Saturday, April 30, 2011

SSB - A Fiasco Only Partly of Our Own Making.

London, ON

Communications has become of increasing importance to us as we contemplate crossing a major body of water.  Single Side Band Radio seemed to offer the possibility of extended communications ability.  What a waste of time and money it has been.

We purchased, in 2005, an ICOM 802 SSB and a pactor modem to allow us to have email and other data capabilities.  A large dynaplate was installed on the hull as we knew we had to "ground" the radio to the sea if we wanted it to work properly. 

It is possible to have a SSB modified to permit use of the full range of frequencies available to ham radio operators and we had this done.  A ham licence was obtained by me to keep us all legal and everything.

All very nice but the radio has never worked very well.  We frigged around with the antenna and the dynaplate.  We strung miles of copper ribbon everywhere.  Miles of wire have been installed and removed and relocated and cursed by us. 

Short description: SSB is a major headache.  Some of the radios work well enough in the Bahamas and their owners believe they are the cat's ass.  All they have right is the ass part.   The Bahamas is so small an area that no one can tell if their radio really works.

Worrying that the radio was malfunctioning we took it an authorized ICOM service centre in Florida.  After testing the service centre provided us with a bill for $880 of work and told us the transmitter section of the radio was buggered.  All our poor radio could muster was 10 watts of power on transmission.

We declined to have the radio repaired.  For $880 we could buy a new full feature ham radio and use it (after modifying it to handle SSB frequencies.  It's complicated - I'll tell you about it sometime).  

Some things the service centre told us bothered me.  They said they would have to desolder a bunch of parts from the radio and replace them - resistors, transistors, capacitors and so on and they allowed $500 for this.  Now this did not ring just totally correct.  

We re installed the radio and went to the Bahamas on the clear understanding that our radio would only receive - not transmit.

Our understanding was incorrect and the radio transmitted just fine but reception was faint beyond 200 miles.  Data transmission was very very difficult.

Returning to the USA we sent the ICOM to a much better repair facility, Clairmont Skyland TV in Atlanta, GA.  They ran it through its paces and after 8 hours of bench time called to tell us THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE RADIO. The techs were broadcasting in real time at 100 watts.  Reception was a dream.

Although expensive the diagnostic time was invaluable.  The guys at Clairmont Skyland recommended a few things to try with respect to our antenna as this seemed the next logical problem area.

We also learned there is no authorized ICOM dealer in Florida.  At all.

So if you have a steel boat maybe SSB is a good idea.  If your boat maker epoxied 100 square feet of copper screen in your hull at time of manufacture maybe SSB is a good idea. If you have an older production fiberglass sailboat SSB is a disappointment unless you consider the very limited range of the Bahamas sufficient.  Even then you may not be happy much of the time.

Now all you guys can tell me how great your radios work. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Modding an Iskra 100 Amp Alternator

London, ON

The procedure in this blog worked for me.  I do not guarantee it will work for you and if you attempt the mod yourself good for you but you are on your own.  You are responsible for any damage you incur.  Don't be stupid.  I do not know much about alternators or diesels and if you do what I suggest it is a case of the blind being lead by the blinder.  I have no expertise.  This is just something that worked for me.  It may not work for you.

Here you see the alternator in its native environment.
Note the rugged construction - and the 5 Groove serpentine Belt

When we ordered our new Beta 43 diesel a couple of years ago we fitted a 100 amp alternator built by Iskra, a company out of Slovenia equipped with a 5 groove serpentine belt.  With only one exception we were totally satisfied.

Unfortunately the Beta supplied Iskra is regulated by an N type internal single stage regulator.   Most boats in North America use three stage external regulators to drive their higher output  alternators.  

We modified our Iskra alternator and it is now uses P type externally regulated three stage regulation.  It was a simple modification.  Here's how:

What you Need:

  1. Iskra brush holder available from Beta marine for a reasonable $40,
  2. 5/16" combination wrench and, if you have it, a 5/16" socket,
  3. 1/2" open end wrench,
  4. a small phillips head screwdriver,
  5. a pair of sidecutters or a sharp knife.

The Procedures Step by Step:

  1. Turn off the DC power (shut off the main switch),
  2. Remove the alternator from the engine and remove the three existing wires,
  3. Remove the back cover from the alternator (3 nuts),
  4. Remove the internal regulator (2 nuts and one screw),
  5. Install the brush holder (2 nuts),
  6. Cut an access hole in the back cover for the wires to the brush holder,
  7. Run the wires from the brush holder through the access hole,
  8. Gently replace the rear cover (3 nuts),
  9. Wire up the external regulator,
  10. Return the alternator to the engine and reconnect the three wires,
  11. Restore DC power

In Pictures:

The alternator sits calmly unaware of what is about to happen.

