The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Fitting Jib In-Haulers

    A couple of weeks back I wrote about how jib in-haulers have pretty much removed the need to carry overlapping genoas on a J/109, like our Morgan’s Cloud.

    Several members expressed interest in learning more, so here are a few photos and some notes on how I set up our system.

    Why In-Haul?

    But before you read on, if you have not read that article, or at least the part on in-haulers, please do so now as I won’t be duplicating the reasons for in-hauling that I shared there.

    Not For Everyone

    Before we go any further be aware that in-haulers are generally only useful on boats with non-overlapping jibs (or staysails on cutters) that sheet inside the shrouds since the sheeting angles for overlapping jibs are usually constrained by the spreader length.

    And even if an in-hauler was desirable for a genoa, say in cases where there are no tracks and the genoa is sheeted to the rail, they would probably not be practical because of the trip hazard.

    For Sail-Trim Geeks

    The other thing to be aware of with in-haulers, is that to get the best out of them we have to trim the jib by eye, since the effects of adjusting them are pretty much infinite when used in conjunction with halyard tension, sheet car position, and sheet tension, so marks to achieve repeatable trim do not work well.

    So for those who don’t get pleasure from constantly fiddling with sail trim (no shame in that), a numbered track together with sheet cars that can be easily adjusted fore and aft under load, with a multi-part tackle, may be a better bet.

    The Details

    With that disclaimer out of the way, here are a few tips for fitting in-haulers.

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  • A Nasty Danger of Twin Rudders

    As most of our regular readers know, we at AAC are not fans of twin rudders for a whole bunch of reasons, including complexity, vulnerability to damage and because they can’t be used in conjunction with prop wash to manoeuvre a boat, thereby making a bow thruster pretty much required for safe docking.

    But now another dangerous down side of twin rudders has been highlighted by a tragic fatality when a crew member fell overboard and was most likely immediately hit by one of the twin rudders, I’m guessing the windward one, which on the boat in question would have been positioned to be the scythe of the grim reaper when the boat was well heeled.

    And this may not be the first time a twin rudder has killed. A few years ago I was talking to a very experienced sailing pro who had skippered one of the Clipper boats in the round-the-world race, and he was convinced that one of the fatalities during another running of that race was the result of a rudder strike during the recovery attempt after a crew member fell overboard.

    Do we know for sure that twin rudders were the implement of death in these cases? No. But one look at the boats in question makes it seem possible, or even likely.

    So putting aside my opinion against twin-rudder boats, what’s the takeaway?

    I think if we have a twin-rudder boat:

    • We need to be doubly sure we have a good crew overboard (COB) prevention system.
    • Said system should use inboard jacklines and shorter tethers to make as sure as possible that a crew can’t be dragged, since that might result in being repeatedly smashed into the windward rudder.
    • The boats COB recovery procedures should take into account the dangers of a rudder strike.
      • I’m thinking that the plan should be to stop the boat well clear of the COB and then use a heaving line to make the connection and haul them in to a safe position.
      • The other, and perhaps even better alternative is the LifeSling pickup.
      • On no account should we try to come alongside the person in the water as often advocated for.
    • Some of the above probably applies to boats like those from Boréal that have twin dagger boards aft, although the good thing about that configuration is that it’s typically only the leeward board that’s down when heeled sailing to windward, and the boards could be retracted before a COB recovery attempt.

    And if we are considering buying a twin-rudder boat, this is another important issue to think about before pulling the trigger.

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  • Don’t Be Fooled By A Coolant Overflow Tank

    Our Yanmar, like most marine diesels, has a coolant overflow tank (left top).

    When checking the fluids, as I do regularly, it’s tempting to just glance at the tank and assume that if we see coolant above the “LOW” line all is well.

    But that’s not necessarily so:

    A friend of mine was in the habit of doing just that but even so a leak had developed in the coolant system that, over time, allowed over half the coolant in the engine to escape, which resulted in overheating.

    And, worse still, by the time the alarm went off the damage was catastrophic—I think because coolant was below the overheat temperature sensor—to the point that the engine needed a rebuild and was never the same again.

