Monday, February 28, 2011

Listen to the old guys (and girls..) and the locals

An old saying, there bold sailors, and there are old sailors, but there are no old bold sailors comes to mind as I read Rod Stephens excellent manuscipt kindly provided by S&S and posted on the Dashews site. The manuscript shows every bit as much commonsense and good seamanship as you would expect from someone with Rods depth of experience, spanning 75 years or so. The lessons contained are hard earned ones, and timeless, and clearly shows why Sparkman and Stephens has such a great reputation.

I am always amazed at the amount of stuff I can learn by listening to experienced older seamen (and seawomen...). Some of what they say might not be in current fashion, or may not conform to the latest scientific ideas, but it often confirms to the hard rules of seamanship and commonsense. And many time quotes from old timers have come back to me in the light of some situation and suddenly make perfect sense. Of course make sure of the credentials of the person you are listening to, there are always plenty of armchair experts...

Also local knowledge is fantastic, I always try to ask the locals about their area, even the newbie boat owner knows much more about the area they sails in than I will. And it is a great way to meet local people. I have had alot of luck talking to the local fishermen, many are often surprised when I ask them about the area (being more used to yachties snubbing them) and their knowledge of the local coast and weather is often incredible. I take a pen and paper for drawing mud maps, and writing stuff down.

Of course I need to be careful of blindly accepting everything at face value, sometimes it is wrong, or more frequently the info is right but I may have interpreted it wrong, but I usually get some really good useful info, and make some friends as well.

Fair winds


Saturday, February 26, 2011

A High Latitude Dodger.

The dome needs abit of "De-icing"
I was Lucky when I bought Reiger, Jim Dilly had already put a canvas spray dodger on her. If he hadn't it probably would have taken me a few years to work out how great they are. I am sure I would have maintained that I liked the taste of salt water and by not having a spray dodger it improved my "feel" for the boat or some other utter rubbish along those lines, so Jim did me a big favor...

Reigers dodger had a fantastic canvas flap that zipped onto the back of the dodger and bungeed down to the cockpit completely enclosing the whole area under the dodger. With this fitted I could actually cook standing up in the companionway, inside my little canvas tent, warm and dry, even with driving rain from astern. The steam from cooking would rise and condense inside the dodger and not the cabin. Wet weather gear could be stashed either side of the hatch, out of the cabin, and in cold weather it kept alot of the heat in the boat, like an airlock, but still provided ventilation.  I could even sail with the flap on. and of course the dodger kept me warm and dry at sea, all up it was brilliant...

My only complaints were that I couldn't work out how to fit a perspex dome to the hatch, and when I was sailing across the Tasman on my own I needed to climb right out into the cockpit to have a good lookaround, This required wet weather gear and a harness, and waking up properly - and I usually got at least a face full of salt water..

When it came time to fit a proper dodger to Snow Petrel I thought long and hard whether to put a canvas dodger or a hard dodger on the boat. We had built a series of hard dodgers for a few boats up at Launceston. The designer/artist was my friend Greg, he has a great eye for a nice looking dodger and after 3 builds we had worked out a quick strong method of building a hard dodger, But I was worried about how one might survive a southern ocean breaker landing smack bang ontop of it, at least with a canvas dodger I could just straighten the frame and stitch it back together, If I had been stupid enough not to fold it down...

The answer to building a stronger dodger came when I sailed on 2041, one of Chay Blyth's challenge 67's. The dodger onboard 2041 was maybe abit "practical" looking but had very strong knees at the after end that also doubled as somewhere to lean against. After seeing this I decided to go with a hard dodger, and as a bonus I could just squeeze a dome under the dodger on the main hatch and another on top of the dodger, above the hatch, meaning I would be able to have a look around without leaving the security of the main hatch.

It looks like this.

1 - 18 inch 6mm perspex dome, absolutely amazing view, doesn't steam up and can be used from inside the hatch or inside the cockpit. It is high enough to have a good view forward. It is a feature that I wouldn't be without. For tropical sailing I might fit it onto a hatch so it can be removed.

Little green hatted man is warm, dry and very happy!
2 - Hand rails set inboard to serve as longitudinal stringers, and gives a comfortable seat on the edge of the dodger roof. By setting them inboard the are easy to hold onto when on the lee deck.

3 - The dodger top is 2 layers of 6mm plywood laminated into a curve. It also has glass sheathing and non skid paint. This is more than strong enough to jump on. I intend to put a mainsheet traveller on top of it at some point...

4 - At the aft edge of the top and the sides is an external laminated beam. Inside this is an aluminium boltrope extrusion to take the canvas flap, to close in the dodger. This Beam stiffens and strengthens the top. It also stops water blowing back from the dodger top into the cockpit. And It forms a good handhold, hence burying the aluminium track inside the wood to stop my fingers getting cold.

5 - Big plywood and glass knees strengthen the aft end of the dodger, they also have handholds and make a nice backrest, or place to lean against. They also give the canvas flap something to overlap to stop rain driving in. They are tied with several heavy layers of unidirectional glass onto the top of the dodger, and bolted to stainless tangs on the coamings.

6 - Cabin top is used as a step to get onto the dodger, it also makes the dodger look better to set it slightly inside the cabin edge, and it is easier to build.

7 - Windows are 4 mm perspex, designed to break before the dodger does...

8 - Dodger sides are 9mm ply, doubled in high load areas, with heavy biaxial fibreglass tape in all the corners. They are bolted through welded stainless steel tabs on the cabin top. a Sikaflex fillet seals it to the deck.
From Astern, a bit of food on the wharf to store somewhere...
I spent alot of time looking at the ergonomics, mocking stuff up and trying to balance looks with functionality. I am happy with the results. There is room to sit in the cockpit completely under the dodger totally out of rain, snow or spray, and I can steer from this position, peering out the dome for a good look around. I need to add a few small windows to the top of the dodger so I can see the jib luff from this position.

I shifted the main winches aft 6 inches or so so I had space to sit on the cockpit coaming alongside the dodger steering with the tiller extension. This is very comfortable and gives a great view.

The dodger got its test on the way down to Antarctica, It copped a big southern ocean breaker, landed right on top of it, knocked us down and got some water below. I was sure it must have broken a window in the dodger but they survived. At some point I can imagine a storm bad enough to destroy the dodger, but if I survive I will just build another one, If I built it strong enough to survive anything it would be far two heavy, instead it is designed so that it cannot damage the watertight integrity of the boat.

