Single-handing with autopilot

The last two trips out on my 26′ trimaran I have gone alone. Partly that is due to no one being available and partly due to my primary ‘crew’ resigning…she has decided she doesn’t like wind and big waves and she got seasick. It turns out that the key is an autopilot…in this case a ‘Tiller Pilot’. With it in place I can go forward or below without fear that the tiller will shift to one side or that, even holding in one place, the boat will gradually turn in the wind. Not that a machine can replace a person…especially my wife…but it frees me up to do adjustments without the panic of having to do everything in 30 seconds. There is nothing like the quiet relaxation of sailing along in moderate winds and seas with the autopilot managing the details. The only time I take over is when going diagonally in following seas running with the wind…constant change is needed to head down the waves and then head sideways in the troughs.

I’m making up a checklist of things I should do before starting out single-handed from my home port of Wood Islands. It amazes me how many things there are to do when they are listed out…no wonder I have managed to forget some.:

  1. Print out a tide schedule so I can estimate the current amount and direction… will it be significant when coming out at Wood Islands? Falling current is east by up to 3 knots while rising is west up to the same speed. Look up the marine forecast online…not that that is particularly trustworthy…to see if there are any warnings…winds are usually less that forecast or later in arriving…perhaps due to the length of Northumberland Strait. If a trip to a destination is planned then the wind direction matters.
  2. Drive to an overlook and check how high the waves are…should I abort the trip?
  3. Arriving at the boat, unlock the companionway boards and put them in a locker. Make sure the water level in the bilge is not above the upper threshold for the pump (be sure it is working). Glance around to see if anything is obviously wrong.
  4. Read the wind gauge and evaluate the shape of the various nearby flags for wind indications. Based on those bits of data as well as the marine forecast, choose which sails and reefs to set.
  5. Tie the boat close in to the wharf ladder and remove the normal bow, stern, and spring lines.
  6. Lift the fenders (old tires) and leave them on the wharf.
  7. Lower the outboard into the water and start it to be sure it is functional…and then stop it.
  8. Turn on the instruments…GPS, marine radio, and fish-finder.
  9. Retrieve the autopilot from its storage locker below and connect it to its power socket…be sure to turn on its power.
  10. Put on your life-jacket.
  11. Check the ferry schedule so you won’t be going out when it is going through the narrow outer passage…even though there is room to pass safely, it apparently worries (or ‘pisses off’) the captains.
  12. Remove the jib cover from the chosen front sail and remove the cover and unstrap the mainsail. Attach the sheets to the leech (?…the back lower corner) of the jib.
  13. Raise the jib and tie off its halyard (lifting rope); set the sheets so the jib is on the correct (downwind) side for the wind direction going out of the harbor. 
  14. Raise the mainsail…then unhook the boom from its hold-up wire. Tie off the mainsail halyard and keep that sail sheeted at the center…not off to either side yet.
  15. Loosen the rope tying the boat to the wharf ladder and start the outboard. As the boat begins to move, cast off and keep the tiller almost straight ahead so you don’t rub the wharf.
  16. Keep a lookout for unexpected traffic and motor out to open water.
  17. Choose a direction, set the autopilot on auto, adjust the sheets for the wind direction, stop the motor, and begin the joy of sailing!

Photo sharpening tools

I just got an ad for a 50% discount on Photozoom Pro and wondered if it would help the horribly poor photos I have been given for a book I’m preparing. The remaining $99 seemed a bit steep for something I would use infrequently, but I wanted to investigate. Search engines being what they are, I checked it out and found a ‘shareware’ version for free…bad news, the features are all there except a watermark in the output which doesn’t fit my idea of shareware.

Anyway, I tried it and found that it is especially good at removing jpeg ‘artifacts’…the strange pixels around the edge of a transition when the compression is high and the resolution is low. In addition, it seemed to be able to expand a few pixels at low resolution into the diagonal edge of an object they were representing. I suppose the spline function is the key, although that goes beyond the math I can remember from 40 years ago.

There was another tool (I forget the name) based on ‘fractals’…something that never made it into my ancient math curriculum. It was about $200, I believe and didn’t seem to work as well. But while I was poking around the sale on Photozoom went off and I’m too cheap to spend $200 for that. 