    But even after the disaster the overflow tank was still half full. Why?

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  • Networked Smoke Detectors Improve Liferaft Storage

    While we don’t plan to go far offshore in our J/109, we did buy a liferaft as our emergency exit if we are suddenly faced with a fire or a leak that we are not able to stop.

    We are often not carrying a dinghy, and even when we are it’s stowed deflated below, so both scenarios could have a nasty ending, even when day sailing and/or spending a night or two on the boat—would be a silly way to exit this world after surviving all those years of offshore voyaging, much of it to hazardous places.

    But that left the problem of where to store the raft.

    The obvious place is in the cockpit locker, where it’s out of the way, close to the pitch axis, and relatively easy to access, but, as I have written about in depth, the big problem with that solution is that it’s right next to the engine space and the diesel heater, the two most likely sources of a fire.

    So that left the lazaret, where the liferaft’s weight would have a huge negative effect on pitching moment and further exacerbate the J/109’s tendency to drag her stern a bit when in cruising trim. Literally a bummer!

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  • The Importance Of Boat Speed To Autopilot Operation

    Modern smart autopilots rely on an accurate true wind calculation to steer well with the wind aft of the beam, particularly when a spinnaker, A-Sail or code is set.

    And assuming we have the apparent wind direction wand accurately adjusted for angle on each tack, another important input to true wind direction is boat speed, which pretty much always needs to be calibrated.


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  • WakeSpeed Pro Alternator Regulator Announced

    As we hinted a few months ago, Wakespeed have announced a new alternator regulator, the WS500 Pro.

    Here’s the scoop based on an in-depth email conversation I had with Al Thomason, chief designer at Wakespeed.

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  • Q&A—Which Courses To Take?


    You mention the International Certificate of Competence and the Yacht Master Offshore course. I’m at the beginning of my journey and started with an ASA course. Are the Yacht Master courses going to be the best overall to begin working towards?

    Member, Michael


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  • Fun We Can Have Sailing Under Bare Poles

    I was out sailing singlehanded a couple of days ago. When I got back into our cove I, as usual when I’m planning to return to our wharf, dropped and furled the mainsail after starting the engine.

    But then it struck me that it might be fun to see if I could get alongside without using the engine, so I shut it down.

    The wind was blowing into the inlet where our wharf is so it would have been pretty easy to just dock bow downwind…or maybe not…read on.

    But being a bit of a wisenheimer, I thought, nah, that would mean then turning the boat around into her normal bow-out position.

    I had about 15 knots of wind from pretty much aft, although gusty, and that quickly brought the boat up to 2.5 knots driven by just the windage of the spar, furled sails, and dodger. Faster than I expected.

    On the way down the inlet I made a couple of 180° turns upwind and learned she would come into the eye of the wind and carry her way for about a boat length—always worth testing these things before we have hard stuff in the way.

    On my first pass I turned too late and ran out of way before getting near enough to the wharf to get on it safely—only idiots jump.

    So I had to start the engine and back off. But I was real close to success, so I motored upwind a few hundred yards and set up to try again.

    Second time I nailed it.

    Here’s what I learned:

