Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Got Questions or Testing Ideas?

Ask them here! Or rather leave a comment below and we'll have a discussion.

I'm continuously searching for ideas to research and write about. Perhaps something I wrote only raised more questions. Perhaps you read something studied elsewhere and don't feel they answered critical questions. Maybe it's just a seemingly dumb problem you have; really, most likely you aren't the only one, which makes it worth researching and writing about!

Fire away!

Testing snubber loads. Part of an up-coming e-book? Perhaps. 

So if my 35-pound Manson Supreme is secured in the background, what's holding the boat? A 2-pound dingy anchor I'm testing, of course.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Line Selection--Is Low Stretch More Myth Than Function?

Clutching a bit of frayed line in our fist, we trudged to the back of the chandler, where we are met by a wall of multicolored rope spools, ranging from working-class polyester double braid to the most exotic low stretch line with a trademarked name. Some are expensive, and some are breathlessly expensive. I'm not a Luddite. I like Dyneema for soft shackles. But I'm also not convinced that vendors--the folks that are competing for your hard-earned money--are always the best source of information regarding what you actually need.

At the heart of the question is deciding when low stretch is better, and when low stretch is worse. Define the benefit. I've recently been involved in a testing program reviewing jibe force reduction devices. One clear lesson has been that low stretch is not always better.

Jibe Force Reduction Devices. [I'll be reporting on these more later.]
  • Nylon traveler line (8 mm dynamic climbing rope)
  • Nylon rope (sheets and pendants)
  • Gybe Tamer (shock absorber for the mainsheet tackle)
  • Boom brakes (a climber's figure-8 and several other devices)

[From West Marine. Other vendors have similar recommendations--I'm not picking on anyone in particular]

Line Type                            Stretch at 20% Breaking Strength
Nylon dynamic climbing rope                    14 %
Nylon double braid                                   8.5 %
Polyester double braid                               2.5 %
Dyneema and other high modulus              less than 0.6%

Halyards. Reduced weight aloft, reduce chafe, improved sail shape are strong arguments in favor of high modulus halyards. Laminates and other low stretch sail materials demand low stretch halyards. Polyester working sails, on the other hand, are less demanding and can be served by polyester halyards. Spinnakers don't require low stretch halyards for shape maintenance, but spinnaker halyards are notorious for chafe caused by halyard pumping under load. Thus if you have polyester sails you're probably fine with polyester halyards, but laminate sail demand high modulus halyards and high modulus spinnaker halyards will experience less chafe.

Replacing a wire halyard with fiber is a great application for high-modulus line. I replaced the wire main halyard on my Stiletto 27 with a 2:1 Kevlar rope halyard very successfully. Although Kevlar has been largely replaced by other fibers because of its tenancy to fail from bending fatigue, main and jib halyards were always a good applications, because flexing is limited, sheaves are typically large (they were sized for wire, which also requires large sheaves), and it neither stretches nor creeps. Do be careful to de-burr the sheaves; I skipped this step and ended up chafing a spot near the end.

Traveler. Several years ago I found myself with a tattered polyester traveler line and a bit of surplus Spectra line of exactly the right size, a leftover from a testing project. I installed it without giving it much thought, assuming it would be a nice upgrade. Wrong. In fact, no matter how careful I was in my mainsheet management, it was exactly like jibing against a brick. I then read about Evans Starzinger's use of climbing rope for traveler line. He had sailed halfway around the world and was quite satisfied with both sale shape in the reduction in shock loading. I replaced my traveler line with 8 mm nylon dynamic climbing rope and have been extremely satisfied with the result. Because traveler lines are nearly always controlled by a tackle, the line load, even to windward is not very high. Stretch after the strongest gusts is only about an inch. On the other hand, during a rough jibe the traveler remove as much as 3-4 inches to leeward, absorbing damaging impact force.

I wrote about dynamic travelers here.

Practical Sailor reported on climbing rope for travelers, a good practical application.

Climbing rope is optimized for impact loads.

