Thursday, December 31, 2009

H 4

This is the one of the most important inventions of all time:  a clock sufficiently accurate for a navigator to determine his ship's longitude, or distance west or east of Greenwich, England (zero degrees longitude).

The determination of latitude is simple; in less than an hour anyone can be taught how to use a sextant to measure the sun's height above the horizon in degrees at "high noon" (local apparent noon), and how to correct that "altitude" for time of year (declination), height of eye, refraction, and error of sextant. The result of this "noon sight" is latitude, accurate to a mile or so if the sextant work is good, and no clock needed.

Latitude is very good, but's just one line of position (LOP), and that's not a fix. By measuring the altitude in degrees of a navigational body at a known time, a line of position perpendicular to the body's azimuth ("direction" from the navigator to the body) can be determined, which, when crossed with a noon sight advanced along the ship's track, or with a sun, moon, star or planet sight, gives a fix. In short, an LOP developed other than by noon sight (ok, or a sight on Polaris, which of course also can give only latitude) requires time, and a second of error can equal a mile on the chart.

In 1714 the British government offered 20,000 pounds (around $4.5 million, in 2009 dollars) to the first person to develop an accurate means of determining longitude at sea. Others focused on cumbersome methods of determining time by reference to the movement of heavenly bodies, but watchmaker John Harrison worked for thirty-four years to perfect a clock accurate at sea. His masterpiece, the H4, lost but 4 seconds on a trip from England to Jamaica, an error corresponding to less than two nautical miles. I saw this instrument, on a pilgrimage to Greenwich in 2007. It is about seven inches across. These clocks initially cost roughly one-quarter as much as a merchant ship might.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anchoring - final words

If you believe another vessel is preparing to anchor too close to you, it is your obligation to so advise the other yacht, and to require them to anchor elsewhere. Stewing about it isn't enough.

It is surprising how often a yacht will enter a large anchorage and anchor near the only other yacht anchored there, close enough to hear conversation. Better to assume the other yacht is happy to have its privacy.
It's fun to squeeze into an anchorage full of happy yachts, but use caution. Once, cruising with a seasoned skipper, we entered a tight Maine harbor and picked up a mooring with a nice new pennant. The moorings were said to be granite block sunk in mud, all new that year - who could ask for better? But we shifted to another mooring, similar configuration, also new, but heavier.

An hour later a squall blew up and ashore someone claimed 60 knots of wind. We sawed from side to side and lay over maybe 25 degrees on the mooring. Some daysailors sank on the mooring. I keep that experience in mind when choosing an anchoring hole. If we'd been at anchor in some crowded harbor, there would have been trouble.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spring Line

We were anchored off Rum Key in an open rodestead. The wind was east but there was a small swell from the southwest. The 54 foot yawl rolled and rolled.

I took a 5/8 nylon line and secured it - the spring line - to the anchor rode, using a rolling hitch. (I might have seized the hitch's tale to the rode, for added reliability.) The other end I took all the way aft on the port side to a quarter block. We paid out more anchor line until the rolling hitch was about 100 feet from the yacht, then put the spring line on a winch and took a strain. Gradually the yawl came round so she was facing the swell, and the rolling ceased. We didn't lie to the spring all night - too much strain on the anchor line, with the yacht now almost beam to the wind - but it sure made the evening easier.

Another time we were out for a dinner sail with friends and there was a lovely sunset. The better to view it, I put a little spring line on the anchor rode and brought the sunset on Journeyman's beam.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Buoying the Anchor

A friend had to abandon his anchor South Freeport Harbor, Maine when he couldn't raise it. South Freeport has been a busy anchorage for two hundred years or more, so it is not surprising that his anchor fouled on an old cable, or possibly wreckage.

If he'd had a "tripping line", a buoyed line secured to the crown of the anchor, he could have pulled the anchor up and away from the cable by taking in on the buoy line.
We rarely buoy the anchor except when anchoring where we believe there are likely to be old cables and abandoned moorings. We may also buoy the anchor when we are in a crowded anchorage, as the buoy shows other yachts, and us, where our anchor lies, perhaps keeping boats from anchoring on top of us.

