The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:

Tips

  • Gales at Anchor Are Not That Scary

    I don’t watch a lot of videos, in fact hardly any, but I was searching for something else when I stumbled on this video over at S/V Delos.

    Now there is no question that hurricanes are scary. You don’t have to tell a guy from Bermuda, who cruised the western North Atlantic for over 50 years, and now lives in an area of Canada sticking out into the frequent path of hurricanes, that.

    And the couple on Delos were seamanlike in moving quickly to find a good place to ride the blow out, as well as being flexible in changing their plans when the storm wobbled.

    All good.

    But the majority of the video is about riding out the storm and is filled with drama.

    (more…)

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  • Is Boat Electric Drive Green or Greenwashing?

    Here at AAC we are all over anything that will reduce carbon emissions, but we also don’t like the pretengineering so prevalent in the electric drive business.


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  • Great Source: How Lithium Batteries Charge

    I have been deep into the researching lithium batteries, and particularly how they charge, while writing new buyer’s guide chapters for our Electrical Systems Online Book.

    One of the best sources I have read is a post by Eric Bretscher, over at Nordkyn Design.

    Before you go read it, a few thoughts:


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  • Searching Cruising Topics

    More Search

    Given that we have some 100 Article and 30 Tip Topics, categorizing our over 1200 chapters and Articles and nearly 250 Tips, I just added a search box to the Topics page as another way to zero in on what you need.

    Note that this new box searches the titles of the Topics themselves, not the underlying content, which can be searched using the magnifying glass icon on the menu.

    Give it a try and tell us, in a comment, how you like it.


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  • Get Sticky and Go Home

    While we are on the subject of fun you can have with epoxy—see the last Tip—here’s another.


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  • We Can Never Have Too Many Gloves

    I have been doing a bunch of work on our J/109 with epoxy resin lately. Nothing structural, just mounting some hardware, and improving the mounting for a couple of turning blocks. Stuff that requires replacing core and bonding backer plates.

    This kind of work involves handling things covered in epoxy and then handling tools…and then handling things covered in epoxy…repeat as necessary…

    And then moving around the boat to the next place that needs to get sticky.


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  • Search Within Online Books

    Better Search

    The main reason I put in the months of work to write a new custom theme for AAC was to make further improvements way easier to do.

    One of the first to see the light of day is search restricted to the Online Books, or better yet, an individual Online Book.

    Here’s an example of what an advance this is:

    • If we search on “anchor shackle” we get over 30 Articles, and several Tips.
    • But if we do the same search, restricted to the Anchoring Book, we get just 18 results, most of which are relevant to the decision of which shackles to buy.

    You can access this new feature either on the Books or Advanced Search screens.

    This is just the start of improvements to searching that we are planning. Suggestions welcome in a comment.


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  • Source For Custom Jacklines

    We have long advocated for jacklines made of heavy Dacron webbing, but in recent years it has been difficult to source them already made up.

    But now there is a new vendor offering custom jacklines.

    One suggestion, I would not use their Jackline Assembly, consisting of a shackle and cover. The problem with this approach, aside from the added expense, is that it’s impossible to get the jackline fire-taut that way, and a jackline that’s even slightly loose increases drag risk.

    Not Recommended

    Instead, we recommend ordering the jackline about 6″ short and then tensioning it with a Spectra lashing as we have been doing without problems for decades.

    One other point, I have not inspected these jacklines, particularly the quality of the loop stitching and the gauge of the thread—the thread gauge looks light to me in the photos.

    That said, the good news is that they also sell what looks like our preferred webbing, which has been difficult to source lately, for those who wish to make up their own jacklines or tethers with heavy hand stitching.

    Anyway, I’m going to order a couple of short ones for our J/109 and will report on them when received.

    Thanks to member Todd for the heads up.

    Comments

    This is simply a heads-up about a gear source. If you have thoughts about that, please leave a comment.

    But if you want to discuss person overboard prevention, or the best way to rig jacklines, please do so on the appropriate chapter of our Online Book on the subject, after you have read said chapter:


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  • AAC Menu Improvements

    Fixes

    As happens with any new site design, I’m improving a bunch of little things to make the site easier to use.

    The latest around the menu:

    Sticky Menu

    This design (and the old) have a sticky menu that appears only when we scroll up. The idea is that if we realize we are in the wrong place while reading a long article or comment stream, we will scroll up to get to the menu, but particularly on phones, that can take an age, so the menu appears immediately.