>Vang. Next in importance to the traveler line, in terms of absorbing shock and a rough jibe, is the vang. The mainsheet is typically a multipart tackle and cannot be expected to stretch much. On the other hand, stretch in the vang can allow the boom to rise just a few inches, absorbing critical impact force. Under normal sailing conditions, little stretch in the Vang may allow the boom to lift just a tick in a gust, perhaps a desirable thing. Thus, polyester double braid, again, seems the rational choice. The wrong choice, is to pair high modulus line in both the vang and the traveler; surefire recipe for a mangled gooseneck.

I think it's funny that mainsheet and genoa sheet are typically placed in the same classification. Because sheet tension largely defines genoa draft, any stretch compromises sail shape. Mainsail draft is largely controlled by cut and outhaul tension. Mainsail sheet loads are typically 2-3 times lower, and typically this is a tackle, reducing line tension another 3-8 times. A mainsheet is shock loaded during jibes, but the genoa sheet is not. Very different.

Mainsheet. Because main sail shape is less affected by sheet tension than a genoa (the boom provides outhaul tension) it is more tolerant of stretch. It would also seem that because the mainsheet is typically controlled by a tackle that stretch would matter less, but this is not true. <0 .6="" nbsp="" p="">Stretch is always proportional to length. If you move a clutch farther from the load, the line will stretch more. If you add a tackle the line is also longer. Stretch is proportional to load. The same load carried by a tackle will carry less load per strand and thus stretch less for a given length of line, but about the same amount overall, because the ratio of length/purchase is unchanged. This may be counter intuitive, but it is the reason that nylon is unacceptable even in multi-part purchases. Polyester double braid seems a rational choice choice because of the slight shock absorption it provides in jibes. High modulous line makes sense for racer, for the increased control it provides, but it should always be paired with either nylon (better) or polyester traveler line.

Genoa sheet. My boat has two genoa sheets; one inside the shroud for close hauled work, and one outside the shroud for reaching work. I use Dyneema core line for the inside sheet and polyester double braid for the outside line. While it is critical that genoa sheets not stretch at very high load, the reality is that typically there is only 5-10 feet of line between the clew and winch, allowing little space for stretch. On the other hand, just a few inches of stretch can significantly increase the draft of a genoa during a gust, which is exactly what you don't want. Bottom line: this can go either way, depending on your budget and sailing style.

Avoid Kevlar blends. They are subject to failure due to fatigue. I had a massively over strength genoa sheet rupture in light winds, the result of years of flogging at the clew.

This sheet was cow hitched to the genoa clew. The failure was at the not exit, where it was subject to flexing. Somehow, the sunburn polyester cover held together even after the core had failed completely.

Spinnaker sheets. Stretch is not a problem, at least not the small amount a polyester sheet will give. A little give actually improves sail stability in lumpy conditions. What does matter is weight on the clew. Thus, always down size sheets; if the genoa sheet is 1/2-inch, the spinnaker sheet should be no more than 3/8-inch and perhaps 5/16-inch, depending on how much wind you like to carry the chute in. Lighter line is good. Soft shackles can also save important ounces on asymmetric chutes, also reducing snags, metal flying about, and accidental opening risk (if you are using a squeezer or furler, as most cruisers do, there is no need for quick release).

I'm not a big fan of Sta-Set X. Although it is a good value in terms of stretch versus cost, it's an abomination to coil and is prone to kinking if used as a sheet or even as a Hilliard when a sail is dropped quickly. Some folks like it, I don't.

Likewise, I dislike single braid for running rigging. The cover tends to be loose and I find it tends to snag on rigging and hardware. It doesn't always like cam cleats or line clutches very well. Some folks like it, I don't.


What lasts the longest? You pay your money, you make your choices. Curiously, high-tech line often does NOT last as long as polyester, because the determining factor is most often the polyester cover. Because the cover will slip against the slick core and bear much of the load, covers on high modulus lines generally do not last nearly as long as those on straight polyester line. Time and again, I've had the cover tear loose from the core of Dyneema line. If your racer, maybe you don't care about replacing lines every few years. . As a cruiser, I bet you do. I like to go fast, but I also like to go reliably and economically.

This feels a bit like a rant because of the way I've departed from conventional wisdom. On the other hand, I've sailed a lot of miles and, to the best of my knowledge, this is the truth about running rigging for 30- to 40-foot boats.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Science of Sloppy Sailing

(First posted January, 2012, it seemed worth re-posting, to me. I guess the first cool breezes of fall help me relax.)