One big advantage of having a dodger is that you can dress lighter, meaning when deck work needs doing you don't overheat, sweat and then get very cold as can happen if you are dressed very warmly for a windy cockpit watch with no shelter.

I think the dome/dodger combination is a big safety factor in cold water, keeping crew dry and warm, but some experienced sailors like Rolf and Deborah off Northern light don't have one, using the dome on the main hatch and an effective windvane instead. And I must say that if I got a bigger boat I would probably have more of a pilothouse setup, but with a sheltered area off the back.

I have sailed on a few boats that have a dodger sheltering the crew at the front of the cockpit but not the helmsman at the back of the cockpit. In my opinion this is stupid, the helmsman should be able to get their body out of the worst of the wind and spray, and ideally duck and get their eyes away from a dollop of spray. I have had my eyes get so much salt water driven into them that I could hardly see, A sensible dodger would have solved that problem.

On Blizzard we really wished we had at least a half dodger over the exposed wheel to keep at least our hands dry (or a good autopilot...), but instead we had numb fingers and could only manage half hour tricks in bad weather. Spirit of Sydney had a big lexan dodger, covering most of the cockpit and giving the wheel some shelter, this worked well, and I could hand steer for hours in the worst weather. A big safety plus.
Now thats a dodger! All Polycarbonate on alloy frames, it goes right back to the helm, ideally the helm needs raising slightly for better visibility, but you can stand to the side and steer with you foot for excellant vis. Note the clutter on deck...
 My father got home from the trip on snowpetrel and quickly fitted a spray dodger and roller furling to their 45 foot gaff ketch, after the 30 years that we had to put up with being wet and cold, so at least he was convinced of the benefits. But he couldn't quite bring himself to add a dome. Saying it just wouldn't look right...

The original dodger that spawned provided the pattern for mine, Looks much sleeker on a 38 footer, Nice work Wayne, Greg and Grant. 
Gosh Dad a spray dodger sure would be nice.... Note the Reefed Staysail on a boom.

Note the slightly raked angle of the dodger, this helps remove the illusion of the dodger being droopy, very important as a level dodger top will often result in the side panels looking slightly droopy due to the camber and fact that the sides are narrower at the forward edge. 

Here you can see the lip at the aft end and the radius of the top. The inboard handrails are very good, providing a comfortable seat on the dodger. 
 Under construction, note the annex track buried all around the aft edge.

Another Sister dodger. 
Plenty of room under the dodger, just enough headroom, and your whole body is out of spray and rain.

The dome was fantastic, here I am still inside the hatch with the door closed, perfect 360 view and safely wedged in place. 
The only shot with the canvas closure flap at over the back of the dodger, Two bungees held it down so it was easy to lift and get out.It really kept in the heat, and kept out snow ,rain and spray.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Berserk... Lost in the Ross Sea?

Just got a call from my folks, sounds like the yacht Berserk is missing in the Ross Sea. At this stage things don't look good for the three sailors onboard, with The liferaft found empty and damaged and the EPIRB signal dead, Sounds like it was very bad weather... Lets hope for a miracle.

The movie "Berserk in Antarctica" was shown at our local midwinter film festival, It blew me away, watching Jarle take a 27 foot Alban Vega to the Antarctic Peninsula and was the biggest spur for me to sail to Antarctica. At the time I was at a bit of a loose end, and the movie gave me the motivation I needed to get things happening... And a couple of years later my brothers movie "Snow Petrel Down Under" was shown in the same festival... I have been following Jarle's adventures on and off ever since.

The combination of ice and very bad weather is a difficult one. My plan on Snow Petrel was to try to find a decent Iceberg and sit in it's lee (unfortunately also with the ice field that accumulates in this spot). But if that wasn't an option either motor directly to windward at slow speed, Heave to or drop the Series Drogue and drift, being ready to cut it to dodge any ice. I have no idea if these would have worked, maybe a sea anchor would be good in this scenario. Thankfully I had good weather while in the ice, Berserk was not so lucky.

A link to Berserk's Site Wild Vikings is in my blogroll. I will hope for the best for the crew of Berserk.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Slab reefing...Scratching the Surface.

See how the top batten can get caught...
I reef and unreef alot, too much some people say, often a couple of times an hour.. but I hate the boat slopping around and I hate pushing too hard, Snow Petrel carries abit to much weather helm at times (I have ideas to fix this...) so getting the mains'l area right is important.

I have dealt with a lot of mains, from the 1500 square foot gaff main on Soren Larsen (putting a third reef in with 40-50 knots needs about 12 people and half an hour..) to a fully battened, fully batcared, all lines led to the cockpit setup on the ex open 60 "Spirit of Sydney" so I have a good idea of what I like...(this really just means I am obnoxiously opinionated)

I find reefing and unreefing my main a fairly painless process,  alot of this is because the boat and sail is small. Another reason is that it is moderately well set up. I am always amazed at the processes and stuffing around many people seem to go through to reef the main.

First thing, you can reef while sailing down wind if the system is set up well. In fact I think you must be able to reef down wind. In a decent sea with a Genoa poled out the last thing you want to do is have to come into the wind. In flat water coming onto the wind can work fine, BUT do not come completely head to wind, keep the jib slightly luffing, and the main just out to leeward - heading right into the wind is the mark of a novice, as the sail slats around over the deck and the slack reefing pendants sweep the cockpit, upsetting the shouting and gesticulating skippers beer, and then tangling in the engine controls.Much better to have it safely out to leeward, where it can be seen and at least the cockpit and the windward side deck are clear.

To reef down wind I slack the halyard abit, pull down the luff abit, pull in the reef pendants (including the other reefs) abit, then repeat until the sail is reefed, having a removable tackle on the luff is really helpful. The main point is to never drop the halyard too far (mark it at the reef points), because it can be a devil to get back up, especially if the headboard or a batten gets caught under a spreader or shroud. The sail should be designed to reef well clear of a spreader. If your sail has battens watch them carefully, they can blow through the shrouds and get caught, or bend too much and snap (ideally design the sail so the top batten is too long to blow through the shrouds, and with no headboard). Keep the leech as tight as possible with the reefing pendant. I have had problems doing this when using single line reefing, so don't much like it for this reason.. but I must admit it was a poor setup and, any feedback on this would be appreciated.

