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MFD and AIS anomalies, be careful out there

Sun, 2014-10-05 14:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 5, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Consider this is a portrait of a deeply experienced boat guy who still remains skeptical about the wonders of modern marine electronics. Lord knows I tried, but gremlins sabotaged my efforts from the moment when my old friend Joe McCarty arrived in Rockland, Maine, for the trip to Baltimore. I was using the Garmin Helm app on my iPad mini to watch the tank gauge as I squatted on the deck pumping diesel fuel and Joe just had time enough to say, “Well, that is cool!” when the digitized tank reading plunged from 85% to 20% and stayed stuck there even as we topped off using the old-fashioned method of listening to the changing vent gurgles…

Though expressed electronically, the tank problem was actually a mechanical one, and the floating sender that had apparently been jammed down by the high volume diesel fill freed itself at some point that night, probably when Gizmo whacked a particularly sharp wave. But during the following ten days and 741 miles, we experienced several pure and truly peculiar electronics anomalies.

We learned, for instance, that the two Simrad NSS evo2 displays can sometimes confidently misidentify AIS targets. I didn’t get any images of the problem underway, but was able to find a good example here in Baltimore Harbor. The Garmin 741xs and Simrad NSS7 evo2 screens above both show lists of AIS targets sorted by distance and thus, the lists are essentially the same. Except that David M Krause is the real name of the tug tied up next to the Austin Krause across the harbor and “Onal G. McAllister” is definitely not!

If you compare the NSS7 details of the “Onal G McAllister” with the Marine Traffic David M Krause listing you’ll see that the MMSI, Callsign, etc. above are for the Krause, just like every other AIS display on Gizmo was reporting. And further sleuthing revealed that there is a Baltimore tug listed as the Donal G McAllister with entirely different details except that its Destination is “BALTIMORE” not “ALTIMORE”…

And it turns out that the anomaly is repeatable, sort of. I’ve rebooted all the systems three times now, and while the NSS evo2 MFDs seem to display some fifty AIS targets fine, they always misidentify the David M Krause, using the name and destination of some other current target with the first letter dropped off. Right now the still tied-up D Krause is listed as the “Aple Hill” with the Destination “S Bal” while the real Maple Hill (destination “US Bal”) is underway 4 miles away. Obviously this strange glitch could lead to some confused boat-to-boat communications.

Incidentally, the NSS displays are getting AIS over NMEA 2000 from the Simrad RS35 VHF I’m testing, while the Garmin and other systems are getting it over a separate N2K network from the Vesper XB8000 AIS transponder also being tested. So maybe the RS35 is the problem here, but darned if it doesn’t display the David M Krause perfectly well on its display and wireless handset. I could switch AIS feeds to further troubleshoot this issue, but maybe Simrad is already fixing it and besides, I have bigger anomalies to deal with…

For instance, the two Garmin MFDs being tested both lost all their built-in charts! The screen above is the best view the 741xs can show of Gizmo at that same (wonderful) Anchorage Marina slip seen on the Marine Traffic screen. I can live with the fact that Garmin (and other manufacturers) insist on tagging nearby AIS targets as dangerous, even though we’re all tied up on the same dock and I’ve turned AIS alarming to the absolute minimum, but losing the charts would be a serious problem if I didn’t have other chartplotters at hand. However, it is possibly the strangest MFD update issue I’ve ever encountered, and I believe Garmin’s claim that they’ve never seen it before either…

The problem obviously started when I updated the Garmin 741 and 8212 MFDs in early September, though I had no clue. The update was at least a month old — a strong indication that it hadn’t caused problems on other boats — and everything seemed to run fine until Joe and I found ourselves motoring off the charts halfway across the Gulf of Maine in the middle of the night. When I did the updates, an old G2 Vision card for Southern Maine was in one of the 741’s slots and we were using those charts over the Garmin network until we left the region, so only then did we realize that the MFDs had perversely decided that their built-in charts are that same South Maine v12 region, as seen above.

And aren’t they stubborn about it. I still don’t know if the vast portfolios of U.S. and Bahamas charts that came built into both machines are still there, but I do know that Factory Resets and reapplied software updates, old and new, didn’t make them accessible. The Garmin engineering team want to swap the MFDs out so they can investigate the problem, but I asked to try a less aggressive fix first. However, the US Marine Detail Update they sent won’t work on these machines, which stubbornly reply, “This update is not compatible with the built-in chart.” So, holy cow, it appears that a weird update glitch can wipe out all the built-in charts on an MFD network, which can only be fixed with a hardware swap. It may have only happened to me (and who better?), but if the latest hardware and software from Garmin can do this even once, I’d guess that any of the modern highly complex MFD systems are capable of very strange behavior, particularly after an update.

The Raymarine system that’s part of the glass bridge testing program wasn’t trouble-free either, though I failed to capture good illustrations. I updated this system, too, and we were happy to use the new auto routing available with Navionics chart cards (to be discussed in detail, and hopefully compared to Garmin auto routing, eventually). But somehow the IR and regular camera apps got mixed up. I accept some responsibility, as I switched the video inputs on the gS125 at some point, but it got so I didn’t know whether I’d get the FLIR thermal cam (very helpful during the delivery) or the Ray100 rearview cam when I invoked either app. The fix was to rebuild every favorite page that had either app window in it, but then I found that some of those favorite page icons vanished from the networked a77 (which doesn’t have an analog video input and doesn’t support the IR app). The a77 had a home page with holes in it that couldn’t be filled with the normal Customize/Homescreen/Edit Pages command. I thought I’d captured the odd homescreen before I did the reset that’s shown above and which wiped out all the existing favorite screens I’d created.

Toward the end of the delivery, the Raymarine ethernet networking started acting up. One morning the flybridge keypad wouldn’t work while the next morning (or reboot) it would work fine, but the radar wouldn’t come up or the two MFDs wouldn’t share charts. Now this could definitely be more of a yours-truly install issue than a Raymarine glitch, but that didn’t matter to Joe, who by this time would begin his watch with the taunt, “So what’s working today, Benny?”

He wasn’t the only one. I also got emails wondering why Gizmo seemed to motoring backwards on Marine Traffic. When I first tried the Vesper XB8000 AIS transponder on the water, I reported a reversed boat icon heading problem seen in Coastal Explorer using the Vesper’s USB data output. It was an especially odd problem because the Vesper was also outputting the correct heading it was receiving from the N2K network and I fixed the icon issue in CE by giving Heading Sensor a higher priority than AIS Heading (thanks to CE tech support). To my knowledge no other vessel has seen Gizmo’s AIS target backward and I never saw that on Marine Traffic until this trip. But I took that screenshot above as we headed west toward New York City on 9/11, after visiting Lloyd, Huntington, and Northport harbors going backwards as tracked on MT! Gizmo’s MT track looks OK now, though that too is mysterious as I haven’t changed anything about the Vesper install.

Meanwhile, the trip also confirmed that the Vesper XB8000 — wonderful as it is at distributing AIS and other data via NMEA 2000, USB and WiFi — is not good about joining an N2K network when it’s been on for a while and suddenly the 2000 network comes alive. I saw a bit of this in that earlier lab testing — plus a definite incompatibility with the Garmin network that was fixed in a Garmin update — but we found we had to reboot the Vesper at least half the time we started up the nav systems or the Garmin, Raymarine, and Furuno gear on the same network wouldn’t know it was there. Vesper has a software update available and I guess I should try it.

I have one last anomaly, and it took place as we entered Lloyd Harbor just before dark after blasting down Long Island Sound (fuel efficiently). We knew that half that harbor is too shallow for Gizmo to anchor and the Simrad NSS evo2 had told us that there was almost 6 more feet of tide to fall. So we were pretty confused when we quickly found ourselves in about 7 feet and I wouldn’t have dropped the hook except that we were right behind a large vessel on a mooring. It was only at rest that we noticed how whacky the NSS sunrise and sunset time predictions were (even though the current time was correctly shown) and used another tide source to confirm that it was dead low. Beers were enjoyed, and I’m pleased to add that I have not been able to duplicate that NSS tide prediction problem since. Apparently it was a fleeting anomaly.

I want to conclude with the fact that I’ve never seen so many significant electronics issues reveal themselves at once and that Gizmo is a highly unusual boat with so many new systems on board. Plus some of the problems may be my fault in ways I don’t understand yet, which I’ll be happy to acknowledge if enlightened. And finally there’s the fact that none of these issues caused us any real trouble. That role was taken by Gizmo’s Lavac toilet, which failed in a way that required a horrendous rebuild. Joe and I have sworn never to reveal the details but it did further confirm my longtime believe that he’s is a master of boat systems. Which is one good reason you might want to charter the fast and handsome Allied 42-foot yawl Furly B that Joe completely rebuilt and maintains. It even has a nice Garmin electronics systems, though it may be updated to the latest software version. The spectacular head failure is also why I immediately purchased five different snake/unclog tools, though I only plan to test them if I have to.

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Ugly weather off the coast of Malaysia

Sun, 2014-10-05 06:16

Well, that was unpleasant.

There are the beautiful days of white sandy beaches and gin-clear water, and then there are the days when you have your ass handed to you by the weather.

We spent just over a week knocking off a list of projects from rig tuning to galvanizing in Penang. It’s probably our last marina stay until we arrive in South Africa, more than a year from now, and some things are just easier to do at a dock when the boat is relatively motionless and the fresh water runs freely. But we were ready to get out and back in our happy place, rocking gently at anchor.