It doesn't come easily to me. Sloppy dress--easy. Sloppy appearance--haven't shaved in a week. Sloppy topsides--easy. I've learned to like substantial rub rails and dock rash, and can ignore seagull poop, at least in moderation. Sloppy marinas-- my favorite ones, since properness for appearance sake rubs me all wrong. But sloppiness in functional things also rubs at me, even on my laziest day. Perhaps even in this, I need to learn to change gears.

Being an engineer works against me. I like things to work correctly and efficiently. There's also my active nature; my wife thinks I just can't sit still.  She says I should relax more when cruising, not understanding that tinkering and adjusting and generally fooling with things is at the heart of messing about in boats. Just sitting--if for too long--is torture. Give something to fix--not something unpleasant, preferably something rewarding--and I'm much happier.

Sloppy sail trim. I just can't do it.  I've owned too many performance boats, where speed was everything.  Why would I buy a high performance boat, suffer all of the compromises that accompany that choice, only to sail slowly and poorly? As a cruiser I still see poorly trimmed sales as just plain ugly. I don't grind and trim all day long, but I spend a few minutes getting very close to right and then leave the autopilot to stay close. But I hate the look of a wrinkled sail, over trim, or an uncontrolled twist that would better suit an Annette Funicello movie.

Sloppy anchoring. I loath doing something twice that I could have done once, had I paid more attention. I enjoy doing something efficiently, easily, and with the minimum number of steps. I can't just drop a pile of chain on top of the anchor and hope for the best. I can't just drop a second anchor, some place or other, because I'm too lazy to set the first one properly and I worry. If a second is needed, it will be placed rationally and the rodes connected rationally. I'll spend a few moments gauging what the tide will do and how I will swing. I'll pay attention to the feel of the ground when the anchor takes hold, estimating what the bottom must be like and how the anchor will like it. I like to spend the afternoon securely parked and the night sleeping peacefully. Sloppy anchoring would give me more exercise. Mid-night excitement too.

Sloppy navigation. Well, perhaps I am guilty of this.  I've spent too much time with shallow draft boats. I tend to glance at the chart in the morning, memorize what I think I need to (where I'm going and places the bottom might be shallow and rocky), and then just sail.  I watch the GPS in a general way, but not the details.  I've sniffed the bottom a few more times than was strictly necessary, entering an unmarked creek while distracted by daydreams of what the afternoon at anchor might bring.  But I don't think I'm sloppy when it counts.  Grounding on a coastal sandbar to be deadly. If the Chesapeake had rocks I'd be more attentive. I've piloted many miles of hazardous coastline; I'm only sloppy when it's safe to be.

Sloppy docking. Nope, just too embarrassing. If getting sloppy means putting other boats at risk, it's not acceptable. Now, when it comes time to flemish the dock lines, scrub the deck, and hide all of my "cruisers stuff", I'm sloppy and loving it . I don't have a problem with leaving a beer bottle by the helm. I've sailed off with fenders hanging more than once; I swear some of those were intentional-- a short move--and the rest.... well, at least I'm not sloppy when it comes to trying  fenders in place. Of course, I did leave a rather nice spring line in Cape Charles, nicely coiled on the dock.  It occurred to me when I reached Cape May.

I'm too cheap to be sloppy with sail covers or window covers. But I don't mind a kayak lashed to the side decks and a jerry can lashed to the stern quarter rail, if they serve a good purpose. I don't mind fishing from the dock or leaving some cut bait on a board, so long as we are still fishing.

Sloppy planning. I've made progress. When I first started distance planning, I made a list. Now I leave more on the boat and sometimes untie the lines without any firm notion of where I'm going, the desitination determined by the wind forecast. A float plan? Pretty funny.

Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. Somewhere in my subconscious, as I motor out the channel, I'm considering the forecast I read, considering the waves I see on the horizon, factoring my mood, and making a very informed decision. Sloppy and rash planning is just plain difficult for us old farts; we've made or seen a lot of mistakes and just can't aim ourselves  toward a grand epic without real effort. Descending from a grand snow and ice climb in the Tetons with a long-time partner, we questioned why, in all the years of climbing together we had never experienced a real epic, not in thousands of climbs. Although we had cut it a bit thin a few of times, we knew the line between epic and dead is thin, and we maintained a safety margin. We had stayed just within our abilities.

