Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fire Blanket

I've been doing a little research for an up-coming Practical Sailor article on firefighting for cruisers.

Fire prevention is the first step. I experienced a number of incipient fires in the refinery over the years and one on a boat and they all shared a common cause; chafed wire or by extension, a bad switch. Two were complicated by running the wires through the same pass-through as fuel lines; common practice, but really dumb.

Image result for face palm e-mail graphicFire extinguisher are obvious enough. Mount them where they won't be blocked by the fire and understand that once you use them you will not be able to reenter  the cabin to finish fighting the fire due to the fumes the fire extinguisher creates. Funny, they never mention that rather important detail. Additionally, the extinguisher does NOT cool the embers, which commonly reignite the moment the extinguishing media dissipates and the air returns. You need to either keep the air away or cool the embers with water. To keep the air away you need a physical barrier.

I moved on to fire blankets. Not mentioned as often, rare in chandleries, but one of the best proven and simple items. Very difficult to make things worse and it will always slow the progression while you gather more materials. So I went in the basement to gather a few materials for a test; glass cloth, cotton rags, and some scraps of wool. Pulled out a torch and within a few minutes of testing came to an embarrassing "ah-ha moment:"

Army Surplus wool blankets are fire retardant treated and won't burn. Of course they are treated. It's a war.

So if you've got an old blanket or three in the trunk, like many of us do, now you know what it's good for.

Wasn't that obvious?


Wool is actually preferred for first responders and most industrial use because it is better for wrapping people and drapes better over the fire. However, fiberglass is common for house hold use because it fits in a smaller package. I'm going to make a cover for the Army blanket and use that. It really would not burn.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Seam Rubber

When my daughter was very small she salvaged a walnut plaque I'd received at some conference for something or other, and gave it for a birthday, along with a few things she'd made. She said I could make something from it, having observed me make cool stuff from scraps all the time. Sweet.

Fifteen years later I decided my sail finishing bench needed a proper seam rubber, so I scribbled up a plan (above), sawed a section out of the plaque, attacked with a number of power sanders and finally some 400 grit paper, creating a simple, traditional tool that's quite comfortable in the hand. It's a little smaller than customary, but I'm only doing repairs and after a few years of use it still feels just right.

Better than watching re-runs.


Can you even buy such a thing? I'm not sure. You can buy one of these for rolling seams when gluing or welding roofing seams, but the sailmakers I've watched all have the home made sort.

MARSHALLTOWN The Premier Line E54D 2-Inch Flat Commercial Grade Solid Rubber Seam Roller with DuraSoft Handle

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Never Remove the Lifelines

And what about the insensitive _____ that's filming it all. The guy is actually in real trouble.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mildew Treatment for Pennies

The great myth of boat ownership--other than believing that everything takes 3 times as long and costs 4 times as much as you expect--is that mildew is ubiquitous. No matter how leak tight, no matter how well maintained it is always there. Well, I disagree wholeheartedly, and I challenge anyone to find any in my cabin. How have I dodged this scourge?

First, keep the boat leak-tight. That means no water in the bilge and no leaks around deck hardware. Not that hard if you mount things right. Strong enough so they don't move, bedded with polyurethane caulk or butyl rubber.

Second, if there is a leak that starts some growth, treat it right. In fact, I've learned far more at home, cleaning a basement that has fallen victim to occasional flooding, than around boats. The key is a cleaner with the following characteristics:
  • Controlled alkaline pH. Mold and mildew prefer slightly acid conditions. While vinegar has a faithful following, I was able to demonstrate in head-to-head testing that in damp conditions that alkaline treatments are more effective.
  • No food. Again, vinegar is a problem because it becomes mildew food when the damp returns and can actually actually accelerate growth. Likewise soaps and detergents are a problem; the mildew uses them as food.
  • Can be left in place and NOT rinsed off. Or rather the rinse must contain the inhibitor. For this reason, do NOT increase the dosage in the hope that more is better. It isn't.
  • Contains an additional agent that is toxic to mildew. In the second formula, borax is a powerful anti-mold and anti-bacterial.
  • Not bleach. While bleach can be effective on the surface, it is damaging to many surfaces, first as bleach, and then when it dries, because the pH is far too high.

You could troop down to Home Depot and pay many dollars per gallon for pennies worth of chemical in a bottle. Plastic, shipping, mark-up and and paying for know how all cost. Of you could simply brew up something proven to be more effective.

Unlike bleach, both of these formulas require some scrubbing. Some pre-soak time helps, killing the organisms and loosening the bonds. After that, a little elbow grease. If you need to rinse, remember to re-treat to provide protection from re-infection.

