Friday, December 17, 2021

Hoistable Lights for Anchoring and Restricted Ability to Manuver (RAM)

What lights do you show when lying to a drogue or sea anchor? You are not anchored. You are not underway in the standard sense, since you cannot maneuver. The answer is RAM. This also includes night diving.

But you can't buy hoistable RAM lights, certainly not any suitable for the limited power supply of a sailboat. So I made my own from LED clearance lights, which are cheap, low draw, and weatherproof. The assembly is >1000-pound tensile strength (tested), so I can rig it tight for rough weather.


Bright enough? The top light and green light are USCG approved lights. The small white light on my backstay, just above the boom, is another "emergency anchor light" that is clearly not bright enough.

I'm testing them for at least 6 months before I roll it out.

Why would I want RAM lights? I dive at night ocationally. This will keep me seen.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Attaching Drogues to a Folding Trimaran

 According to Don Jordan, the max load on a JSD (Jordan Series Drogue), during that worst survivable hit, is about the displacement of a monohull, and about 150% of a light trimaran, like the folding Farrier and Corsair trimarans. The problem is, the folding mechanism and floats are not designed to withstand that sort of wracking force. I'm pretty sure far less would pull them right off. I'm pretty sure attaching a JSD or parachute sea anchor to the floats is a failure waiting to happen, and most likely, one you would not survive.

However, the akas (beams) are very strong in compression. That is their design basis. Let's think of this as a truss.

One scenario is anchoring the bridle to the winches (applicable to conventional drogues). The max bridle tension is about 50% displacement, or 3x less than a JSD. A turning block is attached to the beam (sling) or float (reinforced point), and the bridle extends aft from that. Chafe should be minimal if the bridle is polyester. The aft load on the akas is minimized. The bridle is adjustable (angle and length). The compression load on the aka is high, but well below the design load. See notes below.

The  other senario is a JSD that is braced forward. It could be above or below the tramp (above is probably more workable). The brace could be separate or it could be a continuous line. The compression load on the aka is larger, but still within limits. See notes below.
 Thoughts? The designer never envisioned these as ocean boats that would use sea anchors, so the engineering is not documented.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Restricted Ability to Manuver

 Divers boats show the alpha flag by day.

But at night, lights are required. Only commercial dive boats are equipped to show these, but there is no recreational exemption. This is not a dive-specific light combination, but the standard "restricted ability to maneuver" (RAM) combination defined in COLREGS. It is combined with either running or anchor lights, as relevant.

Curiously, these are the same lights you should show (USCG) in some other unusual circumstances:

  • Trailing a drogue.
  • Hanging to a sea anchor.
  • Running under bare poles in survival conditions. If you head up you may be rolled. You have little speed control.
  • Laying ahull in survival conditions (not just drifting for rest--you must be restricted).

Some others are less clear:

  • Hove to in severe weather. But you could probably manuver if you needed to.
  • Singlehanding and napping. But there is NO COLREGS exemption for not keeping a watch. 

Remotely piloted vessels also show RAM unless under close pilot control (USCG).

Without RAM lights, you are not allowed to show anything other than standard running lights.  I would sure like to have something more obvious up there. The only other option is a distress light, which is not what I want.

It is not for conditions where your motions are unpredictable. "Not under command" may be more appropriate: 

  • No rudder and no drogue to give control.
  • Powerboat with no engine.

Obviously, you could build these lights, but red all-around lights are big and expensive. Over $500, lots of amps, and heavy. Same with hoistable lights.  You would think there would be some  reasonable hoistable solution on the market for recreational divers, but I can't find it.

Ideas Welcome!


up-date. 1-14-2022 

A so-called emergency anchor light is rigged at the end of the boom. Not very visible and fragile. The RAM lights are highly visible (for foul weather) and draw only 0.9 amps total. The RAM units can also be unplugged (it is modular) and used as cockpit and cabin lights (white or night vision-safe red. And they are physically rugged and waterproof.

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Desicating Head

 My Stiletto 27 had a portable toilet that stunk. Use the right chemical and it stinks less. Every time it is used a laborious haul/dump/clean process is triggered.