There will be three wires on the back of the alternator.  Depending on what is easier you can remove the wires and then the alternator or remove the alternator and then the wires.

Often the wires are short. If you remove the alternator before the wires you may rip the wires out by accident.  Just go slow and be gentle.

Removing the big wire from the back of the alternator using the 1/2" open end wrench.  

The big wire is positive and is connected through the battery switch directly to the battery.  If you short it to the engine block you will get a lot of sparks and some melted metal.  Avoid this.

I wrap all tools in electrical tape when working around wiring on the engine.

In an excess of caution I wrap the exposed end of the big wire with electrical tape to prevent accidental shorts.

Once I did not wrap the end and I got lots of sparks and some melted wire.  This is how I learned to avoid this.

 Here is the alternator removed from the engine.  It is resting face down (the pulley is on the blue mat) and you are looking at the back.

I have drawn orange circles around the three nuts you must remove to take off the rear cover.  One of the nuts is recessed and if you have a 5/16" socket it makes life easier.

Shown here is a lug on the back of the alternator which is held in place by another 5/16" nut.  You only need to remove the top nut and the tab.  Do not remove the nut which you will find under the tab.  Not fatal if you do but why cause yourself more work.

When you have removed the tab just gently pull the rear cover straight off the alternator. GENTLY.  You do not need to worry about brushes or anything.  Just gently pull the cover straight off.

When the cover is removed this is what you will see.  


The photo to the right shows the internal regulator.

Here you see the regulator from a different angle.  Circled are the two nuts and the one screw you must take off to remove the internal regulator.

Just remove the nuts and the screw and then gently lift the regulator off the posts on which it is braced.  Be careful because you are removing the brushes too which are an integral part of the regulator assembly.

Removing the nuts on the internal regulator assembly.

Removing the single screw on the internal regulator assembly.

Installing the new brush holder.

You have to place the brush holder on the two posts which held the regulator assembly, depress the two brushes and gently lower the assembly and brushes into place.  

This is not hard but it is fiddly.  The brushes rub on the rotor and can jam.  The brushes are fragile.  Being gentle will pay huge dividends.

If you have trouble getting the brushes to go on the rotor wrap some heavy paper around the rotor and press the brushes against the paper.  

You can then press the brushes against the paper and easily lower the brush holder on its posts.  When you have the brush holder in place just slide the paper off the rotor.  Easy peasy.

Here you see the brush holder sitting nicely in place where the regulator used to sit.

You now have to replace the two nuts on the posts holding the brush holder.  

You can see the wires coming off the holder.  

You can see the wires coming off the brush holder.  You must lead these wires outside the rear case.  

To do this cut off a hole in the ventilated part of the rear cover.  Just cut off one of the plastic bits.  Leading the wire harness through the resulting hole is tight but doable.  Why have a bigger hole than you need.

The hole is made.  

Lead the wire harness out the hole and gently replace the rear cover.  This cover will only go on the rotor one way.  Look closely at the inside of the rear cover and this will be immediately obvious.

If it isn't find someone with an IQ of 65 or higher and ask for help.  If your dog is smart he may be able to assist.

The rewired alternator. A lot more connections but all
due to the external regulator.
Replace the nuts you took off the rear cover and put the tab back on.  

You can see the wire harness leading out of the back of the rear cover.

Now it is time to rewire the alternator.

This is remarkably easy.

You put back the three wires you took off in the first place: the big positive wire, the tach wire and the voltage sense wire.

Then you have to follow your regulator instructions for wiring.  Usually these were written by a Taiwanese teenager with a serious crack habit and a passing acquaintance with the English language.  Oh well.  You are on your own except for this:

You will have to connect two wires to the wiring harness.  One is a negative wire and you can take the negative wire off any DC ground. I use the "neg" post on the alternator itself.  The other wire to the wire harness is "stator" and it will come from the regulator.

Here is the joyous bit: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHICH WIRE YOU CONNECT TO WHICH.  There are two connections in the wiring harness.  One is negative and the other is stator.  It does not matter which is which.  Cool.

You are done.  Reinstall the altenator and start the diesel.  If nothing burns up you are golden.

Here is the brush holder.  You will see immediately

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cruising Nova Scotia

London, ON

Last summer our sailboat, Meredith, took us out the St. Lawrence River, around the Gaspe and delivered us in Nova Scotia.  It was an easy passage and the effect on crew was dramatic.  An astounding trip and a fabulous destination.  Even the hurricane that greeted us in Halifax failed to dim the magnificence of the trip.

Last Saturday we arrived in London to find waiting for us a brand new copy of Peter Loveridge's just published Revised Cruising Guide to Nova Scotia.  It was with our general mail pile and we did not open it until today.  Sad for us.

All you Great Lakes sailors who want an exciting sail in domestic waters need to give serious thought to buying this guide and moving your boat out the St. Lawrence for a summer.  Nova Scotia is sort of a saltwater North Channel with actual historical sights and really really cool anchorages.

