VHF radios have changed!

SH eclipse radio[I apologise for the long delay in posting…a month-long vacation and an incredible load of projects got in the way, but now it is time to seriously prepare the boat for launch]

I finally got my new Standard Horizon VHF radio installed and I am impressed. I gave up having the loud hailer feature, but the features relative to DSC (Digital Selective Calling…the emergency feature that broadcasts your distress and location with the push of a single button…are significantly increased. Now I can wire it up to the GPS and know the coordinates have gotten through to the radio…they are shown right on the display. Also, although I have not tried it, it is possible to do a DSC test to another DSC-equipped radio without having to call for a true emergency broadcast.

When I think back to the radio and depth sounder that came with the boat almost 10 years ago (which both dated back far before that), I think buying new is a far better idea with most electronics. Yes, in an emergency a lead line could give depth and a sextant could give position, but I hope to never be out of sight of land in my sailing.

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.

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.

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.

Still waiting

The !@#$%^&* starlings grow up very slowly! How I wish the mother starling an empty nest so I can begin using the boat. I have now missed the full-moon higher tide cycle as well as the one two weeks before that. Winterizing will take on a new importance next fall.

The enforced idleness did have some good results, however. I discovered and fixed some minor rot associated with the cockpit seat backs. Perhaps I can use some of the time to devise a better latch system.

Also, since one strand of the back-stay has broken, I want to add some short reinforcement cable around the area. I bought some stainless cable to eventually replace the back-stay, which is in the shape of an inverted Y, with two stays that go straight (and separately) from the deck to the top of the mast. That would give me redundancy on all four sides so any one cable could fail or come loose without allowing the mast to come crashing down.

Cold water

Garden projects seem to demand time now in the Spring because the new plants need to get started, etc. etc. There is not much hurry to get the boat in the water since the water is so cold. I was amazed to see 6 small sailboats out on Charlottetown harbour yesterday; I suppose they might have been a class…or possibly a race. I have seen tem other years and they are open boats which hold two or three…perhaps including an instructor. They are the sort of boats that could go over and the passengers would cling to the sides while the rescue speedboat would quickly come aside. Still the water would be very cold.

Incidentally I ran across some information about hypothermia and drowning. Apparently the effect takes quite some time and most people who go over in cold water (say 40F)drown because there is an immediate paralysis action and inability to breathe. Without a lifejacket even a strong swimmer can go down in the first couple minutes, while hypothermia would probably take at least hour. So much for, ” I’m a good swimmer; I don’t need to wear a life jacket.” Even when rescued, victims of hypothermia should stay laid down and avoid moving–aparently when the victim tries to move around the heart can ‘flutter instead of pump’ and that is the end.

In conclusion:

  2. Get a life ring to the peerson first…make sure it is handy
  3. Wear Flotation on deck