Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Preping Lines

It is pure myth that racers like fuzzy lines for the increased grip. It is also myth that they work better. They are too bulky for blocks, increase friction, and actually increase the required effort. I know. I bought them several times. Stupid.

Samson Nova Braid XLS Easy Feel. High friction through the blocks. The other common mistake is up-sizing lines for better grip. As a rule, go one size smaller than the rated maximum, and never the largest that will fit.

Instead, buy the smallest, smoothest lines you can manage. I like Sampson LS; it runs smoothly and is very reasonably priced for a quality line. A smooth line will fly through the blocks, minimizing friction and the load you need to hold. Then comes the hard part....

Go over the part that you will actually handle with 200 grit sandpaper. Yup, put some wear on them on purpose (not to much--you can always go back). This is what the racing pros do every time they board a boat with new lines. They can't afford to loose control of the spinnaker halyard on a quick hoist.

As a cruiser, you can skip this on sheets--they'll get scuffed up soon enough. But the furler line is great candidate. We like a slick, skinny furler line so that it will feed with minimal friction and not suffer from overrides on the drum, but we regret the choice the first time we have to roll it up in a good blow. Yes, we could use the winch, but there is always some risk of twisting the foil if we underestimate our strength, which is easy to do with a winch. Pre-scuffing up the tail is the answer.


And while we're speaking of speed tweaks, my book Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor is now available on Kindle through Amazon. Enjoy.

Friday, May 26, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 4

This will be a weekly feature for the next five months. I figure a goal will keep the pressure on.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there is some overlap. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. They research stuff I avoid, like electronics. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.


With any sport, the most vital gear is that which controls your point of contact:

Rock Climbing
  • Shoes
  • Chalk for fingers
Ice Climbing
  • Crampons and boots
  • Ice axes
  • Gloves
  • Glove
  • Cleats
  • Shoes and cleats
  • Padded gloves
  • Padded shorts
For the sailor this no different. Proper gloves make gripping lines easier, and smaller, smoother lines run through the blocks better than thick, fuzzy monstrosities.  You can grab a wire stay when the boat lurches with impunity and no fear of injury. Proper shoes keep your feet glued to the deck. The rest of your clothes are just a fashion statement in fair weather.

The same goes for the deck. Designers like graceful curves, but they can be treacherous. One bad fall, resulting in serious injury, could erase all the fun of a 30-year sailing career in an instant. And a good sticky deck makes sailing more fun.

Technically, this step under the helm seat should get a more aggressive non-skid treatment, but the recycled teak/holly steps was so pretty I couldn't bring myself to cover it. It really is not a fall area, since you are still in the seat, behind the wheel.

16. Salted Varnish. One of the most traditional non-skid finishes is simple sand or some other grit deposited onto still-wet paint. The problem is that the grit comes loose, is rough on clothes, and is tough to sand off to refinish. You can achieve nearly as effective a non-skid surface with salt. When it is time for the last coat, mask it off (leaving the the edges shiny looks neat), lay on an extra heavy coating, and then sprinkle liberally with coarse salt. A grinder works well. You can't really over do it. The salt will create a rough surface after it dissolves. There is no effect on color or longevity, and it sands off easily for recoating. And it's free.

However, this is not a very aggressive non-skid. It's perfect for cabin soles and places where looks matter, but not for heeling decks, steps, and critical areas. For those, there are better products.

The wide section is 4-inch tape neatly fitted edge-to-edge. It's 7 years old at this point.I liked the way I was able to hide it within a per-existing area of black gelcoat.

17. 3M Grip Tape. Where grip really matters--the edges of steps and on steep slopes--there is no substitute for the aggressive grip of 3M Safety Walk 600. I wouldn't use this where people sit--it will grind their pants off--but it's saved countless falls. Expensive, but durable and much cheaper than hospital bills. A roll is expensive, but maybe you can find someone to split it with. I got a leftover roll from a trucking company; they considered it a trivial left over after their annual fleet maintenance, but for me, it was plenty.

18. Kiwi Grip. When the molded-in texture fails and the grip could really use a little refinishing. Kiwi Grip has repeatedly been ranked number one by Practical Sailor and other sailing magazines, and user experiences have been very positive. Mix well, apply with special roller, and expect ten to twenty years of good service, depending on use (you may need to touch up high wear areas, but that is easy). The non-skid on my PDQ 32 is very similar (gelcoat applied with the same roller giving the same finish) and I really like it. It is also easier to clean than molded non-skid.

