Site Simplification and Redesign

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It has been over five years, eons in internet time, since we did any significant design work on this site, so a complete rethink was long overdue.

We started the process back in the late summer of 2019 by spending a bunch of time analyzing both how existing members use the site and the path that casual readers take to become members. Here’s what we learned:

  • Over 60% of members, and a slightly smaller percentage of non-members, now visit the site on phones or tablets.
  • Although the site was mobile responsive, using it on a phone was clunky at best.
  • The side bar was fundamentally useless, with almost no one using it, and yet everyone had to put up with all that stuff loading on every page.
  • The way we were separating member content from free was horribly awkward and confusing, as well as a nightmare to maintain.
  • There was a huge amount of code being loaded on every page to support features that very few people use.
  • Consequently, the site load times were way longer than they should be.
  • There were way too many choices on the main menu.
  • A number of the articles in Online Books ended up there because it was the only way to keep a series of posts in a logical order, rather than because they offered hard, actionable information, as all Online Book chapters should.
  • Navigating around our over 1000 articles was awkward.

Here’s what we have fixed so far:

Goodbye Sidebar

The sidebar is on its way out:

  • Recent comments have been moved to the bottom menu.
  • The list of Online Books is now under “Books” on the main menu.

The advantage of this change is huge, since now that information only loads on your device when you click on the menu item, instead of on every page load.

In addition, we can display many more recent comments than we used to, together with a snippet of text to help you decide if a particular comment interests you.

Goodbye Corporate Members

The only reason the sidebar was still there at all is the advertisements for corporate members. So what to do? We have long said that if we got enough members we could dispense with the ads. That time is here, thank you, members.

As at today, all advertisements and corporate memberships are gone. We are 100% member supported.

By the way, a huge thank you to the corporate members that supported us over the years, and particularly during the dark early days of membership. Without their support we would not be here.

Cruising Topics

We have long had a separate menu for cruising topics. That’s gone and the topics are now under…wait for it…”Topics” on the top menu. Clicking there yields a simple and clean hierarchical Table of Contents. Again, the speed benefits are huge.

Hello Breadcrumbs

All cruising topics pages now have breadcrumbs at the top, so you can easily see where you are in the Archives, and so you can navigate around without having to return to the Topics page.

Series Within Topics

Topics now supports a series of articles in logical order. So far we have only set up a few series, but over time we will be doing a lot more.

Online Books

All of these changes will let us clean up the Online Books to make them even better. This will take time, but we are pegging away at it.

Free Stuff

The specific page of free stuff is gone, ditto specific free topics. Instead, all articles are clearly tagged so those of you thinking about joining can scroll through quickly to the free stuff, while still seeing what members get.

New Page

We renamed the old “Member” page “New”, because that’s really what it is: The newest articles in reverse chronological order (newest at the top). This is the page you will want to bookmark in your browser.


Site search is still available on the top right of every page, but now with a simple icon, rather than a search box. Would you believe that change saved a quarter of a second on every page load?

Account and Help

There is now an “ACCOUNT” link that displays at the top right of every page as soon as you members log in. If you have not yet checked it out, take a moment now, it’s where you can manage every aspect of your account and email preferences, as well as contact us if you need further help.

Phase 2

So all of the above is Phase 1 completed. But there’s still a lot left to do:

  • Continue to optimize the site code. It’s better, but still horribly bloated. And, yes, some features (for example, comment editing) that only a small minority of members use, may end up getting the chop.
  • A new faster and more readable theme. Probably a few months before we see that, it’s a huge project.


Let us know what you think. Please leave a comment.

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Patrick Ryan

Thanks for working so hard on this site. I look forward to learning the new navigation,

Alex Borodin

Hi John,
I don’t know if it’s somehow caused by redesign, but I can’t find a way to upload an avatar picture on the Account page. Is it because I’m functionally blind?

Alex Borodin

Hi John,
Thank you.
Now that you’ve pointed me to it, I recall having seen it once before. But I have to say, comment guidelines is not the place where I would look for how to create an avatar. Maybe a hint on the Account page would help another lost soul like myself.