My PDQ 32/34 had a nice holding tank system that I had engineered to perfection. No odor, nearly like home. But it required space and weighed a good bit. Perfect for the PDQ, but totally unsuitable for the F-24.

We really only day sail the PDQ, and the head is only for emergencies. It didn't get used for years at a time, so we switched to WAG bags. Never used them.

 I'd been poo-hooing composting toilets for years. I'd experienced some nasty ones in cabins and some friends had a bad experience with a Natures Head. In fact, both failures probably included elements of design and operator error.

I was asked to investigate the topic, and so I did. There was a long-winded article in Practical Sailor last month, covering both toilet design, absorbants, and anti-odor additives for the urine tank.

 There are two keys to function:

  • Separate the urine from the solids. First, the smell is greatly reduced, and second, the solids side it much drier, preventing it from getting wet and aerobic.
  • Dry the solids. Like any animal dropping, once it is dry on the outside, there is little odor. That is the function of the absorbent; to speed drying, filter the air, and cover. It is NOT to cause composting. This is a desiccating toilet. 

There simply is not room on a boat for true composting toilet. The process tanks months, requires temperature and moisture control, and continuous mixing and ventilation.  Since you cannot effectively compost, then stop pretending and dry the waste instead. You can then take it home and compost it if you like, or double bag it and dispose of it like litter box scoopings. Your choice. The urine is odor-free once treated (see below) and can be disposed of easily.

I built a test version from a storage tub, a bucket and scraps to test the absorbents and additives. It was a crude thing, but in fact I used it in the basement bathroom for two months, during which it proved to be amazingly odor-free and easily to deal with. I was stunned. It was time to eat a large helping of crow. But I was happy to eat the crow, because the result was a truly user friendly head solution for my F-24.

The final version was based on molded parts from Separatte, a fiberglass tank I modified to fit the available space, an under seat baffle I cut from fiberglass, and yes, a bucket and jug. The top hinges up for service, which is a simple matter of lifting out a bag and replacing it; a clean, contact-free process. The absorbent of choice, at any price (I tested many), is millwork sawdust and shavings I get for free (aspen bet bedding is also very good). The urine treatment is citric acid, though vinegar and Nilodor are also very good.

I no longer see any point in conventional portable toilets at all. A desiccating toilet is better in every way. Regrettably, you must either pay a king's ransom or build your own.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Human Powered--What Does COLREGS Say?

 Nothing too specific. But in Coast Guard Nav Rules FAQ post the following is offered:

13. Where do Kayaks and Canoes fit into the Navigation Rules? Kayaks and Canoes are a vessel under oars and are addressed specifically in Rule 25 (lights)
Although a vessel under oars may be lit as a sailing vessel, one should not infer that they are considered to be a sailing vessel for other Rules (i.e. Rule 9, 10, 12, 18 or 35). Ultimately, the issue of whether a vessel under oars is the give way or stand-on vessel would fall to what would be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case (Rule 2), and, the notion that they are less able than most other vessels.
Per Rule 25(d) they must be lit with 1 of 3 options between sunset and sunrise:

  1. display the lights of a sailing vessel (per Rule 25 and Annex I); or
  2. display an all-round white light (visible for at least 2 miles [per Rule 22] and meet the technical characteristics [i.e. color, intensity] per Annex I); or
  3. have at hand either an electric torch (flashlight) or lighted lantern (oil or gas) which need not comply with Rule 22 or Annex I.
    • Preferably, option #3 provides similar lighting, intensity and characteristics of an all-around white light (versus a single beam of light);
    • may be mounted, worn, stowed, etc so long as it is ready at hand to warn other mariners; and,
    • should be used in ample time so as to warn others of danger and in manner consistent with Rule 36, so that it not embarrass any vessel (i.e. so as not to blind or otherwise negatively impact their navigation).  See FAQ#14 (below) for a discussion regarding high intensity and flashing lights.

