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Droning on about drones

Vista enhanced: The view from a drone. Photo still (c)
Small, reasonably priced, remotely controlled (by either smartphones or dedicated console) camera drones are not just for annoying people and pets in public parks with their high-pitching whining. For the cruiser, they offer some practical advantages...if you can keep them free of the rigging. Not to mention your delicate flesh.

The advantages of the drone aboard the cruiser go quite a bit beyond boat selfies and bringing a bit of local colour to one's passagemaking blog. Some of them can be flown in fairly stiff breezes (although retrieving them can be tricky), and a range of several miles, using drones as "eyes in the sky" could reveal approaching weather or marine traffic, or even, when used as a "virtual crow's nest", reveal potential obstacles, such as wrecks or coral heads, that could ruin an otherwise beautiful lagoon visit.

It's important to note, however, that most drones are limited by their software as to the altitudes to which they can ascend; this is for practical reasons, such as the safety of aircraft, which also restricts drone operators as to where they may be flown at all. At sea, however, and away from land-based air traffic, there are fewer restrictions beyond battery runtime. Even so, a height of 100 metres is significant from sea level and is five to six times higher (and therefore gives a great "height of eye" distance to the observable horizon under fine conditions) than even the view from the top of the typical mast. For instance, our approximately 15 metre tall mast on Alchemy allows me to see an object of sufficient size on the horizon at 13.8 kilometres away; 100 metres of altitude on a drone would allow nearly 36 kilometres. And that's for relatively low objects; a ship of sufficient height could be seen even farther away, and a squall line thousands of metres tall would be obvious even further away and long before those on deck perceived the dark line of it approaching. This interests me, and not just because I've yet to install a lazyjack setup.
Mast steps galore: The smaller one's feet, the smaller the step can be; but the shorter the crew, the closer they'll have to be. Photo (c) Don Street/Cruising World.

In the past, the only way to get this sort of vantage point was by sending up the sharpest-eyed crew on mast steps, which was more convenient than just a bosun's chair alone and arguably safer as the last ones at the mast top gave the crew a place to more or less stand while repairing light fixtures or other mast-top fixtures, or examining standing rigging or freeing a snagged or damaged furler part.

The most esthetically pleasing mast step, as well as the least-likely to snag sails or lines, is the folding type.
But mast steps add weight and complexity aloft and can be expensive to purchase (depending on how many you require, which is a function of leg length and mast height) and laborious to install. (In the link provided, the fasteners are rivnuts, which I use with the solar panels; rivets or tapped machine screws are also possible choices). There's also a concern present in my mind of putting so many holes in one's mast and whether that has a compromising effect on its strength.

I would not hesitate to place a pair of mast steps near the mast top (particularly ones that are simple to fabricate, would be unlikely to snag anything, and would fit my huge feet), because I can see the point of that when combined with that bosun's chair. But installing mast steps all the way up just to get a better view? Perhaps the drone as nav aid makes more sense. Much as AIS complements RADAR, it strikes me that a live feed from a drone ahead of the boat would complement the forward-looking sonar we are already using

I think that the most productive use of drones at sea, apart from littering one's blog with stunning aerial shots, would be in noontime approaches to gaps in reef walls to confirm the least-tricky turns and the presence of uncharted coral heads. It was about two years ago that I realized drones were becoming cheaper than a full set of mast steps, and, because they can look directly down from well in front of the bow, are better for spotting keel-threatening hazards. I can easily see when an overlay of GPS co-ordinates and virtual AIS markers could use live drone inputs sent directly to the plotter so the tech-savvy could steer safely in undercharted areas by "live charting". Perhaps someone is already doing this: it seems like the future.

