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.