(First seen in Practical Sailor, October 2013

 Concrobium is a top performer in many independent tests.It is also dead simple, easily formulated from stuff you can get at stores you already go to.

DIY Concrobium knock-off formula
  • 1 quart hot water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 2 tablespoons washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 2 tablespoons trisodium phosphate (TSP)
This works better than all of the commercial formulas on natural fibers and 90% of the commercial formulas on synthetics (there are a few specialty formulas based in silicone quatrenary amines that are more effective on synthetics). But in head-to-head testing using canvas strips in special mildew chambers and on old PFDs I treated in strips and then left under a backyard shed, the clear winner was always a borax-based cleaner of my own formulation. Again, the key is to maintain the correct concentrations, don't add any detergent, which will only become mildew food, and then leave the final rinse of this treatment to dry in place. For most cleaning, all the is required is to spray the area until wet, scrub vigorously, and wipe off the excess.

Borax Mildew Treatment
  •  1 quart hot water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons Borax
  • 1 tablespoon TSP


6 months later

     This has been a lifesaver on wet basement carpets. Last time we had a flood I had injured my back and was unable to get the carpet cleaner out for several weeks. It had begun to reek of mildew. However, going over the carpet with this borax formula, once as a cleaner, and then a second time as a rinse, not only removed most of the mud and mildew, but also killed the smell and prevented all growth, even though the carpet stayed wet for a few more days. The stuff is a miracle.

    BTW, it is also very effective for cleaning mildewed drywall before painting. The mildew will be killed, it will not return, and the residue will not affect paint adhesion.

    Why is not sold in the stores? One reason is that claiming it kills mildew would require registering it as a pesticide. So long as common chemicals like borax are sold as generic they are exempt, but the moment you formulate and make claims, the regulatory status changes.

    But the real answer is that I don't know. I can only assume that the sellers of cleaning agents believe folks will buy a bleach based quick-clean product, but can't understand the benefits of prevention. They may be right. But I think sailors can understand.

    So this is my gift to you for the holiday season. The most effective anti-mildew cleaner avialabe for pennies. Enjoy.

    Merry Christmas!

    Wednesday, December 14, 2016

    Drowning like a Gentleman

    (Inspired by a John Vigor post, October 2013)

    (What got me thinking about this? I think it's the cold water and sort survival times that come with winter sailing.)
    Image result for coast guard rescue storm

    Most--I think far too many--sailors believe it is their right to be rescued when they get into trouble at sea, no matter the conditions, risk to rescuers, or the extent of their culpability.

    I read of a rescue in not-terrible weather, where forum experts question the validity of calling for rescue before the boat is actually sinking. Often the boat is disabled, the weather expected to deteriorate, and rescue is much safer right now than later. I'm pretty sure the Coast Guard likes that better. Even the insurance company would rather buy a boat than face wrongful death liability claims from the families of passengers.

    I spent many years climbing in the mountains, often far from any realist hope of rescue. Not that it would help much after you augured-in from 1000 feet up. I wasn't expecting help, and often we would back off on climbs that wouldn't scare us near the road. We had to be 100% certain of success, not pretty sure, since even a sprained ankle could get you killed. And perhaps this is why I never had an epic in all of those years of climbing. I respected that the line between climbing in-control and dead was not that broad.

     the rescue people.’ ”
    “Blondie Hasler, one of the founders of the OSTAR, would probably not approve of this equipment [the EPIRB] since he was against any competitor making use of rescue services. He has been quoted as saying, a competitor who got into trouble  ‘ . . .  should have the decency to drown like a gentleman and not bother 

    "Hasler was not entirely joking. The feeling was quite prevalent among ocean cruisers in the 1970s. Eric Hiscock said much the same thing in print, and never carried an EPIRB on any of his circumnavigations. He believed that people who worked on the sea in a professional capacity were fully entitled to any rescue services available, but he thought that people who went to sea by choice, for their own personal pleasure, should never expect others to risk their lives to save them when they got into trouble. Self sufficiency was the watchword, combined with a very stiff upper lip."

    Yeah, if I were crossing oceans I'd pack an EPIRB and sat phone, but I also know I'd feel damn guilty about pushing the button or placing a call under conditions that put others at serious risk.  As coastal sailor I have very little sympathy for many that get in trouble near shore while tempting weather that they just shouldn't have. They could have waited. They could have taken the inside passage. They read about daring do, but didn't actually absorb the seriousness of the situation. They wanted an adventure, but didn't grasp that in a true adventure the outcome is uncertain. 

    But it's been that way for centuries. The Donner Party comes to mind; city folk that figured they could bend nature to their will and their schedule. Oops.