A dodgy trick I have found on bigger boats is that sometimes I can just luff up enough with a poled out Genoa to backwind the main slightly making reefing really easy - BUT you are a hairsbreadth away from getting the Genoa caught aback on the pole (this can snap a pole or worse). Having a staysail or something set to leeward can also help backwind the main. Also Rolling away some genoa, or easing the pole forward can help. But try it in flat water with a light breeze first.

I got a two year old to draw it...

If I see people fiddling with slides I know they haven't got a good system. There should never be a need to remove slides from the track unless the boat is very poorly set up. I use a lacing system to slacken of any slides that would otherwise need removal. Most of the slides can be fixed, just the awkward ones near the luff cringle need a jackline lacing (I use 3mm spectra) that slackens off when the sail is dropped. The sailtrack should go as close as possible to the gooseneck. If you have a clever sailmaker this may only be needed on the third reef, because they can space the slides to not need a lacing for the lower reefs. I also like a webbing loop (or spectra lashing) with two rings (one on each side) sewn through the tack cringle, this clips onto a horn on the goosneck that I have made from a big welded on Stainless Steel clip.This stops the luff ring dropping off the horn if the luff goes slack.

I am not enormously fond of leading all the lines to the cockpit, but some people I respect swear by it... make up your own mind. I can't be bothered with all the extra friction when I want to shake out a reef, and usually have to run forward to clear a tangle anyway, or overhaul some lines. And all the extra lines make my cockpit even messier, with them at the mast I can kind of spread the mess around abit. I also find going forward to reef gets me out of the cockpit, looking at stuff, and while I'm at it I like to go around the boat and check everything is Ok, If all my lines where led to the cockpit I probably wouldn't bother until it was to late...  But then saying all this one day I may change my mind and lead all my lines from my junkrigged boat into a nice warm pilothouse with carpet...

Also I don't normally bother tying any reef points, or putting a lacing around the bunt of the sail, unless the weather forecast is looking really bad. If I do I use one long lacing and I tie It around the reefing pendant cleat, and also the tack ring horn so that there is absolutely no possibility of forgetting this line, unreefing and ripping the sail at the reef points... I usually put reefs in sequentally, Ie if I go straight to the third reef I make sure I put in no's 1 and 2, even if I have to finish it after I have put in the third reef. I also make sure I pull in the slack reefing pendants as I go, otherwise they can get tangled.

Make sure the reef pendants stretch the foot of the reefed sail tightly, I like belly bands (or reef bands) through the sail for this reason (they control the stretch), although I note that most sailmakers don't.... If the foot is not reasonably firm you end up with two much shape in the sail, and to much power. In a strong wind the main should be flat.

So basically If reefing the main seems like a big deal that you tend to put off, and need to wake extra crew for you may need either a smaller boat or a better system. I have really only scratched the surface of all the options or ideas, and each boat and sail setup is so different. But make sure your system is effective.

Fair winds


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snow Petrel... The boring details

A few keen observant and possibly quite bored people have noticed the extra page added to the blog.. well done! It's next to the videos page on the top of my latest rambling blog if you aren't one of those observant ones..  I kind of slipped it up there to see what would happen. I wrote this a few years ago to go in the back of a book my old man was writing, Its incomplete, caustic and a few things have changed since then, but if you have nothing more important to do, and are curious it is up there... I plan to slowly add stuff to it, but may well not get around to doing so, maybe this blog is my attempt to add to it... Any comments on the page can be posted here.



Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roller reefing, and misguided mascochism

When I was young and full of misguided masochism I used to sneer at Roller Reefers - They ruin your sail shape I would say, and they can fail, and anyway I like to go forward and change sails, makes me feel like I'm alive... The truth of it was Reiger had a nice big sail locker and a heap of hank on sails, and to change to a roller reefing system would have meant a heap of redundant expensive stuff. I learnt to live with the sail changes - even got quite good at it - and to be honest sometimes I even enjoyed the process. 

But I remember one dark stormy night coming across Bass Straight, with a quickly rising head wind, wishing I didn't have to go forward and change down to the spitfire jib... Wishing I could pull on a magic piece of rope and magically make that sail smaller... wishing I hadn't been such a masochist..

All that wishing didn't work and I eventually had to go forward and change down , and all that salt water down my neck sure did make me feel alive - also made me feel bloody cold, wet and miserable, The old no 3 tucked under my arm was quickly stuffed down the cockpit locker, and the little spitfire jib had settled Reiger back into the groove.... Until the wind (as quickly as it had appeared) died away to nothing.. where's that magic rope? 

The next boat definitely had to have a Roller Reefer, I had also realised that carrying 5 or so soggy wet mildewy lumps of poorly folded sailcloth around was a bit dumb, tramping all that salt into the boat was bad for everything. Rinsing them with fresh water, drying and folding them up properly took the best part of a day, and the amount of space dedicated to them could be much better used.

So Snow Petrel has a "furler" (yes I know it's really a "reefer" but from now on I will call it a furler) and I am happy, whenever I wish I can pull on that magic rope and the sail magically disappears, Its all rather wonderful, and I wonder what ever possessed me to sneer at such a device... However some of my scepticism remains, so my furler is a simple time tested reefurl with a halyard return, and absolutely no roller bearings, swivels or anything to that can readily fail. It is a marvel of minimalist engineering, the only bearings are about $18 worth of orange PVC electrical conduit. I also put a really heavy 10mm 1X19 SS forestay inside it (I don't much like SS but needed something smooth) , with toggles top and bottom. For another similar unit see Alado

Mine has a massive welded aluminium drum that can fit a huge amount of 10mm double braid (big enough to hold and pull on, and strong enough to keep the wimp happy). I like to know I have enough rope on there to never run out of turns, even when I have rolled the sail real tight. I have had this happen on delivery's, Its a real problem, the corner of the sail is hanging out and there's no more rope to pull... the only option is to lash it up and try to dismantle the complex guards and then add a few more wraps, or run off and blanket it behind the main and quickly unroll and then re-roll it abit looser before the wind flogs it to pieces (neither option is even slightly fun... unless you really are a masochist)

I was lucky enough to get a really good furling headsail with Snow Petrel, It is radial cut, with a high enough clew to enable deep reefing without having to change the sheet lead. The high clew also keeps the sail driving well on a reach (look at a blast reacher on a racing boat), gives visibility and keeps it out of the bow wave. Low cut roller reefing sails are terrible things..

