Called my bluff!

I recently received a grant from the Southern Kings Arts Council partially underwriting the printing of my sailing book. Unfortunately not much has been happening on the sailing front…the boat sits in the yard covered in perhaps 12″ of snow, which puts a damper on projects. But the grant did inspire me to get out the chapter drafts and fill in the activities of 2012…they called my bluff!

There was relatively little sailing done in 2012…my “crew” had mutinied and all the sailing was single-handed. It was a good time to make sure I had the autopilot technique down and that I could work out a sequence for sail raising and lowering.

The trailer was a major focus, since its rebuild the year before set it slightly too narrow, crushing parts of the outer hulls when the boat was pulled. I had to repair those spots as well as adding in new sensors for depth and boat speed to go with a new fish-finder. Also I got to break in a new GPS/chart-plotter…particularly useful for entering unknown harbors.

For several years I have been saying I will not release my book until I have a big accomplishment to report. More and more I think that must be an around-the-island trip. PEI should be easily circumnavigated in 10 days, assuming the wind cooperates. Since my (former) crew would be within easy reach of my cell phone and since any part of the Island can be reached by car in under 4 hours, she can serve as my emergency land support. I can use the time taking lots of pictures and should have a lengthy report ready for the book by the end of the trip.

Since there is a slight underwriting, and since Lightning Source now has a low-cost color option, I expect I will insert all the pictures into the book in color. Just thinking about it re-inspires me!

Standing rigging replacement

When the mast came down this fall I discovered that about half the strands of the rear stay had broken at the top! That starts to look dangerous. So just a few days ago I took the old rigging in for an estimate to replace it…up around $300 for two cables with swagged ends and turnbuckles. I’m going to two lines to the mast top from the rear instead of the inverted “Y” that was in place…I want redundancy on all four sides of the mast.

Pondering the price, since I had already bought stainless cable last year, I decided to do my own, using galvanized turnbuckles and wire clips instead of swagged fittings. The total cost is about $30 on top of whatever I spent for the wire. Aside from spending well under $100, I have the capability to adjust the length by changing the size of the loops on the ends when I undo the wire clips. I had been struggling with a wrong length since I rebuilt the mast…it must be a couple of inches shorter than it was.

Buehler’s Backyard Boatbuilding is the name of a book which promotes using just the sort of rigging I’m going to try. He argues that the galvanized wire shows rust long before it weakens while stainless can hide the hairline fractures until they let go. There is no hurry, however. It just snowed for the first noticeable daytime amount. I don’t think sailing is in vogue at the moment.

Now in the yard!

The boat hauling went well…but of course SOMETHING had to go wrong! The trailer went down to the wharf with no trouble but, when it came back out of the water one of the tires was flat. A quick trip to Loren Panting of Panting’s garage and it was fixed with a tube…the rims are rusty enough to make a seal a problem.

The weather was awesome…dead calm, sunny, and cool enough to avoid sweating. The trip home was done at 20-30 km/h to keep the mast from bouncing up and down…jerking from potholes broke it’s support and then, dropping, the mast itself once about 5 years ago. The boat now sits safely behind the house for the Winter.

The book I am developing is to be named, “Never the same mistake twice” and I am already planning improvements for the trailer. In its present form the keel sits flat horizontal on the main trailer beam once it is out of the water, but sits on the front edge on the 10:1 sloped ramp as it floats into position. The result is that when the trailer is pulled out of the water there is a significant change in bow position as the boat shifts back.To fix that I plan to add a wedge-shaped timber under the keel so the boat will maintain the 10:1 angle relative to the trailer as it comes out of the water…it would be oriented slightly tipped forward if it were not for the fact that the very low trailer connects to a considerably higher hitch ball on the truck. So the net result should be a boat travelling almost horizontal relative to the ground with the bow attachment remaining just where it was when the boat floated onto the trailer.

Are these modifications important? not really…it is working OK, but every year a little bit more is improved. Hence the name of the book.


Time to pull the boat

The water and air are getting cool/cold enough to take the joy out of sailing and, even with no hurricanes, it is time to bring it home. The challenge is to pick the right day. With the moon phase, the high tides are coming early next week and it requires a high high tide to float the boat onto the trailer without having to back it off the bottom end of the ramp…the planks run out and there is about a 2′ drop off. So tide is one thing…and, by the way Monday through Thursday have good tides at mid-day so there is plenty of time to bring the trailer down in daylight and get the tongue extension bolted on and get the mast lowered before the tide is high.

Next is the question of weather…it appears that there is a small chance of rain every day, but no particularly high winds. So the time is here to bring it out.

I want to try out some trailer modifications which cushion the bow and give a roller to allow the bow to be pulled into place by the person on the boat. Coupled with a redesign of the side supports so the sides do not crush the amas, things should be good. Boat moving is always accompanied by high stress times…what might happen even if nothing actually goes wrong! Wish me well.