    Saturday, December 10, 2016

    Boat Portraits

     -On watercolour... The only virtue to it, is to put down an idea about what you feel at the moment.
       (Andrew Wyeth)

    -On beauty... If you foolishly ignore beauty, you'll soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you wisely invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life. 

      (Frank Loyd Wright)

    From a purely practical perspective, a boat is a tool to take you places. You can visit small towns, where it becomes your water front hotel. Anchored in a cove it becomes a secluded cabin, a fishing and kayaking camp, a romantic get away, or a family outing. But at least 50 % of our motivation comes from somewhere in the heart, where we just like the way it looks, just lying there but ready to take us anywhere. We envision what she looks like under sail, but we never get to see, that. We want to share the emotion with friends, but unless they are sailors, it's impossible to convey in a cold photograph.

     Bugey sailing near Cape May, New Jersey. This was done on commission for the owner and is a composite of a number of photographs.

    The artist, on the other hand, is not so constrained by the situation. The light can changed, a favorite background substituted, an her best attitude presented, conveying how you see her.

    The feeling of special places and homes come alive as well.

    A few photographs, an idea, and the artist's eye can preserve this feeling forever. Sailing feels a bit like flying, but not everyone feels it.

    Ken Frye -- Artist


    Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    More Shoe Repair

    I often rest the side of my shoe against the cockpit edge to brace myself in heavy going, and as a result, wear through the uppers of my deck shoes. A bit of 3M 5200 (any high strength polyurethane sealant would do as well) and a scrap of Sunbrella come to the rescue. Five minutes tops.

    How to get this notoriously slow curing stuff to kick in the winter, when the house is too dry (the curing agent for PU is water vapor in the air)? Place the shoes in a cooler, in a warm place, with a bowl of water inside. If you are really in a hurry, place a heating pad, on low, in the cooler to. Cure in 1-3 days, depending on the temperature.

    Sunday, December 4, 2016

    Big Wind Sailing

    In three days of sail I saw two sailboats. Between early December temperatures and breezes mostly 15-25 knots for 3 days, folks stay home. Now and then I agreed, but there was also some fine sailing and fine blue skies.

    Three Reefs

    This is not pretty. I ordered my new main with 3 reefs, but I never got around to setting them, and thus I never worked out the hardware. This morning I was greeted by a sustained 25 knot wind, gusts to 25 knots, and the prospect of a 25 mile beat. So I had to bloody figure it out. Unfortunate, I didn't figure it out until I was out of shelter in about 20 knots, so I did something rather crude with docklines... and it worked just fine.

    I have already decided, however, to add a double stopper to the side of the boom (got one free) and use it for both the 3rd reef tack rigging and the main outhaul. There is a cleat now, but it's hard to get the tension right with that.

    Two docklines work fine for the clew and outhaul, but I couldn't get them tight to the boom, though that barely matters. A strope hold the tack down, and tension is from the halyard.

    Just a little genoa and 3 reefs. The ride was rough as hell, but the autopilot could steer. Peak speed, when the water flattened out in the lee, was 9.1 knots on a very close reach, with just this little bit of sail. I had green water on the salon top. Fun!

    Notice that even in 35 knots, I didn't need to secure the bunt. The lazy jacks were enough.

    Not all hard work though. Warehouse Creek has some fine kayaking. I also spent many hours testing anchors and diving (dry suit) to see what was going on under there. After all these years, the mud is still teaching me things I did not know.

    Saturday, December 3, 2016

    Why Would You Furl the Wrong Way?

    Perhaps the continuous line furler is to blame, but still...

    It's a neat job, all the more reason to search for a rational explanation.

    Saturday, November 26, 2016

    Singlehanded Tacking--Releasing a Sheet from a Self Tailing Winch

    A simple little trick, not often seen in books. A real "ah ha" moment for me, years ago, when I learned this simple trick.

    To tack:
    • Make certain you are at full speed.
    • Reduce the number of wraps on the winch to no more than two.
    • Loop the tail around the wrong side of the winch.
    • Release the leeward traveler control. I want the traveler to fall all the way to leeward when I cross the eye of the wind, so that it does not push me back into irons.
    • Set the autopilot  to steer 110 degrees to windward (I single hand a lot).
    • When the jib breaks, wherever you are in the cockpit, simply give the line a yank. 
    • Haul the new working sheet in as the turn is completed. With good timing, only a few cranks on the winch will be needed.
    • Bring the boat up to her true course and bring the traveler back up.  She accelerates better with the main brought in by degrees.
    The remaining two wraps will give some resistance, reducing the flapping of sheets, but adjust this to the wind and the boat. I can flip those turns off with a flip of the wrist lick from the other side of the cockpit (which is well out of reach on a cat).

