Sail Feed

Syndicate content
Brought to you by Sail Magazine
Updated: 4 weeks 3 days ago

Explaining the America’s Cup

Thu, 2015-03-26 15:38

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”


Wireless autopilot controls: Madman for Raymarine, Si-Tex SRS-100 for any brand?

Wed, 2015-03-25 11:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 25, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Some people think it’s crazy to run an autopilot with a smartphone, so maybe it’s fitting that a company called Madman Marine is the first to make this possible with Raymarine pilots. But then again Madman’s AP-WRC3iF comes with two fobs that run on a separate wireless frequency and that can also make course changes, initiate autotacks and change pilot modes. And it only costs about $235 U.S. plus shipping from Australia (with the fob-only model at about $190)…

What Madman has done is to figure out the autopilot commands in regular SeaTalk so that the installation only requires 12v power and a three wire ST connection to a (hopefully) spare ST terminal block on an older Ray course computer like the STx000 or SPX series. Apparently it is also possible to use the Madman control with the current Evolution pilots but the needed SeaTalk to SeaTalkng (NMEA 2000) converter will add to the cost. But then again I’m not sure that Raymarine’s own S100 or SmartController wireless autopilot controls — which look great, but are more expensive — can be made to work with Evolution.

Finally, note that while all current Raymarine MFDs include autopilot commands and can be remotely controlled by either RayRemote on a smartphone or RayControl on a tablet, in both cases the only limitation is that “autopilot activation/deactivation is not possible via a mobile device.” I think that other manufacturers also limit autopilot control over a mobile device WiFi connection. Are they being overly cautious?

The Madman products reminded me of the SRS-100 that Si-Tex introduced in 2013 — video here — though it has nothing do with smartphones and is not actually an autopilot control. In fact, the user is advised to turn off an existing autopilot, or at least put it in standby, when using the simple steering control above. (Yes, it looks like a Fisher-Price toddler toy, but it floats and might be quite visible even when overboard.) As shown below, the SRS-100 base station connects between an autopilot and a steering drive, and thus doesn’t care about AP commands. The steering kit costs just $299 complete and while neither the product description nor the manual are currently on the Si-Tex site, they are definitely available upon request.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Sri Lanka’s wild side

Tue, 2015-03-24 06:59

Traveling Sri Lanka’s interior meant some long days on the road (or railway tracks). Between that, and the likelihood of many “educational” stops, we thought the best way to end our adventures on a high note with potentially templed-out kids was to splurge on a safari. This isn’t a big country- the land area is similar to West Virginia- but it has the greatest biodiversity density in Asia, including the truly exotic, the beautiful and endangered, and a high proportion of endemic species. We especially hoped for a glimpse of the endangered Sri Lankan leopard. So we took a slightly circuitous path back to Trinco via Wilpattu National Park

This strategy succeeded beyond our expectations: in hindsight, the safari stands out as a family favorite. It was a long day- starting before dawn from our guest house, and returning after dark- but captured us for the duration. Our guide’s English wasn’t great, but it was sufficient, and he was a terrific tracker. He’d show us prints or scat near the road (samples from a sloth bear, below!) and pick out creatures in the landscape we never would have seen without his help: the HUGE owl up in the branches of one tree, a family of elephants on the far side of a grassland clearing, a flock of hornbills over the canopy.

He was a skillful driver, too, taking our 4WD skillfully through some rough terrain. We did nearly get stuck in the muddy shallows of a watering hold at one point but he got us unstuck. He earned big points for evading the water buffalo bull that charged alongside us, cutting across the front of the jeep and back again in an effort to…well, I’m not sure, but it might have had something to do with the cute water buffalo cow on the other side!

Among the first creatures we saw was a jackal. A JACKAL. Maybe we should have been a little more prepared but somehow this wasn’t even on my radar for possible sightings and it just floored me. He- she?- was glorious in the golden light of the very early morning.

Did you know peacocks are endemic only to Sri Lanka and India? Nope, I didn’t either. And I was at least as surprised to earn that even with those crazy tails, they can fly pretty high up into a tree for a perch.

Wilpattu is a birders paradise. Beautiful birds of so many shapes and sizes and colors. Yeah, descriptive.

It was the action around us that kept us on our toes. Like the cheeky monkey that stole Ceilydh’s bananas. Or the crocodile that slid into the water right next to us, to move away from the jeep- and on top of another (invisible, submerged) croc that was not happy about being disturbed. Or the dusty road under a low canopy that was filled with white butterflies; it was like driving under cherry trees or jacarandas in the spring, with countless fluttering petals dancing for kilometers over the dirt track.

And just as the afternoon was cooling towards dusk, it happened. We had barely dared to hope we might see one of the dwindling population of Sri Lanka’s leopards, but there in the underbrush- and then crossing RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR JEEP, was one of these breathtaking creatures. I might have teared up a little (don’t laugh! I had good company!)

Dusk fell as we headed back toward the gateway to the park to depart, hornbills in a dead tree watching our exit, wishing we had days to linger.

We always appreciate clickthroughs to read this on the Sailfeed website. Thank you!

Victor Hempel

Tue, 2015-03-24 00:00

Paul Exner talks to single-handed sailor Victor Hempel aboard Paul’s boat ‘Solstice’ in Tortola. Paul and Andy also announce their partnership between 59º North & Modern Geographic to offer sailing expeditions aboard the Swan 48 ‘Isbjorn’ and Paul’s ‘Solstice.’

Paul will be regularly co-hosting ’59º North’ during the normal Tuesday releases. What do you think of the new co-host?

Want to go ocean sailing with Andy or Paul? Book a berth on the Swan 48 ‘Isbjorn’ or the Cape George 31 ‘Solstice’ at and

Exploring Sri Lanka

Mon, 2015-03-23 14:14

It’s very rare for us leave Totem to travel inland in countries we visit. This is mostly a function of money: we can’t afford the higher costs of living off the boat with restaurant meals and accommodations. It’s costly to buy the peace of mind of putting Totem in a marina instead of leaving her anchored out. It’s also about security. What if something happened when we were far away? Nobody looks after her like we do. So the decision to spend eight days traveling around the interior of Sri Lanka was a big deal. But our anchorage in Trinco was very well protected in this season, and the Utopia crew kept an eye on her for us.

The conventional wisdom about cruising in Sri Lanka is that it’s all about the inland experience. That might be partly because Galle sounds pretty unpleasant for boats, but it reflects the tremendously rich history and culture. So rich, it would be easy to spend a couple of months on inland travel, but we would manage with about a week.

long distance bus, on a major thoroughfare. coconut blossoms for luck on the grill.

We aimed for experiences in three big buckets: 1) the ancient cities (the ruins and relics of capitals from a few hundred to more than 2,000 years old) 2) Sri Lanka’s famed wildlife (at one of nearly two dozen national parks) and 3) the hill country (partly for the novelty of a cool climate, but also for a different cultural facet and to better understand colonial history). There are many, many ways to fulfil each of these, and by having general goals instead of a specific itinerary, we hoped to more organically find a path. Besides, I was suffering from a serious case of planning fatigue!

do your highways have cows ambling into traffic?

We took off to Kandy first: it’s only 113 miles, but the bus ride was nearly six hours from Trincomalee. Highways were often just winding country roads, and you can just expect to need to stop for a cow. But public transportation must be one of the best deals on the planet: the journey was less than $2 per person. I’m not sure how that even covers fuel costs, and will try not to think about vehicle maintenance.

Plains of rice paddies give way to hillsides of tea, waterfalls, and stunning vistas. Kandy is a historic capital: 200 years ago this month, it’s where Sri Lanka’s last independent kingdom ceded to colonial power. Because Kandy was the last holdout, there’s a more Sri Lankan culture evolved unfiltered (or squelched) by colonial interests. Possibly that’s what inspired Siobhan to spend her hard-earned money (selling baked goods at the weekly market in Langkawi) on seven meters of beautiful silk, fashioned into a Kandyan style sari.

Siobhan and her sari

In the market, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (I’ve never seen fresh green cloves for sale before!) hint at Sri Lanka’s past as a trading crossroads in the Indian Ocean for bringing spice from the Far East to Europe. At the historic palace grounds include the Temple of the Tooth, with one of the most sacred of Buddhist relics. Yes, there’s supposed to be a real tooth from Gautama inside. We arrived on Poya, the full moon, an auspicious day for Sri Lankan Buddhists when pilgrims would be in greater numbers.

pilgrims…and school field trippers.

From Kandy, we spent a few days traveling through the hill country. Part of the appeal was the tea plantations: colonial relics that were the driver for infrastructure to bring coffee, then tea, to port; Sri Lanka remains one of the world’s largest exporters of tea. Part of the appeal was the cool climate at higher altitude. After so much time in the tropics, we were all kind of curious and excited to spend time in chilly weather. We got our wish! Overnight lows were around 50°F (10°C), and daytime temps hovered around 70°F (21°C). It was lovely.

learning about tea plantations and processing in a factory tour

It was slightly less lovely when we woke up to a 2:30 a.m. alarm in order to hike up Sri Pada. This 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall peak is an important holy site thanks to a mark in the rock at the top resembling a footprint (claimed by Buddhists as Buddha’s, by Hindus as Shiva’s, and by Muslims and Christians as Adam or St Thomas’). Many pilgrims especially seek to see sunrise from the temple at the top, so that’s what we did too. Well, Niall and Jamie and I did. The girls decided they liked the warm blankets better!

Niall and I may have had sore legs for a week, but this goes down as one of my favorite experiences in Sri Lanka. It was humbling to climb (in many layers and proper shoes) next to pilgrims in bare feet with a towel for warmth, and I’ll not soon forget the sunrise puja. Also tremendous: seeing the shadow cast by the peak across the landscape to the west. Simply tremendous.

Next: wildlife in Wilpattu National Park.

Happy travelers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website. Thank you!

New Island Formation In Tonga

Tue, 2015-03-17 13:53

The formation of this new island, Hunga Tonga, is getting worldwide publicity. In the diptych above you can see two unconnected islands in the image to the left, now nearly joined by the new eruption in the image on the right. If you haven’t seen the photos taken by GP Orbassano, an Italian expat who lives in Nuku’alofa, you can see them here.

All along I thought this eruption/new island must be the same as one that made the rounds years ago. In 2006 a cruiser, Fredrik Fransson of s/v Maiken, motored through a sea of floating pumice, then came upon the eruption, and the nascent island. He sent back striking photos and an account. If you haven’t seen those, you can see them here.

It turns out I’m not keeping very good track of my newly-formed Tongan islands: The 2006 eruption was at Home Reef, about 150 miles away. Home Reef has erupted and surfaced, only to be washed away again, several times in recent history. I can’t seem to find any information about it’s current state. They say Hunga Tonga might wash away too. It looks pretty substantial to me, but not substantial enough to buy a timeshare.

NASA photo of Home Reef:

The earth is alive!


