Monday, February 27, 2017

Boat Writer's International -- 2016 Marine Writing Contest

 In its 24th year, the BWI contest attracted 151 participants submitting 378 entries. In addition to cash awards, Certificates of Merit were presented to writers of another 43 articles which scored within 95 percent of third-place tallies in each category. All submissions to the contest were published in 2016. Each of the categories (noted below along with sponsors) was judged by four active journalists in the first few weeks of the New Year. Links are provided to the top three scorers. Results (there are 17 categories):

Gear, Electronics & Product Tests – sponsored by Xantrex/Schneider Electric
1st, “Splash Test Dummy” by Drew Frye (Good Old Boat, Sept.); 2nd, “New Options in Small Outboards” by Darrell Nicholson (Practical Sailor, Jan.); 3rd, “Hitting the Bricks” by Nigel Calder (PassageMaker, Sept.). “Despite it being a controlled product test of a cold water immersion suit, the author packs the article with a satisfying mix of information and hard data, accented with a good dose of humor throughout – An excellent piece of professional journalism,” noted judge Rich Armstrong. Merit Awards: “Trial By Fire and Water” by Lenny Rudow (Texas Fish & Game, Sept.); “Fish Whisperers” by Ron Ballanti (Anglers Journal, Fall).

Seamanship, Rescue & Safety – sponsored by Sea Tow Services International
1st, “The Storm Trysail” by Edward Zacko (Good Old Boat, Jan.); 2nd, “In the Perfect Position to Fail” by Ralph Naranjo (Practical Sailor, April); 3rd, “Naked and Afraid” by Pete McDonald (Boating, Jan.). Of the first place selection, judge Jim Rhodes said, “A thoroughly researched and well-presented article. Punctuated by vivid personal anecdotes, it was written with the authority of someone who knows the subject matter.” Merit selections: “Hitches to Grip Anchor Chain” by Drew Frye (Practical Sailor, May); “Go Forth and Cruise” by Tom Cunliffe (Sail, June).

Friday, February 24, 2017


Yale Maxijacket 

I investigated this product primarily on a whim. I was working on an article on chafe protection, and Practical Sailor asked about trying coatings, just in passing. After all, what can you expect from a product that looks like nothing more that water-based varnish? Obviously boat show advertising hype. Someone had also  given me a sample of a related product, Spinlock RP25.

 Both sides were cycled across a grindstone for 2000 cycles: Spinlock RP25 on the top and Maxijacket on the bottom. A baseline test (no coating) reached the RP 25 wear level in 1000 cycles.

I was dead wrong.

Maxijacket. The only things that lasted longer were tubular nylon webbing (5x) and Dyneema chafe sleeve (20).
  •  6-15 times longer than uncoated rope
  • 10 times longer than clear vinyl tubing
  • 2 times longer than APX aramid chafe sleeve
  • 3 times longer than 1/8-inch leather
RP 25. Good for stopping core slippage, but less so on chafe.
  • 2-3 times uncoated rope (greatest improvement when wet)

Applications? I've been using the stuff for 4 years and remain very impressed.
  • Docklines. Anywhere chafe gear won't fit.
  • Furler lines. Best for roller reefing, where the line is highly loaded.
  • Any splice subject to wear.
  • Fabric prone to abrasion.
Mooring lines, with and without coating. I tried chafe gear, but it kept creeping off. This is easier to clip and extends the life of the wear section to match the rest of the line.

Topping lift. Abrasion was the problem, so I used some webbing as a thimble and dipped the whole knot. This allows me to down-size from 3/8" to 5/16", saving some windage.

It seems impossible that a product resembling thick latex varnish (stick with clear--other colors can transfer) can make such a a difference. While West Marine charges more than you want for more than you need, Knot & Rope Supply sells a small jar--probably all a sailor needs for a few years-- for $7.10. A bargain.

The Spinlock RP25 does have its applications too. It performs better on HMPE ropes (Amsteel et. al.), reducing both wear and cover/core slippage, and has the flexibility to use on running sections of rope. I'll use RP25 on sections of my Amsteel lifelines.

A penny-pinching tip.

A good-seamanship tip.


Instructions. Whatever they say on the can. These are just my observations. When in doubt, let it dry longer before exposing to heavy load--it will wear longer.

To coat a long line, such as a furler control line, stretch tightly between 2 points.

Maxijacket. By all appearances, it is a thick latex varnish. Any brush suitable for water-based paints will work fine, and clean-up is easy. Apply in one heavy coat, soaking in as deeply as possible. Some riggers favor dipping splices, but this does not increase chafe resistance, wastes material, slows drying, and makes the splice too stiff--just coat the outside. Don't bother with a second coat--it will just sit on top and do nothing useful. Don't try a light coat--that blocks penetration. Allow to dry to the touch before installing, several days in good drying conditions before using, and a week before or soaking (anchor bridles).

RP-25. Petroleum based, it is relatively tine and soaks in rapidly. One very heavy coat is preferred. It will not stiffen the line as much as Maxijacket, but it will lock the cover to the core (halyards and furler lines that have been stripped) and will give some chafe resistance. Slower drying that Maxijacket; allow to dry to the touch before installing and one week  .