    NEVER backwind the genoa. That is a great way to stop the boat and lose control in the waves. I tacked several times yesterday in winds ranging from 25-30 knots in a terrible speed 4-foot chop, with 3 reefs in, and still had no trouble punching through. It is a matter of sequence and sail balance.

    I have also gone to 1-piece sheets, where the port and starboard are connected into one loop, like on a beach cats and dinghies. On one hand, you can't coil them up when finished sailing, but I can always get control of both sheets from either side of the boat, it's easy to pull them with me as I move. Tangles are virtually eliminated. There are good reasons dinghies do it this way. I also have two sets of genoa sheets (inside and outside tracks).

    I have kept separate spinnaker sheets. I don't jibe that often, and some days I don't even attach both sheets, since I won't be jibing and it keeps the clew light.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2016

    Best Place for an Anchor Light?

    I don't mind climbing that much, but bulbs burn out or corrosion ruins the connection at the worst times, and I'm not climbing up there a some rolly anchorage at the end of a long day, after dark, not just for a damn bulb. It's happened for the last time.

    The rule does not say it has to be at the masthead. It says where it "can best be seen," which in my opinion--and many sailors agree--is absolutely not the masthead. Mostly it just looks like a star, way up there, giving no clue as to how far away it is, or helping anyone to actually see the boat. It can be confused with shore lights from a distance, and in an anchorage full of overlapping boats with lights of variable brightness on masts of variable height, it's just confusing. If you are moving directly towards the anchored boat, the shift of the light against the background is not easily noticed, and on a cloudless night there is no background. Every year high-speed dinghies and runabouts strike boats they didn't see, marked by a single light far above their view line. I have always left a cockpit light on in crowded anchorages (LED), which alone is more visible than that useless masthead light, since it lights up the boat and warns off drunken late-night navigators. That is what I do when the masthead light fails, generally adding a cabin light for good measure if in a crowded place. In most creeks, the cockpit light is enough. It would also be nice if I could reach it or at least lower it to the deck for maintenance.

    1. A pole on the stern.
    2. On the hard top, forward and inside the shrouds.
    3. Add a plug an run something up the flag halyard.
    4. Use the steaming light and stern light in combination. That gives 360 white coverage.

    Commenters have mentioned that sealed LED will solve the reliability problem. Additionally, LED is the only rational answer when power consumption is considered.

    Whatever I do will meet the 2-mile viability standard. No point in tempting liability.

    Other ideas? But the masthead location is nonfunctional in my opinion.


    rev.  11/24/2016

    Several posters on the PDQ Owners Forum suggested the Davis 3300 Mega Light. LED, photo cell, tiny power consumption, plug-in, and deck lighting too. Sounds like the answer.

     Image result for daVIS 3300

    Friday, November 18, 2016

    Failed Tilt Locks--Yamaha 9.9 High Thrust

    Warning: If you don't own a PDQ catamaran this post is basically useless to you. I'll post something better tomorrow.

    I like these engines. They are generally dependable, easy enough to work on, and deliver more thrust than anything in their class. But the engineering of the tilt lock mechanism is poor and is a familiar lament of PDQ owners. Fortunately, the cure is relatively painless, although it may seem crude. But crude, in the sense that it is simple, is a welcome thing to cruisers.

    I suppose if the engine was mounted hanging off the back of a trailer boat it would be reasonable to keep it lubed in all the right places and to hose it off now and then. It would actually get to dry. But cooped up in the wells it gets corroded and stuck. Within 3 years I found myself having to use a winch handle to flip the tab down on the port side, and by now both the up and down motions are nearly locked. And when it finally locks, the engine will be stuck up or down and there's nothing you can do about it...

    ... Short of get in the water and fix it. Not as bad as it sounds. The first time this happened to me, nearly a decade ago, I had no idea what had happened and ended up tying the engine down with a rope for the rest of the cruise. Which actually worked fine, leading to this solution:
    • If the engine is stuck in the down position, remove the trim pin that the engine locks onto. Lift it up.
    • With pliers, remove the cotter pins and remove the latching mechanism and springs. No more lock.
    • Put the trim pin back in, if you took it out.
    Now the engine will go up and down easily with the standard tackle, it just won't lock down, which means no reverse. Some owners have rigged up pulley systems, but I like to lift the covers and check for water flow, so I use something simple. A strap to hold the engine down.

    The loop stabilizes the strap and keeps the pull handle from getting mangled.