Tue, 2015-03-17 00:00

You know that intro music you love from the podcast? It’s Blaggards! Andy spoke with lead singer and co-founder of the band, Patrick Devlin just in time for St. Paddy’s Day. Patrick’s story is a classic one of following your passion into a passable career, and he’s had remarkable success with it. Patrick talks about not drinking, starting a band, U2, growing up in Ireland, sadness in his family, touring and playing all-day shows on St. Paddy’s Day! Check out Blaggards music at or on

Beautiful Sri Lanka

Mon, 2015-03-16 21:27

Sri Lanka has captured our hearts and minds: one month has flown by. There has been fascinating history, culture, food, and more for us to learn about and experience. But it was so much more than that: more than any country, it’s been about the people that we meet.

You can’t walk down the street without meeting someone. Every jaunt to the market, a temple, or even just to stretch out legs includes a conversation with someone new. I’ve never been asked “where are you from?” more often – from people who generally want to know the answer to the question, and aren’t just asking it because that’s one of their five English language sentences. Surprisingly often, it’s followed by “why are you here?” And almost everyone we talk to wants to know if we like Sri Lanka…like this group of guys we met outside a Hindu temple in Trinco.

The kids spent a bunch of afternoons body surfing on the beach in Trincomalee, which usually meant meeting kids like this- a schoolbus full of students on a field trip, eager to practice English.

These would-be tough boys are usually hanging out around the same corner. For all their wanna-be bad boy attitude, they were always helpful, taking me to shops I wouldn’t have found on my own in search of everything from potable water to curd. They love hamming it up for me- this is one of the few photos that doesn’t include crazy faces and hand signs. And yes, the cows do just kind of hang around on the roads all over the place here!

Traveling inland, it’s the wildlife that we’ll never forget, but it’s also the people who helped make it a special journey for us. In Polonnuwara, the ruins were spectacular, but it was the guide that infused them with life. In Polunnuwara’s Shiva Devale, it was a blessing from the keeper that still sticks with me.

On our train ride through the hill country, I sat in a row near the back of the car. In front of me, Mairen watched the scenery… and the boys hanging out between the cars watched her. They loved the cat-and-mouse but I never caught them looking!

In Kandy, it was the people in the silk shop where Siobhan spent every penny of the money she earned selling baked goods in Telaga on seven meters of silk, fashioned into a sari. This lovely woman hovered over her like a mama hen, and dropped the price on the sari to what Siobhan could afford (literally, the full contents of her wallet- but far under the original asking price).

When I take the main road to the market, this woman is always selling guavas and betel on the same corner. Not a word of English but you don’t always need it! She wanted a picture taken (there’s another Jamie got where she’s pulled me very nearly onto her lap)! I brought her a print.

These two girls tagged along with me one morning. They wanted chocolate. We shared my grapes instead.

Going ashore (and on the return), it’s the security guards in the harbour police compound. These two are the Mohammeds: Mohammad Nazir and Mohammad Hasan. They enter our names and passport numbers in their book.

At the market, a few vendors have become  my go-to. The trick in the beginning was to  work out who was giving me a fair price, and who was marking their good up 100% on sight. This stall was shared by Iqbal and Uwais, who didn’t just have the most beautiful yellowfin tuna you’ve ever seen (setting pieces aside), but were always scrupulously fair.

Nazar is a fruit vendor with a shop a short walk from the jetty. He became my go-to, and helped pick out a large stash of pineapples (10) and watermelons (6) along with limes, ginger, dates, and a solitary pomegranate. I spent  my last rupees with him on fruit to carry us as far as possible, since little grows in the thin coral atolls of the Maldives. “Nazar, I have 40 rupees left- what can I buy?” “MANY LIMES!”

This morning we’re pulling the anchor up and sailing for Maldives. There’s not much wind, so what should be four days will probably stretch out, but I don’t mind. Because I don’t think we’ve finished meeting Sri Lankans, and I’m hoping to find some fishermen to trade with.

Happy travelers know it kicks a little change in our cruising kitty when you read this on Sailfeed. Thank you!

New Steering Wheel Adventure, Part 1

Mon, 2015-03-16 14:39

Let’s cut to the chase here: If you’re going to buy a new steering wheel, make sure it fits your boat, cuz making your boat fit the steering wheel is a big deal.

The venerable steering wheel on my nearly 50-year-old boat is tired. It’s made of of aluminum and coated in Bakelite, or some such substance. The aluminum is bubbling and corroding through the coating in several places, and black electrical tape covers the horrors and protects my hands from injury.

I’d had my eye out in second-hand chandleries, and online, because new steering wheels are expensive. The cheapest you can posssibly get a brand new basic 24-inch (my size) stainless wheel is about $700, but if you want a little bling, like teak around the outside, you quickly get up over $1200. I once thought I wanted a classic teak wheel, for my classic yacht, with the spokes and handles – full Gilligan’s Island – but the handles can cause mischief. My dad once had the pocket torn out of his windbreaker by the classic teak wheel on our family yacht when our dutiful autopilot made a hard turn to starboard. And classic teak wheels, new, are also very expensive. This one, in 24-inch diameter, runs about $2300 from Edson:

So a destroyer wheel it would be, and when I found this one on Ebay for $200 I pounced:

It was advertised as having teak accents, but I think it’s actually rosewood, or some other kind of dense tropical hardwood. I was very happy with my bargain hunting. There was one little thing I didn’t pay much attention to, the hub or taper size (the size of the hole in the middle). I figured, from the photos, that there was plenty of meat in the hub of the new wheel, and if it needed to be altered it would mean a quick trip to my local machine shop.

Au contraire. The hub was indeed the wrong size. It was a 3/4-inch taper and my old wheel takes a 1-inch taper.

I popped in to see my machinist and he broke the news to me: “Thats’ actually not so simple.” It appears they do it on a lathe, and lathes don’t have enough room for something 24 inches across. I thought they would bore out the middle with a tapered reamer, like this:

Tapered reamers cost about $200, and I guess your average machinist doesn’t happen to keep a variety of them. I thought about buying one myself, as I’ve got access to a mill, but the reamer would cost as much as the wheel, and there was a good chance it wouldn’t work: The machinist said that because the keyway was already cut in the hub of the wheel the reamer might go all lopsided, or lock up, or just not work out. Just buying the reamer was dicey, because they’re measured by size and pitch, and I wasn’t terribly confident in my ability to measure whether I had a 1-inch, 7-degree taper vs. a 1-inch, 12-degree taper.

The machinist suggested removing the “steerer”, the part the wheel fits on, with bearings and a sprocket, and turning the shaft from the steerer DOWN to 3/4-inch. This would be a major project, as the steerer is well-attached and buried in the 50-year-old console on my 50-year-old boat. Replacing the steerer with a new one was also about a $700 proposition.

A steerer:

He also suggested cutting the hub out of the wheel, then turning it in a lathe, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to weld it back into my wheel exactly straight. Sigh.

I finally got hold of the biggest, baddest machine shop in the region that does all the big ship propellers in Alameda. They said they could do it for about $200 on their lathe, which was big enough to accept something 24 inches across, but I’d have to give them the steerer too, so they could confirm the fit. Sigh.

If the steerer had to come off the boat, I’d try to save myself $200 and turn it down myself, and thus began a fairly overwhelming boat project, which has rendered my boat a construction site and unusable till summer, if I’m lucky. To skip ahead, the project got out of control because to remove the steerer I had to largely disassemble the 50-year-old, crumbling wooden console, and in the process I decided to rebuild the console. Here’s what it looked like a few weeks ago. There was a steering wheel there once, and my boat could actually sail places:

…but back to that steerer.

I removed the greasy, rusty, filthy, 50-year-old chain and got the steerer out, then disassembled the steerer to extract just the tapered shaft, the part that would need to be turned down. Of course I would completely rebuild the steerer, regrease it, repaint it etc., which is just one small and relatively painless facet of this project gone awry.

Then I approached The Beast:

The lathe at my work weighs as much as a Ford F350 pickup, and is bolted to the concrete floor with 3/4″ studs.

I’ve always used it to turn plastic, which is relatively forgiving, with little black curlicues flying everywhere. This would be my first try with steel. If I destroyed the shaft it would be minor catastrophe, because replacing a shaft from a steerer built in England fifty years ago isn’t going to happen.

And what I needed to do involved a little guesswork. If you look at my crude diagram, you’ll see I knew where I needed to be at the fat end of the taper, and at the skinny end of the taper, and I knew how long the taper needed be, IE the distance from the fat part to the skinny part. I could measure all of these from my new wheel. And a bit of good news, the threaded part at the end fit through my new wheel, so I wouldn’t have to turn that part down and cut new threads.

A modern lathe can be programed it to do these things – I need to get from A to B at a 20-degree angle – but this feature was not available on the lathe at my work. As you can see, it was built in 1956, long before programmable anything:

If I wanted to do some math in my head I could figure that for each 1/1000th of an inch I went to the right I’d go .3/1000 inboard, but this would have been tedious and more prone to mistakes, methinks, so I planned to just take it slowly and remove the shaft from the lathe to check the fit with the wheel frequently. With trepidation and fear I approached The Beast, a machine capable of ripping off a human arm in a nanosecond.

A good trick I learned is pressing a flat file on the work while it’s turning in the lathe: this takes down the ridges and evens things out. After an hour or so of turning, it was a decent fit to the new wheel, but this was only the beginning…

Five in a Row for Cal Maritime

Mon, 2015-03-16 10:52

Posted 3/16/2015 by KL

Southern California’s hard-working fleet of Catalina 37s — maintained and matched for the Congressional Cup first of all — serve other regattas too. When the Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Yacht Club and California Maritime teamed up in 2008 to create the Harbor Cup, that was the logical go-to fleet. And it serves well.

Now who can crack Cal Maritime’s run? The Keelhaulers have won the last five:

The final day of the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup was a thriller, with stunning wins by Navy and Massachusetts Maritime, and a near-upset at the top tier. But the California Maritime Keelhaulers rebuked nine challengers from around the nation, to capture the title for the fifth year in a row.
Going into Sunday’s races, on the final day of the three-day intercollegiate invitational big boat regatta, Cal Maritime had a one-point lead over College of Charleston; with third place University of Southern California holding off Navy by just four points. Skies were overcast but temps warm, and the westerly breeze lively.

An altercation at the start of Sunday’s first race – number nine in the series – pitted Navy against Cal Maritime. Cal Berkeley won that start, but it was Navy who torpedoed through the fleet, showing off their proficient and vigorous teamwork and leading from wire to wire, to edge out Cal Maritime (2) and Charleston (3).

The breeze held steady for the final race of this popular and hard-fought series, with the title still up for grabs. Massachusetts Maritime shook up the docket with a spectacular start, and sped to the right side of the course at the head of the fleet.