Totem slipped out in the morning from Straits Quay marina, waving goodbye to friends and poking out into the grey. Since we were heading generally north during the monsoon season that brings southwesterly winds, this was supposed to be a mild stretch with light daysails. Checking a few different forecasts made it look a little less pleasant; we’d have moderate headwinds, probably, and rain. But it as nothing worth changing plans for, and we were ready to head north. With a little more breeze, maybe we’d even get some sailing in!

Waterspouts are chilling

Penang was still in sight behind Totem when the squalls started forming. Jamie had hoped for a nap after a late night (fueled by delicious homemade chicken vindaloo brought to the boat by a new friend) and was resting below. The first few cells passed behind us and he might have gotten a nice break if we had more “normal” passing squalls, but that all changed with a waterspout forming and heading right towards Totem. Sorry honey- we need all hands! I wish I had a photograph, but it was a whole lot more important at the time to make sure we were prepared for the worst. While we scrambled, it approached, then wavered, then thankfully dissipated.

And then we lost visibility

Generally, the squalls we have in the area where the gust top out around 40 knots. Nothing to sniff at, but relatively manageable. This time, our sustained winds were in the 40s, and the gusts nearly 60. Not fun. Initially, the rain beat seas down to near flat, and gave us close to whiteout conditions.

Truly unpleasant seas

Later, even the torrential rain couldn’t keep sea state down. With the wind howling, we had a few hours of 4 meter peaks and the occasional pile-up above that. Totem was stowed down below in anticipation of a more typical day along the peninsula, not this kind of weather. The cabin was trashed with books and papers and the odd bit of cookware (that cast iron pan JUST missed my foot). At least the only casualty was our carved Komodo dragon’s tail. It’s not his first dismemberment and is fixed easily enough.

A radar would really help here

We don’t have a radar right now. Ours died about a year and a half ago, possibly the result of a near-lightning strike in the Banda islands. We never had a clear diagnosis since Raymarine refused to service the (still sold at retail) unit because it was “old technology”… so they’re not on the list of vendors for our next radar, which we hope to install before crossing the Indian Ocean.

Radar would have been nice in the low visibility, for sure. There weren’t a lot of other boats around us, and the fishermen all seemed to have wisely chosen to stay at home- unlike pretty much every other day along this coast we weren’t dodging fishing nets. But more importantly, if we’d had a functional radar, we could have seen what was happening with the weather as conditions evolved. Much sooner, we would have realized that this wasn’t just another squall blowing through, this was a bigger system and we had hours of bad weather ahead. We’d almost surely have made a U-turn and gone back to Penang. Even if we we had to anchor outside the marina, we’d have been protected from the worst in the lee of the island.

I thought we just fixed the engine?

When the rain slowed to drizzle and the wind backed off to the 30s and we could hear the engine again. While we were in Penang, Jamie fixed contacts to the engine gauges. They’d been inaccurate (or simply unresponsive) since the 5,000 hour service. They worked in the marina, but just our luck that they stopped working again, so our senses were the only way to guess at RPMs. With conditions mellowing the sounds of the engine made it clear that throttling up did not result in more power. Apparently, our slow speed was due to more than just headwinds and adverse current! When throttled up, the turbo on our Yanmar 4JH3/TE wasn’t kicking on. Speculating it was fuel starved, Jamie checked through the filters. Although our primary racors had been recently replaced (after fuel polishing in Puteri), they were full of crud. Most likely all that sloshing around in the seas had dislodged any bit of grit remaining in the tanks. Swapped, replaced, on again and… still not running. Now the engine is practically hiccuping. We’re bounding around, and I’m just waiting to hear it sputter and stop. This is not a good time to deal with blocked filters.

Jamie replaced the secondary filter, which we can’t see inside, but we speculate must also be gumming up. Engine on again and… normal again, but only briefly. It didn’t take long until the cycling sound of the engine losing power resumed. NOW what? The last line between tanks and engine is the Algae-X. Sure enough, great icky globs of bio gunk are stuck all over inside. Cleaned it out, fired up again, and finally we’re off and running smoothly.

At least there wasn’t lightning

Have I mentioned that this weather was all right on the nose? So much for fair/following in the southwest monsoon. Slow progress had doomed us to an after-dark arrival. We had our old tracks into the maze of channels and islets at the south end of Langkawi, but with the weather continuing to look unpleasant, we wanted to get tucked up safely as quickly as possible. So breaking our rule to avoid anchoring in a new place after dark, we angled up into what looked like a well protected bay and dropped the hook. Not quite 360 protection but well buried inside, we looked forward to a good night’s rest after a celebratory dinner of carbonara – a family favorite.

Unfortunately, even getting way up inside that little bay with all the islets outside to deflect, it was pretty rolly. Not gunwhale to gunwhale, but just enough to make you keep an eye on your drink and watch where something is put down, and plenty to prevent a good night’s sleep. And then- more squalls, in the inky  night, with the moon well hidden in the clouds. For only the second tie in six years, we dragged anchor. Jamie’s stoic: “looks like I’m going to be awake for a while!” And he will, so I get some rest. At least one of us would be functional enough to make coffee in the morning!

At rest

No pretty beach. No turquoise water. But for a while there, I could even forget that our refrigeration had recently broken, and we’d recently entered the ranks of “ice is nice” and had a stash of perishables to cook through before they go bad!

Mostly? I’m grateful for a calm, capable co-captain who truly has an iron stomach. I’m grateful the kids handle rough conditions so well. And I’m thankful to have a boat that is even stronger than we are.

Well fueled boaters know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

CASCO BAY CRUISE: Little Whaleback Island

Sat, 2014-10-04 14:25

Earlier this summer, while stopping over at the Goslings in northwestern Casco Bay, I noticed there was a small mooring field just off the north end of Little Whaleboat Island. It had never occurred to me to put in there, and I could find nothing about it in any cruising guide, or in my annual Maine Island Trail Association guide (which can be a great resource, by the way, when looking for obscure islands to visit). So of course I was intrigued. Late this past week, as I headed out on what will probably be my last solo overnight on the bay this year, I thought I might as well check it out.

The forecast was not perfectly propitious for such a venture. The moorings (located in the vicinity of the northwestern-most “23” sounding you see just north of the island in that chart down there) are exposed to the north, and the forecast was for a northeast wind of 10-15 knots to make up during the night.

I figured I could cope with that if the moorings seemed strong enough. Worst case, I’d have to bail out and go elsewhere in the middle of the night. So I doodled in under mainsail to scope out the joint. The first two moorings I inspected were light, seemingly intended for small boats, but the third seemed much beefier, so I picked it up and settled in.

Have I mentioned that you can now buy Dark-and-Stormies, with Gosling’s rum and ginger beer, premixed in cans??? It’s a fantastic innovation. The biggest thing since man discovered fire.

Well, I had one of those and then went ashore in the dink.

Sad to report, the island is thoroughly posted with No Trespassing signs, so I limited my exploration to the littoral zone, where I found a perfectly intact horseshoe crab. I used to find these along the shore in Maine fairly frequently when I was kid, but now they seem rare, so I was pretty pumped.

Can anyone tell me: what happened to all the horseshoe crabs? I remember reading somewhere once that they are one of the oldest life-forms on the planet, so I figure they’re pretty tough. They certainly look rugged, don’t they?

I rowed all the way around the island as the sun was setting. An epiphanous mini-voyage. A very beautiful spot.

The island seems to be uninhabited. At least I saw no evidence of any structures on it, though I did notice two campsites right near the shore on the north end. There are four private moorings, which seemed to have been fairly active during the height of the season this past summer. I’m not sure I’d recommend anchoring here, as things looked pretty rocky and weedy around the island, from what I saw during my circumnavigation. Although in Maine you never know–you find good mud in the strangest places.

IN OTHER NEWS: We’ve had further adventures with the new headsails.

En route to Little Whaleback I tried sailing under full main and staysail alone in 10-12 knots. This would have been pointless with the old staysail, but with this one I made 4 knots upwind. Very encouraging! It will be useful for short-tacking out of constricted areas.

Coming back I also had a chance to fly the new yankee jib wing-and-wing on a downwind run without a pole. It seemed no more or less stable than its predecessor, but was easier to jibe.

CASCO BAY CRUISE: Little Whaleback Island

Sat, 2014-10-04 14:25

Earlier this summer, while stopping over at the Goslings in northwestern Casco Bay, I noticed there was a small mooring field just off the north end of Little Whaleboat Island. It had never occurred to me to put in there, and I could find nothing about it in any cruising guide, or in my annual Maine Island Trail Association guide (which can be a great resource, by the way, when looking for obscure islands to visit). So of course I was intrigued. Late this past week, as I headed out on what will probably be my last solo overnight on the bay this year, I thought I might as well check it out.

The forecast was not perfectly propitious for such a venture. The moorings (located in the vicinity of the northwestern-most “23” sounding you see just north of the island in that chart down there) are exposed to the north, and the forecast was for a northeast wind of 10-15 knots to make up during the night.

I figured I could cope with that if the moorings seemed strong enough. Worst case, I’d have to bail out and go elsewhere in the middle of the night. So I doodled in under mainsail to scope out the joint. The first two moorings I inspected were light, seemingly intended for small boats, but the third seemed much beefier, so I picked it up and settled in.