      The attachment point in the back is a stainless bolt hanger, a rock climbing tool that makes for a cheap, strong, single bolt anchor. The bolt is existing.

    Dead simple to make, it requires only a bit of webbing, a short lever strap, and a carabiner.
    • Make a loop from about 20 inches of 1-inch webbing and sew it to one end of the strap. About 20 ful stiches with #4 whipping twine will do. Trim the length of the strap  so that latch is in the center of the engine cover.
    • Sew a loop in the other and of the strap to attach the carabiner. In my case, the strap had a loop but it was too short, so I extend it with some line. I have the strap. Better, just sew the loop the right place.
    • Install a stainless bolt hanger (any climbing store or buy on-line) over the bolt at the back the dead-end the lifting line.
    To install, slide the loop down the inside of the handle on the front of the motor, pull it forward, and thread the rest of the strap through it. Tighten down the resulting girth hitch/luggage tag and place the strap over the engine. clip to the bolt hanger. Tighten down for reverse, loose and lay off to the side for forward. If you are not going to use reverse, it need not be attached.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2016

    Sewn Eye Splices

    rev. 11-2-2016

    June 2012:

    Splicing is the gold standard for forming permanent eyes and joining lines; unfortunately used double braid generally lacks the flexibility required for splicing; the cover won't open and the core won't slide. Knots are a standard solution and work in most cases; yes, there is some loss in strength, but lines generally die from chafe and I can't remember having one fail at the knot, other than in testing. But sometimes there simply isn't enough space or a knot will snag.

    Seizing is traditional, but it doesn't apply to modern ropes.Nylon get so skinny under load that the seizing gets loose and falls off. Even nylon is far too strong; test shows that 15-20 rope diameters are required to reach full strength. It worked on hemp 3-strand, but polyester is smoother and stronger.

    Hand sewn splices, on the other hand, has been proven proven on my boat for decades, in industry for decades, and I even did a long series of articles for Practical Sailor, pull testing samples to failure (subscribe for the details). It works, and it is WAY easier than splicing old line.

    Four years ago I needed new genoa sheets. The old one failed from fatigue (Kevlar core snapped at the clew where it flogged) and I needed a second set to go with my new inside sheet tracks. I found some good line for free (big boats replace halyards with a single wear spot in the center), but knots would hang up and splicing old line is basically impossible.

    First I remove about 1 1/2 rope diameters of core. This will allowed the end to be stitched down to create smooth taper.

    How much stitching is enough? Select a whipping twine that is 10-15% of the line diameter; for example, 7/16-inch line is about 11mm, so #10 whipping twine is a good match. Doubled that suggests about 12 round stitches (doubled, 2 passes, 2 sides, 56 strands total) on each side to reach 8000 pounds. Sure, it is not loaded in-line, but most of the load (about 35-55% in testing, depending on the roughness of the line) is actually carried by line-to-line friction, just as in a seizing. Also remember that due to friction of the eye around the shackle or fitting, the free end is only carrying about 25-35% of the load, depending on line stiffness. The results is that the stitching is only carrying a working load of about 1000*0.30*(1-0.45)=165 pounds and a line failure load of about 1350 pounds; not nearly as demanding as you would guess.

     I hate guessing. I broke over 100 samples during this project.

    Forget the theory.Testing revealed that the total thread strength  is approximately equal to the failure strength. Since the stitching is scattered, distributing the force to every part of the core, the splice is as strong as the line*. However, because wear and UV are real, so Increased it to 20 round stitches on each side of 7/16-inch line, not counting those that secure the taper.

    Whipping Twine Summary
    Twine Number        Diameter       Strength
    #4                            0.4 mm         35 pounds
    #8                            0.8 mm         70 pounds
    #10                          1.0 mm         90 pounds
    #15                          1.5 mm         130 pounds

    I went through lots of Robline product...

    Product Details
     But leather sewing twine is a cheaper alternative...

    Candora 260M Sewing Waxed Thread 1MM For Chisel Awl Upholstery Shoes Luggage Set 3 Colors (Beige)

    I also lab tested Spectra and Kevlar thread sewn eyes. It turns out that that Spectra and Kevlar twine make a slightly weaker joint because it is too strong, does not stretch enough to equalize strain, and cuts right through the polyester fibers. On the other hand, Spectra is more abrasion resistant. Either one works.

    Tip: it is easier to push the needle against a board than to use a palm.

    Then cover it with something for UV and chafe protection. Heat shrink is fast and poor choice (doesn't last). Webbing is better in severe applications... like winching a sheet along a shroud.

    I tried heat shrink, but after just 2 days it tore while winching across a shroud. The webbing has been in place for 4 years and is doing fine, if a bit faded.

