The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:

Tips

  • Long Live Free-Standing Radars

    Based on 30 years of radar use in some of the foggier and icier waters in the world, I have long advocated for free-standing radars, at least for those who venture into these waters, rather than integrating radar into a plotter.

    So it’s way-cool to see that Furuno have just brought out two brand new free-standing radar displays that are compatible with their latest scanners, either magnetron, or digital.


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  • The Cockpit Is NOT As Safe As It Feels

    It’s well worth reading the excellent report from US Sailing on the tragic crew overboard (COB) 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 COB prevention.


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  • Wing Keel Craze

    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.


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  • Don’t Overload Catamarans

    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.


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  • Great Risk Quote

    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.


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  • Season Extender

    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.


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  • Sounding Hammer Trick

    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.


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  • O’Day Day Sailer

    I mentioned one of these in another tip as the boat I lusted after when I was 12 years old.

    Today I was driving past a boatyard and lo and behold…

    I wonder what you could buy this boat for with trailer and outboard?

    Not much I bet, and she would be a great teacher of the most important skill we need to go cruising, and a heck of a lot of fun, too.

    Just saying…


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  • Water Likes Fair Curves

    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.


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  • Favourite Upgrade to Our J/109

    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.


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  • Where Bulb Keels Don’t Belong

    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.


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  • The IOR Rule Has a Lot To Answer For

    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.


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  • Going Aloft Articles

    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.


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  • Marking Port and Starboard Shrouds For Tune

    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.


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  • Preserving Mast Tune Hack

    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.


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  • Q&A Hydraulic In-Boom Roller Furling in Antartica

    Question

    Very experienced member Matthieu Chauvel asked:

    Does anyone have experience with hydraulic in-boom furling systems in below-freezing conditions (and/or proper heavy seas, 50 kts+)? Asking for owners of a yacht heading down to Antarctica that has what they (and the builder of course) say is quite a beefy, reliable custom system, but it hasn’t been tested in polar conditions yet.

    Even night temperatures should remain well above the hydraulic fluid freezing point (call it -20 C with a little error margin) during the summer season, but maybe viscosity becomes a problem above that level? General ice build-up solutions and difficulty of sending crew forward while getting hosed down, at night, in towering waves already mentioned to them, but it would be nice to hear from people who have managed in that environment without problems, if any. 

    Answer

    Sorry, I don’t have much useful experience with hydraulic in-boom in extreme conditions. I was in the Arctic with one of those systems, but it did not get that cold.

    The one thought I do have is that fisherfolk out of Atlantic Canada regularly work the waters of Hudson Strait in early winter, and so do Norwegian fisherfolk up as far as Svalbard, with hydraulics so it must be a solvable problem.

    But, more importantly, if I were taking a boat into the high latitudes I would not have a complex system like that, particularly since the builder admits it has not been tested in those conditions.

    I’m assuming this is a big boat, but even so I would go with slab reefing and then if worried about sending someone forward to the mast, bring the lines aft, although that would not be my choice. Instead, I would do good mast pulpits and a proper centreline jackline system.

    I might also consider a Park Avenue boom, but that could also catch snow and ice, so maybe not.

    If worried about loads on the reefing lines because of the boat size, I would install cross connected winches with coffee grinder pedestals. Two people can easily move a lot of line with a setup like that.

    One could also add a hydraulic drive to the winches, but that adds risk and I would want to know the boat could be operated safely if the hydraulics failed.

    Skip Novak has managed big boats fine in extreme conditions this way for decades and Phyllis and I had no trouble with slab on a 56-foot boat, including reefing and striking in 50-knot winds on one memorable occasion.

    I would also say to your friend, if the boat is too big to handle with these simple systems, then add crew, probably professional.

    We only have to look at what happened on Escape to see the dangers of a boat that is too big for the crew, and has complex systems, and that was not in the Drake Passage where conditions are likely to be far worse.

    And I can’t tell you how scared I was of the automated rig on a big boat I went to Greenland on. If we had encountered 50 knots and big seas things would have almost certainly ended badly.

    I do differ from Skip in one regard. I would add a storm trysail on its own track with its own halyard, so when expecting extreme conditions the main would come down and the trysail set. This, together with a storm jib set on an inner stay, is a rig that can take us to hell and back in safety.

    If your friend decides to stick with in-boom, then I would strongly recommend this change. In fact, they could just motorsail to and from Antartica with this rig up, and be safe.

    Matt, given your experience, I’m guessing I’m preaching to the choir, and I get that your friend won’t want to make all, or maybe any, of my recommended changes for one voyage, but maybe that just means he or she has the wrong boat for going to Antartica.

    Anyway, thinking and writing about this was interesting.


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  • Reefing Horn Hack

    Reefing horns are a nice simple way to secure the tack when reefed, but they can also foul the sail when hoisting. A PITA, particularly on boats with the halyard led aft to the cockpit.

    This simple hack using a piece of fuel hose with the same ID as the horn OD, that I had in stock, solved the problem.

    Transparent reinforced water hose would look nicer, but hey, the black matches the carbon sails that came with the boat!


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  • Spinlock 6D—One Size Does Fit All

    Our friend Margaret, who is of the petite persuasion, wearing the Spinlock 6D we are testing here at AAC.