Sloppy maintenance. I'm not sloppy when it comes to quality of work. I keep my boats a long time, really try to make every fix or modification and honest improvement, and then sell them for more than I paid. I keep my work area neat when on the hard; basic courtesy to the yard and my neighbors. But if we're talking winterizing and spring clean-up... well, I've covered that before. I'm not above used parts, dumpster diving, and re-purposing, but only if I can match or improve upon original quality.


Maybe there is hope for me. I have a few sloppy traits--the megayacht group  in Cape May pointed them out--a foundation I can build upon. I could learn to like the curve of a stalled sail. I can try catching fish with the spinnaker. I suppose, so long as I am becoming old and physically decrepit, I need to encourage decay of my mental faculties without further delay.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Can Nylon Rope Melt Due to Load Cycling --- Myth Semi-Busted

The Problem. There have been reports of nylon sea anchor and ground anchor ropes failing due to heat build-up when repeatedly cycled to a high percentage of rated breaking strength. True? Let's try a few reasonableness checks. We'll start with climbing ropes, since these are tested for energy absorption and the results are well known.

In a UIAA (the governing authority for climbing gear) test fall 2.5 meters of rope arrests an 80 kg object falling about 5.6 meters, stretch included. This is an impact so severe that the rope is only expected to survive 5-15 cycles; I doubt any anchor rope would do as well, so this is very conservative. if we convert this to US units:

Energy = 176 pounds * 18.3 feet fall/8.2 feet rope = 393 ft-pounds/foot of rope

Expressed as heat. However, only energy dissipated by hysteresis (it takes more energy to stretch a rope than it returns--it is not a perfect spring) is converted into heat. After all, a metal spring does not heat, true? Hysterisis with nylon rope is about generally about 10-20%. We'll assume the worst.

0.20 x 392 ft-pounds/ft = 0.10 BTU/ft

How much heat needs to be lost? If the rope is cycling at more than 50% of this load it won't last long for many reasons, so I will assume 0.05 BTU-cycle as the limit, which corresponds to 25% of the breaking strength and 200% of the safe working load (SWL), which is normally taken as about 12% BS for nylon. 

How many cycles? Assuming we are taking about storm waves, 20 second period seems reasonable, or 180 cycles per hour.

Heat = 180 cycles/hour * 0.05 BTU/cycle = 9 BTU/hr*ft

How much strength does a hot rope lose (PA66 is nylon 6/6)?

About 18% weakening by 80C (176F). There is a reason clothes don't fall apart in the drier! Long-term, there are oxidation effects, but these take months.

How fast can a dry rope loose heat? Assuming strong winds, about 6-8 BTU/ft2-F, depending on the reference. Assuming there is some spray in the air, we will use the higher number. A wet rope will cool more quickly due to evaporation and better heat conduction within the rope.

Heat loss = 0.11ft2 area/ft * 8 BTU/ft2 * (90-80) = 9 BTU

Clearly the rope won't get that hot. In fact it will top out at about 10F above ambient. Noticeably warm, but not in any danger.

What if the rope were larger (3/4-inch is what the Dashew's reported failing), of a less efficient construction (3-strand), and operated at a higher load factor (30%?)? The surface area to core ratios is greater, the heat generation per cycle is double, and the rope generates about 20% more heat due to the construction difference. What if the boat were tied to a dock and the period was much shorter? The core temperature gain can reach about 140For 60C--still not in the danger zone. Isolated fiber bundles could get hotter, if the load is not evenly carried or if there is significant friction between the fibers in that location.

 Note: I've greatly over-simplified the engineering. Insulation from the rope fibers and the cylindrical coordinates need to be considered. However, the result was similar, about 20% higher. On the other hand, we've assumed that no spray is striking the rope (it remains dry) which seems VERY unlikely in storm conditions.

 Observation 1: Lines smaller than 1-inch do not heat significant under cyclic loading unless they are significantly undersized, in which case they would fail anyway.

