Winter Projects: Removing a Westerbeke 21hp from a shrinkwrapped sailboat (in Portland, Maine)

“I hate sailing!”

Harbor Island, Muscongus Bay

It was far from the worst weather we’d seen, or the worst breakdown we’d faced. But somehow the combination of a grey blustery day and an alternator that had fallen off (Again. That makes three times, for anyone that’s keeping count) mixed with our overly high-hopes for our delayed “summer sail” (in October) had brought me to my tipping point.

Westerbeke 21 - broken alternator bracket, round III

Keeping a wary eye on the temperature gauge, Jon hopped inside and started spinning the crank shaft with his foot, preventing the engine from red-lining, while I tried to navigate us around the rocks and into our anchorage as far as possible. We drifted the last 50 feet under momentum alone, dropped the anchor, and surveyed our new surroundings. Middle of nowhere. Broken engine. Overcast skies. Now limited power. No cell signal. What else is new?

Rather than immediately troubleshoot the problem, we decided to make dinner and go to bed, and face it in the morning with a (hopefully) brighter disposition.


It’s not that we don’t like sailing. I’m just not a purist, by any stretch of the imagination. I like getting places! I like having power and heat and full confidence in our boat. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed having a 15hp outboard so much is that she’s literally saved our butts countless times; with the dinghy hip-tied and the outboard revving, we’ve navigated harbor entrances, entered foreign ports and executed complicated docking jobs. Engines are useful, y’all!

Harbor Island, Muscongus Bay - There are worse places to be stuck!

So why did this relatively minor breakdown feel so devastating? It’s ridiculous, but in the span of 24 hours I’d gone from feeling excited about our week-long Maine coast cruise, to desperately combing Yachtworld and emailing brokers, certain that the answer lay in a new boat.

As often happens with late-night Yachtworld searches, we found *the boat* — 41′ of aluminum lifting-keel glory, in meticulous condition and patiently awaiting new owners.

Who cares that she doesn’t have any cruising equipment — we can buy that!

Located in Holland? No problem!

Shipping quotes and finance details were just a few clicks away…


Repowering in the middle of winter in Maine... smart?

Maybe it’s just us, but this was not a new conversation. Should we buy a house / buy a bigger boat / have a family / go cruising / keep working… it’s like a ferris wheel that we ride over and over again and never quite manage to get off. As we explored the “buy a bigger boat” facet a little more, we started having some really good conversations…

“You assume that a new boat will continue to have all of the positive characteristics of Brio, but none of her negatives… be careful of what you take for granted,” one dear friend cautioned us. “What if this boat doesn’t sail well? What if she isn’t pretty? What if the complicated systems (*cough* lifting keels + aluminum hulls *cough*) leave you stranded just as often as that old Westerbeke does? Think long and hard before you jump, young grasshoppers.”

This was good advice.


As the quotes for shipping ($17k from Holland to Baltimore, just in case anyone wondered) and financing ($600/month! For 20 years…!) came in, we also started to really examine our motivations.

What was it about living on a bigger boat that appealed so much? Was it just vanity?

I mentioned co-workers who couldn’t believe the tiny size of our living space, and how I wanted to invite people over and have them say “wow, this boat is enormous!”

Jon reminded me that even if we lived on a 60′ catamaran, non-boaters would probably still look at our life and express shock that we could live in “such a small space” 😉


Stopping for a selfie inside the shrinkwrap

And as we looked at why we like this life in the first place — the freedom, the relative simplicity, the options, the possibility of an open horizon calling our names and a sparkling sea beckoning us further — somehow boat payments and insurance and trans-Atlantic-shipping-plans made much less sense.


DiMillos Marina - winter liveaboards in the early morning sunrise

Having successfully passed the “buy a bigger boat” stop on the ferris wheel, we moved on to the task at hand.

Was there something we could do to feel like we were still committed to Brio, but had more faith in her and were moving forward in our someday cruising plans? If we looked at the (few) times she’d left us stranded, was there a common theme?

(You know where this is going)

Disconnecting the wiring, plumbing, fuel lines and gauges in preparation for removing the engine


So we bought a new engine 🙂

Well, technically I told Jon that I’d try to sell our engine (in the middle of winter in Maine, still installed, and buried deeply inside our shrinkwrapped home), and if it sold we’d buy the Beta 25 that he’d been researching for months.

Our teepee lifting system for getting the Westerbeke onto the trolley

Repowering a sailboat engine - Westerbeke 21 to Beta 25 - Getting the engine up the ramp

Long story short, I posted the Westerbeke, a marina owner with a fleet of boats made an offer, and $1500 and some creative engine-wrangling later, the deal was done.


