Monday, April 16, 2018

UV is the Enemy

A neighboring sailor told me he had been told webbing was OK until it bleached white.... I turned white and gasped. I've torn 10-year old sun-bleached climbing slings, still not nearly white, from the mountain with a single bare hand. These are 20 KN slings (4500 pounds).

The reality is that webbing is vulnerable in the sun because it is thin and the UV can penetrate quite deeply.  In fact, these charts understate the problem because the webbing is exposed only on one side (jacklines are turned in use) and because the background on test racks is not as reflective as a white deck. This at least offsets the fact that the racks are in Arizona.

Climbing Ropes, Climbing Slings, Harnesses, Safety Tethers, and Spinnakers. If the item is turned in use so that the sun sees both sides, the deterioration will be slower but will progress farther. A 50% loss in strnegth within 3 years, with only sporadic use, has been documented in the field.

Deck hardware and bearings. Although it can be used for webbing gear, this is unusual. When used for hardware it is heavily doped with carbon black, which prevents UV  penetration. Still, when your jammer levers start to fall apart after 10 years, now you know why.

Polyester Jackline Webbing and Webbing on Sails. Better than nylon, but still serious after a few years. Worse if the sun gets to bot sides, which it will.

The bottom line is that you need to watch both time and condition. I like oversized rope for jacklines, because it holds up far longer, but this is only a solution if you can keep it off the deck.

Monday, April 9, 2018

100 Best Buys--Chapter 19a

Rigging Tips

Boats come rigged so-so from the factory. Racers add tweaks, but even cruisers find themselves up-grading the line for easier operation..

91. Low Friction Rings. These barely existed when I had my Stiletto 27. The PDQ was well rigged; never bought a block for her, always finding what I needed in the spares bin. But my F-24 required a few things. Harken, Ronstan, Schaefer, Tylaska, Antal, Nautos, and Wichard all make them. I like Antal best. The biggest mistake is to think of these as a racer thing. Instead, think in terms of simplicity, reliability, low cost per load, and strength.

Tackles. Ball bearing blocks are better if it must be adjusted, but for shear strength and simplicity, low friction rings rule. This is found in my bobstay tackle. mostly it is spliced Amsteel, but the tan loop is a Dyneema climbing sling, seized tight.

Please checkout the Practical Sailor article on the topic.

This looks skinny and light, but it is massively strong, about 3 tons working load. Ball bearing blocks would slowly deform under this sort of sustained load. I spliced most of them, but I seized the Antal ring into a Dyneema climbing sling (quick draw), and easy way to make short strops.

Outhauls and guides. They can be used as line guides, but lighter and easy to lash in place.

Barberhaulers. One of the very best applications. They don't bang around like blocks. They can be installed in old lines using sewn eyes.

In most cases you will need to cover the tail with a cover so that jammers will grab it. The frugal sailor will find a bit of used polyester double braid, sew the core to the Amsteel, and pull the cover over the Amsteel as needed. To bury the end, unlay about 4 inches of the cover, bring it to one side of the rope, and tape it to a knitting needle. Pass the knitting needle in the core of the Amsteel and lock stitch. A neater job can be done by passing the Amsteel through the cover about 4 inches from the end and then tucking the in-tact cover into the Amsteel core.

 Like two snakes swallowing each other.

92. NixWax Soft Shell Proof. Good for freeze proofing lines, I use it on my ice climbing ropes every season. But year-round it...
- Reduces wear
- Keeps ropes light
- Reduces squeaking
- Helps them run faster
... by restoring the internal lubrication to the line.  For get the wash-in instructions. Clean the line and let dry completely. Then add 4 ounces to a 5-gallon bucket and soak for one hour, agitating occupationally. Remove and let dry. Recycle the dregs by adding a little fresh treatment and repeating with more line.

93. Extreme Angle Fairleads. Have a line that is held by a cam cleat, but some times requires breaking when released? My traveler was like that. I ate through 2 standard fairleads before I switched to these. Several brands, just make sure the wire goes all the way around.

94. Mainsail Leach Tells. Just bits of yarn (wool or acrylic) or ribbon, they show if the main is over trimmed and stalled, which is probably the most common sail trim fault I see.  Just attach them with a 2-inch square of nylon sail repair tape, and don't expect them to last too long.

