John's Tips, Tricks and Thoughts

Weekly Digest:

Cruiser Tools—Files

On our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 I had a whole bunch of different files, but that was a 25-ton boat where weight, while important, was less of an issue.

Since selling that boat, along with all my tools, I have found that the three files shown above will do most things, and while I have a few more at home in the workshop, these live in my tool bag on our new-to-us J/109:

  • Fairly fine metals file flat on one side and curved on the other
  • Four-in-hand
  • Rat tail file, quite coarse

I use the middle one by far the most. Makes short work of removing a lot of fibreglass, epoxy or wood, and will even work on aluminum. One of the most common tools I reach for with a lot of functionality for its size and weight.

More Tools:

  • More recommended power and hand tools for voyagers.
  • And here are four more that most cruisers don’t have, including me up to a few years ago, but should.


Wire Tie Best Practice

Our new-to-us J/109 was filled with wire ties like the one on the left. Horrible things because when changes and additions are made people tend to just add more wire ties over the existing bundle.

This one is a mild manifestation. There were bundles with 20 different wire ties in the space of a meter.

So, as I clean up the wiring, I’m replacing the ones on the left with those on the right (first photo). Way better, because when I make changes at a later date I just snip the old tie and replace it with new, like so:


Don’t Play With Your Phone When On Watch

Coast Guard crew from Station Curtis Bay enforce a safety zone around the Ever Forward during container removal operations April 10, 2022. Approximately 500 containers are expected to be removed. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kimberly Reaves/released)

I think we would all agree that smart phones are seductive and, as a gadget freak, I’m as susceptible to their siren call as anyone.

Here’s a really good reminder to me, and everyone else, from none other than the US Coast Guard, of why we should not give in to smart-phone temptation:

For approximately half of the two-hour transit, the Pilot on board the container ship placed and received numerous calls, texted messages, and drafted emails on their personal cell phone right up until the incident…

…The Pilot was drafting an email on their personal cell phone in the minutes leading up to the planned turn south, when the vessel sailed through its waypoint and grounded.

If a professional pilot can get sucked into his phone like this, are we immune?

Better to have simple rules. Being on watch is just that. No:

  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reading
  • Texting
  • Games
  • Emailing
  • Or general phone-wan….

I’m not even a fan of listening to music when on watch, because hearing something amiss has saved me huge grief on several occasions.

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Q&A—New Lead Acid Batteries From Victron


Member Kimbal asked:

I’m looking at an ad on Yachtworld for a boat that has “New Victron Super Cycle AGM batteries – 3 x 125ah (2022) – Note: These batteries are a new type of AGM which approach lithium in some respects, and matches the Carbon Foam Firefly batteries performance – capable of up to 100% depth of discharge occasionally, and 60-80% frequently without damage.” Have you heard of this, and does it sound legit?


Yes, in fact that’s what we have installed on our new-to-us J/109, and testing at Ocean Planet seems to indicate that they do very well on deep discharges.

So far we have not used them enough to say anything really useful, although they are looking good after one season.

That said, it’s important to understand that Victron have two offerings with different strengths:

  • Super Cycle, which we selected because we have a very small bank and occasionally will need to take it a long way down, say when aboard for a weekend, but will be able to bring up to fully charged at our wharf when we get home.
  • Carbon Foam, which might be better for a long-distance cruising boat since they are more resistant to being left in a partial state of charge.

Do note though that all discharge cycles of all batteries (lithium included) reduce life to some extent (batteries are expendables) so claims like “and 60-80% frequently without damage” are simply not true. Like with Firefly, it’s important to read the fine print.


Cruising With Starlink Reports

Member André’s self-built cutter sporting a Starlink antenna. ©Andre Langevin

We have received some favourable reports from Members about using Starlink while cruising.

First on a tip we already published.

And recently two more:

Three weeks ago I installed a Starlink antenna on BJoyce.

Contrary to some skeptics this thing works GREAT! Hasn’t buffered once and fast. No limit on devices or anything else.

The RV version with antenna mounted in a rod holder, no set up just “plug and play”.

It was rough coming down the coast in the wake of Nicole. We monitored buoys and streamed the premier of Yellowstone in 8-10’ following seas (off watch of course).

Even VOI worked flawlessly. I think if I read the fine print which is hard to find I’m not supposed to use “in motion” or on a boat but like I said it hard to find. $135/ mo and you can suspend anytime for free.

Our friend of many years Bob on BJoyce a Nordhavn Trawler

And here’s a paper written by AAC member André, that he kindly sent us, that you may find useful:

So far it seems that the biggest challenges with Starlink are the amount of power it gobbles and reception area restrictions.

And of course it does not work offshore, so you will still likely want Iridium—more on that option.

None of this constitutes an endorsement or recommendation of Starlink by me, or AAC, just some information you may find useful as you do your own research.


Is It Time To Consider a Robot For Watchkeeping?

OK, that was a clickbait title, if ever there was one.

Anyway, I have been vaguely interested in the AI lookout and collision avoidance technology that has been used in the singlehanded racing game for some years, called OSCAR.

Now I see that the company has rebranded as SEA.AI and their entry level product is down to a still eye-watering €9,999.

But, then again, if this entry level unit really works, I can see that kind of investment (no more than a good integrated plotter and radar system) being worth it for singlehanders, or even double-handed crews.

And if we were still heading for the high latitudes regularly, Phyllis and I would be all over this technology, assuming it works for detecting small growlers.