Our ready anchor is a 7.5 kilogram Bruce. At the crown we have a permanent 18 inch pennant of 1/4 inch Dyneema. The pennant finds daily use as a keeper, to keep the anchor in the roller. We also use the pennant to secure our tripping line. The buoy at the other end of the tripping line is a toggle buoy used in lobstering, about softball sized, spliced to 5/16 inch yellow polypropylene and with an eye splice at the other end to which we bend the pennant. Polypropylene floats, so the buoy line is less apt to foul on the anchor (or on anything else on the bottom) than nylon or another sinking line.

When weighing anchor one must have a boathook handy to pick up the tripping line, and a certain amount of care must be taken to keep from fouling the line in the propeller - another reason to use a highly visible floating tripping line.

An alternative to a buoyed tripping line is to bring the tripping line up the anchor rode, with little slack, and seize it to the rode at a point where the rode will be on deck when the rode is all the way in ("up and down"). I have never done this, but it seems likely to work. The tripping line could twist around the rode a few turns, but that could be remedied.

One 54 yacht I cruised on for six months buoyed the anchor every set. The anchors were heavy (the storm anchor, a Luke Herreshoff type, weighed 150 pounds), and we brought them on deck. With a tripping line, one man could tally on the anchor rode, another on the tripping line, allowing the anchor to be brought on deck more easily and without banging up the furniture, as the skipper used to say.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

With a Twist

A friend is an engineer with Newport News Shipyard, and for several years he's been working on the George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), commissioned January 2009 and the last of the Nimitz class carriers.

(Didn't they used to wait a while longer before naming major combatants after politicians?)

He reports - and this is public information - that the four propeller shafts on the Bush are some 400 feet long and 30 inches in diameter of the toughest steel. At flank speed, which is classified information, the shafts twist one and a half times from the gearbox to the propeller.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Christmas Present

The best Christmas present I ever received - of a nautical nature - was from my parents, in 1982 when I received my commission as an ensign in the United States Coast Guard. The gift was Nikon 7 x 50 mm Tropical model binoculars, with a mill scale. These aluminum body binoculars are as good today as they were in 1982, with no column error, bright as can be. They are tough as nails, not only waterproof but even surviving my father in law running them over! They are still made I believe, although they don't come cheap.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

To the Bitter End

Some cruisers mark the anchor rode with whippings. One system I have seen uses the following:

30 feet:   One blue mark

60 feet:   Two blue marks

90 feet:   Three blue marks

120 feet:  Four  blue marks

150 feet:  One red mark

180 feet:  One red mark and one blue mark

210 feet:  One red mark and two blue marks

240 feet:  One red mark and three blue marks

270 feet:  One red mark and four blue marks

300 feet:  Two red marks.

(Credit to

I use those little strips you can buy in marine stores. Some people say these don't last; I hope someday I can do enough cruising to see if that is true.

Lynn and Larry Pardey use a variation of the whipping method. Their rodes are identical in length and the system, for each rode, is symmetrical around the mid point of the rode, so the rode can be switched end for end (to even wear) without changing the system!

We carry two rodes, each 300 feet with 30 feet of anchor chain. One rode is shackled to the ready anchor and lives in the chain locker, and the other lives in the starboard sail locker, with the chain in a stout canvas bag, the second anchor on top of the coiled and stopped rode.

On the main rode we used to have a rope to chain splice, but I changed that for a shackle. I was a little worried about chafe at the splice. The shackle is seized with soft Monel seizing wire, nice stuff, I recommend it. Ideally, the shackle might not be stainless, which some say is more prone to fracturing.

The shackle sometimes hangs up in the roller and the chain pipe but it's no big deal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Money is For

Writing yesterday's post reminded me of a pleasant sight we saw in Nantucket during that late August visit. After dinner, a beautiful white sportfishing boat, seventy feet or so, picked up a mooring next to us. There were two crew, a skipper and a hand, and about 7:00 they began to wash down and clean the boat from the top of the tuna tower down. As darkness grew they turned on the halogen deck and tower lights, and the stainless and white boat was like a big jewel in the night. The two men seemed to be enjoying themselves, and it was clear that the owner was due on board.

It was full dark by the time they wrapped up, at which point I believe beers appeared. One then went ashore in the club launch and returned a little while later in a "flats boat", which he tied alongside, completing the picture.

That's what money's for!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bahamian Moor

The boys and I motored around Nantucket Harbor looking for an anchoring hole. No dice, and finally the harbormaster directed us to the northern edge of the anchorage, a little southwest of First Point. There was open water there, but there was also about three knots of current.

