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Infant Rescued from Cruising Boat 900 Miles Off Cabo

Mon, 2014-04-07 13:36

There’s been an ongoing rescue of a one-year-old baby from the cruising boat Rebel Heart, which is about 900 miles west of Cabo San Lucas. They haven’t clarified what the illness is, but it’s been an elaborate rescue, complete with mid-air refuelings, medics dropped from air and landed aboard, extraction of the infant, and a happy ending.

The whole episode is tweeted on the California Air National Guard Twitter feed, with photos, links to relevant articles, and updates.

The Congressional Cup at Fifty

Sun, 2014-04-06 18:02

Posted April 6, 2014

Half a century on from the inaugural, the 50th Congressonal Cup is a survivor and still a leader.

It’s a spirit thing that powers the heart of the Long Beach Yacht Club.

Thanks to viewing from a pier and bleachers, it’s spectator-friendly.

And it’s a standalone. From its just-us-folks beginnings, this thing spiraled up in a hurry and made its own place in the world. Tying the Congressional Cup to a circuit just never worked out. Tying it to a title sponsor just never worked out. But we know now that those things never had to work out. Chairing the various features of a Congressional Cup are each a rung on the ladder to chairing the event itself, which in turn is a rung on the long ladder to a place in “the flags,” as sailors call their serving club officers. Add a few hundred Long Beach Yacht Club volunteers brimming with enthusiasm and passion, and you have the formula that keeps the sailors coming back. They come because they like it, because they’re happy here, because they feel the love.

Photos from the Congressional Cup Facebook page

Second from the left, Dennis Durgan

The 50th Congressional Cup kicked off Saturday night with celebrations aboard the Queen Mary and continued on Sunday with the “Heritage Regatta” for past winners, including Dennis Durgan, Skip Allan, Scott Perry, Dave Perry and Tommy Pickard. Durgan came out on top . . .

Racing continues with two days of racing for the Ficker Cup, with the top four advancing to further flights and cuts until we have a final-two match and a 2014 Congressional Cup champion on Sunday.

Fifty years ago, it made sense-enough to stage match racing in bring-your-own Cal 40s. Then came the club’s commitment to matched sails, to even things out. Now, behind an even bigger commitment, the entire region benefits from having a fleet of foundation-owned, identical Catalina 37s available for other events as well. On-the-water umpiring? Just one of the many things we take for granted today that began at the Congressional Cup.

Through the years, the event has had its identity crises. Should the Congressional Cup have a bucks-up title sponsor? No. Title sponsors come and go, trailing turmoil, and the Cup is here to stay. Should it be part of a bigger, international circuit with a pot of prize money? The answer, again, was no. Not if Long Beach Yacht Club wanted to run its own show. And the winner’s Crimson Blazer is a big deal in itself, worn by the likes of Ted Turner, Bill Ficker, and Dennis Conner, who declares, “Winning the Congressional Cup launched my America’s Cup career, because whoever won the Congressional Cup was looked upon as the best match racer in the world.”

You can find event details at LBYC Congressional Cup or meet the all-time players in video at . . .

I’m not on the scene for the 50th, but even at a distance, over the phone or in the email trail, I can feel the energy. Things are UP in Long Beach this week.

And people wonder why I’ve got this grin—Kimball

Shaft Razor long test, with a look at the competition

Sat, 2014-04-05 12:00

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

There are still patches of icy snow left from a memorable March in Maine, but I enjoyed a recent afternoon wandering around the boatyard checking out shaft cutters. Pictured above is the Shaft Razor that’s been protecting Gizmo from line wraps since the spring of 2010. Like my stainless rudder it picked up a lot of barnacles last fall, but that double set of super-sharp serrated teeth were still quite effective. The Shaft Razor is also a good value that has required zero maintenance, and while I saw some interesting competition around the yard, I wouldn’t trade it…

First, here’s a closer look at the Shaft Razor that better shows its simple one-piece design and diabolical teeth. The precise CNC machining is done in Rockland, Maine, by the Evolution Company (which also manufactures a nifty fuel-efficient, vibration-dampening shaft system). Installing the Razor did require the removal of Gizmo’s prop, but the worst case failure entails two set screws letting go, which is doubtful and would still leave me with a repairable Razor.
   I don’t believe that any running gear protection system is 100% effective; eventually, some line or net will find a way to foul itself on your rudder or shaft nut or somewhere. But the Razor has worked very well over many miles now, often in waters so thick with lobster trap buoys that, “You could snowshoe across them”!  I try hard to avoid them, and I know the tricks — like not to pass close to a pot warp that’s streaming downcurrent away from me. Sometimes, when the inevitable happens, I have to back down to bring the offending line to the cutter, but Gizmo has never gotten hung up and I’ve only had to go overboard to clear some annoying remains once. (For that purpose, I carry a wet suit, a mask, a fabulous Sailor’s Solutions Hooknife, and a pair of kevlar gloves to protect me from my Razor.) 

So, I’m not surprised that the simple disc-style shaft cutter is quite popular, at least in Maine. I didn’t bring a clipboard, but at least two-thirds of about 50 mid-size power and sailboats stored outside around Wayfarer Marine have cutters of some kind, and about two-thirds of those are disc type. However, I don’t understand why I saw a lot more Shaft Sharks than Shaft Razors. The Shark does have the same aggressive serrated outer blade, and some sizes are available in easier-to-install split versions, but I really like how the forward facing blade on the Shaft Razor is also serrated.
   I’ve heard that a severe line wrap between the prop and aft shaft bearing can damage that bearing, so I like the idea of sharp teeth eating away at that sort of wrap as it forms. Do we all agree that serrations cut line much better than the straight blade seen above on the front of the Shaft Shark? For the same reason, the single straight blade on the Prop Protector disc doesn’t seem as effective. Plus the 4 11/16″ Shaft Razor that fits Gizmo’s 2″ shaft cost $386 retail, while a similar Shaft Shark split disc discounts at $529. Am I missing something?

The other cutters I saw in the yard were all of the scissor/chopper style and most were the popular Spurs Marine brand. The particularly heavy duty choppers above are not Spurs — I can’t identify the brand — but the photo nicely illustrates the general idea, which looks quite effective but is also darn complicated to manufacture and install. The after blade ring simply spins with the shaft, just like a disc cutter, but the forward blade ring remains stationary, held in place by that big spring-dampened stopper, while the shaft spins within an internal bearing. You are looking at three serrated line guillotines!

There’s an interesting third design style called a ”shavercutter” and represented by the Quickwater Marine quickKutter from Australia, but I’ve never seen one in the flesh. I’ll close with a “belt and suspenders” rig seen on the seasoned cruiser below. This boat is not only equipped with Spurs, but also has two custom stainless steel appendages designed to keep lines from getting near the prop in the first place. If you know of other protection schemes or have experience with the ones I’ve listed, please don’t be shy…

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

My favorite shot of Frankie (that’s what we call the boat)

Fri, 2014-04-04 16:51

I had a very weird dream last night that all my photos of Frankie were dissapearing from my computer and only visible on my iphone. So I thought I had better post this view of Frankie before it sails away into my iphone forever.