    • Yes, the J/109 is agile and slippery, but any reasonably good sailboat can get up enough speed downwind under bare poles to steer well and turn into the wind to stop.
      • If the boat won’t get enough speed under bare poles, just unroll a bit of jib.
      • But roll it up before making the turn; if we leave it out the boat will accelerate in the turn and, worse still, the bow might blow off.
    • When docking upwind with no power step off with the magic spring and bow line first.
      1. The magic spring can be used to slow the boat and then run forward to stop her drifting aft.
        • (I used a line on the dock for the slow down, which made it easier single handed.)
      2. Then use the bow line to stop the bow from swinging off the wharf.
    • If docking downwind, use the magic spring and stern line but be careful as:
      1. Two knots is way too fast to get on the wharf safely.
      2. Bleeding off that much momentum with a line round a cleat could get us hurt—I wouldn’t try that, even with a light boat like the J/109.
    • The biggest danger is being too slow, or leaving the turn until too late, so the bow may get blown off to leeward and hit the dock.
      • If we think we are slow, better to make the abort call early and turn the bow away from the wharf before we lose all steerage.
      • Also, on balance, better to be too fast and have momentum to abort, rather than too slow.
    • While practising it makes sense to have the engine running in neutral, or at least warmed up. This saved me on the first approach.
      • I have a pile of experience with this boat and handling boats without engines from my one-design sailing days but even so I screwed up the first one.
    • With two people this would be verging on easy, even in a bigger boat, for one it’s challenging.
      • I would not try this single handed on a much bigger boat.
    • Be careful and mindful, a stupid move could get us hurt badly.
    • Sailing under bare poles is a skill that could get us out of some very deep yogurt in the event of an engine failure.
    • This is a way less fraught technique than making the docking with sails still up.
    • If you are thinking of taking the Yachtmaster exam, handling simulated engine failures and manoeuvring under sail are required skills.
    • This kind of experimentation will equip us to be safe and competent cruisers way more than…a huge amount of knowledge about lithium batteries.
    • More fun too.

    I liked the bare poles way so much that I’m thinking that when single handed I will use it to pick up the mooring, since steering, dropping the sail, and grabbing the mooring all at once can get a tad busy—I missed it three times in a row one day last week.

    Here’s a short clip of my second approach:

    • Because of the camera angle and jumpy video the approach looks faster than it was:
      • At the start of the approach I was doing 2.3 knots.
      • When we came alongside we were down to less than one knot.
    • I did not rig fenders since they are permanently on our floating wharf.
    • Sorry about the quality, it’s from our dock Nest camera.

    Further Reading:

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  • Q&A—How To Increase The Insured Value of Our Boat


    …The alternative was a policy only for boats with a value above $75K US. I have massively upgraded my 45 year old Morgan 382 for offshore voyaging (most recently a new Beta 35), as well as its cosmetics. But I know the market and no surveyor could honestly value it at $75K (my paint job was $55K). Any new suggestions out there?

    Member, Terence


    One thought, don’t give up on getting a fair insurance valuation for your boat, taking into account the cost of upgrades. We just did exactly that after an extensive refit of our J/109, and even managed to talk the insurance company into an agreed value, (rather than actual cash value) that’s substantially higher than un-refitted sister ships of the same age sell for (25-35%).

    We were also able to keep the insured value of the M&R 56 at an agreed value at least double what the typical >40-year-old aluminum boat would sell for by keeping the underwriter (and broker) informed annually of all maintenance and upgrades and providing a detailed report on both refits.

    Point being that insurance company stated rules are not set in stone. They will bend them if the business case is compelling enough.

    Refit Report

    The secret to this is to provide the insurance company with a professional-looking report on the refit, as we did, including:

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  • Q&A—Sizing a Staysail Roller Furler


    Having a good look at some of the pictures where I can see the furling gear you used on MC it appears to me that it is about 1 size smaller then your head furler. Is this correct? And if so, were you ever concerned about its size in heavy weather?

    Member, Pepijn


    Interesting question. Definitely got me thinking. Let’s start by looking at the forces involved:

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  • Interesting Refrigeration Option

    I have long been a fan of holding-plate refrigeration systems over evaporator systems:

    • More efficient.
    • When done right, better temperature consistency.
    • Can be force-run when there is ample power, say when motoring or a generator is running—can be automated.
    • Can be shut down overnight for quiet without the box thawing out or getting too warm—if the plates are big enough and the insulation good enough.
    • Don’t cycle on and off every few minutes, which I find irritating.
    • With intelligent management a holding plate system reduces required battery bank size.

    And no, I’m not talking about engine-driven holding-plate systems, which, based on having owned two, I don’t recommend—hanging a compressor off an engine just about never ends well.

    Rather, I like holding-plate systems with a powerful compressor being driven by a big electric motor (1/2 to 3/4 HP) like the Glacier Bay system that gave us great service for nearly 30 years.

    The sad thing is that these seem to have pretty much died out.