This sail also has a foam pad in the luff and still sets and drives quite well to windward in 30+ knots with the sail reefed well down to spitfire size, I have a solent stay that can be rigged just behind the furler, with a nice hank on spitfire jib but I don't use it, the furler works fine...  And when the wind eases I can quickly ease that magic rope and keep her moving at her best. I can set a small storm jib of the baby stay to help in stronger winds, but this sail is not essential. In a real blow I am quite happy to use just a corner of my furled genoa.

I suppose there are tradeoff's. I make sure the sail is in good condition, and fit a strong spectra leach cord to hold the sail together if It ever rips, at least until I can get it unrolled and down. A shredded sail streaming off a furler in a blow is not a good look.... Once that leach line goes you are abit stuffed.

Also the sail adds alot of windage forward that needs to be considered, and alot of weight aloft. The windage forward is useful in a blow with a drogue out, holding the bow downwind, but can be a pain at anchor, or when manoeuvring under motor. I wonder how some of these boats with twin furlers manage in strong winds, although I can see the advantages.

I use my furler like a throttle, tweaking it frequently to keep the boat sailing at her happiest speed. To reef the sail I now prefer to run off for a split second and blanket the sail behind the main, it means I can pull it in by hand easily and safely. I just have to make sure the sail is rolled evenly and tightly. If I can't do this I luff the sail just enough to take the weight out of it and winch it in. I don't like to let the sail flog to roll it up unless the wind is light, and then I normally need some weight on the sheet to get a nice tidy stow.

I am abit paranoid about the furling line being let go by mistake, and always lock it in the clutch and on the self tailing winch. When I leave the boat I tie the furler up with a separate piece of line around the drum (which I normally then forget to untie when I go sailing..). The only other problem I have had is the turns being thrown off the drum if I let it go to quickly, or let the sail collapse and fill with a slack furling line. At least with my open drum it is easy to fix.

I Now take some more care, and always keep half a turn on the sail, with a tight furling line. I also check it well before I need to roll the sail up. I have had turns get jambed inside fancy expensive units for the same reasons, and it can be hard to see, and even harder to fix, so if you have a covered drum I suggest you follow the same procedures, and also keep the fiddly cover guard removal tools handy...

So as you can see I am a pretty happy about it all, although  do have some ideas for improvements to the unit (I always have ideas for improvements....) and for the next boat I would consider a complete change of tack by going for a junk rig... But more on that one later.


PS I had to buy my roller reefing unit so the praise is earned, I don't think I'd have a fancy one onboard even if they gave it to me... But saying that the good quality modern units do seem to be very well made and reliable. I just prefer my simple system.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Storm Tactics Part 2 Before the blow

Yes this is a lame picture,about 35 knots so get some sleep now.

The answer to the Blizzard question from part 1, We were kind of reverse hove to with just a backed storm jib and the helm down, this steadied us up somewhat but we were still lying more or less beam on, or maybe the bow was abit down, perhaps 110 degrees relative. The wind was touching 50 in the gusts so probably about 35-40 knots of real wind, and the seas were still pretty low, no more than 3 meters? We were really just taking a break, it not being worth bashing into for the miserable progress we would have made. The wave that came over was definitely a rogue wave, and much bigger than the normal. I sensed it just in time to swing the camera around.

But to move on, I made a mistake in Part 1 Did any of you notice? See I knew you weren't paying attention.... (mind you I didn't notice it either) The caption on the first picture reads "Careless is the ass, who sleeps with a low and falling glass" when in fact this is probably exactly what you should be doing.

Rolf and Deborah from "Northern Light" drummed this into me as a kid when I spent hours reading my grandfather's copy of their excellent book "Northern light". They have a term called the sleep bank, you put hours into it and you take hours out. simple, and you do have an overdraft facility, but go to far into debt and you are in serious strife... It is scary how quickly your decision making part of the brain gets defective with lack of sleep. You start doing really stupid things... Like writing blogs..

So Number 1, get some sleep. Also:
  • If you haven't already (and you really should have been..), get the best weather info you can and work out if you can set a course to clear the worst areas.
  • Study the chart, make sure you are no where near a seamount, edge of a steep continental shelf, or fractured zone these may cause upwellings or somesuch that can make the sea state horrendous. Two deep sea fishermen I have talked to like to get 30 or 40 miles clear of even very deep seamounts if there is any bad weather forecast. They also report 3+ knots of subsurface current at times near these areas. These fishermen are the only good source of info I can find on this, so don't take it as gospel. Here is an interesting link about the schooner "Orbit" capsizing, make sure you also check out the technical notes at the bottom of his page.
  • Start logging weather info as often as possible. Then you can possibly track the low center. If the storm force winds aren't forecast you have an obligation to let the nearest met office know, and broadcast it to other vessels.
  • Cook up a feed, eat and drink lots of water, organize some snacks.
  • Tidy up all that mess that always accumulates (on my boat anyway, maybe you are a tidy person)
  • Secure boat (ie lash down that heavy sextant box)
  • Get storm gear ready
  • Make sure batteries are topped up
  • Lash spinnaker pole down well (it is your emergency mast). I must set mine up to store below.
  • Put clothes, computers and stuff in dry bags
  • Get crap off the deck (fold and stow sails) 
  • Top up any day tanks, empty all bilges, and make sure they are clean and the pumps work.
  • Put the small vane on the wind vane
  • maybe consider seasick tablet if you are so inclined
  • I put extra lashings on my liferaft, to disable the hydrostatic release. You can make up your own mind about this.. BUT definitely make sure a sharp knife is handy...
But also SLEEP.

I'm sure there are many points I've missed. This list is not definitive, let me know if you think of any others and I'll include them.

You are allowed a moment of panic, abit of fear, and quite alot of worry,(unless you really are a robot) but try not to let it stop any of the above. And if you have crew, don't let it show to much...