 95. Mast Groove Cleaner.  A two-foot length of bolt rope from Sail Rite with a grommet in each end will do the job. Make two; one for cleaning and one for applying the lube. Use toluene on the first to remove old residue, and soak the other with Sailkote and haul it fast. Great for speeding up the hoist.

Also a Practical Sailor article. A lot of my best tips are published there.

Don't forget McLube Sailkote. But I've listed this one before as a lubricant, so no double counting. Vital for smooth hoists. Also McLube One-Drop for travelers (do NOT us Sailcote or any dry lube on a traveler or other ball bearing slider--it will make the balls skid and wear)... though as near as I can tell a single drop of 3-In-One oil or winch pawl oil will work as well.

We're nearing the end of the "100 Best" series. Perhaps next season there will be a "Next 100 Best," but for the moment it needs a rest. Gotta test some more stuff first.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Cold Beer

Although never one to turn down a beverage, politely offered, I do marvel at the folks that chill beer to the very edge of freezing, killing any taste it might have. Perhaps in our PBR college days that was a necessity, but now that we enjoy a universe of craft brews, we owe it to the brew master to serve them correctly.

From the micro-brewers association:

          Proper Serving Temperatures (allow 2F for warming caused by the glass)

  1. Cold, no lower than 41° F (5° C) Lighter styles of beer — Sparkling wines/Champagne

  2. Chilled, no lower than 46° F (8° C) Most craft beers — White wines

  3. Cellar, around 53° F (12° C) Higher alcohol, richly flavored beers — Red wines

Since I like IPAs and stouts, and a bit warmer than this, I find the bilge is generally enough, although the inside of my lunch cooler (about 50F) is preferred in hot weather.

If you are going to broaden your tastes, then own it. No more ice-cold beer. Ice water is still good for cooling down, but drinking ice cold beer to cool down and rehydrate is just a recipe for sloppy sailing!

Image result for beer mug

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Outland Hatch Covers

September 2016

After nearly a year in service, 2-thumbs up and nothing I would suggest they do differently. A great product that is both durable and sharp looking.

Measure carefully (they are all custom cut), clean the hatch, and install on a warmish day.

Press the buttons on firmly.

 This one is located near the base of the mast, and thus, I've stepped on it many times.

Kind of pricey, but they do a nice job of keeping the sun out (the cabin is significantly cooler and the AC works less) and they can be left in place sailing. Although I would try not to step on hatches on principle, this hatch is at the mast, I stand near there every time I hoist or reef. As a result, they've been stepped on roughly a good many times in rough weather. Not at all slippery and evidently durable. One owner (Boat reported dropping a wrench from the masthead, saving the lens from a certain crack. The only evidence was a tiny dent.

March, 2018

After 5 years on the PDQ, I liked them so much (they are still like new), I added one to my F-24. The forward hatch gets stepped on a good bit and the cover offer some insulation, keeping the cabin warmer in the winter and much cooler in the summer. The the hatch lens will last longer (no UV), making it worthwhile for that reason alone.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Fixing a Lame Bowsprit

It's not that I work slowly, but often I make changes in small increments, careful to make certain each change and the entire project is optimized. This one took nearly 6 months to completion.

I didn't photograph the original mess of cracked welds and failed screw repairs. I just ground it all away.  The original fitting did not cradle the butt end of the bowsprit and did not extend completely to the end.

The Failure. The original hinge mechanism included an undersized butt cradle that ended up cracked on most F-24s. It was simply under-designed.Often the sprit was also dented. There was no line to hold it up, and sheets often snagged down low, around the jib furler.

The new aluminum cradle is both wider and built from heavier material. The plastic insert is curved to match the pole. These dimensions are approximate--you will need to measure your own.
This should be as strong as the pole. However, I always tension the up-haul snugly to carry the opposing load, should the bobstay be inadvertently over-tensioned.

Larger bolts (#10) were tapped into the side pieces. Additionally, the cradle is wider and reaches to the end of the pole.

Then there was the matter of articulation. The original design incorporated a fix bobstay and could only be folded or extended at dock, or by hooking your legs around the pulpit and reaching for a pelican hook at the waterline. Not fun under way in any weather. Some owners fitted a tackle using blocks, but the load is high and they're bond to catch junk. I also wanted more purchase, to reduce the load on the line clutch. Enter Low Friction Ring (LFR).