Kim motyored Frankie over to Shilshole Marina this morning. It was choppy and blowing 15 to 20. He hit a big tugboat wake and a freighter wake. He was very impressed at the boats’s lack of reaction to the waves. He said it was “rock steady”. I questioned him about slamming going into the steep head sea chop we get so often around here. He said there was no pounding or slamming at all. Interesting. Maybe it has to do with such a small frontal area to the boat. I would have thought that with our extremely flat rocker the boat would have slammed a time or two into a head chop. Glad I was wrong. I love it when my client is happy.

CAT PPALU: Great Salvage Video

Fri, 2014-04-04 10:57

Gotta hand it to Randy West. He knows how to bounce right back after getting slapped down hard. You’ll recall his classic 75-foot Peter Spronk catamaran, Ppalu, sank last month in St. Maarten during the Heineken Regatta. (This right after Randy got done with a 7-month refit of the boat.) Now you can watch a properly produced Rick Moore video on how the old girl was salvaged:

You’ll also learn a bit about the history of the boat, starting with when Randy was one of 200 people who helped pick her up and walk her into the water when she was first launched in St. Maarten over 30 years ago.

The salvage operation was pretty dicey, as the boat couldn’t be refloated on her hulls in situ. In the end they had to tow her with nothing but float bags holding her up, through the bridge into Simpson Bay Lagoon, right in the middle of the Heineken Regatta.

If she had slipped off the bags and sunk in the channel, that would have pretty much mashed up the regatta… and the whole Dutch side of the island, too!

The damage turned out to be extensive, as the bottom of much of the starboard hull had been ripped out.

Repairs, as you can see, are well along. For more on that, and to help with finances if so inclined, you can check out Randy’s Project Ppalu Facebook page.

Really, as noted, the most impressive thing about the viddy is Randy’s attitude. He’s cool as a cucumber throughout. My favorite bit is a sanguine little flashback he experiences in the middle of the operation: “Never salvaged a boat before. Oh, no. Sixty-eight in the Bahamas. A freighter that went aground on James Point. We salvaged a Cadillac off the deck. Wasn’t anything like this.”

A Win for Sailing Yacht Research

Thu, 2014-04-03 21:01

Posted April 3, 2014

Or we could title this, Ambitious Programs R Us.

In 2014, the first $100,000 nets $200,000 for SYRF, the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation, and we’ll come back to that and—

I know you may not have heard of the Sailing Yacht Research Foundations, except, now you have.

SYRF is carrying on the work of the MIT/Pratt project begun more than 30 years ago. That study generated what eventually became our ORCi and ORR rating systems of 2014, but as anyone would know who has ever had a conversation about yacht handicapping, there’s always room to improve.

As described by SYRF, “The tens of thousands of bits of information that comprise the intricate measurement requirements – drag and velocity, as well as handicaps and countless other standardized ratings for offshore racing sailboats – have to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation . . . While sailors strive to optimize the designs of their boats in an effort to ensure a greater chance of winning, SYRF helps to level the proverbial playing field. Through the use of technological advances in hull design, studies, tests and anticipates, SYRF attempts to “beat the rule” through the exploitation of flaws in the system. SYRF provides the technological capability to minimize those potential flaws. But this takes constant research and development so that rule-makers can properly model the fundamentals of yacht performance, staying on top of optimization trends.”

With a board of Stan Honey, Steve Benjamin, Gary Weisman, Scott Weisman and Jim Teeters, there’s no credibility gap here.

They’ve been a going concern since 2006, but SYRF is raising its profile. The Sailing Yacht Research Foundation today announced that it has reached its first 2014 fundraising goal of $100,000, qualifying for a matching grant from an anonymous donor. Now it’s fast-forward on the wide/light boat project. As in, addressing the realities of the new boats—Kimball

Wanted: Ride to 1985

Thu, 2014-04-03 19:47

I received a package today that contained three mysterious items called “cassettes”.  As I understand it, these are audio recording units from the paleolithic.  I need a quick ride back to the mid-1980s to pick up a boom-box, Sony Walkman, or similar.  Anyone with a time machine who can help me out, please leave a note in the comments.  I can pay in hilarious tales of life aboard or in cupcakes – your choice.

Afterguard heads-up display, the Recon Jet goes sailboat racing

Thu, 2014-04-03 14:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Apr 3, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

The goal is to direct your focus wherever it’s needed on or beyond the boat while still having critical data in sight.  Brand spanking new today is the Afterguard heads-up display (HUD) for racing sailors. Yes, recent America’s Cup skippers apparently used HUD sunglasses, though you’re a better researcher than I if you can find detail about how they worked and what data they provided. Afterguard intends to bring this technology down at least a few levels, and that means we get a better look at what it can do. This sort of product is more than a little out of my wheelhouse, so to speak, but it looks like this new company did its homework and made some smart decisions…

The heart of the Afterguard system is a Central Communications Unit (CCU) that can accept data in three protocols – NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000 and Seatalk — and has purportedly been tested with the output of many instrument systems (compatibility list here). Even AIS data can be processed in the CCU, though the initial software package will not have AIS overlay. The tech specs don’t say what sort of processor or operating system are in the CCU but the crunched data is broadcast over WiFi (external antenna supported) to one or more customized pairs of Recon Jet HUD sunglasses (which run Android).

The initial Afterguard system will offer three screens that the wearer can change by swiping an optical sensor on the glasses. That’s the “Start Sequence” above, which is something like the B&G H5000 start screen I saw in January. That one wasn’t showing the valuable TTK (Time To Kill) calculation but did have more info on the line distances and bias.
The Afterguard screen shown in the top photo — called “Virtual Tactician” — is designed to help with mark roundings and boat crossings, and it has an intriquing description: “By tracking the user’s gaze and combining it with the system’s data the user will be able to make split second tactical decisions without relying on a hand bearing compass, lines marked on the deck or other basic means. Simply put, the user will be able to look at another boat and gauge whether they are ahead and whether there is room to cross.”

Finally, there’s the “Performance Dashboard” screen, which obviously includes targets based on a boat’s polar data, and apparently the Afterguard system can receive the polars and do the computations itself. You can see this screen and others in action on this exciting video and/or the one on the Afterguard site.

My guess is that some racers will be excited about Afterguard “competitive edge” promise but possibly dissappointed that it won’t ship until next fall and that the buy-now price is $1899. I wonder if other companies or even enterprising teams will try to do something similar with the off-the-shelf version of Recon Jet HUD sports glasses, which are due out soon at $599 a pair. As you can see in the diagram below, the standard glasses come with quite an array of sensors and wireless communications options, plus a camera, mic, and speaker. Recon recently got backing from Intel and several tech writers are pretty excited about the Jet design, as in this Wired article and this Engadget video.
And how about a sportfisherman being able to check out his fishfinder with just a slight glance down? But no doubt many readers will think that using a HUD is silly on a boat, or anywhere, and I might have agreed…before I adopted the hearing aid, bluetooth watch, and smartphone network I use every day.

