Thursday, April 24, 2014


Evolutionary biologists argue that the brain is an outgrowth and extension of the sensory organs, perhaps more than the other way around. If our thoughts are formed from perception, imagine the nightmare Doctor Doolittle's fantasy would be, your world completely ruled by smells, food, and hormones. Oh yeah, college....

In no particular order, mostly without explanation. It's all about the associations.

Sounds and Smells I Like
  • Fresh cut grass. Of course. So we'll leave out the smell of cookies baking in the oven, the sea, and everything to do with my wife. Wind in the rigging, of course.
  • The sound of a sailboat hull ghosting and kayak paddles dipping rhythmically. 
  • Skis, biting hard.
  • Sunscreen, an obvious association.
  • An ice ax striking solid. The solid feel and deadening of vibration inside the shaft. Calms the nerves. Reminds me of adventures.
  • Construction sounds. I think it reassures me that the economy is alive and vital. IT makes it feel like morning. Yet I dislike the city.
  • Snow.
  • Rain.
  • Thunder... when not afloat. When afloat I pretend it doesn't exist.

Sounds and Smells I Hate
  • Whining. Of course. My cat. So well leave out the smell of automobile exhaust in tunnels, canned
    laughter, and a fox in heat at midnight.
  • The glop-pop sound an epoxy brush makes when you're 3/4s through the pot life. It must bring back subconscious memories of rushing to finish and fighting fiberglass that's sticking to the brush. Just like fingernails on a black board.
  • Halyards pinging while trying to sleep. Actually, even day time, when it grates at me like untied shoes. Non-sailors often find it romantic.
  • Seagulls, when I'm trying to concentrate. See "whining."
  • Most cooking smells, not counting baking. But I like to cook. Go figure.
  • "That's not my job" and all variations. See "whining."
  • "I haven't been trained." See "whining."
  • The ring of my phone. It means I'm going to interrupted by someone looking to make their problem into my problem. I don't mind the sound of your phone ringing--not my problem!
  • Loud sarcasm as a substitute for humor. It's boring and tiresome.
  • Cigarettes. Oddly, the smell is not so bad, but the notion that people are sucking down the smoke bugs me. I feel sorry for them.
  • Pipe. I don't mind the smell, but certain formulations trigger an ocular migraine that leaves me partially blind for an hour. Happened once, for no good reason, 2/3rds of the way up a trad 5.10c lead; I had to wait for it to subside since I couldn't see my hands.
  • Potpourri. See "pipe."
  • Coffee. See "pipe."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dynamic Travelers

Some lines cry out for low stretch; elastic halyards and genoa sheets both allow sails to become more full in gusts, exactly when flatter is better. For other applications some give is in order; tethers and anchor lines come to mind. Travelers fall in this latter category.

We know the sound of a traveler screaming across, and we all cringe, waiting for the "bang" that follows an accidental jibe. During a proper jibe we brake the traveler car's motion by controlling slack and easing it out, but mistakes happen. Some times we're short handed and a flying jibe in light air is not a terrible thing, not if the car was at least brought to center first.  Why not use nylon--better yet, highly dynamic climbing rope--to absorb the energy?

The same 8mm line I use for tethers. Notice the sewn eyes covered in rigging tape for UV protection; a knot would do, but testing for an upcoming Practical Sailor article about stitched eyes and another about chafe protection started some time ago.

It has been suggested--by folks that haven't tried it--that nylon traveler line will stretch too much. Nonsense, it's just a matter of selecting the correct size for the boat. Yesterday I took my PDQ for a blast in 15 knots sustained, right at the edge of reefing and hence at maximum main sheet loading. Slamming waves and powering through gusts, the traveler car quietly working through a 1/2-inch range of motion. For test purposes I have crash jibed in 15 knots (with a reef in) intentionally, just to see what would happen; 2-4 inches of give and harmless thud rather than sharp impact. Obviously the jibes that can cause damage and normal working pressures are much different. Unlike easying a genoa sheet which often powers the sail up more, easing the traveler releaves pressure in the correct way, without affecting sail shape.

