Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cheap Gloves

As winter arrives, ski gloves and snow blower fly off the shelves. But if you are doing mechanical work in the cold what you need are thin gloves with some grip that don't slow you down. I've found that these 10-for-$3 cheapies from the thrift store fit best. My fingers reach the tips, I can pick up a dime, and for the price I only need to wear them a few times. Construction companies commonly give laborers a new pair each day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Digging Through Solar Mis-Information on the Internet?

You can pay $500-700 for a name brand panel. No doubt they are very good and 4 different middle men took a cut to get it there. You can go on the internet and get something on E-Bay that might... or might not work. When I installed my system I went on the net, took a good close look at the images and specs, read a few user blog post, and picked out panels that were solid and are still working well. But I've heard stories of the other sort.

Hotwire is a guy that started investigating solar and wind for hi own use 20 years ago, tried everything, tested samples, and has made a solid little name for himself among cruisers as a guy that sells right-priced stuff that he has tested and vetted himself.

But it's a lot more than that. Wind, charge controllers, mounts, lighting, refrigeration... all with an eye towards economy and reliability.

Check it out.

Monday, January 18, 2016


We hear that the wife has too many shoes, but what example do we guys really set?

On the boat there are:
  • running shoes
  • deck shoes
  • flip-flops
  • sandals
  • dingy sailing shoes
  • Five Finger shoes for kayaking
  • wet suit boots
  • Dive fins (2 pair--do these count?)
At home in the "toy" area there are:
  • approach shoes (5.10s)
  • light hiking boots
  • hiking boots
  • alpine boots
  • mountaineering boots for ice
  • mountaineering boots for big mountains
  • rock shoes ( pair)
  • alpine ski boots
  • cross-country ski boots
  • bike shoes (2 pair)
  • mountain bike shoes
  • ice skates
  • in-line skates
  • in-line hockey skates
  • steel-toe work boots 
  • steel-toe rubber boots
  • painting sneakers (retired running shoes)
  • More dive fins
and oh yeah...
  • several pairs of dress shoes--I forget, since I don't wear them often.
None of this seems odd to me. I guess it comes down to point of view.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Rant About Jacklines and Tethers

Windward vs. Centerline

The old conventional wisdom was windward and leeward lines, in as far as the cabin and shrouds would allow. Now the new mantra is centerline, and that anything else is unsafe and the user uninformed. They blithely ignore facts suggest something different:
  • You can't slide uphill.
  • Every case of injury by dragging along side was to leeward. They were caught in the bow wave.
  • It is farther to leeward if the jackline is to windward.
  • Waves and gusts come from windward.
The new internet forum wisdom feels more like group think than change based in evidence and experience. By all means move the jacklines in as far as practical, but I believe the physics of falling limit windward overboard incidents. If you know of a documented case, please comment.

[note: The Cal June Jim Buoy model 9225 harness that I am wearing does not pass ISAF or ISO standards and I am not recommending it.It is lightweight, comfortable, and I believe that it is adequate with the shock absorbing tethers that I use. The failures occurred at forces 3 to 4 times greater than my engineering design allows.]

Watch in Practical Sailor for an article on jackline locations.

 For me, windward lines and short tethers are the best bet. And my boat doesn't even lean!

Quick Release vs. Locking Carabiner at Chest End of Tether

As a single hander, I'm fairly certain that cutting myself free is seldom better.
  • Cold water. Today, for example, I was sailing on the Chesapeake with 34F water temperatures. I did not see a single boat over a 4 hour period. Unless we all take to wearing drysuits, the only ending is slowly freezing in your PFD. 
  • Accidental opening. Ever have a spinnaker shackle release unexpectedly? Granted, it was generally because the shackle was not closed properly, but that is only proof accidents happen. A locking biner is more secure.
  • Offshore. Same as cold water. Yeah, someone could be coming for you. Probably not. 
I don't fancy the idea of dragging, so I keep my tether short when near the rail, and crawl when I need to.

Not a screw-lock. That would be silly. I do use screw-lock on the jackline end.

Exposed Wiring

This exposed solenoid always bothered me. Non-AYBC compliant, non-USCG compliant, and a short looking to happen, the backside of this anchor windlass breaker has high-amperage exposed terminals.

I fabricated this simple cover from 0.09-inch FRP (the same materials I used for the window covers. Cut by score-and -snap, trim with disk sander, fillet corners with Epoxy + colloidal silica, finish with orbital sander and paint. In stead of screws (holes would show), attach with 3M Dual Lock.

