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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

European Paddle vs. Greenland Paddle

For an old guy, Greenland paddles win.

A Euro paddle blade is leaf-shaped, nearly half as long is it is long. Or rather that is what we have come to accept as normal and 21st century. It is superior for whitewater kayaking and racing, where it provides a positive, even harsh grab on the water.

But over the years I've run into folks using Greenland paddles with their sea kayaks.  Though the urban legend is that they were long and slim because that is the only thing they could make from drift wood, when you consider the craftsmanship that goes into a skin-over-frame kayak, that sounds like lame reasoning; these people could craft anything from a few bits of wood and sinew, and in fact, they used broad paddles in other craft. They developed what we now call the Greenland paddle because it has some unique advantages.

These are works of art. Mine was fashioned from a 6' x 3/4" x 3 1/2" (a common 1 x 4) board and a center of aluminum tube in a few hours, and probably performs better.

The length is about the same--a little less than 8 feet. The blade in only 1/2 the width of a Euro paddle, but the length of the blade is over double, resulting in greater projected area. Because it is not scooped like the Euro paddle, the catch is much softer, and it does not generate as much instantaneous power. However, because it has a higher aspect ratio, it actually creates greater lift once the stroke is underway.
  1. Lighter. My Greenland paddle is 25% lighter than my fiberglass Euro paddle.
  2. More buoyant for rolling. 
  3. More lift when used in a sweep stroke for rolling or bracing, because of the higher aspect ratio.
  4. More resistance and better grip on the water at mid-stroke.
  5. Smoother catch and release.
  6. Easier on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.
  7. Quieter.
It was "1" and "6" that caught me attention. Although it does not provide the same acceleration, it is faster through the water over the long haul, easier on the body, and significantly lighter. I'm still not used to the look, but it is more efficient over a long day.

Downsides? A few, but they are minor.
  1. Harder to buy. But you can make them rather easily. They don't need to be laminated and beautiful.
  2. Not as much blade in the water in shallows. But you can use a shallow, more horizontal stoke.
  3. Most designs do not feather, but that can be fixed by incorporating an adjustable ferrule. 
  4. Typically the shaft is fatter (1 1/2-inch vs. 1 1/4-inch standard or 1 1/8-inch small). Hand size and whether you wear thick gloves (a smaller paddle works better with thick gloves) may dictate which is better, but I find the fatter shaft is harder on my wrist and hands. Personal preference enters in. 
  5. Learning a new stroke. Where a Euro paddle is simply pulled, the smoothest and most powerful stoke on a Greenland  paddle is delivered by a gliding pull with the blade moving at an angle, as when swimming the crawl efficiently. The blade is high aspect and generates a lot of lift when moving sideways. the stoke is also lower angle.

Feather. Most sea kayakers adopt a feathered paddle after some experience. By angling the blades about 60 degrees relative to each other, even when the arms cross between stokes, the wrists remain in a neutral plain, never flexing. The key is to pick a control hand that grips the paddle, and to let the shaft rotate in the other hand during the cross over. The non-control hand need never grip the shaft tightly. Gloves help.

Whitewater paddlers often use an non-feathered paddle--it can be problematic to keep track of the twist angle when paddling rapidly or throwing out a quick brace stroke. I use zero feather in technical whitewater.

Greenland paddles are typically not feathered, because a more shallow stroke is used, minimizing wrist flex, and by tradition. Many paddlers find an non-feathered paddle easier to roll, because similar to the whitewater case, they don't have to remember the feather angle. However, I have wrist problems and really like feather, although less than the traditional 60 degrees used with Euro paddles. My Greenland paddle is feathered only 30 degrees.

It's  little ugly, but by using aluminum tubing in the center I dropped the weight to about 65% of a common paddle and gave it 30 degree feather.  I am wondering if less or even no feather might be best for Greenland paddles. It may be a matter of learning a new stroke.

Where can you get a Greenland paddle? First, make you own. There are many on-line sites with instructions, and if you are handy in the wood shop, a basic paddle won't take much over an hour or cost more than $5 to make. You can buy them, of course, but artwork and craftsmanship cost money.

If you want adjustable feather or a Greenland paddle that can be broken down for storage, Duckworks sells carbon fiber ferrules for ~ $25. This also makes it possible to create feather. Duckworks offers two ferrule options:
  • Standard. Allows for O degree, 60 degree right, and 60 degree left feather. The shaft is 30.6mm (1 1/4-inch), which is generally considered standard for kayak paddles.
  • Greenland. There is no allowance for feather, although you can obviously mount the ferrule with some rotation to create a fixed feather angle. The shaft is 38.6mm (1 1/2-inch), the traditional fatter Greenland paddle diameter. 
Additional holes (you drill em') can create custom feather angles.

This is the elegant way to do it [details on Duckworks]. Add a slightly longer center section and 30 degrees of feather, and this is my dream paddle!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Internal Reefing and Friction

Single line reefing can be a delight, until the friction become so great nothing will move. I was pretty fed up with mine, when I first go the the boat, until I realized the PO had left me a tangle. A simple problem, and easy to fix, but often overlooked because it is out of sight.

