Sunday, January 22, 2017

Outhaul Jammer

As I continue to work on my book on "Faster Cruising" I found myself feeling like the cobler with no shoes for his children; I don't always follow my own advise, even when I know I'm right. In the book I argue that cruising boats are often lack the rigging and hardware needed to make basic trim adjustments quickly and easily, as though cruisers don't care about efficient sailing or understand the fine points. I care, but I have to admit my cruising cat doesn't have the quick access to fine trim that my performance cat had. I aim to fix that.

Case in point. My PDQ 32 came with a good boom and internal reefing, but the main outhaul was secured to an undersized cleat . To tension it under load, you take the tail to a mast-mounted winch, wrap the line under the cleat, and lift the line sharply when taking the line off the winch in an attempt to minimize slippage before that first wrap is on the cleat. Boy scout at best.

A few days ago I removed the undersized cleat (closely spaced holes on the seam) and I tapped four new holes to secure a proper jammer. Now I can ease the outhaul in a blink and tighten with a winch in control.

The smaller line is for the lazy jacks.

Why a double jammer? The few times I have found myself sailing with three reefs (winds gusting to over 30 knots) I found I needed a better way to winch the clew down. The tack is easily secured with a loop through the reefing tack and under the gooseneck, but there is no internal rigging for a 3rd reef. Thus, I tie a bowline around the boom under the reef clew (like the other reefs), go up through the reefing clew, and back to a snap shackle-equipped snatch block at the main outhaul. From there the reefing line is threaded through this new jammer, allowing a mast mounted winch to tension the clew outhaul.

The only challenge is to remember to thread the reefing clew while hoisting.

[The jammer came courtesy of freecycle--it patiently awaited re-purposing for several years in one of my might-need bins. Whooppee!]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Drogues in Action--Small Scale Testing Duplicates Gale Conditions

Why the interest in drogue if I'm not going to cross an ocean? "As a coastal sailor, why should I care?" Because a little over two years ago I bent a rudder on a submerged log. Only because I had a catamaran did this avoid becoming a serious problem (I have a spare rudder). Other wise, take your hands off the wheel and tell me how you plan on getting back home. It's not that easy.

However, this post is not about emergency steering. I'll get to that later. This is about drogues for speed limitation is serious storms. It turns out that they have not been telling us the who story.


Parachute sea anchor, speed limiting drogue, or JSD (Jordan Series Drogue).  Sailors that have never used them will argue, and even those that have used them generally remember what they saw but don't understand it. My nature is to expereiment until I understand.

 How many people have a full collection of 1/3 scale drogues? [Cone, Small Shark, Delta Drogue, Gale Rider, Sea Brake]

Small Scale Testing

The trouble with testing full scale drogues is that you need a full-scale storm to test them in, and mistakes have full scale consequences. Not a forgiving classroom in which to demonstrate things things that fail, and only by knowing what fails can we understand what works. It is also a mistake to build a scale model and believe everything you see, without understanding the theory and how scale up works for engineers. But that is how I have spent the last 30 years, so I know a few tricks.

These drogues are 1/3 scale, run at 80% speed, in smaller waves, and at reduced scope. Combined, these scale factors give a realistic picture of how a speed limiting drogue functions in gale conditions. In the first example I show a Seabrake 8 standing in for the real-world Seabrake 24. Like all drogues, it pulls out of the water only when a following wave catches it; at that moment,  the angle of the rode to the water suddenly becomes steep, like an anchor on short scope, and out she comes. As soon as the wave passes, she settles back into the wave face. The conditions were mild.


In the real world the danger here is three fold:
  1. A wave may strike the boat while the drogue is out of the water. Not very likely in a moderate storm.
  2. In a serious storm, the drogue may spring out of the wave and be thrown far forward. Sailors often claim the wave threw it forward but they are only 1/3 right. The greatest factor is actually the contraction of the nylon rode (think rubber band) as the tension comes off, and that of the wind. This effect was minor in the video because the rode is oversized compared to common practice. This is also part of the case for using a polyester rode with a drogue and not the more common nylon. Several manufacturers specify non-stretch rodes.
  3. As the storm builds, right when you most need the drogue to work, it will fail. That is when the load is peak (required to pull the drogue out) and that is when the waves get steeper.
I then added a second drogue in tandem, 30 feet farther back (Delta Drogue 24, standing in for a Delta Drogue 72). The conditions are also now near gale force (sustained over 30 knots with heavy rain). As you can see, the first drogue runs closer to the surface, the result of the secondary rode tension. On the other hand, the secondary rode stabilizes the primary drogue when it does pull out of a wave, pulling it back in quickly. The first drogue may take slightly more of a beating on the surface, but the pull, measured by load cells, is far more stable (15% fluctuation vs. 60% fluctuation). A fair trade-off.