I will try to write something on sleep patterns latter, but for now I will just note that kind of meditating and relaxing in my bunk seems to work almost as well as sleeping, so now I just get my head down and relax, rather than trying to force myself to sleep. Even 20 minutes of not quite asleep refreshes me alot. You shouldn't be in nasty stuff in the first few days (if you are you need to learn to read a forecast..). So at least  you should be in sea sleeping mode (It takes me a few days).

At this stage the boat should be making its way out of the path of the worst weather and hopefully towards your destination. You may have some great sailing, as the winds and sea build, slowly reducing canvas. I don't push the boat hard at this point unless I really need to get out of the way of something very nasty.

I like to study the sea, Especially the swell directions - there will be two or even three swell patterns overlaid, and of course the wind-driven sea on top of this. Getting this info may prove vital later, because this will give you some idea of the direction of any rogue waves, and may give you some idea which is the best tack or gybe be on latter if things start to get really nasty. Rogue waves tend to come in the average direction of the swells and seas - ie a NW swell with a SW sea will likely give a rogue wave from the west, It also may not, but on probability it is more likely, so if running it would be better to be on the Starboard gybe heading east rather than on the port gybe heading north. Or if hove to, be on the port tack heading west, rather than south. You really want to minimise the chance of a rogue hitting you on the beam... So pay attention to the waves.

I think rogue waves are the big killer, and ultimately the best defence is a strong boat and a bit of luck -  the specific tactics have less to do with it, but certainly can help. That's why I like to prepare for the worst before leaving the wharf.

I have run with drogues in the past, With mixed results, and I would like to talk about this at some later point. But for now need to leave this topic a bit. There will be a part 3, or more, but for now this will have to do, I have already spent too much time deleting and rewriting sentences, and I am still not really happy with it...

All the best, and I hope you never need to use any of this stuff.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Solar Flares, satellites, and space weather

In my previous post  Sextants and GPS take II I asked the following question

"If you can think of a plausible reason for 4 waterproof, isolated GPS units (including one in a Faraday cage) to simultaneously die, for more than a couple of days, I would very impressed." (note this is a hypothetical situation)

Chris from Brilliant star was good enough to reply and give me heads up on space weather. So now we have at least one possibility, a solar flare, to add to our list of sextant requiring events.

After abit of digging around It seems their is a very remote possibility a large enough solar flare could compromise the GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and Irridium satellites and HF radio for long enough to make carrying a sextant across an ocean a good idea.

From the website they suggested that normal flares would only reduce the accuracy by 50 meters or so, not a big deal if you are navigating defensively. And they mentioned an 11 year solar flare peak 2013… although some sites are saying it might be this year.

However the chances of an large enough solar event (The 500 year flare.. NOAA ) to wipeout these systems for any significant period seems very remote, And it would also cause chaos ashore, so it falls squarely into my doomsday apocalyptic situation.

But by pure coincidence today has the largest event this solar cycle (11 years or so) according to (see I am turning into a journalist..and covering my ass) these guys .But looking at the chart from the noaa website this will not really effect anything, only being a G1 on the NOAA flare scales for the moment.

But it may be worth looking for an aurora tonight, and think about how having a good idea about space weather could help with the ladies (or whoever you are trying to impress..) I mean how romantic would it be if you plan that evening walk to coincide with a stunning aurora display...

So I will still carry a sextant... And I will also keep an eye on the space weather and also be aware that a strong aurora and poor radio propagation may also indicate reductions in GPS accuracy. But I won't otherwise worry about it, i'll let the NASA guys do that and will continue to focus on keeping the water out and my crew safe.

A Big thanks to Chris onboard Brilliant Star for the information and links.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wooden Boat Show = Yachty Heaven

The star of the show for me... A simple two part dingy..
I feel like I am back at school, having to ask for an extension again... so here goes, Storm Tactics 2 is still not ready for posting, It is however sitting somewhere in a dusty server awaiting a few tweaks before being revealed to the world.... At least I have a better excuse than I normally manage, (although I honestly did have a pet possum wee on my school assignment once...).

My excuse is the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, And what sailor can resist acres of gleaming varnish, and polished brass, and more enticingly the chance to sit round drinking beer and discussing boats day and night. This year is the biggest ever, and it was also free, so truly it is a slice of Fiddlers Green,  and right on my doorstep every two years.

Anyway in typical Ben Tucker style, (or rather with the absence of any...) I found the acres of varnish  bought back painful memories of scraping and sanding my way around the pacific on the Brigantine Soren Larsen. And I missed the quirky solid little cruising boats that I normally admire. But I did spot this great looking two part dingy with a sailing rig... And I also saw a Farrier Tri with a little aft cabin much like I would like to put on snow petrel one day...

Anyway a big thank you to all who entered their boats, to the organisers and to the sponsors, and finally to the buses for being free this weekend (A good start in an oil constrained world). If you ever get the chance to get down to Tassie, try to time it to catch this event.


Friday, February 11, 2011

More electrical drivel..

Open heart surgery. A terminal problem
You remember how I said electrics may well give you more grief than storms, well here we are, electrical grief, After my deep discharge of my batteries (I don't like to take them under 12v if I can help It). I checked the following day to see what voltage they were at.... !@>! 12.1volts with no load, and full sunlight. I twiddled with the panels, angling them toward the setting sun.. still no change.

Right.. don the Sherlock hat, and think... (ouch). Since I was getting no charge from either of the two panels the problem must be where they join at the regulator. Elementary my dear Watts-in (sorry..). looking closely I noticed the negative wire was loose, and the heat from the loose connection had burnt and melted the connection strip (see the photo). I can only guess that the deeper than normal discharge had resulted in the full charge being pumped in for the first time in a little while, creating too much heat, either that or I had bumped the wires at some point... or more likely a combination of both. Case solved.

Anyway yesterday I fixed it, after all it does the battery no good to sit half charged for any length of time. I cut away the melted plastic and put it all back together. With enormous satisfaction I noticed the smiley face on the screen saying thank you after I faced the panels back into the sun (I shaded them for safety) and turned the batteries back on.
All fixed, note the smiley face!!

