Sunday, May 21, 2017

Stanchions: Pulling up is Okay, but sideways, not so much.

Every so often there is a forum thread involving a rant about one of the following:
  1. Stanchions are a tripping hazard. They only mark the edge of the boat.
  2. Stanchions are only for falls, You should never touch them.
  3. Never touch the stanchions when docking or boarding. This will loosen them and lead to leaks.
Only the last one is arguably true, and the last one deserves some caveats, below.

I can see why this guy is sensitive. Apparently his crew likes to pull on stanchions when boarding and push when docking.

This boat was within a season of a water-soak, soft deck. Dodged a bullet.

Yet you can't sanely expect aging sailors, crew carrying things, or lubbers that have never been on a boat to avoid placing a hand on a railing. They need to. Such an attitude is thoughtless regarding the safety of your passengers and unrealistic for even the best crew on their worse day. If the stanchion in question is insecure, it may perhaps be reckless or even negligent, even if not in the legal sense. Is a bad fall, causing lasting injury, worth it? I had such a fall in college; it is life-changing event, every bit as serious as a death, from my perspective. You'll think so after you've walked that road, in nagging pain, for 40 years.

Shattered in 16 pieces in college, now being x-rayed for additional surgery 40 years later.

The obvious answer is to reinforce the stanchion with an angled leg.  This one gets used every time the boat is boarded, hauled on mightily occasionally, and it remains as tight and stiff as ever. No means to reinforce even one. First, I doubt that. At the very least, and oversized base is not so difficult; if the post bends, bend it back. But if you feel this is hopeless, than use butyl for bedbing, install a good backing plate, and accept that you will need to pull that one fitting every few years. No big deal.

Stanchions used for boarding should be braced.

The Main Topic -- Pulling Up

I use lifelines for security all the time, and I have never had a leak. Sure, the bases are well secured, but the most important factor is that I pull UP on the lifeline. I don't push or pull to the side. It would be less secure anyway, since the force is not effective until I am well off balance.

By pulling up, with  one hand on the lifeline and one hand on the jackline, my feet are pressed firmly against the deck, providing stability and traction. Stress on the stanchion is trivial. Corrections are applied before by body moves out of column, leaning one way or the other.

By pulling up on the lifeline, you press your fee into the deck, Very handing when beating into a steep sea.[From "Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Cruiser."]

As for docking, reinforced bow and stern pulpits are a necessity, and most are equipped--pull on that. Use a boat hook or foot on the toe rail or stanchion base. Use ropes and fenders. And for goodness sake, tell anyone who comes to help to go away. If you are using lifelines while docking you are doing something very wrong.


Other popular internet forum rant topics include the best anchor, best PFDs, jackline locations, what is the best blue water boat.... Basically anything where everyone has an opinion, and where opinions can be be presented as fact based on personal experience and tastes. There will be good solid information buried in there, somewhere, but you need to keep your filters on tight. Then sit back and enjoy the show!

Friday, May 19, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 3

The saga continues. Interestingly, my list is actually growing, as I look back through my notes of what tested well, and what did not.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there is some overlap. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. They research stuff I avoid, like electronics. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

Yes, I get a tiny spiff if you shop on Amazon using these links, whether you buy the item described or surf to some other item. The best value may be Amazon, or it may be Walmart or Home Depot. Shop around, I'm not trying to work you.


This time I'm going to focus on just one topic, that which lured me into writing in the first place; gasoline and fuel additives, and whether they are snake oil.


11. Gasoline Additives, Corrosion. Ethanol gas (E10) is more corrosive and less stable than non-ethanol gas for two reasons. First, it absorbs water readily from the air and then holds more water in solution. This allows ions to move freely, which facilitates corrosion. Aluminum carburetor bowls are particularly prone to corrosion, and the fluffy corrosion products are very good at clogging jets (it isn't the gum these days). The second is that those metal ions--specifically copper an zinc--are powerful polymerization and oxidation catalysts, accelerating the break down of the gasoline in to gum by over 100 times. The cure? An effective anti-corrosion additive. Biobor EB is my favorite, though Mercury Store-N-Start and Sea Foam are also very good. Walmart is cheap.

As for additives that claim to prevent water absorption or prevent phase separation, they are mostly lying. And even if they could keep the mix together, burning gas with all that water in it is a very bad thing. Avoid these (K100 etc). CRC Phase Guard IV actually made corrosion worse, although I think they may have reformulated since I tested it.

