Radar arch of awesomeness

Our boat was never used for cruising. She was purchased with Texas oil money in the early 80’s, and from what we can tell–based on the equipment aboard when we took ownership–she spent most of her life either at the dock, or anchored out for the day for football games/dance parties. (So. Many. Speakers.) That’s great for us; she was lightly used, and no one tried to charge us extra for a bunch of out-of-date navigation equipment or worn-out self-steering gear; but it means she needs a lot of outfitting to prepare for live aboard life.



One item on our non-negotiable list has always been an radar arch–a big hunk of aluminum to span the stern our our boat. Arches provide a great spot for installing a radar, but we plan to use ours primarily as a spot to mount our solar panels.

Off-the-grid electrical is an important topic for us. We hope to spend most of our time at anchor, instead of being tied to shore power and dockage costs. The last thing we want is to have our solar panels rip off our not-super-awesome bimini, or be shattered by a wayward kid. On the arch, our panels should be safe and sound.

...and after

…and after

We also plan to use our arch to hoist our dinghy out of the water. It’s not as secure as pulling the dink onto the bow, which we expect to do for longer passages, but it keeps the slime from growing on the bottom and protects the little boat a bit more from theft.

Some boats come with an arch integral to their design. Some owners custom-weld their arches. We ordered an offset sail arch from Atlantic Towers (for our Beneteau 38, we ordered the one to fit 88-100″ forward, 78-90″ aft).

First off, Michu fabricated some custom backing plates to prevent flexing and carry the load of the arch. Wiggling around in the aft lazarette, he was able to place them in an area of solid fiberglass, braced against a corner where the aft deck and transom came together–super strong.

Thanks, John! You're the best!

Thanks, John! You’re the best!

Next came the math. Figuring out how to perfectly fit the legs on both the (mostly) flat deck and the sloping transom–no problem, right? Second-grade math! Easy-peasy! Time to blithely hack away at the $2000 piece of aluminum… Michu decided to take it in stages, sawing off a few inches and then doing a trial fit with a crane assist. His calculations turned out to be perfect.

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Finishing up in the fading light.

We still have to fine-tune our dinghy hoist system; we have a Harken Hoist that we’d like to string off the back to avoid adding davit arms, but our little inflatable dinghy needs some attachment points to make it work smoothly. The solar has yet to be purchased, as well. But: we LOVE our arch. It looks amazing, it’s solidly attached, and it makes us feel like real cruisers.

Fancy dress

Drying out the flags, after a close encounter with a fire extinguisher...

Drying out the flags, after a close encounter with a fire extinguisher…

Ice is terrible

The worst kind of ice--frozen bilge water.

The worst kind of ice–frozen bilge water.

Not the type about to land on our Wisconsin doorstep in about a month, and certainly not the kind in a Dark and Stormy; the ice I’m talking about is the kind of old-fashioned technology designed to keep your milk from going bad.

Our boat was purchased on the cheap, and consequently, every single system aboard needs work of some kind. Anchoring, electrical, plumbing–they’ve all got issues, most of which we’re addressing. So, of course, the refrigeration on the boat was toast; we knew this going in. My honest belief, in those early days of optimism, was that we could easily live our lives with an old-school ice box if that’s where the money led. Plenty of sailors have relied on block ice and a well-insulated cooler to keep their fish from rotting and their beer cold, and we come from hearty stock, right? No frills needed here, folks!

Diamond in the rough, people...

Diamond in the rough, people…

Unfortunately, I am not as tough and awesome as I once thought. The reality of ice is this: if all you can find is cube ice instead of block ice, it will melt immediately. You will constantly be searching for ice. You will always be shelling out cash dollars for ice. You will live with background anxiety that the food is going bad, heat is escaping, ice is melting at all times. Worst of all: everything will be sopping wet, as melting ice sweats, drips and pools throughout the fridge.

We do a lot of cooking in our land life, and we don’t expect that to shift too much once we live aboard.We discovered over the summer that dinner is often a faster and easier production when it comes from our own kitchen, rather than a restaurant. For the sake of everyone aboard, we need to have a well-functioning galley.

So this week, we gritted our teeth and ordered a keel-cooled refrigeration unit from Isotherm. Michu’s been hard at work beefing up our sadly-lacking insulation from one inch to three, with a combination of spray foam (outside the ice chest) and rigid foam panels (inside, to increase insulation while at the same time decreasing the interior volume that needs to be cooled). There’s a lot of tricky engineering involved, getting everything to fit together efficiently in the tiny space that is our boat galley, but I think we’re all pretty excited at the thought of NOT schlepping ice around in the dinghy, in a desperate attempt to keep the mold off the hummus. It’s even been rumored by my husband that our new system will have the capacity to make ice.

The good kind.

Time to get organized.

IMG_2192We are t-minus 15 months until we head out; time to get organized online. Michu’s up at the boat installing the radar arch, so we’ll finally look like a real cruising boat.