 The finished product looks factory. I think I will be using a lot of Dual Lock during the AC installation.

I fabricated a 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pirates, Convoys, and Herd Behavior

Apparently some local thugs have been stopping boat sailing from Grenada to Trinidad, robbing them at gunpoint. The question was posed as to whether it was safer to run dark and quiet alone, or seek safety in a group. Perhaps nature has the answers, millions of years of evolution sorting strategies that work from those that don't.

Birds and Fish. Assuming the predator can easily catch the prey (true) and that the predator does not migrate to follow the flock or school (true), the advantage of the group is that the predators will only eat a fixed amount. When the group is not present, the predator with switch to a different food source (work, laze about) until the next group comes along. Overall, the amount of predatation is less because the food source is not available to the predator all of the time. In other words, the pirates will still hit the herd, but only 1-2 boats and the rest will pass safely, reducing the pirate's over all opportunity.

Distraction. Interestingly, while some predators will charge into the flock, thrashing about in a target rich environment, most would rather pick off stragglers. It is theorized there are 2 reasons. First, it actually hard to track a single individual in the mele'. Perhaps this would be true in a convoy as well, if boats purposefully changed courses. Second, and more to the point, the straggler is perceived to be easier to catch. Moral: if you are in a group, don't be that straggler, be the guy with the fast boat and buddy-up with someone. And while it might seems loyal to wait for the straggler, World War II convoy strategy dictated that stragglers got left behind; loyalty only meant more time for the group in the danger zone.

Visibility. What is more stealthy, and individual or a herd? Unless the pirates are using good RADAR, a single boat is hard to spot. And for goodness sake, turn your RADAR off. Many rodents are nocturnal, preferring stealth to heard behavior. And they have been around a long time.

Defense. Some animals use a defensive strategy. In the case of bison, the males are impressive, not built for running away, and are a match for whatever they may meet, so long as they stick together. But when guns are involved, cruisers can win this.

The second type of defense involves sacrifice. Insects and even humans have the ability and even urge to taken on foes they cannot hope to best or drive off in defense of kin, even if only to buy time for escape. If you are by nature a protector, this is a danger. You will feel obliged to defend even when you have little to offer and may put yourself in harms way.


The best strategy, other than flying commercial air?
  • Do the pirates use RADAR? If not, going outside of the shipping lane and running dark should help.
  • A group may help as well. The pirates may be intimidated. Perhaps someone in the group is armed (they don't know and it is hard to control a group). I would think 4 boats staying tight is the minimum.
I would vote for pretty crappy weather. No moon, poor visibility, rough, hard to board, hard to shoot, hard to use RADAR, and just how seaworthy is their boat? They'll stay home, assuming you will too.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Time, Money, and Energy

Life--the part that matters--requires a balance of 3 things: time, money, and energy.

 As children have time and energy, though little idea what to do with it. Hopefully we learn to play with others, to sit quietly in woods alone with our thoughts and nature, and the skills required to do something we can be employed for doing.

For the next 45 years we grind what ever grist the mill requires, learning, having some fun along the way, and saving something for the future. We have money and energy, but little time to live.

Eventually we retire. Time expands and many don't know how to fill it with anything that matters. They become hollowed out. Between sailing, climbing, and writing, I don't have the time for that. Seniors (hopefully) have money and time, but are often so worn down by life--perhaps physically, but just as likely emotionally--that they lack the energy to really live. They mark time and try to smile.

I find myself in a hybrid place, with time enough to do anything I feel is important, energy but not that I once had, and plentiful stuff but no income to speak of. A good solid job could bring financial security, but if that compromised this new life--in which the mystery of the future plays no small part--is it worth the price? Just a few years ago I couldn't have asked this question. I would have rushed right past, no time for introspection, too many bills and not enough nest egg. I still don't have enough nest egg to meet professional expectations, but what if I lower those expectations? What are time and energy and life worth? I don't know yet, but I have to find out.

For now I feel like that 12-year old boy I remember being, sitting in the woods,alone with my thoughts, building a tiny Indian village out of sticks and leaves. Or maybe in the workshop building an electric car from bits of scrap. Or sitting on a curb with some friends, deciding what we think is important in the world. That was living, and I didn't really miss the money. A single dollar stretched forever, in part because Mom and Dad supplied whatever I really needed, and in part because fun wasn't made of things.