Evan Effa

I like to be able to Edit my Komments… since I invariably press send before noticing my typos & grammatical goofs.


Ernest E Vogelsinger

Yup, same to me – and aside this congratulations for making the site more streamlined and noticeably faster. Nice work!

Philip Wilkie

Many thanks for all the dedicated work, it’s a non-trivial effort maintaining a site of this size. I do have two feedback points:
I’d prefer comment editing to remain for the same reasons. Could I suggest that the better metric is the fraction of members who make a comment AND edit it.
And secondly I do use the ‘Recent Comments’ feature a lot, for me it’s the best way to keep up with site activity. If it was easy to do I’d prefer the button or toolbar at the top of the page so it wasn’t necessary to always scroll down for it. Small point really.

Stevie Rose

Great work.

Kit Laughlin

I want to be able to edit my comments, too, John, so a vote from me on this point. Congratulations on the re-think and re-design; there’s so much more work in this than people realise.

Alissa Winter

Another request for comment editing to remain for the following reasons:
– I would say that one of the main strengths of AAC is the quality of the comments, and
– people may be discouraged from commenting if they are set in stone (it’s easy to make accidental errors using mobile, which accounts for 60% of site visits, including this comment).
– views can change, experiences can change, etc.

Good luck managing the tradeoffs, and great job!

Philippe Candelier

All looks good.
It took me a few seconds to figure out where to go to get latest posts. NEW somehow did not trigger anything, until, well that was the only possible option.
May be rename it HOME ?

I would also move the NEW/HOME button at the most left, and move the ABOUT at the most right end side: this is the standard way for every web site: Home, or latest blog pat on the top left, and about at the top right or bottom…

Philippe Candelier

Actually, the first thing I tried (even before reading the menus headings) was to click (tap on iPad) the site title bar. Nowadays, on most web site this brings you to the main/new/home page. As nothing happened, I had to look closer.
I agree that a HOME button is no longer sexy.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, here on my side a click/tab on the page title bar brings me to the new users “About” page (the “real home page” according to the URL, regardless if I am logged in or not. I can see a “Members” button that consecutively would bring me to the “New” page, then.

If this is as you designed it it works. I’m not a WP pro so I don’t know if it is easily possible but I’d try to have already logged-in members to reach the “New” page this single click short – possibly having a redirection meta tag on the “About” page when a logged-in user has been detected.

Rick Boudah

I don’t no how much effort it would take but a feature I would like is something that would highlight comments in a thread that have been added since the last time I visited. Once the comments section gets lengthy it’s hard to keep track of what you might have read already, and as you scroll down whether a nested comment is a new one.

Rick Boudah

Well how about highlighting the date at the top of the comment with a different color for comments made in the last 24 hrs. I check in nearly every day.

Alexander Hubner

Hi John,
I like the changes. Much better for tablet. Thank you very much
Kind regards

Markku Mäki-Hokkonen

Hi John,
Why not have Recent comments in the main menu instead of the bottom. To me comments are part of the core services of this wonderful site and thus part of the Main stuff. Bottom placement needs guidance and scrolling down. Bottom menu is for supportive info?
Thank you for your great work!

Marvin Hamm

I’m looking forward to the revamp.
I’ve really never managed to use the site as the resource that it is sold as. The book metaphor is used, but I’m not quite feeling it as I try to work my way around in the site and I don’t know how to see a big list of ‘everything’. If I go to the Books page on my hi-res 24″ monitor, I see three at a time, almost. I would love to see some kind of tree of all the posts, compressed, single line description of each. Something I could use the browser search function to navigate. As it stands, I totally believe there are 1000+ articles on the site, but they are behind a black hole that I can’t see myself past.
Avid reader, love the site, but don’t come back here looking for the old stuff near like I would if I could get around easier. Tried going back and finding your camera recommendations a while back and it wasn’t fun trying to find it.
All the best…