What I already had in Photoshop Elements which was really useful for salvaging Leslie Stewart’s horribly low resolution photos that he wants in his next book was their ‘Smart Blur‘…a sort of relative to their ‘Unsharp Mask‘ tool. I had never tried it since it lurks under Filters…Blur…Smart Blur way at the bottom of the list. By playing with the settings I was able to get rid of the JPEG artifacts without totally destroying the picture. So my time spent wandering was not totally wasted.

Hits defy logic

I watch the statistics of the four web/blog sites I maintain on a sporadic basis…I don’t have much to sell and it doesn’t really matter except that one likes to think there are some folks  ‘out there’ who occasionally visit without trying to send a Viagra link. Google Analytics is running and can tell me more than I could ever want to know, but lurking on the bottom of each page is a plugin that simply counts visits…called hits…which was all I had on my first site a decade ago. Back then the count went up by a few hundred a month, so I thought I would see what is happening now. All the sites except C and the 8051 began about mid-March, so the counter may have been running for 5 1/2 months. The totals are as follows:

  1. Wood Islands Prints   1062 hits = 193 hits/month
  2. Wood Islands Sailing  1239 hits = 225 hits/month
  3. Revisiting Scripture       694 hits = 126 hits/month
  4. C and the 8051            2191 hits = 398 hits/month

So the old site…transformed into a blog…continues to get a high number of hits even though I only rarely post new blogs. I like to believe the folks going there are actually buying the book, and my data shows a few 10s of books do sell each month. The sailing blog probably has the large number of hits due to several links on Duckworks…that forum has a high number of followers who follow the links Chuck suggests. But the last two blogs have me confused…disappointed. Wood Islands Prints is the title for my publishing ‘business’ and has random bits about web blogs, marketing, publishing, photography, and painting. It is a sort of home base for everything else. But the blog I have been really hoping to see prosper is the last one…Revisiting Scripture. It seems to have the fewest hits despite efforts to cross-link with similar sites and relatively frequent postings. I knew I would have to find a market for the book by that name, but the blog doesn’t seem to be doing it. Perhaps it shows how a niche market is much more difficult to address.

[Incidentally, the hit numbers include my almost-daily visits to remove spam and check for comments, so the hits/month ought to be reduced by about 30!]

Dinghy buoyancy

The following comment in a thread about rocker (front-to-back-curvature) in a boat on Duckworks forum reminded me of a flaw in my second dinghy:

The distribution of buoyancy along the length of the boat is also important. (Technically the Prismatic Coefficent or Cp). The more the buoyancy is towards the ends of the boat the more efficient the hull is at high speed. Conversely the more diamond shaped the better at low speeds.
So two people in a boat will sink it deeper and usually that means the Cp increases, so it becomes more efficient. Richard Woods of Woods Designs


top view showing ‘seat’

I can speak from personal experience about buoyancy along the length…several years ago I ‘designed’ and built a very small (6′) dinghy with a lovely deep V at the bow twisting to a relatively flat stern, but I made this boat quite narrow towards the bow…like an arrow, perhaps…it is so tender in front it takes a complete re-positioning of the first person if a second person climbs aboard and woe to the first one boarding if they try to board from the bow! Perhaps that is an unavoidable result of being so short, but I wish I had made it nearly equal-width throughout its length.

When the weight is properly arranged it rows beautifully with the cut-off bow going nicely through the waves. One time three of my younger (idiot?) friends rowed (with only a couple inches of free-board) over a mile in it to rescue my errant sailboat that had lifted its anchor and was heading out of the harbor. It is also quite rugged and one year floated around the harbor for a week after I forgot it when pulling the sailboat…it ended up buried on a sand spit with 6″ of sand in the bottom and another foot of water on top of that!

Still, I have always wished I had the time, money, and energy to make a stab at designing another very-short boat that would be less tender at the bow.

8x10s for $1

I just discovered that Blacks is doing a deal on 8 x 10 prints through August 19th for $1.00. Since the files can be transmitted digitally and the chain will return the prints by Canada Post (for about $8 in shipping and postage charges), it is a very attractive deal. When you consider that they usually charge $4.99 (and Walmart charges $3.00), it can be a good time for someone who uses the prints in products to stock up. In my case I used to print my photos on an ink-jet printer, but the declining quality of my printer head output, the high cost of paper and ink, and the water-sensitivity of the prints makes the photo-reprint option attractive. The finished prints easily arrive well within two weeks…perhaps one week if things go well.