    One of our concerns with the new model was that with only one size, instead of three as the 5D we have used for years was available in, was that fitting a smaller person might be a problem, particularly since we think that it’s vital that the chest strap be snug.

    Turns out we need not have worried. Thanks, Margaret, and Spinlock for providing the jacket free for evaluation.

    We will be publishing a full report once we have had more experience with the 6D, but so far we are liking it a lot.


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  • John Kretschmer Reefs Downwind

    A few days after we published my article about the causes of the tragedy on Escape, I received this unsolicited email from John Kretschmer:

    I am writing to commend you for your recent piece,”Lessons from a Tragedy at Sea.” It’s sober but hopefully enlightening to many. You are spot on.

    The notion of coming up to reef the main, in a big boat especially, is madness and, simpy, bad seamanship.

    We reef Quetzal exactly how you describe reefing Morgan’s Cloud, using the preventer to maintain boom control, easing off to about 100° apparent, and having a slippery track and cars, and stout gear for hoisting again.

    I have completed 161 training passages aboard Quetzal in the last 19 years, which is kind of crazy, and logged more than 150,000 miles on this old girl in the process, and we have reefed off the wind every time. And I almost always have inexperienced crew, or at least crew new to Quetzal, so it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners.

    John Kretschmer is one of the most experienced mariners of our time and always worth listening to. I think the most important part of the quote for most of us is “it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners”.

    John went on to provide some tips on reefing off the wind with in-boom roller furling systems, which I will share in a future article.


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  • Susie Goodall Tells Her Story

    While I’m no fan of the Golden Globe Race, or at least not in its present form, I am a huge fan and follower of Susie Goodall and was absolutely gutted when she lost her boat in the 2018 race, particularly since she was one of the few competitors to fit what I believe is the correct storm survival gear, only to have it fail due to a defect.

    After the race Susie kept admirably quiet about the whole thing as she processed the huge disappointment she had suffered, rather than capitalizing on the media frenzy around her, as many would have.

    But now, four years on, she has told her story. A worthwhile read, and great to hear she has put her life back together and intends to go cruising.


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  • Batteries And Generators Are Different Things

    It drives me crazy when sales people suggest that installing their lithium batteries automatically means we don’t need a generator.

    Batteries are a storage device, generators are…wait for it…a generation device. They are different things.

    Sure, installing a larger capacity battery bank (of any chemistry) might mean that we can anchor for longer, or sail for longer, without starting a charging source, but eventually, and in some way, those batteries will need charging…duh.

    And if we have enough solar to never need a generator, then we might not even need lithium batteries.

    Point being that confusing this basic difference between batteries and generators, sets us up to make bad system design decisions…and often spend our money unnecessarily.

    Navico should know better.

    More on the generator decision here (needs updating).


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  • ABYC Bans Twin Busses For Lithium

    Turns out that the new ABYC E13 standard for lithium battery installations on boats in effect bans separate busses for loads and charging sources. (Thanks to member Rick for pointing this out.)

    13.7.2.1A BMS shall respond to any conditions outside the SOE by activating the output disconnect device.

    My guess, and hope, is that this is probably the result of poor drafting, rather than intended. The problem, of course, is the word output.

    In my view, compelling the BMS to dump the loads just because of an overcharge does not increase safety, it decreases it, since load dumps are dangerous in and of themselves and overcharge is the most likely scenario to cause a disconnect.

    Hopefully ABYC will fix what I believe to be a mistake soon. Banning something that most industry experts I have talked to consider much better design (separate charge and load busses) does their credibility no good at all.


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  • Mirage 24

    This little boat on the mooring next to us, belongs to a young couple with a year-old baby, who get a lot of fun out of her. I’m told even the baby likes the boat.

    She has two berths, a galley and a head, and was designed by Cuthbertson & Cassian of C&C yachts, although built by Mirage, which means she will sail well and without bad habits.

    I’m a huge fan of the original designers at C&C. Good wholesome designs that can still surprise on the race course.

    But here’s the best part. The boat cost the young owners less than a lithium battery bank…a lot less.

    Sailing, and even overnight cruising, does not have to be expensive…unless we choose to make it so.

    If you are waiting and saving to go voyaging, this would be a fun boat until then.


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  • Dead Ending Reefing Pennants

    Most people dead end reefing pennants round the boom with a bowline, but that’s hard to tie tight and even harder to untie after it’s been under load. And don’t even think about using a buntline hitch unless you want to use explosives to untie it.

    There’s a better way: the humble timber hitch, finished off with a figure eight, as shown.

    Quick to tie, and easy to untie no matter how hard it’s been loaded.

    Not sure where I learned this—the sort of thing the great Rod Stephens would have come up with—but I have been terminating reefing pennants this way on all kinds of boats for some 50 years and have never had one fail on me.


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  • Killer Dyneema Scissors

    I have been doing a bunch of splicing of single-braid Dyneema (AmSteel) lately—lots of storm preparation.

    The stuff is seriously difficult to cut without making a mess of it, particularly when cutting single strands to taper the bury, but these scissors from D-Splicer do a lovely neat job and will even cut through a full 12mm with a single easy snip, even though mine are only meant to go to 10mm.

    I have had a couple pairs of scissors that purport to be for Dyneema before, but these are way better. Highly recommended and worth every penny of their admittedly eye-watering price.


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