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

Rounding Cape Hatteras

Thu, 2014-04-03 09:30

It’s 0823 on Thursday morning. Sojourner is in position 35 09 N, 75 19 W. Plot that on the chart – it’s as close to Cape Hatteras as you’d ever want to be.

We made it here this morning, the outer edge of Diamond Shoals, a full three hours ahead of my most optimistic prediction of a day or so ago. That was based on six knots of boat speed, and assuming we’d be motoring to keep that, as the weather was calm and likewise the forecast. Shortly after my little math project to see if we’d have enough fuel, the SW breeze filled in and we’ve been sailing wing on wing ever since, the big genoa poled out to starboard and the main squared off to port. We earned a two-knot bonus riding the western edge of the Gulf Stream. Since yesterday morning, our speed rarely dipped below 7 knots.

In anything other than very benign conditions I’d be nowhere close to where were positioned now. In fact, were cutting the corner INSIDE the big platform marking Diamond Shoals themselves. The water quickly went from 66 degrees and 400 feet deep, to 58 degrees and 40 feet deep in the time it took my dad to go to the head. Despite the fact that its blowing only 8-10 knots from the west (and coming off the land), the deep sea swell from the south has turned into short, steep waves on the shoals, their tops tumbling off in foamy crests. With no wind, they’re harmless, but it makes you think.

We ended up so close in because I decided to jibe at 0200 last night just after Tom relieved me on the watch. I went down into my bunk up forward but couldn’t sleep. Over the course of my three hours on deck, we’d gradually had to ease towards the east as the wind slowly clocked around. With the pole set I had no options for sail trim and could only adjust our course. We were making about 060, when we needed 040 to cut it close around Hatteras. So I rose again, got my gear back on, and Tom and I furled the genoa, secured the pole and jibed the mainsail onto port tack. We redeployed the genoa and set a course for 035, the best we could do to keep wind in the sail (and not blanketed by the main). Hence six hours later, we ended up practically ON Diamond Shoals.

Yesterday was the type of day offshore that keeps you coming back. An easy breeze from the SW propelled Sojourner along bang on course, aided by the favorable current, and on a flat sea thanks to the several days of settled weather we’ve had since the little gale off Savannah. It was shorts and t-shirt weather. Schools if dolphins circled the boat and played in the bow wave almost hourly. Tom, perched at the pulpit, counted twelve at one point, bunched tightly together and escorting Sojourner towards the NE.

More wildlife joined us later in the day.

“Turtle!” Said Tom. He’d spotted it just off the starboard beam, but dad and I missed it.

“Was it big?” I asked.

“About the size of the dinghy!” Tom answered.

We’d seen bug sea turtles off the Nova Scotian coast on our way across the Atlantic in 2011, and were surmised to find them that far north. I guess this guy was heading in that direction for the summer.

We fished all day and landed three ‘little tunnies.’ Otherwise known as bonito. Dad was ready with the cheap vodka to knock him out and get him ready for the frying pan. He was beautiful, deep blue stripes on an almost reflective silver. Weird as it sounds, I saw my mom’s spirit in that fish. She believed all living things had a soul, not in a religious sense but in a spiritual one, and I saw the life in that little fish and couldn’t bring myself to take it from him. He patiently waited for me to remove the hook and I set him free to live another day. A few hours later a friend of his wound up on the hook and we did the same, releasing him back to the ocean after admiring him. Almost immediately we caught a third! Or maybe that second one was dumb enough to take the lure again. At any rate, as the sun was going down, that was the end of our fishing, and I felt strangely content with potatoes and chili for dinner.

In the time it took me to write the above, we seem to have cleared the worst of Diamond Shoals. We’re around Hatteras now, and it’s saved it’s fury for another day. The waters back to over 100 feet and those big, deep sea rollers have flattened right out. Well spend today running up Virginia Beach, and if our luck holds, will be back in the familiar waters of the Chesapeake sometime in the next 24 hours.

Knox-Johnston Entering Route du Rhum

Wed, 2014-04-02 12:11

April 2, 2014

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, 75, will return to his solo ocean racing roots this November when he takes part in French single-handed classic, the Route de Rhum on his Open 60 entry, Grey Power.

The British founder of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and first ever man to sail solo, non-stop around the world in 1968/69, will compete in the tenth anniversary edition of the 3,500 mile Transatlantic race from St Malo, France to Guadeloupe, which starts on 2 November 2014. Knox-Johnston last did this race in 1982 in his 70-foot catamaran Olympus, better known as Sea Falcon. He is the oldest participant entered so far at the age of 75. Asked why he had chosen a solo Transatlantic Race at the age of 75, Knox-Johnston responded: “Participating in the 2013 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race reminded me how much I enjoy the excitement of an ocean race. Solo sailing is where I feel most at home – no one else can benefit you or let you down – it is all in my hands. The Route de Rhum is one of the classics – it is a very well-run race.”

The race sees sailors cross the Bay of Biscay late in the year in November before reaching the kinder, yet still squally climes of the trade wind belt before finishing in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The first edition of the race in 1978 was won by Canadian Mike Birch after a nail biting finish but was marred by the disappearance of French sailor, Alain Colas, who was lost at sea.

The 2014 race is open to mono and multihull boats across four classes with almost 80 entrants. Sir Robin will be racing in the Rhum class and will start serious practice once the current Clipper Round the World Yacht Race finishes in July.

Knox-Johnston will celebrate the 45th anniversary of his inaugural circumnavigation on April 22 2014. The solo voyage took 312 days. He is the chairman and founder of Clipper Ventures which runs the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, the biannual event which sees amateur sailors from around the world completing a 40,000 mile global circumnavigation. The trans-Pacific leg of that race is now en route from Qingdao to San Francisco. Source:

A few words on rigs

Wed, 2014-04-02 10:05
I wrote this for my buddies blog. I have done several entries for him and he lets me use them here. Rigs are always fun to discuss. Everyone is an expert. I think I am an expert too. Like any discussion of yacht design elements I engage in, my first piece of advice is not to generalize. There are good sloops and bad sloops. There are good cutters and bad cutters. You get the picture. We can discuss efficiency and we can discuss personal preferences. The two can be at odds and often are. We can talk about evolution of rigs and why they became popular in the first place, i.e. handicap rule influences. I’ll also try to talk about the advantages to each rig when I think there is an advantage. And, like many other aspects of yacht design, simply saying, “I like this rig because I just like the way it looks” is a good attitude. So long as you don’t endow your favorite rig with a bunch of bogus positive attributes. I did a schooner for a client and I tried very hard to convince him that a cutter would be the better rig for what he had in mind. In the end he said, “I like schooners because I like the way they look.” End of discussion. Yoni is a custom 50′ cutter with all headsails carried
on roller furling. That’s a lot of windage forward when
you need to dock the boat in a blow. It’s pretty obvious today that the most efficient rig is a single, wing sail with variable segments that allow camber and twist control. We saw this type of rig at work in the last America’s Cup. So that is one extreme end of the rig efficiency spectrum. I’m not sure what goes at the other, far end. Maybe it’s a loose-footed sprit sail catboat?  Sliding gunter? Not sure. There are so many inefficient rigs that I shouldn’t generalize. It’s probably safe to say that none of us own boats with wing sails. However, I know that Beneteau is playing around with some wing sail models, so who knows? Maybe in a year or two wing sails will be seen on Mom and Pop boats. But not yet. The simplest rig is the catboat with one mast, one sail, one halyard (two if it’s gaff rigged, peak and throat) and one sheet. This simple rig was made famous by the Cape Cod catboats in the US. Some Cape Cod cats flew very small jibs from short bowsprits but I still think of them as catboats. I like catboats and I have sailed a few. I have spent a lot of time sailing a 12′ Beetle Cat. The downside to a cat rig is that as the boat gets larger the single sail on a long boom can become difficult to handle. Jibing a big catboat in a breeze can also be a challenge. Sometime you just have to bite the bullet and tack the boat rather than risk a flying jibe. The other quirky attribute of many catboats is that they can build up massive weather helm when pressed on a reach. We’ll talk a lot about helm balance in this entry. I always prefer a boat to have a delicate helm feel and have the ability to be driven hard without having to fight too much rudder angle. Weather helm on a traditional catboat is just part of the picture. Kind of like a bumpy ride in a Morgan sports car. Mark Ellis designed the Nonsuch series as modern catboats marrying the convenience of a one-sail rig with a modern hull form. The Ellis catboat hulls have moderate beam as opposed to the exaggerated beam of the Cape Cod type catboat.  Extreme beam can be one cause of weather helm. I have sailed the big Nonsuch, a 36′er as I recall, and I thought it balanced beautifully and had a good turn of speed. Another feature of the Nonsuch rig is that the mast is free standing, i.e. no standing rigging. This allows the mast to bend off to leeward in a breeze “depowering” the sail to help keep the boat on its feet. But the real negative side of the cat rig is its lack of versatility. When you just have one sail, the only options you have are reefing the sail.  Downwind you will not be flying a spinnaker from a Nonsuch. Although I suppose with some fussing with hardware and a bowsprit it’s possible.  If you want a rig that is truly versatile, you need to look at the sloop rig. The term “sloop rig”  includes a wide variety of types with a mainsail and a jib. The two basic sloop types would be gaff rigged and Marconi rigged. But today gaff rigs are pretty rare so let’s confine our study to the Marconi rigged sloop. I like gaff rigs but it’s hard to find a Mom and Pop production GRP boat that came with a gaff rig. I can’t think of any. So, confining our discussion to the Marconi rig the two basic sloop rigs would be masthead with the headstay going to the masthead, and fractional with the headstay going up some portion of the mast but stopping short of the masthead. The spot where the headstay hits the mast is called the “hounds”. Amati is a modern fractional sloop with a large mainsail
and small fore triangle. This is a very easy boat to sail. The masthead sloop rig can be very simple and strong. On older boats you will probably have single spreaders, fore and aft lowers, inline cap shrouds and a standing backstay. If your boat is newer and more performance oriented, you may have two sets of spreaders with inline single lower shrouds. You may even have a forward “baby stay” to help stabilize the middle section of the mast fore and aft. The more spreaders you have the lighter the mast extrusion or “section” can be. But as you reduce the mast section and add spreaders you increase the complexity of tuning the rig and at the same time you increase the scrutiny required to keep the bendier, light section in column. The mast can see a compressive load equal to the displacement of the boat so the mast must be kept “in column”. The benefits of the masthead sloop are its simplicity and strength. The drawback is that the fore triangle will most probably be large. If your boat came out of the IOR era you will have a large fore triangle and a small, perhaps even IOR minimum, main. We called these IOR mains “blades”. Not to be confused with “blade” jibs. Blade just means a tall and skinny, high aspect ratio sail. With a big fore triangle your options for reducing sail are reefing the main or changing to a smaller jib. The masthead sloops of the last 30+ years generally carried genoa jibs with overlap as high as 160% of the “J” dimension, front side of mast to headstay tack location. Overlap is measured as LP or luff perpendicular and is expressed as a percentage of the “J” dimension. So, a 153% genoa on a boat with a 16′ “J” will have an LP of 24.48′. Overlapping sails can add a lot of useful sail area but they can be a nuisance to handle and tack. There is also quite a bit of controversy over just how effective overlap is once you get beyond about 124% LP. For a full and versatile headsail inventory, your typical production masthead sloop would need to carry at least three headsails to be ready for a range of conditions. That does not include a spinnaker or a storm jib. I would guess a 150% genny, a 120% genny and a 95% jib would be a reasonable headsail inventory. But today with almost everyone using roller furling I see a lot of sailors trying to get by on one all-purpose jib. It works, sort of. But in many conditions you are going to be compromised if you try and make one headsail fit all conditions. I grew up changing headsails to fit the conditions. Modern, matrix type sail fabric can help a lot if you are after a multi-purpose genoa. As part of the trickledown effect from racing classes, cruisers soon realized that the fractional sloop rig with its small fore triangle and large mainsail was a far easier rig to use than the old masthead rig. For one thing, the big sail, the mainsail, is on the boom so that alone makes it easier to handle. With a small fore triangle, jib size is no longer so critical. Now you can get by very comfortably with two jibs. With the mast moved forward for the fractional rig and the headstay hounds dropped, the fore triangle is reduced in size so jib overlap is no longer so  important. Your main is now the important sail. Now jib LP’s can be reduced to 120% of “J” or even less. The less overlap the easier it is to tack the jib. On my own boat with a fractional rig, I used a 100% jib for heavy air and a 120% jib the rest of the time. If you fly an asymmetrical spinnaker (i.e. cruising chute) from the masthead, the gap between the hounds and the masthead makes it easier to fly the chute as it gets it away from the headstay. Another benefit of the fractional rig is that now the mast has been moved forward. The “frac” rigged boat will sail much better under mainsail alone than will most masthead rigged sloops with their masts further aft. The frac rigged boat will also have a better helm feel under main alone. You still need your jib up to get the most out of the boat but sometimes we feel lazy and we may not feel like reefing or changing jibs. Free Range Chicken is a modern frac rigged sloop for long distance cruising Regarding this “fraction”; you will hear a “7/8th‘s rig” or an “80% rig” This is the percentage of “I”, mast height, up the mast to where the hounds are located. But it’s not important. I never calculate it. I just use target sail areas and distribution of sail area to determine the height of the headstay. I don’t think I’ll talk about styles of standing rigging this time. Needless to say almost every new Mom and Pop production boat has swept spreaders. This means one set of chainplates so it’s a cheaper boat to build than the old fore, cap and aft shroud, inline rig. It’s a better rig as it is cleaner and easier to tack the jib around. The Baba 30 is a typical bowsprit cutter. She was always well balanced. I think I have designed more cutter rigs than any other living designer. I won’t count them for you but trust me. I know the cutter rig. I have sailed many different cutters. The cutter has been around forever. I think the current popularity of the cutter rig comes from the early 70′s when the Westsail was introduced.  Prior to that, the knee jerk rig choice for an offshore cruising boat was the ketch rig. I followed the Westsail 32 with the Valiant 40 and the Tayana 37 and in no time the cutter rig was the automatic choice for the cruiser. Why? Having three working sails gave you more options than having two. Instead of reefing the main you could drop the outer jib, sometimes a Yankee jib, and fly a staysail and mainsail. Often this loaded up the boat with weather helm as the center of pressure moved aft. A better way to reduce sail would be to reef the main first. Then drop the Yankee. Obviously this sail reduction sequence will vary with the boat’s handling characteristics and your personal sailing style. But in general, getting the main reefed moves the center of pressure of the rig forward and in so doing, reefing the main first will reduce weather helm. A bad way to reduce sail on a cutter is to drop the staysail first. This leaves you under full main and Yankee with a big hole between those two sails. It is not efficient. Your headsail and your main want to function basically like one big foil. Most Yankees have high clews so their center of pressure is high and this adds to heeling moment. I’m not a huge fan of high clewed Yankees.  My rule of thumb is that the clew of the Yankee should be no higher than I can reach when the boat is heeled over. If I were going to rig a cutter for myself to use in the PNW I would have the outer jib cut more like a 135% genoa with the clew maybe just a bit above the top lifeline. It would be more of a genoa than a Yankee. I would not use the staysail for beating. I’d only use the staysail for reaching in conjunction with the genny or alone in heavy air. In most cutters your best performance to weather, i.e. your best VMG (velocity made good) will be achieved without the staysail. Trying to get three sails lined up and drawing well hard on the wind is only possible on a fat, non weatherly hull where your AWA (apparent wind angle) would be 40 degrees or more. The staysail can work. But if you are looking for an AWA closer to 34 to 32 degrees, as I would on a Valiant 40, then the staysail is not going to help. It will just suffocate the mainsail. A trick I do with the staysail when running downwind is to pole out the genoa or Yankee to weather. Then drop the staysail and unhank it from the inner forestay. Next I move the tack of the staysail forward to where the tack of the genoa or Yankee is. I hoist the staysail “flying” – not attached to any headstay or inner forestay. I trim to leeward. Doing this gets the staysail out from the bad air of the mainsail. I’m not sure this would be good for your staysail if you were running downwind for three days, but cruising around the Sound I can’t imagine it does any harm. Downwind the loads on the luff are relatively light. I’ve mucked around racing cutters for years and this is what my own experiments in sail choice and trim have taught me. In last year’s Race Your House race, for liveaboards, I raced my pal Donn’s Baba 35, pilot house model. This is hardly a race boat and is about as cruisy as it can get. We had good sails and I had Donn, his wife, Kerry and an Australian buddy of mine for crew.  We were racing against a diverse class of boats and many were newer fin keel types. We placed second in class and beat a lot of boats boat-for-boat that should have beaten us. We had a good breeze for most of the race and we drove the boat very hard. We made that traditional cutter go. We did not use the staysail except off the wind. White Eagle (now Wild Horses) is another modern version of the cutter rig I’ll tell you what annoys me a wee bit. I hate those cute names like “slutter” and “cutter rigged sloop” or the worst one, “cutter rigged ketch”. We already have all the terms we need to describe rigs that have been around for 200 years.  A sloop is a sloop. If someone chooses to add a staysail it’s still a sloop. If someone has a staysail on their ketch the boat is still just a ketch. I’m not in favor of adding a staysail to a sloop. Generally the mast of a sloop is further forward than that of a cutter so there is little room in the fore triangle to jam another jib. But I understand the appeal of the staysail for heavy air. It’s very convenient. I also like to see the sail area forward for a blow. When the boat is on its ear it will build up weather helm. Keeping sail area forward will help. If I owned a sloop and I wanted to carry a staysail for heavy air I would locate the tack of the staysail as far forward as possible, right on the stem fitting if there was room for it (There usually isn’t). I’d locate the hounds for the staysail at the upper spreader if I had two spreaders. This would be what I call a “Solent rig”. It’s pretty much changing the rig from masthead geometry to fractional geometry and it keeps the center of pressure forward. I said “don’t generalize” then I spent 2,300 words generalizing. But I think there are some nuggets of rig wisdom here. I’ll take a look at “split rigs”, i.e. ketches, yawls and schooners in another follow-up blog entry. -BP Want more of Bob Perry’s perspective on sailing and sailboat design? Get it here:

I’m trying something new today

Wed, 2014-04-02 09:24

These wonderful; photos of FRANKIE were taken by our pal Boomer Dep. He and his lovely daughter spent the day on a chase boat covering every angle of FRANKIE. Thanks Boomer. Thanks Boomer’s daughter.

Here are some photos of FRANCIS LEE on her first sail. It was a wonderful day, with no rain and just a light breeze. Maybe we saw 8 knots of wind at one time. There was a race starting so we sort of tagged along without getting on anyone’s air. Frankie is very fast, well balanced and very close winded. As far as I can tell in less than 8 knots of wind anyway.

Take the Long Way Home

Wed, 2014-04-02 07:29

It’s 0600 on Wednesday morning. April 2nd. Sojourner is in position 33 28 N, 77 53 W, motor sailing ENE and headed straight for Cape Hatteras, which lays about 100 miles over the horizon ahead. Venus, now the morning star, is about ten degrees above the horizon off the starboard now, to our east. A glimmer of sunlight, the new day dawning, is visible just below. But to me, in the dark cockpit, it’s still night, and I’ll savor it’s last death throes while all remains quiet on board. While my dad and Tom sleep, this is my time. The time at sea I treasure the most.

We departed Charleston yesterday around 1100 after seeing Billy off for his long drive back to Chestertown, MD. His work schedule, combined with our longer-than-expected journey home forced him to bail. But he wasn’t leaving us in the lurch by any means – three people offshore is really my ideal number anyway, and Tom has proven himself a more than capable ocean sailor and, more importantly, fantastic, friendly company. He first sailed with us up from St. Croix to Marsh Harbor in February, and we quickly invited him back for the leg home. He and his wife Darlene plan on accompanying me on the return delivery aboard Sleijride after the Newport-Bermuda Race.

My plan when I set the calendar back in January didn’t include a stopover in Charleston or a twelve-hour day motoring up the ICW. Dad wanted help bringing Sojourner home from St. Lucia, his farthest landfall since leaving the Bay with the Caribbean 1500 in the fall. For the last seven years or so we’d always planned to do that trip together – hell, it’s part of the reason he bought the boat he bought, a Wauquiez Hood 38 and an eminently capable ocean sailing yacht. But life interfered, in the worst way. My mom, his lifelong partner and first mate – they’d been married for 37 years – died after a protracted experience with brain cancer in the spring of 2012. Our family has never returned to normal since then, and it never will. But we make the best of it in mom’s honor and live on.

But Dad persevered, and with a dogged determinism and renewed vigor, set about to do the trip anyway, which my mom undoubtedly would have encouraged him to do. As I was now running the event, we wouldn’t be able to sail together. In a fitting twist of fate, his cousins, both experienced sailors, and a friend agreed to join him and they had a hell of a run south in one of the rougher Caribbean 1500′s in recent memory. Early on, I committed to helping him bring the boat north, planned around my busy travel schedule, and here we are, 1800 miles from St. Lucia with still about 350 to go.