An easy to do, exciting trip and with Peter's Guide almost fool proof (almost to allow for the magnitude of the fool behind the wheel).

Peter has a decent blog at  If the photos alone don't create an irresistable urge to sail east check your pulse.

To see if you have one.

To comply with the legal requirements I must confess that every picture on my blog has been unabashedly stolen from Peter's.  With his DVD in hand you can muster a fair reasonable wallpaper for the old laptop.  Something to feed the spirit on those long Ontario winter work mornings.

The guide was a fabulous aid: well written with a distinct maritime flavour, packed full of detailed drawings, tidal progressions, charts and information.  Peter is a very careful sailor and if you follow his guide you will come to no harm.  We maintained rather a looser affiliation with his recommendations but at least we were informed as to the risks.

We used Peter's recommendations on departure from Yarmouth heading to New England incorporating both tide and weather forecasts.  The three large American boats who failed to do so left 30 hours before we did and arrived to clear customs 2 and 1/2 days after we did.  Unhappy were they to see us nicely moored and showered and relaxed, they wet, beat up and tired.

And if you do as we did Peter's wife, Heather, will worry about you as if you were one of her own.  And when she meets you she will give you proper hell for being a careless fool.

We did the trip.  We loved it.  We will do it again.  Soon.  And we will be using Peter Loveridge's Guide.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Being Responsible

London, ON

For those of you who have written to ask why any sane person would even consider a direct Vero Beach to Beaufort NC sail I offer the following:

For it to have any meaning you must only accept that I am sane.  And consider that much of the trip could make use of the northbound current of the Gulf Stream.  And know that we had a four day forecast of light winds all out of the south.

How could we miss?

Here's how:
  • First the wind was only light and variable out of the south for 1 day.  Then it was 22 knots out of the North East clocking through North.
  • Then the NOAA forecast finally recognized the fact that the winds were not out of the south and began to forecast increasing amounts of wind from the dreaded North at increasing velocities.
At that point the forecast changed we were cruising niftily along at 9 knots in a strand of Gulf Stream some fifty miles or so south of Charleston and about 120 miles east of that same target.  That was of no consequence.

Brief discussion with the Budget Committee disclosed that what we really wanted to do was head west out of the beneficial Gulf Stream and run to Charleston screaming like a little girl.  

If only it were that easy.  

As we turned west our forward speed began to fall off.  The more we turned the slower we moved at least in a forward direction, which was, of course, the direction in which we wanted to travel.  

Long before we were pointed on our desired course we found ourselves stopped dead in our tracks.  Well, in a Westerly direction.  Although pointed west we were traveling both north and east at measurably significant rates.  Sideways sailing.  Sideways sailing.  Cool.

Another strategy was required. Easy peasy.  We turned due north and, as the Gulf Stream made its way east we slipped unnoticed out of its grip.  Twenty five miles north of where we wanted but still, we were free.

Better part of a day later we were approaching Charleston in deep fog.  Thank goodness we planned responsibly.  The fog was sufficiently thick that at 9 a.m. we could not see ocean freighters passing within  200 yards.  No matter how hard we tried.

In this case the responsible and easy decision was to anchor off the channel.  We chose to do so behind the seawall protecting the entrance channel figuring we could shelter not only from the commercial traffic  but also from the growing waves.  It was our view and that of NOAA that the fog would burn off by  noon.  Hope died at 2 p.m.

Resurrection was found shortly after this.  A dead ship, a massive ocean going beast, was being tugged into Charleston by three tugs.  Anchor was hauled and we established ourselves just outside the channel beside a big red buoy.  When the dead ship came by we pounced.   

Jumping into the channel behind the disabled ship and its attendant tugs we ran the diesel at max rpms to keep the dark shadow created by the hulking vessel in view.  Actually most of our journey was completed with me on the helm steering by chart plotter (bad idea) and tugboat wake (good idea) while the Budget Committee could barely make out the heavily shrouded image of the dead giant.

Forty five minutes of this and we were inside the entrance.   Entering Charleston Harbour was like walking out of a curtain.  The fog died in a near straight line and we emerged into bursting daylight and warmth.  

A nice change from the cold damp of the deep fog.

Two days later we were in Mile Hammock Bay.  You know how that turned out.

Responsible decision making did nothing but get us in trouble that week.  Solutions seemed to require a bit more daring approach.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If That's All There Is My Friends Then Let's Keep Dancing,

2011 04 19Ga
Elizabeth City, NC or VA or whatever.  I never get it right.

Twenty Two dead.  Ten miles north of us a bridge destroyed.  Ten miles south of us two docks with boats still tied to them torn away from their marina and reported  by the Coast Guard as a hazard to navigation.  Tornadoes and water spouts all around us.