Below 3/4-inch rope heating due to cycling is probably not an important factor, even in the worst hurricane docking situation; failure will be due to something else. Beginning at 1-inch moving upwards, it can be important, since the larger rope cannot cool as easily. Large Barge tow lines can heat. Thus, the myth seems plausible, but not in sea anchor applications; the period is too low. The rope would need to be ~ 2 inches in diameter to provide sufficient insulation.

So why did the rope break? First, lets look at the load. Several investigators have found the wind load to be about 1/4 the ABYC estimates (these are based on anchoring with all-chain) and the load on a nylon rode to be about 1/2 the estimate. For a 50-foot boat, that would be about 2400 pounds. The SWL of 3/4-rope is about 2000 pounds. But that is before we include weakening due to wear and water. Dynamic tests by UIAA (climbing standards group) shows as much as 50% strength loss for wet rope in impact conditions. The SWL in practice is probably closer to 1400 pounds. In short, the rope failed predictably at 20%  BS after some time in the storm (probably higher due to a larger wave) with predictably melted ends. It was simply under speced due to a misunderstanding of SWL.

Second, we should do some forensic thinking. What does nylon rope look like when it breaks under load? In fact, it always looks melted, the result of the enormous energy release at the moment of rupture. If the rope was slightly warm from cycling the effect would perhaps be slightly greater, but it would not be the cause. The larger the rope sample broken in the lab, the more noticeable the melting.

 This is very load speed break testing, yet the ends are melted. I think folks just don't understand what they are looking at when they claim mysterious heating. One sailor reported a false observation and it became internet fact.

Observation 2: Nylon ropes always appear melted when broken at high load.

What about heating under chafing gear? Yes, there can be some heating, as calculated above. Covering the rope will make it worse.
  • If the gear is waterproof, that prevents both water cooling and reduces the internal lubrication that water provides. Bad.
  • The gear provides insulation, like an over coat on the line. Thus, a 1/2-inch line is going to heat like a 3/4-inch line, and a 3/4-inch line like a 1 1/4-inch line. Bad.
  • If there is motion under load, there will be friction and some resultant heating. Permiable gear that allows the rope to stay wet will help, since that reduced friction.
  • Chafing gear should be made of low-friction materials. I like nylon tubular webbing, because nylon-on-nylon friction is very low. It has done very well both in practice and in chafe machine testing.
  • High friction chafe gear (rubber and vinyl hose) is bad. 
  • Motion at chafe points must be reduced. Chocks should be close to cleats. Using non-stretch line in chocks areas can be smart.
Thus, any chafing gear that keep the line dry will weaken a line subject to hard cycling for a long period, such as a hurricane or nor'easter.. Only permeable gear is acceptable. But that said, the weakening will be only a small percentage. Even without heating, the gear will break under the gear because it is probably over an edge. So just because we see rope broken under chafe gear with melted ends, we should not believe heating was the culprit. The rope was simply too short to absorb the energy and was under engineered. Nylon rope looks melted even when broken at very low speeds and cycles; it is an artifact of the enormous energy release at the moment of failure.

Observation 3: If the rope breaks under the chafing gear, don't leap to line heating as an explanation. The rope was just too small and too short.

Bottom Line: Lines don't heat up, but users often underestimate the load, over estimate the SWL, and sometimes use docklines and snubbers that are too short to absorb energy safely. 


An exhaustive report by the US Coast Guard goes deeply into synthetic moorings. It's a big deal for deep water ATNs. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jamaican Stew Fish

I picked this one up during a business trip to Kingstown. It seems the only used oil recycling going on in Jamaica at that time (about 1990) was a couple of septic tank service guys that had a pit in the ground they could pour it in. The inter-modal terminal in Kingstown is one of the largest in the world, conveniently located for shifting boxes before or after transiting the Panama Canal. Shipping companies were obviously uncomfortable with pouring their oil in a hole in the ground, inconvenienced by having to haul oily bilge water and used oil to their next port of call, and my company was being encouraged to build a recycling plant. That project never happened, and the boys wondered how used oil is recycled in Jamaica today.

But that stories got nothing to do with good eats!