Have I mentioned that you can now buy Dark-and-Stormies, with Gosling’s rum and ginger beer, premixed in cans??? It’s a fantastic innovation. The biggest thing since man discovered fire.

Well, I had one of those and then went ashore in the dink.

Sad to report, the island is thoroughly posted with No Trespassing signs, so I limited my exploration to the littoral zone, where I found a perfectly intact horseshoe crab. I used to find these along the shore in Maine fairly frequently when I was kid, but now they seem rare, so I was pretty pumped.

Can anyone tell me: what happened to all the horseshoe crabs? I remember reading somewhere once that they are one of the oldest life-forms on the planet, so I figure they’re pretty tough. They certainly look rugged, don’t they?

I rowed all the way around the island as the sun was setting. An epiphanous mini-voyage. A very beautiful spot.

The island seems to be uninhabited. At least I saw no evidence of any structures on it, though I did notice two campsites right near the shore on the north end. There are four private moorings, which seemed to have been fairly active during the height of the season this past summer. I’m not sure I’d recommend anchoring here, as things looked pretty rocky and weedy around the island, from what I saw during my circumnavigation. Although in Maine you never know–you find good mud in the strangest places.

IN OTHER NEWS: We’ve had further adventures with the new headsails.

En route to Little Whaleback I tried sailing under full main and staysail alone in 10-12 knots. This would have been pointless with the old staysail, but with this one I made 4 knots upwind. Very encouraging! It will be useful for short-tacking out of constricted areas.

Coming back I also had a chance to fly the new yankee jib wing-and-wing on a downwind run without a pole. It seemed no more or less stable than its predecessor, but was easier to jibe.

American Entry Takes Volvo Opener

Sat, 2014-10-04 13:46

The word from our friends at Alvimedica&#151:

Team Alvimedica has taken first blood in the Volvo Ocean Race, after winning today’s In-Port Race in Alicante.

Charlie Enright and his crew made a good but unspectacular start that placed them in the top half of the seven-boat fleet while a daring port-tack start by Dongfeng Race Team rewarded the Chinese with an early lead.

Enright was happier to take a more conservative approach. “Try to stay out of trouble, that was the aim. We didn’t have the greatest start but we wanted to give ourselves options. The pin end was really favored and we just tried to avoid the clump and give ourselves a chance. We took our times on the maneuvers, tried to keep it simple, and kept on chipping away.”

At the top mark the Chinese held a marginal advantage over Team Vestas Wind and managed to roll over the top of Vestas, forcing Chris Nicholson to jibe away. However Nicholson failed to spot the fast-approaching Team Alvimedica who forced another jibe on the Danish boat.

Meanwhile down the other side of the course Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had avoided all the traffic and ploughed a lonely but successful path down the right-hand side of the track. This put Ian Walker’s team in front by a healthy margin with Alvimedica avoiding the logjam at the leeward gate marks. “You’ve got to commit to these laylines, and we owned our side of the gate, which gave us a clean exit on the second upwind leg,“ said Enright.

The early leaders from China and Denmark saw their advantage completely slip away as they got caught up in the jam at the bottom of the course, while Abu Dhabi surged away to a nice lead, with Alvimedica just ahead of the marauding pack. At the top of the course on the second lap, Walker again chose the right-hand side of the course to bring him back downwind while in second place, Alvimedica’s tactician Alberto Bolzan opted for the left.

Speaking on the TV commentary, Volvo Ocean Race CEO and former skipper Knut Frostad observed: “The guys on Alvimedica have probably been the most consistent on the race course so far today, sailing the boat really well. They’re just in their 20s or early 30s, but they’re showing real potential for doing well in the Volvo Ocean Race.”

Meanwhile, Bolzan’s tactical choice had proven correct as by the bottom of the course, Alvimedica arrived at the leeward gate neck and neck with Abu Dhabi, Walker’s lead entirely eroded. After splitting up different sides of the course, when they came back together at the final top marks, Alvimedica was ahead of Abu Dhabi. But on the final few hundred meters to the finish, Abu Dhabi went on the assault as they tried to roll over the top of Alvimedica just as they were completing their jibe.

For some heart-stopping moments it looked like Walker and his crew would steal Alvimedica’s wind but the crew wound the handles hard to get the gennaker fully set and pulling again. “We were at risk of being rolled by Abu Dhabi, but we couldn’t have played it much differently,” Enright said. “The boys ripped that sail around real fast, but he had a shot at rolling us, and luckily we got going again just in time. We were kind of lucky that the Spanish weren’t too far away, so Abu Dhabi had someone else to think about too.”

Charlie Enright and crew kept their rivals at bay and charged across the finish line in first place, by six seconds. A stunning victory delighted the crew and surprised some of the more experienced teams in the race. But was Enright surprised? “Surprised that we’re able to do well? Not that much. We’ve had some good practice, the guys have been working really hard on maneuvers, and we’re happy with the win. We haven’t done anything that counts for the overall trophy yet, but it’s a confidence builder, it gives us the feeling that we can do well again.”

Team website: Team Alvimedica

Final results for Alicante In-Port Race
1. Team Alvimedica 14:52:02 – 1pt
2. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 14:52:07 – 2pts
3. MAPFRE 14:52:27 – 3pts
4. Team Brunel 14:52:48 – 4pts
5. Dongfeng Race Team 14:53:14 – 5pts
6. Team SCA 14:53:51 – 6pts
7. Team Vestas Wind 14:55:24 – 7pts

Podcast: High Adventure Essay

Fri, 2014-10-03 10:04

Andy reads a story called ‘High Adventure’ he wrote in February 2008. He and a friend, Michael, summited the hightes peak in Ireland. They were traveling together after meeting at a TEFL course in Prague.

Understanding engine overheating problems

Thu, 2014-10-02 18:19

Why is the engine overheating? Our Yanmar engine’s shrill alarm was the jarring start to some stressful hours during the last five months, and we asked that question many times. The answer was not one root cause, but more likely a series of related events, as a domino effect of different issues cascaded. I’ve written about the painful side of this before, but less so the final diagnosis and fix, so this is for cruisers like Mark, Lynn & Rick, Gary, and others who reached out and asked to learn from our experience.

It all started when tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. We’ve had great performance from our Yanmar 4JH3/TE, and want to maintain it properly so it continues to serve Totem well. In April, it had a major service (5,000 hour) done while we spent time on Langkawi island, a pretty spot at the far north of Malaysia’s west coast. This was a big line item on the pre-Indian Ocean checklist we’ve been working through as our budget allows.

As part of the service, the heat exchanger was pulled for testing. Because of all the calcification built up on it, the mechanics struggled to get it out and in the process of removal managed to crack it slightly. It was brazed, and pressure testing showed it should be fine, but the end cap seating was affected. We’re pretty sure that the O-ring leaked coolant into the sea water. This was the probably cause for our initial trouble with coolant loss leading to overheating, which forced us to shut down the engine when we least wanted to (in no wind, but plenty of current, at a major port entrance where large cargo ships converged from the shipping lane of the Malacca Straits). Not fun.

What did we do? In the near term, we kept coolant topped up as we made our way south, but rate of loss varied. Still, we heard the overheat buzzer a few more times along the way. At the next opportunity, we had more troubleshooting help from the mechanics who performed the original service- and a lot of support via the internet from various cruising friends and dockside mechanics (thanks to Chris, CJ, Richard, Gary, Colin, Mark, Robert and many others for their thoughtful advice and ideas). Ultimately, the issue appeared to be resolved by getting the end cap properly seated on the heat exchanger again. We spent many hours afterwards running the engine and checking for coolant loss reassure ourselves.

Thinking our engine troubles were over we departed Puteri, somewhat delayed but still hoping to sail east and spend a few months exploring in Borneo and possibly the Philippines as well. Unfortunately, those plans were quickly scuttled. After a full day motoring across Singapore to line up for crossing the South China Sea, weaving through traffic with vessels more than twenty times our size, we ended the day not just with a pretty sunset but with the engine temperature gauge rising to point at red again. Didn’t we just fix this problem? It was pretty frustrating. Sure enough, the coolant level had dropped again.

lots and lots of head scratching over the engine compartement

We topped up lost coolant, limped back to the west side of Johor, and called the mechanics once more. With the heat exchanger fixed, our problem was almost certainly the head gasket. With the head removed, the gasket showed four failure points. Was this caused by the overheating events? We don’t know, but it seems unlikely because it was not cracked or warped. The mechanics said that it’s possible that rust particles from the cooling ports under pressure could have caused or contributed to the gasket fail. This rust occurs when coolant is mixed with water. That’s not something we’ve done; if the prior owner did this, it’s percolated for some time before becoming the serious problem we experienced.

The mechanics we worked with were based in Kuala Lumpur, a half days drive from our location, stretching out the time for repairs. With the head gasket replaced, we were ready to put this episode of engine problems behind us.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Jamie was running the engine while we were in the slip at Puteri Harbour, the oil cooler sprang a leak. In just a few minutes, it put about a liter of oil out through the exhaust: it’s really fortunate that he was right there and paying attention, so the engine was shut down before the oil loss caused a bigger problem. It had been cleaned and tested as part of the 5,000 hour service, so why it failed so soon after is a mystery.