At this point, the Beta 25 has been ordered and we’ve paid our deposit. The new engine will cost us $10k by the time it’s actually in Brio. No one will mistake this for a wise investment (boats. are. never. good. investments!), but as we dream of our next adventures and all the lovely motoring we’ll do, we’re pretty damn excited 😉

Repowering a sailboat engine - loading the Westerbeke 21 into the truck bed with a giant beam


Life in the Bubble (shrinkwrapped in Portland, Maine)

We’re optimistically referring to “life in the bubble” again, so it must be winter in Maine! 🙂


Some days I feel like our current life is not all that adventurous — we aren’t crossing oceans or collecting passport stamps, and I don’t have a great answer to “when’s your next sailing adventure?!”. Heck, I have a REGULAR full-time job that I love (I always thought people who said they loved their jobs were just flat out liars), we have bills and cars and health insurance and all the trappings of a regular ole life.

But every now and then someone will find out that yes, we really do live on a sailboat, and yes, that means even in winter, and I’m reminded that this, too, is an adventure.

Just of a different variety 🙂

DiMillos Boater's Party - December 2016

Recently a co-worker said, “don’t take this the wrong way, but you look so… NORMAL. I never would have guessed you live on a boat!” 🙂 I think it was a compliment, but I also get it. Permanent liveaboards especially seem to have a reputation for being unshowered, cheap, slum-living bums.

When I was 8, my best friend asked me if we lived on a boat because we were poor. I didn’t know the answer. Maybe?!

21 years later, I know that’s not why we live on Brio. Boats are damn expensive, guys! But I don’t have a satisfactory sound-bite for why we love living aboard so much, especially in Maine in the winter.

It’s not a life that I remember choosing… there was no vision card with images of snowy docks or frozen water lines. No hopeful “letter to the future Leah” that included dreams of shrinkwrapping and Newport Dickinson stoves.

Instead, it just sort of… happened. We knew we wanted to sail Brio to Maine, we tried spending a winter in a house, and the loneliness / misery of that winter made the decision to try a winter on the boat dead simple.


And that first winter really was a trial. People had told us that they loved living aboard in the winter, that in some ways it was even better than living aboard in the summer, and I just assumed they were job-loving liars too. Who could love the winter??

But we promised each other that if it sucked, we’d bail and rent a house, no questions asked, and it went…. really well? We had just as much fun living aboard in the winter as we’d had in the summer (I still can’t quite say that I prefer winter to summer… summer in Maine is hard to beat).


So here we are… fully into our second year as Maine winter liveaboards. This year we didn’t even talk about other options — we knew we wanted to spend the winter at DiMillos. This is home!


We shrinkwrapped just before we left for Vancouver for Christmas… 17 days away from the boat in the middle of winter, would she do alright? We hadn’t left Brio unattended for this long since our Mexico days, but thankfully Jon’s mom offered to check in on our home for us while we were gone.

We left the heater on low, doubled up our docklines, and didn’t look back. Knowing someone would check the bilges (dry!) and keep an eye on the shrinkwrap in the big storms (intact!) made leaving MUCH easier.



Christmas with family is my absolute favourite.

The highlight this year was sneaking in some matching pyjamas (fabric designed by my sister!) and a quick trip to LA to visit Jon’s brothers and soak up as much LA-sunshine as our very pale, frosty bodies could absorb 🙂



Side note: Did you know grapefruits grow in California? Like, on trees in backyards? #mindblown

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Now we’re home, settling in for the real winter to begin and contemplating 2017 and all that it might bring. Why do we love living on Brio? Because it’s an always-evolving, ever-changing experience that brings freedom and challenge in (mostly) equal parts!

Along these lines, the top of the current life-list is installing a brand new engine in Brio 🙂

First we just have to figure out how to get the 460 lb old engine out of the boat… think it’ll fit through the door? 😉


Nothing better than a sister (visiting in Portland, Maine)

My sister came to visit. She’s not really keen on the whole boat thing, or the cold, or being on a boat in the cold, so this was quite an exciting occasion 🙂

My two favourite people in the ENTIRE world

We put a little effort into her arrival, starting with a new halyard to hold our bosuns chair lifting-tackle setup 🙂 (Look at that beautiful bold color!!)

A new halyard for the lifting tackle

This system worked out quite nicely…

Lifting tackle and bosuns chair for accessible boating!

…down the hatch she goes!

Down the hatch she goes

We stuck her as near to the Newport Dickinson as we could, but she still found Brio a little chilly…

Jess looking chilly inside Brio

Although she did appreciate our Christmas decor!

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Jon sometimes refers to us as “the Kruger whoos” (from the Grinch) — we sisters are seriously into Christmas. Please note the matching toques (complete with battery-powered LEDs 🙂 )

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According to my iPhone, Jess and I spent her week here primarily taking pictures of ourselves #selfiesistersforever2016-11-27-08-42-43 2016-11-24-10-19-09

Although we did manage to get the girl a good lighthouse picture 🙂


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And take in some of the Christmas lights around town…


And OF COURSE, eat some lobsters 🙂


Jess was so in love with her lobster that she arranged for her flight to be cancelled so she could spend one extra unexpected night in Maine 😉 A delightful surprise for us, a bit of an annoyance for her! 2016-11-28-18-39-40-1

Don’t wait 4 years to come back bubz!


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