Monday, February 19, 2018

A Locking Carabiner... That Isn't

I mentioned earlier that I had been testing carabiners as a result of the Clipper Race fatality. There is a long article coming out in PS in a few days, but the short version is that some failed in a cross load as low as 275 pounds. It gets worse.

You know how ISAF and ISO rules require locking carabiners because non-locking carabiners can twist off?

This was done with one hand, while the other held the camera. No special test gear.

It seems that the original Gibb patented hook has been modified over the years. No only is it weaker, it does not really lock.

Did this contribute to the Clipper accident? In fact, I think it may be the main mecanism. The carabiner was clipped to a jackline that ran beside a cleat. When forced to the side, the gate opened and the carabiner hooked the webbing. The resultsant nose-hooked condition is very weak and it soon failed.

So the carabiner has not one, but FOUR fatal weaknesses:
  •  Gate can be forced open at 10-15% of EN climbing carabiner standard (20-30 pounds vs 225 pounds)
  • Nose hook strength is 15-30% of typical.
  • Side load strength is 10-20% of typical.
  • Nose is prone to hooking. Should be key lock.
I'd retire them if I was you. Obsolete and scary.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

100 Best--Chapter 15

Safety Gear

Seven years ago I posted this rant about the notion that you could buy safety and some of the ridiculous things new sailors are persuaded to believe they need. Safety comes from understanding your situation and knowing your limitations. However, there is equipment that comes in handy from time to time.

86. PFDs. In fact, I don't wear these very much. For the most part, I rely on a harness and tethers. I do wear a PFD when whitewater kayaking and occasionally in the dinghy when condition suggest it. But mostly I try to stay out of the water.

I have an aversion to automatic inflating PFD's. As a singlehander, I may need to climb back on board, and doing anything to help yourself in an inflated PFD is comically awkward. I also don't understand the likelihood of falling overboard unconscious and surviving that. The boat is not going to stop and no one is going to help me back aboard. Thus, as a singlehanded sailor I find that absurdly unlikely.

In fact, it is simple to convert automatic PFD's to manual. In the case of the Spinlock Pro series, it is a $20 conversion kit.

87. Harnesses.  The key factors are fit and band width. The strap must fall on the sternum; lower and you can't breath, higher and it will try to choke you. It must be warn snugly enough so that you feel it when you inhale--otherwise, it can slide over your shoulders. What about crotch straps? In fact, I have a new design that will be in Practical Sailor in a few months. Instead of a ball-crusher, it is fully fall-rated (I took numerous vertical falls up to 6 feet in testing).

The other key factor is the width of the band. 45 mm is the standard minimum, but wider, up to 4 inches is proportionally better. Try hanging from the harness before you buy and you will understand. According to the UIAA and OSHA, hanging from a chest harness for more than 30 seconds can cause permanent injury to the nerves in the arm pits.

88. Tethers. Big article this month in PS. It seems the old standby Gibb design has been modified from the original pattent numerous times until it no longer performes at all as originally inteneded. Unfortunatly, the manufacture didn't think to test this. Failures have been documented at forces as low as 275 pounds (bent sideways).

Instead, choose either the Kong Tango (West Marine, Kong, Glow Fast, or DIY), Wichard Proline (only Proline tethers), or one of several via ferrata rated clips. These are rated at 1800 pounds sideways.

89. Jacklines. and Hard Points. The tether has to attach to something, and a system of jacklines and hard points is the answer. In "SingleHanded Sailing for the Coastal Sailor" I discuss this in length. I also have articles coming up in Practical Sailor. In the image below, for example, my tether is attached to a bolt hanger hard point on the hard top with a Kong Tango carabiner.

Recovering a Delta Drogue 7. It's surprisingly easy to fall off when working hard with both hands.

90. Drogues. Perhaps you are in a major storm and would like a little downwind stability. More likely, you either need to slow down to make some repairs or need emergency steering. A drogue is a compact solution, though proper use is a complex conversation. I've published numerous articles in Practical Sailor and discuss this at length in "Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor."

