This and That, December

“Fun Tax”

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I got an email from yacht designer Ed Joy, about something else, to which he added the following:

I agree with the sentiments in your hull form article. Racers having great fun scampering downwind on their sleds are dreading the “fun tax” that must be paid when it’s time to harden up the sheets – not acceptable on a cruising boat.

I have seldom heard it said better.

Don’t Want Any Hunters Getting Hurt, Do We?

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Sign seen at the start of a hiking trail. When your teacher said that “punctuation matters” she was right!

All That Shines is Not Strong

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Stainless has a place on a voyaging boat, but we don’t think that place is the anchoring system.

Here at AAC we have long warned against using stainless steel chain for anchoring or moorings. We are not metals experts, but we have seen and heard of too many fittings and chains made from stainless steel failing in unexpected ways at very low loads. As we understand it, no matter the grade, stainless steel is more subject to becoming brittle, due to cycle loading, than other steels.

Now there are solid test results from our friends over at Practical Sailor magazine that will, or at least should, scare you away from stainless steel chain forever. And anyway, having stainless steel anchor chain, and/or anchors, makes your boat look foo foo!

Traveling Unplugged

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No internet or cell phone here.

I have to admit that one of the first things we do when we get to a new port is get connected to internet, either via Wi-Fi or data over our iPhone. (The new iPads and iPhones with their built in “Hot Spot” feature work great for this, connecting all three computers on the boat to the internet, very simply and elegantly and with really quite good speed.)

But is being plugged in all the time a good idea? Does the constant urge and ability to get connected enhance or diminish the joy of travel? A friend sent  us a link to this article that makes a pretty convincing case that it is the latter.

Would we go back to the time, not really very long ago, when we were out of touch with friends and family for days and even weeks when voyaging? No, but we do agree that swinging too far the other way can diminish voyaging. Like so much in life, it’s a balance. And we will be keeping a weather eye on that balance.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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17 comments … add one
  • Alison Dec 21, 2012, 10:08 am

    We were just talking with SV Hannah about this last night. First thing you do when the hook goes down is look for a signal but there’s a cost to be paid. Nice to cruise where there’s no possibility of that and really get away from it all. Makes me think of “Into the Wild”. We’ve lost, in large part, the ability to “get lost”. Is throwing a map away the answer? Not “plugging in” even when you know you can? We’ll be mindful of the need and desirability to really get away from it all and not connect. Thanks for the insight.

    • John Dec 22, 2012, 12:52 pm

      Hi Alison,

      Good point about “First thing you do when the hook goes down…”. Isn’t that sad? Instead of sitting in the cockpit quietly soaking in the ambiance of the new place, as we used to, we are down below messing with the technology.

  • Travis C Dec 21, 2012, 10:32 am

    It certainly is a conflicting situation. For many folks the internet not only represents “connectedness” but also a tool for conducting business. If you aren’t cruising on savings/investments, then conducting this new generation of business practically requires reliable communication, and wifi/3-4G near shore is one of the most cost-effective ways of doing this. Thankfully many folks have found a balance between being disconnect for “long” periods of time, yet reconnecting and seamlessly integrating back into the ether on their return. Wait, that sounds like Attainable Adventure Cruising… Great recap of thoughts today!

  • Jacques Landry Dec 21, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Travis says it well. Some of us must keep somewhat connected to make a living. There are also other situations that require some kind of connectivity. I will soon be leaving with my 10 year old son for a sail around the world. My wife will stay on the hard and keep working. I will be away for more than a year with him, but there was one and only one condition (from my wife) : I need to be able to report (at least “we are still alive”) twice a week. SSB radio is what I will use to this end, and possibly some short e-mails via ham. OK, that is not Facebook or a blog (of which I have none) but it is nonetheless connectivity to the rest of the world. Not a sin I believe! And NO I can’t/won’t afford a satellite phone.

    As for stainless chain, or equipment, you may want to look back at the responses on PS. The bottom line is that “not all stainless are equal”. By the way, I can bet that you don’t have galvanized steel standing rigging (being rod or wire) and most of your hardware IS stainless steel. I would believe standing rigging is subjected to cycle loading a lot more than anchor chains, and yet it is changed every 10 years at best. OK, I confess, my chain and anchor are galvanized, beside the aluminum Fortress !

    • John Dec 21, 2012, 2:13 pm

      Hi Jacques,

      Yes, I do understand that there is a lot of difference between grades of SS. And, as you say, I don’t have galvanized rigging.

      As to cycle loading differences between chain and rigging, I’m not so sure. Years ago, when I was a sailmaker and rigger we very quickly learned that a sure route to failure of SS rigging was to have it too slack. I wonder if chain is not subjected to more destructive cycle loading than rigging because it is often slack and then subjected to a shock load when the boat comes up short in a gust.

      I certainly would not want to in any way set myself up as an expert in metals, but one thing I do know: Over the years I have seen more seemingly inexplicable failures at relatively low loads in SS fittings than I like. And that includes failures in the very best grades of SS in fittings made by top of the line manufacturers. Something is going on here, and I think the very low fail loads that PS has recorded on SS chain may be the canary in the coal mine.

      Anyway, good quality galvanized chain is a lot less expensive than SS, so why take the risk on SS just to have shiny chain.