Earlier, skipper Priscilla Stoll has admitted she and her team were “a little rusty,” saying this winter’s extreme weather had kept the crew off the water since November. But the Mass. Buccaneers stole the lead and finished their final race with a bullet.

Navy finished second, to inch the USC Trojans out of third place overall, while California State University Long Beach rebounded from an OCS to take third place in that race and sixth overall.

Back at the dock, Navy dismissed their Race Nine protest – leaving Cal Maritime uncontested at the top, with a three point advantage over Charleston.

The rival Cougars had been in the hunt, admitted Chris Vilicich, Cal Maritime skipper: “At one point in the race it thought it was all over. I thought to myself, ‘We just have to be really patient, do everything we practiced, and hope for the best.’”

“The team did great,” he continued. “Our boat handling was almost perfect, we made very few mistakes. I was super happy and very proud of them.”
“I’m really fortunate to have won it this year,” added Vilicich. Defending Cal Maritime’s four-year winning streak put “a ton of pressure” on the team. “I’ve been super-nervous the past two weeks – but now that it’s finally over I’m relieved.”

The Port of Los Angeles Harbor Cup was initiated in 2008, and is organized and hosted by Los Angeles Yacht Club (LAYC) – a leading fixture in West Coast boating since 1901. Originally founded as the South Coast Yacht Club, it later incorporated Sunset Yacht Club and the Los Angeles Motor Boat Club; moving to San Pedro in the 1930s. It was described at the time, as a “heterogeneous group of sailors, power boatsmen with their naphtha launches, and sailing dory enthusiasts, but not without a number of larger schooners and fairly fast sloops.”

Harbor Cup races are held in the Pacific outside the LA Harbor breakwater and iconic Angels Gate Lighthouse, beneath the Pt. Fermin landmark, with the impressive Port of Los Angeles as a backdrop. The Port encompasses, 7,500 acres and can accommodate 270 vessels with 86 cranes, including the new post-Panamax vessels. In addition the harbor boasts 3,800 recreational slips and the World Cruise Center at Ports O’ Call, amidst its 43-miles of waterfront.

FINAL RESULTS, top three

California Maritime Academy Keelhaulers 25 points
College of Charleston Cougars 28
U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen 36

JEFF & MOLLY’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: An Engineless Cruise Through the W’Indies

Sun, 2015-03-15 17:17

Editor’s note: Attention WaveTrain riders! I have just received a most excellent missive from my erstwhile skipper/crew (it’s a symbiotic relationship) Jeff Bolster, featured here previously, regarding his long-planned much-looked-forward-to entire winter of cruising with his bride Molly through the length and breadth of the Caribbean islands aboard their Valiant 40 Chanticleer. Long story short: they broke their prop strut three days out of Bermuda and are just now getting around to fixing it. I’ll let Jeff fill you in on all the gory details (this from an e-mail dated March 10).

Good thing we like Martinique: we might need to get French citizenship and live here forever. The boat has already been on the hard for 10 days and the “A-Team” has barely begun to work. It’s the Caribbean, mon.

As some of you know, we broke the propeller shaft strut on the third day of the voyage and essentially have had no use of the engine since then. It’s that Old Timey Sailing Ship stuff that I live for. As Joni Mitchell once wailed, “It’s suffering, makes me feel that I am alive…”

Valiant Yachts sent us a new strut cast just for us at the foundry. But the French technicians initially assumed it would just be a “pop it out and pop in a new one” kind of job. Nope. Valiant Yachts had told me it would require some finagling, with fiberglass cut away or glass added. Installation will now require drilling new holes and filling the old ones. Lots of glass work. More time. More money.

The broken strut in delicato. The original break was up near the base. Then Jeff did some diving and cut away the central section with a hacksaw so the engine could be run for non-propulsive purposes without the busted strut having any disadvantageous adventures

The new strut in a preliminary dry fit. Lots of work necessary to make it fit tight. As Jeff informed me in a separate e-mail, all these Valiant 40 struts were cast from the same mold, but ended up subtly unique after being machined and polished prior to installation

We feel special. Valiant’s Operations Manager says that he knows of no other Valiant 40 that just broke its strut like this. There are only 292 of these boats! To fill in those of you I have not e-mailed before, Molly and I were sailing from Bermuda to Barbados (ultimately 8½ days) and were three days out of Bermuda, motoring through a 12-hour spell of no wind and glassy sea, when: BAM!!! Lots of noise and clatter. Shut ‘er down. What the fuck???

Later, after we reached the islands, I dove and–carrumba, the strut was broken! Couldn’t believe it. The strut holds the propeller shaft in place and is one of those things that never need attention. We had replaced the rigging. We had replaced the engine. We had replaced the chainplates. We had replaced rope and mended the sails before setting out. I had thought myself around every corner and possibility to do everything that should be done to ensure a good voyage this winter. Hah! Boats will always out-fox even the wiliest of captains.

Anyway, we sailed from Barbados to Grenada and then through the Grenadines and then to St. Vincent and St. Lucia and ultimately Martinique with no engine. Along the way we had our Danish friends, Lars and Anne Marie, who for months had been planning to join us for a 10-day sailing trip. They got their “sailing” trip.

Nothing like “no engine” to sharpen your sailing skills. Our final day, sailing into Le Marin from Grande Anse D’Arlet on Martinique, took us 6 hours and 30 tacks. It was blowing hard. And we were navigating through a reef-strewn outer harbor that neither of us had ever seen before. Molly steered. I navigated and ran the deck. By the end of it, when we anchored on the fly, I was bushed. Single-reefed main went to double-reefed main, and then single-reefed genoa was rolled up to “double-reefed” genoa, just because the distance between the coral reefs on each tack was so short I did not have the time (or strength) to crank in the genoa and get it set and drawing before it was time to tack again. Tight quarters these.

Plotter track showing a portion of Jeff & Molly’s short-tacking approach into Le Marin. The plotter is stationed belowdecks at the nav station and was never consulted during this procedure. All navigation was done by eyeball on deck

But the challenge of sailing into this place through the reefs in a big breeze of wind was nothing compared to the challenge of navigating the French system of boatyards and technicians.

I expect that we will be on the hard here for a month for a job that should have taken a week.

In the meantime we are eating croissants, going to the spectacular Beach of the Salines at dawn, and hiking in the rainforest and on Mount Pelee at other times. They have us by the balls: our boat is hauled out in a ratty French West Indian boatyard, and the technicians are taking a good long time to get their heads wrapped around the job. Meanwhile, we are living ashore in a studio apartment in the “Residence des Isles.” Not exactly the lovely sailing trip through the Grenadines, etc., that we had originally imagined.

But that is the reality of boats. Long Distance Cruising = Fixing Your Boat in Exotic Locations. This time “en francais.”

As for Mount Pelee, that infamous volcano that killed 30,000 people in the blink of an eye in 1902 and is now an alluring hiking trail. I have been on the mountain four times–once in 1985, once last year, and twice this year. I still have not reached the summit. In ’85, as skipper of Te Vega, I ascended solo from the W, began the circuit around the caldeira, and then, in thick fog and no viz, fell into a hole and broke a rib. It hurt for four months. I somehow got myself back to the road and was shaken, but I was also bitten by the bug of this mountain.

Last year, Molly and I ascended from the W again, but as we hiked above tree level, and the clouds came in, and the trail got more vertical, she was not so keen on continuing. Four days ago she and I ascended from the E (the Ailleron trail) with three young French folks about the age of our children. We got to the deuxieme refuge, but it was late in the day, and we did not feel able to press on. The next day she and I tried the same ascent from the E, but in the ravine of the cordeilla, on the way towards the summit, Molly said, “Enough.” I continued on solo to the “Cone of 1902,” the height of the volcano before it blew in 1902. But to try to reach the summit–Le Chinois–would have required at least 45 minutes each way, and I had already left my honey by herself on a rugged mountain trail. Time to retreat. It was blowing like hell, disturbing my balance, and I couldn’t see more than 25 feet in any direction on account of the clouds.

So that is what we jiggy MoFos is doing these days–whiling away our days with worrying, walking, and rum. What could go wrong?

Checking out a floating produce vendor at St. Lucia

Molly enjoys a beverage on deck after another long day of cruising sans combustion internal

Hauled out in Martinique

Ascending Pelee (again)

We understand that some of you have been enduring a Winter From Hell, and we are happy to be avoiding it. I have the lifetime Snow Shoveling Merit Badge and do not need another. But if I am ever going to fix our boat in Martinique in the future, I will certainly need to polish up my rusty French.

Another Editor’s Note: Jeff failed to send any pix of himself. So here’s one I took after we succeeded in delivering Chanticleer down to Virginia during a Previous Assault on the W’Indies.

And here’s an index of previous WaveTrain posts concerning him:

From Prison Cell to the Sea

Delivery to Virginia

Delivery After Purchase

Crewing on Lunacy

Pacific Fleet Pounded in Vanuatu

Sat, 2015-03-14 14:02

Photo courtesy Unicef Pacific

Posted 3/14/15 by KL

Cyclone Pam has left a trail of destruction across the 65 islands of Vanuatu, dealing damage also in Kiribati and the Solomons.

Torrential rain was reported, backed with winds to 170 mph. With communications infrastructures also hit, news has been slow coming out of the South Pacific, but early reports confirm eight deaths. More seem inevitable in the wake of the storm that has inspired phrases such as “complete destruction” to describe the effects in some areas.

An Associated Press report quotes Chloe Morrison, an emergency communications officer with World Vision, speaking from the capital, Port Vila, “The damage is quite extensive in Port Vila but there are so many more vulnerable islands. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in those vulnerable communities.”

Aid agencies in New Zealand and Australia are making preparations for recovery efforts, with the storm now expected to pass north of New Zealand.

For a number of long-distance cruisers, it appears, one dream ends here.

Further details via the BBC here.

The Ants Go Marching

Thu, 2015-03-12 00:18

Boats are rarely pest-free zones. There and just too many places to hide. And even if you do get rid of an infestation, you can count on a new crop of eggs sneaking aboard behind the labels on your tins, or in the bananas, or on cardboard anything. We do our best to keep Papillon neat, tidy and bug-free, but it is a case of constant vigilance.

You would think it would be easier on land. Everything is open and accessible in a house – there is nowhere to hide a nest that won’t be easily discovered. And, sure enough, when we moved into our place last September we found it pretty bug-free. Our major concern was the malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the area, but the air conditioning keeps them outside where they belong. So while I still tried to keep the house crumb-free and an untempting target, it didn’t seem as mission-critical as once it did.

And then we went away for six weeks at Christmas. When we got back, I discovered an army had invaded our territory.

The ants had arrived.

Up until this point, I had always considered ants to be fairly benign. Sure, we had carpenter ants in the house when I was a kid, but what did that mean to me? We got to leave the house early and have breakfast at McDonald’s on the day that pest control came. We have seen a lot of leaf-cutter ants in our travels, and they are downright neat with their endless highways of little green clippings. Erik has a particular fondness for army ants and the bridges they build, but I am just as happy not to encounter those in the wild. I got stung by a red ant once upon a time, but that painful shot of formic acid only reminded me to stay out of that part of the backyard. The ants were doing their thing.