Marvin Hamm

Love the topic tree. No descriptions is just fine.
But as soon as I go into one of the big topics, I’m back into a ‘black hole’. It would be neat if there was an expanded version of the tree that included all the articles. Yes, it would make for a long page, but it would only be text and I could visual scan it, or search it with the browser search.
Imagine me wanting to glean the wisdom of AAC on anchoring. To scan through all the topics in Anchoring it was click into anchoring/scroll wheel 9 times/click p2/scroll wheel 9/click p3/scroll 9/click p4/scroll 7 – by then I’ve forgotten which page the article is on that I really want to read. And, boat design and destinations are three times a big!
Or, once you are in a topics, there would be a page that would be the same construction as the topics page, but just for that one topic, now listing the articles.
Yes, I know there is a search box on the upper right. But that doesn’t quite play the same role, especially when we are living with the ‘books’ metaphor. I like books, because I can scroll through the anchoring section, lets say, and see the progression of ideas and have flipped through it all. Having a more complete/viewable list of articles per topic gives me more of that book feel/ability to ‘turn’ to the page that I want to read.
Either way, Thanks for your work in putting this together, organizing it and being interested in improvement. I appreciate how you do this. Your effort and work towards integrity is an encouragement to me.

Mike Maylor

Hi John, one major point missing from the comments so far – big congratulations to the whole AAC team for reaching the point of being independent from the commercial sponsors. That seems like a major milestone and I believe is well deserved, your site adds some significant value and has saved me some equally serious dollars. Looking forward to seeing the pearls of wisdom that emerge from the new redesign that I may have been previously not been finding, I’m pretty certain I haven’t yet scratched the surface of the 1000 articles. Not sure my wife will be so impressed – there going to be some grumbling when I’ve got my head buried in my tablet! Please keep them
coming, Mike

Mike Maylor

Hi John, just in case you ever consider another corporate sponsorship deal, Yes it’s a sword that can cut both ways, but I found their presence on the site reassuring . On the one hand it could be suggested that it opens the door to bias, and I have noted your very diligent disclaimers at the bottom of some of the articles. On the other, I always saw the involvement of sponsors as an endorsement by those sponsors of the credibility of the site, plus the more money you made from them the less you needed to charge the subscribers, so we were effectively subsidised by them. You clearly worked out how to professionally work with corporate sponsorship and if you needed to return to it, that would not affect my continued subscription at all. Looking forward to hearing the plans for your summer adventures, surely that article is due soon? Mike

Marc Dacey

Another consideration to corporate sponsorship were the discounts available to AAC members, attributes that directly benefitted us as we’ve bought a SPADE anchor and an Ocean Brake JSD since we’ve been members here. Any word on if those discounts will continue? Invariably, some products/gear are endorsed here, if not directly, from member feedback, so there’s still value to various firms even if they aren’t directly advertising. Or so it seems to me.

Paolo Lazzeri

Hi John
Maybe you could get rid of the right (now empty) bar on the desktop layout too. Just a thought.

Paolo Lazzeri

Hi John

Oh Yes! THAT is definitely worthwhile keeping it… And keeping it just for your online Books pages? (I’m guessing you use WordPress. It would be a major job… wouldn’t blame you not being eager to do it :)))
Anyways: my compliments for your website! The best sailing related content on the web!

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, please keep the online book navigation sidebar as it is incredibly handy and adds enormously to overseeing the whole book.
One thought though – in mobile view the sidebar positions itself _after_ the comments where it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you’re using a flebox theme it should be easy to have it wrap just below the article where it would belong.
To not have the comments separated too much you could make it closeable like an accordeon element, being closed by default when the page is opend in mobile view. This is _not_ code heavy 😉


Nice work John.
I’m reading on a phone right now and it is a huge improvement. I look forward to seeing it on my laptop.


I have reached the bottom of the page and their is no navigation out.
Like sailing up a fjord with no room to turn around.

It is a work in progress.


I am one of those guys, in for a penny in for a pound. SO I read or in some cases scroll to the bottom of the comments.