    Probably because holding-plate systems are more expensive, as well as harder to install and maintain than evaporator systems using the ubiquitous Danfoss compressor.

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  • Q&A—Do I Need a Fail-Safe ABYC-Compliant Galvanic Isolator?


    Do you know why so-called “fail-safe” ABYC Galvanic Isolators are much more expensive than the Galvanic Isolators that are still allowed here in Europe?

    Member, Henrick

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  • Don’t Buy Generation One Electronics

    I’m not sure how many times over the years I have beaten some variation of this drum here at AAC. Here and here come to mind, but I’m sure I have written it, or something like it, many more times.

    And yet, when a new cool piece of gear comes out, what do we all often do, me included, but get all excited about all the awards it’s won and its cool new features and run right out and buy it.

    Hell, I have done this more than once:

    Let me see if I can be gentle about this…that’s a really stupid thing to do.

    Oops…I guess I kinda failed the gentle test on that one. The good news for me is that, unlike with full articles, my editor does not see Tips before they are published!

    Whatever, here’s why buying newly released products, particularly electronics, is…unwise:

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  • Reduce Spinnaker Snag Risk

    One of the nastiest spinnaker SNAFUs is when the sail jams in the V between the intermediate shrouds (D2s) and the uppers (V2s) at the lower spreaders (S1), usually on take down.


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  • ARCO Zeus Ground Loop Problem

    I recently received a link to this forum thread on lithium batteries that includes a concerning quote:

    Another note, during installation, there is a yellow and black wire on the Zeus alternator harness, “ALT GND” which is for a ground of the Zeus to the Alternator.

    In some installations, this has caused a ground loop, so we are advising to not connect this wire during installation and simply tuck it away.

    This is a serious smoking gun. Designing any electronic device with two grounded lines—connection to the negative in the case of boats—is poor practice and, further, being advised not to connect a wire that was provided for in the design is an indication of potential problems that will, I’m guessing, only get fixed with a hardware redesign of the Zeus.

    Read on for why.

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  • Learning From A COB Tragedy

    I have just finished reading the above report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada about the death of a crew member on the St John’s, Newfoundland pilot boat who fell overboard just two miles outside the harbour during a pilot transfer.

    At first glance we yachties might think that the lessons learned from this tragedy don’t apply to us because the vessel and tasks are so different.

    That would be a mistake. I learned a bunch, but the big takeaways for me were:

    • Having to be un-clipped from a jackstay, even for a moment, because of its configuration, is potentially fatal.
    • Inflatable PFD’s can fail even in a commercial environment.
    • Getting tired can make us much more vulnerable to an accident.
    • It is very difficult for a single crew member left on the boat to recover someone in the water.
    • POB recovery crew training in smooth water and daylight does not prepare us for an event offshore in the dark.
      • Probably nothing does. The key is to stay on the boat.
    • Motor boats have large blind spots from the steering position that makes recovery even more difficult.

    The report is well worth your time to read.

    Thanks to my friend Wilson for the heads up.

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  • Solar: Lead-Acid Battery Saver, Potential Lithium Wrecker

    The above is a graph of battery voltage on our J/109, currently still out of the water but uncovered.

    As you can see, each day shortly after dawn our solar panel starts charging and since, other than the first day when I was aboard and using power, there are no significant loads and the batteries are fully charged, the voltage rises rapidly to ~14.4 (temperature dependant): acceptance for our AGM lead-acid batteries.

    And, after a predetermined time, and because the batteries were full anyway, our solar regulator drops the charge voltage a bit, and then at dusk it shuts down.

    Lead Loves It

    This is absolutely wonderful for lead-acid batteries because that chemistry is:

    • Tolerant of being held for long periods at acceptance voltage, even when already full.
      • Lead-acid battery internal resistance rises a lot with state of charge, so even though the voltage is still at acceptance very little current flows (amps) so little or no damage is done.
    • Quickly wrecked due to sulphating from being left in a partial state of charge.

    We might even say that solar makes lead-acid batteries wonderful again.