While I was at it I checked all the battery cells with the hydrometer (Being very careful not to get any acid in my eyes,skin or on my clothes). Although all the individual cells (6 cell per 12v battery) are all in the red they all floated at about the same level, and needed just a bit of de-mineralised water to top them up. So maybe there is more life in them than I thought. If  I had one cell that was using lots of extra water, and floated much lower than the others it is really bad news (actually a terminal disease, with no effective cure), and this dodgy cell will keep sucking the lifeblood out of any battery connected to it. This is one thing I like about standard batteries, I'm not sure how easy it is to check the heath of an AGM or other sealed battery?

Buoyed by my success I also installed the 800w inverter. Now I feel very pleased with myself... I think regular maintenance might improve my heath as well as the boats.

By coincidence John has just written a good article on batteries here and it talks alot about equalising the batteries, for those of you that don't know about this it means gently overcharging the battery's to break the sulfates off the lead plates. My solar panel regulator supposedly does this every month, but I need a good sunny day. The only point here is to be careful that you don't blow up sensitive electrical gear, because the voltage can go up to 16 volts or so. Also be very careful of battery gas and water levels. For more info about equalisation see here.

I need to work out how to easily isolate one battery for equalisation while using the other one, Guess it will just be abit of fiddling with wires. One other point, my regulator cuts off the load (ie ALL power like lights and GPS etc at about 11.2v), so I have rigged an emergency bypass switch, this also disables all battery monitoring, like charge in and charge out, but could be good in emergencies.

A note on battery safety, having seen an exploded battery.. not a good look and very dangerous (not to mention the cost!), don't over charge them and be very careful of the hydrogen gas released when charging hard. It goes up (lighter than air), and it goes ventilate well and always use insulated tools, (or at least wrap lots of insulating tape around the handles) to prevent a dead short if you drop it or are otherwise clumsy like me, Oh and don't wear metal Jewellery. Also Battery acid is nasty stuff, wear safety goggles. Oh yeah.. and they are bloody heavy.

The point of all this waffle is that batteries and charging is a big deal, you need to understand your system, and the simpler it is the easier it will be to maintain, fix and understand. This is why I do not have a fridge or freezer, the continued draw would totally overwhelm my system, and I would be forced to run the engine to compensate, and then I would need a smart regulator for my alternator, then extra batteries, then more fuel... well you get the idea.



PS I am working on Storm Tactics part 2, but with my one finger typing it is rather slow going..

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Storm Tactics Part 1 Preparation

After last nights boring battery discourse I thought I'd better give you something abit more salty, Although truth be told electrics will probably give you more grief than storms...

Careless is the ass, who sleeps with a low and falling glass.

I'm sure what you want to hear is lots of salty sea dog tales of waves washing the ship, while lightning flashes around our stout ship and the low clouds race overhead.. But I can't be bothered tonight (maybe I'll do some as case studies latter). What I can do is give you a glimpse into my thoughts on dealing with very bad weather.

I have been through some nasty weather in many different yachts and ships, There are plenty of people with more experience than me, and plenty with less, and lots of perfectly valid ideas and concepts. My best advice is to read widely, including opposite opinions to what you might think, Ie the Pardeys have a very different ideas to what a round the world ocean racer might prefer. Both are valid for different vessels and sailing styles and also listen to that quiet old sailor in the corner of the bar, his words might make all the difference in some blow somewhere.

My thoughts are that it really comes down to luck, good preparation, a strong boat and a good mental attitude, ultimately it has less to do with the specific tactics involved. I think to many people get tied up in the one magic solution, Hanging all your hopes on one favored tactic is rather dangerous, The sea is too dynamic, each storm will have very different wave characteristics, and each boat can behave unpredictably in extreme winds. what worked well in one case might not work at all in others.

Ok I will give you a salty story to illustrate this point. My friend Dave Pryce is one of the most experienced sailors I know. He took his 20 meter alloy yacht Blizzard down to Commonwealth bay and got caught in a very serious blow. In the past he has always run off at speed, steering down the waves, but this time the wind was to strong, the boat kept surfing down the waves, broaching uncontrollably, He described it as as if he had a spinnaker up in 40 knots. And he was under bare poles. He ended up lying a hull, apparently the wind lay her over so far she just slid down the waves with no rolling, like being hove too. Now this is interesting because if Dave said the storm was something else, it was, and the vibrations from the harmonics in the rig undid one bottle-screw, and the prop shaft bolts (he lost his shaft..). Dave agrees that lying ahull is not normally a good tactic, but he had no other options, and it worked for him. I wouldn't recommend this, beam on is usually the worst way to lie, but it shows that you need an open mind.

I start my storm tactics at the dock before I leave. Mentally I expect to be rolled, that way I am not surprised if it actually happens. And at least some of the lockers will stay closed (because I will have made sure they all have some sort of hold down). I make sure I have the basic gear and an idea how to make some sort of jury rig, because in a rollover the odds are not good that the rig will stay in the boat. I make sure I have confidence in the boat actually staying together. Any specific niggles are dealt with as far as possible, either physically or mentally (I tell myself that cars are much more dangerous..). 

There are always some things that will worry you, That is normal see The wimp, fear at sea . I suppose that's where experience comes in, and the luck. Fix what you can and try not to worry to much about what you can't fix. Remember, the fundamental prioritys, don't do any other nonessential work until these priority's are sorted out.

1 Keep the boat afloat and in one piece (staying afloat also means keeping off the rocks)
2 Keep yourself attached to the boat and uninjured.
3 Keep the rudder attached.
4 Keep the rig up.

If you can maintain at least 1 & 2 from this list you will almost certainly survive any storm. if you are not sure of these maybe reconsider your plans? Not sure who to credit these rules to, I first saw something like this written by John from  many years ago in a magazine and they certainly are spot on.

I know when the boat and crew are ready enough. The key word here is enough, It doesn't mean all the jobs are complete (they never are...), just that the boat is safe and the crew are ready. The crew are familiar with the boat, this is best gained by working on the boat.

On Number 2  Keeping uninjured, I like to have helmets for extreme weather, and some sort of restraining device for my bunk, so even inverted I will not fall out. Quarter berths are good for this, but stick your head up the cockpit end. Lee cloths need to be strong (the only nasty injury onboard was due to leecloth coming undone) , and I like to have another flap that holds me in and protects me from flying sextant boxes and the like.

Enough for today, I have run out of steam, and you are probably bored, I will continue this latter, if my fickle mind doesn't forget and give you more electrical drivel instead.. 