Since this study, more players have entered the field, and thus an up-dated review is in progress, including additional products from Flexdal and Marlow. Practical Sailor, of course.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Store Up-Date

The Book Store has been updated.
  • Two new titles:
    • Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts
    • Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor
  • Four titles are now available as PDF:
    • Keeping a Cruising Boat on Peanuts
    • Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor
    • Single Handed Sailing for the Coastal Sailor
    • Circumnavigating the Delmarva--A Guide for the Shoal Draft Sailor
  • Table of contents preview is available. 
The anchoring book ("Rigging Modern Anchors") has been a very serious undertaking and will hopefully be going the conventional paper publication route. It contains a lot of new research and I've had some good reviews from within the industry.

 This is where most of the work gets done. There's a lot more to it than typing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Questions, Comments and Research Ideas

Something in the text is unclear? A subject you would like to see researched and written up? Please post the question here. I'm always searching for new subject matter.

Stainless Steel Bolt Specifications

Whether bolting on some new project, or trying to understand why something failed, you need to know how much a fastener can hold.

Clamping Force. When torqued to ANSI specifications, this is how much a bolt will hold before it becomes loose due to stretch (bolts stretch under tension--everything does). If the bolt cycles past this load, it will move around, the hole will be damamged, and something will break. Additionally, this is beyond the working Load Limit (WLL), so we wshould never get here.

Sheer Strength vs. Tensile Strength. Only important so that we understand that they are slightly different. Since most loads are a combination, the WLL is conservatively based on sheer strength.

Working Load Limit (WLL). There is no universal standard for determining this figure. In safety critical applications and applications where forces are not well defined the safety factor is greater than low risk applications and those where the forces are static and well known. The total number of cycles and corrosion matter. For the purposes of this table I set it at 4:1 based on sheer strength.

Backing Plates. The need depends entirely on the strength of the base material. Obviously, a 1/4-inch bolt passing through a 1/2-inch steel plate does not need a backing plate. It does need a standard (bolting ) washer to provide a smooth bearing surface while torquing it down. However, when fastening to fiberglass, ANY SIZE steel bolt, even combined with an ANSI bolting washer, can exceed the compression strength of fiberglass, no mater how thick. The fiberglass will crumble and crack. I did a bunch of instrumented testing for articles using both thin cored laminates and solid glass, and several simple rules of thumb emerged:

  • Backing plate size: 5 bolt diameters minimum. 7 bolt diameters for thin skinned cores.
  • Backing plate thickness:
    • Stainless Steel--1/2 bolt diameter
    • Aluminum--1/2 bolt diameter. A bolting washer is also required. Not for damp locations; I've seen plates just crumble away in anchor lockers. Fine in a dry cabin.
    • Solid fiberglass--1 bolt diameter, unless bonded directly to the laminate. Then 1/2 bolt diameter. A bolting washer is also required.
    • Wood. Not recommended due to rot and splitting potential.
      • Plywood--2 bolt diameters. A bolting washer is also required.
      • Hard wood--3 bolt diameters. Not recommended, since all of he test samples failed by sudden splitting. A bolting washer is also required.
    • HDPE (Starboard). Not recommended. All samples gradually bowed and cracked under sustained load. Just don't do it.
  • Bond the bolting plate to the substrate if possible to insure good contact. Vital if the surface is very rough or curved. The bonding can be weak material, such as sealant. 
  • Threads. A single steel bolt will hold full tensile strength, even though it will strip before the bolt breaks when turned. The required thichness for the threads to hold full bolt tension varies with the material and how well the threads are cut, but is aproximatly:
    • Steel. 2/3 bolt diameter.
    • Aluminum. 1 bolt diameter in spar alloys.
    • Fiberglass. 1-2 bolt diameters, depending on the density of the lay-up. 1 bolt diameter in G10 and most pre-cast laminates. No standard value for cored laminates, HDPE  (creeps) or wood.
No guess work, just solid engineering principles, though even engineers go up a size when there is something they can't be sure of.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Paint Testing in Estuaries

Practical Sailor does a nice job of testing a huge slate of paints in Florida seawater, and occasionally other locations (New England, Australia). Just this month they have a nice round-up. But in many estuaries paint selection can be very local, the salinity and pollutant load situation specific. So run your own private test. When you consider what bottom paint costs, this is quite practical. Share the work and expense around the marina, and it's chump change. Every full-service marina should do this.

  • Panels: 16" x 48" GRP shower surround material from Home Depot. Since I use this for many other projects around the boat (window covers, wire guards, small fabrications), this is just scrap.
  • Floats: 2" x 60" PVC pipe with the ends capped.
Mask the panel off into rectangles and paint. The number of coats varies, but I would use 2 for 20year paints and 1 for single season paints, since that is how they would be applied. Drill holes every 12 inches and connect the  float tot he panels with 3/16" clothes line or equivalent.  Suspend so that it floats with the tide.