But now I had ants in the house. Just little, regular ol’ ants. I was mystified as to why they had moved in when the house was empty – there was no food left behind, no crumbs to collect. And it was little comfort that my neighbours were affected, too. We all had ants, and no one could get rid of them.

I squish them. They come back. I spray them. They come back. We have gaps under the doors and around the windows; it isn’t as though we could seal the house.

And I find them in the oddest places. They seem to have a masochistic affinity for hot appliances. Before I use the kettle, I have to wash it out because it is sure to be full of dead ants. Ditto the breadmaker and the coffee machine.

They also seem to like our toothpaste (well done, Colgate!). In the beginning, the girls would shriek a little when they found an ant on the side of the tube. Now, I barely get a bored, “Mo-om, there are aaaa-nts.” The kids are still unwilling to squish them (saving up karma points, I guess), so that is my job. I rinse them out of the sink, flick them off the towels, grind them into counters, and pick them out of my coffee.

Someday the rain is going to stop, and the ants are going to go back outside where they belong. I’ll be grateful. Until then, I’ll be one out on the porch every evening, trying to convince the geckos that ants really are delicious.

WINDBOUND IN SXM: More Sailing With the Family (Or Not)

Wed, 2015-03-11 22:09

The better part of valor, and all that. When we arrived here on St. Martin Saturday evening it was blowing a bit, and all day Sunday–as we provisioned Lunacy, adjusted to the pleasant weather, and diddled around at the pool while watching Heineken Regatta boats stream up and down the coast outside the entrance to Oyster Pond–it was blowing a bit harder. And by Monday morning, as post-Heineken bareboats started streaming like locusts into the docks here at Capt. Oliver’s Marina in a just-as-stiff breeze, it occurred to me that an idle family cruise might not be so idle in conditions such as these. Checking the weather (finally), I discovered the forecast was for the wind to increase a bit more still and hold there for the rest of the week. Fortunately, the family wasn’t too disappointed when I told them I thought our sailing vacation would be much more vacation-like if we morphed it into a dock-based event.

Not that we absolutely could not have gone sailing. But unless your family is truly as serious about the sport as you are, I find it is best to shield them from its more vigorous aspects if you like having them keep you company on your boat.

And certainly there are worse fates in life than this. We’ve rented some wheels (surprisingly affordable) and are sallying forth on various excursions. Tomorrow we’ll ferry over for a day on St. Bart’s. And there’s more than a bit to do right here around Oyster Pond.

Far be it for me to complain.

The immediate problem is a week’s worth of WX wind maps for the Leeward Islands that look just like this. I guess you’d call them “fortified tradewinds.” And in my experience that green 20- to 25-knot color on PassageWeather charts, at least in these parts at this time of year, often translates into something a bit stronger in real life

Something else to think about. The entrance to Oyster Pond is open to the east, with crunchy reefs close to on either side, hence can be a bit dicey in strong conditions. This is a small local boat coming in yesterday with a bunch of young gung-ho guys onboard (note the full mainsail). I’m wondering what it will be like by Friday, when we would have been returning, come hell or high water. I’m also remembering our first winter here, when a Sunsail bareboat crashed coming in and was lost (fortunately with only mild human injuries) after that year’s Heineken regatta

The marina was empty when we arrived, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Just watching the influx of post-race bareboats has been fairly entertaining. Funny thing, though. Every time I’ve asked someone how they did in the regatta, they’ve boasted to me that they finished first in class. How can that be?

Some post-race action at the Dinghy Dock bar

The current cover of one of the many ridiculous lifestyle-and-luxury-goods magazines they give away like popcorn here. This guy, I think, is doing his impression of Pablo Picasso handling a sextant for the first time in his life

Lucy and I have been hiking up the hill just north of Oyster Pond each evening before sunset. You can just make out Lunacy here: she’s the second mast from the left on the long dock at the back of the marina

These are some of the donkeys we visit on our way up the hill

This is Una modeling some casual teen vacation-wear on Lunacy‘s stern arch, hoping she gets on the cover of one of those magazines

Spread the word far and wide! The fuel dock at Capt. Oliver’s is open for business again! Or at least it has been this week. I have to check and make sure this isn’t just a regatta-related anomaly

Why you shouldn’t feel sorry for us. This is what we left behind in Portsmouth. That’s our back garden, and that fence is about chest high

And here’s another reason not to feel sorry for me personally. I’ll be spending just one day back in NH after we get home and then will board a plane for Ft. Lauderdale, where I’ll join Jimmy Cornell on a two-week passage to Panama on his new Garcia.

Theoretically, that should involve plenty of sailing. Keep eyeballs pasted here for updates.

WINDBOUND IN SXM: More Sailing With the Family (Or Not)

Wed, 2015-03-11 22:09

The better part of valor, and all that. When we arrived here on St. Martin Saturday evening it was blowing a bit, and all day Sunday–as we provisioned Lunacy, adjusted to the pleasant weather, and diddled around at the pool while watching Heineken Regatta boats stream up and down the coast outside the entrance to Oyster Pond–it was blowing a bit harder. And by Monday morning, as post-Heineken bareboats started streaming like locusts into the docks here at Capt. Oliver’s Marina in a just-as-stiff breeze, it occurred to me that an idle family cruise might not be so idle in conditions such as these. Checking the weather (finally), I discovered the forecast was for the wind to increase a bit more still and hold there for the rest of the week. Fortunately, the family wasn’t too disappointed when I told them I thought our sailing vacation would be much more vacation-like if we morphed it into a dock-based event.

Not that we absolutely could not have gone sailing. But unless your family is truly as serious about the sport as you are, I find it is best to shield them from its more vigorous aspects if you like having them keep you company on your boat.

And certainly there are worse fates in life than this. We’ve rented some wheels (surprisingly affordable) and are sallying forth on various excursions. Tomorrow we’ll ferry over for a day on St. Bart’s. And there’s more than a bit to do right here around Oyster Pond.

Far be it for me to complain.

The immediate problem is a week’s worth of WX wind maps for the Leeward Islands that look just like this. I guess you’d call them “fortified tradewinds.” And in my experience that green 20- to 25-knot color on PassageWeather charts, at least in these parts at this time of year, often translates into something a bit stronger in real life

Something else to think about. The entrance to Oyster Pond is open to the east, with crunchy reefs close to on either side, hence can be a bit dicey in strong conditions. This is a small local boat coming in yesterday with a bunch of young gung-ho guys onboard (note the full mainsail). I’m wondering what it will be like by Friday, when we would have been returning, come hell or high water. I’m also remembering our first winter here, when a Sunsail bareboat crashed coming in and was lost (fortunately with only mild human injuries) after that year’s Heineken regatta

The marina was empty when we arrived, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Just watching the influx of post-race bareboats has been fairly entertaining. Funny thing, though. Every time I’ve asked someone how they did in the regatta, they’ve boasted to me that they finished first in class. How can that be?

Some post-race action at the Dinghy Dock bar

The current cover of one of the many ridiculous lifestyle-and-luxury-goods magazines they give away like popcorn here. This guy, I think, is doing his impression of Pablo Picasso handling a sextant for the first time in his life

Lucy and I have been hiking up the hill just north of Oyster Pond each evening before sunset. You can just make out Lunacy here: she’s the second mast from the left on the long dock at the back of the marina

These are some of the donkeys we visit on our way up the hill

This is Una modeling some casual teen vacation-wear on Lunacy‘s stern arch, hoping she gets on the cover of one of those magazines

Spread the word far and wide! The fuel dock at Capt. Oliver’s is open for business again! Or at least it has been this week. I have to check and make sure this isn’t just a regatta-related anomaly

Why you shouldn’t feel sorry for us. This is what we left behind in Portsmouth. That’s our back garden, and that fence is about chest high

And here’s another reason not to feel sorry for me personally. I’ll be spending just one day back in NH after we get home and then will board a plane for Ft. Lauderdale, where I’ll join Jimmy Cornell on a two-week passage to Panama on his new Garcia.

Theoretically, that should involve plenty of sailing. Keep eyeballs pasted here for updates.

Shouldn’t our community sourced marine data be open to all developers?

Tue, 2015-03-10 16:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 10, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

I’ve been cogitating a lot about crowdsourced depth data lately, including the realization that “community sourced” is a better term. Whatever it’s called, Navionics in particular has made it wonderfully easy to collect and share sonar files and especially wow with the Vexilar integration. But the business stakes are high and thus we have the frustration of Navionics and Garmin butting heads. Upon further contemplation, a wistful thought from that last entry — “Wouldn’t it be great if we could upload our data to some service that would make it available to any chart developer?” — seems not only important to avoiding further messes and helping this technology proliferate, but also quite possible…

The “ownership” of community sourced data is an issue. Sure, we physically possess the sonar files we make ourselves, but very few of us will go to the trouble to send those files to every chart maker that could use them. In reality, the data will amass in the servers of whichever company makes it easiest to use and to submit, and that company may eventually “own” the category. It’s well known how this “the rich get richer” cycle can work with crowdsourced data — think about how our product reviews helped with Amazon domination and how our search data benefited Google.

So one reason Garmin management may be reluctant to work with Navionics SonarCharts, besides the integrity of their own tight chart/MFD integration, is that they don’t want to help Navionics acquire ownership of community depth sourcing. Similarly, while Navico does support SonarChart display (though only as fishing maps, I think), they do not make it easy to collect soundings for Navionics with Lowrance, Simrad, and B&G gear. There’s a competitive tension underlying data collection that works against the overall community. It’s fine with me if lots of chart makers compete over how to distribute and display community sourced data, but I want to share mine with all boaters, not just users of one type.

Therefore I think we need some organization willing to be a neutral Switzerland of community sonar logs, able to accept depth data in many forms via many routes, store it securely, and make these raw files easily available to any commercial or noncommercial chart developer who wants them. OpenSeaMap seems like a perfect candidate, TeamSurv also seems like a possibility and there are, no doubt, others.

As a subproject of OpenStreetMap, OpenSeaMap looks like an ambitious open source effort to chart the world using community sourced data. The OSM volunteers have already created a good sonar file collection infrastructure — including the inexpensive hardware logger seen above — and they collect data under an ODC Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL) that seems right for maximum sharing.

I want to be perfectly clear though; I am not suggesting that Navionics and other commercial sonar charting companies simply use community sourced depth data processed by OpenSeaMap or any other third party. The chart developers should be able to process our files any way they like. But I am suggesting that OSM or a similar open source organization modify its model to give all chart developers easy access to our raw data files. The result could be a lot more data for their own project, and doesn’t the whole concept fit with the open source spirit?

