Pitstop in Mariehamn

Sailboat s/y Charlotte Hanse 531

Just four days after our delivery trip from Sweden we had already loaded the boat with our stuff and the rest of the sailors (dog included), and were heading out for our one-month vacation sailing.

Our first destination would be the small and nearby island of Seili, but also: trying to get a least a bit familiar with our new boat (or ship as the previous seller liked to call her) and build some confidence in her not coming apart — at least not dangerously so — but rather holding up and keeping us safe.

M steering our new boat for the first time.

The sailing went beautifully. And she was fast!

“How come we are already here?” O asked, when we were passing by one of our favorite anchorages just outside of Turku.

After reaching Seili, however, we did discover some new problems. And, unfortunately, some that were serious enough that we had to get them fixed to be able to safely continue onwards and outwards to more open seas.

s/y Charlotte (the second one) anchored outside Seili.

It didn’t make any (psychological) sense to return to Turku, so after our first stop at Seili — including nice Midsummer celebrations! — we headed forward towards Åland and Mariehamn, with the plan to start fixing some of the problems over there.

1. Steaming light broken

The one fault we already knew about (as told by the previous owner) was that the steaming light had been severely damaged by a snagged halyard.

The previous owner had left a brand new replacement lantern for us, but what we didn’t realize, was there wasn’t a bosun’s chair included in the deal (my misunderstanding).

So on the first shopping list:

  • A new LED lamp for the lantern.
  • A bosun’s chair.

We arrived in Mariehamn and I got the spare parts and a great bosun’s chair from the terrific marine chandlery quite close to the marina. When I got halfway up the mast to the broken light, however, I realized that the fix wouldn’t be very plug-and-play.

I had a new replacement lantern with me, but the old one was attached to a mast metal fitting not using standard nuts and bolts, but using rivets! (Rivets, for Pete’s sake!)

I removed the whole fitting from the mast (luckily that wasn’t riveted) and descended down to the deck to try to figure it out (and to pull out a gray hair or two while doing so!)

About three hours later, after having rented a bicycle to get to the closest hardware store, after having bought an electrical drill with a few drillbits (first they actually just lent one to me, which was great! thank you dearly!), and after having battled with the thing for a while outside the store in their parking lot, I finally managed to separate the metal fitting from the old broken lantern.

“Oh you got it!” the person in the store said to me happily. “It’s always nice to be able to help a sailor in distress,” he continued and laughed merrily.

Something borrowed, something blue. A couple of the rivets are already drilled, a few more to go.

Then back to the boat, and fifteen minutes later it was all done, and we had a working steaming light!

2. Anchor light broken

What we didn’t know before Seili, was that the anchor light was broken as well. No big deal, of course, since these lamps obviously don’t last forever and do need to be periodically replaced.

Slightly more exciting, of course, that instead of having to go only halfway up the mast to replace the steaming light, I would have to go all the way up to replace the anchor light.

“We’re usually the highest mast in the harbor!” I remember the seller stating to me, proudly.


Added to the shopping list:

  • A new LED lamp for the anchor light, plus a few extras.

This was a relatively easy bulb replacement. Although doing it twenty-six meters above the water did add to the excitement. Just do everything very slowly and carefully, I kept reminding myself.

3. Poor VHF and AIS transmission

“Turku Radio, Turku Radio, this is Charlotte, Charlotte.”

We waited for a moment. No reply.

“Turku Radio, Turku Radio, this is Charlotte, Charlotte.”

“Can’t they hear us?” O asked. “That’s not good, what if we have some kind of emergency?”

He was right, of course. It would be extremely important to have a working VHF, and now we didn’t.

Our AIS wasn’t working quite as expected either. We could see other boats and ships, but only a few miles away. I confirmed it on MarineTraffic as well— only when we were within a few miles of one of their base stations, we were visible on their website, before then disappearing again.

So, clearly, a problem with our mast top VHF antenna or, more likely, with the cables or connections running from the AIS/VHF splitter to this antenna.

The plotter telling us there’s something wrong with the VHF antenna. A VSWR (Voltage Standing Wave Ratio) fault basically means that there is too little energy leaving the VHF antenna, thus remaining in the system.

This one took a long while to debug. (I actually bought a new VHF antenna as well, and took it with me up the mast, just in case.)

In the end, however, the problem was where it usually is: the connection at the base of the mast, where the inside cable run is connected to the cable going up the mast. That connection had gone funky.

Fortunately, it only needed some gentle touches to separate the outer braid from the center, and to make sure enough of it touched the outer parts of the connectors.

Then, voila! All kinds of far and away ships started to appear on the AIS.

4. The Smell

Little L walked into the master cabin. “What’s that horrible smell!?” she asked, with a disgusted look on her face, holding her nose with one hand to kindly underline her feeling.

“It smells like vomit,” she added, still holding her nose.

The smell wasn’t that bad, I thought, but it was clearly noticeable.

“Yes well,” I started my answer. Charlotte was listening carefully as well. “It has something to do with the septic tank, for sure,” I said. “The tank for our toilet is under our bed,” I continued. “And while it’s probably not leaking, the hoses might be so old that they are letting some smell out.”