But if you have got this far I have a reward for you, a Video,  I hope it loads OK, I took it from Blizzard on the way to South America somewhere halfway across the southern ocean.  See if you can work out how we were lying and what the wind speed might have been... Its about 3 megs or so, and has a big wave hitting us.


By the way, I think I lost the game (see the video to understand this cryptic remark..)


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snow petrel battery power

Two solar panels getting iced up.. Not much charge going in..

Yesterday at lunch break my fellow builders and I discussed batteries and solar panels and the like. We talked about using wind, solar and the other option of trailing a water generator. At this point I should come clean and reveal that my fellow builders are all sailors as well. My dad (head honcho) with NZ maid, two of my brothers with assorted boats like the Proa (see the videos page.. Top left), And another friend who is rebuilding and living aboard a 34 footer.

Living aboard a boat for any length of time (away from the marina) quickly shows that power in a battery is your lifeblood. And there are plenty of vampire like appliances to suck this lifeblood away, If you are silly enough let them get anywhere near your batteries.

I used to manage quite well with one 40 watt solar panel, It kept the basic lights running and the radio playing, or occasional bit of watching a small LCD TV. But things could get a bit desperate on cloudy weeks, and I reckon the 50% discharges haven't done my batteries any good.

I had a wind generator (an Air Marine) on the last boat, but found that athough it worked well in (Windy) Wellington and did OK at sea, It was not as good as the solar panels at running a base load, I either had no power or far to much, In general the average good anchorage was too gusty to get any useful power. The 40watt solar panel was a huge improvement, trickling in a good reliable charge most days. With my small two battery system I cannot store the huge amount of power that the wind generator puts out in any decent wind, So after a couple of hours of charge the wind generator was switched off for peace and quiet.

So if I spend the money on another wind generator it will probably be something like the Rutland 504 which puts out a pitiful amount of power but is small, quiet, safe and works well in strong winds. Most of the bigger ones have to be shut down for safety in gale force conditions, right when the solar panels are often under cloud, and when you don't need any power issues. Saying that, in some places like the trade winds or with a good reliable sea breeze wind generators may make more sense?

My father uses a tow generator at sea and loves it. It powers the autopilot and the small fridge, and works well whenever the boat is moving. This was our backup for the trip to Antarctica, but we didn't need to use it because the solar panels provided plenty of power. Obviously the tow generator only works at sea, and not at anchor.

The system that works for me now is two 40 watt panels on tilting mounts and with a top quality regulator/battery monitor and two combined starting/house 70 amp hour batteries. The batteries are standard wet cell lead acid, They are not sealed, so I can  top up the fluid and check them with a hydrometer every so often (actually not often enough). They are cheap and seem to last well even given considerable abuse (I nearly boiled them dry last year), They are stuffed now, after 6 years, and are only on life support due to the solar panels. This is a good innings (I think three years is about average) and I feel I have got my moneys worth out of them. At this stage the jury is still out on the sealed AGM and Gel cells. I think I will just use cheap standard batteries again, the modern charge regulators pulse charge them, equalize them occasionally and generally keep the batteries much happier than in the past, extending their life considerably.

If you look at this link It will give you some idea of just how hard it is to run a large complex boat electrically. I avoid alot of these problems by being a power control freak, and by having minimal power draw, no fridge/freezer, no wanky wind and boat speed instruments (can draw more than you think), no big chartplotter, and a windvane rather than autopilot, It Is a good feeling to know I can cut my needs down to just one small light and a book.

I have a third 40 watt panel to install, and I will probably put in a standalone engine start battery, With this in place and new house batteries I should have plenty of power for my computer.. With Modern LED lighting I may even have some power to spare..

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sextants and GPS Take II

After all The Iphone stupidity I now have my Big 800w inverter dodgily clipped onto the batteries . Its happily running my computer, But like a vampire it is slurping the life blood from my old pair of geriatric batteries (I can tell it's enjoying the feast because the fan is buzzing away happily). The voltage is rapidly dropping from 12.2v down toward the 12.0v mark... But if I type real fast I may just get this post finished before the interior lights begin to fade.  The joys of being on a mooring.

Now back to the Sextant issue, I now finally have a photo to add.
see I told you it was a Beauty, A Freiburger, never been used. It's a very close relative to the Russian SNO-T sextant (The T stands for tropical apparently). I know this because My friend also lent me a very interesting book called "The Nautical Sextant" that gives in-depth details of the inner workings of every sextant since Sir Isaac Newton first thought of the concept. It will keep me awake again tonight if the batteries hold out long enough...

We discussed my sextant today at work over lunch (I worked as a builders labourer today) and we compared it to a GPS, Most of my fellow builders reckoned they wouldn't cross an ocean without a sextant and almanac, but aside from the rather remote possibility that all the satellites might fall out of the sky.. Or a lightning bolt might fry all 4 GPS units we would have replacing the sextant. No one could come up with a realistic scenario that didn't involve some sort of doomsday apocalyptic situation requiring the sextant.

That being said, I wouldn't cross a reasonable chunk of water without a sextant, maybe for superstitious reasons as much as anything else, I mean it is really tempting mr fate isn't it. There is also more to the sextant than just a backup, somehow carrying one makes you feel more independent, you are not relying on high tech satellites to get you from A to B. You could do it on your own if you wanted to. The satellites become just a convenience, not a necessity. For me at least that is one of the things I like about being at sea, a feeling of self reliance.

The other thing about carrying a sextant is that it links you to the seaman past, to Cook, to Columbus, and even in some ways to the amazing Polynesian navigators, they all had to navigate using the stars, sun and moon. You are a part of a tradition, and it feels right.

The last 1000 NM of the trip from Tasmania to Chile was done using Celestial Navigation only (except Dave who had the odd secret GPS peak for safety). The landfall was the most exciting ever, knowing we had found our position and navigated by the sun and stars. This is something every sailor should feel at least once.

Anyway the vampire has sucked the life blood down to 11.8 volts so if I don't stop soon I will kill the batteries for good. Since you've missed a few photo's I will give you two today, I have finally found a use for Snotty the sextant, It makes a great mouse table, and every thing on a boat needs two uses ...