Worth thinking about, although I’m guessing that waiting a bit longer before spending on this technology probably makes sense for most of us.

The other thing that could be a problem is how much power this thing uses. I note that it needs 24 volts—to avoid voltage drops on the mast cable since this model has all its brains at the top of the mast, I’m guessing—which is a bit of a smoking gun on what a hog it is.

Do any of you members have any first-hand experience with these things?

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Tools: The Little Details Matter

I just took the Edson steering system on our J/109 apart to service it. A fiddly job that requires undoing a bunch of fasteners in awkward places only accessible through the top of the steering pedestal after removing the compass.

This job was way easier and probably took half as long using my new Wera tools than it would have with my old less feature-rich tools.

The picture above shows just one of the cool features: the sockets are knurled to make it easy to spin off a nut by holding the socket. Particularly useful at that awkward point where a fastening is too loose to activate the ratchet in the handle and too stiff to turn by hand without the added leverage of holding the socket.

You can read more about these tools and what I bought here.

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Heritage Intrepid 35

As most of you know, I’m a sucker for most any boat from the drawing boards of McCurdy and Rhodes. Normally, to get a M&R boat you are looking at custom boats, or those from Hinckley, so deep pockets required.

But, while I was researching something else, I discovered that, back in the 70s, the firm designed some very nice smaller production boats for Heritage Yachts in Canada and Seafarer Yachts in the USA.

Seems to me these might make great starter boats, that will sail better and are better designed for going offshore than many others of the time. They are also way prettier than most: no one can draw a shear-line the way M&R can.

The one pictured above is an Heritage Intrepid 35 that looks well taken care of, with an asking price of a bit over $30k.


Note that this post is the result of fifteen minutes research and I have no idea how well built, or not, these boats are, or how well they have aged, so do your due diligence.

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Sailing In Close Quarters

I have to confess that over the 30 years we owned our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 I let my close-quarters sailing skills get rusty.

It’s not that the boat is unhandy, far from it, with main and staysail she can be sailed into the smallest and most crowded of spaces.

But somehow, in the the process of always going somewhere (that’s cruising), there just never seemed to be the time to take an hour over an approach when starting the engine would would bring a long day, or days, to a close in less than half the time.

But now that we are sailing a boat primarily for the pure pleasure of it, that’s changed, and Phyllis and I are dusting off old skills to sail on and off the mooring, even when it adds an hour to the day…or maybe because it adds an hour to the day.

I even managed to pick up the mooring under sail in our crowded anchorage singlehanded…and then was insufferable about it for weeks.

Anyway, aside from the fun and bragging rights conferred by sailing in and out of confined waters, it really should be a huge embarrassment for any sailboat owner to call for a tow just because the engine is down, so close-quarters sailing skills are worth working on.

These skills can also keep us off the rocks in the event of an engine failure on a lee shore.

Here’s an article to get us started.


The Best Cruising Boat

The photo shows our new-to-us J/109 and AAC member Frank’s Ovni 435 hanging out together in the workshop at East River Shipyard here in Nova Scotia.

It would be hard to imagine two more different boats, and yet I like both boats a lot.

Which is best? Wrong question. They are designed for different purposes.

Sure, this is a radical example, but it does serve to illustrate how silly the all too common “best boat” meme is.


Don’t Use Old Sailcloth For a Jordan Series Drogue

©Stuart Letton

There’s an article on DIYing a Jordan Series Drogue (JSD), AAC preferred and recommended storm survival equipment, over at This Old Boat.

There’s some useful stuff to learn in the article; however, the author makes the terrible mistake of using old discarded sailcloth that she bought from a boat salvager for the cones.

We know from firsthand reports by our contributors that the cones do wear out over time, even when made with the correct brand new fabric, so making them out of old sail cloth that will certainly be sun damaged is a seriously bad idea that could render the JSD useless in an hour or so of deployment.

Remember, the JSD is our last line of defence in a survival storm. If it fails there is nothing between us and capsize, so cheaping out on any part of it makes no sense…even if we have to forgo that cool new plotter to do the JSD right.

More on storm survival and JSD construction, including firsthand use reports.


Simple Alcohol Heaters Are No More

I have been thinking about heat for our J/109 lately. Not a full-on system for the Arctic like we had on or McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but rather something to take the chill off on a cold morning in early or late summer.

One idea I had was one of those portable alcohol heaters that used to be available. Origo used to make one, but then they got bought by Dometic, who promptly discontinued the product along with the much loved (by some) alcohol stoves.

And there was one from HeatMate that Practical Sailor liked a lot, but that seems to be gone, too.

What I’m realizing as I strive to keep things light, economical, and simple on our new-to-us boat, is that the market’s fixation on ever more high tech and complicated gear is making my goal harder and harder to achieve.

And the constant buying up of small companies by bigger ones like Dometic is not helping either.

Pissing me off.


Portable Solar Panels For Cruisers

The good folks over at Ocean Planet Energy are selling these foldable and portable solar panels.

A couple of these will provide a cruising boat with around 100 amp hours at 12 volts over the course of a reasonably sunny day at anchor.

To me this is a way better idea, at least to supplement a reasonable number of fixed panels, a good cruiser’s alternator, and possibly a hydro-generator for offshore use, than festooning a boat with a huge unseamanlike fixed solar array.

Might even get one of these for our J/109, and I also think this, or something like it, could be a great solution for many Adventure 40 owners.