Two miles East of us a continuous emergency broadcast urged all boats to find someplace safe because hell was about to be unleashed on coastal waters.  No time wasted with Gale warnings or small craft advisories.  Just "Get to a safe haven.  NOW."  The Coast Guard are on edge.

Having been well forecast we chose, on the day of the storm, to remain in our anchorage at Mile Hammock Bay, North Carolina, just south of the Camp Lejeune artillery practice range.  Our anchorage was jammed, full of boats seeking refuge from what became one mother of a storm.

Wind at 30 knots blew steady from about 2:00 p.m. As light faded to dark the wind increased  to 35.  There was just enough light at 8 p.m. for us to see the towering cumulous on the horizon making their leisurely North Carolina way right for the anchorage.  By 8:30 light was not in short supply as the thundercells were over us producing virtually nonstop lightning.  Odd colour though - orange and pink and tangerine colours not the stark yellow of Ontario lightning.

Before the thundercell makes contact with our little group the boat ahead of us, a small Catalina out of Quecbec crewed by an elderly couple, tore loose from the bottom  and, freed of its constraints and urged on by 35 knot winds found itself roaring right for us.  

The Budget Committee rushed forward to do what she could, her actions aped by the old man onboard the delinquent vessel.  Somehow Catalina wife got the diesel going, or more likely had it running the whole time, and tried to power her little craft out of our path.  

It almost worked.  The BC and the old man fended off the stern of the Catalina from Meredith with boat hooks and adrenaline.  

I remained at the wheel, engine running as it had been for twenty minutes, doing the little I could do to manoeuver our well anchored boat out of the way of the rampaging Catalina and more importantly planning tactics in the event, all the more likely now, that our anchor would be torn out of the bottom by the force of impact with the errant Catalina. 

The desperate measures invoked on both boats resulted in only a couple of mild taps on our hull.  We shrugged as the Quebec couple drifted by.  No harm no foul.

The Catalina reset its anchor and dragged again.  Twenty minutes later it dragged a third time.  The old couple moved to a different part of the anchorage seeking stronger dirt into which they could dig their anchor.

We sat in the cockpit of "Meredith the Erstwhile" listening to the mounting number of emergency Coast Guard broadcasts on the VHF.  The reports of damaged and warnings to people too stupid to come in out of the rain were as numerous as the thunderclaps. 

Thundercells brought wind - sustained 40 knots for almost an hour.   Even Meredith was smart enough to bow to the force of this wind and we frequently found ourselves heeled 20 degrees in the wind pushed by the bow sideways to our rode.  

By storm's end another boat, which we dubbed the "Virginia Wolf" (Edward Albee fans will know why) had broken loose of its tether and, in a flurry of angry recriminations expressed at full  volume, the husband and wife team motored into the storm rather than reseting their anchor.  

This tactic did not work and one by one each of the boats in the anchorage turned on all available lights so the Virginia Wolf, a loose cannon in a tight anchorage would be able to see where the obstacles were.  Finally, its crew blaming each other at full volume for a series of personal defects which apparently resulted in their boat breaking loose, the boat decided to anchor in very shallow water.  The rest of us turned our lights off.

Funniest was the declaration by one self righteous prig that his radar showed the storm was past and we could all relax.  As he removed his thumb from the mic key the heavens opened and two feet of water (or so it seemed) dropped in a solid mass on the whole anchorage.  Following the water came renewed wind.  Atmospheric rage continued for another 20 minutes.

And then it was over.  Near instant calm.  No wind. 

Well, it felt like no wind.  The anemometer saidwas still reading 25 knots but it sure felt calm to us.

Next day the toll exacted by the storm continued.  Embarassed by events the two boats which broke loose left the anchorage almost before first light.  Neither has been seen or heard from since.  

Two other boats which left the anchorage just after us ran themselves aground in open water.  Both needed tows.  Both headed immediately for marinas after being rescued by BoatUS and Towboat.  

Six other boats just sat in Mile Hammock and went nowhere.

We have been bone tired since we left.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


2011 04 07

Meredith leaves Vero in the next day or so headed for the Chesapeake.  This will be our last sail of this season.  With a bit of luck we will be in the Chesapeake in under a week even allowing for our cowardly approach to Cape Hatteras (we don't go there).

Once there we haul out at a small boat yard in Solomons Island to let the hull dry for a month.  Then it is off to see the children.