Ps If you can think of a plausible reason for 4 waterproof, isolated GPS units (including one in a Faraday cage) to simultaneously die, for more than a couple of days, I would very impressed. (note this is a hypothetical situation)

Edit 15/2/11 After discussion with Chris at Brilliant star see here for more details and also the comments on this post. It seems we have our answer, there is a remote possibility a large enough solar flare could compromise the GPS, Galileo, glonass and irridium satellites and radio for long enough to make carrying a sextant across an ocean a good idea?

From the website they suggested that normal flares would only reduce the accuracy by 50 meters or so, not a big deal if you are navigating defensively. And they mentioned an 11 year solar flare peak 2013…

However the chances of an large enough solar event to wipeout these systems for any significant period seems remote, And it would also cause chaos ashore, so it falls into my doomsday apocalyptic situation. By coincidence today has the largest event this solar cycle according to (see I am turning into a journalist..) these guys

BUT I will still carry a sextant... And I will also keep an eye on the space weather and also be aware that a strong aurora and poor radio propagation may also indicate reductions in gps accuracy.

A Big thanks to Chris onboard Brilliant Star for the Info

for further info see

The 500 year flare.. NOAA
NOAA flare scales

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sextant iphone photo

Sent from my iPhone so now I know how to add photos to the blog while using next to no electricity. Nice sextant hey?

Iphones and Idiots

Had a premature posting problem, so now you know I have an Iphone, and I am also not very good at driving it.. So yes I come clean, I am one of those Latte drinking (actually a flat white) Iphone types.
So today due to being on the boat with a flat computer battery I thought I would try to email in a post about my lovely new sextant. But while halfway through composing my masterpiece of modern literature, my far to fat forefinger acidentally tapped the far to small screen in the spot called send.. so off went my half finished post into the interweb with that stupid iphone signature that I nomally delete..
Anyway the thing doesn't support flash or something so It won't let me go back in and edit the post on my site, hence this longwinded explanation, but anyway you can still answer my question in the last post, what to you think, are sextants like tits on a bull? (ie useless)
While on the subject of phones, for us power starved cruisers this little phone is a marvel, internet at your fingertips, draws next to nothing powerwise. Stores songs and brilliant sailing podcasts from (you can look them up) And it also stores charts, for $15 (Navionics) I have the whole of Australia stored on It. (it even updates them for me!) Its now a pocketsized chartplotter (It has a built in GPS). Absolutley amazing.... now if only those screens were bigger.

Cheers from Snow Petrel

PS I'm sure the other brand smartphones are just as good, and infact the 3G part of this phone has died so its reception is pretty bad out of town. And in my defense mine is a crappy old 8 meg 3G not the way cooler 3gs or iphone 4, but if anyone from apple is reading this I do accept sponsership...

Sextant and Tits on Bulls

I just bought a Sextant today, I had absolutly no intention of getting one, It just sort of happened.

I brushed the cobwebs off the hatch of Snowpetrel and shook the cockroaches out of the sails, then sailed across to Bruny Island for BBQ. The next day I popped in to see a mate who showed me a sextant he had aquired in a garage sale. I checked it and adjusted out the slight errors, and just held it, unlike my old plastic davis mk 15 this had a "Real" sextant feel, so much like the sextants I learnt to use on the ships. Anyway I bought it.. 500 bucks for a virtually new Freiberger with a lovely wooden case. Why are they so expensive asked karen? 500 bucks I could have bought about 4 GPS units, which would do the same job quicker, more accurately...etc.

So are sextants about as much use as tits on a bull? should they be resigned to antique stores with the walker log?
Sent from my iPhone

Friday, February 4, 2011


Hello,  I have added a video page, to access it click on the video button next to home in the top ribbon panel just under the header, It has a couple of short videos made by my little brother Matt, I think they are very good, but then I am a bit biased... They also show how you can make anything look dramatic and scary if you put in the right music. You can post any comments regarding the videos here if you feel so inclined.



The wimp and I... Fear at sea

Saw a very interesting  blog on the excellent site Attainable Adventure Cruising. See here for the article. John mentions dealing with fear and nerves at sea. It got me to thinking and I even decided to reply, I think this is a key topic and I hope to add more later. Here is my reply (after abit of tweaking and spellcheck!), but I recommend reading johns piece first.
About to enter the pack ice for the first time..Me and my Father, I hope you can tell I'm the one on the right.. Photo Matt Tucker

Interesting, and thanks for being so frank about the wimp within.
I can be one of the wimpiest sailors I know, fretting and worrying over small and big things.
But then I have also managed to safely sail a small engineless 26 footer singlehanded across the Tasman in winter (Nelson to Sydney), Sail my 34 footer from Hobart to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica and run a 60 foot charter boat in antarctic peninsula plus manage numerous dodgy deliveries.

Still the wimp within remains with me, nagging at me and keeping me up to scratch, and so far safe (touch wood).

I am a great believer in John Vigors Black Box theory, a kind of safety Karma thing, if you haven't already heard about it go and look at and click on the black box theory link at the top.
Thanks to all of you for making me feel not so unusual in my wimpyness. It does makes me wonder if maybe some of the great sailors of the past may also have a similar degree of wimpiness, and if in fact the very presence of Mr whimp is what somehow drives us to test our selfs.

When I first got my Ticket and became Third Mate on a 40000 tonne container ship I started having nightmares about running aground (the real wake up sweating type). When I mentioned this to the chief mate he just laughed and said they were normal “mates mares” and would soon pass as I got used to the responsibility.

By building up my skills and comfort level slowly I have gained an understanding and ability to analyse some of my feelings and know which ones are normal jitters and reactions and can be ignored and which ones signify some subconscious and important concerns that need to be actively dealt with.

However I still envy those happy go lucky sailors that seem to get by with not a care in the world, maybe there is 4 stages,

1 Ignorance is bliss, not even being aware of the dangers
2 Knowing the dangers and fearing them, or fear of the unknown
3 Confidence that you can deal with the dangers as they arise and any unknowns
4 Overconfidence and a fright can kick you back to stage 2

And those fearless sailors are at either at stages 1 or 3.5, or maybe they just lack any imagination.



If you have any comments to add, please consider chucking them up on Johns site, This post is really an extension of his.. Ohhh and a big hello to the three people who have been over here for a look at my amaturish efforts..