I did not plan to take this long way home from Marsh Harbor. Up until the last week, we’d been able to make a beeline from St. Lucia. Besides the brief stop in St. Croix to change crew (which I need to mention included my dads new girlfriend Marcia, whose new to sailing but is remarkably keen. It’s still strange seeing my dad with a different woman, but he’s happy and I’m supportive. I think it’ll always be strange – it has to be – but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be good. Life goes on and we do our best to enjoy the time we have. My mom would no doubt approve, and therefore, so do I). ANYWAY, the nine sailing days it took to go 1200 miles from St. Lucia to Marsh Harbor were arguably the best nine consecutive days I’ve ever had offshore. We broad reached ahead of 20 knot winds, clear, dry skies and a long regular swell. We should have known better that I couldn’t last.

It’s decidedly early in the season to be sailing north, particularly with this crazy winter we’re having, what with the par vortex and all. Billy and I flew south from Dulles only a week ago, and as the plane took off the snow was still coming down. Such an early-season passage requires conservative planning. Instead of going direct to Hatteras offshore, like I would have preferred, we aimed instead for Jacksonville, 300 miles NW but really in the wrong direction. But we had to, for another low was brewing and we were only offered a 48 hour window.

Those first two days were good sailing, but tough on the crew, who all, except for dad, were seasick, myself included. I wore a scopolamine patch for the first time, and though I never puked, I wasn’t real comfortable. As we approached Jacksonville, the SW wind was holding steady. A couple thunderstorms passed north and south of us ahead of the cold front, with strong lightning all around and heavy rain – but no wind. It quickly cleared and a gentle breeze filled in behind it, so we decided to press on and try to make Savannah, another 12 hours distant.

All was well as we sailed in a port tack with a nice westerly breeze. Until about 0100, when the front, a strong one, finally overtook us. I was in the vee berth an was woken to crashing and banging and bouncing about an hour before my watch was set to start. I laid there for a little but knew we were really overpowered and that I’d have to go up and help Billy shorten sail. I geared up – by now it was into he low 50s at night – and emerged on deck to a howling northwesterly. The skies were crystal clear as a cold winters day, and the stars were out in force. The loom of the mainland USA was visible to the west. And Sojourner was taking a beating. Billy and I struggled to furl the genoa, which rolled so tight in the string wind that we ran out of furling line, leaving a tiny scrap of headsail exposed. With two reefs in the main and now beating, thanks to the wind shift, we motor-sailed the last eight hours towards Savannah, crashing into steep waves that continually found there way into the cockpit. The water temperature read 57 degrees and felt colder.

Dad was on watch as we entered the inlet, now aiming directly upwind. I furled the mainsail, and with the nine screaming, we pushed on at barely 3 knots through the northwesterly gale, the waves finally abating as we found shelter in the ICW. Had the wind been from th east there is no way we’d have been able to make that inlet, as the seaway it would have created would have been dangerous. The NW wind, though howling, was coming off the land, and the water was more or less protected inshore. Not wanting to backtrack up the river to Savannah, we called customs and arranged for the to meet us the next day in Charleston. We spent that first night on the ICW cooped up at anchor with the Q flag flying, and it wasn’t until 7pm the next day that we could finally get off the boat after dealing with the authorities.

So now we are nearly on the home stretch, though its taken longer than I’d hoped. I miss my wife Mia and am anxious to get home, but I want to see this trip through to the end with my dad. It’s kind of fitting that after we drop Tom off in Deltaville it will just be the two of us for the last bit up the Bay. I’m pretty happy with how our plan played out. You’re always at the mercy of the weather offshore, but particularly in the margins of e seasons, you’ve got to play it safe. Hatteras remains a daunting obstacle, but it’s just over the horizon now.


San Francisco Bay, Still the Wilder West

Tue, 2014-04-01 18:16

Illustration © Kiteboat Project

By Kimball Livingston Posted April 1, but we’re not joking

Four hundred sixty square miles on the surface at high tide, two trillion gallons in volume, more or less, twice a day, on the exchange of tides, that is San Francisco Bay. And a why-not ethos. As in, why not use kites to power boats? At the Kiteboat Project, the answer is, why not, indeed?

Going far beyond theory from its skunkworks on Alameda Island, on the eastern reach of San Francisco Bay, the Kiteboat Project has dazzled everyone who caught a glimpse of the results. The thing looks fast just sitting still, but it doesn’t have a mast and . . .

Former pro windsurfer-kitesurfer/sail designer Don Montague has been at this for a few years now, but it’s a fellow named Joe Brock who usually gets to drive.

Here is the thesis, as developed at the Kiteboat Project web site:

“The advantages of a kiteboat over a traditional sailboat are manifold. As a kite pulls a boat, it does not also heel the boat over or pitch it forward as a sail does. This fact means that a kiteboat does not require large counterbalancing forces which, in opposing the heeling and pitching forces of a sail, create drag and present practical problems. The absence of this behavior means that the only limit on kite size is kite control, since increasing the power made by the kite does not require increasing ballast or beam, for example, which are limiting factors on a sailboat. Kites can fly higher than sails, too, which grants them access to stronger, steadier, higher-altitude winds, and kites can be maneuvered through the air to create more apparent wind. This maneuvering generates extra power, which is not possible with a fixed sail on a mast.

“Finally, a kite lifts the boat out of the water as it propels it forward, which effectively reduces the displacement and decreases drag. While any boat would benefit from this boost, a hydrofoil benefits especially, because the kite reduces the amount of lift required from (and drag created by) the foils, and the lack of heeling and pitching forces makes reliably maintaining trim and ride height much more practicable. It is not necessary for a kiteboat to be a hydrofoil boat, but for us, this configuration represents a perfect marriage of technology.”

This, btw, isn’t necessarily the wildest thing these folks are into, but the wraps are off of this baby.

Check the video at the Kiteboat Project

Myself, weather permitting, I’m hankering to take a ride on Friday on San Francisco Bay aboard a wing-powered boat whose developers have quietly gone their own way with their own unique purpose. Maybe I’ll even file a report.

Managing power on a cruising boat

Tue, 2014-04-01 17:00

Living off the grid, providing your own power, is a tremendous feeling. On Totem, it’s one of the compelling aspects of life afloat, hand in hand with a more simple life and a lighter carbon footprint. Relying on our solar panels and wind turbine to supply power needs instead of plugging in is liberating.

That good juice from the sun and the wind is stored in our house battery bank. Currently, that bank has 660 amps total from six 220aH 6v AGM batteries.  When we have steady trade winds, and sunny days, these meet our needs pretty well. For a long stretch, that’s been enough. We’re all power-watching hounds: even the kids understand the numbers on our electrical panel that show the voltage level in the house bank, and the net amperage being used or added at any given time.

Lately,  we’re falling short on power needs. Part of it is generation. Part of it is use. Part of it is storage.