    I like soft shackles for sheets. Less steel to flog, removable, and as strong as the larger line because it is doubled.If the eye is small it can't fall out easily, but a lashing makes sense. The failure point is always the same; the loop cuts off the stopper knot.  

    I have also switched to soft shackles for spinnaker sheets after a few failures. They are lighter, less prone to coming off, and less damaging to decks and foreheads.

    * This discussion is about polyester and high modulus lines. Nylon is a completely different animal, because when it stretches under load the distribution is thrown off. Imagine sewing elastic--only the first row of stitches actually holds anything. In a nutshell, the stitching needs to be crammed into the smallest practical length, not spread out like you might think. I have sewn nylon line and use sewn nylon tethers, but my procedures were tested. I don't suggest trying and I warn you that most sewn nylon webbing is considerably under strength due to poor understanding of the correct methods. Even sailmakers fail, since they are used to working with low-strech materials. Climbing gear is the guide. Look for bar tacks, such as used on climbing gear, as a sign they know what they are doing.

    Monday, October 17, 2016

    Hate the New CARB Spouts on Jerry Cans?

    The solution is a Shaker Siphon. Just a few quick up-and-down pulses and it goes about 60% as fast as pouring from a can (I timed it), but without spilling a drop or straining your back.

    Jerry can gas from the local station is about $0.70/gallon cheaper here, and I need to gas the car anyway. I figure the total time is also less than fooling around at the fuel dock.

    I promise, you will never lift a can again. Even good under way.

    1. The shaker end goes in the jerry can. 3-4 good shakes should start the flow.
    2. The farther you stuff the hose down the tank filler, the faster it runs. More height difference.
    3. Remember that you lift the suction end to stop. Stop a few ounces early so that you can empty the hose into the tank and clear the hose.
    4. Tip the can and place the hose in the lowest corner, and you will get every drop.

    [I still use a 1-gallon non-carb can to fill the integral tank on the dinghy outboard. Easier to control when only adding a pint or so.]

    I first spotted this as part of a Practical Sailor review titled "Taking the spill out of Fill-Ups."

    PDQ 36 Swim Platform

    Several years ago I extended the transoms of my PDQ 32 both to improve performance and, more importantly, improve boarding from the dinghy. The molding was more work than many would care to take on, and estimates were the price of a good used car. During the planning phase, several people suggested I should just ad a swim platform, something that could fold out of the way.

    This PDQ 36 owner did just that.

    It's not the way I would do it. I'm concerned that...
    • the extension would actually add turbulence
    • No buoyancy at low speeds
    • Could be weird backing
    • More trouble to clean
    • Not strong when I back into something (I back into my slip every time)
    • Not as strong if someone jumps of falls down on it.
    Weight and materials cost are actually similar, I think: I was able to build with lighter materials.  But it would be easier and faster, without question. I think I would have hinged it at the step and the back edge and had it swing down against the transom, leaving it up underway. I would only do one side. Or they could be molded and held down with some manner of latch, like the Firebird cats... but then why not fix them.

    Many possibilities.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2016

    Let There be Heat!

    The Problem. The delivery trip of Shoal Survivor, from Deltaville, VA to Deale, MD took place between Christmas and New Year's (2008-2009); while it was actually quite comfortable at the helm during the day, protected behind the windscreen, it was decidedly chilly watching movies at night, and my daughter and I vowed that we would install heat before the first frost visited us in the next winter.  

    The Solution. I belabored the different types of heaters at length. We already had propane, and a spare propane tap existed. The boat was equipped with propane leak detectors and a solenoid valve, further simplifying the decision.  I had a fair idea of the BTU requirement, having spent a few nights on the boat last winter when the temperature dropped into the 20s. I learned that a single 1500 watt space heater didn't quite do it at all and two were just about right. I learned that a vented heater was an absolute requirement, as even cooking with propane in a sealed cabin brought on a slight headache; I'm not certain whether it was lack of oxygen or carbon monoxide.  Applying an appropriate conversion factor (about 3.3 BTUs/watt) and estimating the thermal efficiency at 85%),  5,800 BTUs seem to be the minimum requirement, and perhaps 10,000 BTUs would serve better. The Sig Marine / Dixon P-9000 (5500-7500 BTU output) seemed a reasonable choice and was also the most we really have room for.  A 10 pound bottle of propane should last 50-70 hours, depending on the rate, or most of a season for a $12 refill.

      I  taped a cardboard of the approximate sized to the wall and we lived with it all summer to prove that it was not in the way.

    Note on photo: there is a short gap above the heater, between the heater and the air intake pipe. Installation was not finished yet and this was later sealed with a metal band.