    However, I found that implementation was jittery, with the menu appearing and disappearing at the slightest change in scroll direction, so now we have to scroll up for more than a second for the menu to appear and back down for more than a second for it to disappear.

    Questions?

    While we are thinking about the sticky menu, it struck me that I use it all the time while reading on my phone, but never on a wide screen device like a computer, so I’m thinking about hiding it on wider screens.

    That said, I’m primarily a computer and big tablet user, as well as an old guy used to using scroll bars to get where I want to go, so I’m not typical.

    For example, when I initially put the old site up five years ago I never even thought about a sticky menu until a bunch of phone-reading members explained to me why it was vital for them (thank you).

    So what do you think about removing the sticky menu on wider screens? And if so, should it show on tablets, or just phones?

    Also, does the present sticky menu, after the fix detailed above, need any further improvements?

    Please leave a comment.

    Search Box

    Member John reported that the search box was counterintuitive because, after typing in our query it was logical to then click (or tap) on the search button, but that disappeared the query box—big piss off.

    This is core WordPress behaviour, but that doesn’t make it right, so I wrote script to hide the button when the search entry box is open.

    Question?

    My thinking here is that with the button gone we will naturally hit the return key after typing our query. Do you agree or do I need to do more?

    Please leave a comment.


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  • Q&A—Weather Information In The Southern Hemisphere

    Question

    Member Terence asked:

    When we went to Polynesia, we used Predict Wind. We could get weather in all latitudes. Next year we will again be sailing south of the US Pacific Ocean Prediction Center maps. Need I again use Predict Wind to get what I need? Someone asked the same question about the south Atlantic. I think you did not have an answer. I would like to follow your advice, but I need to figure out how to get information in lower northern latitudes and perhaps south of the equator. Or do I just stay with Predict Wind?

    Answer

    Predictwind is just a tool for downloading and displaying information generated by government models (with some interpolation in inshore areas). So I think it’s easier to first think about the underlying data.

    Once we have that sorted we can pick the tools to get and display the information that best meets our needs.


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  • Just What The World Doesn’t Need

    I generally don’t get political around here, and we have a rule against that in our comment guidelines, but sometimes a situation is so egregious that I simply can’t keep my opinion to myself:


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  • An Interesting Sailboat Electrical System Upgrade Case Study

    Scuttlebutt have an interesting two-part story about upgrading the electrical system in a J/105. Worth a read, even though this is a racing boat.

    To me the takeaways are:

    • How terrible the electrical systems are in production boats, to the point of useless, at least for offshore use. They were running the engine 8 hours a day to keep up with demand!
    • Replacing the stock alternator driven by a single belt is job #1 in any electrical system rebuild.
    • Replacing the standard internal regulator that ramps down charge current way before the batteries (lead or lithium) are even close to charged is part of job #1.
    • Details like properly crimping battery cables are vital.
    • In most cases the best bet with a production boat electrical system is to tear the whole battery and charging system out and start again.
    • Read the manuals, several times.
    • Most of what you see out there on YouTube about lithium is bogus.
    • A dedicated and isolated start battery is the only way to go. Off/one/two/both switches are just silly.
    • Seems like Electromaax has some good kit. I spent a little time on their web site and was impressed.

    All useful, but the biggest takeaways are:

    • Just getting the alternator and regulator right reduced charging from eight hours a day to one.
    • They would have got the same benefit with an appropriately sized lead-acid bank, but it would have been bigger and heavier, so in this case lithium was a clear winner, but only for that reason.
    • Without the alternator and regulator upgrades, upgrading to lithium would have been a total waste of time and money—getting charging right is the key to success.

    Much more on electrical system upgrades:


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  • How To Blow Up Your Alternator

    Anytime I write about batteries and charging someone is bound to bring up one of the clever gadgets that fool a stock alternator into charging at a higher current for longer without resorting to external regulation.

    Some of these gadgets, particularly the VRC-200 from Nordkyn Electronics, are undoubtedly very clever—here’s another one I wrote about.

    And I can certainly see using one of these as a quick and relatively inexpensive way to make the stock alternator charging a small battery bank on a boat used for weekends, and perhaps the occasional week cruise, charge more quickly and efficiently.

    But for an offshore voyaging live-aboard boat, these things are not a good idea.

    Most alternators that come with our engines will not last long if pushed hard day in day out, particularly if trying to charge a large bank (lithium or lead-acid)—stock alternators are simply not designed for that kind of duty cycle.