- On the generation side: as it happens, the equatorial zone where we find ourselves often has a lot of clouds- part of this whole convergence zone thing that produces squalls that increase seasonally, as they are now. Not great for solar power generation. It turns out isn’t known for having a lot of wind, either (you’ve heard of the doldrums?). There are windy squalls, yes, but they don’t last long; the steady trades aren’t here. The moniker “land below the wind” is well earned. We do have wind and sun and make power from both, just not at the level we’d like- but that’s relatively short term. Once we leave these low latitudes, we can more consistently generate green power.

- On the usage front: we’re simply using more energy now than we were back in 2008. Our biggest power hog is the refrigeration, which suffers mightily in the tropics: the 32 year old insulation is ineffective. Our needs are changing, too. As the kids get older, we’re losing more power to the #2 use after refrigeration: digital devices, primarily powering computers. That’s not going to change, so we have to.

- On the storage side: Totem’s house battery bank has been declining for a year. When marine batteries start to go, it’s possible to have a slow demise, but things can happen very very quickly. For a while, it was worrisome- juggling a lot of different projects on the boat, we weren’t sure when we’d be able to have the magic nexus of time and money to get a new set of batteries installed… but we had to. You don’t get a card to Pass Go wait once the batteries are dead.

The next few months are bringing a really exciting trifecta of power change to Totem. I never thought twice about our power use when we had a conventional land life, but I am positively tingly thinking about what’s coming up:

1. A Silentwind wind generator will soon significantly upgrade Totem’s wind power capability.
2. We are adding a solar panel. I big hearkin’ panel. It will double our solar-powered amps.
3. New batteries to replace our house bank are on on the way, and will increase our capacity by 50%.

This is huge. It’s going to take some work, but nothing we (or any self-sufficient cruiser) can’t handle, from building the box to hold the 600+ pounds of new batteries to installing the turbine and panels and wiring everything up.

What do you want to know about power on board? Who has solar, wind, or generators helping meet their needs? In the coming weeks, I’m going to get into detail on the work we’re doing and the changes that are happening to our own mini power grid, and want to make it as useful as possible.

Green energy fans like the Totem crew always like to read these posts on the Sailfeed website.

RIP Hobie Alter and Bob Billingham

Mon, 2014-03-31 18:07

By Kimball Livingston Posted March 31, 2014

The news hit me when I was living life to the full and feeling every minute of it.

Somehow, that seems right.

The last time I saw Bob Billingham, he was setting up to do America’s Cup commentary in a setting that, as Project Manager, he had orchestrated. He showed no sign of the cancer or the treatments that had been in his foreground for years, and I never heard a word out of his own mouth about them. Nothing slowed Bob down until he hit the wall, and he hit the wall fast forward. In 2013, I heard a friend say that the America’s Cup was keeping him alive – to fill its demands – but Bob disappeared over the winter, and I started hearing of a fast slide, not to be talked about openly. Bob was never afraid of having a public presence, as long as it wasn’t “about” him.

Only a week ago I was writing about the naming of a racing mark in his honor, the Billingham Buoy, a mark on the cityfront of San Francisco. But I was fully briefed to not say what many of us knew, that Bob had run out of time. He died only five days later at home in Grass Valley, California, surrounded by family.

Hobie Alter? The man altered our world. From surfboards to an off-the-beach catamaran culture all its own to a 33-foot monohull type than can still win races, Hobie was a man, a name, a brand and a lifestyle. He once explained himself by way of saying that his goal in life was to “never have to wear hard-soled shoes or live east of the Pacific Coast Highway.” If he turned into a mountain man later on, well, he never was much on rules, even his own.

Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Hobie.


MYSTERIOUS DESTROYED YACHTS: Wrecks Found in West Indies and Off Australia

Mon, 2014-03-31 15:21

I started following both these stories last week when they broke, and now I’m pretty curious to see how they play out. First: an apparently exploded 49-foot Jeanneau Sun Odyssey that was spotted on fire (see photo up top) a few miles west of St. Vincent last Wednesday. A local dive-tour operator, Kay Wilson, was first on the scene and found the boat’s British owner, John Edward Garner, 53, floating in the water in a life jacket with serious injuries to his face and legs. A burning liferaft and a waterproof ditch bag with a passport and other documents were also found floating near the burning yacht, which soon sank. Garner was rushed to a hospital ashore, but did not survive.

Authorities on St. Vincent suspect foul play and claim they are searching for Garner’s Norwegian partner, Heidi Hukkelaas, who may or may not be his wife and departed St. Vincent by plane two days before he died. She has been located back in Norway, but according to authorities there no West Indian authorities have sought access to her. According to Kay Wilson and Garner’s daughter, Elizabeth, there seems no reason to think the death was anything other than accidental. Meanwhile, according to a report by Yachting Monthly‘s Dick Durham, there is some evidence that the yacht, named Asante and registered in Gibraltar, may have been involved in some kind of tax avoidance scheme.

Asante at anchor with a Norwegian flag flying from one spreader

John Garner reportedly was a sailing instructor and British special-forces trainer

From the wee bit of info available, I’d say this very probably can’t have been a murder, but I suppose there is some small chance it might have been an Insure-and-Burn scheme gone wrong.

Mystery No. 2 involves the rig of a sunken yacht that an Australian trawler hooked into in 90 meters of water about 170 kilometers west of Darwin. The trawler, operated by Australia Bay Seafoods, spent six hours clearing its gear and found a mast, which may have been manufactured in New Zealand, and a sail that had been built in Sydney. Experts believe the rig had been submerged for 8 to 10 months, and local authorities are now planning to search for the rest of the wreck to see if there are bodies onboard.

Presumed location of the wreck

An Australia Bay Seafoods trawler

There has been some speculation that this might be the missing American yacht Nina, which disappeared west of New Zealand some time ago, but this seems a fairly preposterous notion.

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I had to turn off the comments I’m afraid, as the site was getting swamped by spam comments. Hopefully I’ll have my web guru updating everything starting later this week so we can regain control and let you have your say again.

Aluminum + Copper: A Horror Story

Sun, 2014-03-30 21:23

Q:  My friend has a metal boat.  I had him over for beers last night, and all he talked about was electrolytic corrosion.  I love boat talk as much as the next sailor, but I nearly threw him overboard.  What is it with you metal boat people and your corrosion issues?*

A:  Electrolytic corrosion is the worst.  The worst!  It is a creeping horror ready to eat away our hulls and leave us sad and boatless.  I’m sorry your imaginary friend bored you, but this is a real concern for us.  Why?  Because a penny and a little saltwater could send us to the bottom of the sea.

For those of you in need of a chemistry review, galvanic corrosion (or electrolytic corrosion – same thing) happens when two metals are in contact in an electrolytic solution, like salt water.  Essentially, one metal will corrode preferentially to save the other.  The bad news for us is that Aluminum likes to give up its electrons to almost every other metal.

“Really?” asked Stylish after we explained for the 8,793rd time why Copper pennies do not make good toys.  “Can we try it?”
Hurrah!  Science day!
Erik found a couple of small pieces of Aluminum.  The girls gave the surface a light sanding.

We retrieved two pennies from The Evil Copper Jar.  I scooped up some marina water from beside the boat – neither the cleanest nor the saltiest, but it’s the water we’re in – and we were ready to go.