Logically, the most compact drones with the longest ranges and flight durations would be preferable for onboard use, but compact and long flight times don't always appear in the same models. Another consideration is the danger of losing something that costs one thousand dollars or greater into the salty sea; few current drones are capable of water landings (or take-offs or easy COB-style retrieval) and that's also going to restrict their use to fair weather and plenty of on-land practice prior to on-deck snatches) and the ones listed here seem too toy-like (or expensive) to take to sea, or to crash into it.
This is indeed wee. Photo (c) Steve Mitchell/

Ocean cruising is a niche activity, and drone use during it is a niche of a niche, so word gets out quickly as to what works and what doesn't. A popular drone maker, and not just at sea, is DJI; their Mavic Pro and Phantom models seem to have quite a few fans, and I like how compactly the Mavic model can fold down to the size of a shoe for stowage. In January, I attended a rigging seminar with Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson of 59 and the good ship Isbjörn. Andy and Mia run a popular charter business aboard their Swan 48 and they travel to some seldom-frequented latitudes worthy of shooting in high-definition with their DJI Phantom drone.
The DJI Phantom 4 drone: It's the handles you want to reach for.

After the seminar, which featured quite a lot of cinema-grade footage of Isbjörn underway, I asked Mia about the Phantom's performance parameters. She suggested the "big loops" of the Phantom model seemed superior in terms of safe retrieval; its maneuverability, being a larger drone, made it easier to control. I was surprised to learn that the drone could be flown easily at 15 knots apparent wind speed, although Mia suggested this was a big power drain and made retrieval increasingly difficult. 

There's plenty to consider before we ante up for a drone, but I think before we leave, I will have it sorted out for consideration as another useful tool in the navigational armoury. After all, if it's good enough for Paul and Sheryl Shard, who am I to disagree?


Fame, spares and the Great River

Unless one is moving house, you can never have enough spares. OR CAN YOU?
The above assortment of Atomic 4 parts, surplus to my needs and to my garage as I no longer own a boat with an Atomic 4, and we've sold the house and the garage with it, recently left the premises in a mutually agreeable exchange. The buyer saw my ad in Kijiji and an identical notice in my club's buy-and-sell section got a few nibbles but this one actually showed up. I've sold Atomic 4 parts before, including a working rebuilt block and a good-condition oil pan..and there's still more to come...but the approaching move has underlined the fact that we have Too Much Stuff. A large percentage of this are Boat and Boat-related Odds and Ends.

Decommissioning possessions, however, is tricky. We are moving in stages: we will attempt to rent an apartment or condo locally so our son can finish school and I can continue unimpeded (save by my own levels of competency) to make Alchemy livable. I am loth to sell off or reallocate tools, but the facts are stark: I have a lot of duplication between the boat and the garage, because I haven't been keen, for instance, on lugging entire socket sets back and forth. Ever dropped a socket set while descending a boat winter? I have. Two hundred bucks to avoid it by buying a second set for the mancave seems cheap.

Now, the process of selling boat gear is complex due to the valuation. A 40-year-old carb for an engine that hasn't been made since Pierre Trudeau was last prime minister is either junk or gold, depending on who needs it. But Lake Ontario still has a few thousand of these engines in equally venerable, freshwater-only boats: it would be stupid to repower most of them with modern diesels when the gas inboard is still reliable. So the trick is to put out the word and to be flexible on price. My fellow boaters are resigned to certain levels of expense involving the word "marine" (as, alas, am I), but everyone likes a bargain. Price to move unless you want to carry it to the next shack. I have a friend who does vintage car parts for a living and is basically in "continuous auction mode" for the very limited number of people on Earth who need the obscure things he sells. He says I should sell and keep selling. I think he's got a point.

Boats are finite in carrying capacity, although we have, with a steel full keeler, more stowage than most. Every kilo carried, however, slows the vessel down if only by a tiny fraction; every metal object on board is a potential projectile if not secured and a locus of rust if not protected. Unless one sails in a TARDIS, one must choose wisely which spares and tools to bring. Equally true is that most boaters should review what they've hoarded, or scavenged, or bought and never used, or used once and never again, and critically think if it would be better in the hands of others than on a blockaded shelf in the garage. Or in a sail bag hooked to the ceiling. Rum's not getting cheaper, after all, nor are boat interiors getting bigger.
Speaking of which, this genuine CQR is for sale.
As is this 27 lbs. "Kingston" CQR knock-off. Drop me a line.