    That said, the Nordkyn will extend alternator life by monitoring its temperature, but that’s going to mean that most of the time the alternator will not be putting out much because stock OEM alternators heat very quickly as soon as they come under load.

    Of course you could use the Nordkyn with a heavy duty alternator, which would be a good combo.

    But my thinking always has been, and remains, if we are going to the trouble of installing a high-capacity bank, we might as well do the charging right with a rugged alternator designed for the job, installed right, and with an external regulator that won’t be subjected to the heat inside the alternator.

    And then if we are going to do the alternator right, we might as well go the whole hog and do the regulator right too.

    Fun Demo

    By the way, Victron have a fun demo showing how fast they can burn out an alternator when charging lithium batteries. There’s a lot of good stuff to learn here, particularly the counterintuitive fact that low engine RPM will do more damage.

    That said, we offshore boat owners should understand that even a big lead-acid bank can fry alternators too—our 800 Ah at 12 volts (9 kWh) AGM lead-acid battery bank on the McCurdy and Rhodes would happily lap up 250 amps for an hour, at least, if we had had an alternator that big, and regularly sucked 150 amps for two hours out of the alternator we did have.

    Anyway, have a watch, it’s interesting:


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  • Plumb Bows Are Just Another Rule-Caused Fashion

    An exchange between Matt and member Charlie in the comments to Matt’s excellent article got me thinking about the latest design fashion to draw boats with plumb bows.


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  • Dark Mode at AAC

    Member Charlie R suggested in a comment to a Tip about the new AAC site design I’m working on that it incorporate dark mode.

    Initially I was skeptical because there is no consensus among web site experts that dark modes do anything useful, and I have always believed, as many web designers do, that the most readable colour scheme is good old black type on white background.

    But then I read further and there are benefits to dark mode.

    But, then again, none of those benefits are compelling enough to make that the default for the new design, particularly since many people hate dark modes.

    What to do? Not a problem:

    If you like dark mode, simply install the Night Eye extension in your browser and switch it on and off at will. I have tried it in both Safari and Chrome and it works great on AAC in either.

    Yes, I could add the code to AAC to switch back and forth, but that would slow the site down. Not much it’s true, but adding code to a web site is a bit like adding weight in the ends of a boat: a bit does not hurt but a little bit here and a little bit there sure adds up.

    But Night Eye only adds code at the local browser level, which is intrinsically faster, since only those who want it install it.

    You can even try Night Eye for two months for free and after that it’s reasonably priced at $US9 / year.

    Thanks to Charlie for the idea. Also see my answer to Charlie for more of my ideas on how we can get other functionality he suggests with no added code.


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  • Tap Adapters

    While we are on the subject of tap wrenches, here’s another cool way to drive a tap: tap adapters.


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  • Versatile Tap Wrench

    I’m always on the lookout for tools that will work well on a boat without taking up too much room or adding too much weight.

    At first glance this looks like any other tap wrench, but look closer and we find:

    • Two chucks nested—no it’s not tapered as claimed in the listing— one behind the other, which allows it to securely grip any tap shank from 1/8″ to 1/2″ (3 to 13 mm). Normally we need two, or maybe three, tap wrenches to cover that range.
    • The handle can be slipped back and forth for use in tight spots. And, better yet, there’s a detent each end.
    • The top is a hex head to accept a wrench in a really tight corner.

    The build quality seems OK and the price is surprisingly reasonable. I got mine at Canadian Tire for, would you believe it, CAD$ 9.99.

    The only thing I can find fault with is that it’s a bit bulky to get into really tight corners, but I already have that problem covered off…and that will be the next tool-tip.

    This may be a Canada-only tip since Maximum tools are a Canadian Tire store brand, but rumour has it that most of their tools are relabeled Gearwrench, so that might be a source…

    Or you can come and visit our beautiful country and pick one up.

    Lot’s more on maintenance:


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  • Check The Siphon Break

    The engine on most sailboats is installed at least partially below the waterline, consequently, with most exhaust systems, the only thing preventing the engine from flooding with water after it stops is the siphon break installed at the highest point in the raw-water cooling system.

    That’s bad enough, but the other problem with siphon breaks is that they are usually installed in some inaccessible place, so on a lot of boats they don’t get any love from one year to the next.

    This is also made worse because I have never seen an engine manual that calls for regular disassembly and cleaning of the siphon break.