The bottom is hard sand, good holding bottom. But I knew when the current reversed the anchor would likely trip and maybe it wouldn't reset.

A Bahamian moor was the obvious answer. We lowered the anchor, paid out the appropriate scope, settled back in the current and made sure the anchor was set. Then we paid out the same amount of rode again, lowered the second anchor, and pulled ourselves back up to the midpoint between the two anchors.

A few hours later the current had reversed and we lay to the second anchor. The first anchor remained dug in and we didn't have to worry about whether it, or the second anchor, would trip out as every six hours the current reversed.

Our swinging radius was much reduced, which was a good thing so long as the radius more or less matched that of nearby boats. We used a Bahamian moor once in a narrow tidal river where not only was there a reversing current, if we swung much we'd probably ground on nearby flats.

I take both anchors to the bow. I doubt there are many circumstances in which it would be appropriate to secure one anchor to the stern and another to the bow.

If you lay to two anchors for several days and the winds shifts around the compass your anchor lines could twist. Some books talk about joining both rodes, for example with bowlines secured to a big shackle and swivel, and laying to a single line, to eliminate this twisting. Sounds complicated but I could see how this could be correct sometimes.

I used to worry when anchoring this way that at slack water the rodes might hang up on the keel or the prop, but nylon sinks and I believe it hangs below the keel until the current sorts itself out. Perhaps if I had a fin keel with a separate rudder I would weight the rodes 30 or so feet out from the boat so they hung straight down when under no strain. I carry a few short lengths of chain for that sort of thing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Multidimensional Vortices

My parents and another couple were close reaching in the trade winds when suddenly their yacht was seized by a vortex from another dimension, spinning the boat and holding it in its grip!

In fact, unbeknownst to the crew the anchor had dropped off the roller, run out all its rode, and grabbed a coral head two hundred feet down. But to my mother, at the helm, the sensation was so unnerving and mysterious her first thought was that the Bermuda Triangle was at work.

Even after they figured out what had happened, it was a bit of a situation, with 25 knots of wind, a sea running, and the boat jibing and tacking out of control. Of course they dropped the sails but the anchor was stuck, and they had to cut the rode, fast.

Someone grabbed a galley carving knife and stumbled to the foredeck, but the charter company's maintenance didn't extend to knife sharpening. It was a frightening several minutes before they finally sawed through the hard nylon anchor rode and continued on their way to Tortola.

Even in the absence of multidimensional vortices, one might have to cut a run-out anchor rode in a hurry. The correct way to secure the bitter end of an anchor rode is shown in this photo.  The blue 5/16 inch line is secured to a padeye mounted high in the chain locker, using a bowline. The other end of the blue line is tied to an eye splice in the bitter end of the rode, again with a bowline. (It looks like I put a turn around the eye, which might reduce chafe.) Importantly, the blue line is long enough to extend well clear of the chain pipe, as shown. Thus the bitter end is well secured but if one has to cut the rode there is only the 5/16 inch line to slash.

I am no expert on all-chain anchor rodes, but I assume the above technique is particularly important with all chain.

These bowlines will be inspected rarely, so each is tied with a long tale and the tale is seized back to the bowline, using sail twine pushed through the blue line with a needle and sail palm. You can just see the seizing in this photo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

S.S. Santa Maria

In 1956 my family, who had resided in Peru since 1946, returned to the States on the Grace Lines ship Santa Maria, as pictured here. These ships were unusual in that they carried fifty-two passengers in addition to break bulk (in five holds) and deck cargo. Their routes were east coast U.S. to the Carribean, Canal Zone, west coast South America as far as Valparaiso ("Valpo") Chile, and sometimes U.S. west coast. They were beautifully maintained and well run ships, with a distinctive white and green stack. The passengers travelled in great comfort, with air conditioning, a pool, and comfortable public areas.

This painting shows the ship alongside in some river port, perhaps Buenaventura. The ship is off loading to the pier and also, on the port side, to lighters. A lighter is anchored in the stream as well, already loaded and ready to go up river to a smaller port. Aft and alongside there is a small boat, perhaps that of the ship's agent.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I am trying to give some form to this blog thing . . . so every Friday On the Wind will inform the reader what is the Best of a given category, my opinion.