The Delta Drogue is the best value. However, there are two things to be aware of. The size, though often described as the diameter by retailers, is actually one of the cloth dimensions before sewing, and the actual diameter is one third of the model number. For example a Delta Drogue 72 is approximately 2 feet diameter. Second, I would go up one size from factory recommendations. Drogues in general, are more stable in storm conditions when sized conservatively. The exception to this, is if you intend to use the drogue for emergency steering. However, conservatively sized drogue is still useful; simply haul it in close so it does not fully immerse in the water, limiting drag.

 My favorites are the Sea Brake GP 24 for storms and the Gale Rider 36 for emergency steering.


Navigation? GPS is nice, but I do quite well with a paper chart and a sharp eye. Coms? VHF is obligatory and a cell phone is a powerful compliment. The one time I needed to speak with the Coast Guard I used the cell phone, which was much better. AIS and radar? I suppose it depends on visibility and traffic.

A solid boat helps. I don't mean a "blue water boat;" I mean one that reliably does what you think it will. If the conditions are getting out of hand, leave.

Without question, the most important safety asset is your head. Don't get in situations that require safety equipment. Navigate conservatively. Watch the weather. Make sail changes early. Learn the many ways sailboats are built to adapt to contingencies (sail vs power, and don't forget anchors).

Friday, February 2, 2018

Tether Testing

A big article will be coming out in Practical Sailor next month, in the wake of the Clipper accident involving the failure of a Spinlock race hook at only 300 pounds. The clip was apparently caught in an odd bind, perhaps under a cleat, and it just wasn't made for that.

From top left to bottom right: Wichard snap shackle, Wichard Proclip, another Proclip, ISC SH 903, Kong Tango, and one last Proclip. These are 8-10 times stronger than the stamped Gibb-style safety hooks.

And yet there have been products on the market for decades that are stronger, as much as 10 times stronger  when levered over an edge.

I've been using the Kong Tango. It's fast strong, and durable if you clean and grease once in a while. The Proclip has a lot going for it; very hard to release accidentally and nearly corrosion-proof. The ISC SH 903 requires two separate unlocking actions before the gate can move; about the only thing more secure is a moused screw pin shackle. All of these open wide enough to clip a 1-inch railing and are workable with gloves. That's why I'm out testing them in January and February. Read Practical Sailor for the details.

All great products.


How do you keep the tethers out from underfoot when you aren't using them? Around the waist like a belt, naturally. I picked that up from a Volvo race guy.

You can spy it just under my elbow, completely out of the way.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

100 Best--Chapter 14

Boat Specific Tools

And I don't mean specific to your boat. Just tools that are for boats.

The average boat would float a foot higher if the tools and spares were removed. What about boat-specific tools that you only grew to appreciate after a few years in the trenches? Here are a few of my favorites:

81. PelaOil Change Pump. I really should list this one twice, since most of the time I'm not using it for oil. In fact, I have two of these.

Pumping the bilge. Or rather all five of them. My F-24 has two sumps in each ama (outrigger) and a main sump, none or which have installed pumps or collect much water. The simplest solution has been a clean (don't change the oil with the same pump unless you want a fine for oil pollution) oil change pump. Just give it a few strokes, stick the hose in the sump, and a minute later you are done. No fiddling with hoses or power.  If Ive been good, I can knock out all of the sumps in one fill, if I've been lazy, I might dump it once or twice, which takes only moments... if you keep it separate.

Changing the oil. You'll never grope for the plug again. Not only does it save time, it saves mess and pollution potential. Depending on the motor, you may want to add a semi-rigid extension wot the wand made from aluminum or copper tubing so that you can get to the very bottom. They pump a little faster if the oil is warm, but either way it will only take a few minutes, and they oil is in a nice container to transport it to the recycle center.

82. Hose Pick. For certain, you want to get one of these before tackling a sanitation hose removal project. Really, any hoses that need to come off barbs. Combined with a pair of rubber faced gloves for grip, these can generally break any hose loose with minimal effort and without damaging the barb. Use a hacksaw an you might as well resign yourself to replacing the barb as well, for it will surely leak. New hose clamps, of course.

83. Refrigerator water container.  Actually, for me it is an antifreeze container. I've adapted all of my water systems (head, fresh, AC) with Ts and valves so that they can be filled without taking anything apart. The nozzle is just the right size for 1/2-inch ID hose to slide on (make certain it is not tapered and that it is a nice fit, though a clamp is probably needed). It has a valve. I set it above the system I want to winterize, open the valve on the container and switch the valves on the boat, and the system pump draws the antifreeze in. Winterizing is the easy work of an hour.

Comfort tip: tape 4-inch wide strips of foam exercise tile inside the leg loops of your harness. Much more comfortable if you are going to be up there for a while.

84. Mast Mate. Although there are many climbing systems, I like the simplicity of a ladder. It is faster, the working position is more comfortable and higher, and the cost per years is trivial; mine is 25 years old and looks like new.

85. Sail Maker's Palm. I'm really surprised at the number of boats that don't have one on-board. It's a sail boat!! Mostly, mine isn't used for sail repair. I use it for whipping lines, finishing splices or even sewwing splices, sewing projects from webbing or canvas, or repairing gear and clothing. Then there are the home uses, including repairing your favorite work coat or repairing the boarder on a rug. Invaluable. Hand sewing skill is basic seamanship as far as I'm concerned.

I really thought I would come up with a lot of boat specific tools, but in the end, most hings were multi-purpose. Perhaps I bought them with a boat project in mind, but they've since been used around the house too much to qualify. That is a good thing. In fact, all but the refrigerator bottles get used at home; I've used the MastMate for tree work.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mid-Winter Sailing

There is something immoral with leaving the boat along for too long, something like not playing with your children, cat, or dog (notice they are all in the same sentence...). A boat needs exercise and cold weather is no excuse.

Just because some of the marinas are still frozen solid is no excuse.

We have perhaps the hardest freeze in 15 years or so, building enough ice in Deale to walk across the harbor. Ice breakers were dispatched to Smith Island, and The National Guard sent Chinook helicopters to Tangier Island. Although it has warmed, even yesterday  I doubt I would have gotten out.

Sure, it was 65F in Washington and 55F in Deale, but I doubt it got much above 45 F on the water. The water was reading 36F and the light south wind had been in close contact with that for hours.

Below about 50F a balaclava is a mandatory neck seal, and it seems to help keep the hat on. Ski goggles replace sun glasses at about 45 with the wind comes up. They actually add a lot of warmth. 

The primary project for today was finishing the jackline layout. I've been doing a lot of testing of snap hooks and carabiners in the wake of the Clipper CV 30 accident, and one thing that has come out of it is that the Wichard Proline tithers are a top pick. They are about 4-6 times as strong as Gibb-style hooks in many loading situations, are big enough to clip railings, and I really like the light webbing and elastic. There are other good carabiners, but these really deliver the complete package.

By running the jackline along the cabin edge, I can reach the bow, transom, amas, and entire cockpit using the 6-foot tether arm. You can clip with a 3-foot arm for additional security. There are a few places you can fall off, but the boat has low free board and you would have a good chance of muscling back aboard. However, it's better not to fall off. Racing history has shown that sailors very seldom fall off when traveling the deck; it is when they stop to work on something that they are at risk. So use your short tether when working.

This time of year, a PFD really isn't worth squat. You won't last long enough solo, and it could be close even with good crew (hope you don't have the chute up). Wear a tether. Wear a dry suit if it's blowing.

Run the jacklines over control lines and under sheets.

Why edure the cold? Because the Chesapeake is a different place in mid-winter. The power boat wakes vanish; even on a Sunday, I didn't see another boat. The only sounds are the water hissing by the hull and scoters down from Canada for the winter. It is the very definition of peaceful. So long as the wind is not up, it's not that cold.

A rough estimate suggests there were about 50,000 scoters on Herring Bay today.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Borax: Stopping Mildew and Rot on the Cheap... and How the EPA Can Make Everything Complicated

rev. 4-20-2014

Websters' version

Borax: 1. a white crystalline compound that consists of a hydrated sodium borate Na2B4O7·10H2O, that occurs as a mineral or is prepared from other minerals, and that is used especially as a flux, cleansing agent, and water softener, as a preservative, and as a fireproofing agent.

EPA's Version

Borax: pesticide products containing boric acid and its sodium salts (borax) are registered in the U.S. for use as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. As insecticides, some act as stomach poisons in ants, cockroaches, silverfish and termites, while others abrade the exoskeletons of insects. As herbicides, some cause desiccation or interrupt photosynthesis in plants, while others suppress algae in swimming pools and sewage systems. As fungicides, several are wood preservatives which control decay-producing fungi in lumber and timber products.

While generally considered safe--still used in many big-name laundry detergents--if I claim a cleaning formulation containing borax keeps mildew away, I have to register it with the EPA before marketing. But I can sell you a box of borax without registration. Go figure. Is it really about toxicity? I don't really think so. It is about twice as toxic as washing soda (LD50 borax and boric acid are about 2500 mg/kg BM. Although borax is suspected in certain reproductive problems in laboratory animal testing, it is not associated with cancer and does not bio-accumulate.).

It seems that anything that works must be poison, or at least regulated. That is governments purpose.

As part of a future Practical Sailor article I began exploring fumigating agents and anti-mildew products. I truth, most projects I take on are because I've had some troubles related to the subject in question and thus have some understanding and some additional motivation. Every boat has at least one damp spot prone to mildew, and in my case, I have a basement prone to wet carpets every few years. Not flooding, but mildew potential.

I began exploring the formulations of some successful products. Concrobium is one, dreadfully over priced at the local hardware, particularly considering you can look up the underlying pattents (EP 1104450 B1) and learn that each quart bottle ($18.00) contains nothing but:
  • 1 tbs baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 2 tbs washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 2 tbs TSP (trisodium phosphate)
Simple and effective. The chemistry makes perfect sense; it is applied without rinsing and thus leaves behind a thin alkiline coating that repells bacterial and fungal growth (fungi require acid conditions) and provides no food for growth (soaps contain fatty acids and make great fungi food). More is not better because it is used without rinsing, the limitied concentration is important.

That got me thinking, so I began trying other variations including my favorite, also in 1 quart:
  • 2 tbs baking soda
  • 2 tbs borax
  • 1 tbs TSP
I've been testing all three on some mildewed carpet sections, cleaning by scrubbing lightly and then extracting with a vacuum. Which is best? After 6 months they are both perfect, although the borax version killed the smell a bit faster.


Other Applications

Basement Carpets and Walls. We've had problems with a wet basement and biannual flooding for 20 years. I've washed and dried a lot of carpets. Learning to use this formulation as the rinse was a revelation. No more mildew smell, no more mad rush to get them dry. No more black stains. Simply use this as the rinse water and the carpets stay fresh.

Preventing Wood Rot
Borax is VERY effective in preventing wood rot. I've used it myself mixed with ethylene glycol (Goolge it) to preserve a common pine totem pole in damp soil and remain impressed; it's staying as though it were pressure treated, 6 years and counting. West Systems Epoxy has posted on this subject. The National Park Service posted this on preserving totem poles in the PNW with borate/glycol.

Obviously, they can't stand boric acid. One of the most common extermination products, particularly around kitchens and bedrooms (works on mattresses). It's not going to work on the flying pests, though, the only ones I have trouble with. Darn.

Wooden Decks
Seems like a good cleaning choice. Should help keep the algae away. Limit the TSP if you wish to be bay-friendly. Try it on your home deck for a little boost to the pressure treatment.
Combine it with some bleach as needed.
A less alkaline variation is well known and should keep the mildew away. Reduce the dose:
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp borax
Oh, the power of good marketing. I swear I'm not just trying to be trying to be cheap. Furthermore, I'm a chemical engineer and have no phobia regarding synthetic chemicals. I'm not pushing this because of some hidden green agenda or because it is less toxic. The strength of these formulations is basic:
  • No organic mildew food
  • Mildly alkaline film
  • Borate as mildewstat
I'm also reviewing some nice complex synthetic formulations that promise to be more water resistant. We'll see.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Preparing for Snow

When snow is forecast, the diligent southerner prepares. As a Yankee, I would use a a nice stout.  Higher standards.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

When the Wind Blows From the North...

... it blows the water out of the Chesapeake Bay, resulting in tides as much as 6 feet below normal. The tide was still dropping when I took these images. Fortunately, the mud is a gentle cradle. Sometime I think the boat does better aground when it's howling--it no longer tugs at the lines.

And more cold to come.

Every boat in the marina is aground. The catamaran is my old Shoal Survivor, and the trimaran on the right is my current ride.

The inside of the slip is only a few inches deep.

The dock is now chest-high. No "stepping aboard"--you have to climb. The samples that are hanging under the dock are test coupons that should be in the water. You can see the water stain on the fender to the right.

Flying the Port ama sitting still.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Clipper Round-the-World Race and the Failed Tether

Some of you are likely aware of the Clipper Race, where amateur sailors ranging from considerably experienced to land lubber pay for a slot on a race boat. There are two paid crew for 18 guests, so hand holding is limited. This is quite different from either the pure amateur or pure professional models, where the crew must earn a place on the boat.

During the last race, a 60-year old retired lawyer fell off the bow and drowned. He was tethered, but the carabiner on the tether failed. Forensic testing of identical clips confirm that because of the way the tether was pulled, instead of failing at over 4000 pounds as expected, it failed at about 300 pounds, a force easily generated in a modest stumble.

That is a staggeringly low failure strength. How could that happen? Unfortunately, if I told the full story, my editor would choke me, so I will just have to refer you to Practical Sailor. We've been deeply involved in investigation. There is an interesting post on Facebook right now (link below) and the full story will be out in a few weeks.

Practical Sailor Clipper Up-Date, Facebook

I will share this, however. My tethers don't look like that. I have a few spare hooks left over from testing but they won't be going on the boat. In fact, if you showed any rock climber this sharp-edged monstrosity and asked him to trust his life to it, he would tell you to get stuffed and pitch it deep in the woods. Honestly, it looks like a toy carabiner to me. The metal is too thin, the edges are sharp enough to cut rope and even steel climbing slings, the internal lock can jam on rope and webbing, and the nose snags everything in sight.

I use something a bit different. The carabiners are from rock climbing and via ferrata. They are better proven, more thoroughly tested, and subject to a tougher standard. The lanyard is 8 mm climbing rope and absorbs impact, keep the force on my chest comfortably low. I'm hoping the standards for marine tethers and carabiners can be changed to be more like these.

I'm thinking that the sailor might still be here. But make no mistake, off-shore sailing is dangerous, and if you fall over the rail, the ocean can beat you to death in short order. Keep your tethers short.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Value of High Tech Lines

[ Paraphrased from a Corsair group posting]

Line Tension

The word "taught" often gets confused with "taut." Here are some hints regarding correct
usage of the two words.

"Taught" is the past tense of "teach." Consider the following sentence: "I done teached him all I know and he still don't know nothing." You can improve the sentence by replacing the word "teached" with the word "taught," so that it reads, "I have taught him all I could, and he's still remarkably ignorant."
You can see the improvement.

Now let's look briefly at the other word. "That line was so tight that it done pulled the winch right out of the cabin top." Here, you can replace the word "tight" with the word "taut." That won't help the cabin top or the winch, though, and perhaps this sailor should have reefed earlier.

But be careful, because in the next example you can't reef your sails with a simple replacement of one word for another. "I used that new gasoline-powered blender that I got from Cabela's to make a batch of margaritas, and I've been tight all day." Here, the word tight is used to mean slightly drunk, and it's a slightly out-of-date use of the expression. And yes, that store does sell that product. The engine has 2.5 HP - I'm not kidding!

One thing that you can't do is teach an old rope new tricks. Ropes are pretty stupid. Even if they're expensive ropes. So this is wrong, just plain wrong: "He cranked that winch until the line was so taught that it pulled the mast pivot fittings right out of the cabin-top when he was raising the mast."
It's wrong for several reasons. In this case the narrator alludes to the general fault, that some
teaching has been ineffective, but blames it on over-education of the rope rather than under-education
of the person.

One thing they teach in those Coast Guard classes, and if you've ever taken one then you've been taught this, is that you ought to read the directions. In this case, the Farrier or Corsair Sailing Manuals. Another thing they teach is that rope can't read, no matter how taut it is.

I hope that this discussion has made the whole issue clear now.

Thank you.
Dave Paule