    Our Experience.

    Note 2-19-2010. Winter experience has proven the above numbers. We burned through 20 pounds in 14 very cold December - February days and nights on the boat. I except when on the hook, I have turned the gas off at night and used dock power to run a single 1500 watt space heater. On one very windy 22F night I had to run the heater on low and 2 x 1500 watt heaters in order to keep the entire boat over 70F. I turned the gas off to sleep.

    Note 3-24-2013. 3-day cold weather trip (27F-46F). Heater ran most of the time (sometimes on low), plus cooking, and burned about 2-3 pounds each 24 hours. It was off when we left the boat, generally for about 3-6 hours per day.

    Installation. While not overly difficult, gas always require meticulous attention to detail. There are Reasoner that on dry land, most jurisdictions no longer allow gas repair and installation parts to be sold to unlicensed individuals. Please be careful, and read-up on the code.

    • The gas line must run through a vapor-tight fitting from the propane locker into the cabin. This is a standard item through West Marine, Defender Marine, or Sig / Dickson. The hose is typically pre-assembled with 3/8" flare fittings on each end, so it is a bit fat. The vapor-tight fitting will accommodate this.
    • 12 volt electric is required for the fan.  The unit will run without it, but the heat output will be somewhat less and it will not be as well distributed. This is another reason we chose this over the Cozy Cabin Heater. The shut-off safety is not dependent on electricity.
    • Installation side clearances are actually quite small for this unit, because the fan circulates cold air around the firebox.  Additionally, the combustion air is drawn through the deck, and around the flu via a double wall pipe. Thus, smokestack never really gets hot on the outside.  The required clearance around the firebox is only 2 inches, and a little bit more around the smokestack. The smoke stack is almost cool enough to hold in your hand by the time it reaches the deck, so no special insulation is needed. The back of the stove and surfaces only a few inches away stay quite cool and no discernible heat is transferred to the bulkhead.
    • Mounting. I suppose I could have simply placed screws in the wall, but it's rather heavy and I decided through bolting made more sense.  The backside ( visible inside the head) fold heads are covered with decorative caps matching those used throughout the boat, and I used acorn nuts and on the heater side of the bolts. The holes were over-drilled, filled with epoxy, and re-drilled. ahead is a shower compartment as well and thus is quite wet.  The bulkhead is foam cored.
    • Through-deck hole for the smokestack. This was the most stressful step, I assure you.  Boring a 3 1/2-inch, gaping hole through the deck and through the salon roof and extremely visible place - not relaxing at all the first time you commit this sort of surgery on the new boat. It went smoothly enough. After drilling the core was removed extending about 1/2-inch back from the edges and the space filled with epoxy thickened with Cabosil (fumed silica) to a peanut butter consistency. The small holes for the mounting screws were also over drilled and, epoxy-filled, and then re-drilled as well. The smokestack comes with a very thick rubber gasket that is not drilled for the mounting screws; the screws drill their own holes through the rubber and make a very tight fit.
    • Heat and epoxy. It is perfectly acceptable to use moderate heat to encourage epoxy to cure more quickly in cool weather. However, there are some caveats: Do not apply significant heat before the epoxy reaches a gel state, as it will become very runny; do not heat thick layers until you are certain they will not exotherm and get hot on their own; it is better to warm the substrate than either the epoxy or the curing mixture after it has gelled.
    • Passing the electric wires and gas lines through the bulkhead near the heater was quite simple. I purchased an assortment set of rubber grommets from Home Depot; the largest and second largest nested fit the gas line, and the smallest one accommodated the 2 x 16 gauge wires.
    • There is a gap in the flue in the picture - that was covered by a collar, not yet installed, that allows for deck movement.Remember that distance between the heater and the roof changes as you go through waves and as people walk on the deck There is also thermal expansion to consider. Provide for some movement.
    • I checked for gas leaks with diluted dish washing liquid and a brush. I have added a simple carbon monoxide detector.  

    Note: as of 1-13-2010 the CO monitor has never chirped. There is no odor, moisture, or other side effect. Just like my home gas furnace, in miniature.

    • The optional stack heat shield seems unnecessary. The stack stays pretty cool (maximum175 F with infrared thermometer - hurts, but would not burn very quickly). Also, the guard will only fit if the stack is straight.

