Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Merits of Learning to Sail on a Small Boat

Mini-rant, so I apologize in advance. I once threw an anchor over with no rope attached. There, I've admitted an ounce of stupidity myself.

I'm glad I spent 8 years sailing my Prindle beach catamaran; I learned more about boat handling under sail than I will ever learn with a larger boat, because I could take her to the edge of the envelope and beyond. I capsized her and got beaten and destroyed by thunderstorms, and learned some humility. I'm glad I sailed my Stiletto for 16 years; I learned to balance attentive boat handling with navigation and cruising. I was never beaten and destroyed by any situation, because I had learned those lessons. I never placed myself in situations I couldn't manage. With my PDQ, it is more about learning systems than sailing. The boat is rock solid, and unless I seek out gale conditions or throw all of the sea sense I've gained to the wind, I can't imagine real trouble or challenge on the Chesapeake or coastal waters, not like the Prindle threw at me on every breezy day.

It's common to read a post on a forum or blog relating an adventure or misadventure born of inexperience or limited understanding of sails and boat handling under sail. Good folks sharing their foibles for the benefit of others. I've made all of the mistakes; I simply had the good fortune to make them on a beach cat, years ago. Would an apprenticeship in small boats help all would-be cruisers?

Too much sail down wind. Dingy sailors learn that, unless racing, it's a bad idea to carry sail down wind you can't carry up wind. When they make the turn, they know they're going to get wet. Spinnakers are an exception; they're only carried off the wind and are made to be dropped down wind. Still... a little sense.

There are some tips to ease the problem, if you get caught. Turn down wind to blanket the jib, then either lower or furl. If roller furling, DO NOT let the sheet fly in strong (over 20 knots true) winds or something will get tangled in something. As for the main, can you make the turn to windward if you let the sheet and traveler ALL the way out? If not, try pulling the main down by rigging a line between the mast and the slugs and using that to pull it down. Try placing a hook in the grommets and using a winch to pull it down. Then swear NEVER to make the mistake again.

It is common to loose rudder control when over powered off the wind and round-up. This should NEVER be a surprise. If you feel the stern starting to rise or see the bow starting "swim" (as cat sailors say), back off. The sailors in the above image should have had time to bear off or blow the sheet; clearly, they didn't manage because they were over pressed... and I bet they considered it a surprise.

Engine fails in storm and can't deal with sailing in rough weather. Dingy sailors ALWAYS learn to sail in a gale, because a small craft advisory is a gale to them. Every sailor should know how to push the boat to the limit with each set of sails, and be prepared for the odd handling characteristics of boats that are over-pressed. It's too hard to explain in simple words; it's a seat of the pants thing you learn from sailing a dingy in too damn much wind with sails feathering and making leeway and not being able to tack or jibe in any normal manner.

* Towed into port because the engine failed. Dingies don't have engines and so you learn to plan your entry into a harbor. You can sail anywhere but into a very trick slip, and you can surely sail close enough that your tender can push you in. This is the way it was done, in years past - "lower the long boats and start pulling, men." I've had 4 engine failures in 17 years of having engines, and none were that hard to work through. I would be embarrassed to be towed, if I had the ready means to deal with it. It would prove to all that I had failed a basic test of seamanship.

On a bigger boat like the PDQ, this takes teamwork and planning. Discuss the options and the plan while outside: when each sail will be dropped, how each turn will be made, and what to do if something turns out different than you expected (windshift, tide). In general, use the jib for the close approach (it can be let fly or furled) and the anchor should be unlocked and tipped. If it looks hard, you did something wrong. More planning.

I'm embarrassed to admit I've had towing insurance, just this year and last. The first year I got it over night on my delivery trip, as I realized I had one engine out and one I didn't trust. The second engine did fail, but we sailed her in to the slip. We also grounded a few times but had no troubles getting off. This year... well buying the insurance was a mistake I feel guilty about. Wish I could get a refund. Never again.

 * Capsize due to wind alone. Simply won't happen to a dingy sailor in a cruising boat. They're too attentive and react too quickly. They won't leave too much canvass up when it's too gusty, the lines will be ready to run and the sheets out of the self-tailers and in cam cleats, and they won't leave a non-dingy sailor at the helm. Waves are possibly a different matter, but they will feel that coming too.

The Stiletto is a fast but tender boat; he got distracted, and the mainsheet was out of reach.

Steering in big waves. A dingy sailor finds it instinctive and relaxing. They also know when to get scared. I used to launch my cat off the beach; handy lessons to have had when I first met breaking inlets in a bigger boat. I knew what I could do, and what I couldn't do.