VHF radio progress

I have ‘bitten the bullet’ and ordered a new marine radio…the old one which has been in use for about 7 years seems to only work on a few channels (thankfully including channel 16) but I have never been able to test the DSC (Digital Selective Calling) emergency function to see if my GPS connection is working. The advice from a technician is that, if only some channels work it is most likely not the antenna or cable.

So I have ordered a new radio…in this case a Standard Horizon Eclipse 1150 for about $130…coming from Canada (Halifax) so it avoids the ‘agent fees’ which are highway robbery. Courtesy of US government regulations, all radios are now type D, which means that they will continue to monitor channel 16 when you are on any other channel…a distress call will interrupt whatever you are doing. Another feature is the display of the GPS coordinates...if I have correctly coupled my GPS to the radio…and the GPS is on…I will see the current coordinates on the radio display. That does wonders for my confidence about the setup.

As best I can tell, the only loss is the ‘loud hailer’ function on the previous radio which allowed me to put speakers on the mast and be able to shout at someone nearby. Not really necessary, I suppose.

So progress marches on even when you aren’t watching.

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.

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.

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.

Compleat Cruiser

I am almost done reading  The Compleat Cruiser: The Art, Practice and Enjoyment of Boating by L. Francis Herreshoff (first printed in 1956). It has been one of the most enjoyable books on short-distance (non-blue-water) cruising I have encountered because it is told as a story. The reader casually is introduced to Mr. Goddard and his young-teen daughter, Miss Prim (for Primrose) who are taking short sailing trips around  the North Shore above Boston, MA.  While there are details slipped in about boat designs (the author’s skill and fame), the account paints a picture of the enjoyment of the journey. The moments of concern due to occasional squalls or shallow water fade as we are go along experiencing the cooking of meals and sitting on the boat in the quiet of the evening or engaging in informal ‘races’ with fellow sailors who happen to be going the same direction. The evenings often entail sitting around with these other boaters discussing everything under the sun…with a focus on sailing. More than any other book I’ve read, this one brings out the fun of simple short-run cruising.

I have often read books promoting the benefits of simplicity in cruising…no motor…no special electronics…no water heater or pressure…etc. Herreshoff makes some of those same arguments relative to initial cost of boats, maintenance costs, insurance costs, and so on. If he were still living and still making the same arguments, however, I would take him to task over a few items which were either prohibitively costly or totally unavailable back then.

  1. I think every boat above 20′ ought to have a depth sounder/fish finder. These can be had for about $100 and make running aground much less likely…especially if you are single-handing and couldn’t use a line.
  2. Navigation without a GPS in this day is foolish…especially if you might get out of sight of land. I recently changed my hand unit (~$200) for a low-end chart-plotter which cost about $450. Half of its value is the inclusion of charts which otherwise cost about $20 each.
  3. LED running lights and cabin lights are far superior to the old incandescent ones and the oil lamps in the cabin (I ;know some argue the atmosphere is better inside with oil). Add a solar charger (say 15 watts) and a deep-cycle battery and you have all the   power for your lights unless you run all night every night.

To be sure, power boaters define ‘necessities’ differently, but I consider the above items to be essential and affordable for those with small cruising sailboats. 

Slowly is good

Yesterday I spent an hour or two hooking up sails and running the lines (‘halyards’ and ‘sheets’). It was far different than the times when I tried to launch the boat and rig the mast and sails all in one day. In particular, the stress level is far less when I don’t set a time limit on myself.

In the ‘God is good’ category, the first rung of the mast steps broke as I stood on it two days ago. That heads-up allowed me to be much more careful when trying to get the sail-hoisting ropes around the top pulleys. I used a strap to clip myself in and tested each rung on the way up. Half-way up a weak rung broke, first on one side and then the other. As evidence of my relaxed state…could it be wisdom?…I carefully backed down instead of trying to get past the 4′ gap that resulted–particularly because I didn’t have a solid confidence in the next rung. Since then I have devised a temporary rope step which should safely get me past the missing rungs and I am going to replace the outer nylon rope that was only to keep feet from slipping off the rungs with a non-stretching 1/8″ aircraft cable having rope clips under each rung so the outer end of each will have a solid support…the same approach I used on the previous mast. I think I can restore the broken pieces by drilling a hole and setting a short length of threaded rod as a pin and using a liberal dose of epoxy. See how time to think has helped…I think a word is ‘meditate’ or ‘masticate’ as a cow would chew its cud. I’ve heard that word in reference to Scripture passages, but the principle works with other problems as well.

How nice to be puttering on the boat in the harbor. On a Saturday evening the area was practically deserted except over at the ferry dock. No one is fishing then and no one fails to get on the ferry for lack of space, so there aren’t groups of folks wandering around with 75 minutes to use up. The sun was shining and the winds were light…5 mph on my new weather station! All in all, a moment to treasure.