I’d put a Top of page or Menu option in the footer. – Simple
For now I am using back button alternative. You are correct if I am just reading the online book when I finish there are the “Breadcrumbs – previous or next chapter”. When I am reading a “Free” article. There is nothing.
I’d leave you a screen shot but can’t in comments.
Since you already have the footer space and you have links in it. I’d put the jump to Top or Menu right there.
Color mention by Ernest is also valuable.


I can only imagine the issues of “Code weight”.
I like your philosophy of “Keep it Simple” and “minimize” .

If you implement, I will share my user experience.
Thanks for such an immediate response. Must be snowy and cold where you are. Otherwise I would anticipate you being out sailing and creating.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Now this is a cool solution!


Love it.
Sorry I’m so slow. Had to fix a leaking gutter. Sun came out so you know the saying “Clean the gutter while the sun shines. “

At least that’s the saying my wife uses.

Thanks for the upgrade. Way cool and it works.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi John, getting rid of jQuery is an understandable goal, especially for sites that try to be usable with slow connections and limited data traffic plans.
I will send you a small JS that replaces the requirement to use jQuery at this location, provided you are willing to live with appearing/disappearing of the element, not having it fading in and out.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, the next/previous links at the online books are at the bottom of the article, and usually there comes a long list of comments after that, so these links are more or less out of reach on a mobile or even tablet.
I’d suggest adding a “#top” anchor link either after each comment, or after the last comment to easily return to the very top of the page, you could also duplicate the “#comments” link to return to the bottom of the article.

Another suggestion that just came to my mind – I’d change the color of the bottom menu to be different to the footer color – on a mobile you cannot distinguish easily if the menu is open or closed, other than wondering what the remaining disclaimer text fragment is all about 😉


Thank you John. I did not know the tap would jump to the top of the page. Learn something everyday.

I like the single sticky link at the bottom.. Rewards a search of all the comments. The “Tap the Top” feature if one gets bored reading comments is always an option. Who gets bored. You have an interesting membership. Those that ask or offer their ideas spice up the experience.


Ernest E Vogelsinger

John, just FYI the “tap to the top” feature is exclusively available on iOS, Android doesn’t have such a thing. Removing the floating button would push Android users back to where we left off 😉

Marvin Hamm

This is interesting. I’m in that 1%, but I never read your site on my tablet, and I do a lot of boat reading on my tablet. There is something about accessing your site via email links jumping to the website, that I don’t do on my tablet. I’ve never thought about it before. I wonder how many more reads you would get if there was an alternative ‘doorway’ into the content?


“push Android users back to where we left off”
Let’s keep going forward.


Hard work making a universal easy to use website. Thanks.
Using my iPhone to post this response. Now to tap the floating arrow. Or the “tap the top”.

Oh the options. ;>)

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Try tapping in landscape orientation 😉

Marvin Hamm

(Replying to John’s question to me ‘What sort of “alternative doorway”?’ in a new comment, sorry. Tried two different browsers on two different machines and didn’t get a Reply box under John’s question post.)

I was a little abstract with that description ‘alternative doorway’.
Most of the sailing stuff that I consume on my tablet comes to me as a PDF book/magazine, Youtube channel or RSS news. So, I’m headed into apps and ending up on websites through those starting points. I have ‘learned’ that I see notifications of new AAC posts in my email, which I don’t deal with on my tablet, because either I want a big screen/desktop web and/or a keyboard. So for me there is no trigger to go to AAC when I am lying on my couch with my tablet.
If I were to learn that I had a new AAC post to read via Youtube or RSS News, or could download it local as a PDF, then I would end up consuming AAC content on my tablet.
Just an observation, not any kind of suggestion. Trying to manage digital content inside a gated community has to be hard enough, adding a ‘social media’ advertising/promotions front to it is really adding complexity.
Personally, I’d love an offline PDF AAC collection. But I also completely understand how that wouldn’t work.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Now how cool is this? Why isn’t it at least mentioned in the “Help” section? Or did I overlook it? *bookmarked*

Marvin Hamm

Cool! just signed up.
I typed in ‘attainable’ and it was the second option. ’16 readers, 2 articles a week’ it said. Now it has 17.