    • The deck guard is necessary; the stack (deck cap, included with the heaters and pictured to the left) is a VERY effective sheet grabber and will foul your sheets on every tack. I built a similar custom guard from 1/8" x 3/4" aluminum strap that stands 5" high by 12" across, since the custom guard from Dickson was not streamlined enough to effectively shed sheets.
    •  Distributing the heat. We direct a small pre-existing fan (at first a Hella Turbo, now a Camaro Bora), set on low, at the stack and heater, blowing downwards. It increases the heater out-put by cooling the pipe and exterior, and helps spread the heat evenly throughout the cabin, floor to ceiling, without producing an objectionable draft. I'm sure location is critical, so experiment with your geometry.

    About five hours of labor, overall.  The only hideous step was drilling the hole into the propane locker.  That involved boat yoga, worming into one of the under seat lockers in the saloon, which is obviously not designed for human habitation.

    Although the heater doesn't get hot on the outside, thanks to the fan and jacket configuration, the glass front gets hot enough to take some paint off your hand. My daughter has also determined that with the door open and the flame set on low, it can be used for somores!

    I'm now actually looking forward to our first overnight trip in true winter weather. I like winter: in the summer, there is a limit as to how many clothes you can take off; in the winter it is a simple matter to layer up with modern fleece and stretch products, enough to be comfortable in anything. My other joy is ice climbing; watch me enjoying a New Hampshire icefall at ~ -10F... and loving every moment. There is no swimming in the winter. The wind can howl and often does. Beach combing is different. Many Bay area businesses close for the season. But it is still beautiful.

    Experience note, 1-13-2010: operation at the dock and underway has been flawless. Spray and moderate wind have caused no ill effects. Wind gusts of 25 knots apparent have caused flame-outs, but the unit interrupted the gas flow quickly. The heat generally stays in the salon, leaving the cabins quite cool, and so thick blankets are required. I like it that way. At dock, we use small electric space heaters on low in the cabins.

    Note on thermal efficiency. The exhaust gases go through a double-pipe heat exchanger, giving up heat to the incoming combustion air. The draft is controlled (there is not too much excess air, as the gas flame is yellow) and waste up the stack is reduced (the maximum stack temperature is only about 285 F by IR thermometer). Thus, depending on the assumptions, the of the heater is about 85% efficient , as good as you will find short of a high-efficiency condensing heater, not available for boats. Most marine heaters are 70-80% efficient and have much higher exhaust temperatures.

    10-22-2011: I just returned from another cool weather trip; still working well. As it is a vented heater, it warms the boat without humidity increase, CO or CO2 risk, and is without odor. 

    3-24-2013: Some continuing problems with flame blowing out if sailing with wind on beam above 20 knots. I need to upgrade the deflector. No problems at anchor, only with wind on beam. 

    A simple. dependable solution, without the complications of forced air heat. Not what I would do if I lived aboard, but just fine for the occasional year-round cruiser.

    Thursday, October 6, 2016

    Something Lazy, Something Free

    Free is always good, except this is not quite free.

    Or rather, it is free if you use any sort of holding tank treatment chemical.

     I've done all sorts of holding tank stuff for Practical Sailor Mag. Chemicals, hoses, vent filters. Fun stuff. And in the process, in addition to learning all sorts subtleties, I solved all of my own odor problems, save one; odor from the bowl itself. If I flush with seawater and leave it a few days, there's some stink; sulfate in seawater is converted to hydrogen sulfide by millions of wee bacteria. If I flush with fresh water, it's better, but not zero; I guess something sneaks back down the waste hose, or perhaps up the feed hose. And either way, the bowl tends to get ratty, as marine flush volumes are limited and the water isn't chlorinated. I hate scrubbing.

    Place a 20% solution of holding tank treatment in a spray bottle and mist the bowl down with each use, or at least each day, or and certainly whenever you'll be leaving the boat for a while. This cleans the bowl, treats the water in the bowl, and treats the water in the waste hose, preventing stink. And since it's the same treatment you would be using anyway, just subtract this from the usual dosage.

     I haven't scrubbed in months; the treatment eats the waste off. Very lazy.

    However, not all treatments work.
    Camco TST 4 oz. Orange Power RV Toilet Treatment

  • Pick an scent you like, preferably very mild. I like Forespar Refresh and Raritan CP, but Camco TST Ultra-concentrate is our favorite. These are compatible with any type of holding tank treatment, including bacterial treatments. I tested a bunch for Practical Sailor Mag (February 2012 and December 2012).

    • No blue sterilizing treatments, containing with formaldehyde and the like. Toxic, smelly, stain-prone, and well... gross. Too much like a portable toilet. Very tough on joker valves. Formaldahyde is listed as a human carcinogen. I don't understand why they still make these. Ban them from your boat.
    • No bacterial treatments, like Bactank T3 or Happy Camper. They grow in the bottle and get gross. They are quite effective in the tank, just not for this.
    Less work. Less money.

    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.