Thankfully, these are all in hindsight now. We’ve motored or motorsailed more than 400 miles back up the Malay peninsula, and the engine has performed flawlessly again. As frustrating as it was to spend months being relatively stagnant instead of out exploring the islands in Southeast Asia, this was the right thing to do. Had we not done the initial 5,000 hour service, it’s likely that the debris from the heat exchanger would have caused problems for us during the big miles we plan to undertake in the next year. We’d much rather deal with a service problem while here in Malaysia instead of 1,000 miles from help in the Indian Ocean!

Chilled out sailors know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website

Podcast: Master Rigger Brion Toss, Part 2

Wed, 2014-10-01 09:31

Brion’s back to chat with Andy about some more technical aspects of yacht rigging, specifically to how it relates to ocean sailing, in Part 2 of yesterday’s interview. They discuss proper preventers, rig tune, rig inspections, Dynex Dux and the advent of synthetics, and much more.

Podcast: Master Rigger Brion Toss, Part 1

Tue, 2014-09-30 17:31

Master Rigger Brion Toss is on the show today for Part 1 of a very long and enlightening conversation with one of Andy’s heroes. Andy met Brion in 2009 at the Annapolis Sailboat Show, and their conversation was the deciding factor in outfitting Arcturus with synthetic rigging. Brion comes on the podcast to discuss his own history as a rigger and sailor. In Part 2, they discuss the more technical aspects of rigging.

At Home in Papua New Guinea

Tue, 2014-09-30 01:07

I´ve unpacked the bags and stowed the suitcases. No more waiting around for visas, no more airplane rides – we´re home now, and I plan to be sessile for the foreseeable future. The island is beautiful, our neighbours are friendly, and I have no reason to move off my porch.

Except, a troop of kids are marching up my driveway. And we´ve been invited to the pool. And a barbecue. Disco in the park. Movies, neighborhood-wide hide-and-seek… complete fun overload. I think I need another cup of tea.

Needless to say, the girls have settled in like they have been here for years. Whether they are especially adaptable from years of cruising or whether the local kids are just delighted to have new kids in town is up for debate. School holidays end on Monday, and all of the youngsters in town are determined to make the most of their days off.

But even the most energetic kids need a break. After a week of running here, there and everywhere, the girls decided to have a quiet morning of Lego.

Of course, they decided to set up shop in my office, but that´s life. Who needs a quiet space to write, anyway?

Later on, it was bicycle time. As you might imagine, the girls don´t have a lot of bike riding experience. Lovely as it is, the deck of Papillon isn´t quite that big, and even Erik doesn´t own enough Lanocote to keep bikes from rusting in the lazarette. So getting real, actual bicycles was a big event.

As for me, I´m enjoying getting to know the neighbours, finding my way around, and having the odd quiet moment with Erik on the porch.

I think we´re going to be happy here.

EYES ON BOATS: And Other Important Upgrades

Mon, 2014-09-29 18:23

Lunacy was on the hard last week to get her bottom cleaned and some new paint put on before she goes south for the winter, and while she was out I finally made two changes I’ve long been pondering. First I cut a hole in the aluminum plate (the “bob-plate” I call it) that supports her bowsprit; second I stuck a pair of eyes on her bow.

The reason for the hole is that I really dislike the way the bob-plate sometimes makes the bow look like a clipper bow in profile. Not that I am inherently prejudiced against clipper bows, but I do think they look a bit silly and pretentious on common sailing yachts that are less than 60 feet long. They always remind me of those junky-looking Taiwan-built cruising ketches from the 1970s. I figured cutting a hole in the plate would break up that affect, and I think I was right about that. I’m rather pleased with the way it came out.

What I hadn’t counted on is how hard it would be to actually cut the hole. Unleashing a large hole saw on heavy aluminum plate is an extremely noisy and vibratory experience. You have to cut very slowly and carefully, or the saw jumps around all over the place (I broke one pilot drill bit very early on), and it takes so long your wrists feel like pulverized Jello by the time you’re done.

Sticking on the eyes was much easier. I used a pair of those fish stickers that fishermen stick on the bottom of their skiffs to attract their prey and added some letter O stickers laid on sideways to make the pupils. I’m not sure where the tradition of putting eyes on the bows of boats comes from originally, but you see them often in both Asia and the Mediterranean. People say you put eyes on so a boat can see where it is going and/or to ward off evil spirits, but I suspect it’s really just because it looks cool. It also really helps give boats a face, so we can anthropomorphize them all the more.

Eyes and hole were applied on Thursday, the boat was afloat again by Friday, and Clare, Lucy, and I went out for an overnight on Saturday to see how they worked. Here you see Lunacy‘s new profile in action off Great Chebeague Island:

The eyes I think came out perfectly. They’re discrete, but noticeable. The hole maybe could have been a bit bigger, but I’m happy enough with it the way it is. So far the boat hasn’t gotten lost, hasn’t been mistaken for a clipper ship, and nothing evil has happened to it. (Knock on wood!)

While Lunacy was out of the water I also had her surveyed so I could shop around for a new insurance policy. My old insurance company was always a pain in the ass about me sailing offshore, and when they announced a major premium hike for this year I figured it’s time for a change. Pantaenius, a German insurer, has a great reputation for offshore coverage and is now covering U.S. boats, so I’m hoping I can work something out with them.

My old friend Mark Corke came to do the survey on Thursday and gave the old girl a clean bill of health. In the photo above you can see him at work in the systems space aft, looking for flaws and hiding from the hideous sound of the hole saw.

On Friday I also picked up some new sails from Doug Pope in Rockland, Maine. Here you see the new jib and and staysail flying in tandem as we sailed back to Portland yesterday. I had been stressing about this a lot, as the headsail sheet leads on Lunacy are a bit weird. Both the jib and staysail sheet to the same track, which up forward is slightly inboard of the shrouds. Getting them to work together properly while staying clear of the shrouds is a bit tricky.

To make it work with the old sails, the staysail had to be very high cut and was too small to be very useful on its own. With these new headsails, the jib is a bit higher cut, which helps it tack across the staysail stay more easily, and the staysail is much lower cut and quite a bit larger. So far they seem to be playing together nicely.

I had also been hoping to try out the new mainsail this past weekend, but it still needs some work. Daughter Lucy is very devoted to the old mainsail (she likes lying in its foot) and is worried about losing it. Here you see her communing with it under its sail cover. She only agreed to come out after I promised her the new sail would also have a foot with a shelf in it so she could lie in it too.

EYES ON BOATS: And Other Important Upgrades

Mon, 2014-09-29 18:23

Lunacy was on the hard last week to get her bottom cleaned and some new paint put on before she goes south for the winter, and while she was out I finally made two changes I’ve long been pondering. First I cut a hole in the aluminum plate (the “bob-plate” I call it) that supports her bowsprit; second I stuck a pair of eyes on her bow.

The reason for the hole is that I really dislike the way the bob-plate sometimes makes the bow look like a clipper bow in profile. Not that I am inherently prejudiced against clipper bows, but I do think they look a bit silly and pretentious on common sailing yachts that are less than 60 feet long. They always remind me of those junky-looking Taiwan-built cruising ketches from the 1970s. I figured cutting a hole in the plate would break up that affect, and I think I was right about that. I’m rather pleased with the way it came out.

What I hadn’t counted on is how hard it would be to actually cut the hole. Unleashing a large hole saw on heavy aluminum plate is an extremely noisy and vibratory experience. You have to cut very slowly and carefully, or the saw jumps around all over the place (I broke one pilot drill bit very early on), and it takes so long your wrists feel like pulverized Jello by the time you’re done.

Sticking on the eyes was much easier. I used a pair of those fish stickers that fishermen stick on the bottom of their skiffs to attract their prey and added some letter O stickers laid on sideways to make the pupils. I’m not sure where the tradition of putting eyes on the bows of boats comes from originally, but you see them often in both Asia and the Mediterranean. People say you put eyes on so a boat can see where it is going and/or to ward off evil spirits, but I suspect it’s really just because it looks cool. It also really helps give boats a face, so we can anthropomorphize them all the more.

Eyes and hole were applied on Thursday, the boat was afloat again by Friday, and Clare, Lucy, and I went out for an overnight on Saturday to see how they worked. Here you see Lunacy‘s new profile in action off Great Chebeague Island:

The eyes I think came out perfectly. They’re discrete, but noticeable. The hole maybe could have been a bit bigger, but I’m happy enough with it the way it is. So far the boat hasn’t gotten lost, hasn’t been mistaken for a clipper ship, and nothing evil has happened to it. (Knock on wood!)

While Lunacy was out of the water I also had her surveyed so I could shop around for a new insurance policy. My old insurance company was always a pain in the ass about me sailing offshore, and when they announced a major premium hike for this year I figured it’s time for a change. Pantaenius, a German insurer, has a great reputation for offshore coverage and is now covering U.S. boats, so I’m hoping I can work something out with them.

My old friend Mark Corke came to do the survey on Thursday and gave the old girl a clean bill of health. In the photo above you can see him at work in the systems space aft, looking for flaws and hiding from the hideous sound of the hole saw.

On Friday I also picked up some new sails from Doug Pope in Rockland, Maine. Here you see the new jib and and staysail flying in tandem as we sailed back to Portland yesterday. I had been stressing about this a lot, as the headsail sheet leads on Lunacy are a bit weird. Both the jib and staysail sheet to the same track, which up forward is slightly inboard of the shrouds. Getting them to work together properly while staying clear of the shrouds is a bit tricky.

