April Dispatches: Guide to Cruising Maine, Swan Yachts, Servicing Outboards

It’s time to start planning that summer cruise, so we asked our own Steve Tofield about his favorite spots. His 7-day itinerary is an ultimate guide to the Maine coast. In Thomaston, we’ve got 300 feet of Swan undergoing refits, so we check in with Nautor Swan’s Peter McCloskey about servicing these German Frers-designed yachts. Finally, we all know it’s the little things that can make or break any cruise, so we’re talking small outboards with our in-house mechanic. Our monthly Dispatches give you an in-depth look at an assortment of projects we’re working on in both Thomaston and Camden.

In this issue:

Lyman-Morse’s Ultimate Guide to a 7-day Maine Coast Cruise

Swans in the House: Talking with Nautor’s Peter McCloskey

Outboard Engine Troubleshooting and DIY Maintenance Tips

Lyman-Morse’s Ultimate Guide to a 7-Day Maine Coast Cruise 

April Dispatches - Cruising MaineSteve Tofield was one of Lyman-Morse’s earliest hires: He started all the way back in 1984, after finishing a Master’s in Fine Arts, minoring in handheld objects, from the State University of New York at Albany. He’s currently a Service Manager managing the myriad projects that goes on here; but actually, “rock star” sailor, sculptor and nautical problem-solver is the logical human outcome of nearly thirty years of building, racing and piloting boats in and around the Maine coast.

Talking with Tofield about sailing in the mid-coast is a mix of deep conversations about how the local leeward shores compare to those of Southern Ireland’s; how to best set downwind sails while still sailing upwind; and the comparative sailing capabilities of Precambrian Viking warships.  

“Sailing isn’t anything new,” says Tofield. “I like the historic part of it. That’s why I like cruising in Maine. Once you get a hang for this coast, it is a delightful place to sail.” Of course, if you tire of those subjects, get him started on Perry Pears. The man has a young orchard of 140 trees!

To share his love of the area, Tofield sat down and crafted a 7-day cruising itinerary in and around his favorite places in mid-coast Maine. Like many Maine sailors, Tofield has learned that the secret to cruising here is all about keeping things flexible and manageable. Here are his five tips for a smooth cruise:

1.  Stick to boats shorter than 55 feet, with no more than an 8′ draft

Cruising well in Maine is as much about getting off your boat as it is getting around with it. So, if your vessel is too long or too deep, you can’t sneak into the best anchorages. Though Tofield has camped and cruised in kayaks, he recommends a medium-sized boat like a Seguin 44 or one of the various mid-sized comfy motor cruisers. In Maine, less is more.

2.  Go with as small an inflatable as possible

It is an absolute must to be able to get ashore by your own devices, which means carrying a reasonable dinghy, with oars or a small outboard. There are no perfect answers here: Towed dinghies tend to swamp. Dinghies on deck, or hanging off the stern, tend to make for boats that are too big or too cramped. Tofield’s answer is to pack as small a roll-up inflatable tender as possible and then simply accept that he will be pumping, deflating and rolling.  A model Tofield likes is the AL-390 PVC inflatable sport boat.

3.  Have a hard navigational backup

Modern chart plotters, radar, and signal beacons are a must in Maine. But so are old-school paper charts, binoculars, pencils, and paper. Tofield likes to keep a running dead reckoning with frequent by-hand log entries to confirm his positional narrative. “The electronics going down is not the time to relearn what a parallel ruler does,” says Tofield.

4.  Respect the fog

If offshore, Tofield will slog along in the face of zero visibility. But if he is inshore, and it gets foggy, it’s better to find some excuse to get something done on the boat and stay at anchor. If scheduling becomes an issue, the Maine coast features surprisingly good bus service. Simply get ashore and hop a Concord Trailways bus or a Cape Air flight from one of the local airports: Owls Head or Bar Harbor gets you to Boston. And come back to get the boat home another day.

5.  Have a wetsuit and a sharp knife on a stick to cut fishing gear

Even boats with propeller spurs and good hull designs catch lobster traps. That is a serious hazard. Cheap used wetsuits can be picked up from surfers for pennies on the dollar. Get one that fits and get in the habit of using it daily to bathe, swim and stay clean while you cruise. Steve says the water in Maine is cold, but once used to it, it will keep you young.

Steve Tofield’s Ultimate 7-Day Maine Coast Cruising Itinerary

Day 1: As They Say “When in Rome”
April Dispatches - Cruising Maine

The rich and famous come from around the world to Penobscot Bay. See why, by heading due east from Camden toward Vinalhaven and through the storied Fox Island Thorofare. But instead of docking near a trendy crowded estate, Tofield recommends pressing on through the passage and sneaking into the absolutely private Seal Bay. This spacious cove is house-free, features a mud bottom ideal for ground tackle and has no cell phone coverage at all. You are free!