    Lithium Not So Much

    But this same pattern would shorten the life of lithium batteries because:

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  • Boatyard Fall Prevention

    Us offshore sailors think and talk a lot about crew overboard prevention, but there’s another risk we subject ourselves to frequently that does not get much air time (ouch, bad pun):

    Falling off the boat when she is out of the water.

    And, believe me, even a 6-foot fall onto a hard surface can do huge damage, as I found out some years ago.

    So it’s well worth learning about, and using climber’s fall protection. And the cool thing is most of us already have much of the required gear in our mast-climbing kit, or at least we should.

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  • Summary Table of Contents

    AAC, like most every WordPress-based web site, lists articles under Topics (or Chapters under Books) with title, image, author, number of comments, date and descriptive excerpt.

    And that’s great if you are exploring an Online Book to decide which chapters you want to read.

    But if you just want to get a sense for what’s covered in that Book (or under a Topic), or want to zero in on a single Chapter (or Article) you know is there, that’s way too much information.

    So I, like many of you, I suspect, got into the habit of opening a chapter, or article, and then scrolling down to the bottom to use the TOC. Not elegant.

    So what to do? Cut the length of the Chapter or Article entry? Not good for new, or prospective members who want to see what’s available—classic site-design problem.

    But not any more.

    You can now click on the TOC at the top of every Online Book or Topic listing and get a summary TOC just like the one at the end of Chapters and Articles.

    The best of both worlds.

    And the super-cool thing is that because of all the effort we put into converting to Full Site Editing (the future of WordPress) last winter, it took me less than two hours to make the change.

    Let us know how you like the new TOC in a comment.

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  • Elliptical Hole Hack

    I have to cut an elliptical hole in the stern of our boat to accommodate the heater exhaust fitting above. And just to add to the fun and games, I need to also make two high-temperature gaskets out of silicon sheet.

    So how the heck do I get a nice clean hole just the right shape in both the transom and the gasket material?

    My first inclination was to use a hole saw to cut a hole in the transom the same as the minor axis of the ellipse and then start shaping with a Dremel and burr bit. I guess that might have worked, but I’m not either the neatest or the most patient guy around, so it also could have gone very wrong.

    And what about the gaskets?

    Time to work smarter:

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  • Don’t Fill Lead-Acid Battery Space With Lithium

    In this Tip I’m building on the last Tip in which I concluded that huge battery capacity makes little sense for most usage profiles.

    It’s tempting when replacing a lead-acid bank with lithium to simply default to installing all the lithium capacity that will fit where the lead-acid batteries were. And indeed that might make sense if the boat had far too little battery capacity in the first place.

    But defaulting to that strategy without doing a bit of basic math could cause us to not only spend way more money than we need to, but also to forgo a wonderful benefit of lithium batteries.

    Here are a couple of rules of thumb that will help when deciding how much lithium capacity we should install in place of lead acid:

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  • Huge Battery Banks Generally Make No Sense

    I’m working on the second part of the Adventure 40 electrical system specification.

    One of the fun things about this project is that since we are starting with a blank page, rather than upgrading an existing boat, which I often write about, design fundamentals become more apparent.

    Here’s one that just came to mind:


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  • Great Headlamp

    I’m a huge believer in always having good light when working on our boat, so I wear a headlamp pretty much from the time I start a job below to when I knock off.

    And not one of those wimpy little things with a couple of AAA cells in them for me, I want a seriously bright light that floods a wide area.

    For probably 20 years I used a Fenix HP10 LED headlamp driven by four AA rechargeable Ni–MH batteries. And even with that battery capacity I would usually end up changing the batteries out halfway through the day.

    Over the last few years I have tried one or two lithium battery headlamps but always found them wanting:

    • Too complicated with a bunch of features I didn’t need, necessitating many button presses to get to the bright white I use all the time.
    • Poor battery life.
    • Difficult to source funky batteries that required special chargers.

    But last winter, when one of my trusty old HP10s bit the big one, I got serious about finding a lithium replacement.

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  • Beware of Ocean Options, Tiverton, Rhode Island

    We just got ripped off. Here’s the story in the hopes that it will save someone else from the same fate.