I'm rather puzzled at why the original means of power did not rate definition and specific discussion. Yes, some of this is obvious, but still. Why not spell it out? Sure it varies a lot. Perhaps it is because the maneuverability of a kayak compared to a cruising boat with a sculling oar are very different, bu the same could be said of a Sunfish vs. a tall ship.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Beach Plastic. Micro-Plastics vs. Clean Burning

A desert island question, or rather many remote areas, even in the US.

You are on a beach with plastic debris. There is no access to recycling or safe land filling. The alternatives are open burning or ocean dumping, and as a practical matter, it will be left where it is. Do you:

  • Throw the plastic on the campfire to prevent micro plastic  pollution.
  • Burning the plastic more cleanly in a rocket stove or similar.
  • Leave it be.

Further, I have studied beach plastic in my area and read studies world-wide. The main culprit of dioxins when plastic is burned IS PVC, and PVC sinks (it is heavier than water). There is NO PVC in beach plastic, only PET and LDPE, which are just carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They can smoke if burned with poor air mixing, but there is nothing in their chemistry that is more polluting to burn that wood.

Also, drift wood contains elevated levels of chlorine. Seawater. But 20-40 times less than PVC plastic.

Burning is never great, and even less so when the heat is not used for something necessary. Micro plastics are a problem, but how big a problem is far from established. Maybe very small, maybe a long-term time bomb. We don't know.

I've read that this is also a problem in Nepal. A better stove is needed.

  • Trekers bring plastic. 
  • The locals have no trash disposal methods (they don't have plastic trash--they farm and they keep cattle).
  • They need fuel for cooking and heating, and they have little wood. The alternative may be yak dung.

I've been doing some experiments with stoves that can burn beach plastics without smoke, far more cleaning than a typical cooking fire. I could cook a meal with plastic and not get any soot on the pot. But I don't know what I think about that.

Waterproof Socks

 I began testing waterproof socks for Practical Sailor over a years ago. My F-24 has an open transom, waves sloshing through are a common thing in a blow, and they are a life saver in the winter.

More recently I went to the beach in a kayak to collect beach plastic (upcoming article), and because of an unusually low tide, found myself wading ashore from as much as 100 yards out. The water was still unpleasantly cool (55F) and I left my wet suit shoes at home.


 But I was wearing my waterproof socks (in this case a winter version by Randy Sun). Nice and warm. You can feel that you put your foot in the water, but I wouldn't call it cold. A little squishy, maybe, but dry.

I really like being able to sail all year in deck shoes. No more sea boots for me.

They don't breath as well, so I won't be wearing them in the summer.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

New RTCM SOS Beacons

The USCG has approved a new SOS beacon standard that flashes red/orange, cyan, red/orange in the familiar SOS pattern. Learn to recognize it.


There is also an older standard where the flash is white-only.

 Although not as bright as a flare, IMO they are more recognizable than a hand-held flare. The USCG wanted to replace flares with something safer. They also last 6-8 hours, which is a huge improvemtn over 4 x 3 minutes.


After trying to buy flares last years, and being greeted with old stock (only 24 months left), I switched to an electronic beacon. Overtime it will be cheaper, and I believe it is better.

You still need a day signal. VHS and cell phones are still important. Offshore parachute flares are still conspicuous at long range.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Spring is Coming

 It's supposed to pass 60F next week. I won't know how to dress. Time for some fast sailing.

It doesn't like like double digit speed, but it is. 

I don't have many pictures in the high teens--I guess I'm busy!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Drogue Chainplate Design

 Don Jordan, the father of the series drogues, suggested a chainplate of conservative dimensions, but did not detail the design. He wanted to keep it simple so that people would use them. Most commonly, these plates are installed horizontally, because that looks right. But what if the pull is not horizontal?

In my limited experience, and based on what I think is common sense, the strongest pulls are from a downwards angle. From basic engineering statics, the largest bending forces are near the transom end, and the largest shear loads on the bolts will be when the load is off-axis. That suggests either more or larger bolts near the transom, but more will better distribute the shear stress load to the laminate.

Hardly a detailed analysis, just thinking. In practice, it would be simpler just to build it oversize, though internal reinforcement of the laminate might be avoided by this sort of design.