To make it work with the old sails, the staysail had to be very high cut and was too small to be very useful on its own. With these new headsails, the jib is a bit higher cut, which helps it tack across the staysail stay more easily, and the staysail is much lower cut and quite a bit larger. So far they seem to be playing together nicely.

I had also been hoping to try out the new mainsail this past weekend, but it still needs some work. Daughter Lucy is very devoted to the old mainsail (she likes lying in its foot) and is worried about losing it. Here you see her communing with it under its sail cover. She only agreed to come out after I promised her the new sail would also have a foot with a shelf in it so she could lie in it too.

The Worst Critter Ever On My Boat

Mon, 2014-09-29 14:36

Reading Behan Gifford’s rats post made me glad I’ve never had a rat aboard, but I’ve had worse in my book.

I was cruising and surfing my way around the Society Islands and met a young Aussie, Luke, and his American girlfriend, Jenny. They’d been camping on the islands, sleeping in a tent. One thing led to another and I invited them aboard for a few days of surf exploration:

Luke on the far right; Jenny in the middle

On their first night aboard we’d just turned in, with me up in the forepeak and them in the main salon, where the table drops down to make a double berth. We’d been in bed for about twenty minutes when I heard Luke scream. By the time I got on my feet Luke and Jenny were in the cockpit, with Jenny shining a flashlight up Luke’s ass.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“Something stung me, like a wasp! It must be in our sheets. Look for it.” Luke replied.

I searched through their bedding, and found nothing.

“I can’t find anything. It must have flown away.”

“It’s gotta be there! Look for it.”

I poked through their bedding again, carefully, then shined a flashlight under the bunk. Still nothing. Luke was now retching overboard, as the poison from whatever stung him was making him sick.

I was fairly sure I’d never find anything, but I flipped through their sheets one last time, then shined my flashlight under the bunk again, where a deep cave ended with the slope of the port side of the boat. I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye and redirected the beam of my flashlight. A giant black centipede, which did not like the light, scuttled through a gap under the settee and disappeared.

“Oh. My. God.”

I know exaggeration is common in such situations, but I can compare the size of the centipede to a piece of trim under my table, and tell you that this centipede was at least eight inches long, and about an inch and a half wide with all its squiggly legs and antennae. Let me also point out that I’ve got a serious phobia about big creepy-crawlies. I’ve been known to whinny like a schoolgirl at the sight of a cockroach, and a cockroach is theoretically harmless. This creature had just reduced a big, strong Aussie surfer dude to puking overboard with a flashlight up his ass. What chance did I have?

If you don’t believe how scary a Tahitian centipede is, look at this, and ours was WAY bigger. Ewwww! Ewwwww! EWWWWWWWW! (and why isn’t it biting this guy?):

This centipede was now lost in the bowels of my boat. A wave of dread came over me, knowing this thing was now in the walls, or under the floorboards, and knowing I wouldn’t be able to sleep, or enjoy life aboard, as long as it was around. If I fumigated the whole boat there still wouldn’t be any satisfaction, because it would die quietly somewhere, and I’d find it dead, say while I was lying on my back servicing the fresh water pump.

“Catch it, mate! Catch the bastard!”

I halfheartedly grabbed the colander off the galley bench top, and a bread knife, but I knew all was lost. I’d just have to sink the boat.

“I dunno, Luke, I think it’s run off.”

Luke jumped down the companionway with fire in his eyes and said, “Gimme that,” as he took the knife and the colander.

“Where is it?”

“Well, it was under there, but now it’s gone.”

I shined the flashlight under the bunk again, and there it was again!

Luke somehow lifted the bunk with his knee, lunged in, and chopped the centipede in half with the bread knife. Now the two halves of the centipede were going crazy in opposite directions, but Luke soon had both scooped into the colander. He climbed back up into the cockpit, and threw the two halves of the centipede overboard. My hero!

I just could not have done what he did. I would have got spooked and blown it, losing the centipede into the bowels of the boat again.

I looked in the Merck Manual and read about centipede stings. I reassured Luke that it said they were very painful, but not dangerous. It dawned on me the next day that the Merck Manual only covers North American medical issues, and doesn’t delve into the 8000 different species of centipede found worldwide, many of which are much more venomous than their North American cousins.

The offending centipede must have come aboard with Luke and Jenny’s camping gear.

Luke was up all night in pain and hurling, and still felt wonky the next morning:

…but felt well enough to surf that afternoon.

Refloating Boats in La Paz – Yay!

Fri, 2014-09-26 12:38

NOAH CULLEN: Young Sailor’s Body Found Aboard Sunken Sailboat

Fri, 2014-09-26 11:30

A mystery that has tortured the sailing and diving community in the Upper Florida Keys for most of the past two months was resolved early this week when two technical divers descended about 300 feet and found human remains inside the sunken sailboat Jubilee, which had been missing since August 4. The remains are believed to be those of Noah Cullen, Jubilee‘s 24-year-old skipper, who was last seen alive sailing his boat singlehanded in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary shortly before a strong thunderstorm swept through the area.

Cullen, an accomplished sailor, diver, camper, and pilot, set out on his own on August 4 to free-dive on the reefs south of Key Largo. He had completed his dive and was seen sailing back to shore shortly before the thunderstorm hit. Soon after the storm, however, Jubilee, with no one on deck, was again spotted by a passerby sinking in much deeper water offshore. This witness took a photo of the sinking boat, called the authorities, and then left the scene.

Jubilee‘s last moments on the surface. A question must be asked: should the person who took this photo have done more than just take a photo???

The Coast Guard et al launched a massive search for the vessel but found nothing. There was much speculation as to scenarios in which Noah Cullen, given all his competence, might somehow have survived, and local water rats kept looking for the boat long after officialdom gave up the game.

Late last month a sonar scan turned up a likely target near where Jubilee was last seen, and a survey with a borrowed submarine ROV yielded images that seemed to confirm the wreck’s identity.

The wreck of Jubilee, as viewed remotely

A call went out for volunteer tech divers to investigate up close and personal. Diving on a wreck 300 feet down is no simple job. Two veterans, Joe Citelli (who took the photo up top) and Steve Muslin, stepped forward and did the deed. An 80-minute dive, with only 18 minutes spent on site. All the rest was staging up and down, with exotic bottles of air to breathe en route.

They took a sample of the mortal remains they found back to the surface with them, and these have been sent off for DNA testing, but no one seriously doubts who they belong to.

Speculation as to what actually happened has been limited to a single scenario: Jubilee was forced to run off during the thunderstorm, was struck by lightning (eyewitnesses have described it as having been an extremely volatile squall electric-wise), Cullen was electrocuted, and the boat was holed and consequently sunk.

Would it have made any difference if the float-by photographer had investigated more closely? Probably not, but we’ll never know for sure.

Was the boat properly grounded? Again, no word on that, but given its size, I doubt it.

Noah Cullen’s last communication with the outside world took place the day of his death, when he posted this photo and a cryptic message on his Twitter account: Noah Cullen is dropping out for a bit.

I’m guessing he put this up just before going overboard for his dive. The previous post, sent up the same day reads: Another foul morning in the Florida Straits.

But most ironic of all is the post he put up one day earlier, presumably during another thunderstorm: Fuck, I hate lightning being as I can’t be more than a few feet from the tallest metal rod for miles.

Amen to that.

I’m going to miss this young man, though I never had a chance to meet him. The world of sailing needs more like him.

NOAH CULLEN: Young Sailor’s Body Found Aboard Sunken Sailboat

Fri, 2014-09-26 11:30

A mystery that has tortured the sailing and diving community in the Upper Florida Keys for most of the past two months was resolved early this week when two technical divers descended about 300 feet and found human remains inside the sunken sailboat Jubilee, which had been missing since August 4. The remains are believed to be those of Noah Cullen, Jubilee‘s 24-year-old skipper, who was last seen alive sailing his boat singlehanded in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary shortly before a strong thunderstorm swept through the area.

Cullen, an accomplished sailor, diver, camper, and pilot, set out on his own on August 4 to free-dive on the reefs south of Key Largo. He had completed his dive and was seen sailing back to shore shortly before the thunderstorm hit. Soon after the storm, however, Jubilee, with no one on deck, was again spotted by a passerby sinking in much deeper water offshore. This witness took a photo of the sinking boat, called the authorities, and then left the scene.

Jubilee‘s last moments on the surface. A question must be asked: should the person who took this photo have done more than just take a photo???

The Coast Guard et al launched a massive search for the vessel but found nothing. There was much speculation as to scenarios in which Noah Cullen, given all his competence, might somehow have survived, and local water rats kept looking for the boat long after officialdom gave up the game.

Late last month a sonar scan turned up a likely target near where Jubilee was last seen, and a survey with a borrowed submarine ROV yielded images that seemed to confirm the wreck’s identity.

The wreck of Jubilee, as viewed remotely

A call went out for volunteer tech divers to investigate up close and personal. Diving on a wreck 300 feet down is no simple job. Two veterans, Joe Citelli (who took the photo up top) and Steve Muslin, stepped forward and did the deed. An 80-minute dive, with only 18 minutes spent on site. All the rest was staging up and down, with exotic bottles of air to breathe en route.

