First Things First

IMG_2177 (1)February 4

Insurance survey in the morning. Uneventful. Father and son team, both native Homerians. “Oh,” says the father when I ask, pausing as if struggling to remember, “Born and raised in Homer. Guess I’ve lived here all my life.”

Both men are soft spoken and polite but clearly excited to survey something other than a fishing boat.

They scrape the paint here and there; make special point to find the engine serial number, stamped to the underside of the block and closer to the bilge than bilge water, and note the charge in the fire extinguishers.

“You happy with the boat?” asks the father. “Very,” I say. “Good. That’s important.”

“Where you going?” asks the son.

They are bush pilots, I learn, and are eager to get to the airport on this clear day. Thus, within the hour they find Gjoa to be a stout workhorse of a boat with a cracked stanchion and an out-of-date life raft as the only noteworthy faults.

Once alone, I get to my first project, a domestic chore, putting heat shrink insulative film on the inside of the windows. Given the cold outside and warmth inside, all Gjoa’s windows have been dripping with condensation every time I’ve been aboard. This interior wetness makes below-decks seem clammy, and on my first evening, I couldn’t get the temperature above 64 degrees at the heater’s highest setting. Gjoa is warmed by a magic silver cylinder in the main salon, a giant Releks diesel heater that would do well on a much larger vessel. And while 64 degrees is quite warm enough, especially when outdoors is snowing and in the mid 20s, getting there shouldn’t take nearly so much fuel.

During the sunny part of the day I apply the double-sided tape around the window frames and then the film and shrink the whole affair with a blow drier I find in a head cupboard. That evening the cabin comes quickly to 65 degrees with the heater at but half throttle. Still too much fuel usage, but better.

Next task is to charge the batteries using the engine.

Though the four-battery house bank is at 91% of charge, I’m not sure when they’ve been charged last, and in any case I want to run the engine. Running the engine on the hard is possible because Gjoa has two large coolant tanks that are integral to the hull and are themselves cooled by the ambient seawater, or, in this case, air temperature (most modern boat engines pull raw seawater into the boat for this purpose, an odd strategy when you consider that a boat hull is designed to keep seawater out). The engine comes alive quickly, even though overnight temperatures have been as low as 26 degrees. That’s the good news. The bad news: it takes five hours of run-time to get very cold batteries back to 100% of charge.

The only disappointment of this exercise is that the exhaust put out more white smoke than I like, even when engine temperatures come up to normal ranges, 160 – 170 degrees. Likely all this means is that oil is escaping the rings and getting into the combustion chamber. The diesel is a 48 horsepower Bukh, built in Denmark for the lifeboat trade; she’s vintage 1988 and has 7,000 hours, which is to say she’s got plenty of life left, but is not a spring chicken.

Already I have formed my life-on-the-hard routine. Wake before sunrise. Make coffee. Descend the slippery ladder and walk the road in the crunch of ice and snow the ten minutes to the toilet; there I fill my two jugs of water from the tap (Gjoa’s water tanks are empty and will stay that way until it warms or we go back in the water). Back at the boat, make egg on toast, the blue flame of the stove and yellow yoke enough to cheer the soul of any winter morning, and sit for a time by the heater wondering how best to get to know this new creature, my boat, from her strange position on the beach.

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Typical window interior before plastic wrap.


Typical window interior after plastic wrap.


The magic silver cylinder, a Refleks 62MS diesel heater, made in Denmark.


Gjoa’s power supply, a 48 horsepower Bukh diesel, made in Denmark for lifeboats.



The house battery bank, four 145 amp hour gel batteries made by Whisper Power.

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Be sure to be awake when attempting this descent.


No lovelier breakfast has been invented.

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Note snow only on the foredeck, under which are the unheated v-berth and anchor locker.

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One Comment on “First Things First

  1. And Mom says we are basking in 68 degrees, and weeping over huge weeds, but bravely planting new plants! The ladder is definitely NOT for her, and We, the four-leggeds, are doing our best to keep her upright:-). She agrees with you about the egg however, best breakfast Especially with “soldiers”! Looking forward to hearing more, and wondering if this is the prelude to bringing Gjoa back to the Bay?
    Cheers and good thoughts!

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