Add to shopping and todo list:

  • Check and confirm that nothing is, in fact, leaking.
  • New septic tank hoses.
  • Someone to do the replacement work (next winter)

No fix yet.

I checked the bilge below the tank and the hoses, and could not find any leaks. The hoses, however, did indeed look very suspicious, and they did smell. They were wrapped in some kind of last-line-of-defense plastic, and it was clearly a good thing that they were!

5. Thrust Issues

A couple of meters from the dock in Mariehamn, as I was about to show all the spectators how easy it was to perform a careful and controlled docking with bow and stern thrusters aboard, I pushed the bow thruster joystick to port, and — nothing! Nothing happened!

I saw the bow traveling downwind towards the dock and tried again. Nothing. It seemed completely dead.

Oh well.

After we were securely moored, I tried the bow thruster again. When I turned the joystick to starboard, it seemed to work nicely, and the large thruster immediately went to work with a loud growling sound. To the other side, not so much. Maybe once out of six attempts it actually worked, but the other five times: nothing but silence.

Add to todo list:

  • Figure out what’s wrong with the bow thruster.

I started the debugging with a multimeter and the actual controller. Did it supply the correct voltage to the thruster when I turned the joystick to port? Yes, it did, but still, the thruster only started intermittently.

The actual bow thruster (a Max Power VIP 150) is located in the bow locker so I jumped in to have a look at it, while O remained at the joystick to help with the testing. We used our mobile phones to communicate.

“Ok, turn it to port and keep it there for a few seconds, then let it go,” I requested.

Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. When it did work, the sound of the thruster was terrifyingly loud. And when it didn’t, it just went “click”.

But what exactly went “click”?

After some googling and reading the Max Power manual, I thought I had it figured out.

The thick (battery style) cable that provided power to the thruster went through a relay that could be either in the “on” position (letting the power through), or the “off” position (breaking the circuit).

The clicking sound I heard was from the Max Power control panel when (after O turned the joystick) it switched the control power on to the relay, expecting this relay to activate, and close the big battery-cable power circuit — which it then, in fact, didn’t.

Apparently, these relays get gunky with time and can start to lock up. I emailed a Max Power dealer and they confirmed this and suggested buying a new one (price: north of five-hundred eur).

“I heard you can tap it and shake it a bit, as well,” I replied. “Like a temporary fix, to maybe get some of the sedimented goo moving?”

“No, it’s better to buy a new one,” they replied.

Well, they didn’t have any of those where we were at, and getting one shipped to somewhere where we would maybe-perhaps go, that wouldn’t be logistically easy either.

So, I removed the whole thing. Then pushed the relay to close maybe a hundred times or so (there’s a hole in the bottom where you can do that), then shook the whole thing a bit while carefully tapping it on all sides.

And then I re-attached it.

Two relays. The left one is activated when the joystick is pushed to starboard, meaning thrust to port (moving the bow to starboard). The one on the right was gunked.

I went back to the steering wheel and the joystick. Turned it to port, and the thruster immediately responded with a loud growel.

Turned it again. The same immediate and promising response.

“Ok, if it works ten out of ten times, I’ll consider it okay and stop worrying about it,” I said to O.

1… growl … 2 … growl … 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 … all growling … 10 … growl.


I would buy the replacement once back in Finland, but for now: good to go.

About Going Aloft

According to Hanse’s spec sheet, our mast is approx 26.25 m (86′ 1″) above the waterline. That’s actually even taller than the mast of the Hanse 575 (!), so quite a distance to get safely first up and then back down.

We tried this once with our previous boat, the Hanse 388, but as Charlotte ran out of strength turning the winch, we never got very far. On this boat, however, she’d have the help of powered winches.

Going up the mast is among the more dangerous things to do aboard a sailboat, so we took it quite seriously and made a couple of practice runs before the actual event.

Our procedure and assignments:

  • Charlotte would be responsible for the primary hoisting line (the mainsail halyard), operating the winch when hoisting, and letting the line out on the descent.
  • J would be on the port side winch and responsible for the secondary line (the gennaker halyard), taking out the slack on the way up, and letting it out in sync with Charlotte on the way down.
  • O was responsible for operating the clutches (secure them on the way up, open them before the descent) and tailing Charlotte’s line on the way up.

Our four-person team performed beautifully!

Three times up and down to the steaming light, and once to the top of the mast and down.

For me, it felt like being in secure hands all the way, so thank you dearly for that! And good job, everyone!

All the way up, looking all the way down.

All Good

After a few days in Mariehamn, we had managed to sort out all the critical problems and were ready to head out again.

“So, Gotska sandön or Visby next?” I asked Charlotte.

“Sounds good,” she answered.

Boldly to the open seas. Maybe not yet completely confident in our ship, but getting there.

There would surely come plenty of new problems to solve, but that’s kind of what sailing with a used boat is. And fixing things is usually also a good way to learn how these things work.

Sailing is also being out there in the middle of nature’s vast beauty. I, for one, was already looking forward to our first offshore sunset.


  1. Happy Midsummer (slightly belated).
    I love reading your blog.
    And you have the consolation of knowing that in addition to sorting out your issues, the trip up the mast yielded a fantastic pictures of your beautiful new boat.

    1. Thank you, Stuart! It’s always great to get a comment from you!

      And belatedly happy Midsummer to you as well!

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