High Latitudes Sailing
Many people did travel the arctic region since the days when Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson did promote "The Friendly Arctic". Maybe reality did close up with his dream more than he could ever imagine. But even so, it is still a big challenge for a small cruising crew to travel the High Latitudes.
Heating on board
There are many different boat heading systems to get, but to make a choice you ave to decide about your cruising destinations first. For sure you won´t need central heading for a pleasure cruise through tropical areas, but if you plane to spend some time in the arctic or antarctic region, a small electrical heater is not going to do the job.
Not only size maters, it is also a question about the energy source. There are several to choose from: electricity, propane, kerosine, wood or coals, diesel, or a combination of diesel and electricity. Nearly every one of these sources have advantages and draw backs:
Using electricity is probably the easiest way to warm up a boat, you can get heating vans or oil filled radiators cheap and easy and there is no need to built them in. But there is one major draw back which makes electricity as energy source only interesting for marina based live aboard: the dependency on shore power.
Catalytic headers using propane are also cheap and easy to get and there is no need to built them in. They do not need big tankage or service. On board many yachts there is already a propane system proper installed and maybe even an spare bottle ready to use. But getting propane can become a real challenge: If the yacht visits different countries they will experience problems to get a refill of their bottles: there is no international norm of flange. And even if there is a filling station which will be able to refill your bottle, it is for sure far away from the marina! Last but not least, catalytic headers do not have a chimney, waste air and moister will build up inside the cabin.
Heading with kerosine/paraffin is probably a very traditional way onboard boats. But nowadays it is also a very expensive way! Pure kerosine is in many areas only in small quantities to get, the burners are often enough prone to cause trouble and sometimes it can be tricky to get them going. Kerosine stoves do need an special tank and these stoves can not run long hours unattended, since someone has to maintain tank pressure. Anyway, small bulkhead mounted headers can be nice to get a cosy cabin during chilly evenings. But they are not much use for wintering in arctic regions.
It´s a different story with diesel fueled headers: they are available in all sizes: from small bulkhead mounted units to big central heading systems with radiators and water header. Plus most yachts already do have diesel tanks and the fuel is easy to refill - just tie at a fuel station. Reliable headers, ready to run for month without the need to turn them off by making a shore visit are available on the market. They work without electricity and without making noise. But the yacht do require big fuel tanks and there should be a filter system installed to make sure the heater works proper.
Many modern yachts do have stationary heading with requires diesel and electricity. Like diesel stoves these do have the advantage of using on board available fuel. The systems can be build in without being seen and the head comes by pushing a button. Unlike many other systems these heaters also work while the boat is heeling and usually you can let them on while visiting the shore. But these systems are not without troubles and do need some regular service. The biggest draw back is their need of electricity and the noise they create.
Small wood- and coal burning stoves are available for yachts. Some are cheaper than diesel heaters and they do allowed the "low budget cruiser" to use collected driftwood, available on many arctic shores. But driftwood does not burn that well and even coal needs lot of space to store, creates dust and dirt and these small ovens doesn´t run long without refill.
After several winters on board, some in arctic regions, we found out that a diesel stove works best for us. Especial since we do not stay all winter long in harbors to be able to use shore power.
We do use a Dickinson Pacific diesel stove which works very reliable and month after month without turning down. Even by leaving La Belle Epoque on her own for days we did never quite the oven to keep it nice and worm inside. We never did need to service the system and since the oven is build in gimbaled, we do use it while sailing as well.
We do not use the diesel tank of our engine, instead we do have an extra system, build out of a bigger diesel tank down below and a small tank built in higher as the stove. The stove gets feed by the small tank without the need of a electric pump and needs to be refilled by pumping a built in hand pump every few days. If not in use, we do shut of the small tank from the stove by a valve, but this is hardly required, since the stove does have a special design to make sure it won´t overfill. This system is very reliable and never failed. The only problem the heater ever made was by getting dirty diesel mixed with water. As that happened, there was no way other than cleaning out the whole fuel system of the heater to get it working again. To make sure we will never have that problem again we did build in a fuel filter with water separator (which was required by the manufactures anyway...)
To make sure the stove does burn right it is important to have the right size of the chimney. After firing the stove, the flame should lift up from the bottom of the burner and burn around the special burner part which comes with the unit. Does the flame shows black tops, does it require more air, which can be provided by a small built in van. If the flame look blueish, then the heater does have to much draft. Dickinson does sell special chimneys to get the right regulation.
We did build the chimney through our pilot house, which does warm up that part of the boat good enough without extra heating. And we like the H-shaped hood of our chimney: it makes sure that the oven does its job even if a storm is howling.