      • David Harring Dec 21, 2012, 7:05 pm

        Johm & Matt,

        In the mid 70’s I had a job fabricating aluminum sailing yachts in the UK. I managed to make it to the London boat show with some of the shop crew and commented on some of the galvanized steel rigging and fittings. The comment I got from one of the older guys was that a lot of people still liked galvanized fittings and rigging because they could tell at a glance when corrosion started to become a problem. maybe there’s more to be said about some of the old practices

        Dave

  • Chris Dec 21, 2012, 1:02 pm

    The ability to do something doesn’t compel the doing. We connect because we are as a species, connectors. I suspect someone decried the connectivity (albeit dreadful) that HF provided with the introduction of SSB.

    What I find troublesome is the virtually useless social media that drumbeat connections with no content; that create bandwidth demand that interferes with obtaining operational safety, financial, or medical information.

    Last year we saw cruisers arguing with each other about one having gotten between an anchored boat and the shoreside WIFI antenna — even though doing so meant they would be aground in a wind shift. In the breeze we heard the mention of missing a wargame log in.

    Go figure, as they say.

    • John Dec 22, 2012, 12:54 pm

      Hi Chris,

      We too have seen cruisers making un-seamanlike anchoring decisions just so they can stay connected to WiFi—very sad.

  • Matt Marsh Dec 21, 2012, 3:14 pm

    Re. connectivity:
    One of the things I love about the family cottage is that it’s 30 km past the point where the last cellphone cuts to “no signal”. There’s an unlisted landline for logistics and emergencies, but it is undeniably relaxing to be away from the computers for a while. (Also, having not touched Facebook or Twitter in a month now, it turns out they were completely dispensable after all.)

    Re. stainless steel / metallurgical flaws: Hmm, something interesting to investigate… (starts hunting for old materials science textbooks…)

  • Paul Mills Dec 22, 2012, 1:55 am

    Hi all

    I love being connected to get weather etc on my phone. I also have gotten people used to not getting e mail replies instantly, and frequently murmur about poor signals where I am cruising…… My beloved loves Facebook for keeping in touch, I think it’s mainly hot air…

    I feel the bottom line is that it’s up to us as individuals to be clear and resolved in ourselves about when we connect or not. I often sail into a peaceful anchorage, know the weather already and resolutely ignore my phone/laptop for 24 hours ; the challenge was learning to believe all would be fine in the meantime….

    Now, sailing away with my ten year old has got me thinking its time for the next ‘dad and boy’ adventure……

    Paul

    • John Dec 22, 2012, 12:47 pm

      Hi Paul,

      I think you make a really good point about getting people used to a reasonable delay in an email responses. A couple of years ago, I started deliberately waiting a day or so to as much as a week before responding to non-urgent (most all) emails.

      Not only am I less stressed with this policy, the quality of my responses is probably better too.

  • Dick Tatlock Dec 22, 2012, 9:29 am

    On the subject of connectivity, when cruising the ability to check a weather app such as “Radar Now” for N.America for Android devices is most welcome. Here you have in your hand (or lap) instant locational history and hence projections of weather fronts and precipitation and of course on other sites as much weather information “that you can eat”. On the subject of marine related apps there is “marine traffic” giving you all AIS ship positions in selected worldwide areas. Want to know almost instantly the name of the nearby tug and barge in the channel?
    M/V Julia Bryant
    Boston

  • Joe Casey Dec 22, 2012, 11:40 am

    AIS on the web — aka marinetraffic.com very clearly states that there is a delay presentation you see in your browser. To illustrate, we were ‘tracking’ a friend’s approach and as they rounded the point into the anchorage, the ‘track’ on the display showed them to be about 1 mile back. They were averaging somewhere between 3 and 5 kts. marinetraffic.com is good for information but NOT a substitute for watch keeping and navigation support.
    s/v Iolair (formerly)

  • John Dec 22, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Hi All,

    Thanks for all the great comments on the benefits and drawbacks of being constantly connected.

    Just to clarify, I was certainly not implying that anyone should deprive themselves in any way of the seamanship enhancing benefits of connectivity like up to the minute weather information.

  • Joe Casey Dec 22, 2012, 1:02 pm

    On anchoring and connectivity: must be something wrong with our approach. After we settle the boat, establish GPS-based position, and secure whatever needs securing, we generally settle into the cockpit with a strong drink, a book, and binocs to check out the wildlife. Playing with the PC, email, etc….not so much.

  • Gene Gruender Dec 23, 2012, 12:50 am

    As to failures of good quality stainless fittings, we’ve had several over the years. In each case it was due to a load not going directly through a fitting , but putting some sort of side load on something.

    I’m not sure I can do the best job of explaining without pointing at something while explaining, but one example is cracked chainplates that were not in line with the load from the stay. Every cycle will attempt to stretch one side more than the other. Eventually the outter side can fail. Soon the other is gone. Might take many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of cycles, but it can eventually cause failure.

    We had a t head on the end of the forestay that went into a toggle, when the sail load caused the stay to bow to the downward side the toggle bumped a part of the fitting. A slight side load was put onto the t, after many miles it failed from fatigue. Nobody would have thought it would have mattered if they just looked at it in it’s normal installation. There was no sign of corrosion.

    You get the idea. You need to make sure any changing load can’t cares the metal to stress. This might mean a toggle needs to be installed, it might mean a fitting needs redesign. On our Choey Lee the forestay should have hooked to the stem fitting 90 degrees from how it was. The pin went through a vertical plate from side to side, the plate running fore and aft. Each change of load tried to bend that plate, no matter how little. It took years, but eventually the plate cracked and we lost the forestay.

    • John Dec 23, 2012, 11:32 am

      Hi Gene,

      Great comment with a really important issue very clearly explained, thank you!

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