Yes, I can see and feel the line stretch in a breeze. The traveler may be pushed an inch further with the same settings as compared to light air, but a traveler is meant to be adjusted frequently and I would never notice were the line not marked. Why is it marked? In order to assure jibe shock absorption on gusty days it is important to maintain a 3-4 inch cushion from the traveler end stop, and a whipped marking shows that position at a glance.

What line size? For hand-tensioned travelers, 8mm should be about right for any size boat. For larger boats 10-11mm climbing rope is available. Simply use the same size as appropriate for polyester.

Climbing rope is available by the foot from MEC.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Is Your Tether Quick Release Actually Quick Release?

This tether was found by rescue workers at the Wing Nuts accident site; there were several fatalities.

Where do you clip the "spare" leg of a 2-leg tether? To the harness ring, or course, if there is no loop on the tether... and there is not. Pull the quick release and you are still attached by the spare leg. A potentially fatal design error.

This is dangerous even on deck--if the tether gets wrapped around a sheet or guy he has 2 clips to release to get free. Not good.

And this points a scary trend, where equipment companies design to standards but don't actually test the gear in the field. They give the gear to sailors to use, but that is hardly the same as structured testing where all likely use scenarios are systematically tested.

The solution? some brands are adding a ring or loop near the harness end. If you make your own, leaving the loop long enough will do. Or in my case, I simply clipped in a small biner to give myself a parking space.

The typical vendor response? You should have a knife. Please. Why not say I should fall off the boat?

(No, I don't used quick-release harness end clips. I single hand and can't imagine a senario where  releasing will leave me better off. On the other hand, I can imaging the quick-release letting go or me clipping it incorrectly. My compromise. I still prefer to clip to the "parking space" and have only one clip on the harness.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Most dedicated DIYs will recognize these:

These little cones are available for pennies at any Home Depot or paint store and keep your work from sticking to the work bench much more neatly than blocks of wood. Pick up a dozzen.

And how do you take the niffy no-background pictures? With a carboard box, some tape, thin paper or sheeting, and poster paper, a light tent is the trick. I like the daylight compact flourescent bulbs.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

New Main--Mack Sails

The original sail had slowly turned into a shapeless bag. I priced this one at the Annapolis boat show, and months later, here it is! Certainly, there are some adjustments to be made--batten tension, for certain--but the fit seems good.

I need to fabricate a proper tack strap. The original sail had foot slides, but this one is loose footed. I like it.
Note the jury-rigged boom strap at the clew. I'll have to sew something better... although this worked perfectly.

Draft forward, lots flatter

  • 8.62 oz High Aspect Dacron Mainsail
  • Five full battens with adjustable battslide fittings
  • 3 reefs
  • UHMW wear strips
  • Sail area equal to original design specifications
  • Standard boom cover
 And by way of comparison... Before. We'll be zipping to windward now!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not all Winterizing Products are the Same

As part of an up-coming Practical Sailor article I tested the anti-corrosion properties of a number of leading winterizing agents:

The test rig...
Ethanol Based                                  Glycol Based

The coupons after 2 months...

The left hand column, all ethanol-based.
  1. Water
  2. Vodka
  3. I won't tell... just avoid ethanol.
  4. I won't tell... just avoid ethanol.
 The right hand products I like, all propylene glycol-based. I forget the order, but they were all perfect.
  1. Starbrite
  2. Camco
  3. Pure Oceans
  4. Sudbury Marine
  5. Southwind/Dow Frost

The clear point is not to be a cheapskate. Stay with something reputable, and stay with glycol.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The best chafe sleeve, and why a cover is NOT a chafe sleeve.

After a little more time spent with the chafe machine, a champion emerges. as well as the observation that weave is as important as the material.

