington Harbour North, so our trip was about 15 miles: 3 hours by boat. Shooting Star and Wild Outs, similarly, are close by. Allegria, however, came down from from Newfoundland.

Some Whitby-emeritus owners (Ted, Alice, John, and Mary) live in the area so, they win the prize for shortest distance traveled.

There are some key ingredients for a proper rendezvous.

Introductions. And a boat card exchange. We all describe our boat and our favorite locations. We get to meet the folks we don’t know, greet the folks we've met before. We learn about folks new to the group, and new to their boars, as well as the folks with thousands of sea miles under their keels.


Shared Meals. We use the West River Sailing Club and Betka’s Real Food catering service provided us wonderful meals Monday night, all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday, also.

Boat Tours. With four boats at the dock, we can swap ideas, and learn from each other. I’ve seen these three boats several times before, and I’m starting to understand some of the smaller differences between them.

Program. Ruth of Shooting Star built an amazing program this year. She seems to know a huge number of cruisers, and invited lots of them to speak.

  • Jeanie and Scott talked about the Whitby-Brewer web site. Jeanie explained the detailed history of the boats she’s collected. This history can help a buyer learn about previous owners and previous names for a boat you’re thinking about buying. It also helps when you see a boat and wonder who you should hail on the VHF.
  • Fred reviewed the rules of the road. “Red over Red, Captain is Dead.” Okay. It’s silly, but we’ve learned to recognize the lights of a ship not under command.
  • Monty and Sara — the folks who publish Explorer Chartbooks — stopped by to tell us how and why they put their unique offering together. We learned about coloring scheme for the hydrography and their policy for stating depth. The books include tons of need-to-know information about the Bahamas. Since they offered us a discount, we bought the latest editions.
  • Dee and Molly told us about their trip up the coast of Newfoundland. They shared details of anchorages, and spectacular photos. This wasn’t their first trip up north, and we learned how they managed the persistent SW winds they encountered.
  • Molly Winans— editor of Spinsheet Magazine — told us about sailors and the twelve reasons why she loves sailors. Stories from a  master story-teller are a delight.
  • We demonstrated how flares work. We tried 12-gauge and 25mm flare launchers, signal rockets, SOLAS flares, and (cheap) locator flares. Out-of-date flares really do work. We saw how the pistol-like flare launchers can be unimpressive: a 12 gauge flare with a six-second burn is barely visible. If you’re going to use this, have a generous supply. The 25mm launcher with converter sleeve didn’t work out very well, either: when the flare misfired, it wound up jammed in the sleeve. Have multiple sleeves in case of misfires. The demonstration required a fair amount of coordination with US Coast Guard, Galesville Fire Department, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and local businesses to be sure everyone was aware of what we were doing. You can see Molly’s Facebook post of our flare demo.

Day two was just as informative and helpful:

  • Brian Smith from American Diesel stopped by to help us understand our diesel engines. We talked about a number of topics, including the frequency of oil changes and the complexities of getting all the oil out of the pan. We learned about the importance of looking closely at your oil as a diagnostic tool for how your engine is running.
  • Kathy Barth from Seven Seas Cruising Association told us of the many benefits of SSCA membership. We have several members — and at least one commodore couple— in the Whitby family. What we’re doing is like an SSCA Gam on a smaller scale. 
  • We shared our stories of things that work — and things that don’t.  As Milly Winans pointed out, it’s only about ten minutes before we’re talking about the boat’s head and the various complexities of marine sanitation devices. 
  • After lunch we had a brief business meeting to examine our finances. We pay for Whitby Brewer Sailboats. The rendezvous pricing is designed to break exactly even with the fees for Real Food and the West River Sailing Club. And that’s it. We have a couple of people who handle the tiny dribble of money. Ruth, Cindy Ann, and Maureen put the program together for the rendezvous.
  • Steve showed how rock climbing safety techniques can be applied to ascending the mast. Use proper 22 kn rated carabiner clips, and use a figure-eight with follow-through knot for anything you’re climbing on.

And then we moved on to visiting boats, having hors d'oeuvre and then eating a delightful dinner.

An associated event can help. In this case, the Annapolis sailboat show starts the next day. Some of use will sail up to Annapolis to make last-minute purchases before heading south.

A bonus this year was yoga at 07:00 both mornings. CA finished her instructor training at Blue Nectar recently.  The morning program was designed to build up some strength and flexibility based on the kind of activities common on a sailboat.

Equinox Cruise

Sailing is all about cooperation. Nothing happens in isolation. The progress of a sailboat through the water requires wind, for example. There are other examples of cooperation, we’ll get to them.

The Equinox cruise was timed to greet the passing of the sun over the horizon on September 22nd, 2018 at 21:54 EDT. We celebrated the end of summer in Dunn’s Cove, off Harris Creek on the east side of Tilghman island.

Susan signed on as crew, and brought mountains of food. By itself, this is a wonderful example of cooperation. But it gets better.

The weather Saturday was spectacular for a big, heavy cruising boat like Red Ranger. We had winds from 10 to 15 knots, with a rare gust to 20. The early-morning seas were relatively flat. With wind from almost due north, we could comfortably broad reach across the Bay. 

Rather than go through Knapp’s Narrows, we went south around Back Walnut Point. The turn into the Choptank river always involves a huge question. “Will the wind on the other side of Tilghman cooperate as well as the wind in the Bay?”

With only two on board, tacking the huge Yankee is difficult. With an extra hand, we were able to beat up the Choptank through several tacks. Cooperative sail handling is one of the best parts of sailing. There’s a profound joy in the essential cooperation required to call “Ready about?” and “Helm’s a-lee!” 

Red Ranger’s cutter rig worked out well when we switched from the giant yankee down to the inner stays’l. We could then do our version of short tacking up the Choptank. The history is truncated by Marine Traffic. I think this is because we vanished from coverage. The last point recorded properly was at 17:57 UTC (1:54 EST). We made one more tack before firing up the engine to wind through the marks in Harris Creek.

We rafted up with Cephas Dawson. Our 25 Kg Rocna held both boats comfortably through drinks and snacks and story-telling. There’s a whole host of cooperation involved in rafting up, and shipping drinks from one deck to the other deck.

Rachel Dawson photo of the moon over Cephas Dawson

Red Ranger’s cockpit is large. However, getting over the winches to get into the cockpit isn’t always easy. It takes a deal of cooperation from everyone involved to make sure the guests arrive safely and can find ways to be comfortable.

The moon peeked through the clouds to see what we were doing. The night was calm. Until it started to rain.

It was a quiet, gentle rain. But thoroughly soaking. And it thoroughly soaked us all day Sunday. Here’s a view of Red Ranger during a brief gap in the showers.

Rachel Dawson photo of Red Ranger in Dunns Cove

Besides tacking, another joy of having a cooperative, skilled crew is getting a  hot breakfast. (Thanks Susan!) We spent Sunday morning rolling across the two-to-three foot seas and 10 to 15 knot winds with driving rain. It may have been a good sailing day, but we motored through the wet.

Here’s a picture of another guest on Red Ranger.

This was an Osprey with a fish, looking for a place to settle down and enjoy a meal. It tried the top of the mizzen mast a few times, but didn’t stay with us.

The secret to a great Equinox Cruise is cooperation. While cooperative weather might have been nice, having a cooperative crew and fellow sailors is always the best way to spend a weekend.

© Steven Lott 2021