June 24, 2004
Every fall, with tedious predictability, most North American boating magazines publish articles about how to "winterize" your boat. The assumption, of course, is that you and your boat are someplace where there's winter. When we lived in Canada we were very familiar with winter and with the annual winterizing ritual. We knew all about tarps and antifreeze and trickle chargers. That was ten years ago. Since then, we haven't experienced winter; the only snow we've seen has been in the galley sink after David's defrosted the freezer.
We just joined a segment of the boating population that launches their craft right about the time others are packing things away, a group that is ignored by the people who dole out advice on how to pickle your plumbing. Rather than making a trip to the nearest service station to buy a few gallons of glycol, these folks sail their boats several hundred miles south until the only ice they're likely to encounter is floating in glasses filled with a different type of alcohol. For them, the big transition comes six months later when they "summerize" their boats.
Up until this year, we've stayed on our boat for all or most of the summer. Sometimes we've left it parked somewhere secure for a month or two to make a rushed visit home to reassure friends and family we haven't fallen off the edge of the earth. This summer, however, we decided to leave "Little Gidding" in Florida for an extended period in order to spend more time in Ontario with Eileen's family. While it's all new to us, there are flocks of cruising snow birds who do this every year: they live on land up north for half the year and migrate south to tropical waters for the other half. We've been learning from them that storing your boat for the summer differs a lot from storing it for the winter.
Summer is tropical storm season and Florida is a favourite landfall for hurricanes. For this reason, we decided to take "Little Gidding" inland; in the event of a major blow, the low-lying topography might not provide much protection from the wind, but at least we'd be far from any damaging storm driven seas. One of the most popular long term boat storage facilities in Florida is the Indian Town marina located near Lake Okeechobee in the centre of the state. We reached the marina by sailing up the St. Lucy river to the town of Stuart and then following the Okeechobee canal inland for another twenty miles. We knew we were in another part of the world when we went to register at the marina office and read a prominent sign advising us not to feed the alligators. "I hope the alligators co-operate with the rules," Eileen said nervously.
Indian Town in the summer is very hot and very wet. Basically, it's a swamp. As the yard crew was putting blocks under "Little Gidding", David asked Jessie, the travel lift driver, whether many boats topple during summer storms. "No," Jessie replied, "we've been pretty lucky that way." He pointed to the sailboat that was twenty feet away on our port side. "Actually, that's the only boat I recall ever shifting. A while ago, the ground got so sodden with rainwater that the jack stands sunk and the boat slipped."
"That's just what I wanted to hear," David said as he looked up at our neighbour's rig and tried to imagine the impact a large aluminium extrusion would have on "Little Gidding's" foredeck..
After we were blocked, we asked a few of the long term marina residents about summerizing. Tony on "Simba" advised, "Your biggest issues are preventing your bilge from filling up with rainwater and keeping insects, especially mud wasps, from nesting inside. Many people have drain holes in their bilges. Make sure you plug every through hull opening with porous material like a kitchen scrubby so water drains but insects can't get in."
Others recommended lining all ports and hatches with aluminium foil or other reflective material to keep the sunlight out. We noted that most cruisers shielded their exterior wood from the sun with aluminium foil, canvas covers, large tarps, or a combination of all three. There appeared to be two quite different approaches to preventing mildew from flourishing inside boats, however. Bobbi, who lives in a trailer in the marina and provides a boatsitting service, advocated maximum air flow. She was big on solar vents and barn-style rotating ventilators.
The opposite strategy is to hermetically seal your boat and install a dehumidifier. This approach worked for us in Trinidad and Venezuela so we decided to try it in Indian Town. We set the dehumidifier up on the table in the main saloon and ran the drain hose out a through hull under the galley sink. In a trial run, it was merrily dripping away after a few minutes. Bobbi and Tony agreed to check it occasionally while we're gone.
Bobbi warned us that summer temperatures in Indian Town often hover around 100 degrees for days on end; the interior of a sealed boat can get 40 degrees hotter. We didn't like the prospect of baking sensitive stuff like our electronics, so we rented a small air-conditioned locker in a storage facility just down the road from the marina and emptied half the contents of our boat into it.
After three days of cleaning and stowing, we piled into a rental car and drove north, leaving "Little Gidding" with the alligators in Indian Town. We hope they have a nice summer.