We use a expansion tank with built in 12V pump (from Alde - Camper gear) to run a small radiator in our cabin. This is only required since on board La Belle Epoque the stove is mounted higher than the radiator.
We are very happy to own a stove with plenty of place for cooking and with oven and we use it all winter long. Even at 70° North we never needed to turn the stove on higher flame than 2 out of 5, but for cooking I like to turn it up. We also have the possibility to cook with propane, but we only use it if the diesel stove is not required for heating.
After all this years of wintering in snow and ice we can say that we are pretty happy with our hook up, even if we have to admit that we would like to build in a double loop for central heating if we can get one.
For safety on board we also have to mention that we do have a fire distinguisher ready to use next to the stove and we do make sure that we always keep a porthole a tiny bit open to make sure there is always enough oxygen for the stove and us!
High latitude sailing can be a very special adventure for cruising crews. An adventure, which not only does request proper seamanship and a well prepared boat, but also the warm gear that works for the crew. Off course the market does offer lots of functional outdoor gear, but many times these gear is heavy priced and not all of it is useful on board in arctic climate. So how to outfit as low budget cruiser who still do not want to miss the arctic adventure?
The good news: functional clothes are everywhere to find where people work outdoors: fishing industry, oil industry, farming and hunting or military outfitters. And of course also the traditional wear of first nations.
Too keep the body warm, the best way is to wear different layers of clothes. Like Inuit people told us, it is very important to make sure you are not sweating. Therefor it is necessary to take off some layers every time you do work on deck and get them back on when you are standing on the helm or on watch. We did experience Thermo-overalls from the fishing industry as very worthwhile. The overalls are waterproof and windproof, and beside insulating they also keep afloat in case of man over board. You can buy these overalls in every Scandinavian country and they usually are not overpriced. The only drawback is that you have to open some zippers while working - they are quite warm and you start to sweat easy!
For our ventures on land we do have some jackets filled with goose feathers and cheap snowboard-trousers.
It is very important to keep the head and ears protected: since regular knitted hoods are not warm enough and do let the ice wind blow through, we did make the best experiences with fur hoods (or artificial-fur hoods). We did not really make good experience with balaclavas, since it is easier to breath in cold weather when there is a bit of space between the nose(mouth) and the scarf. The best way is to sew a "one pice" scarf the way you can pull it over the head. Since the nose can get frostbit easily, it is especial important to always wear a thick scarf out of fleece. For working on deck in icy weather skiing goggles come in handy.
To keep the fingers warm is a bit more complicated. Since we did not find any good sailing gloves which do keep warm and try fingers, we can only recommend a collection of different gloves:
For all work in wet surroundings (whet lines, anchor, Dingi,...) we use thick rubber gloves from the norwegian fishing industry (you can get similar ones in Greenland or Canada as well). For special cold days we do use warm woolen gloves underneath and make sure to change them immediately if getting wet. The problem is, the gloves can are quite bulky and sometimes work with spall lines, fastend knots or small tools is not possible. For that use we do use car-mechanic gloves from the home improvement store (which we can also use underneath the fishing gloves)
For long periods out in the cold (at the helm or on land) we can only recommend thick mitten with regular gloves underneath. You do need the thin gloves underneath in case you do have to put one mitten of (while taking pictures,...) Without the gloves in really icy weather you loose the feeling in your fingers just moments after taking of the glove.
We experienced it especially hard to keep the feet warm. Most winter shoes we did try seam to work only if you move constantly - which is not so easy on a small sailing vessel! Standing on deck for lookout or at the helm can result in very cold feet in regular winter shoes.
If it is getting relative cold (say up to minus ten to minus twenty degree Celsius) we where all right with our insulated rubber boots (Mack, Dunlop, Buffin,...). Especial if the boat sails wet, we found these boots the only possibility. The big disadvantage is that while working you can easily sweat in those. Wet feet are cold feet and it can get dangerous to get frostbit. To keep the feet try, we do always have spare socks hanging close to the heater to be able to exchange socks before we do get all to wet feet.
For all other work on deck we found our old snowboard boots a cheap way to go. They do keep warm. Even on land hiking through snow these boots work best.
The best boots for extreme cold weather are to get in the arctic region itself: traditional felt boots with waterproof overlayers. Usually these boots will get bought to big to wear heavy woolen socks or extra felt inlayers. In these boots you can stay even for hours warm (as long as you keep them try, of course)
Not to use on a sailboat but also very warm are traditional Sami fur boots (or Inuit fur boots) These boots are made of reindeer fur with an inlayer of dog-hair felt. I was actually amazed how well these thin boots work while hiking an whole afternoon through snow!
Whatever shoes you will chose for the arctic region, make sure tow layer of thick winter socks will fit!
Last but not least: the best protection against the cold will of course always be our heated pilot house ;-)