The problems is that there are blocks inside, and when these get twisted, they lock up. The twist is introduced by a group of turning blocks near the mast (different from this illustration), that guide the line back to the cockpit or to a winch. Every time the reef is used, their corkscrew arrangement walks a small amount of twist into the boom.

The cure? Look in the boom-end to confirm that this is the problem. If yes, go the mast-end and untwist the line by hand in the required direction, until the lines are straight and the blocks are vertical. This may take 5 or 6 turns. Chase these twists through all the way back to the cockpit, so that they are not simply stuck between blocks near the boom. Do NOT release the line from the end of the boom and try to fix the twist from there. Although that end is also twisted, that is only a symptom of the twist at the other end. There is no way for twist to sneak in from the boom end, and if you try to fix it from there, you will simply create opposing twists. The problem originates at the boom end and must be fixed there.

On my boat this must be done about every 50 times I reef. Not very often at all. But if you've waited years, or if the boat is new to you, look inside the boom.

[This image is from the PDQ 32 Owner's Manual, free in MS word if you request it via the contact form near the bottom of the right column.]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cleat Strength

 Boat US did a study, bolting cleats to steel plate and breaking them. Obviously, on a boat, this depends on a strong backing plate.

Different size cleats? In the case of fastener failures, simply adjust in proportion to the fasteners you have (data found here). In the case of feet failures, expect the strength to go up size^2. The strength of the foot, for example, probably goes up with size^3, but leverage goes up with size^1.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Marking Anchor Chain

Someone once told me that marking anchor chain with paint was amateurish.

Sailors on the US Blue Rige (LCC19) touch up the chain markings.

Okay, sure. 
  • They suggest that you can feel bits of cloth and such in the dark. Assuming the gypsy don't sheer them off or jam, please don't tell me you would run your hand along a running chain in the dark. That is a good way to lose fingers.
  • Plastic ties. My windlass sheers them off no matter how they are attached. Some manual say there is a right way, but not with a Lewmar vertical.
  • Inserts. If I can't see the paint, I'm going to be able to make out a few mud-coated lumps in the dark? Silly on the face of it. 
The first article in Good Old Boat Magazine described a better way to paint the chain. Also in "Keeping a Cruising Boat for Peanuts" and "Rigging Modern Anchors."

 They even have a standard color code. Not sayin' you need to use it, although I do use a long red band to warn me of the rope-to-chain splice at 100 feet (98% of the time I stop short of the splice so that I can anchor on all-chain.

After all, you always need to know how much rode you have out.  It's all part of good anchor craft, along with proper snubber sizing (Practical Sailor) and one hundred other factors.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

PDQ 32 Owner's Manual

I've scanned the manual that came with my boat, converted into MS Word, and adapted it a little my specific boat, modifications and all. I figure it's a nice courtesy to the next owner, and something that will help maintain PDQ value for all of us.

PDQ Yachts Inc
Whitby, Ontario

Revised for Shoal Survivor, HIN XXXXXXX
Rev. August 20, 2015
February 2017

If you would like a copy, just send me an e-mail via the contact form at the bottom of the right column. No sweat.

I recommend converting it to PDF (MS Word will do this) once you have customized it. It will scroll MUCH faster.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mexican Navy Tows Disabled Sailboat for 1 1/2 Days.

Described in the link below, a sail boat became disabled when their rudder sheared off, 3/4 of the way from Texas to Mexico. The US Coast Guard contacted the Mexican Navy, and the Mexican Navy sent a 180-foot cutter to provide a tow.

Without getting political, it's something to think about. Things do go both ways. I like to get along with my neighbors. It seems to work out better.

Of course, a proper steering drogue would also have solved the problem, just as quickly and with less drama. After my own experience with bending a rudder on a submerged log (repair described in "Keeping a Cruising Boat for Peanuts"), I did considerable research on drogues for emergency steering and storm management, learning that a good drogue is a solution even a singlehanded sailor can make work in minutes, with just a little preparation and practice. In the above situation, I would have had a steering drogue in the water within 5 minutes, and we would have been on our way, a knot or two slower, but with certainty.

A failed rudder is simply not a valid cause for rescue or loss of your boat; I've sailed hundreds of miles with no rudder or worse, a rudder jammed to the side. It's quite manageable.

See "Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor" for the details. Also, and up-coming article in Practical Sailor will describe the details of rigging and using a drogue. In "How Much Drag is a Drogue" (Practical Sailor, September 2016) I tested, reviewed, and list the relative drag and performance characteristics of most popular drogues.