The crew plus one, our son in law Nic, will return at the end of May to finish bottom painting and float the hull.  Then we are off on the sail to Bermuda.  If that works there is more sailing to be done in an easterly direction and if we get there, a good 4 months of weather to enjoy Europe (there is some disagreement aboard as to whether one can enjoy Europe or whether one should even if one could).  Then we set out on the milk run home (French Sailing Directions: sail south till the butter melts then turn east.  Perfectly clear, easily implemented)

Our preparations for the Bermuda trip will be posted but for the next month we will not be sailing or venting frustration about our fellow sailors.  That waits for our  return to the salt.  We will be talking to Chris Parker about his Atlantic weather routing service and checking out OCENS high speed weather products.  Not willing to trust our lives or comfort to the ferenghi who run ICOM we will also be checking out satellite phones and the SPOT system that so many people are moving to.

To date you know that we have replaced the diesel and all our sails, replaced the standing and running rigging, the mainsheet traveller and boomvang, the batteries and the generator.  We have removed and recaulked the portholes and replaced so many small parts we can't keep track.  The liferaft has been repacked and recertified at great expense and we have a new EPIRP, although I am not really too confident anyone will respond to an emergency midocean.

The ceaseless expense has rendered the Budget Committee comatose on some days but she has yet to object.  

Of course something is going to break because we should have replaced it but we will have some bailing wire and a Newfoundlander on board so we feel ready for darn near anything.

Fuel and water are always an issue but we are reading up on rain dances and will practice over the break.

In the meantime we have arranged to see many of you on our return and we look forward to all our visits. 

Now it is time for you to be working on your own boats.  We will write when there is something more to say. 

How to Install a Mainsheet Traveller






Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Green Stuff - a Cautionary Tale

2011 04 06
Too windy to paint, too cold to sit still.  Time for a movie

The Red  Top Optima Starting Battery was not the problem as it turned out.  
The board is our battery retaining system intended to stop the battery 
from crushing anyone sleeping in the quarterberth in a deep roll.

This is the post that I intended when I expressed my opinion on the "separate starting battery" issue.

Last December, before I had thought through the issue of whether keeping a separate starting battery was a good idea, we purchased and installed a new Red Top Optima starting battery.  Within a week of its purchase the battery appeared to quit working.

When the engine ignition key was turned to the first stop the fuel pump would run, the panel would light up, everything running in good order.  When the key was rotated to the starting position everything shut down.  Nothing happened.  The panel which had at the first stop exhibited such exuberant multihued life turned black and sat before me like a dead toad.

It seemed obvious the battery was defective.  It could provide the 3 or 4 amps needed to power the fuel pump and panel but when called on to supply the huge amount of current needed to drive the starting motor the battery could not do its job.

Having learned not to rely on the obvious we ran some simple tests before returning the Optima for replacement.

In running the tests we discovered the true source of our starting woes was deep set corrosion in the battery cable that led from the start battery to the start motor.

We found the problem by shorting out each element in the starting system.  First we shorted out the battery switch to see if were the contacts in that switch.  It was not the switch.  Next we shorted out the ACR - the charging relay that ensures both start battery and house bank are charged according to their needs and that ensures the two battery banks are kept isolated from one another - so the house bank cannot drain the start battery.

When the BC turned the key with the ACR shorted out the engine started easily.  AHA.

No.  Not AHA.  Rather HMMMM?  I removed the short from the ACR and had the BC turn the ignition key once more.

This time I saw sparks.  Many sparks.  The start motor did not turn but the huge battery cable that connected the starting battery to the ACR was shooting a shower of sparks.  This was not good.

The cable was totally sealed and had been "professionally made up" by a mechanic.

 With sparks issuing I had no compunction about cutting into the battery cable insulation and taking a look.  To the right is a somewhat blurry shot of what I first found.  The cable is reduced to less than half its original diameter because many of the individual strands of copper which are woven into the cable are severed.

The battery cable, size 2/0, costs $16 a foot at West Marine so cutting into it can be daunting.  Sparks trump daunt however.

You can see there is a very damaged end hiding under the shrinkwrap insulation.  Having opened up the cable at the connector a lot of green was visible on the copper strands.  Green is nice on a copper roof.  Nowhere else.  I started cutting back insulation.

Here is some of what I found.

The green was corrosion of course.  Despite its great size the cable was so corroded that it could not carry the current needed to run the start motor.  The problem is that when this happens the cable itself heats up.  This cable was so degraded that it was shooting sparks.  Fire was not too far behind.

The corrosion was so bad it fell off the woven strands of the cable in piles as you can see on the white paper.

I had to cut back almost 8 inches of insulation to find cable with no green corrosion and at that the strands were still black and suspect.  The cable was thrown out and new cable and connectors purchased at West Marine.

This time we did not use the professionals.  We did it ourselves.

Instead of a nice zero cost replacement of our starting battery we found ourselves spending a couple hundred dollars on new cables and connectors.

Cheap at the price.  How lucky for us.

Ice Age

2011 04 06
Still in Vero, still no traveller

It is freezing cold today.  The wind is blowing hard out of the north and the tide is running north to south.

A front passed through yesterday producing conditions today which we thought were good reasons not to try to motor north up the ICW.