Fortunately Amsteel is super easy to splice. The yellow is a Dyneema Climbing sling. The safe working load of this tackle is about 3000 pounds, stronger than original.

I used rings from Antal, Ronstan, Harken, Nautos, Wichard, and Scheafer, all part of a Practical Sailor research project. Though I reported my favorites, they all work just fine. An up-haul was also added, not apart of the original design. This relieves the load from the butt cradle and keeps the reacher sheets from going under the pulpit where they can hang-up. It also secures the sprit against the pulpit when not in use (I wrapped a sort section of the pulpit with 3/16-inch line so that it would not bang when stowed). A lucky coincidence of geometry, the travel of the 4:1 down haul and the 2:1 up-haul are the same, making a continuous line a neat solution. Because Amsteel is slick, I covered (bury splices) the center section of the line with polyester cover so the clutches would hold properly.

A surplus Easy-Lock clutch is mounted to an aluminum plate (tapped), which is in turn mounted by bolts through the hull flange, neatly out from under foot. Another LWR keeps the line tail neat.

The final result is easy to use, and lighter and stronger than factory. The side stays are looking a little rusty, so they will be replaced with Amsteel soon as well.

How fast? Over windspeed on a reach. Mid-teens are common, though a little scary if it's gusty.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Getting my Small Boat Anchoring Mojo Back

I've done a lot of testing related to anchoring, almost always related to anchoring with all-chain. After all, that is what cruisers do. It is cut proof, reduces swing in tight anchorages, and is easy to handle with a windlass.

But my cruising started on a Stiletto 27 catamaran, weighing only 1300 pounds and anchoring with rope and hooks of no more than 12 pounds. Soft mud, sand, rocks and packed shell. I did a lot of things differently, by instinct, and now I'm determining by load cell and scientific method just how many of my judgments were right.

The new break-down 13-pound Mantus anchor is a godsend for shallow lockers, fitting where only pivoting fluke anchors once would. Disassembly takes only 20 seconds and requires no tools. This is the only new generation anchor that will work in this locker. The only other non-Danforth style anchor that fit was a 12-pound Northill Utility, which although a nice anchor, has an exposed fluke that is a little scary if you swing overnight.

Note the red webbing chafe guard. I use only 5 feet of chain, so this protects the first 20 feet of rode. It is slid over the first few links of chain and sewn in place, through a seizing might wear better.

I still like Fortress/Guardian Anchors for soft mud. They have no equal.  

Bridles and Snubbers. Multihulls always used bridles to reduce yawing. However, where I have long pitched nylon for use with chain, to reduce snatching, with a nylon rode the rule is reversed. A non-stretch bridle is more stable (does not bend from side to side), and by reducing the amount of nylon, horsing (fore-aft surging) is reduced. I used polyester double braid on the Stiletto and I am using Dyneema on the F-24.

Scope. I don't care what they say about new generation anchors holding at short scope. Based on every bit of theory and testing of many anchor models, it just ain't so. Because smaller boats can anchor is shallow water, long scope is no big problem. I very, very rarely use less than 8:1 scope.

Scope Holding
Greater than 20:1 100%
10:1  95%
7:1 80%
5:1 60%
3:1 30%
Less than 2:1 variable to nil

[This relationship is based on testing of anchors of all styles, including new generation, and holds true for mud and sand, and for sizes from 2 pounds to 5 tons. The exceptions are pivoting fluke anchors by Danforth and Fortress, which are much better at short scope, but only if well set first, which is basically impossible for most small sailboats (the engine is too small).]
<2:1 nil="" p="" to="" variable="">

Rode Size. Go bigger than recommended, not because you are paranoid, but because if you check the numbers, most rope recommendations seem to be based on fishing and lunch stop anchoring. I guess they figure you would use chain if you were a a "real" cruiser. Remember that the WLL is only 12% of the breaking strength (ABYC H-40, Table AP-1), and that is before UV and chafe are included. Finally, larger ropes are easier to pull by hand and wear MUCH slower (lower load/area and the rope fibers are under less stress).