These waves are only about 5 feet, but considering the scale factor, these are 15-foot breaking waves. Pretty tough.

It is worth remembering that both of these trial were at the same speed (4 knots). In reality, adding a second drogue will slow the boat significantly, also making the tandem drogue far more stable. Another way of looking at it is that a tandem drogue can handle 40% more wind (70 knots vs 50 knots sustained) before the first drogue begins pulling out--a pretty big difference--and far more if we consider overall stability of the combined system.


 Gale Rider 30. A little small as a speed limiting brake (they make larger sizes), but my favorite for emergency steering. Very smooth and easy to handle.

The other things to consider are these:
  • Redundancy. You have two.
  • You can adjust to the strength of the storm.\
  •  Smaller drogues can be carried. This is no joke on a larger boat, since large drogues get very physical to handle in a blow. I later tested full scale models in gale conditions, and it was a workout.
  • A smaller drogue is more useful for emergency steering. This gives you the ability to transition between emergency steering and speed limiting.
However, full-scale speed limiting drogues and emergency steering are for future posts.


A detailed treatment and more data are included in "Faster Cruising," which I should complete in a month or so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

When to Splice

There's a lot of snobbery surrounding splices and knots, as though knots are only used by hacks that can't splice. The thing is, I know perfectly well how to splice most materials--I've published several articles on testing of splices and knots--but I only splice when it is the logical answer. In fact, I find it embarrassing to have splices where a knot is the better choice.

It comes down to four differences:
  1. knots are easier to redo
  2. splices are stronger
  3. splices are lower profile but longer
  4. knots are more abrasion resistant in double braid

The Marlow Splicing Fid is my long-time favorite for 3-strand. You push it through to open a spot, insert the strand, no matter how frayed, and it pulls it back through. Very fast.

When to Splice.

High Strength
  • Docklines
  • Rode-to-Chain
  • Snubbers
  • Safety Tethers 
  • Jacklines
Won't Hold a Knot. This means Dyneema/Spectra in most cases. Fortunately, a bury splice is dead simple and a brummel not much more difficult.

No Room. Rubbing with tackle. Sometimes a knot will get in the way, though often this can be avoided by trying a different knot or rotating it 180 degrees.

Snagging. Splices are generally smoother to run, though flipping a knot over can help.
  • Genoa Sheets
  • Safety Tethers. 
Can't be Constructed Any Other Way
  • Soft Shackles
  • Adjustable Stropes
Adjustable strope. From "Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts."

The Brian Toss Wand is my favorite for double braid. I use a cut-off hollow knitting needle for single braid.

    When Not to Splice

    Must be Re-Made at Some Frequency.
    • Halyards. First, I like to cut a few inches off every few years to move any chafe spots. Second, halyards are sized for stretch, not strength, and as a result are massively over strength. 
    • Most tackles. Should they twist-up or a component fail, knots are easier to re-do.
    Splice Will Jam. A splice makes the rope fatter. Sometimes this causes a jam in a block. It also keeps tackles farther apart than a knot.
    • Halyards
    • Traveler
    • Davit tackles 
    Abrasion. A double braid splice caries nearly all of the load on the cover on one side, and it is vulnerable near the throat. A knot breaks inside and is thus generally unaffected by wear and UV.

    Old Double Braid

    Even if a splice would be nice, old double braid rope is impossible to splice, IMHO. The solution is either a knot (obvious) or a sewn splice. These can be just as strong as a conventional splice, although they do required protection from UV and chafe. When don properly, they'll last as long as the rope. Much industrial
    splicing is sewn.

    My genoa sheets, made from a salvaged big boat halyard.  The cover is 2-inch tubular webbing. This splice is 5 years old. From "Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts."

    Dynamic Rope

    The tight cover makes a splice nearly impossible. Additionally because it is dependent on both the core and the cover the s[splice is complex.  Most industrial tethers are sewn.

    This is my deck tether. 8 mm ice climbing rope.

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

    The Book Store

    Over the past eight years I’ve published more than 100 magazine articles, on topics ranging from simple product reviews to complex engineering analysis.  Lamentably, a magazine format doesn’t allow the writer to present complete ideas and the back-up they deserve. Instead, magazine style demands punchy headlines, read-at-glance text, and lots of pictures. And yet I have truly enjoyed the process of writing for magazines, the broad range of topics it suggested, and the great people I was able to work with. I've been encouraged to take on research that otherwise would have gone wanting.

    In these books I’ve gone back to my original text, before it was cut for size. I’ve added material where new research or experience suggested, and corrected a few things where the passage of time and miles of sailing have taught me better. I've added whole topic areas that simply aren't magazine fodder. I hope the full story will, help you solve problems, extend your sailing horizons, and encourage critical thinking about all you read and your sailing experiences.
    It’s been my pleasure.