So, the garage mining proceeds. Interestingly, the buyer of the first lot has a number of boat restoration and fixing projects on the go, and already knew of me as a long-time reader of the blog. He knew I was moving, for instance. While this isn't the first time I've met in real life blog followers, and with the number of "hits" approaching one-quarter million, odds are good I'll continue to do so, it's still a touch disconcerting. When we actually depart, I will rejig the blog and add a great deal more visual content as we start going to interesting places; perhaps by that point, I will be more accustomed to having strangers know things about me because I've posted them online...I am more surprised than I should be, I suppose.

And by way of the rather obscure post title, my family is watching 20-year-old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on DVD. Our son, who is 16, hasn't seen them and is enjoying them; we've half-forgotten many episodes and are equally entertained. The one we saw last night was this one, and "the great material continuum" referred to a mercantilist philosophy of having discrepancies between having and wanting, i.e., the basis of commerce. Besides, as a person who went to his first Star Trek convention as a teenager in the 1970s, any excuse to wed Trek and sailing will do.


Surveying the risks

"Non-compliant": yes, we know. We haven't used it since shortly after getting the boat. Probably is empty. Photo (c) Peter McGuire, Fastnet Yacht Surveys.

Had a survey for insurance purposes last Sunday, something our insurers haven't asked us to obtain  A couple of things we knew (Mrs. Alchemy was present as a learning opportunity), such as the superannuated propane tank and the propane hose that needs replacement after 10 years, and that the inline filter for the air condition seawater circuit was not ABYC-approved. Both are easily fixed, and the last one can find a use for a salvaged little Perko-type strainer I already have stowed.

It's an Octopus, but not the breaded kind.

We also know we need an isolation transformer. It's on the list. What I didn't know or noticed was that the hydraulic hose going to the pilothouse helm pump is starting to "sweat", meaning Its Time Has Come. As I am planning on installing a hydraulic autopilot this summer, I think I'll buy the replacement and the "new" hose and fittings at the same time. Still unsure of which autopilot brain box I'll install, but I'm leaning toward this. And this display. While we intend as a matter of course (nav pun) to steer to a heading, rather than to a waypoint, so as to reveal set, drift and leeway, etc., we are going to preserve the option of interfacing with the existing plotter. But mainly, it's about robustness.

So is risk assessment. A lot of decisions on the boat are driven less by what we think we can "get away with" and more by "if we do these things and follow these practices, we will lower our chances of catastrophe". That's more than wishful or magical thinking, it's prudent seamanship, which is something even a land lubber can practise. We try to follow the precepts of "renovate, repair, and, if possible, improve". It's why the failed Schedule 40 galvanized steel pipe nipples topped with bronze ball valves have been replaced with Schedule 80 (beefier) stainless steel pipe nipples with Marelon ball valves.
And after...still to do, the reconnection to the respective drains.
Was I always this cautious? No, but near-sinkings and hanging from tethers over a wild sea will sharpen one's sense of the transitory nature of life and boats, and suddenly backflow preventers and gas sniffers seem like sound investments. This was brought home to me, again, just 12 hours ago.
You'd be melancholy, too.

This fine old fellow is "Doba". How he ended up on our ratty couch at 0300h is a cautionary tale. Doba is an elderly Dogo Argentino, a large breed of hunting dog, allegedly, but he is possibly the mildest-mannered beast I've ever encountered..."big suck" only approaches his degree of stolid amiability. Last night, circa 2 AM, I was fighting with a reinstallation of Google Earth when I heard barking and shouting from the street. Now, as we live way downtown; sonic shenanigans of this sort are not unusual of a Friday evening. I would have ignored it and turned in had I not heard the loud arrival of a police car, followed by that of the first of many fire engines.

One of the rowhouses across the street was on fire. Which one was not immediately clear, but I could see loads of smoke from my second-floor window and, briefly, flames curling up above the roofline. I woke the missus and went outside. Sure enough, Doba's owner, Paul, one of the two tenants in the building, and Franco, the building's owner, were on the street, with Franco clearly in shock. The speed with which the place had burnt was alarming: the second, top floor was effectively burnt out, but the four fire trucks on scene had knocked it down rapidly.