12. Diesel Additives, Corrosion. Corrosion is still important with diesel, and so catalytic decomposition due to copper and zinc. However, Biobor for diesel is strictly a biocide. My recommendation for Diesel is Startron. Need protection from diesel bug too? Startron can be combined with biocides (I tested this combination and many others using proposed ASTM methodology) and the combination provides superior protection.

13. Diesel Additives, Bugs. Gasoline is immune to bacterial and fungal break down--it's too toxic. But diesel can grow a nice crop of snot-like microrganism, cloging filters and secreting acids that accelerate corrosion. The cure is a biocide like Biobor JF or FPPF Kill Em'. By the way, biocides are like the antibiotic your doctor supplies; you need the right one. Biobor is good on one set of strains, and Kill Em' is good on the other, so if Biobor does not work, try the other. However, the dead bugs don't just go away; the bodies must be removed, which mean physically cleaning the tank (pump the fuel out AND scrub the walls). The best answer is prevention through regular treatment, not just storage. Keep it up, even during the summer when you are sailing regularly. You may be using the fuel faster, but the bugs grow faster in the summer too.

About every 3-5 years the silica gel must be regenerated by grilling very low in a pan for 20 minutes. Very easy.

14. Vent Filters. Both corrosion and bugs rely on water. It does NOT have to be a free layer, so it is a semi-myth  that fuel/water separators will solve the problem. They reduce water and help remove the solids, but they are NOT a cure, only a treatment. Large amounts of water usually come in through the filler cap--make sure you have a good o-ring and coat it with grease to keep it water repellent. But the insidious source of water--worse for gasoline because it actually sucks the water from the air--is the vent. The cure is a silica gel vent drier. At this time, H2OUT is the only unit on the market, but fortunately, it is very good. Additionally, in the case of gasoline, the vent drier reduces evaporative emissions enough to pay for it over 5 years, so the reliability improvement is all gravy. Saving volitiles also means easier starting. Just all good.

15. Funnels, Siphons, and Spill Prevention.  A shaker siphon is the answer. Nearly as fast as pouring, simply place the valve end in the jerry can, push the other end deep into the filler neck, and shake vertically 3-4 times to start the flow. Lift the valve out to stop. No spills, no holding heavy cans. No messy funnels. A clever guy could add a fuel filter for diesel, although it would slow things down. If you prefer to fill at the dock, the Cleanway funnel works well.

The Cleanway funnel give the auto cut-off feature enough buffer to work. Even without auto cut-off, at least it gives you a few seconds. If the vent is lower than the filler, of course, it won't help. Always know how much fuel you need.

I became interested in these topics as a result of chronic engine reliability problems. For the past 8 years I have used Biobor EB and a vent filter, and my problems have simply evaporated. I took my carbs apart a few months ago as part of an article--after 7 years, they looked as clean as new. I was not so much shocked as happy. It's so nice when you turn the key and know it will start, even in the winter.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 2

This will be a weekly feature for the next five months. I figure a goal will keep the pressure on.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there is some overlap. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. They research stuff I avoid, like electronics. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

Pointed aft, the Borra helps move the AC around, point towards the heater (right), it spread the heat. Very quiet.

6. Cabin Fans. The Caframo Borra is my new favorite, after I had three Hella Turbos fail in a two week period, one with flames and two with smoke. The four was moved to the helm position, where I figure I can keep an eye on it. The Borra got a "best" rating from Practical Sailor, it is quieter than the turbo, moves more air, and the direction is easier and the setting more secure. They have done a superior job of both cooling and distributing heat and cold. In nine years there have been no glitches (the Turbos failed at 11 years, so I guess I should cross my fingers).

[A reader, below, reported trouble with the switch within a few years. The PS test in 2009 noted one failure. My understanding is that the switch was redesigned, but perhaps problems persist.]

7. Home Depot Caulk that Works. Locktite PL S40 is a polyurethane caulk with physical characteristics and durability that match 3M 4200 for one third the price. Like all polyurethane caulks, humidity is the curing agent. Additionally, it is messy to work with, so always mask the work area, wipe thin with a finger, and then peal the tape before it skins over. Available in Black (PL S30) and other colors.

A strong jackline anchor with no new holes. The webbing protects the lashing from the sun. There is a backing plate on the underside. 

