Melt Your Ice

By Tom Neale, 2/24/2005


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Our second Chez Nous, frozen in during a winter in the late ‘70’s.
I like ice inside my boat, not around it. I like ice inside my boat when it’s inside the icemaker, or when it’s inside my bourbon, or when it’s inside the ice bag that I’m holding to my head after I’ve slipped on the ice on the deck outside the boat. I don’t like ice outside my boat. My friend Alvah Simon actually sailed his boat to the Arctic and deliberately let it freeze in for the winter, for the adventure and experience. Alvah is modest enough to say things like, “Oh, I got through it OK,” I’m cowardly enough to say things like, “Yeah, I’ll sail to the Arctic the day the polar bears start dancing in grass skirts and leis.” Different strokes for different folks, I’m just glad that was his stroke, and not mine.

Back in the late 70’s, we lived aboard in the Chesapeake during a few winters. Sometimes it wasn’t bad. Usually it was very bad. This was in the days before I’d heard of bubblers and other machines that bring warmer water up to the surface. This was in the days when I had to go out twice a day wielding a long steel pipe with a T on the end and crash it into the ice around my boat to keep from getting frozen in completely. The ducks dearly loved me. They knew they had a perpetual pond around my boat as the creek got harder and harder. I hated the ducks. They would swim all day in my pond but they would always “go” on the ice. You can sing about “wintry wonderlands” all you want. But a wintry wonderland around my boat never particularly turned me on--especially when it’s covered with frozen duck doo doo.

We had to deal with ice and snow on the decks as well as on the water. One year Melanie and Carolyn made little snowmen on deck and slid down the iced bottom of the inflatable which was tilted at an angle over the bow cabin. Another time we had to pour hot water on the sheet lines to thaw them out so that we could put out the foresail. We developed the habit of sliding on our back sides when we wanted to walk on deck, and crawling down the dock. We developed the habit of holding onto the wheel to keep from sliding from side to side every time the boat rolled. This did for steering what a bottle of gin does for walking straight lines.

Avenues of Escape---From the Cold

There are all sorts of charter opportunities ranging from local day trips in small boats, to shared ocean passage trips as crew, to chartering a boat for a week or more. Here are a few examples. I'm not recommending any group, boat, or charter company over another because I go south on my own boat and don't charter and so haven't checked them all. I'm just throwing these out so that maybe they'll start you to looking for a break in the cold, or at least considering the possibilities and different types of things you can do. Always ask for references and investigate thoroughly.

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That was in the days when I still had to dress up and put on a suit and tie and go to work ashore in the mornings. We all know the routine about starting the car and hoping you don’t freeze before the heater kicks in. But that was the good part. The real problem came with getting out of bed and hopping into the shower. It’s supposed to be a great way to start the day, but not on “Chez Nous” that winter. The shower stall was nicely illuminated and ventilated (in the summer) with a pretty aluminum porthole. That aluminum conducted cold in from the outside like it was a conduit to the North Pole. It also dripped from condensation. On the really cold mornings long thick icicles hung down from its aluminum frame into the shower. You’d think that the hot water would have melted them quickly, but it always took awhile—about long enough to run through all the hot water in our little water heater. Taking a shower waiting for big icicles to drop is like tip toeing through a chandelier factory in an earthquake. One thing you don’t do is bend over to wash your feet.

One morning it was so cold that after I got out of the shower and reached into the hanging locker to grab my suit (I wore one of those, once upon a time), I couldn’t get it to come out. The shoulder to the suit coat was frozen solidly to the cedar lining in my hanging locker. Apparently the lining had also had condensation on its surface and this moisture had permeated the shoulder of the jacket which was touching the wood. The moisture had frozen during the night. (Like the rest of the boat, there was no insulation whatsoever between the solid fiberglass hull and the various wood linings in the interior.) It took some time to gently pull and scrape the fabric off the frosted panels without tearing it. Finally, I put on the frozen stiff-shouldered suit coat (and several others), and proceeded to slide along to the office. I got there late because of this unexpected delay, rushed past the receptionist without saying “good morning,” and was accused of giving her the cold shoulder.

So we don’t do winter anymore. We only do summers and springs and falls. It’s one of the many good things that a cruising boat, whether power or sail, can bring you. This is one of the reasons we put so many miles under our keel each year. It’s relatively easy to migrate like the geese if you live aboard. But you really don’t have to live aboard. Just owning a boat in which you can live part time helps, whether you move it south on its own bottom or on a trailer. Some say the east coast is “Just made for this,” with its ICW and other navigable waterways that can take you along the coast. But you can do it on the west coast too. You may be in for more ocean work, but not necessarily if you have a smaller boat with a trailer, or if you charter.

A lot of people are like I used to be when I was standing naked in the shower, freezing and afraid to move. They think it’s going to be impossible or too expensive to get warm for awhile. But it’s easier than you may think to experience the good parts of boating when your suits are frozen, and you might not have to spend as much as you think to get warm. There are charter companies that let you charter a whole boat or parts of a boat (if you don’t mind gambling as to your ship mates). You can charter power or sail, of all sizes, and you can pick destinations close and easy or far away. Sometimes people don’t look into chartering in the winter because of the expense. But the good ol’ USA has some really nice charter areas that are easy and don’t involve the costs of overseas travel. These include the southeast Florida area, the southwest coast of Florida (some of this, such as Pine Island Sound, is similar to parts of the Abacos), and the Florida Keys.

You not only don’t have to leave the country, you also don’t have to go to the expense of chartering a whole boat for a whole week. One of our daughters needed a break from college. The Bahamas are like one of our second homes, but this was out of the question. So, she drove to Key West. There’s no place like Key West, or dozens of many other keys in the chain on the way down. She got aboard the 100 foot catamaran M/V “Yankee Freedom II” (800 634 0939 and took a day trip down to the Dry Tortugas. These 7 small islands, for all their beauty, might as well be in the remote Caribbean. But they are 70 miles west of Key West, out in the Gulf of Mexico. They were discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and were never really tamed by civilization, except for a lighthouse and Fort Jefferson. Building of the fort began in 1846, and its use as a fort ceased long ago. The islands are now protected by the National Park Service. The trip on the “Yankee Freedom II” normally takes two and a half hours each way. A round trip ticket per person costs $129.00 (plus $5.00 Park entrance fee). It includes a continental breakfast, buffet style lunch, guided tour of the fort, and snorkel gear. When you reach the island you have hours to explore, beach, snorkel over coral, and just chill out and warm up.

If you’re sitting somewhere in the cold, wishing you could be out on the water, don’t think you’re trapped because you don’t have the bucks or the time to fly to Bora Bora. There are lots of things that you can do to get warm on the water, relatively inexpensively. The possibilities and varieties are limitless. If you see “Chez Nous” down in the lower latitudes some February, give us a hail.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale