Friday, April 22, 2016

Remember this Vega?

Sailed around the America's, via the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn, this Vega 27 lived an adventurous life. Now she can be found in the "broken dreams" are of the Herrington Harbor North boat yard, worn out and done.

Kinna sad. Simple boats, but a number of Vegas had traveled far.

Solo the Americas

PDQ 36 Rudder Frame

In case you wondered what is inside.

Not my boat.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Lot of Hidden Work

Installing air air conditioning is like a lot of projects; all the hard work is hidden, and if you do it right, it doesn't look like you did anything. I put in a good 20 hours worth on this, not counting head-scratching time. And I work fast.

This is gone, or rather will be once I sell it...

Replaced by this.

The short version is that the work is considerable, but it MUCH quieter, easier to use, 50% more BTUs, and 23% fewer amps. Best of all, it does not leak rain, freeze the person sitting under it, snag sheets, or block the helm view. It actually takes a little more space, just hidden in lockers.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cheston Creek off the West River

(that's up near Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay for you non-locals)

I needed and over-night get away, the prevailing winds suggested the western shore north of Deale, and I always search out places I haven't been before.

I anchored in 8 feet of water just a short distance inside the mouth. I'm not too certain how much deeper I could have gone, but there was a fish trap just a few hundred yards farther in, so it seemed pointless. Holding is solid, but it is exposed to the south and east.

There is a nice sand spit sort of beach just inside the mouth, probably off limits but certainly inviting for a few moments walk.

A nice thin about Spring and Fall sailing is the clarity of the water. Not island clear, but enough to see 6 feet easily.

The creek is a wildlife management area, shared between the Smithsonian and local farmers and is well screened with trees. I bobbed mindlessly by one downed tree, watching a ground hog busy himself preparing a burrow for a littler to come. A hundred yards further down the creek s red fox was doing the same sort of sring house keeping.

Definitely worth a follow-up visit this summer.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Extension Ladders On-Deck

Extension Ladders—the Rope Climbing Alternative
Say I don’t like the idea of dangling from a finger-thin line the length of which I have not inspected. Of course, I could swap it out, but that still leaves the condition of the pulley in question; I know a guy who decked-out after the pulley axel failed, dropping the rope onto the sharp edge mast cutout, cutting the rope. Obviously I can use multiple back-up lines, but say I just don’t like the idea. I would rather use a ladder because it gives better leverage and is less tiring. (The writer is actually an avid rock and ice climber, with 30 years of active climbing all over the US. He trusts ropes just fine, but prefers the stability and ease of a ladder when practical.)

Is it safe? We seldom observe ladders up masts—unless we are talking about mast steps, which I don’t have and don’t want. Or perhaps the project is installing steps up to the spreaders, and I just can’t see myself working for that long hanging from a string nor making so many trips up and down for bits and pieces. Well, the answer regarding ladder safety is a qualified “yes,” as long as the boat is located in a well protected marina and the ladder well secured. Weekdays are best (fewer wakes).  We’ve used ladders many times, and they remain a favorite, in spite of having racks of climbing gear and no fear of ropes and high places. Sometimes a ladder is simply better. But I take precautions; a safe ladder makes for more efficient work.
·         Not on the hard. While some boats may be blocked well enough for this—multihulls come to mind—it doesn’t matter because yard rules prohibit climbing the mast of a blocked boat. Too much weight up high and too much liability for them. The idea of ladders on the elevated deck of a blocked boat justifiably gives them the willies.

To the spreaders. I don’t like going too much past the spreaders for a number of reasons. On smaller boats—less than 30 feet—the ladder adds weight to an already top-heavy situation. The deck space for the foot is limited resulting in a ladder set at too steep an angle. For larger boats, the required ladder is simply impractical. Extension ladders become progressively more ungainly the longer they become, and a 40-foot extension ladder is a monster for one person to handle, or even for 2 on the deck of a modest boat. A ladder reaching only to the spreaders, on the other hand, can be quite reasonable.

Another reason we like ladders to the spreaders is that it seems most of my work is there, on the forward side of the mast. A ladder gives best access to the steaming light, deck light, lazyjack anchors, flag halyards, spreader boots, and RADAR. On a previous fractionally rigged boat, we could reach halyard exits and shrouds. When climbing with ropes the mast is ascended from behind because the main halyard is used. On the forward side only the spinnaker halyard—if there is one—is available, and often it is suspended from an external block on a crane; the spinnaker halyard is not recommended for this reason. A genoa halyard is available, but you have to lower and clear away the sail. We still use ascenders when we need to go clear to the top, but that is nearly always just an inspection trip, without the repeated up-and-down laps for tools and parts.

  • Tie the boat more tightly. While docklines require some slack to deal with tides, the motion at the spreaders will be less if you minimize the slack. Very tight lines can actually increase motion, so leave about 1-foot of slack. Remember to re-set the lines when you are finished, and adjust them as needed if the tide is swinging
  • Light weight ladder. While ladders used in industry are heavy duty and are rated at 300-375 pounds, it will be far more pleasant to use either light commercial (225 pounds) or household (200 pounds) ladder on the deck of a boat. They are much easier to work with, and because of the way it is to be secured (to the mast and deck), it will be stable and reliable. Of course, if you’re a big guy you will need a ladder with the proper rating and should be able to handle the weight. 
  • Secure the top rung. Pad the top rung of the ladder by wrapping with a towel secured by sail ties. Additionally, secure the top rung to the mast with a sling around the mast and back to the ladder. This should be an easy fit, free to slide, but not so loose that the ladder rails can slide completely off the mast to one side. This will guide the ladder as it is extended, siding up, and can be tightened once climbed, if desired. This sling should be strong, at least 3/8-inch or 4000-pound breaking strength, like any climbing anchor. Second, attach a spare halyard or topping lift to the top rung. This can be used to
    help raise the ladder and provides some additional security.
  • If the halyard is used to lift the ladder it can be advantageous to lash the sections together. Otherwise they may pull apart.
  • Raise the ladder to within the range of angles marked on the ladder. Too vertical is neither safe nor fun. It will also result in slower work.
  • Secure the base. Secure the base of the ladder against fore-aft and side to side motion using the genoa sheets (I used spinnaker sheets in the photos) to prevent side-to-side motion. Do not over-tighten with winches; ladders can be pulled apart. Secure the bottom rung to the mast to prevent kick-back. There should be NO possibility of motion. Pad the deck if you must, but the rubber feet will be more secure and should not unduly load the deck, no more than jumping down on a heel. Place them carefully and they should not mark. If there are spikes on one side, tape them up. Thus secured, the ladder should be as safe against falling as any fixed ladder, and at a better angle than many. However, boats move, and that requires additional precautions.
  • Climbing harness. If wakes can cause the boat to roll, a climbing harness can be a good idea, either
    belayed by a crew member or attached to a tight safety line paralleling the ladder by a rope grab. Unlike climbing by rope, however, there will be no discomfort from harness pressure.  Harness is generally not needed on catamarans, though this depends on the person and the work to be done. If two hands are needed, use a harness, if only to tie-off once at your working stance. The tie-off should be nylon—the impact force of even a short drop will shake your teeth loose and can create dangerous loads. In principle, the tie-off is for side-to-side motion only, not falls.
  • Climbing and work posture. While climbing keep both hands free. Don’t carry anything, but rather trail a line to a tool bag, as though you were ascending by rope. Tighten the rope securing the top rung to the mast as soon as you get there. Have a way to secure all of your parts and tools while working, whether by lanyard or deep-sided bag. While working, be certain to keep your knees locked into the sides of the ladder. Use a firm and slow hand with all tools and parts; a light touch is prone to dropping things.

