Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ice in the harbor...

People ask me all the time about keeping warm on the boat. All. The. Time. I don't mind, for the most part. Except when people flat out tell me I'm crazy. Which only happens two or three times a week, so it's all good.

And people wonder why I don't frequently tell people right away that I live aboard.

Anyway, one of the most frequently made assumptions about where I live (in the outer harbor in Baltimore) is that the water doesn't ice over.

Au contraire, readers, au contraire. It ices over constantly. It's been a cold, cold winter for the Chesapeake Bay, as evidenced by a huge fish kill of Spot.

It's difficult to see in this picture. I took it standing in the cockpit, facing out over the stern. I left the swim ladder in the picture so that you could see that it is in focus. The lines and ripples in the water are pieces of ice. (I had a surprisingly difficult time trying to capture the ice in a picture, so bear with me here.)

The marina where I live now doesn't have bubblers. A bubbler is a common piece of equipment in the Chesapeake Bay region and my marina in Washington, D.C., had them, as did my the marina in Pasadena, Md. Marinas use them to aerate the water around a dock. If ice freezes around pilings, the pressure can move the pilings. Marinas are always quite insistent that the bubblers are for the benefit of the dock and not the benefit of your boat -- liability issue I guess -- so some people buy them for their boats. I think this is a bit of a waste of money in the Bay.

Since I'm not in the Inner Harbor, the ice doesn't get too thick here. It gets just thick enough for ducks to sit on, but not so thick that it can't be easily broken with a stone. Not that I've tried that.

This brings me to the No. 1 rule for ice in marinas: Never break the ice around your boat.

You might ask why.

Well, I'll tell you.

Broken ice is quite sharp and can damage your hull if it's broken -- at least it will scratch a fiberglass hull and can even leave gouges. A lot of new boaters think they should break the ice -- this is wrong. Any good marina will send you lots of e-mails over the winter urging you to please, for God's sake, DO NOT BREAK THE ICE.

Living on the Potomac in D.C., the water iced over and stayed iced for most of the winter. My boat was fine.

Now I will admit, the sound of ice breaking at night or cracking against the hull in high wind is disturbing. But you must resist the urge to break the ice. Your boat (and your wallet) will thank you for it...

NOTE: If you live in a place where the ice builds up, buying a bubbler may be for you. For me, it's not necessary. The water doesn't ice over very thick here because the Bay is tidal and I live very close to open water.