Been waiting for this a long time. Easter weekend was grey and chilly, but not enough to stop me from getting Lightning #2833 in the water for the first time. Redbuds are blooming, a startling purple popping out in the still bare woods, a pale green haze of new growth is just starting to show low on the hillsides when the evening light is just right. Seems fitting this old boat should be reborn now.
On this first trip we weren’t getting too ambitious. Just wanted to get her in the water, test the centerboard raising apparatus, and cruise around a bit with the trolling motor. So I spent a few hours on Saturday checking things over again, adding registration numbers, adjusting the improvised motor mount, etc.. That left only a couple of hours of daylight, but that was enough.
I hauled her over to the little reservoir on the edge of town, the same place I’ve taken each of my boats – the Sharpie and the Melonseeds – for their first row and sail. Took the Little Old Man with me, as he’ll have only a few more chances to go along before he’s done.
We had the place to ourselves at first. Then a fellow pulled in to do a little fishing with his two daughters, the youngest using a pink Barbie rod and reel. They held the line like the boat was a pony while I parked the trailer.
A little water came in around the centerboard case almost immediately. Not unexpected. The boat has been drying out all winter. But within the first half hour the seams swelled shut and no more came in, not quite an inch in the lowest part of the bilge. I actually expected worse.
The boat moves well with the 80# 24volt trolling motor. At full power she moves at 6 knots; but I probably could only go an hour at this speed, drawing 30+ amps. But at half power it only draws about 7 amps and goes 3 knots. If the batteries are still in good shape (they’re about 15 years old now) I could go at this speed for 15 to 20 hours. Drawing half that power the boat still goes at 2 knots, and might go for two full days. Not bad. If you don’t need to get anywhere fast.
But I like the quiet. We could hear the birds in the trees, the whistle of duck wings. We came up on two deer bedded down for the night. When they finally saw us they snorted and stomped off through the woods, flashing their white tails like flags.
I’ll need to put the two 12volt batteries forward of the centerboard trunk to keep the boat trimmed and balanced. Expected this, too, and already have the wire on hand to run that far; but for this test just set the batteries in the stern behind the aft seat with a short cable connection. And I wanted to see how bad it would be with 120 pounds of lead in the back. With just me aboard most of the time, I think having that weight forward will let me sit comfortably back by the tiller.
The mount worked out fine. I’ll use the router to cut a shallow divot into the wood where the screws bite, so when they work loose from all the pounding the motor won’t bounce off. The torque of the motor when gunning the throttle is strong enough to almost twist it off. But I’m satisfied with the way the motor lays sideways along the transom out of the way. Hoping it stays clear of all the lines like this.
After about an hour motoring around I got a call from Terri, saying she was at the ramp and was looking for a ride. I picked her up and we motored around for another hour. She snapped some phone photos so I could see how the boat sat in the water with all that weight in back.
She was amazed at how much bigger this boat is than the Melonseeds. Though only 1/3 longer it feels enormous. She remarked how she would be content to lay along the side benches while I did the sailing (1st Test = Passed). And amazingly stable. We can walk around the whole deck without the boat tipping or feeling like we would fall off. Kind of crazy compared to what we’re used to.
The tradeoff, of course, is it isn’t nearly as easy to rig and launch. Took me three times to get it on the trailer straight when I hauled her out. With the Melonseeds I just lift them and set them where I want them to go, without a second thought – at 700 pounds the Lightning is a bit beyond that.
Here’s some not very fancy video from the trip:
The rudder is still kind of a mess. So far, it’s the only thing that really needs work before I can comfortably take the boat sailing. Might work temporarily if screwed down in place, but definitely not a long term fix, and won’t work in the shallow water launching and sailing I expect to do. Must think on this more.
The 10:1 block and tackle system works well for raising and lowering the centerboard. Happy with that. I fiddled with it a little more on the water just to be sure. On Sunday, I took apart the temporary rig and replaced it with something that can stay for a while. With the minor adjustments made I can easily raise the board with one hand, and it works smoothly. I’ll also replace the temporary pin holding the board up with a bronze one, with a cord attaching it to the case so it doesn’t get lost.
Even got the electric bilge pump working, though I’ll probably replace that with a simple manual one. Doing that will reduce the clutter, and I prefer important things like pumps be simple and mechanical, less likely to malfunction.
By then it was getting dark and starting to rain. Had to pull the tarp over it for another week. Maybe next weekend, weather permitting, I can raise the mast and sails.