Day 2: Dive south for birdwatching on Criehaven and Wooden Ball Island

April Dispatches - Cruising MaineThe tap water on these lightly populated slabs of granite runs salty, and for good reason. The out islands of Criehaven and Wooden Ball are perched on the absolute edge of the Coast of Maine, near Matinicus. Saltwater runs through the very veins of the place. If you find Criehaven Harbor full, and the weather cooperates, Tofield recommends sneaking east and finding a snug spot between Pudding and Shag Islands. Then inflate your dinghy, get ashore, and sense the pounding and primordial pulse of the wildlife and breaking waves. Abandoned Wooden Ball Island, in particular, is worth a stop.

Day 3: Take the Offshore Run to Frenchboro For a Lobster Grilled Cheese Sandwich

April Dispatches - Cruising MaineThe U.S. Census says 61 people live on the coastal outpost of Frenchboro. And the culture there is all about lobstah! Lobstermen work the nearby ledges and Lunt’s Dockside Deli serves their catch directly as awesome rolls, dinners, and fish chowder. Just pull into the dock, tie up, and realize that one can really order lobster and cheese in one sandwich. A nice touch is to head to the Post Office and send a postcard, because Frenchboro is so much cooler than France. And then chill on the boat, safe and sound and watch the zillion stars filter out from the night sky.

Day 4: Channel Joshua Slocum and Dead-Recon Your Way to Mistake Island
April Dispatches - Cruising Maine

Though the world’s first solo circumnavigator probably did not pass exactly where you are, the 35-mile or so run to Mistake Island, south of Jonesport, is close enough. So, switch off the instruments, break out the paper charts, channel Joshua Slocum, and run a course of about 75 degrees magnetic to navigate your way to the snug anchorage behind Mistake Island. Attentive anchoring is required: Tofield once woke up with his boat angled at 45-degrees, sitting on the bottom, by setting up in the wrong spot. But it’s all worth the hassle. Come to this place, on its own terms, and the wooden walkway that leads through pristine raspberry barrens will be your personal boardwalk to a lighthouse that’s sits as proud and solitary as Maine herself.

Day 5, 6 and 7: Solve the Windward Rubik’s Cube of Making for Home

April Dispatches - Cruising MaineTofield figures it will take a good three days of windward work to cover the 90 miles or so back to Camden. He likes to get up early, work inland when the wind is calm and pick his way through the islands, narrows, bars, and reaches. The art — and magic — of it, is to leverage the lees and eddies of these inland channels to shorten the windward climb back to Camden. And then pick overnighting spots as conditions merit.

No matter the path, Tofield recommends spending the last night in the tiny archipelago between Great Spruce, Butter, and Eagle Islands, north North Haven and east of Islesboro. That way, when you pull back into Camden Harbor the next day, for supplies and a hot shower, you and your family will be changed forever.

Swans in the House: Talking with Nautor’s Peter McCloskey

What is up with all the Swans, the legendary sloops designed by German Frers and built by Finland’s storied boat maker Nautor. More than 300 feet, including two 100-footers, are undergoing major refits or upgrades at our main campus in Thomaston. To find out what’s brought so many of these lovely vessels to us, we talked with Peter McCloskey, Nautor’s Customer Care Manager for North America and the Caribbean.

Nautor Swan's Peter McCloskeySpecifically, McCloskey manages Nautor’s customer relationships both on bigger boats, and the new high-tech dayracer ClubSwan 36. McCloskey has also worked with yacht designers Bill Tripp in Westport, Connecticut and has skippered a Swan 45 to victory in the 2006 Key West Gold Cup. He figures he has dealt with or managed more than 100 Swans in over 20 years.

What does a Customer Service Manager do for a boat builder like Nautor?

Basically, I am the point of contact for owners and captains who have questions or ideas about their Swans. Our boats come with a two-year full warranty and a 10-year structural warranty. I spend a lot of time looking at boats with potential issues, dealing with a captain’s or owner’s concerns and budgets and then directing work or repairs to various service yards.

Managing warranties has to be a delicate conversation, right?

Absolutely. One thing about a Swan is, Nautor has this sort of credo that it should be pleasant to own one of these boats. When people spend more, they expect more. My job is to listen very carefully to any issue and be genuinely sorry that anybody had a negative experience. I don’t jump to conclusions and I find the best solution for getting things fixed.

What matters when it comes to managing service issues with these boats?

You can’t be too careful with the service yard you partner with. One bad habit most yards get into is trying to get between the owner and the builder or designers. Yards might point a finger at how something was done or try to control the conversation. That approach does not work. It all starts with making sure the owner is having a positive experience, keeping things moving and listening carefully about solving their problems.

The yard not only has to be good at boat building, and all the required technical skills, it has to be good at customer psychology too.

Is that why so many Swans are showing up at Lyman-Morse? The company seems to know how to handle a potentially disappointed customer.