Aging Sperry Harbor Masters. I rubbed a hole on the upper wear I brace against the cockpit, so I slapped on some Sunbrella with 3M4200. The repair will outlast the shoe.

19. Sperry Harbor Master. Yup, I had to throw in my favorite shoe. I like solid shoes that give grip, all-day support, and toe protection. I do wear Choco sandals in very hot weather and Vibram 5-Fingers in my kayak, but deck shoes are the work horse, summer and winter. The Sperry Sea Kite line is very good too (same sole, dressier upper).

20. Cleaning the Non-Skid. The problem, invariably, is algae and lichen, not just dirt. These organism put down roots, and the easier way to break them loose is to kill them first. In a few days to a few weeks, they lose their grip and come off easily, often with the rain. You can try to remove them more immediately with scrubbing and remove the stains with bleach, but it's hard work and they will come back sooner, since the roots aren't dead. Instead, hit them with an algaecide containing benzalkonium chloride, and come back later, either a few hours (good) or next week (better). Then scrub with any deck soap. It will come much cleaner with less work.

And that is how I keep from sliding around. Pretty cheap, 3M tape excepted.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Stanchions: Pulling up is Okay, but sideways, not so much.

Every so often there is a forum thread involving a rant about one of the following:
  1. Stanchions are a tripping hazard. They only mark the edge of the boat.
  2. Stanchions are only for falls, You should never touch them.
  3. Never touch the stanchions when docking or boarding. This will loosen them and lead to leaks.
Only the last one is arguably true, and the last one deserves some caveats, below.

I can see why this guy is sensitive. Apparently his crew likes to pull on stanchions when boarding and push when docking.

This boat was within a season of a water-soak, soft deck. Dodged a bullet.

Yet you can't sanely expect aging sailors, crew carrying things, or lubbers that have never been on a boat to avoid placing a hand on a railing. They need to. Such an attitude is thoughtless regarding the safety of your passengers and unrealistic for even the best crew on their worse day. If the stanchion in question is insecure, it may perhaps be reckless or even negligent, even if not in the legal sense. Is a bad fall, causing lasting injury, worth it? I had such a fall in college; it is life-changing event, every bit as serious as a death, from my perspective. You'll think so after you've walked that road, in nagging pain, for 40 years.

Shattered in 16 pieces in college, now being x-rayed for additional surgery 40 years later.

The obvious answer is to reinforce the stanchion with an angled leg.  This one gets used every time the boat is boarded, hauled on mightily occasionally, and it remains as tight and stiff as ever. No means to reinforce even one. First, I doubt that. At the very least, and oversized base is not so difficult; if the post bends, bend it back. But if you feel this is hopeless, than use butyl for bedding, install a good backing plate, and accept that you will need to pull that one fitting every few years. No big deal.

Stanchions used for boarding should be braced.

The Main Topic -- Pulling Up

I use lifelines for security all the time, and I have never had a leak. Sure, the bases are well secured, but the most important factor is that I pull UP on the lifeline. I don't push or pull to the side. It would be less secure anyway, since the force is not effective until I am well off balance.

By pulling up, with  one hand on the lifeline and one hand on the jackline, my feet are pressed firmly against the deck, providing stability and traction. Stress on the stanchion is trivial. Corrections are applied before by body moves out of column, leaning one way or the other.

By pulling up on the lifeline, you press your feet into the deck, Very handing when beating into a steep sea.[From "Singlehanded Sailing for the Coastal Cruiser."]

As for docking, reinforced bow and stern pulpits are a necessity, and most are equipped--pull on that. Use a boat hook or foot on the toe rail or stanchion base. Use ropes and fenders. And for goodness sake, tell anyone who comes to help to go away. If you are using lifelines while docking you are doing something very wrong.


Other popular internet forum rant topics include the best anchor, best PFDs, jackline locations, what is the best blue water boat.... Basically anything where everyone has an opinion, and where opinions can be be presented as fact based on personal experience and tastes. There will be good solid information buried in there, somewhere, but you need to keep your filters on tight. Then sit back and enjoy the show!