    [click on either the PDF or Kindle link, depending on which format you prefer.]

    How-To books

    Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts
    Pending 2017, Kindle, about 400 pages
    2017,Buy now PDF, 410 pages
    Table of Contents
    As much as I love sailing, putting my daughter through college and funding my 401K are more important. Transitioning from professional engineer to writer has transformed my habit of living efficiently into a passion for spreading funds thin. I like to think of it as a challenge for the imagination—it’s more fun that way.
    I’ve written over 100 equipment reviews and engineering articles for popular sailing magazines, all based on laboratory and hands-on testing. I’ve spent 30 years learning how to maintain, fix, and upgrade. I've also spent 35 years as a chemical engineer, and my wife thinks I live in my basement shop. 

    As a result I’ve become a fair hand most crafts, never get stuck in the field with something I can’t fix, and I've learned to spread money thin, without compromising speed, reliability, or function. Although I've written on many topics, my wife assures me this is the one I know best. My magnum opus? 

    Check the Table of Contents link to glimpse the range of topics covered. Everything from cheap maintenance and effective multi-step water treatment, to installing air conditioning, solar, modifying keels, and other upgrades minor and major. Over 20 years of real, tested projects.

    Like the fellow on the World War II poster, abandon all pretense of dignity, and enjoy 30 years of methods proven to keep money in your pocket.

    Rigging Modern Anchors
    Pending 2017, TBD, about 250 pages.
    In the process of researching and writing about anchors I was startled to learn just how much of what the
    traditional texts preach is just plain wrong. One writer after another parrots back the same old conventional wisdom, but very few actually take out a load cell and the measure stuff, or actually test and observe anchor rigs under high load, to see how they move. A few magazine articles skimmed the surface, but not in enough detail and I wanted to do more comprehensive testing. The result is this book, I believe the most accurate text available on rigging anchors for the cruising sailor.
    I freely admit the book has a US east coast slant. This allowed me to pack in the information you really need. Instead of chapters on Mediterranean moors and coral lagoons, I focus on soupy mud, heavy weed, impenetrable clay, shells, rocks, and thunderstorms. Our reality.

    Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Sailor
    Pending, 2017, Kindle, 158 pages

    Buy now2017, PDF, 154 pages
    Table of Contents
    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, the very same innocent water rat, that was so taken with the river and his simple clinker-built  rowboat in Chapter 1, later spends a day with a charismatic seafaring rat in Chapter 9. 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 want is a miniature adventure that fits within 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. More likely Our need to singlehand is a practical thing; “I want to go sailing. Now.”
    I’ve written this 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, most of it alone. I’ve accumulated the practical sort of 15- to 50-mile day sort of experience that matters, 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.

    Specific thoughts for the solo sailor? Just a few. Know your limitations and stay within them—the thoughtful beginner can be safe. Be a jack of all trades—whatever fails, it’s all on you. Choose your weather and be flexible—who were you trying to impress? Go home when it’s not fun anymore.

    Faster Cruising for the Coast Sailor
    Pending 2017, Kindle, about 200 pages
    Buy now2017, PDF, 183 pages
    Table of Contents
    This book is about covering more miles from dawn to dusk, without running yourself ragged in the process. It’s not about racing disguised as cruising. I’m not pushing new sails, obsessive sail trim, or watch keeping routines. It certainly is not about sleep deprivation and crossing oceans.
    It is about:
    ·         Getting the most from what you’ve got.
    ·         Simple modifications that bring big benefits on small dollars.
    ·         The basics of short-handed sailing.
    ·         Efficiency in all things.
    ·         Getting where you’re going a little earlier in the day, with more time to play.
    If you want to dawdle some days that’s OK too. I’ll make it even easier.

    Cruising Guides

    Circumnavigating the Delmarva Peninsula—A Guide for the Shoal Draft Sailor

    2014, Kindle, 257 pages
    Buy now2017, PDF, 159 pages
    Table of Contents

    The writing of this book has been a 10-year labor of love, summarizing all we have learned in six circumnavigations, and all we have learned of this trip from locals and other sailors. I remain baffled by how many race around the Delmarva, rather than visiting the small places and absorbing the flavor. True, the prospect and the reality of piloting changeable inlets is intimidating, and we'll take you off the beaten path, but mostly these are places any boat could go, that had the time; I have describe both the conventional paths, and the more adventurous and rewarding alternatives.