Best nautical short story or novella. Hands down, Joseph Conrad's Typhoon. Some, who have not read any or much Conrad, may shudder, consider Conrad to be one of those unreadable Serious Writers of the last age, and avert their thoughts. But you are mistaken! Conrad, a sea officer, knows all aspects of the human heart, the amusing, the solemn - and the dark. His writing transcends. Here, from Typhoon:

At its setting the sun had a diminished diameter and an expiring brown, rayless glow, as if millions of centuries elapsing since the morning had brought it near its end. A dense bank of cloud became visible to the northward; it had a sinister dark olive tint, and lay low and motionless upon the sea, resembling a solid obstacle in the path of the ship. She went floundering towards it like an exhausted creature driven to its death. The coppery twilight retired slowly, and the darkness brought out overhead a swarm of unsteady, big stars, that, as if blown upon, flickered exceedingly and seemed to hang very near the earth.

Here, Captain McWhirr tells his mate why they will not try to evade the probable typhoon by following published "storm strategy":

"But the truth is that you don't know if the fellow is right, anyhow. How can you tell what a gale is made of till you get it? He isn't aboard here, is he? Very well. Here he says that the centre of them things bears eight points off the wind; but we haven't got any wind, for all the barometer falling. Where's his centre now?"

"We will get the wind presently," mumbled Jukes.

"Let it come, then," said Captain MacWhirr, with dignified indignation. "It's only to let you see, Mr. Jukes, that you don't find everything in books. All these rules for dodging breezes and circumventing the winds of heaven, Mr. Jukes, seem to me the maddest thing, when you come to look at it sensibly."

He raised his eyes, saw Jukes gazing at him dubiously, and tried to illustrate his meaning.

"About as queer as your extraordinary notion of dodging the ship head to sea, for I don't know how long, to make the Chinamen comfortable; whereas all we've got to do is to take them to Fu-chau, being timed to get there before noon on Friday. If the weather delays me -- very well. There's your log-book to talk straight about the weather. But suppose I went swinging off my course and came in two days late, and they asked me: 'Where have you been all that time, Captain?' What could I say to that? 'Went around to dodge the bad weather,' I would say. 'It must've been dam' bad,' they would say. 'Don't know,' I would have to say; 'I've dodged clear of it.' See that, Jukes? I have been thinking it all out this afternoon."

He looked up again in his unseeing, unimaginative way. No one had ever heard him say so much at one time. Jukes, with his arms open in the doorway, was like a man invited to behold a miracle. Unbounded wonder was the intellectual meaning of his eye, while incredulity was seated in his whole countenance.

"A gale is a gale, Mr. Jukes," resumed the Captain, "and a full-powered steam-ship has got to face it. There's just so much dirty weather knocking about the world, and the proper thing is to go through it."

Or this when, upon the typhoon assailing the Nan-Shan, Jukes is swept across the bridge and fetches up on a stanchion:

It seemed to him he remained there precariously alone with the stanchion for a long, long time. The rain poured on him, flowed, drove in sheets. He breathed in gasps; and sometimes the water he swallowed was fresh and sometimes it was salt. For the most part he kept his eyes shut tight, as if suspecting his sight might be destroyed in the immense flurry of the elements. When he ventured to blink hastily, he derived some moral support from the green gleam of the starboard light shining feebly upon the flight of rain and sprays. He was actually looking at it when its ray fell upon the uprearing sea which put it out.

It gets better. And there is, of course, a theme and a depth central to Conrad which you will approach while you are enjoying your read.

Other Conrad novellas to look for are "An Outpost of Civilization" (hah!), "The End of the Tether" (how, how can it come to this, for such a good man?) and "Youth" (oh, Youth!).

If you have not read Conrad, and do read him, please let me know by comment if I have mislead you. I don't think I have.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Inheritors - Part Two

Cartoon, two guys sitting around a dock, one says to the other: "I just realized why there aren't any old timers around anymore.  We're the old timers!"

I called the first part of this essay Part One (December 14) mostly because I wasn't sure where I was going with it. It is fine to say we are the Inheritors of the nautical tradition, but what do we do with that? I'm not sure, but I do know I like to teach younger folks how to navigate and run a ship, and sometimes - often - that means teaching them the old ways and why it was or is done that way.