8. Stainless Steel Climbing Bolt Hangers. My favorite hard point for attaching deck cargo, anchoring  jacklines, and clipping safety tethers. They are well-tested, clip carabiners smoothly, and best of all, require only a single mounting bolt. This means I can often mount them by simply removing an existing mounting bolt and inserting a 3/8-inch bolt in its place (required to meet rated strength). Metolious is one of my favorite brands, but any climbing gear with a UIAA stamp is safe. Like wire gate climbing biners, the secret of low price is mass production and simple, rugged design.

9. Star Brite Cleaner and Degreaser. I'm usually the first one to say "formulate your own" or buy something from Home Depot, but this one has saved my bacon a few times, powering black oil and grease out of porous gelcoat. I'm almost out and need to buy more.

These really save your ribs when you take a long stumble.

10. Dynamic Climbing rope, 8mm. Perfect for shock-absorbing traveler control lines (mine are ~ 55 feet), shock-absorbing safety tethers (2 x 11 feet), and shock absorbing bridles/snubbers (2 x 38 feet, for boats under 36 feet) . That's only 150 feet, or just 79 feet if you skip the bridle. The Beal Rando (UIAA 1/2 rope) is available as a 30 meter glacier rope, or you can buy it by-the-foot from Mountain Equipment Coop. I did all three, using a lightly used 150-foot ice climbing rope I had just retired.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Props and Ropes

Every PDQ sailor with outboards has tangled the the hold down line in the prop at least once. If the engines fails to lock and you hit reverse, WHAM, the engine strikes the underside of the bridge deck. Often a portion of the cavitation plate is broken off (harmless, since the engines run deep) and a hole smashed in the deck (I installed a thick sold glass plate years ago--no more problem).

And then there is the swim. It's generally easy. Lift the engine 1/2 way and unwind, though this time the water was only about 60F, I so I wore a dry suit.

This time the eye bolt terminating the lifting tackle broke, but I had a spare in the fastener tray.

No problem. Right back to sailing.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 1

What follows, spread over many installments, will be a listing of products I've found that really work and are good values. Some are artifacts of Practical Sailor testing. Some spring from my own experiences, good and bad. Most will be sailing gear or supplies, but I may sneak a few climbing items in here and there--there are probably cross-over applications.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there will be overlap. I could organize them by subject, but I think a miss-mash will be more fun. I also predict this project will extend well past 100 over time. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. They do a lot more product testing than I do, including topics I avoid, such as electronics, insurance, and boat reviews. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

I use a Dyneema leader with a tubular webbing chafe sleeve, just to make it lighter yet. Try doing this with a 35-pound anchor and 20 feet of chain.

1.  Fortress Anchors. Without question, the best anchor for very soft mud, the bane of Chesapeake Bay sailor's existence. I have a Fortress FX-16. I have actually used this 12-pound aluminum anchor to drag my Manson Supreme 35 during testing. Does this make it the best all-around anchor? Not by a long shot. I like all of the new scoop anchors, and for all around use, I like them better than the Fortress, but if you need grip in mud or you need to row and anchor out, Fortress is the trick.

Fits an industry standard 2 x 10 filter housing. Doesn't restrict the flow.

2. Pentek FloPlus 10 Carbon Block Water Filter Element. Perfect for final filtration on a boat, the fine passages of this carbon block element remove particles (and cysts and bacteria) down to 0.5 microns, earning it an NSF 53 rating. Unlike other 0.5 micron carbon block elements, the FloPlus 10 does not restrict water flow. Like any carbon element, it removes most tastes and large amounts of chlorine. Read this post on drinking water filtration for the complete story on how to provide safe, high-quality water on your boat. Fits any industry-standard 2x10 filter housing.

 Davit tackle is just one of many applications. about 1000-pound WLL.
Practical Sailor Spoiler Alert: Notice how this tackle is reeved at a 90 degree angle,rather than square? They tun much smoother this way, In fact, many tackles are best reeved in some counter intuitive manner. This will be discussed in an up-coming article.