Keeping an eye on print prices is fascinating. Having surveyed the market on the internet, the big problem is finding sources (in the US) that will ship to Canada…and even then the shipping costs are absurd. Blacks and Walmart are the best sources so far. In the interesting-but-not-at-this-moment category was the previous Blacks offer of 1000 (!) 4 x 6 prints for $99…about $0.10 per print. I couldn’t get together such an order in the short time allotted. I wonder what next week’s deal will be!

Jiffy reefing

Yesterday I finally rigged the reefing for my mainsail. Reefing is lowering the sail part way so it doesn’t present so much area to the wind…especially useful in strong storms where the sail needs to be ‘depowered’ to avoid going too fast…or more likely, blowing over. Jiffy reefing is simply a way to make this lowering easier to do…even from the safety of the cockpit, since one usually wishes the sails were reefed just at the time when the wind is so strong you fear getting washed off the deck if you go forward!

Jiffy reefing is a clever arrangement of light lines (ropes) and blocks (pulleys for you landlubbers) which make it easier to bring the mainsail down to just the right place to tie off the sail at the preset place(s). From the drawing you can see that it requires 3 pulleys and a rope that is fed through the reef cringles (large grommeted holes at the ends of the reef line). When the halyard…the rope attached to the top of the sail that holds it up…is let loose a bit, the sail starts to loosen and drop down. By pulling on the jiffy reefing line the two cringles are pulled down to the boom, holding the sail at the desired height. Then the halyard is tightened so the exposed area of the sail is tight again and the reef lines strung through the holes between the cringles can…if the winds and your courage allow…be tied around the bottom of the boom so the center of the sail stays tight against the boom and the excess sail doesn’t flop around. If it has become dangerously windy, you can leave those lines untied. Interestingly enough, the name for the ‘square knot’ in nautical terms is the ‘reef knot’ because it is the best knot to use for tying off those ropes.

While jiffy reefing makes the process considerably easier…especially when done by a single person…it is always best to anticipate the need to reduce sail before the conditions make it too difficult. I usually gauge the wind before starting out and do reefing and choosing a smaller jib while the boat is safely in the harbor, needing no one at the helm.

Karen Gallant Painting











I just finished converting a picture of amateur painter Karen’s amazing work into a post card to be printed by Vista Print (she is not to be confused with another more well-known artist with the same last name). The original is 30 x 40 inches, done in acrylic. The challenge is to mate the proportions of the painting to those of the post card, but that is all done now and the cards should be back in about 2 weeks.

The marvel to me is that she spent about 18 months doing it…finding both pictures of each president and researching details of their lives…and she has no US roots. She describes it as a journey without a specific goal in sight at the start. She certainly puts me, coming from the USA, to shame both for my ignorance of much US history as well as a vast ignorance of Canadian history!

Karen has prints of her painting for sale and presumably will have large postcards as well soon. She can be contacted directly at

Fixed those rungs

mast with rungs and outer ropes

On July 22 I blogged about the problem of some broken-off steps of my mast ladder. Along the theme of my coming book, ‘Never the Same Mistake Twice‘, I decided to fix things to be safer and stronger. I’m not sure if the breaks reflected moisture getting inside the epoxy coating or if it is a fundamental problem of using cherry saplings from my woods (turned in a lathe) as the rungs. After the first rung broke, I was more cautious climbing up but was stopped by the breakage of both sides of a rung half-way up!

modified mast with cable and epoxy

My fix was to replace the outer ropes (which were deteriorating after several years of exposure) with 1/8″ galvanized stranded (aircraft) cable and use epoxy to repair the 3 broken pieces. Under each rung I fastened a wire rope ‘nut’ to provide support for the outer tips of the rungs. Since I couldn’t get these clamps really tight against the bottoms of the rungs, I used thickened epoxy to coat and fill the space…hopefully it will also keep moisture from getting in the wood where the holes drilled down through the rung ends. I had to have the epoxy to fix the broken rungs anyway.

Doing these modifications on the water was both easier and more difficult…easy to reach the (now horizontal) mast from the dinghy and more difficult to stay in place standing up in a small boat. My back was quite tired at the end. But the goal is to have a mast that is fully safe again. Then it will be on to new mistakes to avoid.