On the cutter Steadfast we were rigging new monkey lines, the vertical man ropes the boat crew hold while the boat is being lowered, so if the falls let go the crew don't drop. The lines, ten to a boat and two boats, were one and 1/2 inch manilla, and they needed splicing and whipping. So I taught the deck gang how make an eye splice and how to sew a whipping. A sewn whipping in big three strand manilla is a pleasure to make and looks great, and whipping all those lines was a nice break from a needle gun and a paint brush. The guys liked it and I think it gave them some pride. Anchor drills and towing drills were similar opportunities to re-learn the old ways.

The junior quartermasters all learned in A School how to make a running fix and how to double the angle on the bow, but of course they forgot it pretty quick and they'd never done it on board. I worked with the chief, and the junior petty officers relearned those skills. Running along a coastline at a standard bell of 15 knots one can do those two fixes pretty rapidly and it is kind of magical how one can make a good fix off two lines of position derived from a single landmark. (Here's a nice illustration.) For that matter crossing the Gulf Stream's 4 knots from Florida to the Bahamas we retaught the concept of a DR (dead or deduced reckoning) plot and although they'd learned it in school it was satisfying for the petty officers to see, dramatically, how a DR plot and a fix are compared to give set and drift and a corrected course.

On watch we'd block off the gyrocompass repeater and the helmsman would steer by magnetic compass for minutes at a time. This was a little challenging because the magnetic compass was mounted a deck above and the helmsman saw the lubber line through a periscope, but one patrol the gyro suddenly crapped out and stayed bad for the trip and the guys were already comfortable steering by magnetic compass.

File:Joshua Slocum.jpgOn Journeyman we also show the kids the old ways and why it was or is done that way. We might also talk about Joshua Slocum and others, if a teachable moment occurs. In 1901 Slocum wrote a lively book of his circumnavigation (Sailing Alone Around the World) and he could be glib, but I defy any mariner to read his account of transitting the Straits of Magellan without becoming in awe of his abilities.

I hope these sorts of exercises, and many others, give young sailors a sense that others came before them. I know they do for me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bungee clamp

Like most cruisers, I use bungee cords for various applications on board. To secure the bungee it is usually necessary to form a loop, and I have seen loops formed using tiny hose clamps. I used to sew a miniature seizing to form a loop (slow, but it made a nice looking job).

I have since discovered a tool used by commercial fishermen which clamps a bungee very easily. It uses the stainless C fasteners seen in the photo. I bought mine at Hamilton Marine,  with a huge bag of fasteners, for just a few bucks.

I use a short piece of bungee to hold open the cockpit hatches, looping it over a cleat on the coaming. It works perfectly in that application, more secure and less fussy than a piece of line.

You can see a little Halon fire extinguisher mounted on the underside of the hatch, handy when my wife catches the stove on fire.

I anchor each end of the bungee under a finish washer secured with a short fat wood screw. The finish washer really grips the bungee, such that there is no need to fashion a loop.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Night Moves

This trick might actually be as ancient as the first campfires, but I suppose people are being born every day who haven't learned it.

If it is dark and you need to preserve your night vision but you must also turn on a light, shut one eye. You'll still have pretty good night vision when you shut off the light.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Inheritors (Part One)

When I was a kid my father and I, carrying a torn mainsail, visited a sail loft in the back streets of a Martha's Vineyard town. The sailmaker, who'd repaired sails all his life, was old, maybe 75 or 80, and this was about 1970. So he'd worked on the sails of schooners, which filled Vineyard Sound into the 1930's. Maybe he'd worked on the sails of the last of the square rigged ships; the Peking and others didn't retire from the nitrate and grain trades until 1932 and beyond. I remember the sailmaker as a man of few words and I am making some assumptions here, but I think I'm safe in doing so.

I was already pretty into sailing by this point, including marlinspike seamanship and some canvas work, and while the sailmaker sewed I told him about my interest, in the way of a thirteen year old boy. The sailmaker said little, but when we left he put into my hand a lump of beeswax and some sail needles and twine.

Much has changed about sailing over the years, but the essentials are constant. The sea is still an implacable wilderness, caring no more whether you live or die than when it drowned the crew of a Phoenician galley. Still, there is Mansfield's "the wheel's kick and the wind's song and white sail's shaking, and a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking." Still, as Bob Griffith wrote, "On watch at night you hold the lives of your sleeping shipmates in the sharpness of your eye, the computer of your mind, and the palm of your hand. You participate in the mystique of the watch, the unbroken succession of helmsmen on a passage."