3. Wire Gate Climbing Carabiners.  Great for climbing... and just as useful on the boat. The simple bent stainless steel wire and anodized finish makes them practically corrosion proof, they are 1/3 the weight of their marine counter parts (won't chip the deck when you drop them) stronger, and MUCH better tested. They are polished and refined such that they never catch on a rope--climbers won't buy a biner they can fire on and off the rope with a single hand, with gloves on, blindfolded. Finally, they are much cheaper, the result of mass production--there are more climbers than there are sailors, and they buy a lot more biners.There are many excellent brands--all are suitable if they are CE and UIAA rated. Camp offers a good value, as do Trango (illustrated) and Mad Rock. I've never seen any real advantage in premium brands.Yes, in the most severe applications they will corrode before all-stainless biners (I use some near the waterline for mooring), but they will still last a decade or more, providing better performance the whole time. I've taken all of the stainless biners off my boat.

DEET top, nepetalactone (catnip) bottom.

4. For Biting Flies--Catnip Spray.  Sounds silly and "herbal." I'm a chemical guy. But in research for a better fly repellent, this is what the USDA came up with for horse flies, and they were testing it against DEET and other chemicals. It turns out that the key ingredient in catnip is similar to DEET and is just the thing for flies. It doesn't last long, but it is cheap, easy to apply, and isn't nasty and messy like DEET. It won't ruin plastics, so you can go nuts. There is no smell, and our cat did react to it on our legs when we came home. Any pet store should have it.

Still 180F after an hour. The WonderBag will hold a pot of stew over 150F for 8 hours, and actually has higher average temperatures than a crock pot. Google it!

5. Retained Heat Cooking. Simply put, if you boil the food and then place it in a well-insulated container, it will continue to cook just as sure if it were on the flame. Perfect for rice--never burned, never dry. Soups and stews work well. The real beauty is that you don't have the heat and humidity in the cabin, and that you don't have to watch the stove--you can go play and it will never burn. Google "retained heat cooking" for loads of information and recipes. The Wonder Bag works well, and they donate one into the third world for each sale. The Shuttle Chef by Thermos is a good choice for monohulls--it is sealed and thus can be used underway. 4-8 layers of fleece blanket also work well.

And there we have it. Five of my favorites, in no particular order. I'll be back with the rest, 5 at a time.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Thinking Back

 Roughly in order. She's teaching now.

First on our Stiletto 27...

 On our first trip (of many) around the Delmarva.

 Her first big fish. It almost pulled her off the boat!

 She's got her permit now, and she's serious about it.

 And later on the PDQ 32. See the need for a "runt box"?

 And finally, last summer, in Cambridge, MD.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why is Russia Bombing Blogger Sites?

Historically, Russia represented about 0.2% of my page views. Reasonable enough. More that 95% of the trafic came from the US and UK (England, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada), with a smattering from Europe. Makes sense. These are the people that sail and who speak English.

Starting during the last election, and continuing today, though slightly less dramatic, 10-60% of the traffic comes from Russia. None of this represents sailors or actual viewers. Probing eyes? I can't imagine why. Intentional swamping of data lines? Probably. Sponsored by the Russian government? That seems certain, give the scope and level of control. I must assume this ratio of junk traffic is uniform across the net.

And Putin wonders why relations remain frosty? Does Trump yet fully accept, in his heart, that these people don't use the same rule book we do? Perhaps he is coming to that conclusion, though why it was not school-boy obvious last year I can't guess.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Attainable Adventure Cruising

It's not smart to advertise links to sites that could siphon readers and dollars away, but sometimes you run across a page that simply must be shared. Though I have never met John, I have exchange considerable correspondence and consider him a friend, for the good character and free exchange of ideas he has shared. His site (, complete with on-line e-books, is a treasure.


Do I agree with him on everything. Heck no. I don't agree with myself all of the time. I have more of a coastal and multihull perspective, and he has an off-shore perspective. But John displays rare combination of open mindedness and traditional, conservative seamanship that is extremely refreshing. I respect his opinions, always.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Coal is Not Coming Back

This is NOT me getting political. This is simply a list of observations on how Appalachia has been bamboozled.