(Up-coming article in Practical Sailor on Emergency Steering with Drogues)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Boat Writer's International -- 2016 Marine Writing Contest

 In its 24th year, the BWI contest attracted 151 participants submitting 378 entries. In addition to cash awards, Certificates of Merit were presented to writers of another 43 articles which scored within 95 percent of third-place tallies in each category. All submissions to the contest were published in 2016. Each of the categories (noted below along with sponsors) was judged by four active journalists in the first few weeks of the New Year. Links are provided to the top three scorers. Results (there are 17 categories):

Gear, Electronics & Product Tests – sponsored by Xantrex/Schneider Electric
1st, “Splash Test Dummy” by Drew Frye (Good Old Boat, Sept.); 2nd, “New Options in Small Outboards” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, Jan.); 3rd, “Hitting the Bricks” by Nigel Calder (PassageMaker, Sept.). “Despite it being a controlled product test of a cold water immersion suit, the author packs the article with a satisfying mix of information and hard data, accented with a good dose of humor throughout – An excellent piece of professional journalism,” noted judge Rich Armstrong. Merit Awards: “Trial By Fire and Water” by Lenny Rudow (Texas Fish & Game, Sept.); “Fish Whisperers” by Ron Ballanti (Anglers Journal, Fall).

Seamanship, Rescue & Safety – sponsored by Sea Tow Services International
1st, “The Storm Trysail” by Edward Zacko (Good Old Boat, Jan.); 2nd, “In the Perfect Position to Fail” by Ralph Naranjo (Practical Sailor, April); 3rd, “Naked and Afraid” by Pete McDonald (Boating, Jan.). Of the first place selection, judge Jim Rhodes said, “A thoroughly researched and well-presented article. Punctuated by vivid personal anecdotes, it was written with the authority of someone who knows the subject matter.” Merit selections: “Hitches to Grip Anchor Chain” by Drew Frye (Practical Sailor, May); “Go Forth and Cruise” by Tom Cunliffe (Sail, June).

Friday, February 24, 2017


Yale Maxijacket 

I investigated this product primarily on a whim. I was working on an article on chafe protection, and Practical Sailor asked about trying coatings, just in passing. After all, what can you expect from a product that looks like nothing more that water-based varnish? Obviously boat show advertising hype. Someone had also  given me a sample of a related product, Spinlock RP25.

 Both sides were cycled across a grindstone for 2000 cycles: Spinlock RP25 on the top and Maxijacket on the bottom. A baseline test (no coating) reached the RP 25 wear level in 1000 cycles.

I was dead wrong.

Maxijacket. The only things that lasted longer were tubular nylon webbing (5x) and Dyneema chafe sleeve (20).
  •  6-15 times longer than uncoated rope
  • 10 times longer than clear vinyl tubing
  • 2 times longer than APX aramid chafe sleeve
  • 3 times longer than 1/8-inch leather
RP 25. Good for stopping core slippage, but less so on chafe.
  • 2-3 times uncoated rope (greatest improvement when wet)

Applications? I've been using the stuff for 4 years and remain very impressed.
  • Docklines. Anywhere chafe gear won't fit.
  • Furler lines. Best for roller reefing, where the line is highly loaded.
  • Any splice subject to wear.
  • Fabric prone to abrasion.
Mooring lines, with and without coating. I tried chafe gear, but it kept creeping off. This is easier to clip and extends the life of the wear section to match the rest of the line.

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

It seems impossible that a product resembling thick latex varnish (stick with clear--other colors can transfer) can make such a a difference. While West Marine charges more than you want for more than you need, Knot & Rope Supply sells a small jar--probably all a sailor needs for a few years-- for $7.10. A bargain.

The Spinlock RP25 does have its applications too. It performs better on HMPE ropes (Amsteel et. al.), reducing both wear and cover/core slippage, and has the flexibility to use on running sections of rope. I'll use RP25 on sections of my Amsteel lifelines.

A penny-pinching tip.

A good-seamanship tip.


Instructions. Whatever they say on the can. These are just my observations. When in doubt, let it dry longer before exposing to heavy load--it will wear longer.

To coat a long line, such as a furler control line, stretch tightly between 2 points.

Maxijacket. By all appearances, it is a thick latex varnish. Any brush suitable for water-based paints will work fine, and clean-up is easy. Apply in one heavy coat, soaking in as deeply as possible. Some riggers favor dipping splices, but this does not increase chafe resistance, wastes material, slows drying, and makes the splice too stiff--just coat the outside. Don't bother with a second coat--it will just sit on top and do nothing useful. Don't try a light coat--that blocks penetration. Allow to dry to the touch before installing, several days in good drying conditions before using, and a week before or soaking (anchor bridles).

RP-25. Petroleum based, it is relatively tine and soaks in rapidly. One very heavy coat is preferred. It will not stiffen the line as much as Maxijacket, but it will lock the cover to the core (halyards and furler lines that have been stripped) and will give some chafe resistance. Slower drying that Maxijacket; allow to dry to the touch before installing and one week  .


Since this study, more players have entered the field, and thus an up-dated review is in progress, including additional products from Flexdal and Marlow. Practical Sailor, of course.