While some of my best friends are schooner trash, I am far from a yo ho ho, sway up the deadeyes kind of sailor. Give me a 40 knot carbon fiber multihull any day over a decaying gaff rigger ready to sink at the mooring, and I just love fiberglass. But all of us, from the skipper of a bowrider on up, are inheritors of the tradition informed by the unchanging nature of the sea.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Better Ladder

 When I built a new ladder for Journeyman for use on the hard, I angled each step as pictured. Now I can, with a certain amount of care, walk down the ladder facing out and carrying something in both hands. It is a big improvement over a regular ladder. I built it of two by fours, and end-nailed each step with three big nails. An adjustable carpenter's square helped in getting each angle identical.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Halyards, New

 Journeyman's halyards had grown old and tired and were overdue for replacement. Normally I'd undertake that sort of work myself - I rebuke myself for laziness - but I decided to ask Jan Pedersen of Bayview Rigging and Sails to do the work.
Mr. Pedersen is Norwegian. His father was a fisherman and ran a boat yard and Jan began working on sails at age 12. His work is both art and science, and my halyards are things of beauty, with superb detail. (Notice the twin whippings in the shackle end of the red halyard, above.) The price ($780.00!) took my breath away but considering the result, the halyards' cost per use over say ten years, and the material cost and skill that went into them, I am very happy.

Jan built the halyards of Sta-Set X Plus, by New England Ropes. This rope uses a Dacron sheath and a combination of Spectra and Dacron in the core.

My old jib halyard was Dacron and 7 by 19 wire. When the sail was hoisted I could put several turns of wire on the halyard winch and the luff was as firm as you could want it. I find with the new jib halyard I must sometimes top up the halyard a little when beating in a breeze. I also must, this spring, carefully roughen up the drum of my halyard winch so it can grip the rope better.

I take the halyards off the mast in winter, to keep the sun off them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Those Little Things

In writing yesterday's entry, I was reminded that part of the rudder - tiller connection in Journeyman involves a shear pin. I never noticed it until last spring, when on our first sail I felt some give in the connection. The tiller secures to the head of the rudder post with what is essentially a clamp, tightened with a big Allen bolt. I tightened the bolt tight, but still the tiller gave. Scrutiny showed a stainless fastener passing through the bronze clamp assembly, through the top of the rudder post, and to the other side of the clamp assembly. The fastener was tapped or cut flush on each side, but I could see that the diameter of the fastener on one side was perhaps 1/4 inch, and on the other side perhaps 3/16 inch. I had encountered a tapered shear pin, now sheared.

This was a new one on me, and I made my problem known to the Albin Vega egroup. As is usual, someone had encountered the same problem and I was told where to source a replacement pin (McMaster Carr, "Over 480,000 Products"), and the part number.

Upon receiving the pins  - I bought a spare - I lined up the tiller, drove out the broken pin with a hammer and punch, tapped home the new pin, cut the ends with a hacksaw, and touched up the ends with a bastard file. Every once in a while a job is easy.

The broken pin was apparently stainless, yet it had fractured in two places. I assume it is a special alloy, brittle and with a known failure point, exactly what is wanted in a shear pin. By using the right replacement, I still have a tight, play free connection between tiller and rudder, and a weak link protects the rudder and tiller.

By contrast, another egroup member said he had replaced his broken shear pin with a stainless bolt. The years had ovaled the hole, and the bolt now allowed play, not good. And that bolt likely had a far higher shear strength than did the shear pin for which Per Brohall had designed the system back in 1964. I suspect my shear pin broke in the launching process; perhaps the rudder hung up on the trailer's hydraulic arm. Had the pin been a stainless bolt this accident might have twisted the internal structure of the rudder, or fractured the tiller head, instead of breaking a two dollar shear pin.

In most instances a careful engineer or naval architect has designed the various systems on our yachts, and one deviates from the design at his peril. That is not to say one must slavishly follow what has been done or built before, especially if, as certainly is common, time has suggested a failure mode the engineer may not have predicted. But it is sloppy to deviate from the designed system - it is sloppy to replace a shear pin with a bolt - without understanding the system and without deliberately deciding that the new way is probably an improvement.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


We were sailing our Soling from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown one blowy day when the tiller broke off at the stock! The tiller, a robust piece of teak, had been weakened by the corrosive products of the stainless throughbolts reacting with the aluminum tiller head. We got a tow in.