    Some 25 years ago we bought a D8 Espar heater from Mike Bowden owner of Ocean Options of Tiverton, Rhode Island.

    And over the years that we owned the McCurdy and Rhodes 56, Eddie, the excellent technician at Ocean Options (since left) maintained the heater for us, and even advised me over the phone on the single occasion it needed repair while cruising.

    Given that long relationship, when we decided to install a small Espar heater in our new-to-us J/109, I called Mike and was particularly happy to hear that they had installed the same heater in a sister ship.

    Over a couple of weeks I sent Mike photos and measurements so he could quote on everything we needed. The total came out at US$3,207.10, a lot more than we could have bought a kit for right here in Nova Scotia.

    But, on the other hand, we needed a bunch of additional stuff to do a good installation that does not come in the kit, and Mike also promised me one of the new S3-version heaters with a brushless motor that are way quieter and also hard to get, or at least that’s what he told me.

    And most important of all I felt I owed Mike for his advice—I clearly remember how much it stung when, back in the day, I would advise someone on selecting a computer, only to have them buy it from a discounter.

    So I called Mike with a credit card just before Christmas, and he assured me that the whole order would ship in the first week of January.

    January came and went, I was super busy, but every so often I would check with Mike and he kept telling me that the problem was that Espar had not shipped due to issues at their end.

    Finally, in mid-February, Mike said that since Espar was still having issues, he would send me everything I needed to do all the installation work, and then send the heater, fuel pump, and control panel as soon as it arrived from Espar.

    Soon we received a huge box, only to find that Mike had cleaned out his storeroom, dumping all kinds of stuff on me that I did not need and much of it wrong for our boat: wrong fuel fitting, wrong transom exhaust fitting, to name two.

    The whole reason for going to Mike was that he said he knew what I needed, and could save me all the agro of sourcing it.

    That was when the alarm bells really went off. I called Mike and told him I suspected he was on credit hold with Espar and had used our money for other things. He admitted I was exactly right. He had been lying to me for weeks, saying it was an Espar problem.

    But he passionately promised to make it right and that if I just held off for a week he would find the money to pay Espar and ship the heater.

    I didn’t believe him and filed a credit card dispute that day. That was six weeks ago and, although I was properly documented and even complimented by the dispute department representative at our bank on the thorough presentation of our case, we have not heard a word from Mastercard nor received a credit.

    Given that I’m fairly sure that Ocean Options won’t be able to make Mastercard whole, I have a nasty feeling there may be a “reason” found to deny our claim—what a cynic I am.

    And even if Mastercard refund us for the parts we didn’t get, the bank advised me not to claim for all the stuff Mike did send me, even though much of it was wrong, because, since Ocean Options could prove they had sent it, Mastercard would likely use that as an excuse to deny the whole claim.

    So there you go:

    • Don’t give your credit card to Mike Bowden of Ocean Options.
    • Once we have established that we have been lied to, file a credit dispute immediately. One lie is always followed by others. And the best liars are always the most credible sounding.
    • Never assume you are fully protected by using a credit card…or maybe protected at all—I will update this when we see what Mastercard does.
    • At least I had the sense not to use a debit card, or a service like Wise. There would have been no hope of getting any money back—a less-known fact about debit cards.
    • No good deed—being a loyal customer to Mike—goes unpunished.

    On that last one, I still think longterm relationships and expert advice are important and worth paying for, and so would do the same again in the same circumstances. I won’t let one rogue turn me into an ungrateful wretch…OK two rogues…both in Rogue Island.

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  • Block Stand-Up Hack

    Our J/109, in common with most boats with spinnakers, has turning blocks for the sheets that must reorient to loads from different directions, depending on the point of sail, and therefore uses loose blocks on pad eyes.

    The problem with this is that spinnaker sheet blocks tend to bang on the deck with motion, in use or not.

    Stand-up springs won’t work because they are always trying to force the block into an upright position, so will mess with the lead angle, particularly in light air. Ditto shock cord to a lifeline, which is often used.

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