    We brought back the details of a world known only to watermen and local sailors. I hope I have brought real life this tale; I know how deeply I enjoyed the time spent with my family.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2017

    Opening a Book Store

    I've been writing more and more these past few years, working hard at making a living doing something different from the corporate race that dominated my life for 35 years. I've written more than 100 magazine
    articles for Practical Sailor, Good Old Boat, and Sail. It's been a fun and educational process, researching all manner of sailing minutia I couldn't other wise have justified. I've been working with fascinating and knowledgeable people I wouldn't other wise have met. The minor rub is that magazines require a punchy style with lots of pictures, simple points, and minimal text. Many times I turned in a written a report that was as tightly edited as seemed possible, without cutting vital supporting detail or explanation, only to see it cut 75% with a broadsword. I didn't blame them or get sore about it. They had a page count to hit and a format to follow. But it's hard to communicate complex ideas that way.

    Books are longer. The author has the space to express finished, complete ideas, something magazines, internet forums, and blog posts never can. If an interesting rabbit hole beckons, you go down there and don't climb out until you found the bottom and figured out what it all means. For  nearly a year I've been sifting though my old article notes, doing new research to fill the holes, and well, sailing a lot and thinking about it.

    The result will be collection of books that will be dribbling out over the next few months. Most are well along, and the first new offering will be available in a few days (Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Sailor). Some of these will be just for Kindle, and others will be publish conventionally:

    • Circumnavigating the Delmarva Peninsula--A Guide for the Shoal Draft Cruiser. has been out there for a while, available for Kindle through Amazon, 247 pages. $6.99
    • Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Cruiser. I was tabulating seatime in my Coast Guard experience log, and it seems I sailed over 25,000 miles in short hops, most of it alone. Kindle through Amazon, 143 pages. $6.50
    • Rigging Modern Anchors. I've written a lot on this and done a lot more testing that never made it to print. I believe this will make it in on paper.
    • Keeping a Boat on Peanuts. If you've followed this blog you know I can spread money paper thin. But you've only see the tip of the iceberg. Kindle, about 300 pages.
    • Faster Cruising. Not the racer kinda of book, talking about laminate sails and advanced electronics. The stuff you can do with no money to get more miles into a cruise. Not all of it is about speed. Kindle, about 150 pages.

    The Book Store will show up as a blog post in a few days, and will then migrate to the top bar. A few sample chapters will likely be posted as each becomes available. Maybe you'll see something there worth either reading or recommending.

    Sunday, January 1, 2017

    Circumnavigating Delmarva Peninsula—A Guide for the Shoal Draft Sailor

    Table of Contents     
    Acknowledgments                                                                                        4
    Map: Course of 2006 and 2007 aboard Cherokee Sun                                    5
    Preface                                                                                                       7
    Trip Summary 2005 to 2012: Anchorages, Stops and Inlets Transited                8
    Preface to Second Edition                                                                            10
    Departure                                                                                                   12
    Lesson 1: Preparations                                                                                 14
    Day 1: Deale to Solomons Island                                                                   24
    Lesson 2: Single-handed and Shorthanded Sailing                                           30
    Day 2: Solomons Island to Cape Charles                                                        33
    Lesson 3: Kids                                                                                             41
    The Cape Charles Impact Crater                                                                   49
    Plate: Smith Island, Southern Point                                                                 50
    Day 3: Cape Charles to Wachapreague                                                          52
    Plate: Cobb Island, Southern End                                                                   58
    Plate: Hog Island Inlet                                                                                   59
    Plate: Hog Island Inlet and Broad Water Area                                                60
    Plate: Wachapreague Inlet                                                                             61
    An Alternative Passage: Cape Charles to Wachapreague        
    by the Virginia Inside Passage                                                                 63
    Hurricanes, Swell, and Night Sailing; Cautionary Tales                                    72
    A Brief History of Cobb Island                                                                      76
    Day 4: Wachapreague to Chincoteague                                                          78
    Lesson 4: Settling Down for the Night                                                            83
    Day 5: Chincoteague, a Non-Sailing Day                                                        85
    Lesson 5: Safety                                                                                           88
    Day six: Chincoteague to Ocean City                                                             97
    Lesson 6: Tips for the Trailer Sailor                                                                101
    Day 7: Ocean City to Cape May                                                                    103
    Days 8-11: Interregnum - Cape May with Family                                            107
    Day 12: The Approaching Storm                                                                    110
    Day 13: Cape May to Chesapeake City                                                          111
    Day 14: Chesapeake City to Deale                                                                 114
    Three Weeks Later                                                                                       116

    Appendix I: Cruising Guide                                                                            117
    a) Delaware Bay and Atlantic Coast from Cape Henlopen to Cape Charles
    b) Camping Opportunities on the Delmarva Barrier Islands and Chesapeake Bay
    c) Chesapeake Bay—Details and Corrections of Interest to the Shoal Draft Sailor     
    Appendix II: Access: The Delmarva Barrier Islands and Chesapeake Islands
    Appendix III: Recommended Reading                                                            155
    Suggested Inserts                                                                                          159