Jamaican Stew Fish
Makes any fish island style.  Serves two very hungry sailors.
·                     1 pound fish (spot, croaker, flounder, or rockfish. Pork and chicken also work well).  If all you caught were little fish, add more vegetables!
·                     1/2 medium onion , sliced
·                     1–2 cups baby carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
·                     Salt & pepper
·                     0–1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper, according to taste
·                     1–2 tablespoon soy sauce
·                     1/2 teaspoon ginger, thinly sliced
·                     Several sprigs of thyme
·                     1 teaspoon butter
·                     1/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon curry powder, according to taste
·                     Water
·                     Oil for frying
·                     1 lime
·                     1 cup rice
1.                  Clean the fish (fillet or whole), dry, and rub with lime.  I like it with the skin on.  Allow to soak for 10 minutes.  Butter both sides.
2.                  Brown fish lightly in preheated oil.   Need not be fully cooked at this time.  Set aside to drain.
3.                  Sauté sliced vegetables, ginger, and seasonings on a high flame for five minutes, using the oil from the fish.
4.                  Reduce heat. Add soy sauce and water to not quite cover.  Stew vegetables for 10 minutes until brown. Salt & pepper to taste.
5.                  Add fish, covering with stewed vegetables.  Stew covered for another 10 minutes, until fish flakes apart easily.
6.                  Prepare rice separately.  Serve over rice.

Jessica's first catfish, caught on croaker guts in the C & D Canal; catfish aren't fussy. [circa 2012]


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Introduction to the New Sail Delmarva

This is not a site for racers. Although I did race performance catamarans in my youth, I've lost the taste of it.

This is not a site for bluewater cruisers. Popular magazines are full of tales of daring-do, circumnavigators, and crossings to the Mediterranean.

For many of us, the pull is summed up by the powerful quote from The Wind in the Willows; “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” But that chapter one quotation is often stretched completely out of context, into a moral imperative to ditch all and go to sea. in fact, in chapter 9, the very same innocent water rat, so taken in chapter one with the river and his simple clinker-built  rowboat, spends a day with a charismatic seafaring rat. Our simple, provincial water rat is so completely mesmerized by the vast and sweeping stories (exaggerated, no doubt) told by the wayfaring rat about his adventures aboard a coastal freighter, and the mysteries of the many ports of call, that immediately upon returning home he begins to plan his own departure to the sea. HE tries to explain his compulsion to his friends but can't find a rational argument. He fights through fits and seizures until, in his own words, he regains his sanity.

What most of us need is a miniature adventure. It suits the time available. More to the point, it fits our priorities. We have families ashore. We have friends. We have shore-bound interests at least as important and valid. In other words, the myth, yea the fantasy, of casting all aside and following the winds across an ocean isn't something we're avoiding out of cowardice, but rather because it makes no damn sense to us. For heaven sake, we're land animals and we like it that way.

I'm writing for coastal cruisers. I haven't circled the globe, but I have sailed 25,000 miles round and round the Chesapeake and along the Atlantic coast over the past 30 years. Yes, much of this will apply to bluewater sailors; coastal sailors get knocked around right good sometimes to and I believe in strength and safety. Many of us go offshore, now and then. Some will apply to racers; I sail the sailor that does not care about sail trim are going as fast as he can within the limitations of his boat, doesn't really enjoy sailing. As the old saw goes, any two boats going the same direction or racing. Some will apply to daysailors; we are all daysailors. And I hope armchair sailors can enjoy reading along.

But mostly I've accumulated the sort of 15- to 50-mile day sort of experience that you need, navigating shoals, anchoring or docking daily, and returning to my real life after a few days to week afloat. We don't sail gold plated boats we bought from a dealer. We sail 5- to 30-year old boats and we spread our upkeep dollars thin, but without sacrificing function or safety.

I certainly enjoy reading about bluewater adventures, though I have no more desire to cross an ocean than to climb Mount Everest, that coming from an addicted rock and ice climber who simply sees no point risking brain cells from lack of oxygen. The plain truth is, that there are bloody good reasons why coastal sailors outnumber bluewater sailors one thousand to one. For most of us, it's just better.