“Wait!” said Erik as I was putting the lid on the Tupperware pot.  He ran over and plunked two stainless steel washers on the aluminum.
I stared down into the pot.  “You can’t do that!  That isn’t a proper experiment!  Now we have three metals fighting it out in there.  That is terrible science.”
“We are testing a hypothesis, Daddy,” Stylish chimed in.
Erik made a noise.  “These are the things that fall in the bilge.  You’re modelling a real-life situation now.”
I just shook my head.  Engineers, I tell you.

Day 0. Washers present under protest from the scientific community aboard.

And here we were, Day 0.  The water looks clean, the Aluminum looks clean, and everything is shiny.

That didn’t last long.

Day 3 – looking fuzzy.

Within a day, the water started to cloud.  By day 3, there was a definite snowdrift in the pot.  And what is that snow made of?  Yep.  Aluminum.

Day 19 – ugly, very ugly.

By day 19, things were downright terrifying.  The aluminum pieces had discolored, and the sprinkling of Aluminum snow was big enough to build a tiny snowman.

The Aluminum drift up close. That was less than three weeks in only brackish water, with no worries about stray currents turning the whole operation into a serious battery.  Even with the Copper/stainless steel issue (sigh), you can still see that this is Not Good.  We all agreed to pull the plug on the experiment, because no one wanted to see how much worse it would get.  Well, maybe Indy, but the damage was already obvious, and I needed my pot back. And so, dear reader, that is why metal boat owners get a little twitchy about maintaining their zincs and staying away from electrical currents.  Have a little pity on us.  And, in return, we promise to listen to you and your osmosis woes.

* Yes, I totally made up this question myself.

Vesper XB-8000 test, much more than a Class B AIS transponder

Sun, 2014-03-30 15:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 30, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

I’ve had a Vesper XB-8000 installed in the lab for the last month, and I’m confident that it will do well in a long test on board Gizmo beginning in May. I will miss some features of the Vesper Vision I tested last season, but having the blue box installed behind the scenes will help me test the glass bridge concept (one MFD brand, many screens), and at $799 I think the XB-8000 is a multifunction value that could work on a wide variety of vessels. The recent testing also revealed some new features that apply to both the XB and the Vision as Vesper continues to expand on the concepts expressed in the 3-in-1 diagram above…

Let’s start with a look at XB-8000 results. The SEAiq app above is running on an iPad that’s connected by WiFi to the XB and it’s showing the same GPS and AIS data I saw coming from the Vision last summer. That’s quite useful in itself, but note the addition of depth and wind. The XB-8000 (or the Vision) can now serve as a NMEA 2000 gateway, translating data on my network into a form that can travel over WiFi and that many apps can understand. Only major N2K message types (PGNs) are supported – wind, depth, speed, heading, log and temperature so far — but the XB (and Vision) have other data gateway and multiplexer features.

Above is a screen from the much revamped Vesper PC (and Mac) Configuration and Status Utility software that owners can download here. Many of the settings aren’t available for any other transponder I’m aware of. For instance, checking those NMEA 0183 boxes above means that I could be sending the translated 2000 wind, depth, etc. data to an older MFD that didn’t have an N2K port or to a charting program running on the same PC that’s connected to the XB-8000 by USB cable (or via WiFi, as seen in the screen below).

Vesper has also significantly improved its NMEA 2000 GPS output. It’s always been confusing that while Class B AIS transponders are required to have good GPS receivers built in, their NMEA 0183 or 2000 GPS output is often unusable by other devices. This is true because many MFDs and chart plotters won’t recognize GPS as valid unless they see some or all of the secondary GPS data messages like “satellites in view,” but the standard NMEA 0183 AIS connection — though called “high speed” at 38,400 baud — barely has enough bandwidth to carry all the AIS target info for a busy area.
While charting apps and PC programs are often more liberal about GPS validity, it’s always seemed possible that a transponder with a much wider bandwidth N2K connection could provide enough GPS data to be the primary or backup GPS source for the fussier plotters on a network. As far as I know, though, Vesper is the first to do it, as partially illustrated above, and I saw it work pretty well in the lab. 

The Raymarine a77 and e127 (that I’ve been testing LightHouse II on) as well as the Simrad NSS8 MFD and RS35 VHF radio all see the XB-8000 as a valid source of NMEA 2000 GPS (and of course all the MFDs also displayed the AIS target data it’s outputting). The Ray and Simrad GPS diagnostic screens above suggest how thorough the XB’s GPS output is (and I assume Vision output is the same). While many GPS receivers offer extra high update rates and/or GLONASS support these days, an AIS transponder that also serves as a GPS has extra value for many boats.
(Surprisingly, though, neither the Garmin 8212 or 741sx displays installed in the lab see the XB-8000 at all, not even on their N2K device lists, but I know for sure that Vesper and Garmin are working together to figure this out. The screen above may also reveal a possibly related Vesper GPS date translation glitch that just caught my eye yesterday, but it’s conceivable that both issues are somehow related to my particular test set up. I will definitely update both situations as they unfold in the comments section below.)

Vesper’s utility software gives the XB-8000 the same flexible WiFi management that I experienced with the Vision. It’s not just easy to change its access point name (SSID), password, IP address, etc., but it’s also easy to have it join an existing onboard WiFi network (even with a preferable static IP address). The result on a boat like Gizmo is that tablets and phones can use XB data, while also being online and having app access to other onboard devices like a Fusion 700 stereo system.
I only tested WiFi client mode briefly in the lab (because my home WiFi signal is so weak there), but I did confirm that I could even use it to run AISdispatcher and thus send the XB target data to MarineTraffic (recent Panbo discussion here).  I continue to lobby Vesper to build AISdispatcher-type functionality right into the XB and Vision, which would mean that a boat could serve as volunteer station while only running the transponder and perhaps a high power WiFi system like the Rogue Wave or NautiCloud. Please speak up if you, too, would value that extra feature.

Vesper’s own iPad and iPhone app WatchMate can’t do all the deep configuration that the PC and Mac software can, but it, too, has been improved. For instance, that informative AIS Plotter screen above is new. But what you can’t see on the screen is how all those target vessel names (and underlying detail) filled in the moment the app was opened. Vesper calls this feature “Instant Target Acquisition” and both the XB-8000 and Vision can only deliver it to the app, but remember, static target data like vessel names even when powered down. Usually, it takes a while for any AIS app or display to collect all the available static target data because it’s only broadcast every six minutes.
Vesper tells me that Instant Target Acquisition from the XB or Vision is available to any developer who’d like to work with them, and they try to maintain a list of apps that already work with Vesper WiFi output. They’ve also launched a partnership with an ambitious new iOS app called NavPlay.

In my preliminary testing, NavPlay is still a work in progress, and I also tend to agree with Francis Fustier’s pricing concerns. But it does have some lovely design features — you can draw a route with your fingertip — and I’m sure we’ll see it not only mature, but add new data integration features as Vesper adds them. In the meantime, I’ll close with a Coastal Explorer 2011 screen that nicely illustrates the power and value that the XB-8000 offers right now.  CE is running on a PC that’s only connected to the lab’s NMEA 2000 network via XB WiFi, but look how many data sensors it sees.

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