My test panels are actually for an article on cleaning method (one is not cleaned, and others will be cleaned using different sorts of scrubbers), but this is the basic paint testing set-up.

I would not bother in seawater--the Practical Sailor tests should be good--but in the upper Chesapeake Bay, for example, this seems obvious.

If I learn anything cool, it will most likely show up in Practical Sailor.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Why Bow Sprits on Cruising Catamarans?

I thought about adding one to my PDQ. I really did, after seeing all the pretty ones at the boat show. I had the surplus parts all lined up to build a good one for $20. Then I came to my senses, realized they are nothing more than marketing bollox, and perfect my bridle instead.

I do understand why they exist. My first boat, a souped-up beach cat, had one to carry a chute, and the boat was considerably faster than the wind. Even reaching deep downwind, the apparent wind remained forward of the bow. Jibing through 90 degrees I would actually tack, with the eye of the wind coming from in front of the boat, not from behind. Same with my Stiletto. Fast boats.

A bowsprit increases projected area, allows a larger chute, and most importantly, it provides enough separation between the spinnaker tack and forestay for fast inside jibes (remember, these boats actually tack down wind).

But the math on a cruising cat, even a relatively fast one is very different. The fastest course down wind  moves the apparent wind well aft. Jibes are outside because the apparent wind moves astern when jibing. Thus, a bridle provides more projected area and reduces the chance of running your sheets over mid-jibe. It is also lighter, does not contribute to pitching, and does not pound through waves up wind.

(With a bowsprit that long, the sheets are way out there. Just a little slack, the lazy sheet goes in the water, and a second later it is around the keel. Catamarans are less prone to this because the broad bows catch the sheets.)

For any boat that can't sail above wind speed with the wind at 135 true, bow sprits are pure marketing poop. I've had them and I know the math.

This is what you actually need. Lighter, faster, stronger, cheaper. All the good words.

(Excerpt from up-coming book on Cruising Faster.)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Boomerang Your Anchor

An Australian friend of mine developed an interesting open-source anchor turner he calls the Boomerang. It is also marketed by Anchor Right as the Anchor Flipper, and I believe there is a Canadian distributor, for those of you that don't have a bandsaw and drill press handy. What follows is my short description of what this devise does and how it is used. To get the the story straight from the horse, please visit How to Boomerang You Anchor Right Back at You.

If you align your chain properly between the anchor and the windlass, the anchor should come up straight virtually every time. I'm not much for swivels because I found a crack in my last stainless swivel. Of course, there are better ones out there, and it was install incorrectly, mounted directly to the anchor with intervening chain or even shackles to provide a hinge. Nonetheless, I don't need a swivel. All a swivel does is make the anchor easier to rotate. it also guarantees that the anchor will come up backwards 50% of the time, since the swivel will swivel and any careful alignment to the windlass will; be lost.

In addition to proper alignment, there are two other tricks to remember:
  1. Go Backwards. Most anchors and all new generation anchors line up with the water flow. If you are moving forward with the anchor in the water, it will be backwards. Stop or go astern.
  2. Rotate the Chain by Hand. Just give it a half twist while lowering a few feet. If a twist snuck over the 
  3. roller, it will go back. Don't do this while raising unless you want to loose a few fingers.

For larger chain, increase all dimensions in direct proportion to the chain diameter. For higher grade chain, increase all dimensions in proportion to the square root of the increase in chain strength.

But if you need a gadget, this is probably the best of the bunch. Although different shapes are certainly possible, theses are the critical factors:
  • Holes. The thickness and width of the metal surrounding the holes must exceed the dimensions of a common grade shackle. I have allowed additional material as a safety factor.
  • Steel Grade. Higher grade steel will allow reduced thickness. 
  • Bend. The bend must be sufficient to roll the chain. However, it must not be so large as to jam if it comes over the roller sideways. The reason for the asymmetry is to conserve width; if the short end is oriented toward the anchor, the chain has rolled by the time it gets there and additional length is unnecessary.  The asymmetry also reduces the bending stress on the bend.
  • Grove. If the roller has a groove the Boomerang should be either thinner or considerable thicker to prevent jamming.
  • Isolation Links. For best action, it should be isolated from the anchor by 5-9 chain links (an odd number insures the correct alignment). This allows the anchor to turn gently. If there is insufficient space, the Boomerang my be attached directly with one shackle, but the windlass much be paused at the correct moment. Although it looks thick and clunky, it is slender in the direction the chain is slicing down through the sand and should actually improve setting.

The bend in this example is slightly different but works just fine. Note the isolation links and that they are properly aligned. I'd like to a see a little more metal around the hole on the left.

 I think it nicely compliments the bridle plate. Compared to the shiny boat show stainless, they both look like stone age technology. But they work better and are strong as hell.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Oh Dear

A few years ago we were sailing off the Virginia coast in the wake of a hurricane when an unusually large wave came out of the blue, sweeping over the cabin top. It had been hot and relativly calm, so we had most of the hatches open. My wife happened to be sitting under one of them.

Judging from the stories I'm still hearing, she apparently didn't understand how I could calmly say "wave," instead of something more colorful.