Last weekend I registered as an OpenSeaMap depth data contributor and was impressed that I could set up different (metadata) profiles to describe different boats or equipment setups used to collect the data. OSM even makes it easy to describe the relative locations of a depth transducer and an associated GPS, so that the usually small location/depth discrepancies can be removed in processing.

I uploaded several of the file formats that OpenSeaMap already accepts, and it was neat to see them get processed and viewable within an hour or two. There seem to be many depth file formats in use, many of them proprietary, but I’m hopeful that the open nature of the proposed raw data pool will encourage developers to divulge their specs (or other developers to reverse engineer them ;-). One issue might be full sonar files like the one above called “CAMDEN.sl2″ that I recorded with a Simrad system. The 58 megabyte file covers less than a mile of bottom track, though Insight Genesis can use the extra information to determine bottom hardness and vegetation types. I suspect that bulky file size may be an issue even with Navico’s slick new GoFree MFD data uploading, but for the most part depth files are efficient and the components are so generic that they can be generated in all sorts of ways.

The Garmin HomePort screen above shows a GPX track file I created on a Garmin MFD, but it could have come from Navico, Raymarine, or many other sources. The 1.2 megabyte file covers 63 miles of Delaware Bay and vicinity at fairly high resolution — Navionics recommends a 1 second time period and collecting speeds under 15 knots — and I think it contains all the data fields needed for proper sonar charting (depth and position are obvious, and time is needed to correct for tide levels).

Here’s what that GPX file looks like in OpenSeaMap’s track viewer and also when overlaid on actual OpenSeaMaps. The presentation needs lots of work! It should at least have adjustable color coding, so that anyone shortcutting across that particularly tricky section can see green where it’s safe for their boat and red where it’s not. But this whole open raw data pool idea is agnostic about presentation. I’d be happy to see OSM make better use of my depth files, but it doesn’t really matter as long as every other chart developer can also use it.

In fact, OpenSeaMap needs an enormous amount of depth data to accomplish its goals. I significantly expanded its North American database with just a few files (open the map and check View/Water Depth beta to see what I mean). But I’m hoping that’s motivation for OSM to adopt the raw data pool idea, and that readers will add further encouragement.

Not that OSM, or TeamSurv, or anyone else could make this idea work all by themselves. While OSM has already built good tools for collecting community depth data, Navionics in particular has taught us all that making it really easy to contribute data is highly important. So, it’s encouraging that founder Giuseppe Carnevali seemed encouraging about this raw data pool idea, and I’d certainly appreciate the Navionics SonarCharts even more the company works with an open pool and especially if it makes it easy to contribute data to such a pool. And ditto for Insight Genesis. Plus it seems reasonable to think that developers who aren’t yet involved with community sourced depth data might help collect it to a common pool. There are all sorts of charting and other apps that can already take in depth, GPS, and time data from my boat systems via WiFi, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could automate depth file uploads?

But maybe I’m having a fever dream here? I usually write about technology that already exists, not wild ideas about what could exist. Please deliver your feedback below.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Introducing ‘Isbjorn’

Tue, 2015-03-10 00:00

Buying a bigger boat and using it to take people across oceans has long been a dream of mine. I can’t pinpoint when exactly this happened, but it was probably in the mid-2000s when I was working on the schooner Woodwind in Annapolis. That was the first time I realized that it might be possible to have a career not in sailing, but as a sailor. 

So at Christmastime I did a search, just for fun. I typed in ‘Swan’, set the length to 40-50 feet, and capped the price at $150,000.00. Mia and I had been able to save a fair amount of money over the past couple of years, to the tune of about $35,000.00, and this was a number I thought we might be able to afford.

This is the beginning of the story of how Mia and I came to own a 1972 Swan 48, hull no. 2, which we’ve named Isbjorn. I’ll follow this up with regular podcast and blog updates on how the business is developing and how the refit is going, in real time, as we embark on the next stage of our sailing careers. Wish me luck! Read on for the transcribed audio below, or click the player above to hear it.

HUGE thanks to Lisa Jodensvi for drawing the amazing polar bear logo! This is just a first draft, but I had to share it! The final version is coming soon…

Introducing Isbjorn

Buying a bigger boat and using it to take people across oceans has long been a dream of mine. I can’t pinpoint when exactly this happened, but it was probably in the mid-2000s when I was working on the schooner Woodwind in Annapolis. That was the first time I realized that it might be possible to have a career not in sailing, but as a sailor. 

My friend and fellow Woodwind crewmember Pete Horner introduced me to John Kretschmer’s books – Cape Horn to Starboard, At the Mercy of the Sea – and here was a guy who’d made a living, as he puts it, ‘making landfalls.’ 

So I decided I wanted to be a delivery captain. I remember seeing a Soundings magazine at Fawcett’s in Annapolis, when the store was still on the waterfront in Ego Alley. On the cover were listed the top jobs in the marine business, with ‘delivery skipper’ ranked number 1. That was it, I wanted to do that – to get paid to sail, and nothing more.

So I did it. Over the next few years I got my licenses, volunteered as crew on as may trips as I could get, and started making friends in the business, including Kretschmer himself, who taught me celestial navigation at one of his workshops in Ft. Lauderdale. I got my first passage as a crewmember onboard a Jeanneau 40, recommended by Steve Black, the founder of the 1500 (that’s another story, but it ultimately led to a chance meeting with World Cruising Club, who unbeknownst to be, was in the process of acquiring the 1500. Six year’s later, and now running rallies with WCC is half of my career).

All the while this idea of essentially copying Kretschmer’s model and buying my own boat to take people offshore – essential still acting like a delivery skipper, but creating my own schedule and going where I wanted to go – remained in the back of my head. But to be honest, it always seemed like a pipe dream, something that would be very nice to have happen, but wouldn’t actually happen.

Fast forward to this past Christmas. I have a habit of not being able to relax when I have time off. Not in a bad way. My brain is just constantly creating new ideas and figuring out new ways to do stuff, and when I’m out of things I actually have to do, I get some space freed up in there to think about these ideas that always linger back there somewhere in my gray matter. 

So at Christmastime I did a search, just for fun. I typed in ‘Swan’, set the length to 40-50 feet, and capped the price at $150,000.00. Mia and I had been able to save a fair amount of money over the past couple of years, to the tune of about $35,000.00, and this was a number I thought we might be able to afford.

To my surprise, more boats that I expected came up on the search, and in better shape that I’d expected. In particular, five Swan 48s, which immediately caught my eye. They had the right layout down below – 8 proper sea berths – and an absolutely gorgeous hull shape that I immediately fell in love with. Swan’s have long been one of my favorite boats, but I wasn’t too familiar with the 48 until this Christmastime search. Other models that came up were the smaller, older 43, and a few slightly newer 47s. The 43 was great too, flush decks and a small doghouse aft, but they seemed a bit small to run a business on. The 47 was, by the numbers at least, a better sailing boat than the 48 (and in fact was apparently the evolution of the 48, coming afterwards), but I didn’t like the looks as much, and the companionway was too far forward of the cockpit. 

Of the five 48s that popped up, one seemed out of reach financially, at $195,000, one was in Seattle and not updated since it’s launch in the 70s, another was in Europe and had a boom-furled mainsail, a fourth was in Grenada and looked to be rotting on the hard. Patriot, a boat I had seen in Annapolis while working on the Woodwind, seemed to fit the bill the best, coming in at $140,000, located close by in Connecticut and in reasonably good condition.

So remember now, this was just a silly Christmastime search, nothing serious, and a way for me to start thinking about this in more concrete terms, but not actually do anything about it. But I’m the type of person who has trouble leaving ideas like this on the table until I fully realize them (or realize they won’t work, which sometimes happens the hard way – I suppose we’ll find out over the next few years…). So I set about creating a down and dirty Excel sheet, trying to figure out all the expenses of running an offshore business and computing how many bunks I’d have to sell in a year to make it worthwhile and provide a reasonable salary.

I spent hours on this. Late in the evenings and early in the mornings I’d stare at my computer and continue to refine the numbers, thinking of more expenses and planning on where I could sail the boat. At the same time I decided I’d apply for a boat loan, just to see if it was possible. I had some money saved up, but I’d still be at the mercy of the bank to provide the real financing.

I got in touch with Lloyd Cooper at Forbes Horton Yacht Sales (more on them later), who I’d been friends with for a while and who knew of my business idea since at least the Annapolis Boat Show last fall. He in turn put me in touch with Rachael at Sterling Acceptance in Annapolis, the middlemen behind a lot of boat loans. They had one bank, she told me, that would even consider financing a 40+ year-old boat. I did the application, jointly with Mia, and waited patiently.

Or impatiently. I couldn’t stand it! Each day I’d check in with Rachael and see if there was any word from the bank. Finally it came…and I was declined. Frankly this was unsurprising. I have perfect credit – my score is in the 800s – but have no history of taking such a large loan. To put it in perspective, the $140,000 is indeed some $50,000 more than I paid for my house!

Mia and I had initially thought that if the bank said no, we’d just wait a year or two, put the business idea on hold and keep doing what we’re doing. But once we got officially declined, I changed my tune. I just didn’t like somebody else telling me ‘no.’ I wasn’t even sure then if the business thing was what I wanted to do, but I wanted to be able to decide for myself, not let some bank tell me how to live my life.

So I went to my grandfather. An entrepreneur himself, who started the family restaurant business in 1952 (and which is still going strong), he understood my predicament. I was adamant that I didn’t want to borrow money from him or anybody else – this had to be my thing – but I asked him if I could use his credit, basically that he co-sign on the loan application.

Rachael wasn’t even sure if the bank would allow this. It’d be three people on the loan – myself, Mia and Pappap – and he’s 85! We went ahead with it anyway. I spent an afternoon at his house in PA gathering up all the documents the bank needed (this was endless and stressful), and finally waited. Again. 

More than a week went by. By this point I had been working closely with Lloyd and we had started to gather information on the Swan 48s on the market, with the idea that we’d be pursuing one to purchase. Lloyd spoke to a broker up in NE who’d mentioned that the more expensive 48, called Kara Mia and sitting in Antigua, was going to come down in price. The owner wanted to compete with the cheaper Patriot, and by all indications, Kara Mia looked to be the better boat. But still, $195 was way out of my range, which in reality didn’t even exist yet because we hadn’t heard back from the bank (and I had only applied for $140k, the starting price for Patriot).

The very next day – this was in early January now, by the way – Kara Mia’s price dropped to $150k on the website. Suddenly it was in range. Lloyd and I set our sights on that, and started gathering as much info as we could. Meanwhile the bank still wasn’t getting back to us. Or when they did, it was to ask for another piece of paperwork from Pappap, which became exceedingly frustrating.