    Maybe the engine manufacturers want it to stick closed so our engines will flood and they can sell us new ones…not really, but I do sometimes wonder…particularly when I’m thinking about saildrives, the existence of which clearly proves how much engine manufacturers actually hate us owners.

    Sorry, rant over.

    Anyway, the photo above shows the state of the siphon break on our J/109 when we got her. Looks to me like no one had looked at it since the builder buried it high in the engine space 18 years before.

    I figure that the only reason the engine had not flooded was because the J/109 has a shallow hull form, so the engine is higher in relation to the waterline than on most cruising boats.

    Needless to say, I replaced it.


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  • Cool New Winch

    One of the most important advances in sailing hardware in my lifetime was the self-tailing winch. If you came to sailing after these came on the scene you will not fully appreciate them, but, trust me, suddenly having both hands free to put our full weight on the handle was game changing, particularly for shorthanded sailing where there is rarely another crew around to tail.

    But since then—some 40 years ago if memory serves—not much has changed in winch design…until the Ronstan Orbit™ Winch.

    I have not used (or even touched) an Orbit Winch, but being able to easily slip the line without removing the handle looks to me like one of those seemingly insignificant features of deck gear that’s actually a game changer.

    As significant as self-tailing? Probably not, but then few things are.

    And being able to pull the winch apart for service without tools is cool, too.

    Right now the Orbit is only available in smaller sizes, but I’m guessing that will change—Ronstan and Andersen are sister brands.

    If I needed a new winch in the sizes available, I would be looking hard at the Orbit.


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  • Another Reason To Buy an Electric Outboard

    Thanks to an article by Eric Klem, and to a lesser extent one of mine, we all now clearly understand how bad weight in the ends of the boat is for sailing performance.

    What’s this got to do with electric outboards? While thinking about a new outboard for our J/109, it just struck me that the answer is plenty:

    Outboards clamped to the rail aft or, worse still, on the back of a dinghy stowed in davits, are a big performance hit because they are a long way from the axis of pitch and even further from the centre of gravity.

    But what else are we going to do with a machine full of gas (petrol)?

    Plus, we will probably also stow a jug full of fuel for the infernal machine—diesels I get along with, outboards not so much—back there.

    Electric outboards are way better in this regard because we can stow them below and further forward. Even a few feet will make a difference because the negative effect scales by the square of the distance from the axis of pitch, and said axis is often quite far aft.

    So moving the outboard from the stern rail to say the forward end of the cockpit locker is a huge gain.

    Heck, we could even take the battery off and stow it where the weight will do the least harm.


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  • How I Know Drag Is Bad On An Offshore Sailboat

    We just published another article on the importance of keeping drag low on our offshore sailboats.

    Some may wonder why we make so much of this? Here are two (of many) reasons, which got cut from the article to keep the length reasonable:

    #1 Fixed Props Suck

    Back when I had my Fastnet 45 I had a great crew and we were pretty competitive racing inshore “around the cans”.

    For one race we were in the process of having a new MaxProp hub bored for the somewhat idiosyncratic shaft, so I had taken off the old folding prop so the machinist could measure it, and substituted a spare fixed three-blade prop. We were granted the standard PHRF 12 seconds/mile adjustment.

    We went from near the top of the fleet to DFL¹. We simply could not get out of our own way or sail to our handicap, even with the adjustment for the fixed prop. Not even close.

    Being at the helm and trying to keep the boat moving as boat after boat sailed over us was heart breaking—I can still vividly remember the feeling 35 years later.

    Yes, feathering props are expensive, but they also have one of the best cost benefit ratios of any piece of gear I can think of.

    #2 A Clean Underbody is Vital

    The summer we voyaged to Svalbard from arctic Norway we had been in the water for over a year and there was no suitable yard to haul the boat, so there was a thin layer of slime on the bottom (no shell).

    On the way north across the notoriously bumpy Barents Sea I was horrified by how slow we were, to the point that before the return trip we spent hours building a scrubbing device to get the worst of it off while standing in the dinghy, and I even went over the side to check the cleaning and touch up (in a dry suit).

    Lucky we did, given it was a five day stone-beat to windward across the cold, foggy, and bumpy five hundred miles back to Norway. I shudder to think how much longer that would have taken without the makeshift bottom scrubbing, even though we motor-sailed for much of it—you don’t hang around in the Barents Sea in late summer.

    Just a thin layer of slime slows a boat a lot more than would seem logical.

    Two Other Thoughts

    In both cases the problem was not so much straight-line speed but it was the excessive deceleration in the lulls, slow acceleration in the puffs, and the loss of pointing ability that was so horrible.