What? Being Spectra is not enough? A it turns out, there is an enormous difference between braided covers and tightly woven tubing. In fact, our lowly nylon tubular webbing typically out-wears Dyneema and Kevlar rope covers. No wonder we have been so happy with our experience using nylon webbing as a chafe cover for docklines.

Top to bottom:
New England Rope ARC. 10 minutes against grindstone.
New England Rope Dyneema Chafe Sleeve. 10 minutes against grindstone.

For reference:
New England Rope Regatta Braid. 1 minute against grindstone.
New England Ropes StaSet (not pictured). About the same as Regatta Braid.
9/6-inch 7x19 rigging wire parted in 13 minutes.

But I hadn't tested nylon webbing in the same run, or plain Amsteel...

Top. ARC, as before.
Center. Plain Amsteel, Dyneema Sleeve, 9/16" nylon tubular webbing, all for 10 minutes.
Lower. Regatta braid, 1 minute, as before.
Notice that the nylon webbing outwore the high-tech cover by a mile (it's still running, at just over 30 minutes, and not through)! Notice that plain Amsteel is 30% through the first yarns, worse than the webbing.

Which is not to take anything away from this Dyneema webbing sleeve that wears like iron. Wow.

Before we question why New England Ropes even make the cover material, realize they serve a different purpose. ARC makes a nice cover, holding in jammers, minimizing core slip, and not stiffening the line. The Spectra sleeve and tubular nylon does none of these things. All it does is wear hard.


But this was all tested dry. What about the effect of water? We retested the same materials, and ...

I've never really thought too much about nylon chafe when wet, since it didn't apply to my experience; my mooring lines are well-protected, my anchor rode is chain, and my bridle rigged from cleats with good chafe protection (I suspect this is generally less of a problem for cats--we must always use bridles, but they are easier to rig chafe-free).

Wet vs. Dry Chafe
(2 reps each, only a few minutes variation)

Material                                    Wet vs Dry      Time to Chafe Through
Nylon webbing                          Dry                   45 min.
Nylon webbing                          Wet                   14 min.
NER Dyneema chafe sleeve      Dry                    50 min.
NER Dyneema Chafe Sleeve     Wet                   40 min.

I expected a difference, but 3x caught me by surprise. It is more than a simple change in strength, probably beyond simple analysis. I need to see how much difference Maxijacket makes; there are applications like chain-to-rope splices where Dyneema's not an option. I'll also expand this to include ropes and polyester.

The nylon webbing still makes sense many places, where availability in large sizes and price matter. For comparison, the cover on a typical line fails in 1-3 minutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stitching and Chafe--Not All that Vulnerable

I've been busy testing coverings and coatings, certain that stitiched eye needed consierdaerable protection. But then I started test the eyes themselves. First I sewed a pair of eye in 3/8" Samson XLS, both with the stitch count limited to break at about 2500 pounds. I could sew a stronger eye, but stitich strength is easier to measure accurately when you are not too close to the line breaking strength (stitch/rope interaction become important beyond ~ 60% BS).

 The upper is Robline #10 whipping twine, the lower Robline #10 Dyneema whipping twine. The Dyneema is smaller, but the strength is similar.

Then I abraded each on fresh-sawn yellow pine for 20 minutes on my abrasion machine.  This is just long enough to wear through the line cover, as can be seen.

The polyester stitching is worn (74% of original strength when pulled to failure), but so much as the cover, which is just into the core.

The Dyneema twine suffered no measurable wear (failed at calculated value). However, the cover is gone below the splice, and considerably scuffed where the Dyneema twine did not protect it.

It seems the polyester whipping twine is a more abrasion resistant weave than the cover of the line. Perhaps the wax helps. So while I will still cover my sewn eyes to protect them from UV and wear, I far less concerned than I was. I also need to rethink Dyneema twine; For reasons of stretch,  polyester will remain the choice for nylon webbing and line, but for polyester and Deneema line... I need to do a little more testing. Polyester makes slightly stronger constructions, but perhaps not in the long run. The jury is out. 