Friday, May 19, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 3

The saga continues. Interestingly, my list is actually growing, as I look back through my notes of what tested well, and what did not.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there is some overlap. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. They research stuff I avoid, like electronics. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

Yes, I get a tiny spiff if you shop on Amazon using these links, whether you buy the item described or surf to some other item. The best value may be Amazon, or it may be Walmart or Home Depot. Shop around, I'm not trying to work you.


This time I'm going to focus on just one topic, that which lured me into writing in the first place; gasoline and fuel additives, and whether they are snake oil.


11. Gasoline Additives, Corrosion. Ethanol gas (E10) is more corrosive and less stable than non-ethanol gas for two reasons. First, it absorbs water readily from the air and then holds more water in solution. This allows ions to move freely, which facilitates corrosion. Aluminum carburetor bowls are particularly prone to corrosion, and the fluffy corrosion products are very good at clogging jets (it isn't the gum these days). The second is that those metal ions--specifically copper an zinc--are powerful polymerization and oxidation catalysts, accelerating the break down of the gasoline in to gum by over 100 times. The cure? An effective anti-corrosion additive. Biobor EB is my favorite, though Mercury Store-N-Start and Sea Foam are also very good. Walmart is cheap.

As for additives that claim to prevent water absorption or prevent phase separation, they are mostly lying. And even if they could keep the mix together, burning gas with all that water in it is a very bad thing. Avoid these (K100 etc). CRC Phase Guard IV actually made corrosion worse, although I think they may have reformulated since I tested it.

12. Diesel Additives, Corrosion. Corrosion is still important with diesel, and so catalytic decomposition due to copper and zinc. However, Biobor for diesel is strictly a biocide. My recommendation for Diesel is Startron. Need protection from diesel bug too? Startron can be combined with biocides (I tested this combination and many others using proposed ASTM methodology) and the combination provides superior protection.

13. Diesel Additives, Bugs. Gasoline is immune to bacterial and fungal break down--it's too toxic. But diesel can grow a nice crop of snot-like microrganism, cloging filters and secreting acids that accelerate corrosion. The cure is a biocide like Biobor JF or FPPF Kill Em'. By the way, biocides are like the antibiotic your doctor supplies; you need the right one. Biobor is good on one set of strains, and Kill Em' is good on the other, so if Biobor does not work, try the other. However, the dead bugs don't just go away; the bodies must be removed, which mean physically cleaning the tank (pump the fuel out AND scrub the walls). The best answer is prevention through regular treatment, not just storage. Keep it up, even during the summer when you are sailing regularly. You may be using the fuel faster, but the bugs grow faster in the summer too.

About every 3-5 years the silica gel must be regenerated by grilling very low in a pan for 20 minutes. Very easy.

14. Vent Filters. Both corrosion and bugs rely on water. It does NOT have to be a free layer, so it is a semi-myth  that fuel/water separators will solve the problem. They reduce water and help remove the solids, but they are NOT a cure, only a treatment. Large amounts of water usually come in through the filler cap--make sure you have a good o-ring and coat it with grease to keep it water repellent. But the insidious source of water--worse for gasoline because it actually sucks the water from the air--is the vent. The cure is a silica gel vent drier. At this time, H2OUT is the only unit on the market, but fortunately, it is very good. Additionally, in the case of gasoline, the vent drier reduces evaporative emissions enough to pay for it over 5 years, so the reliability improvement is all gravy. Saving volitiles also means easier starting. Just all good.

1-29-2018. H2OUT has changed to using a silica gel that does not indicate when it is spend with a color change. Instead of watching for this change, they now advise that you change it every year.  This is greedy and wrong. If you have one, get silica gel with dye on line. If you do not, you can make your own filter with a length of pipe, a pair of Fernco 2-inch caps, hose barbs, and washers and conduit nuts to hold them in place. Add a little screen at each end. There are no complex parts and you should be able to get everything but the silica gel at Lowes.

Apparently some new investors pushed for the change.

15. Funnels, Siphons, and Spill Prevention.  A shaker siphon is the answer. Nearly as fast as pouring, simply place the valve end in the jerry can, push the other end deep into the filler neck, and shake vertically 3-4 times to start the flow. Lift the valve out to stop. No spills, no holding heavy cans. No messy funnels. A clever guy could add a fuel filter for diesel, although it would slow things down. If you prefer to fill at the dock, the Cleanway funnel works well.