They took a sample of the mortal remains they found back to the surface with them, and these have been sent off for DNA testing, but no one seriously doubts who they belong to.

Speculation as to what actually happened has been limited to a single scenario: Jubilee was forced to run off during the thunderstorm, was struck by lightning (eyewitnesses have described it as having been an extremely volatile squall electric-wise), Cullen was electrocuted, and the boat was holed and consequently sunk.

Would it have made any difference if the float-by photographer had investigated more closely? Probably not, but we’ll never know for sure.

Was the boat properly grounded? Again, no word on that, but given its size, I doubt it.

Noah Cullen’s last communication with the outside world took place the day of his death, when he posted this photo and a cryptic message on his Twitter account: Noah Cullen is dropping out for a bit.

I’m guessing he put this up just before going overboard for his dive. The previous post, sent up the same day reads: Another foul morning in the Florida Straits.

But most ironic of all is the post he put up one day earlier, presumably during another thunderstorm: Fuck, I hate lightning being as I can’t be more than a few feet from the tallest metal rod for miles.

Amen to that.

I’m going to miss this young man, though I never had a chance to meet him. The world of sailing needs more like him.

The saga of the cutter NIGHT RUNNER

Thu, 2014-09-25 18:10

NIGHT RUNNER

 

Keep in mind that this is history as I remember it. That’s the best I can do. If you see something that you feel should be corrected, contact me through my website www.perryboat.com  and let me know what it is. I’ll contemplate the change. I’d like to be accurate.

 Seeds are sown

The NIGHT RUNNER story begins when I was 16 years old. I would drive down to Shilshole Bay Marina on Sundays for the winter racing series on Sundays. I’d get there early and treat myself to a breakfast at THE LITTLE PEBBLE restaurant. My favorite breakfast was called the Fisherman’s Breakfast and took two plates to hold all the food and it was expensive, $3.50. But I would have been paid Saturday night for working at the meat market so I was flush and $3.50 was not going to break me. I was working on my breakfast one Sunday morning when I saw a low freeboard, white, very traditional cutter sail down the waterway. I watched the skipper dock the boat under sail with apparent ease. I was impressed.

 

I finished eating and walked down to the dock hoping to have a chat with the owner of the cutter. The boat was the AFRICAN STAR, a Bill Atkin design. I think the design is designated TALLY HO in the Atkin archives. This was a very salty boat with a very salty owner. His name was Frank Paine. He was gruff and taciturn. We sort of chatted. He said he was going to do a circumnavigation in the boat. I asked if I could come along. He said he didn’t want any crew “That way the cook and crew will get along”. I remember him saying exactly that. Then he said, “I’ll take you as far as Hawaii.” Wow! He suggested we do a “test cruise” together to see if we could get along. I was totally up for that. We arranged to meet on the following Friday night at the boat.

 

My Dad drove me to Shilshole that rainy Friday night. I had some clothes and a sleeping bag in a black plastic garbage bag. This was back in the day before the docks were locked so I walked down to AFRCAN STAR. No one was aboard and the boat was locked. I sat in the cockpit in the rain.  A dodger would have been nice but I had my foul weather gear and boots on so I was a bit cold but ok. After two hours sitting in the rain the novelty of the whole idea was beginning to wear off and I was getting wet.  Reluctantly, kind of, I went up to the phone booth and called my dad and asked him to please come and get me. It was a humiliating phone call. My parents were skeptical of everything I did and I was tiring of having my nose rubbed in my failures. But Dad loved me and he drove the hour round trip to get me home and out of the rain. Can’t recall the conversation on the ride home.

 

I never saw Frank Paine again. I made an attempt to get a hold of him but I could not. AFRICAN STAR faded from my imagination. Years later, not sure exactly when, AFRICAN STAR showed up on the PNW racing scene. “I know that boat!” The owner was then Doug Fryer, a Seattle Maritime attorney of some renown. Doug raced AS in just about every race there was. The boat being so traditional, with big, full keel and outboard barn door rudder was slow but it had a generous rating and the word was that if you could see AS the finish, they had beaten you. Doug raced the boat hard and attracted a very loyal crew. Doug’s ability to keep a crew together is a function of how much fun he is to sail with. He can be last or he can be first but he is always enjoying the race. Races are finished at the dock with “ritual rums” with 150 proof rum. Doug would explain,  “150 proof rum is lighter.”  I wave wobbled my way down the dock several times after racing with Doug. AFRICAN STAR was a fixture in the PNW racing scene. Doug would later explain to me that Frank Paine had lost AFRICAN STAR in a divorce settlement. I felt bad for the guy. But Doug was happy.

Getting started

I didn’t really know Doug. Of course you tend to meet sailors in the club after the race so I wasn’t a stranger to Doug. When the phone rang in the office Sally answered it and said, “It’s Doug Fryer Bob”. Great. Doug let me know he was considering a new boat, a custom build. More great. Then he went on to tell me just how much he loved Brice King’s UNICORN ketch, Not so great. Actually it was a “shitski” moment. But Doug was concerned about the hull shape of UNICORN. UNICORN had a very pronounce bustle aft much like the Ericson 39. Doug has heard the Ericson 39 handled very poorly off the wind and he wondered if I would be interested in redesigning the stern of UNICORN to cure this handling issue. By this point in the conversation I am really depressed. ” You want me to “fix” a Bruce King design? No, not interested.” “Besides why would you custom build another guy’s custom design? That’s like using his toothbrush!” Doug’s a bit laconic so I suppose there was some dead air on the phone at that point. Then Doug said, “What would you ;propose?” I suggested he give me a few days and I would do a preliminary design for him. Doug agreed and said he’d be by on Tuesday afternoon, as I recall. I had about 4 days to come up with an idea for a custom 40′ boat for Doug Fryer. No problem.

 

 

I remember staring at the big sheet of vellum, most probably striking a confident pose to impress the rest of the office. Damn! What to draw? BINGO! Doug loves AFICAN STAR. He should, it’s a great looking boat. I’ll just draw a 41′ version of AFRICAN STAR and put a modern underbody and keel on it. Piece of cake. I think I still have that very first drawing. It was just a sailplan, a “picture” of the boat. Doug showed up mid afternoon on Tuesday. Doug is kind of imposing. He’s not tall but he’s built like a running back. He has a shiny bald head and a deep baritone voice. He says serious things. He smiles when he talks about boats. He stood there, silently, looking at my sailplan. Finally he looked up, smiled and said, “I like it.” I had given him a look that he was very familiar with. It was a smart design move on my part.

 

The design

 Of course, as mentioned, the overall look for NIGHT RUNNER came directly from AFRICAN STAR. But that’s just the part you see above the water. I wanted the new NR to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At the time, 1980, I was pretty full of myself, imagine that. My two tonner  HEATHER had been dominant to the point that YACHING magazine credited or blamed HEATHER with ‘destroying Class A racing in the PNW”. UNION JACK my quarter tonner “mini HEATHER” was unbeatable above and below the border. I was pretty sure then as now that I know how to draw a fast hull. But NR would not be an IOR boat. The gloves were off for this one. For inspiration I looked to the old Uffa Fox International 14 One Design Class. I knew these boats well from my own early dinghy racing days on Lake Washington. I’m not sure why that particular hull came to mind but it did. I think if you squint a bit you may see some similarities.

 

The bow is on the full side. I needed a full line to the deck in plan view to get the character I wanted of an old cutter type. The half angle of entry is 22 degrees. That’s two degree finer than a Valiant 40. A modern high performance boat might have a half angle of entry of almost half that. The forward sections ate U shaped but there is some deadrise forward. From this deadrise forward I faired into a midsection with no deadrise. I wanted a midsection that was tangent across the centerline, like an old I-14. My reason for this was I wanted to run the wood veneers unbroken across the centerline. Like the old I-14’s. We will talk about this feature more later. Bottom line is that NR has a very dinghy like mid section. Once I got to around station 6 I re introduced the deadrise. I have ten degrees of deadrise at the “buttwater” ( opposite of cutwater?) I wanted deadrise aft even if it wasn’t the fastest shape. I hate those “suppository” shape transoms and with some deadrise aft I could add a hint of reverse in the transom to give it a pleasant shape. NR’s transom is very pretty. This hull was quite a change to the IOR shapes I had been drawing. Funny thing is that I noticed yesterday, looking at the old, original line plan, that I had laid out fwd and aft girth curves. So at some point I must have worked out an IOR rating for NR. Not sure what it was. NR never raced IOR so it doesn’t matter. In 2006 NR had a PHRF rating of 76.

I received a note from my buddy Matt who has sailed many ocean and PNW miles on NIGHT RUNNER:

Bob, I found an IOR certificate for Night Runner.  Back in the day the Vic-Maui required everyone to race under IOR.  Doug raced locally under PHRF, she just wouldn’t be competitive in IOR.  When she raced to Maui she was giving time to boats much larger.

 

IOR L is 39.5 feet. 

 

She’s a great all around boat, pretty much the same performance as a J-35 upwind (speed and point).  She’s really good in light air, and trucks downwind, so light on the helm and stable.  When we crossed line on the Vic-Maui in 2000, we were in flat water (no help from the waves), wind in the mid 20’s and speed around 12.  There was quite a trough .  But we were pretty happy drinking our rituals from the dog bowls.