Ahhh but the herd had other ideas.

Beginning on Sunday, with the cold front well forecast, the herd began amassing at our marina.   By Monday the flow was torrential.  Saturday night at sundown there were half a dozen mooring balls empty at Vero Beach.  By Monday noon every ball had two or three boats rafted up to it.  And still the boats came.

Friends on a moored boat found themselves disturbed late on Monday night when a strange  boat drove into their topsides in an ungainly and amateurish effort to raft up after dark.  The boat doing the damage had not called the marina and did not have a mooring ball assignment.  They just decided they wanted to tie up and they did not want to wait.  Desperation saw them refuse to anchor overnight.

Our friends had our full support for their uncivilized reception of these scions of stupidity.

Boats which had raced from the Bahamas to get to America before the front took succour here while winds howled and rains torrented.  For twenty hours unsettled conditions prevailed.

Around the marina clumps of boaters engaged in agitated talk about the weather and their plans.  A small voice in the crowd, exhibiting great couraged, expressed  that the front would pass on Tuesday and that they would with the first light heralding Wednesday's arrival.

By Tuesday the solo voice became a chorus of sailors all converted to a single line of thought.  Riding the bus found the talk dominated by everyone's fixed intention to depart on Wednesday at the earliest opportunity.

And so they did.  Like those long lines of plodosauruses in the movie Ice Age this morning saw the massed departure of all those independent minds.

Into the wind, into the cold and into the adverse tide.

If our traveler had arrived in good time yesterday we would not have motored out of here today.

We don't fit in.

Before you Begin, Well, You Have to Start

2011 04 06
Vero Beach, waiting for the Garhauer Traveler to arrive.

Before we set off for the Caribbean the Budget Committee authorized the purchase of a new start battery.  I have come to question the value of keeping a single battery separate from the house bank the sole purpose of which is to start your boat.  Not that I can admit this to the BC.  I spent money on this thing.

The theory behind having a battery that you keep isolated from all the others is that if you drain your house battery bank some day by, say, using the breadmaker and the Mr. Coffee on the same morning you will still have one battery kept separate from the others which will be fresh and ready to start your diesel.  You will not be stranded.

The Honda generator has blown this to bits.

With the huge number of cruisers carrying a pull start Honda generator these days the logic of the "failsafe" starting battery theory sort of begins to unravel.  When the house bank is over taxed by your excessive use of the comforts of home you just get the Honda out of storage, pull the cord and wait an hour.

One morning on starting our diesel to leave the anchorage we discovered our alternator had failed.  The diesel started fine but our batteries suffered a constant current drain - the fuel pump, engine panel and our instruments alone had a current draw in the order of 5 amps.  We had been at anchor and not charging for two days so the batteries were less than full.

Faced with a full day of motoring, a partially drained battery bank and no functioning alternator we got out the Honda and ran the Honda to fill the batteries while the diesel provided propulsion.

You are getting the idea - a Honda generator is far more useful and valuable and reliable than keeping a battery isolated from all the others just for the purpose of emergency starts.

One boat we know holds the Honda in  such high regard that they keep one on board and use it regularly even though they have a factory installed $15,000 Panda genset.  The Honda is more efficient, runs quieter and with less vibration than its (much) bigger brother.

Dispensing with the separate start battery is a good idea for other reasons as well:

1.     if the start battery were tied into the house bank your overall battery capacity would be bigger and you would then be less likely to drain it so low it would not start

2.     most people realizing the start battery will be lightly used and rarely called on tend to cheap out on this item.  There  are a huge number of big AGM battery banks found on boats using an el cheapo Walmart wet cell as their emergency backup.  This logic is highly suspect.  Your emergency backup should be the best you have -  like your storm anchor.

3.     using a different battery type for a start battery causes problems with the charging profile and you are likely to bake the start battery if you are not very careful in setting up the charging relays - especially if you are using AGM for the house bank and wet cell for the start battery

None of which has anything to do with the intended post, which was to be a real world discussion of battery cable corrosion.  I guess I will leave that for next time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

So What Exactly is a "Suburban" Sailor?

2011 03 26
Vero Beach, FL

Arriving back in North America I found a number of questions arising out of earlier posts and I will address a couple of them here.

As to the reason for our poor sailing performance we suggest you look no further than the operators of the vessel.  On the continuum of sailing competence the BC and I inhabit the line that extends to the left of midpoint.  For us mediocrity is a goal not a starting point.  

If I had to wait for competence before undertaking a project or voyage I would still be tucked away comfortably in my mother's womb.  Imagine: a 60 year gestation period.  

Instead the Budget Committee and I have found  a lot of fun being mediocre in increasingly challenging conditions.  It is the Peter Principle in action - every time we approach mediocrity we give ourselves a promotion and tackle a new challenge.  We are forever mediocre as once you have passed the midpoint you no longer track your improvement.  It the stuff you don't know that draws your attention, never the stuff you do.

