John's Tips, Tricks & Thoughts

Weekly Digest:

The Cockpit Is NOT As Safe As It Feels

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It’s well worth reading the excellent report from US Sailing on the tragic person overboard (POB) death in the 2022 Bermuda race.

Lots of good analysis and some great recommendations.

That said, the biggest takeaway for me is that the cockpit of a sailboat at sea can provide an illusory sense of safety.

The fact is that even with:

…the wind in the low to mid 20s, with some higher gusts…

US Sailing Report

a wave can near-broach the boat and wash a person right out and over the lifelines, as happened in this case.

…this wave washed Colin over the top of the leeward lifelines and into the water…

US Sailing Report

Phyllis and I have always tethered in the cockpit, even in much more benign conditions than that.

In fact, our rule is to be tethered, even in the cockpit, any time we are sailing in swell, which is pretty much any time out of sheltered waters.

Reading this report was a good reminder for us to stick with that policy.

Much more on POB prevention.

Wing Keel Craze

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I will bet this keel was designed shortly after Australia II won the America’s Cup.

It’s a dead ringer for Ben Lexcen’s revolutionary keel.

But here’s the thing, while end plates are good and bulbs can make shallower keels more efficient than they would be otherwise, Australia II‘s keel was designed to get around or fool the 12-meter rule, not because there is anything intrinsically good about this design.

And yet a bunch of cruising boats at the time ended up with keels like this that will catch any piece of floating debris and have large vulnerable wings, just because it was fashionable.

Watch out for the results of trends like this when buying a boat.

Don’t Overload Catamarans

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People often think that I must be a multihull hater, just because I own a monohull.

Not true, I love well-designed catamarans (and tris, too) like this way-cool Chris White 42.

But here’s the key point:

To be safe, and deliver on their speed potential, cats must not be overloaded.

Check out how thin the hull of this same cat is. It won’t take a lot of weight to push this hull dangerously low in the water.

Overload this boat, and she won’t be much faster than a mono, and, counterintuitively, will be much more likely to end up upside-down than if kept light.

So to have a safe cruising cat, and to be able to carry a reasonable load of cruising comforts, we will often need a bigger cat than we might at first expect.

Great Risk Quote

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You should obsess over risks that do permanent damage and care little about risks that do temporary harm, but the opposite is more common.

Morgan Housel

Morgan is one of the best thinkers about financial risk around. Often his thoughts apply to offshore voyaging too.

This one applies best to the majority of cruisers who worry about lithium battery load dumps blowing the diodes in their alternators, a comparatively easy problem to fix, and completely miss the much greater risks from load dumps.

Season Extender

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Winter is fast approaching here in Nova Scotia, so we hauled our J/109 a week ago.

We would be kind of bummed, except now we get more time to play with our turbocharged (sliding seats) Whitehall.

Most years we go on rowing until early December and are back at it in March. No worries about storms because she lives lashed down on our wharf.

Loverly attainable adventure today:

  • Row to a nearby island
  • Walk around the island on the foreshore
  • Eat great picnic halfway
  • Row home

No chart plotter, no lithium batteries, no tech at all (other than the carbon oars) and easy to maintain…we wash her down once a year whether she needs it or not.

There’s a lot to be said for small simple boats.

We used our version 2.00 dinghy pullout system for the first time today. I will update this article with the improvements.

Sounding Hammer Trick

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I was working with a very experienced and smart composite technician today to check out a crack in the gel coat in the bilge of our J/109.

I was pretty sure it was not structural and just the result of sloppy gel coat application but wanted a pro to check.

He sounded it with a hammer, just like anyone would, but then put his hand down as shown and explained that if there is a void he will be able to feel “bounce back” when he taps. Never seen that before.

Good news: all is fine. He figures someone just poured resin in to level it. Seen it before. That said, he is going to grind it out and repair it right with cloth and then brush gel coat.

Says it should take about half a day. The good guys are fast, too. If I tried it, it would take half a day to get the resin out of my hair, never mind the repair.

Water Likes Fair Curves

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One of the things I look for when looking at boats out of the water is a nice fair curve of the bottom of the hull from bow to stern.

Contrast our J/109 (above) with the boat below.

The knuckle at the bow does not bother me, but check out the lump in the line just forward of the prop strut. I’m guessing that’s there to provide the buoyancy missing from the pinched stern.

I always prefer boats where the designer has focused on keeping the water happy, not the rating.

Favourite Upgrade to Our J/109

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It’s so easy to get fixated on expensive updates to our boats, like cool electronics or new electrical systems, but sometimes things that cost relatively little deliver big benefits.

Phyllis and I were chatting during our last sail of the season about our favourite upgrades to our new-to-us J/109 and both agreed that the Blue Performance pockets at the companionway was a big contributor to our enjoyment.

Stuff that we use all the time is now close to hand:

  • Air horn—not used much, but when you need it…
  • Sun screen
  • Magic marker for marking halyard settings
  • Phones
  • Rigging tape
  • Card with target boat speeds…yea, I’m obsessed
  • On it goes

Here’s how we installed the pockets without drilling holes.

Where Bulb Keels Don’t Belong

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At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking you are looking at the keel of a full on racing boat, but in fact this is a new boat sold as a cruiser.

Who on earth thought it was a good idea to fit the boat with a bulb extending forward creating a setup to catch every stray piece of gear floating around our oceans, never mind the risk of snagging her own anchor rode or mooring chain?

You gotta seriously wonder.

The IOR Rule Has a Lot To Answer For

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Here’s a nice looking vintage Nautor Swan.

But look at the strange distortion of the stern.

You think this looks weird? Check out the next shot taken from off the quarter.

When shopping for boats, it’s worth looking for this result of designers cheating the station measurements of the IOR racing rule.

Such distortions don’t necessarily ruin a boat, but they sure as heck don’t help, particularly with tracking when sailing downwind in big breeze, just what we cruisers want to do.

Generally, boat design got better under the influence of rules that imaged the whole boat, starting in the early 90s with the MHS that became the IMS and then the ORC, still used today.

Going Aloft Articles

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I went up the mast today to remove the fragile stuff from the top prior to unstepping. A highly recommended precaution if you don’t like paying for new wind instrument wands.

Phyllis and I had this down cold on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but it’s always a bit nerve wracking on a new-to-us boat with different gear and set up.

We took a bunch of photos of the new gear we are using for a two part article Matt and I are doing together on going aloft. Look for it over the winter.

Marking Port and Starboard Shrouds For Tune

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Adding to my last tip.

It’s pretty unlikely that the port and starboard shrouds are exactly the same length, so if we want to be able to duplicate mast tune in the spring we better not mix them up.

I used to put cardboard labels on, but they get soggy and fall off, so now I just tie a piece of light line with two knots for starboard and one for port. Works great.

I mark both, so if one gets removed, I still have the other.

Quiz

What mental trick do I use to remember which has one knot and which two, without having to write it down or find the photos above? Leave a comment.

Hint, it’s not the colour of the line, I just happened to have some red.

Preserving Mast Tune Hack

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I spent a lot of the summer getting the mast tune exactly the way I wanted it on our J/109. Now it’s time to decommission and I don’t want to lose that.

So I carefully measured the distance between the threaded studs in the turnbuckles for the shrouds and backstay.

To make this work you need accurate calipers, and digital ones make it way easier and faster.

Thanks to member Dick for this tip.

As to getting the tune right in the first place, we have four step-by-step instruction chapters on that.