I flew to Ft. Lauderdale in late January with my grandfather. His wife, my grandmother, whom he’d been married to for over 60 years, passed away in November. He was in a funk, and scared of going to his winter home in Florida by himself for the first time in over 40 years. So I took him down for the first time, and spent a week playing golf and getting him acclimatized and keeping him company. As an aside to this story, I’ve been struggling myself with anxiety since the passing of my mom in 2012. I don’t believe that I worry about things in general, but somewhere subconsciously, this has slowly been festering in my soul. The added stress of putting this business plan hasn’t been helping either. I started meditating (literally yesterday), and am finally addressing a deep-rooted stress that is coming out now as physical symptoms. So while on the surface this looks like all fun and games, trust that there’s more too it than that.

Just before we’d left for Florida, I stopped by Lloyd’s office in Annapolis. It was the first time we’d gotten to talk about this in person, and after a long conversation, we both agreed again to pursue Kara Mia. It was a slightly newer boat (hull no. 11 versus Patriot’s no. 2), and had been privately owned as a yacht for all of its life. Patriot was built as a racing boat, and then owned for 20 years by the US Naval Academy (more on the boat’s history to follow), and we felt like it had probably been used hard and put away wet, and might be worse for wear because of that.

But Forbes was there that day too. It was a grey January day, and the boat business had been quiet. Forbes was wearing jeans and spackling the wall in their office to be productive. He asked us why we weren’t going after the closer boat, Patriot, in Connecticut, simply for the fact that logistically it made more sense.

That small comment got me thinking. I went back home and printed both listings off and started comparing the boats very carefully. They each had their pluses and minuses. Patriot had had her teak decks removed in the late 1990s, a huge plus, but Kara Mia had a much nicer interior and hadn’t been sailed so hard. Patriot had new sailing hardware installed in 2004, including all Harken gear, a new mast, and a new deck layout. Plus, for Patriot. I had friends in Antigua willing to go look at Kara Mia for me, so that wasn’t really a problem, but there was a question of whether or not the bank would finance a foreign-flagged boat in a foreign country. Kara Mia had a newer Volvo engine installed in 2011 (Patriot’s Yanmar was from 2004). 

The more I looked at the comparison, the more I started to like Patriot. Taking into account the logistical problems of buying a boat in Antigua, and the cheaper asking price for Patriot, I changed my tune. And when you’re in this situation, believe me, it’s very easy to justify both pluses and minuses to suit your agenda.

By this point the bank still hadn’t answered us, but they’d received all the paperwork they needed and Rachael assured me that they’d approve the loan. So I took a gamble. Literally on the runway just before our flight took off for Florida, I texted Lloyd and told him to make an offer on Patriot. He suggested we start at $120, which I thought was low (I was so excited at this point that I would have gladly paid full price just to avoid the stress of negotiating), but I let him do his job and went ahead with the $120 offer. That approval was the my last communication before switching my phone to airplane mode. Needless to say, I didn’t fall asleep during that flight.

When we landed in Ft. Lauderdale I had an email from Rachael – the bank had approved the loan! They’d finance the boat, up to a purchase price of $140k, but I’d have to put 20% down – most of that money we had saved up, not included taxes and fees. The loan terms were for 20 years, with an interest rate of 4.25%. So my gamble had worked – now we could negotiate in earnest.

We made that first offer on a Tuesday. As the days passed and we didn’t hear from the owners – no counter offer, no decline, nothing – I got more and more stressed out. Dammit Lloyd, we should have offered more! I thought. Or maybe somebody else had come in and made a higher offer, and they’d come back and say the boat had sold. I was being very unreasonable, but it’s amazing how your brain can make up stories that you can easily get stuck on.

Finally, on Friday, just before I was about to tee off on number 2, Lloyd got back to me and said they’d made a counter. $135k. Far from our offer of $120, but at least they hadn’t sold the damn boat to someone else!

But we had a problem. Right before I got the call about the counter offer, I had received another call from a friend who had concerns about the boat and the integrity of the seller. The boat apparently had been hit in a race in Antigua, and suffered some not-so-minor damage to the starboard aft quarter, and the sellers hadn’t disclosed this. Not only that, but they’d apparently not been 100% honest with the insurance payout from the accident. Crap.

During the same conversation that Lloyd informed me of the counter-offer, I told him this news. He asked the broker, and as it turned out, the sellers were happy to talk about this, but obviously hadn’t wanted to advertise it. According to them, they were hit on the starting line, and the toerail and stern pulpit was damaged, along with the radar pole. They assured us it had been fixed, and sent detailed photos of the repair. You could see quite clearly where they’d scarfed in a new section of toerail, about 3 feet long, but otherwise it looked completely fine. They’d also disclosed that the boat was grounded, hard, near Trellis Bay in Tortola, and required some repairs to the keel, though the keel-hull joint apparently remained sound.

Lloyd then encouraged me to counter at $130k. My anxiety had subsided slightly when we finally heard back from the sellers, but still, I would have been thrilled to pay $135 and just be done with the stress of the negotiation. Again I let Lloyd do his job, and we countered at $130, despite my anxiety. 

Another week went by, and my anxiety crept to ever higher levels. Now that the bank was onboard, it was a forgone conclusion that I’d be buying a boat. I’d realized how much I actually wanted to do this when the bank first said no – I thought I’d be able to quietly walk away, save my money and bide my time, but I couldn’t. Now it was full-steam ahead, damn the torpedo’s.

I flew home from Florida hoping to go up and see the boat in CT. After all, the entire negotiation was solely on the listing and what I’d heard about the boat from people like Hank Schmitt, whom I tapped for info about Swan’s in general, and Bob Campbell, the electrical guru in Annapolis who had actually built the primary electrical system on Patriot when it was in town (a huge plus). But we were into February now, and the ridiculous NE winter that’s been happening was just getting started. To make it more complicated, I only had a few days to even go up there – Mia and I were going skiing, and then I was off to the BVI to run an actual offshore trip aboard Serenity, a Shannon 43 ketch (more on that in a later episode).

I also didn’t want to make that long drive north if we didn’t have a deal on the boat. As the buyer, I held all the cards, and had several bailout points through the negotiation. Or so Lloyd had told me – we had bought Arcturus directly from it’s previous owner from a classified ad in SpinSheet, so I had never been through this kind of process before. But Lloyd said that we could bail after a visual inspection of the boat, after a survey, and after a sea trial, with no consequences. So again, like the bank thing, I wanted to be the one to make the decision on whether or not I’d go through with the purchase, not someone else. Hence me wanting a contract before making the investment in time and money to get to CT to see it.

We didn’t get the contract, but we went anyway. Mia and I drove home to Reading one afternoon, picked up my dad, and set off towards the Brewer Yard in Westbrook, CT. We booked a place about 15 minutes from the marina on Airbnb just for the night. We’d be arriving late, and wouldn’t get to the boat until the following morning. My anxiety was turning into excitement as I was finally going to get to see this thing!

As it happened, around about 7pm, just as we were thinking about stopping for dinner, I got a text from Lloyd. They’d accepted our counter! We had a deal at $130k, and before going to visit the boat after all. Once again the ball was in my court, and it was my decision whether to move ahead or not. We enjoyed a meal from Whole Foods (I joked to my dad that his first contribution to the business could be buying us dinner!), found our Airbnb off in the woods, drank a few beers and tried to go to sleep. It was like Christmas Eve!

Like I said, the NE winter had just been gaining steam. When we got to the boat, the listing broker, Mark, was there shoveling show off the decks. They’d gotten almost two feet a few days before. The boat was uncovered, to my chagrin, but already by 9am Mark had gotten a substantial amount of snow removed, and had set up a few space heaters down below. Mia and I had come prepared, wearing our ski pants, ski jackets and heavy boots.

We pulled into the lot, and the boat was literally right there, pointing out, and looming high above the parking lot. We’d gotten quite used to seeing Arcturus hauled out, but with her keel/centerboard design, she only draws about 4 feet, and sits pretty low out of the water. I can climb up onto her decks pretty easily by just grabbing onto the toerail and doing a pullup. 

But the Swan, she loomed high! Her keel draws just about 8 feet, making her decks about 14-feet off the ground when you account for her freeboard. Mark had set up a ladder at the stern quarter. The height, combined with the ice and snow, made for a precarious climb up.

My first impression of the boat in person was that it showed better than it looked in the photos. It certainly felt bigger, especially from the ground. And her lines were even prettier in person, particularly the nice overhanging stern. I climbed up with Mia and my dad and spent some time wandering around the cockpit and the foredeck. We’d brought our own snow removal tools – some plastic shovels and a broom – and Mia set about clearing the rest of the snow out of the cockpit. The sun was by then shining on the foredeck, which was almost clean of snow. A large inflatable RIB was lying on deck, but even so, the foredeck was massive. This felt like a very big boat.

Cosmetically, the hull and deck really couldn’t have looked much nicer. The dark blue Awlgrip shined in the sun and showed few flaws. The cream-colored nonskid had been painted in 2011 and was nice and grippy. The only teak on deck was in the cockpit, and it had been replaced within the past ten years, looking good as new. Even the sailcover seemed to be in decent shape. 

It took me a while before I ventured down below. I was thrilled at finally seeing the boat, and her deck layout and ‘feel’ topside was better than I’d expected. I wanted to enjoy it, and didn’t want what I expected to be a ‘rough’ interior dampen my enthusiasm.

When we went down below, the first thing I noticed was a nice little pile of snow on the cabin sole beneath the one cowl vent, which hadn’t been closed. Mia and I scooped it up and threw it in the sink before it could melt. I was pleasantly surprised by the state of the interior. It was indeed a little rough in place, but not nearly what I’d expected. Some elbow grease, new paint and new varnish would quickly shape things up, and frankly, the way it was right then and there would suffice in the short term.

Dad, Mia and I did our due diligence and peeked in every nook and cranny we could find, closely examining all the critical systems and taking detailed photos of everything to have as reference for later. We dived into the lazarette from beneath, looking for signs of fiberglass damage where the boat was hit, but found none. I inspected the steering system and quadrant back aft, looked closely at the keel bolts and the engine and fuel system, examined the chainplates. Everything checked out. It wasn’t perfect – the engine, for example, had tons of belt dust on it from a poorly aligned alternator – but it was as I expected, if not better.

I was super excited – by this point, I knew I’d own the boat, that we’d accept the inspection and that the survey would simply be a formality – but also dreaded the work that was still to come. Having just last year replaced the engine and fuel system on Arcturus, and recalling the time and expense that took on a much smaller boat, I felt slightly sick to my stomach seeing the dirty engine room on the big Swan and knowing what it’d take to shine it up. I thought about how tedious installing the Cape Horn windvane on Arcturus had been, and knew we’d be repeating that process on the Swan this coming summer. Nevertheless, I knew then that I was going to own my dream boat.

But the anxious moments weren’t over yet. Mia and I flew to Utah the following week, now with a signed contract on the boat, and spent six days skiing at Snowbird and Alta, our first winter vacation together. In the mornings I’d chat with Lloyd and Rachael about how the closing process was going. 