Disorientation at night and in the fog. I've seen sailors that could only maintain course with eyes locked upon the compass or the tell tales. The GPS and wind instruments mesmerize them. They develop no real sense of the wind and waves once they lost landmarks and vision. To a small boat sailor, a continuous awareness of the wind direction and strength, and the wave direction and type, is natural. They don't think of it, they are simply instantly and continuously aware of their surroundings.

* Sailing without electronics. Although they have their place, in general I hate electronics. They keep a beginning sailor's head in the cockpit, instead of watching the water. I actually threw a towel over the instruments on my sail home, for the first hour. To much information, when what I needed to learn was her balance.

Piloting too. You can't really learn piloting when there is GPS to fall back on, or at least it takes longer for it to become easy, comfortable, and automatic. Piloting with the senses make the sailor look at he color of the water, the shape of the waves, the steepness of headlands, and the importance of staying oriented. I have lost GPS twice, both when out of sight of land. Neither occasion resulted in disorientation, because I was not depending on it. I was keeping a running log.

* Sealegs. If you can get comfortable walking around in a dingy or on a beach cat, you've got it down. You learn to settle low with a lurch or lean, not to fight it.

 Some fear small boats, I guess. Some find them undignified. Some believe they are toys. What  shame; they buy a big boat without the traditional apprenticeship, they spend years getting comfortable sailing in a breeze,  perhaps never learn the danger signs when the boat is pressed too hard, and perhaps never learn how to press the boat hard and efficiently when there is a lee shore looming. I would love to have a place to keep my old cat on the beach, ready to go. I haven't outgrown it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have learned a lot from bigger boats: systems, trip planning, team work, anchoring, systems, handling with twin screws, more about systems, and relaxing after a good day in more comfort. But I learned everything I really needed to know about sailing from the beach catamaran. Those years have given me confidence and a feel for the weather that I would never have gained with larger boats.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Banning Bugs - Slider Screen for a PDQ 32

rev. 11-26-2010

Every boat is a compromise. For 32-foot catamarans, one such compromise is providing standing headroom on the bridge cabin without too much windage or too little wave clearance under the bridge deck. The Gemini 105mc compromises by providing a wave-scraping 3 inches of clearance and terrible visibility forward.  The PDQ 32 does it with a slider that can be closed for inclement weather. It is well covered by the hard top, but mosquitoes fly right in, unless the slider is closed, causing ventilation to suffer just when it is needed most.

We added a removable screen, attached by Velcro, that rises from the bulkhead to the ceiling. We attched medium-duty self adhesive Velcro at about 12-inch intervals to both the boat and the net. There's a trick--although Velcro sticks well to gel coat, the netting provides a challenge, since there is no surface area. However, if a matching square of duct tape is pressed on the opposite side, the adhesive coatings see each other through the mesh and the grip is positively tenacious. I may tailor a more permanent version later, but so far the beta version seems very workable.

Dark netting gives far better see-through visibility than white netting. The dark netting does not unduly hamper forward visibility.

Ventilation is maintained and the screen can be left in place if motoring a bug infested river on the Inter-coastal Waterway or the Chesapeake. The door is unobstructed.

Note: after 2 seasons in some bug infested areas, the only required upgrade was to add some more Velcro. A continuous strip of the hook side on the ceiling prevents the dirty buggers that congegate there from cralwing under the edge. We did not add additional velcro to the netting, since the hook part catches just enough in the netting to close the gaps,without making installation and removal a hastle.

We were able to leave it up when motoring in some particularity bad areas.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ethanol and Gasoline and Diesel - References

rev. 10-14-2010

There is little question; although the addition of ethanol to gasoline has caused no impact to the motoring public - other than a bite in the wallet at tax time and at the grocery store -  the boating community will be living with the down sides for years to come. A few articles containing pertinent facts, since there is certainly plenty of rumor in circulation. These seem to support my varied experiences with several boats. I have kept my opinions to myself.

Will ethanol find its way into the diesel supply? This has been discussed but is not yet in practice. There are links below regarding this potential as well.

I will add more articles as I find them.


Gasoline/Ethanol. E-10, possibly moving to E-15 and beyond.

E-15 Aproved by US EPA. Only for 2007 and newer cars, but broader aproval are expected.

An interesting report to Australia Environment. Some good technical information about E-10 to E-30 concentrations that I have not seen elsewhere. A different spin that most US documents. Enleanment is addressed on page 10, vapor pressure on page 15, and mileage on page 26. Read the whole piece.