 

 

Yes, I did give NR a skeg hung rudder. I was still big on skegs back then. I also think that considering Doug was coming off the mother of all full keelers, AFRICAN STAR, a spade rudder would have been a hard sell. I honestly don’t remember discussing it. When, many years later cruising up the coast of Mexico the skeg feel off Doug called me and asked for some drawings so they could get it rebuilt. I asked him how the boat handled without the skeg. He said, “Better.”

 

NIGHT RUNNER has gone through three keel mods. Originally the boat drew  7′. A couple years later we added a 12″ deep timber shoe to increase the draft. A couple years after that the wooden keel shoe was replaced with the same volume of lead and that amount of lead was removed from the top of the keel and a timber spacer was put in place. The  fin is a NACA A010-12 foil in the middle of the span tapering down with the same half breadths towards the root and tapering up with the same half breadths towards the tip. In other words at any waterline, at any chord location, say 40%, the thickness of the foil would be the same. This had worked well on HEATHER and UNION JACK. My thinking was that a fin stalls first at the tip so why not have a fatter foil there. And, with the hull providing an end plate of sorts at the root why not have a thinner foil there? I was very scientific.

 

The rig was designed to have that old cutter look with a big foretriangle for carrying genoa and staysail. The J of 22′ is a bit excessive and I probably should have moved the mast forward or shortened the bowsprit but the resultant look might have been a bit odd. Short tacking NR with that huge 150%+ genoa was a bit of a chore. But the boat went to weather fine and loved a good power reach.

 

The interior layout was based on Doug’s requirements and has port and starboard pilot berths and a nice galley. I used an indented, offset companionway to open up some room in the aft cabin where I tucked in a double berth for Doug. This worked very well but with that companionway moved forward of the aft end of the cabin trunk a dodger is impossible. At the 30 year anniversary party for NR I talked to Doug’s wife and she complained about not having a dodger. I told her that I could fix that easily with a nice new 50′ version of NR. She said she had suggested that to Doug but his response had been, ” They will have to carry my dead and lifeless body off NR before I get rid of it,” Damn! I always dreamed of a 50′ ULDB version of NR.

 

 


 

The build

 

 

J.J. Cale sang:

 “After midnight we’re going to let it all hang out.”

Well, it’ 12.02am so I’m going to “let it all hang out”.

He also sang.:

“After midnight, all’s going to be peaches and cream.”

I have to tell you that it wasn’t peaches and cream when I had to deal with Cecil Lange, the builder of NR. Not sure what the problem was. Probably it was a case of the old smart ass versus the young smart ass. I didn’t even like the way Cecil shook hands. I’m a guitar player and I have an intimate relationship with my fingers but Cecil’s hand shake could leave indentations on a yellow cedar 2 by 6. I like a firm hand shake but really? The good news was that while the old Kiwi Cecil ran the yard it was his son Bob Lange who did the actual building and Bob for sure is a peach.

 

My first trip to the yard during the actual build process was to check the lofting. This was 1980 and computer produced and faired lines were still a ways off. NR’s lines were drawn by hand at ¾” tom the foot scale. To get this to full size for pattern making required the age old skill of lofting, i.e. drawing the full lines plan on the floor full size. This is necessary because at ¾” to the foot even a highly skilled draftsman is going to have some error. I learned lines drawing from a true master of the arty, Yves-Marie Tanton, when I was at the Carter office. I knew my lines were as fair as any but full sized lofting was still required.

 

I pulled my big Mercedes into Cecil’s parking  lot and even before I could get out Cecil walked over to me and said, through the window, in his Kiwi accent, “Now don’t get excited Bob but your wife just called and she thinks she’s going  into labor.”  Great. There I was in Port Townsend and my wife is going into labor in Seattle with our first child. I went in to check the lofting. Years later when Chuck Schiff was lofting MERIDIAN he called me and asked, “What’s the tolerance for lofting?” Tolerance? Tolerance? There’s not tolerance in lofting! You are either spot on or you are off and you must correct so that all intersections agree, in all views, plan, profile and sections. Cecil’s lofting of NR was a mess. It was clear that while he had drawn all three views full size he had not bothered to resolve the small intersection differences required to produce a fair hull. I carefully explained to Cecil exactly what I wanted to see and how to go about it. Cecil nodded. When I got in the car to drive home Cecil walked over to the car and said, through the window, “I’m not going to draw more lines on the floor just to be drawing lines on the floor. I’ll fair the hull with battens after I have the mold frames up.” I knew this was one way to do it but I also knew it gave Cecil some license that I did not want him to have. I wanted all the control over the shape of the hull. But I lost that argument. To his credit Cecil produced a very fair hull faithful to my lines as far as I could tell.

 

A kind of funny moment, kind of occurred when Cecil was interviewed for a magazine article. The article was highlighting his New Zealand origins and his “old world” approach to boat building. NR was under construction at the yard at that time so Cecil took the reporter out to the yard and commenced to show her the “old school” way of establishing the centerline of the cabin trunk  top. Cecil would have to do it the old way because he “did not have enough details from the designer”. I read this and went bat shit. I called Cecil up and said, “What the hell are you talking about. I sent you a drawing, deck lines, with dimensions all over it for the cabin trunk.” Cecil responded,’ “I know Bob but I had to do something to show her my boatbuilding skills.” Something like that. And that is why to this day the cabin trunk on NR has never looked right to my eye.

 

The next head butting episode was over the number and thickness of veneers in the hull. I wanted eight thin veneers. Cecil wanted four thicker veneers. His was saved labor. He won that argument. The Cecil announced that he would not wrap the veneers across the hull as I had spec’d. Too much labor spiling both sides of the boat separately. His way you only needed to spile ( shape) the veneers on one side and duplicate that spiling on the other. I lost that argument too. Many years later Doug would tell me that my way was probably the better way.

 

But these minor hiccups faded away as the beautiful NR took shape. The boat was launched and it floated right on it’s designed lines. Everyone was happy, especially Doug. If memory serves I think the build cost of NR was a bit over $150,000. Times have changed.

 I just got this email from Doug:

Yes I got it. I’ve actually been
out on NR since last Thursday. The earlier race history has pretty well faded
into the past. I know we won our class in Tri island several times and in
Center Sound did well. One first in class Grand Prix. Probably the best is
Swiftsure 1st overall 1998, 2011 and 2013. 1st in class 5
times, a 2d overall in 2000, 3d overall 2004. 1st div II Van Isle
360 in 2009. 1st to finish in division Victoria Maui 1984, 1986, 2000 and
2006. 

 

Her sailing qualities are best
illustrated by a delivery trip, not a race. In 1986 four of us sailed her back
from Hanalei Bay, Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands to Port Townsend Washington a
distance of about 2500 nautical miles in 12 days, 17 hours at an average speed
of 8 knots. We had five day runs of 200 miles or better. The best day was
reaching with a double head rig and two reefs in the main and we averaged
better than 9 knots for 24 hours. . The bow hawse pipes were whistling. She is
easily driven and has the most responsive yet gentle feel at the helm of any
vessel I have sailed. If I were to build another boat I cannot think of
anything I would change.

 

In my next blog entry I’ll talk about sailing  and racing NIGHT RUNNER.

                            Please visit my web site http://www.perryboat.com/

Watching out for UV damage to sails

Thu, 2014-09-25 10:49

We’ve been in Penang for a couple of days now, catching up on projects. This afternoon, after the sun disappeared behind the condos backing the marina and the air cooled, Jamie and I took a walk around and looked at the other boats. Primary takeaway: the sun, she is strong!

Many boats had some degree of the damage shown here: a protective cover worn thin from UV (see the tear?), with stitching so rotted it’s literally breaking apart in place. Is the UV strip material a low quality knockoff? Not sure. Was UV resistant PTFE thread used? Highly unlikely. Sailmakers don’t like this thread because it’s expensive and difficult to work with. Sailors resist it because it’s so costly that it adds meaningfully to the overall cost of a new sail. Still, it’s a lot cheaper than replacing the stitching after several years in the tropics- or procrastinating on the re-stitching, and finding yourself in need of a new sail some years sooner than expected.

This sail has a UV cover, although it’s harder to tell because it’s white. But see how the webbing is exposed in the clew? It’s now the weak link: webbing should be sewn beneath cover, too. It would also be better to get that sail furled in all the way instead of leaving the triangle of windage.

Here’s another boat that couldn’t be bothered to furl properly, and has webbing outside the UV cover. Classic shortcut in a lower end loft, according to Mr Salty.

Better than keeping sails covered with UV cloth is not to have them on deck at all. That’s not practical for actively cruising boats, but we see boats that are clearly not moving for long periods and still have all the sails bent on. Down the dock is a catamaran we remember from Mexico. For about three years, the owner(s) have been working locally. They’re probably not sailing at all, since the running rigging is down, so why are the sails still on? A 38′ cat with just two people on board should have room to stow them. Sunbrella has a finite useful life when subjected to UV.

We’re not above reproach. Totem’s genoa is in a pathetic state. The UV strip began failing more than a year ago, and now waves in tattered flaps even when furled. We have spare Sunbrella, but not a sewing machine on board, so it’s gone wanting. I jokingly refer to the fluttering as our string of prayer flags, but it’s nothing to be proud of. On the other hand, it is a kind of twisted advertising as it has literally brought customers to Jamie. People have stopped to introduce themselves and talk about local sailmaking options- because clearly, we need help! They subsequently learn Jamie represents a loft, and he’s now sold sails to cruisers we met in this unusual fashion.