Since my grandfather was on the loan, he’d need to sign all the documents, but he was still in Florida. We made arrangements for Mia and I to drive to Annapolis after our ski trip, sign the papers, and then have them Fed-Ex’d to Florida for Pappap to sign. He’d have to collect them at a FedEx Office store, sign them, take them to be notarized, and return them again to the FedEx office store to overnight back north. All of this had to happen before our closing deadline, which we’d set on a short timescale in the hopes of having everything wrapped up before I went sailing and Mia went to Sweden.

To make a long story short, it worked. We paid for it of course – $70 just for the FedEx fees – but before I went sailing, we owned the boat! Now that anxiety could shift from the buying process to the business process, and shift it did.

But that’s for a future episode. By mid-February, Mia and I were the new owners of Isbjorn, ex-Patriot. The bank had registered the new name with the USCG and applied for a new document in our names, and everything became official.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be following the story of how the boat and the business is progressing, in real time, tracing both the practical and emotional parts of buying a boat and starting a sailing business. We’ll cover all sorts of stuff, from finding insurance (harder than you think), speaking to lawyers, what to do with Arcturus, how the boat brokerage business works (with a special podcast with Forbes and Lloyd to get their perspective), how I’ve created and refined the business plan, what that first trip on Serenity was like and more. 

If you want to support the business, head on over to and take a look at the passage calendar. 2015 still has a few places open, and the calendar for 2016 will be published by April. We’ll also be having a few refit parties in Annapolis this summer, so if you want to volunteer your time and learn about boat maintenance, sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about when that will happen. Go to to do that.

Thanks for listening, and stay tuned! Exciting times are happening now!

Anchoring in Florida – Crisis Situation

Sun, 2015-03-08 18:16
I spent several days reading the results of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Anchoring Survey, conducted last November/December, after it came out a few weeks ago. The survey’s intent was to gather information to assist the FWC in making recommendations regarding changes to anchoring regulations in Florida, a topic which will be addressed by the Florida State Legislature this spring. There were two major concerns on cruisers’ minds: the enactment of local rather than state authority for rule making, and residential setoffs. Both of these were addressed in the survey, and were the topic of much concern at two public meetings held last fall ( My concerns are twofold: the survey’s clear anti-boater ‘bias’, and the fact that nearly a quarter of respondents are “stakeholder group not identified”. However, that survey doesn’t matter any more, as Florida Senator Dean has just recently proposed very boater unfriendly legislation. The Good Senator, who hails from northwest Florida, that bastion of anchoring issues – (and what favours have been promised by Florida legislators in SE Florida to the Good Senator for proposing this legislation I have to ask) – has proposed legislation that, among other things, sets up a 200 foot setoff from residential property. That’s right – 200 feet, not the 150 feet proposed by the FWC whom, rumor has it, the Good Senator is displeased with.
Can’t imagine why that would be. The FWC hasn’t bothered moving the clearly illegal dinghies anchored out in Sunset Lake behind Frederick Karlton’s house, placed there to block any anchoring. They must be illegal, because FWC Major Daugherty told me they were, two years ago. Now they’re derelict by the FWC’s own definition of the term, with heavy growth on the bottoms and sides and anchor lines, non-working solar lights instead of proper anchor lights, and they are blocking navigation.
But hey! When you donate big bucks to politicians, many sins are forgiven, and you get to keep your little dinghies, even if they are illegally anchored and derelict. Ah, but excuse me, I digress here. That’s just business (and politics) as usual in Florida. One law for your rich friends, another for the rest of us…. Illegally anchored dinghies in Sunset Lake
put there to block legal anchoring Getting back to the Good Senator’s legislation, there’s just one problem with 200 foot setoffs: they will effectively eliminate anchoring in all of south Florida.  You read that right: a 200 setoff, with a 5:1 scope in 12 feet of water and a four foot distance to the bow, plus boat length, will eliminate over 90% of the anchorages from Palm Beach south, and reduce even the largest of anchorages such as Lake Sylvia and Middle River to one or two boats at most.
Sunset Lake, one of the safest anchorages around, will be totally gone. All of the anchorages along Venetian Causeway will be…gone. Hurricane Harbor – gone. Do I need to continue? Given that all these anchorages are staging areas for boaters heading to the Bahamas, and that the weather isn’t always what is needed for a crossing, putting this legislation under the Vessel Safety category is ludicrous. It’s possibly the most dangerous legislation we’ve ever seen, as it could force boaters to go offshore in less than optimal conditions because they can’t stay where they are. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention….if you get a ticket and don’t show in court, it’s a misdemeanor conviction. Given the transient nature of our lifestyle, who will argue the situation with a marine police officer, even when they’re in the right? Easier to move on. That’s justice, Florida style, for you. The Seven Seas Cruising Association has taken a stand against setoffs, which was announced at the Miami Boat Show, and is preparing to address this current legislation. However, this fight needs you to step in and take a stand. Even if you sail on an inland lake, you need to involve yourself here, as other jurisdictions will take note of this legislation and possibly attempt to enact it where you boat. I will discuss the specifics in my next blog post, as well as what we, as boaters, can do to prevent this legislation from being enacted, and keep you updated with the news as I become aware of it. In the meantime, we all need to get ready for a fight, if we are to preserve our rights to anchor in Florida. Yes, it’s that serious. The sky IS falling. Stay tuned. If this were a cruising boat anchored here,
you can bet it would be tagged as derelict.

For more discussion on this issue, see my previous Sailfeed article at

CRUISING SAILBOAT RIGS: Ketches, Yawls, and Schooners

Fri, 2015-03-06 18:31

I like to use the term “split rig” to refer to any sailplan on a boat where sail area is divided between two (or more) masts, rather than crowded all on to one mast, as with a sloop or cutter. On ketches and yawls, as I’m sure you know, the taller mainmast is forward and the shorter mizzenmast is aft. What distinguishes a yawl from a ketch is more a matter of debate, but I’m firmly in the camp that believes that a yawl has her mizzenmast abaft her rudder. Mizzens on yawls also tend be rather short. On a ketch the mizzen is forward of the rudder and is usually significantly taller. In a classic schooner rig, the taller mainmast is aft and the shorter foremast is forward. On some schooners, however, the masts may be the same height.

For many years it was axiomatic that a split rig must be best for a cruising boat, as it divides the sail plan into smaller, more easily managed components. This was certainly true on older, more traditional boats in the days before modern winches, most particularly on gaff-rigged boats, where the added weight of a heavy gaff and the extra peak halyard made hoisting sails that much harder. For some reason, however, this conceit survived much longer than it should have. As late as the 1970s, and even into the early 1980s, many believed a ketch rig was best for cruising and such rigs were sometimes seen on boats as small as 30 feet. As late as the early 1990s, ketch rigs were also favored on large maxi ocean racers.

Peter Blake’s Steinlager 2, which won the Whitbread Race in 1990

These days split rigs are much less popular, particularly on boats less than about 50 feet in length, for a number of reasons. First, any rig with two masts is heavier, more complex, and more expensive to create and maintain. Second, split rigs are generally not as closewinded as sloop rigs, primarily because turbulent “dirty” air flowing off the back of the forward sail decreases the efficiency of the aft sail. Third, innovations such as self-tailing winches, power winches, and roller-furling gear have made handling large sails in a sloop rig much easier. Fourth, modern hull and deck designs tend not to favor mizzenmasts. Rudders are now usually positioned right aft, so it is not possible to put the mizzen behind the helm, as on a yawl, and many boat buyers now favor open cockpit spaces and don’t like having a mizzenmast just forward of the helm, as on most ketches.

Split rigs do, however, have some important advantages and still have a few adherents. Ketches are certainly the most popular. A ketch sails very well on a reach, as at this wind angle it is possible to spread maximum canvas on both masts. A key strength here is the mizzen staysail, a loose-luffed midship reaching sail hoisted on the mizzenmast, tacked down somewhere just abaft the mainmast, and sheeted to the leeward rail aft or to the end of the mizzenboom. A mizzen staysail adds a lot of power to a rig and is a great cruising sail. You can usually launch and recover it right from the cockpit and can sometimes fly it with the wind a bit forward of the beam. Large ketches also sometimes fly full mizzen spinnakers, which add loads of power to a sailplan. The masts in this case need some distance between them, which also improves windward performance since the mizzensail then flies in cleaner air.

A cruising ketch flying a mizzen staysail. These of course can also be flown on yawls

Steve Dashew’s 78-foot ketch Beowulf, a large modern cruising ketch designed to be handled by a couple. Note the separation between the masts. Steve often flew an asymmetric mizzen spinnaker when sailing off the wind

Another advantage to having two masts is that if you lose one, you still have another one to keep sailing with. Some conservative bluewater sailors always favor ketches for just this reason. For this to work the rig must not have a triatic stay, which is a length of the standing rigging running between the tops of the masts. A triatic stay supports the mizzenmast in normal circumstances, but brings it down if the mainmast falls, and vice versa. A ketch’s mizzenmast is also a fine place to mount radomes, wind generators, and other paraphernalia favored by cruisers, although a mizzenboom also hampers (though does not prohibit) the use of a self-steering windvane installed on the stern of a boat.

Another example of a modern cruising ketch, drawn by designer Eric Sponberg. Note the triatic stay between the masts

Yawls, meanwhile, are increasingly rare these days. They were very popular for a time under the old CCA racing rule, because the rule didn’t count the extra sail area in a yawl’s mizzensail and mizzen staysail. Designers have pretty much ignored the rig since then, though it is still seen on some older boats and a few small daysailers. Personally, the yawl is my favorite split rig, both because I think it is very attractive, but also because it does have some nice practical advantages.

Profile drawing of an Alberg 37 with a yawl rig. Call me crazy, but I think that’s a really good-looking sailplan!

Most particularly, the mainsail on a yawl is often not any smaller than it would be on a sloop of similar size. Handling the main is therefore not any easier, but there is also no real decrease in windward sailing ability. The mizzen is normally small enough that its receiving foul air from the main is not significant, and the main meanwhile is large enough to drive the boat well on its own. Indeed, you often see yawls beating smartly to weather with their mizzens furled. On most ketches, by comparison, the mizzen is much larger and the main proportionately smaller, so that power is lost driving to windward unless the masts are well separated. On any reach the yawl’s mizzen and mizzen staysail again add power to the rig, though not as much proportionately as on a ketch.

One nice thing about a yawl’s mizzen is that it is far enough aft to really push the stern around. The mizzen can be used, in effect, as an air rudder to balance and even steer a boat while sailing. In close quarters, you can back a yawl’s mizzen at strategic moments to help turn a boat quickly or slow it down. It makes a great riding sail and can be used to keep a boat from sailing around on its anchor or mooring. It is also easy to balance against a headsail, so you can sail a boat in strong winds under “jib and jigger alone,” as the expression goes, with the mainsail furled.