EPA is likely to approve increase from E-10 to E-15 by mid- 2011. They are waiting on tests expected to be completed in June 2010. These are automotive tests and do not address marine or motorcycle engines.

The volume of biofuels will probably triple in the next 12 years. This will include ethanol and bio-diesel. The amount may be less if the fuel is not available, but the EPA clearly has authority to increase the geography and concentration of ethanol in gasoline.

EPA memo on E-10 and phase separation. It explains why temperature changes can cause dramatic fall-out. It explains that EPA based their absorption risk statement on a relative humidity of 70% and 70F temperature. Since many boats see humidity very close to 100% and are not used for 6 months at a time, as general reasoning it is reasoning is flawed.

White paper on ethanol fuels from Renewable Fuel Association. Includes simple home-test for ethanol content of gasoline (page 31) and information on vapor pressure (page 12-14). Higher vapor pressure equals increased tank breathing, a factor the EPA phase separation analysis disregarded.

Also from the RFA site (buried in the Technician's paper):
Enleanment: Oxygenates such as ethanol chemically enlean
the air/fuel (A/F) mixture. As an example, in engines set at an
A/F ratio of 14.7:1 on all hydrocarbon fuel, the introduction of
3.5% oxygen in the fuel would enlean the A/F ratio to about
15.2:1. Computerized vehicles can compensate for this shift
by sending a command to increase fuel flow. Most nonautomotive
equipment is not sophisticated enough to accomplish
this. However, this small change in air/fuel ratio is not of
concern in most equipment and usually no modifications are
required. Some manufacturers have expressed concern that
the enleanment resulting from fuel bound oxygen could create
problems in certain severe applications. In particular, there is
concern about continuous operation at wide open throttle
(WOT) such as in marine applications. Also of concern is
equipment that typically operates rich at specified settings.
An example here would be snowmobiles. The two primary
concerns are octane quality and excessive heat. Properly
blended ethanol blends should not present problems in the
area of octane quality because ethanol is actually an octane
enhancer. Ethanol is routinely used to improve the octane
quality of gasoline. The more predominant concern is the
potential for higher operating temperatures. The maximum
combustion temperature (and resulting engine temperature)
occurs at an air/fuel ratio of 14.7:1. Going rich or lean from this
point will result in lower temperatures. Therefore, equipment
with richer initial A/F ratio settings such as 13 or 14 to 1 may
experience increased operating temperatures when switched
to oxygenated fuels. This increase is not significant and most
manufacturers do not require any modifications, but some do.
For instance, Polaris recommends that their older carbureted
sleds "jet up" one size when operating on oxygenates. Further,
some of their fuel injected 2 cylinder models require a
"shim kit" to lower the compression ratio. Polaris fuel injected
3 cylinder models are computerized and the E-Prom is already
calibrated to compensate for changes in oxygen content.
Arctic Cat recommends that when using oxygenated
fuels in their older Tiger Shark Watercraft, the high speed
needle valve should be "opened" 1/8 of a turn from its setting.
In the case of their Arctic Cat sleds, they recommend "jetting
up" the carburetor jets one size. Only a handful of marine and
recreational manufacturers offer such recommendations but
consumers should be advised to consult their owner's manual
or servicing dealer to determine if any modifications are
Excerpted from (pages 33-36 discuss non-automotive engines):

 White paper from the National Marine Manufacturers Association regarding ethanol and aluminum tanks corrosion.
white paper

 Practical Sailor Testing. None of the tested additives were able to prevent phase separation in E-10 gasoline, including several well know brands that claimed they could. Typical puffery in an unregulated market.

Corrosion problems with E-85. Every state publishes similar information; this is from Florida. No, boats don't run E-85, but when the fuel separates, the water phase concentrations are this high and these are the problems we see.


Diesel/Ethanol. Only discussion at this point, since retail sales is not permitted at this time. Presumably, since boats are off-road, it would still be permissible to use #2 fuel oil, which could not be converted to ethanol blending because of the overwhelming danger of fires in home and apartment furnaces.

USEPA is researching the possibility of adding ethanol to diesel. Nothing has been decided at this time, although clearly the ethanol lobby is pressing hard.

 DOE is researching ethanol/diesel blends. However, this is only a combustion test in an engine, not research on the broader topic.

 This DOE study addresses safety and some practical problems. It discusses problems such as phase separation (ethanol does not stay in diesel as well as it stays in gasoline), flammability, and high cloud point (room temperature). They discuss all of this from a truck view point, not marine.