Ken Goodings and Lynn Kaak moved aboard their Niagara 35, moored in Toronto Harbour, in the fall of 2003, after “selling up” and committing to the liveaboard life. With reports from Ken and Lynn, we shall follow their adjustment to this lifestyle and their continuing adventures
The first winter aboard
On a mid-January morning in Toronto Harbour, I was lying half awake at an early hour…contemplating a trip to the head. The ship’s clock struck eight bells, and everything became very quiet…too quiet.
Since late October of 2003, we had become accustomed to the steady purr of space heaters, and then the gurgle of de-icers under the boat, which we had switched on just before Christmas. The summertime-like silence seemed very odd.
At 4am the power had died all along Queen’s Quay West, darkening several condos, as well as our marina. It was a very cold morning, and the air temperature inside the non-insulated boats fell to around 3C (37F) within a few hours.
By 10am the marina received delivery of several large gas generators from an industrial rental company, and staff were hauling them along our docks to help replace the electricity supply to some 50 boats. Each vessel was allocated around 750 – 1000 watts on a single lawnmower-type extension cord. Some boaters tried to keep their de-icers running as well as multiple space heaters, but the inductive startup surge of 3/4 or 1 hp de-icer motors and excessive space heating loads soon tripped the generator’s breakers. I provided spare portable heaters to two neighbouring boats, as their’s could not be run at a reduced power rating. One boater made very good use of his recent boat show purchase, a cute little red suitcase-sized Honda gas generator.
Our vessel’s DC system provided interior lighting, but the source of energy from a boat’s battery banks is finite. We turned off the refrigeration system; it was already cold enough inside the galley cooler. I didn’t wish to tax my diesel’s starting battery by using it for general house lighting. As it was, I had to crank our 25-year-old Volvo MD11C for four minutes before it started.
As I had planned to start up our diesel every week or so all winter, its fresh water cooling system had not been winterized. I opened up the engine spaces into the rest of the boat and we eventually got the temperature in the saloon up to 5C (40F). The bright sunshine on the clear shrink-wrapped boat covers also helped to warm us up.
We ordered pizza for lunch and ate it in the marina’s laundry room. Although there was no heat there, it seemed a little cozier than inside the boat. We used tea-light candles to illuminate the washroom cubicles; the windows had been blocked for the winter by insulated panels, totally darkening the washrooms. Oddly enough, the electric hot water tank in the shower area, without any power, was able to deliver seemingly copious quantities of hot water all day; probably due to it’s insulated exterior. I saw only one hardy boater go in to take his hot shower in the frigid shower room.
By 2pm there was nothing further that we could do outdoors, so we bundled, fully clothed with several layers, into a cold bed. Lynn wore her red toque! The pillows felt like blocks of ice.
Some boaters ran their diesels and gas engines to prevent heat damage, or to generate AC power. By putting the propellers into gear, they were able to partially clear ice from around their hulls. Other vessels relied on diesel powered forced-air heaters, or their propane and alcohol stoves. Memories of the recent carbon monoxide poisoning scare in our marina made me wary of burning fuel in stoves or heaters to keep warm.
By 7:45pm the lights came back on and we emerged from our state of hibernation to change the power connections back to the regular dock connections. Several boaters had departed for their workplaces or any place warmer, so we did the power transfer for them. One de-icer motor had frozen, so we had to carefully spin the propeller by hand to start it. The de-icers, re-energized, soon began to clear away the day’s ice buildup. There was about 2.5 cm (1 inch) of new ice around the hulls, soon broken up by boaters with well-aimed thumps using 2x4s and assorted ice breaking implements. The sides of our hull rattled all night with the sounds of dinner-plate sized pieces of ice, chased to and fro along the hull by the forces of opposing de-icers.
The electricity went off once more within half an hour, and then remained steady all night. I kept a power cord strung along the dock toward the generator in case we had to use it again overnight. Thankfully, the 15 hour-long din of gas generators gave way to the relative quiet of de-icers and heater fans.
By 10pm we felt a little warmer and the temperature inside Silverheels III had risen to 18C (65F) We watched the early news on our little five-inch TV before bed, hot cups of chocolate warming our innards. The decks, upholstery and open lockers continued to throw off a chill so we gratefully retired to bed, cold feet warmed by one of those neck warmers. It’s a cloth bag filled with buckwheat. When heated in the microwave for a few minutes it’ll release it’s warm and toasty comfort for 15 minutes, it’s more convenient than a hot water bottle, and it won’t turn cold and leak into your bed after you fall asleep.
Reports came next day that a failed main feeder, and then a failed back up feeder might have caused the power outage. The main feeder may have gone down unnoticed in the previous few weeks. Two Hydro trucks were seen parked at the large green feeder boxes nearby. Hopefully there’ll be reliable power for the rest of the winter.
In about 14 weeks time we’ll cast off our lines and sail across the harbour to our summer dock on Toronto Island. Then, I’m sure, we’ll learn how to cope with a different set of sounds…the whine of flying insects, loud cockpit stereos and marina parties.
Perhaps the memory of this winter’s cold winds will help me to feel a bit cooler throughout the stifling summer heat and humidity that’s sure to come.
Lynn Kaak Silverheels III – You can catch up with Lynn and Ken’s blog at – The Voyages of Silverheels III
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