The Cleanway funnel give the auto cut-off feature enough buffer to work. Even without auto cut-off, at least it gives you a few seconds. If the vent is lower than the filler, of course, it won't help. Always know how much fuel you need.

I became interested in these topics as a result of chronic engine reliability problems. For the past 8 years I have used Biobor EB and a vent filter, and my problems have simply evaporated. I took my carbs apart a few months ago as part of an article--after 7 years, they looked as clean as new. I was not so much shocked as happy. It's so nice when you turn the key and know it will start, even in the winter.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 2

This will be a weekly feature for the next five months. I figure a goal will keep the pressure on.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there is some overlap. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. They research stuff I avoid, like electronics. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

Pointed aft, the Borra helps move the AC around, point towards the heater (right), it spread the heat. Very quiet.

6. Cabin Fans. The Caframo Borra is my new favorite, after I had three Hella Turbos fail in a two week period, one with flames and two with smoke. The four was moved to the helm position, where I figure I can keep an eye on it. The Borra got a "best" rating from Practical Sailor, it is quieter than the turbo, moves more air, and the direction is easier and the setting more secure. They have done a superior job of both cooling and distributing heat and cold. In nine years there have been no glitches (the Turbos failed at 11 years, so I guess I should cross my fingers).

[A reader, below, reported trouble with the switch within a few years. The PS test in 2009 noted one failure. My understanding is that the switch was redesigned, but perhaps problems persist.]

7. Home Depot Caulk that Works. Locktite PL S40 is a polyurethane caulk with physical characteristics and durability that match 3M 4200 for one third the price. Like all polyurethane caulks, humidity is the curing agent. Additionally, it is messy to work with, so always mask the work area, wipe thin with a finger, and then peal the tape before it skins over. Available in Black (PL S30) and other colors.

A strong jackline anchor with no new holes. The webbing protects the lashing from the sun. There is a backing plate on the underside. 

8. Stainless Steel Climbing Bolt Hangers. My favorite hard point for attaching deck cargo, anchoring  jacklines, and clipping safety tethers. They are well-tested, clip carabiners smoothly, and best of all, require only a single mounting bolt. This means I can often mount them by simply removing an existing mounting bolt and inserting a 3/8-inch bolt in its place (required to meet rated strength). Metolious is one of my favorite brands, but any climbing gear with a UIAA stamp is safe. Like wire gate climbing biners, the secret of low price is mass production and simple, rugged design.

9. Star Brite Cleaner and Degreaser. I'm usually the first one to say "formulate your own" or buy something from Home Depot, but this one has saved my bacon a few times, powering black oil and grease out of porous gelcoat. I'm almost out and need to buy more.

These really save your ribs when you take a long stumble.

10. Dynamic Climbing rope, 8mm. Perfect for shock-absorbing traveler control lines (mine are ~ 55 feet), shock-absorbing safety tethers (2 x 11 feet), and shock absorbing bridles/snubbers (2 x 38 feet, for boats under 36 feet) . That's only 150 feet, or just 79 feet if you skip the bridle. The Beal Rando (UIAA 1/2 rope) is available as a 30 meter glacier rope, or you can buy it by-the-foot from Mountain Equipment Coop. I did all three, using a lightly used 150-foot ice climbing rope I had just retired.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Props and Ropes

Every PDQ sailor with outboards has tangled the the hold down line in the prop at least once. If the engines fails to lock and you hit reverse, WHAM, the engine strikes the underside of the bridge deck. Often a portion of the cavitation plate is broken off (harmless, since the engines run deep) and a hole smashed in the deck (I installed a thick sold glass plate years ago--no more problem).

And then there is the swim. It's generally easy. Lift the engine 1/2 way and unwind, though this time the water was only about 60F, I so I wore a dry suit.

This time the eye bolt terminating the lifting tackle broke, but I had a spare in the fastener tray.

No problem. Right back to sailing.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

100 Best Buys--Chapter 1

What follows, spread over many installments, will be a listing of products I've found that really work and are good values. Some are artifacts of Practical Sailor testing. Some spring from my own experiences, good and bad. Most will be sailing gear or supplies, but I may sneak a few climbing items in here and there--there are probably cross-over applications.