I'm not a famous racer. I haven't sailed around the world. But I have spent 35 years as a refinery engineer, 30 years as an avid sailor, and of published over 100 articles about marine equipment, how it works, and many topics about the engineering related to sailing. I'm not an authority on how to sail across an ocean or even how to sail particularly fast, but I become an authority on each topic, one at a time, as I research it and dig into it. I learned details I never expected. I find vendors selling snake oil and rubbish to the public, and I debunk them. I know my limitations, but within them, I hope I have earned my place as a trusted source of information.

I plan to add a voluntary subscription button when I get this site built out a bit more. While I love the idea that so much is free on the internet, it's taken many thousands of hours to put this together. It's grown far beyond a hobby. Writing and researching is my living. I think I have as much to share as any shiny magazine, driven by advertising dollars rather than truth. In fact, I've written a few things for that sort publication, but mostly they want stories about blue lagoons and infomercials for the stuff their advertisers sell. They can't profit from the simple truth about what works.

Please comment every time you are tempted. Dialogue builds knowledge, and it helps me know what is interesting and what direction to take this website.

Fare Winds!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Tether Shackles--No quick Release For Me

Before hoisting the spinnaker I inspected this shackle and double checked that it was latched. I remember staring at it, thinking I would never trust my life to a quick release mechanism so easily released as this.

The spinnaker flew perfectly for hours, and then while putting it away I realized the shackle had blown apart, the result of being dragged over the lifeline. No excessive force, just the the weight of the sail and sheet as I pulled it on board. Somehow the circle pin came off, allowing the pin to shoot out the other side. This is a common failure mode, one I have experienced before. No excessive force, just the the weight of the sail and sheet as I pulled it on board.


Today's experience simply reinforced my tether decisions:

1. Harness carabiner should be locking but with simple release. I like the Kong Tango because it is large enough to clip railings and is easy to unclip even with wet, cold-numbed hands. I really like the feel in my hands. I also like that I can clip in with one hand, something I cannot do with a snap shackle.

Kong Tango (Black)

2. Jackline carabiner's must be locking type. I like aluminum rockclimbing carabiner's", which seem to remain jamb free so long as I treat them with waterproof grease annually.  I like simple climbing carabiners, since I generally leave the tether on the jackline and unclip at the harness end when entering or leaving the cockpit.

Black Diamond Positron Screwgate Carabiner
This makes sense for us because our boat is center cockpit, but for most boats with aft cockpits, there are better choices. Some makers, including West Marine and Kong, use the Kong Tango on the jackline end of the tether. They like a snap shackle for the harness end, I don't.

3. Tether material is nominal 8 mm UIAA certified 1/2 or twin nylon climbing rope. It has the toughness and shock absorbing capacity to handle any conceivable fall or misstep without generating rib-breaking impact forces or overloading the jack lines or anchor points.

4. Custom tether lengths. I use two leg tethers. The short leg is 2 feet and the long leg is 8 feet. These lengths better suit my specific boat. The answer for yours could be different. However, I'm willing to bet that 3 feet is too long for the short leg on most boats.

Phase I: These were tied from 1-inch tubular nylon climbing webbing. I also inserted a Yates Screamer for testing, though it was later removed. These are the simplest to make and are quite safe, based on generations of rock climber experience.

Phase II: After many experiments, these are the tethers I use. 
  • 8mm climbing rope for shock absorption (easier on the ribs). 
  • Kong Tango at the harness end. 
  • Sewn ends (can be knotted--do not attempt sewing unless you have access to pull-testing equipment). 
  • 2'/8' lengths (fit my boat). The short leg just kept getting shorter.
  • Small "parking clip" so that I do not have 2 biners clipped to my harness (inhibits unclipping in an emergency).

Note that in both cases the middle carabiner is cow hitched and can be moved. This is important to getting the best fit. The cow hitch is secured with a seizing to prevent sliding (hidden).

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Periwinkle Soup

(Inspired by 2 days spent kayaking on the Little Choptank River)

The northwest Indians said the "ocean rolls out the dinner table twice a day," observing that with each low tide an edible bounty was uncovered, free for the picking. For the kayaker, it's even simpler than that, with periwinkles presented at eye level at every turn. Their small size will make you work for your meal, but they're tasty, fresh, free, and just begging investigation.