This is my old Alberg 35 yawl Crazy Horse at anchor in the Cape Verdes with her mizzen up to keep her from sailing around on her rode

The third child in this family of rigs, the venerable schooner, is certainly now the most neglected by modern yacht designers. During their heyday in the 19th century schooners were used primarily as cargo and fishing boats and were closewinded compared to square-rigged vessels. By today’s standards, however, they are ungainly on the wind. As we discussed in an earlier post on the history of yacht design, they did briefly dominate ocean racing in the early 20th century, but were soon eclipsed by more closewinded sloops and yawls and are now entirely anachronistic. Their major drawback, aside from poor windward performance, is that their mainsails are often quite large and can be difficult to handle.

A traditional gaff-rigged working schooner under full working sail. That’s a lot of canvas to play with!

Yet the schooner is not extinct and probably never will be. There is an active cult of schooner aficionados who maintain gaff-rigged 19th-century working schooners and early 20th-century schooner yachts as though they were holy relics. Every once in a while, too, a brand-new schooner gets built. Most of these mimic traditional designs, though there are also much more contemporary examples.

An example of a contemporary cruising schooner. Here the mainsail is much reduced in size, which makes it easier to handle. All the other sails–the main staysail between the mast, the forestaysail, and the genoa–are on roller-furlers

Profile drawing of a more traditional schooner rig. This example has a Marconi mainsail, but a gaff-rigged foresail. Note also the fisherman sail hoisted above the foresail

Personally I’ve always believed the best schooner rig is that of a staysail schooner, so named because the working sail flown between the masts is a jib-shaped staysail bent onto a diagonal stay that runs from the foot of the foremast to an elevated spot on the mainmast. Normally this is called the main staysail, assuming there is another forestaysail forward of the foremast. Staysail schooners tend to be a bit more closewinded than straight schooners with foresails on their foremasts, as the main staysail can easily be trimmed to create a nice slot for the mainsail behind it. It’s also very easy to improvise with. As I discovered many years ago when crossing the Atlantic on an old staysail schooner with decrepit sails, it is possible to fly used headsails from other boats as staysails. Also, staysails can easily be fitted with modern roller-furlers.

Staysail schooner sailing to windward with a fisherman up

This staysail schooner is sailing on a broad reach with a gollywobbler hoisted in place of her main staysail. Judging from the huge hole she’s dug in the water, she must be moving at hull speed plus

Schooners of all types are extremely powerful when sailing on a reach since there is so much extra area between the masts in which large quadrilateral midship sails can be flown. The smaller member of this species, the fisherman, is often flown as a working sail and is seen on both regular and staysail schooners. The much larger and more powerful gollywobbler (probably the best name ever for a sail, IMHO) is normally flown only on staysail schooners (which is another reason to favor this version of the rig).

Speaking as an old schooner hand, I can tell you it’s always a very fine day on the water when you can get a gollywobbler flying!

The Navionics SonarCharts for Garmin conflict, messy business!

Fri, 2015-03-06 13:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 6, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

This screenshot shows the Garmin GPSMap 8212 installed on Gizmo displaying the same crowdsourced Navionics SonarChart bathymetric data that I recently enjoyed improving via the Navionics Boating app and Vexilar dinghy sonar. In fact, all the chart data seen above came from Navionics, even the beta version was fairly usable for navigation (I thought), and the finished chart cards are now for sale. But I doubt that many will be purchased once potential users realize how Garmin is reacting to this development! Navionics and Garmin seem nearly at war, and this entry will attempt to untangle what’s happening. I fear there are no heroes in this battle, and it may even foreshadow further tensions in the critical world of chart and plotter manufacturers…

Navionics announced SonarCharts for Garmin during the Miami show, and the enticing HD bathymetry map for Garmin GPS page above went live shortly thereafter. The concept is attractive as the first real alternative to Garmin’s own charts and one with nearly worldwide coverage and support for crowdsourced depth data that you can easily improve yourself. But a prospective buyer who clicks on the little, “Verify that your plotter is compatible with this product here…” link will discover a very disturbing caveat:

Indeed, Garmin has stated that they will change their plotter software to make these Navionics chart cards incompatible, no may about it. In fact, Garmin sent out a dealer notice making the same threat in early December when the somewhat public Navionics for Garmin beta program was getting started. So Navionics doesn’t have grounds to act surprised about what is happening and the implication that Garmin made them put up the notice above also seems calculated. What happens when someone buys a Navionics chart card for Garmin and it suddenly won’t work? Will Navionics blame Garmin or apologize and refund the sale? I’d think it would be a hassle either way, and that Navionics has an obligation to make this caveat crystal clear to all prospective Garmin card customers.

The apparent Navionics strategy is to get the product out there and hope that Garmin users will want it so much that they will shame Garmin into supporting it. And you can see the strategy bearing some fruit in this Hull Truth forum discussion like, “Well if Garmin does indeed break the Navionics chip from working with their equipment that does it for me ever buying another Garmin product.” Yike!

But Garmin is playing hardball, too. I liked using the Navionics SonarCharts with Garmin HomePort Win/Mac software. Just combining track histories (which can go to Navionics as sonar logs), ActiveCaptain info, and the SonarCharts I helped make for the Barred Island anchorage above was interesting, and this free program can now play back SideVu, DownVu, and sonar recordings with synchronized track animation. So, it could be a great tool for someone surveying a pond or a wreck (as well as the fine planning and logging tool it’s long been). But early this week I updated to HomePort 2.2.9 — which adds more sonar viewing features — and the Navionics SonarChart cards no longer work. Hardball!

I also checked with Garmin this week and their position has not budged: “We acknowledge and regret that Garmin’s response to the distribution of ‘SonarCharts’ for Garmin chartplotters by Navionics has led to frustration for many boaters. However, the basis for our decision has not changed… Garmin will continue to make the necessary changes to our marine products to ensure only content that is authorized to work on Garmin systems will do so.” So, unless I never update the 8212 and 741xs again, the screens I’m illustrating this entry with will soon become history on Gizmo. As shown above, the SonarCharts can compare well with the BlueChart g2 charts built into most Garmin MFD’s (I don’t have a BlueChart g2 Vision card for this region, which would show more detail). Personally, I can’t imagine not taking advantage of Garmin’s generally terrific update policy. The big one in January, for instance, was full of valuable improvements like Race Start Guidance and neat DSC distress assistance.

So, how did Garmin and Navionics get into this messy situation, and what are Garmin users to do? Before getting into the business intrigue, let’s look closer at the Garmin SonarCharts, which seem more radical than many have noticed.

When they work, Navionics SonarCharts for Garmin are treated as a “Supplemental Map” and are only recognized if you insert the card after the MFD is powered up. They do work with radar overlay (above) and even in 3D mode (below), but they are not treated like regular charts. Specifically, you cannot create a split window display with BlueChart on one side and SonarChart on the other. This is important because the Navionics charts for Garmin do not include official depth soundings, just SonarCharts. In fact, I can’t think of another Navionics chart product, apps included, that can’t also display regular Navionics charts (based on official data) along with SonarCharts.

Consider this Raymarine gS12 screen showing that same Barred Island anchorage and also the moment I fully experienced the great collaboration between Ray and Navionics. Sonar logs had easily gotten to Navionics via their app’s Plotter Sync feature and then the processed SonarCharts came back to a Navionics+ card so I could use them on a real MFD. Any cruiser using SonarCharts has better info on the anchorage now, myself included, but I don’t use SonarCharts exclusively. Remember the New Bern, NC, SonarChart showing very shallow waters in two marinas where big boats have been berthed for decades? SonarCharts are almost the opposite of official hydrographic office data – nimble but possibly flaky, versus highly validated but slow to change.

That’s why I’m using a Lighthouse NOAA raster chart alongside the SonarChart above — old school, new school style — and a regular Navionics chart off that same + card would have served as well. And note that Raymarine does not overlay navigation aids on SonarCharts, which I take as a statement that they should not be used for primary navigation. Actually, I wish Ray would relent on that point, as the aids help with situational awareness, but the bigger point is that perhaps Navionics’s closest partner won’t support charting concepts that Navionics is trying to bring to Garmin without any partnership at all. Or so they say…

Here’s more of Garmin’s recent statement:

This beta Navionics product, and the tools used to create it, were developed without Garmin’s participation, and without any access to our map design specifications. It may be difficult to understand our concerns about this content when a beta experience appears to “just work”‘ but marine navigation systems are complex and constantly evolving. Garmin’s quality depends on our systems functioning to our specifications which cannot be assured unless we have the opportunity to work with a partner. There are numerous examples of Garmin’s willingness to do this in all of the markets we serve. However, business relationships require agreements for requirements, responsibilities, and perhaps most importantly, the communication and coordination of changes that may have negative consequences for the customer if not handled properly.

Meanwhile, Navionics claims that it’s Garmin who won’t work with them, denying their application for a Map Product Creator (MPC) license. Navionics just “wants fair and equal treatment under the MPC, as they do with others like Fiskekort and TrakMaps.”

Navionics SonarChart for Garmin detail of an anchorage I hope to visit some day

Well, I think there’s a big slobbering elephant in the room that neither company is acknowledging. Navionics is nothing like the other MPC license holders (and the license isn’t necessarily open to anyone, anyway). And I believe that Garmin could let Navionics SonarCharts work safely with their MFDs if they wanted to. Raymarine, Navico, Humminbird and others have all shown that it’s possible to support multiple chart formats, and the Navionics beta worked pretty well without any Garmin support at all. Imagine if they were actually working together.

It seems plain as day that approved Navionics SonarCharts for Garmin could put a significant dent in Garmin’s own g2 Vision card sales and thwart any plans they may have for creating their own crowdsourced data system. Which is why some Garmin customers feel hostage to the company’s business interests (apparently is the best place to express SonarChart desires). But wait… there’s more. Navionics acknowledges that Garmin has wanted to license its data for some time, though that’s “an agreement architecture we have little interest in pursuing.” In other words, it may not just be Garmin stubbornness that’s keeping SonarCharts off their displays.

Garmin BlueChart g2 versus Navionics Sonarchart for ICW Callabash River anchorage, NOAA version here.

What I think we’re seeing here is primarily a business conflict, perhaps even a Mexican standoff. No heroes. I certainly sympathize with Garmin customers who want more chart choices — at this point, for instance, Garmin is the only major plotter manufacturer without raster chart display. I’d also like to see crowdsourced depth data collection and display proliferate. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could upload our data to some service that would make it available to any chart developer?) But Garmin’s make-everything-themselves model has served many boaters well, and if they can integrate new chart formats into BlueChart, it might be great. Partnering with Navionics could also be great. Overall, chart sourcing and crowdsourced data are a big deal to all the navigation system developers, and we may see more public messes like this one.

Disclaimer: While I think I covered the facts of this complicated story pretty well — corrections welcome of course — my impressions are uncertain and evolving. What do you make of this standoff, and if you are a Garmin customer, what do you want them to do?

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
  • facebook
  • twitter