    And keep in mind that in each case there was only one slowing factor—fixed prop on the first, slimy bottom on the second—on otherwise optimized boats!

    ¹Last


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  • Four Winter Layup Tools

    I don’t think any boat owner would argue with the statement:

    Moisture is the enemy of boat reliability and gear longevity.

    And that goes double when the boat is laid up over the winter.

    The above photo shows four useful tools in the battle against damp. Starting from the left:

    Davis Air-Dryr 1000

    Davis call this a “dehumidifier”, which is stretching the meaning of that word to breaking point. In fact, it’s just a small enclosed heating element.

    Nonetheless, we have used these for years and find they make a real difference, but without any moving parts or the need to keep the temperature above about ~7C, which is required for a real dehumidifier to work.

    We have three of these on the J/109: aft cabin, salon and head. We used the same three on the McCurdy and Rhodes 56 with good results, so three seems optimal even for bigger boats.

    Ceramic Heater

    Great to take the edge off when working on the boat on cold days. We don’t leave it on unattended.

    Dehumidifier

    We run this hard for several days in the fall, before it gets cold, to really dry the boat out. Makes a big difference. The one in the photo is overkill for the J/109, but sure does get her dried out!

    Wet/Dry Vacuum

    After the boat is all put away and winterized, we vacuum all the water and spilled antifreeze out of the bilges so it’s dusty dry. Makes a huge difference to how dry the boat stays over the winter.

    Heated Storage Not Required

    Our J/109 has been in heated storage the last three winters, but only because our boatyard converted all their buildings to heated. Sure, it’s nice, but expensive.

    For years before that we laid up the McCurdy and Rhodes 56 in unheated buildings here in Nova Scotia, and in Maine before that, and even so, the above four tools kept her nice and dry.


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  • Cool Boat—Dragonfly 40

    I don’t generally put a lot of weight on magazine Boat Of the Year competitions, but I think Cruising World got it right picking the Dragonfly 40.

    I haven’t seen a 40, but I have drooled over the web site pages and videos and I was very impressed with the Dragonfly 28 when I was aboard one at the 2019 Annapolis Boatshow.

    So impressed that the Dragonfly 32 was on our short list when we bought the J/109, and might easily have got the nod if we could have found a secondhand one in our price range.

    I could babble on for pages about the many things I like about these boats, but it’s the elegant simplicity coupled with pin-your-ears-back performance that really grabs me, as well as the quality of the design work and build.

    Also, great to see a family business making boats and doing well.

    Have a listen to the CW judges talking about the boat, particularly the guy on the bottom left. That’s Herb McCormick, who I often call the “Father of AAC”, in that he gave Phyllis and me our first writing gigs at CW nearly 30 years ago, and taught us a bunch about writing over the next few years—Herb is the writer I aspire to be.

    He makes some good points on the design.

    And here’s another video of the carbon version really kicking up her heels in a good breeze.

    Of course the boat is way out of financial reach for most of us, but it’s fun to dream and we can also learn stuff by looking at really well-thought-out boats that aim to sail well instead of being floating condos.


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  • Why Cheap Boats Are Not Inexpensive

    An irrational drop in price makes a boat cheaper. A rational drop in price makes it more expensive.

    Originally Gautam Baid about investments, modified for boats by me

    Never truer words were said. Refits almost always cost more than the purchase price of the boat, often double or more. And worse still, the money we spend on a refit depreciates by 50% to 100% the day we finish it.

    So it’s almost always cheaper to buy a better and more expensive boat in the first place.


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  • Great Weather Product

    The good folks over at the Ocean Prediction Center have a feature on their weather-maps page to cycle through weather maps for the last 3, 7, or 14 days.

    A great way to study how systems are moving and evolving over time in the area we plan to cruise or the ocean we plan to cross.

    • It’s important to understand that this is historic (before today), not forward looking.
    • It’s easier to understand what’s going on if we slow it down, or better yet stop it and use the buttons at the top to step through at our own pace.

    Don’t let the historic nature of this tool put you off. Knowing what the systems have been doing for the last two weeks is invaluable when planning cruises and voyages.

    And those who have taken the trouble to learn a bit about 500-MB weather maps will get even better insights by looping those maps.

    Other useful options are to add satellite imagery and look at how waves and swell have developed over time.

    A truly great learning tool for anyone who wants to really understand the weather around them, rather than just looking at GRIBs.


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