The only problem with our strategy is that we will never, ever become competent.  

And this leads to the real purpose of this post: suburban sailors. These are the guys who have met and bested mediocrity in their sailing careers.  

Having used the term somewhat derogatorily in a recent post (I must have been under the influence of some mood altering drug if it was only "somewhat" derogatory) I have been called upon to explain what I meant.

Here is what I mean by a "Suburban Sailor"

1. A suburban sailor never sails in bad weather. "There is no need to ever get caught out" you will be informed by some arrogant little dweeb who usually adds a little sniff of derision or maybe perceived self superiority. 

Let me tell  you something. If you sail any leg  of more than 3 hours in length and more than a mile offshore you are going to meet some unexpected bad weather.   It is impossible not to.  Impossible unless you are one of those guys who sits in Lake Worth for a month or six weeks waiting for "a window" or worse, you are one of those guys who, after Chris Parker has given a pretty comprehensive weather forecast calls and asks for "your recommendations".    

Here is how the real world works:  Sailing a day out of Puerta Vita towards Hemingway with a three day window we are listening to the 6:30 a.m. weather broadcast live by Chris Parker.  Chris is telling us that an anticipated cold front is situate over "West Coast of Cuba".  At that very moment, we on the East coast of Cuba mind, we sailed into the cold front. You could see it.  They are not hard to spot.

The front brought rain and gusts and squalls and the obligatory windshift to the North and North East.  Problem was on much of the Cuban North Shore there are few if any anchorages which offer protection from the North/North East.  This put us in uncomfortable wind and waves against which we could make little forward progress and none of that comfortable, even with the diesel supporting full sail.  Finally we just stopped trying.  We hove to for 12 hours, caught up on some sleep, had a very good meal and slept some more.  Meredith did not move 3 miles in 12 hours while hove to.  When the wind relented we carried on under sail.  

There is no criticism of weather forecasters here.  The tools available to forecasters are good but they are not perfect.  Nor will they ever be.   Unless you plan to never sail anywhere ever you are going to have to learn how to handle bad weather.  

It is not hard getting practice.  Bad weather will find you.  You start out being incompetent and end up, with a bit of practice, being better.  

Or just tie your boat up with the grain fed herbivores (suburbanites) and wait and wait and wait for perfection.

2. Suburban Sailors do not change their routes or destinations - ever.  One boater, also prominent in the Georgetown social circuit was telling a novice cruiser that he "had been to Bahamas 12 times in 12 years."  He "never went across the yellow bank and [he never] went to Nassau because they were dangerous".  Now on Meredith the Yellow bank is a nonevent which we have crossed a dozen times without incident and Nassau is an enjoyable city destinations.  But old 12 x 12 had never been and would never go.  You see he had found a route that was safe.  That is more valuable than gold.

3. Suburban Sailors Do Not Sail Alone.  These guys love a group.  They are pack animals.  The groups usually function with all the grace of those high school cliques we used to call the "plastics".  A lot of effort is spent by a suburban sailor positioning socially in the group, everyone seeking dominance.  Often the women on suburban sailboats will take over the radio scheduling "get togethers" or more importantly declining invitations to another boat.  After all the invitee is far too prominent in the group to accept an invitation from a lesser member, who is after all only making the invitation to improve her own status.

It is as tedious as it is transparent.

3. Suburban Sailors like bonfires and barbecues.  Got a United Nations protected Environmentally Sensitive Island like Conception Island?  Well, have a bonfire and litter the beach.  Some boaters come to Conception and spend a day collecting the miles of plastic trash that accumulate on the beaches.  Suburbanites come to partay.

4. Suburban Sailors fight their battles using Consumer Proxies.  You can always tell the suburban sailing couples at a meet and greet or on the bus.  The men are discussing brand names of their equipment - "Well, I bought the Spectra Watermaker.  It cost a few thousand more but it is worth every penny."  "Oh, I know, we just had our Panda generator installed and you know I paid $20K but the guy who installed it really knew his stuff".  

The rest of us carry a Honda and love it.  $900 from Mayberry's, no tax no shipping.  Most of the rest of us buy our water in Bahamas at $0.25 a gallon.  It costs less than $100 for 4 months.  And the best part is you do not have to wash your deck.  Ever. It costs too much.

Meanwhile the women are discussing real estate as they always do.  "You know we looked t houses in Annapolis but there was just nothing suitable.  We had to build.  Over on $%@#$# street, you know where all the really big houses are going up.  You'll have to come see"

Shoot me please.  Even if you just wound me the pain will take my mind off the conversation.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Traveler Man (And Woman)

2011 04 02
Vero Beach FL

Of all the reasons we could justify staying in Vero Beach for a week we had to choose the least desirable.