Like many things, safety comes down to being methodical. Secure the ladder in all directions; it should not be able to move, even if you tug hard. Climb carefully, prepared for motion at all times. People do fall from ladders, but seldom those that are properly secured. Be safe.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beard Eradication

Sometime around Christmas I got lazy about shaving, I decided that I might as well see where that led, and finally I was determined to ignor the interminable annoyance and surprise my daughter with it when she came home on spring break. In that last goal, at least I was a success.

My wife determined it had to be removed in stages and that those sages be recorded, for the amusement of all.

And once the mustache came off, I felt clean for the first time in months.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cheap Gloves

As winter arrives, ski gloves and snow blower fly off the shelves. But if you are doing mechanical work in the cold what you need are thin gloves with some grip that don't slow you down. I've found that these 10-for-$3 cheapies from the thrift store fit best. My fingers reach the tips, I can pick up a dime, and for the price I only need to wear them a few times. Construction companies commonly give laborers a new pair each day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Digging Through Solar Mis-Information on the Internet?

You can pay $500-700 for a name brand panel. No doubt they are very good and 4 different middle men took a cut to get it there. You can go on the internet and get something on E-Bay that might... or might not work. When I installed my system I went on the net, took a good close look at the images and specs, read a few user blog post, and picked out panels that were solid and are still working well. But I've heard stories of the other sort.

Hotwire is a guy that started investigating solar and wind for hi own use 20 years ago, tried everything, tested samples, and has made a solid little name for himself amound cruisers as a guy that sells right-priced stuff that he has tested and vetted himself.

But it's a lot more than that. Wind, charge controllers, mounts, lighting, refrigeration... all with an eye towards economy and reliability.

Check it out.

Monday, January 18, 2016


We hear that the wife has too many shoes, but what example do we guys really set?

On the boat there are:
  • running shoes
  • deck shoes
  • flip-flops
  • sandals
  • dingy sailing shoes
  • wet suit boots
At home in the "toy" area there are:
  • approach shoes (5.10s)
  • light hiking boots
  • hiking boots
  • alpine boots
  • mountaineering boots for ice
  • mountaineering boots for big mountains
  • rock shoes
  • alpine ski boots
  • cross-country ski boots
  • bike shoes
  • mountain bike shoes
  • ice skates
  • in-line skates
  • in-line hockey skates
  • steel-toe work boots 
  • steel-toe rubber boots
  • painting sneakers (retired running shoes)
and oh yeah...
  • several pairs of dress shoes--I forget, since I don't wear them often.
None of this seems odd to me. I guess it comes down to point of view.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Rant About Jacklines and Tethers

Windward vs. Centerline

The old conventional wisdom was windward and leeward lines, in as far as the cabin and shrouds would allow. Now the new mantra is centerline, and that anything else is unsafe and the user uninformed. They blithely ignore facts suggest something different:
  • You can't slide uphill.
  • Every case of injury by dragging along side was to leeward. They were caught in the bow wave.
  • It is farther to leeward if the jackline is to windward.
  • Waves and gusts come from windward.
The new internet forum wisdom feels more like group think than change based in evidence and experience. By all means move the jacklines in as far as practical, but I believe the physics of falling limit windward overboard incidents. If you know of a documented case, please comment.

For me, windward lines and short tethers are the best bet. And my boat doesn't even lean!

Quick Release vs. Locking Carabiner at Ches End of Tether

As a single hander, I'm fairly certain that cutting myself free is seldom better.
  • Cold water. Today, for example, I was sailing on the Chesapeake with 3-4F water temperatures. I did not see a single boat over a 4 hour period. Unless We all take to wearing drysuits, the only ending is slowly freezing in your PFD. 
  • Accidental opening. Ever have a spinnaker shackle release unexpectedly? Granted, it was generally because the shackle was not closed properly, but that is only proof accidents happen. A locking biner is more secure.
  • Offshore. Same as cold water. Yeah, someone could be coming for you. Probably not. 
I don't fancy the idea of dragging, so I keep my tether short when near the rail, and crawl when I need to.

Not a screw-lock. That would be silly.