I think of this as an adjunct to my book "Keeping a Cruising Book for Peanuts," although certainly there will be overlap. I could organize them by subject, but I think a miss-mash will be more fun. I also predict this project will extend well past 100 over time. I've tested a lot of stuff. Many of these items were mentioned in some prior post--use the search function to find more information.

While you're at it, subscribe to Practical Sailor Magazine. They do a lot more product testing than I do, including topics I avoid, such as electronics, insurance, and boat reviews. The product descriptions are better, there are comparisons and options, and the test methods are explained. One good find--or bad purchase avoided--and it'll be the smartest $39.94 you'll ever spend.

I use a Dyneema leader with a tubular webbing chafe sleeve, just to make it lighter yet. Try doing this with a 35-pound anchor and 20 feet of chain.

1.  Fortress Anchors. Without question, the best anchor for very soft mud, the bane of Chesapeake Bay sailor's existence. I have a Fortress FX-16. I have actually used this 12-pound aluminum anchor to drag my Manson Supreme 35 during testing. Does this make it the best all-around anchor? Not by a long shot. I like all of the new scoop anchors, and for all around use, I like them better than the Fortress, but if you need grip in mud or you need to row and anchor out, Fortress is the trick.

Fits an industry standard 2 x 10 filter housing. Doesn't restrict the flow.

2. Pentek FloPlus 10 Carbon Block Water Filter Element. Perfect for final filtration on a boat, the fine passages of this carbon block element remove particles (and cysts and bacteria) down to 0.5 microns, earning it an NSF 53 rating. Unlike other 0.5 micron carbon block elements, the FloPlus 10 does not restrict water flow. Like any carbon element, it removes most tastes and large amounts of chlorine. Read this post on drinking water filtration for the complete story on how to provide safe, high-quality water on your boat. Fits any industry-standard 2x10 filter housing.

 Davit tackle is just one of many applications. about 1000-pound WLL.
Practical Sailor Spoiler Alert: Notice how this tackle is reeved at a 90 degree angle,rather than square? They tun much smoother this way, In fact, many tackles are best reeved in some counter intuitive manner. This will be discussed in an up-coming article.

3. Wire Gate Climbing Carabiners.  Great for climbing... and just as useful on the boat. The simple bent stainless steel wire and anodized finish makes them practically corrosion proof, they are 1/3 the weight of their marine counter parts (won't chip the deck when you drop them) stronger, and MUCH better tested. They are polished and refined such that they never catch on a rope--climbers won't buy a biner they can fire on and off the rope with a single hand, with gloves on, blindfolded. Finally, they are much cheaper, the result of mass production--there are more climbers than there are sailors, and they buy a lot more biners.There are many excellent brands--all are suitable if they are CE and UIAA rated. Camp offers a good value, as do Trango (illustrated) and Mad Rock. I've never seen any real advantage in premium brands.Yes, in the most severe applications they will corrode before all-stainless biners (I use some near the waterline for mooring), but they will still last a decade or more, providing better performance the whole time. I've taken all of the stainless biners off my boat.

DEET top, nepetalactone (catnip) bottom.

4. For Biting Flies--Catnip Spray.  Sounds silly and "herbal." I'm a chemical guy. But in research for a better fly repellent, this is what the USDA came up with for horse flies, and they were testing it against DEET and other chemicals. It turns out that the key ingredient in catnip is similar to DEET and is just the thing for flies. It doesn't last long, but it is cheap, easy to apply, and isn't nasty and messy like DEET. It won't ruin plastics, so you can go nuts. There is no smell, and our cat did react to it on our legs when we came home. Any pet store should have it.

Still 180F after an hour. The WonderBag will hold a pot of stew over 150F for 8 hours, and actually has higher average temperatures than a crock pot. Google it!

5. Retained Heat Cooking. Simply put, if you boil the food and then place it in a well-insulated container, it will continue to cook just as sure if it were on the flame. Perfect for rice--never burned, never dry. Soups and stews work well. The real beauty is that you don't have the heat and humidity in the cabin, and that you don't have to watch the stove--you can go play and it will never burn. Google "retained heat cooking" for loads of information and recipes. The Wonder Bag works well, and they donate one into the third world for each sale. The Shuttle Chef by Thermos is a good choice for monohulls--it is sealed and thus can be used underway. 4-8 layers of fleece blanket also work well.

And there we have it. Five of my favorites, in no particular order. I'll be back with the rest, 5 at a time.