Who would blame us for spending time at a low cost marina ($13.50 a night) in easy reach of shopping with free buses to and from.  In like vein most citizens would approve of our remaining here while the winds blew out of the North.  It costs money to motor, about $2.50 an hour for fuel and another $5 an hour for maintenance and diesel engine depreciation.  Waiting for wind not out of the North makes us money.

Damage to Planes at the Local Sun n Fun Flyin - Floatplanes Failed to Float.

Even the fact that we have been beset by thunderstorms and tornados and all manner of unsettled and threatening weather would be a welcome excuse for wasting time in this backwater burg.

But no.  We are waiting for parts.

Waiting for parts means waiting for the opportunity to do more work on the boat.  Sure.  That is what I want to do.  Boatwork.

The municipal marina here goes out of its way to help with the shipping and receiving of parts to transient boaters.  As Meredith is scheduled to attempt a sail to Bermuda and, sailing gods willing, to the Azores we have been alert to the need to replace and refit aging parts and systems.  

It has been very discouraging for the BC and myself, who pride ourselves on tending to maintenance in a timely way,  to discover an unending number of things that need refurbishing.  Crew included.

Here are some of the more expensive items with our preferred suppliers:

1. New hi index lens prescription eyeglasses.  Received yesterday from Lenscrafters and the Budget Committee has already stopped oscillating as she walks through the mall.  Her old pair were killed by the salt and in keeping with recent advice she chose to dispense with the glare protection coating which seems to be the culprit.  She loves her new eyewear.  By the way - in Florida an eye exam costs $50 to $75.

2. Mast Parts:  Arrived yesterday from Rig Rite in New Jersey.  New runners for our spinnaker ring car (the old ones were crumbling from 25 years of sun and exposure, new purpose built shackle for the gooseneck on our Isomat NG70 mast and some small mast wedges to facilitate a sealing the mast at the deck partner to reduce water ingress.  Rig Rite are fast and pleasant to deal with.  They are not cheap.  And they cannot spell.

3. Running Rigging: Expected yesteray from Rigging Only in Boston.  Not here yet.  Our existing sheets and furling lines have  suffered 10 years of abuse at our hands.  They are fraying and fuzzy.

4. Honda Generator: Arrived Thursday from Mayberry Sales in Port Murray, New Jersey.  $899 no sales tax, no shipping. A great company to do business with and very proud of their multi generational family enterprise.  We sold our 8 year old "runs like new" Honda in Cuba for 50% of the cost of a new one here.  

5. New Main Traveler: Ordered from Garhauer Marine in California.  Promised to be shipped Wednesday, not shipped until yesterday.  Now expected to arrive on Tuesday.  We hope.

6. SSB: We have removed and are shipping our Icom 802 to an Atlanta repair facility.  The Florida authorized dealer has a bit of a reputation for excessive invoicing.  They treated us fairly but we will seek a second quote.  Our last quote was $800 for repair - $300 for parts and $500 for labour, not much of a deal on an $1,800 radio.  We can buy a new ham rig for under $1,000 with more features and an actual warranty.

Our old traveler was undersized and overworked.  Removing it looked like a nightmare job - the track seemed to have been not only bolted to the deck but also bonded with 3M 5200. 

Bolt removal was easy, requiring removal of two light fixtures and some flexible wrist work.  We were shocked at the tiny bolts used by the last outfitter for this job - 3 bolts measuring 5/16 of an inch.  Even Guido at Garhauer was amazed that the bolts had not failed permitting the traveller to be pulled right out of the deck by pressure on the mainsail.

Remaining was a massive job of debonding two strips of 5200 adhesive measuring 7 inches in length and 6 inches in overall width.  Since we were working on a sailboat thre was but the merest hint of access to the job.

After we removed the bolts the BC and I took the bus uptown to see if there were some tool that might help us cut through the 5200.  Nothing was found but we did get drenched in a massive thunderstorm - actually just another massive thunderstorm down here.  We have been wracked with turbulence all week.

Arriving back at our mooring ball we could not help but notice the mainsheet traveler - swinging from the boom as it hung over the water.  

Here swung our mainsheet traveler - 
torn from the deck by a passing thunderstorm
and just hanging there.

The thunderstorm had generated a lot of wind and a lot of force on the boom.  This in turn applied all of that force to the traveler.  In the event the track was glued with some substance that looked like 5200 but was not 5200.  

No harm to the boat and a two day job of cutting out a bonded traveler reduced to zero time!!!

Now if the new traveler would just get here.  

Experience has taught us that installing equipment on the eve of  a major trip, eg to Bermuda, is not good operating procedure.  

So, even though the wait is aggravating, notwithstanding the North wind, we are happy to be able to test the unit and our installation on a long coastal cruise from Fort Pierce to Beaufort NC.