I'm sure you can Google up 20 better recipes, but this is an easy one I always have the stuff for on board. Given the choice, potatoes and a chowder approach might be better, and linguini sounds very nice.
  1. Collect a lot. Select the largest, about one cup/serving.
  2. Check that they are alive when you get back to the kitchen. Just spread them out thin in some seawater and watch for movement. Takes only a few minutes. Chop vegetables while you wait.
  3. Chop about 1/3 onion per serving. Season with cumin, pepper, curry, and ginger. I add 1/4 of the "chicken" flavor packet. Or what every you like.
  4. Boil the periwinkles in the shell for 5 minutes.
  5. Some say pick out the meat, but I find a nut cracker is faster. A water rinse (stir or shake the bowl) separates the shell bits that you missed.
  6. Simmer meat, vegetables and seasonings for 20 minutes.
  7. Add ramen noodles for the last 3 minutes. 
Yummy, rather like mussels but better.  All summer I seem to return home with a good portion of the food I packed, finding a good portion of what I actually eat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Mold in Antifreeze

Blogging About Products and Posting Amazon Links

As a begin a new phase of my blogging career, I need to feel certain that I am on solid ground. We've all read blogs that link to every gadget the writer is ever come across, trolling for affiliate program dollars, most often without any firsthand knowledge of whether the gadget is worth beans and without a care as to whether represents any value to the reader.

First, I have a strong loyalty to the magazines I've worked with. (Link to Practical Sailor in top bar.) I don't want to poach subscription membership by offering the same content. That means that although many of the products I'll be talking about I have reviewed previously as part of a large product slate, I won't reproduce that data, reuse that article, or all of the discussion that accompanied it. I will guide you to products that did very very well, and the products that represent a good value. I think this is ethically the right thing to do, since it benefits the companies that make good products.

I was drawn to writing initially by the claims of certain fuel additive manufacturers. I was certain they included a whole lot of puffing, a few lies, and some downright fraudulent misrepresentations. Even as I write this post, I am working closely with NMMA and ASTM on standards for gasoline and fuel additives that will one day close the regulatory loophole that allows some players to sell junk to the public so bad it can actually harm your engine. And the same is true about many other products. I feel it's a good thing for testers like me to guide you to good companies that deserve recognition.

Second, I won't be guiding you to any product I have not either tested along side a whole slew of products using scientific method, or at the very least used enough wrong products over the years to recognize when I finally found the right product. In 30 years of sailing I've bought a few of the wrong products, and in 36 years of engineering, I've learned how to run testing programs that can reveal the difference.

Towing scale model drogues on the Chesapeake in a 30-knot breeze. I am towing  a Seabrake with a Delta Drogue following. The advantage of tandem drogues, with a good space between them, is that both cannot be pulled out, and that they stabilize each other. Much different from tandem ground anchors. 

This sort of testing is as much about engineering systems as choosing a specific product. I'll be posting more stuff like this too. I've got an interesting series of articles on drogues and multiple anchor systems coming out in Practical Sailor. You'll have to read about that all oft hat there.

Finally, there is no financial influence on my recommendations. Accept no advertising. I do get a small commission from Amazon, but not any different that if I directed you to a different product. For goodness sake, don't buy anything you are not in the market for! I'm cheap and I hope you are too.

If you think I get off base or lose my moral compass in this effort, just tell me. Allow me the opportunity to explain why I think my advice was honest and forthright. If we can't agree, I'll take the post down.

And then there is the matter of the donation button (not up yet). I'm not looking for people to support my cruising habit. But it does cost money to run tests. It does take time to write about both products and D-I-Y topics. At some point in the distant future, when there's enough content on this site and that content is well enough indexed, I may consider doing something with subscriptions. I'll keep it cheap. For now, if my blog is at least as interesting as a sailing magazine that is 80% advertising and 10% paid infomercials (a lot of the articles are written or at least heavily coached by advertisers-- it's pretty depressing), consider sending a few bucks. It'll help buy something I can test.

Time to get busy writing. Time to get busy testing. Let me know what you think. Write in with ideas of things that need testing or things that you would like to hear analyzed from an engineer's perspective.