Conclusion: polyester twine was basically as durable as the line, and the Dyneema considerably more so. Interesting.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Want Your Ropes to Wear Like Iron? Maxijacket!

I investigated this product primarily on a whim. A magazine editor had asked about it in passing, and someone had given me a sample of a related product, Spinlock RP25. I didn't expect a whole lot from some liquid coating, or at least not the results I would get from some physical covering. And I was dead wrong.

Both were sawed on the grindstone for 4 minutes: Spinlock RP25 on the top and Maxijacket on the bottom. As a baseline, bare rope looked like the RP25 in 2 minutes.
The Spinlock RP25 does have its applications too. It performs better on HMPE ropes (Amseel et. al.), reducing both wear and cover/core slippage, and has the flexibility to use on running sections of rope. I'l use RP25 on section of my Amsteel lifelines.

Who would think a simple coating could out-last plain rope by 6-8 times? Who would think it could out-last clear vinyl tubing by 10 times? Where the grindstone could cut a rope in half in 5 minutes, with Maxijacket it is barely scuffed.

Applications? I'm testing many things, mostly applications where traditional chafing gear doesn't fit. Defender marine is dipping all of the chain-to-rope splices, and Brian Toss tells me he's dipping most halyard splices. The furler drum exit is a tough spot, particularly if you use the genoa partly furled much.

Mooring lines, with and without coating. I tried chafe gear, but it kept creeping off. This is easier to clip and extends the life of the wear section to match the rest of the line.

Topping lift. Abrasion was the problem, so I used some webbing as a thimble and dipped the whole knot. This allows me to down-size from 3/8" to 5/16", saving some windage.

Just too good not to share. It seems impossible that a product resembling thick latex varnish (you can get clear and colors) can make such a a difference. While West Marine charges more than you want for more than you need, Knot and Rope sell a small jar--probably all a sailor needs for a few years-- for $7.10. A bargain.


 It seems my marine science project business has gotten completely out-of-control, with no less than 9 projects underway plus follow-ups. Clear vinyl, glycols and coolants, rope, vapor filters. Then there are possible investigations into heater efficiency and operation. Crazy... and fun.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wire Cable vs. Stanchions

I've been investigating chafe protection and Amsteel as it relates to lifeline replacement. Certainly, wire cable is the gold standard. But now I'm not so sure....

After an hour of sawing back-and-forth through a 10mm hole in SS tubing, it had eaten a nice grove and built a corresponding burr on the inside:

After 1 hour.

And though the wire did not look very worn, when we flexed just a bit there was a different story....

Also 1 hour. The damage was not apparent until flexed. Most of the broken wires were inside.

How did Amsteel fare, in the same hole? Before the wire created the burr? Much better with very little wear in an hour. Afterwards, no as well, but still the damage was little more serious than that to the stainless cable. Given that I plan to use 1/4 Amsteel, which is nearly twice as strong as the cable to start with, I'm feeling OK. 1/4-inch it is sufficiently strong that even after 10 years in the Chesapeake sun (not so strong as the desert southwest or tropics) it should have equivalent strength, and with proper chafe guards, the strength loss in the holes should be less than wire. Protected from the son, the pass-troughs may be the strongest part by then.

How does Amsteel like the new hole? Not so bad as you might think and about the same as it like the raw hole, just after I drilled it without deburring. By way of comparison, after the hole was deburred it showed ~ 1/3 this much wear, and if coated with Spinlock RP25, no wear after 2 hours (840 cycles).

After 1 hour on the wire cable gouged hole. About the same as a raw drilled hole, yet much worse than a polished hole.

Alternatively, I tried a dyneema anti-chafe sleeve floating for 3 hours. It could have run for 100 hours without showing wear.

A floating dyneema cover reduces wear to zero.

By way of comparison, this hole wore a polyester line through the cover in 20 seconds and in half in 5 minutes. Amsteel is tough stuff.