Chafe Guards. We use tubular webbing on dock lines and mooring pendants to prevent chafe. Why not on the anchor rode? Because it floats loose, it is practically wear proof. 2-inch Blue Water ClimbSpec webbing slides over  a 1/2-inch chain splice and 1/4-inch chain. $0.45/foot.

Coating with Yale MaxiJacket or Flexdel RopeDip is also effective against chafe, but not cutting. It also stiffens the rope slightly.

Short Chain. I hate handling chain. If you have to use momentum to break out the hook and have no roller, chain will tear up the top sides.  I don't need chafe protection if I use a guard, and the rode + webbing cleats easily.  The weight of 10-20 feet of chain makes no difference once the wind is above 15 knots. It's off the bottom, I've checked. It doesn't change the way the boat swings. Skip the long chain.

Use Two Anchors. Not all the time. But learn how to lay two and you will see that it takes only a few minutes on a smaller boat. [One simple way is to set the first anchor at 20:1 scope, walk the second anchor to the stern and lower, and then bring the boat to about 10:1 scope and tighten them against each other. You can even use a cockpit winch. Then moor the second rode to the bow--I don't believe in fore-aft anchoring. Add 20-50 feet slack, since you  don't actually want the anchors in a straight line, you want a triangle.] .A particularly good idea if you have only pivoting fluke anchors, which don't like direction changes. The trick is to have a relatively short (100 feet?) rode on the second anchor so that if the boat spins, untangling is easy. Put eyes in the ends and it is easy to extend with needed, which will probably be... never.

Minimize Yawing. Taking the dingy off the bow helps (like a riding sail at the wrong end). Lift the rudder (moves the lateral plain forward). Take down the furling reacher. Use a hamerlock mooring.

Puny Engine? No Engine? Bump Set! After getting your initial set and deploying full scope, power set with reverse. Then gather up some slack and back up at speed; 2 knots for heavier boats, 3 knots for multihulls. So long as you have at least 50 feet of line out, the effect will be no more than a severe storm (I've measure the forces). No engine? Haul up slack and the let the wind push you back (you may need to wait until there is some wind).


I like to anchor with absolute certainty.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Multi-Hull Row

Still pleanty of wide slips, suitable for boats up to 16'-18' beam for fraction of the going rate. Facilities are minimal, but water and charging power are included, the marina has proven safe through 25 years of storms (zero dock damage), and the water is just as wet.

Why so cheap? No facilities and the water is not deep enough for a monohulls's keel.

My new F-24 in the foreground, PDQ 32/34 Shoal Survivor next, and PDQ 36 Grizabella in the distance.

Why the spiff? I've been there for 25 years and nothing has gone wrong. That's pretty good.

Phipps Marina
Calvin Phipps
615 Phipps Road
Deale, MD 20751


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Locking Carabiner... That Isn't

This the SECOND warning regarding Gibb-style hooks. The first warning related to with low side force strength.

I mentioned earlier that I had been testing carabiners as a result of the Clipper Race fatality. There is a long article in Practical Sailor that describes, among other things, how certain carabiners can fail as low as 275 pounds if loaded from the side or clipped improperly. 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.

The Spinlock Race Clip. The Plastimo Gibb hook behaves exactly the same way.

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

And this isn't just about u-bolts. In this video we show what happens if the carabiner is on a jackline and is pressed against a cleat or similar object.

Did this contribute to the Clipper accident? In fact, I think it may be the primary mechanism. The carabiner was clipped to a jackline that ran beside a cleat. When forced to the side against the cleat, the gate opened and the carabiner hooked the webbing. The resultant nose-hooked condition is very weak (failure starts at 275 pounds) and it soon failed.

Notice the white jackline on the deck behind the mid-bow cleat. I believe the clip was pressed against the cleat and opened, resulting in a nosehooked condition, which is very weak (~ 300 pounds). This results in a carabiner tnat EXACTLY matches the failed hook. 

 This shows a progression from 500 pounds through 1200 pounds, matching the final hook condition (Clipper hook, top).

So the Gibb-stle carabiners have 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 (as low as 275 pounds).
  • Side load strength is 10-20% of typical (as low as 275 pounds)
  • Nose is prone to hooking. Should be key lock style.
I'd retire them if I was you. Obsolete and scary.In my opinion, the companies involved should issue a recall and are opening themselves up if they do not.

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.