Still, it’s nothing to be proud of and the truth is that we can’t wait to replace this sail. Jamie’s worked out the specs and it will soon be on order. It will be a little bigger at 110%, and made from much better sailcloth: a compromise between being small enough to deal with higher windspeeeds, while big enough to offer better performance.

Earlier in the day, Niall helped Jamie measure up our storm stays’l- photo at top. The prior owner used to keep it on the inner headstay, and you can see the color difference in the UV strip where the sun faded it. It’s in okay shape, but there’s a point at which fading becomes irreparable damage. Happily the sail passed muster. It’s not ideal as a storm sail but managed fined the one time we used it. Still, the sailmaker is tinkering in preparation for our Indian Ocean crossing.

Enlightened sailors know you love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

Wed, 2014-09-24 20:25

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that I’ve been thinking about jury-steering systems ever since my little adventure back in January aboard the catamaran Be Good Too. One thing I’ve wondered is whether we might have managed to save the boat if we’d had a proper drogue onboard to try steering with. If we’d been able to neutralize the effect of the bent port rudder, which was constantly steering the boat to starboard, by either losing the rudder entirely (not really feasible) or by letting it swing freely (which would have been easy if we’d known the rudder was bent before we “fixed” it), I’m quite certain the boat could have been steered with a properly sized drogue. The more pertinent question is whether or not a drogue could have overcome the steering bias created by the damaged port rudder to allow us to control the boat in spite of it.

In retrospect there’s no way of knowing that for sure, and to have definitively answered the question at the time we needed access to a good drogue. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually carried any sort of a drogue or sea anchor on any bluewater boat I’ve owned, but ever since we abandoned Be Good Too I’ve been thinking I should at least carry a drogue.

Coincidentally, in the January 2014 issue of Cruising World, which came out not long before we set sail on Be Good Too, editor Mark Pillsbury described in his Editor’s Log column how he’d gone out sailing with Michael and Ken Keyworth on Chasseur, a Swan 44 (see photo up top), and cruised all around Narragansett Bay steering only with a Galerider drogue. Since then the experiments conducted by the Keyworth brothers have been more widely publicized, and a full write-up, by brother Michael, can be studied here.

There’s also a nifty viddy that has been posted on YouTube:

The most pertinent points raised in Michael’s report and video are: a) to steer his 44-foot 28,000-pound Swan he found a 30-inch Galerider worked best, yielding the most control with the smallest reduction in speed (about 1 knot); and b) the drogue is only effective for steering if the two lines making up its steering bridle are led well forward of the transom, more toward the middle of the boat, so the boat can pivot on its keel and the transom can swing freely.

Since January I also came across an article by John Harries, published at his Attainable Adventure Cruising website, in which he describes streaming a Galerider drogue from the windward side of the bow of his boat while hove to so as to keep the bow from falling off the wind. This struck me as an absolutely brilliant idea, as most modern boats (mine included) do have a pronounced tendency to fall off on to a near beam reach when heaving to, and this promises to be an effective antidote to that problem.

Diagram by John Harries, showing his streaming of a drogue from the bow while hove to versus Larry Pardey’s technique of streaming a sea anchor on a bridle at an angle from the bow. The attitude of the boat relative to the wind and waves in both instances is similar, but to lie to the drogue you need to carry some sail so as to drive the boat a bit forward and sideways

I’ve been revisiting the topic, as I am now getting Lunacy ready to sail south for the winter, and just today ordered a Galerider drogue of my own. The one big question in my mind, of course, was what size to get.

Steve Dashew with a really big Galerider drogue aboard his 83-foot powerboat Wind Horse

Check out the website of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond, creators of the Galerider, and you’ll see that for a boat my size and weight (39 feet, 21,000 pounds) they recommend a drogue with an open diameter of 36 inches. Study Michael’s information up there, and you’ll see that in his steering test with a 36-inch drogue his boat was about half a knot slower than it was dragging the 30-inch drogue. Both drogues were effective for steering, but he considered the 30-inch model to be optimal.

I discussed the size question with Wes Oliver at Hathaway and explained to him I thought I was much more likely to use the drogue for steering or heaving to than I was as a straight drag device in extreme conditions. I asked if he was familiar with John Harries’ heaving-to technique, and he said he was and that a few customers had purchased drogues for just that purpose. He had no hard information, however, on what size drogue works best in this application.

So I ordered the 36-inch model. Overkill, I figure, is usually better than underkill, especially when it comes to emergencies on boats. If I do somehow lose my rudder and end up having to steer with this thing, being half a knot slower than I might have been will likely be the least of my worries.

PS: John’s excellent article on heaving to with a drogue is no longer available for free, and to read it you must now pay to subscribe to his site.

PPS: Another thing you can do with a drogue is stream it behind you when running inlets plagued by breaking waves. The drogue will keep you from broaching and wiping out when a wave hits you the wrong way. John C. Voss, in his famous book 40,000 Miles In A Canoe, was a proponent of this technique and describes it briefly in the book’s appendix.

GALERIDER DROGUE: For Steering and Heaving To

Wed, 2014-09-24 20:25

You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that I’ve been thinking about jury-steering systems ever since my little adventure back in January aboard the catamaran Be Good Too. One thing I’ve wondered is whether we might have managed to save the boat if we’d had a proper drogue onboard to try steering with. If we’d been able to neutralize the effect of the bent port rudder, which was constantly steering the boat to starboard, by either losing the rudder entirely (not really feasible) or by letting it swing freely (which would have been easy if we’d known the rudder was bent before we “fixed” it), I’m quite certain the boat could have been steered with a properly sized drogue. The more pertinent question is whether or not a drogue could have overcome the steering bias created by the damaged port rudder to allow us to control the boat in spite of it.

In retrospect there’s no way of knowing that for sure, and to have definitively answered the question at the time we needed access to a good drogue. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually carried any sort of a drogue or sea anchor on any bluewater boat I’ve owned, but ever since we abandoned Be Good Too I’ve been thinking I should at least carry a drogue.

Coincidentally, in the January 2014 issue of Cruising World, which came out not long before we set sail on Be Good Too, editor Mark Pillsbury described in his Editor’s Log column how he’d gone out sailing with Michael and Ken Keyworth on Chasseur, a Swan 44 (see photo up top), and cruised all around Narragansett Bay steering only with a Galerider drogue. Since then the experiments conducted by the Keyworth brothers have been more widely publicized, and a full write-up, by brother Michael, can be studied here.

There’s also a nifty viddy that has been posted on YouTube:

The most pertinent points raised in Michael’s report and video are: a) to steer his 44-foot 28,000-pound Swan he found a 30-inch Galerider worked best, yielding the most control with the smallest reduction in speed (about 1 knot); and b) the drogue is only effective for steering if the two lines making up its steering bridle are led well forward of the transom, more toward the middle of the boat, so the boat can pivot on its keel and the transom can swing freely.

Since January I also came across an article by John Harries, published at his Attainable Adventure Cruising website, in which he describes streaming a Galerider drogue from the windward side of the bow of his boat while hove to so as to keep the bow from falling off the wind. This struck me as an absolutely brilliant idea, as most modern boats (mine included) do have a pronounced tendency to fall off on to a near beam reach when heaving to, and this promises to be an effective antidote to that problem.

Diagram by John Harries, showing his streaming of a drogue from the bow while hove to versus Larry Pardey’s technique of streaming a sea anchor on a bridle at an angle from the bow. The attitude of the boat relative to the wind and waves in both instances is similar, but to lie to the drogue you need to carry some sail so as to drive the boat a bit forward and sideways

I’ve been revisiting the topic, as I am now getting Lunacy ready to sail south for the winter, and just today ordered a Galerider drogue of my own. The one big question in my mind, of course, was what size to get.

Steve Dashew with a really big Galerider drogue aboard his 83-foot powerboat Wind Horse

Check out the website of Hathaway, Reiser and Raymond, creators of the Galerider, and you’ll see that for a boat my size and weight (39 feet, 21,000 pounds) they recommend a drogue with an open diameter of 36 inches. Study Michael’s information up there, and you’ll see that in his steering test with a 36-inch drogue his boat was about half a knot slower than it was dragging the 30-inch drogue. Both drogues were effective for steering, but he considered the 30-inch model to be optimal.

I discussed the size question with Wes Oliver at Hathaway and explained to him I thought I was much more likely to use the drogue for steering or heaving to than I was as a straight drag device in extreme conditions. I asked if he was familiar with John Harries’ heaving-to technique, and he said he was and that a few customers had purchased drogues for just that purpose. He had no hard information, however, on what size drogue works best in this application.

So I ordered the 36-inch model. Overkill, I figure, is usually better than underkill, especially when it comes to emergencies on boats. If I do somehow lose my rudder and end up having to steer with this thing, being half a knot slower than I might have been will likely be the least of my worries.

PS: John’s excellent article on heaving to with a drogue is no longer available for free, and to read it you must now pay to subscribe to his site.

PPS: Another thing you can do with a drogue is stream it behind you when running inlets plagued by breaking waves. The drogue will keep you from broaching and wiping out when a wave hits you the wrong way. John C. Voss, in his famous book 40,000 Miles In A Canoe, was a proponent of this technique and describes it briefly in the book’s appendix.

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