  1. Pipelines = Cheaper Gas. More pipelines mean reduced oil and gas prices, meaning less reason to burn coal. Although coal remains cheaper than gas, there are more costs associated with burning coal (unloading, stockpiling, grinding to dust, emissions controls, boiler fouling, increased wear, coal ash disposal). And since most people like cheaper fuel and gasoline, most people at least tacitly like things that make gas cheaper. This will lead to continued at least quiet bipartisan support of fracing.
  2. Time Line--Utility Plant Move Slowly. Even if coal were significantly cheaper than gas--which more pipelines and drilling prevent--power plants are decades in the planning and construction. If you were budgeting for a power plant, would you propose coal, knowing that the neighbors will oppose permitting and that the regulatory pendulum will swing back in 4 years, but no more than 8? No matter my political temperament, I would not see this as a long term strategy. I would not stake my job on a coal-burning plant that would be shut down a few years after it opened. Therefore, planning of new coal plants is very unlikely. At most a few might go through a few motions, but they won't commit the money.
  3. Clean Coal. I'm an engineer and like the science. But I wouldn't invest in something that is economically marginal and still politically vulnerable.
  4. Most States Determine Their Own Rules.  I know several coal plants that were closed, all the result of local pressure. States can set their own rules. A change at the federal level will have no influence on most closures. Finally, no matter how conservative the voter, no coal plant will receive support at the local level (NIMBY).
  5. Health Care. Unemployed miners should be able to figure out where that is headed.
They allowed themselves to be distracted by glitter and words they wanted to hear, but that just couldn't be true.Times change, they always have, and it's a little cruel.

I'm not even sayin' whether this is good or bad, it's just what the facts reflect. You don't put the genie back in the bottle. Historically, can't ignore the bloody shirt, and there is a case against coal that goes far beyond global warming.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Life consists of many part and moods; when my thoughts drift to what is important, I think of Lin Yutang and The Importance of Living. It belongs in the library of any philosopher, and no sailor, climber, or person wanting to milk the full value from life can not be a philosopher. From a chapter on happiness, adapted to my experience (inspiration from Chin Shengt'an):


My Seven Happy Moments. There have been more, and will be to come, but these few thoughts step forward today:

  1. A Cigarette boat comes joins the 6-knot parade out of the the harbor through a narrow channel. But he can't wait in line, guns the throttle, passes to starboard, and runs definitively aground in 12 inches of water. When you return to the harbor after a brief sail, the young men are still aboard, arms akimbo, visually proclaiming "we're cool." Is this not happiness?
  2. You are anchored in a pastoral cove, alone with your thoughts. There is only the faintest breath of air from the east, just enough to swing the boat, but not enough to ripple the water. It is not hot, just warm. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun is a low, an impossibly large red orb that cannot last. Is this not happiness?
  3. In preparation for a climbing trip to the Wind Rivers and Tetons that will involve long pitches on snow and ice, you climb pitch after pitch of easy rock rock at a convenient crag near home, unroped, to build speed and confidence. Nearing the top of a straightforward 5.5 crack, you overhear several 20-somethings chat about how difficult the climb was (with a rope), lament that there fathers could not join them, but allow with great understanding that "Dad is in his 40s" and it's unrealistic to expect so much. I easily top-out sans rope, and while walking past them mumble that I'm 48 (some years ago) and that my 12-year old daughter also enjoyed the route. Is this not happiness?
  4. I sit in the backyard with a good book (Lin Yutang), with DEET-based bug repellent on one leg and catnip-based repellent on the other, the stuff of another article research project. The DEET leg is all alone, and the mosquitoes only circle the other, confused and unable to process critical landing information regarding the tasty mammalian flesh below. Is this not happiness?
  5. Since my daughter was old enough to baby sit, she would fill bags with teacher-like stuff and spend hours developing an activity plan and preparing for her "job." During her senior year of high school, after several false starts, she announced that she knew what she would do in college. She is going to be a teacher (this was some years ago--she is student teaching now). Is this not happiness?
  6. Your career of 32 years comes is victim to massive consolidation following a merger with a company that does not understand what you do. At the same moment, you realize that for the first time in your life you have a chance to chose your path. A cross roads to be faced as an adult, with all of life's experience to draw upon. Is this not happiness.
  7. My daughter is home on break from college. We are sailing in light winds and she is collapsed, semi conscious on the bow. Is this not happiness?
 The kids, armored against jelly fish.

 Sometimes I write solely to practice putting words on paper in a thoughtful way. Unfortunately, I don't have a philosophy sufficiently considered to express at length. Whenever I examine it closely, it flits away, unwilling to pinned down or well understood. Faulkner said that "free time only exists when not measured" (The Sound and the Fury), and so perhaps philosophy can only be fresh and thus worthwhile so long as it is unexamined, not ruined by anything more than a furtive glance in its general direction. Maybe it's simpler than all that. We should just be happy.