From what I gather, the word spread among the captains and owners that this yard understands this kind of customer-oriented problem solving organically, without much coaching. What the smart yards get is that warranty and service is never the whole scope of work. There is always something else that needs to get done. The repair leads to the upgrade and that builds a new relationship.

What’s Next For You, Swan and Nautor?

I’m out servicing, racing and staying in touch with the customers. Obviously, we are very excited by the ClubSwan 36. The first one is being tested now. We also won our division in the Caribbean 600, this year on Bounty, a Swan 66. I continue to do interesting side projects. For instance, I am driving down to install some electronics into the race boat of the commodore of the New York Yacht Club.

My friends say I might have a house in Monroe, Connecticut; but I really live on I-95. My Volkswagen Golf has 400,000 miles on it!

Outboard Engine Troubleshooting and DIY Maintenance Tips

April Dispatches - Servicing Outboards
Greg Anderson has a simple rule when it comes to outboard motors.

“If you’re not there to service your motor, your motor won’t be there to service you,” says Anderson, while standing in the Lyman-Morse Outboard Shop, the mechanic’s work and storage space tucked away in a building at the head of Camden Harbor. 

Anderson is a graduate of Marine Mechanics Institute of Orlando, Florida. And the up-and-coming marine technician recently took full responsibility for maintaining and repairing the dozens of 2- and 4-stroke outboard motors that Lyman-Morse services for its customers.

As an example of the importance of servicing these often-overlooked marine engines, Anderson points out a 2010 single-cylinder 4-horsepower Tohatsu outboard. The 30-pound engine was dropped off for service for not holding an idle.

“Idle problems can be tricky to solve,” said Anderson. “But it was an older motor that I had worked on. I knew I could fix it.”

Finding the Big Problem in a Small Motor

Anderson started his diagnosis by checking the fuel for water or other foreign fluids. The fuel was clean. Anderson next removed the carburetor and ran it through an ultrasonic cleaner in the Outboard Shop that scrubs down fussy smaller engine parts. But the cleaning did not fix the problem. That left Anderson to check the valve lash clearances and compression readings, to confirm that the various parts in the cylinder head were working as they should. However, both came back normal.

“That one was kind of head-scratching,” said Anderson.

With no other avenue of diagnosis left, besides a full and probably pointless engine disassembly, Anderson recruited a tool usually reserved for larger motors called a cylinder leakdown tester. This complex tool tests for a range of issues by sending pressurized air through the entire cylinder assembly. But such testers exert around 100 pounds of pressurized air into a cylinder — way too much for easy testing in a smaller, basketball-sized motor like the Tohatsu.

“The leakdown tester we had is for something like a 150 HP motor,” said Anderson. “To get an accurate reading for an engine this small, I had to improvise a clamp with a prybar we had around.”

A Faint Hiss of a Problem

Anderson’s improvised leakdown test was just the diagnostic ticket. Once pressurized, he heard a faint hiss seeping from the valve seal near the cylinder head. To confirm that the loss of pressure was from the seal, he sprayed the area with Simple Green, looking for visual bubbling like he might find in a leaky bicycle tire.

Finally, Anderson had his culprit: A bad valve seal in the cylinder head!

From there, it was a reasonable few-hour fix to break down the engine; swap out the old valve seal for a new one and reassemble and test the motor.

“The thing that really allows me to make this repair is that the motor had been serviced before. It had not been neglected,” said Anderson. “If I had found rusty fasteners and broken bolts and I had to drill and tap when I opened the engine up, the fix could easily take days.”

“I might have to throw the whole motor away.”

Anderson estimates that the average outboard might run for about 1,500 hours before needing significant service, based on about 200 hours of annual use. But owners can easily double that life, if they take the time to regularly service their motors.

Anderson even keeps a service check-list handy for anybody who wants to stop by and pick one up.

  • Only ever use fresh fuel!
  • Properly flush the motor regularly with fresh water, using “ear muff” attachments.
  • Disconnect the fuel line at the end of each session and run the carburetor empty.
  • Lubricate, with WD-40 or similar products, various moving parts like dipsticks, throttle cables, and carburetor controls.
  • Check regularly for water in fuel tanks. Water detecting tools like Kolor Kut Modified Water Finding Paste work well. But so does simply pouring off a quart or so of fuel into a glass jar and letting it sit for several minutes. If the fuel stays a uniform yellowish color, the gas is uncontaminated. But if clear fluid appears at the bottom of the jar, that’s water. It’s best to remove all fuel — including what’s in the engine fuel lines and filters — and properly dispose of the contaminated petrol at a waste oil center.
  • Regularly check fuel lines and primer bulb fittings for leaks.
  • Replace spark plugs and oil- and gas-fuel filters annually.
  • Get a professional to check the valve settings every season.
  • Though manufacturers say to swap out water pump impellers every two years, Anderson prefers to do that repair annually.

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