Short of an oar over the transom the rudder - tiller combination is as simple as steering gear can be, but like everything structural on a yacht it is subject to decay, corrosion and wear. Ian Nicholson wrote in his excellent book Surveying Small Craft (Adlard Coles Ltd. 1974): "A simple tiller might seem a pretty safe piece of equipment. In fact, the history of ocean cruising is littered with cases of tillers breaking off short."

In addition to making certain the rudder - tiller connection is beefy and sound, there are the rudder bearings to consider. On Journeyman the rudder is keel mounted, and the lower bearing is contained in a fairly massive bronze shoe bolted to solid glass at the after end of the keel. It's a good arrangement, but one day the bearing will wear out.

I'll know it's worn out because every year I test the bearing. The test is simplicity. With the boat hauled, I lash the tiller firmly in place, grab the rudder itself, and give it a good couple of shoves, athwartships and fore and aft.

If there is much play at all in the rudder, the bearing may need replacement. When that happens I will reach for a recent  Ocean Navigator article written by my friend Peter Stoops, who replaced the rudder bearings on Freedom, his Swan 36 (Ocean Navigator, May/June 2009).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

There is none so blind . . .

as he who has been splashed in the face by the sulphuric acid in an exploding wet cell battery. Batteries really do explode (the charging process creates oxygen and hydrogen, the fuel for some rockets), and every year surgeons remove the eyes of people who thought they could blink ahead of an explosion.

A friend of mine, a smoker, once needed light to check the level in his boat battery, so he used his lighter.  His vision survived the blast. A few years later he was sewing a heavy sail on a machine and the needle splintered and pieces pierced his eye. Expensive, but his eye survived that too. Then last year he was incinerating garbage and a Pam aerosol can exploded and the nozzle struck his pupil at high velocity, finishing the job. He can drive, with his head cocked.

Safety glasses are wonderful things, and I keep a pair handy on board. I never but never check battery fluid levels, or wire the batteries, without the glasses on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Go Bag

 The grab it and go bag has various flares, rockets and smoke flares, of course, as well as a signaling mirror and an orange poncho, packed in a small river bag. The big tubes in the photo are parachute flares, SOLAS quality, 1000 foot altitude and forty second burn time. They cost $50 each but I get them for free.

SOLAS is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and it imposes certain very rigorous standards on life saving equipment. Merchant ships are generally required to have on board only SOLAS certified flares, rafts etc. SOLAS gear is much more expensive than similar items which are merely US Coast Guard approved.

In my town there are shops which inspect and repack liferafts, service EPIRBS and the like for merchant ships. These ships cannot have on board flares which are past their expiration date, and if I ask at the shop I can have a few for free. The flares are past their dates but as SOLAS gear they still have years of reliable use. I think.

We also have a flare kit handy to the cockpit, with a flare pistol. I buy a few new cartridges every year, to be Coast Guard compliant. True to our propensity to practice and drill, the kids and I shoot off the oldest ones each summer, in daylight, toward the water.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Emergency Checklist

When we bought Journeyman the children were nine, eight and six. I sailed a lot with just them as crew, and I often wondered how well they'd do if I dropped dead or something. We used to go over scenarios, and I made up a checklist for using the radio. We'd drill, too, and I'd throw in real-world conditions like the radio being switched off at the panel. I am pretty sure if they'd had a big problem at least they could have kept the boat under control, fixed the position, and gotten a Mayday off.

I carry a waterproof handheld VHF radio now, and I should add that to the list. When we are offshore I keep that radio in the grab it bag, so it would go in the dinghy in any event.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Boat Book

Not the log - that's different. Every cruising boat needs a book for lists, standard procedures, and the radio stations for Red Sox games. Such a book does Journeyman have.

The book itself is a Rite in the Rain, by J.L. Darling (  These books are tough, waterproof, easy to write in and cheap. I buy mine at a surveyor supply store.

In the book I keep the number for the taxi, Red Sox stations, abandon ship procedure, checklists for getting underway and for leaving the boat, wrench sizes for transmission dip sticks and the like, so at least you have the right tool when you finally get to the nut, job lists, etc. I treat the books as expendable, and replace one every three years or so.

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