Turns out Franco on the top floor had left a cigarette burning on an ashtray that may or may not have been on the bed while he went to the bathroom. The bed caught fire and then the room caught fire. Everyone got out, save one of two cats (we've just learned that Cat Two was found) but I suspect the building is effectively condemned. Or so it looks.

We learned from Paul that Franco has had a loose relationship with risk management: while he owned the property outright, he carried no home insurance (unmortgaged houses are not, in fact, obliged to do this, which was news to me...and to our real-estate agent). He also had, as is required by law in our province and presumably in others, no smoke/fire detectors on each floor. Whether this would have helped is unclear, but it might have been possible to put out a smouldering bedding fire before it really took off had an alarm sounded. The house was from 1890 and that dry hemlock wrapped in horsehair was like an oil-lamp wick, unfortunately.

We loaned Paul and the basement tenant a couple of coats and had them in for tea and brandy. When the "warming bus" arrived, we offered to take Doba overnight. He did whine a bit, understandably, but he settled on the couch to sleep and was otherwise the perfect guest. Around 10:30 AM this morning, Paul came by to pick him up to shed elsewhere. I wish them good luck. They'll need it.

I relate this tale not to point blame at Franco or at any home or boat owner with a non-rigorous approach, but to illustrate that three people now homeless (plus three pets, including the vast Doba) and, probably, with a few hundred items destroyed or damaged possessions, might have avoided this outcome with some pretty basic forethought. What the surveyor pointed out by way of needing attention needs attention (although my insurance company took this year's cheque without complaint), but a shortage of alarms and extinguishers aboard weren't among the remedial aspects covered. Same with the house: we had tenants for years and there's smoke detectors on every floor with a CO detector next to the furnace, plus more fire extinguishers than are required in various potential problem spots. We have full house insurance, including coverage should I be unable to work from home, as it's my usual spot. These things are stated not to seem smug, but to indicate habits of mind. I have commented in the past (and recent events in the sailing world have kept it top-of-mind) how viewing the universe as more or less indifferent to one's well-being seems realistic, as do clear-eyed assessments of risk in one's environment, particularly that of the sea on small boats. There are parallels to small houses on land. You may think because you've never screwed up, you are an expert at something. This may be the wrong approach.

Prudence only looks like paranoia to the unprepared.


Regrets and boat sales

One way to get it done. Photo (c) Yachtworld

"That's simply ridiculous when man with minimum education tells me that he's market expert (for example). Rip-off expert - I would believe so."
The above quote is from a recent Cruiser's Forum post in which an individual objected to being "pestered" by a broker with high-ball offers he judged, possessing the infinite wisdom of these sort of internet forum participants, unrealistic. There is a case to be made that apple polishing exists at the offshore end of the boat-selling spectrum, the potential passagemaking boat buyer needs to exercise some common sense about how worn boats at sea for years obviously can get.

You'd have to have been confined to a brig or live under a bridge not to realize how collapsed the market is for used boats, save at the nosebleed altitude of mega-yachts, and even those aren't commanding "oligarch" prices these days. Why would they? They are too numerous and it's cheaper to impress the people you want to have sex with on land.

I did find the obtuseness of the poster, however, interesting. He was simultaneously complaining that a broker he had approached for advice was pitching him boats, because he knew the prices were too high and resented the pitches. His contempt for the brokerage trade was not confined.

Brokers have a legitimate job in the ecosystem of the acquisition of boats, and, like used car sales folk, they are widely despised for it. But I'm not sure why the hate exists. The onus is on the buyer to ask for recent surveys, or, if the money involved or the lack of expertise on the buyer's side suggest it, to hire a purchase survey. The opportunities for getting ripped off are limited when reasonable boats in reasonable condition outnumber potential buyers. The broker, however, can be a useful filter in this process, but, in the era of Craigslist, Kijiji and other DIY operations, not a necessary one. But that is not their fault nor their concern.

The potential buyer can be correct about not needing a broker but can also be indifferent to their existence. And there is more than one way to sell or buy a boat, with variable levels of formality and agency. As an example, we just sold our house. I worked in concert with the realtor to show the place to ONLY developers, renovators, investment property buyers, and people who already owned houses in the area: in other words, to people who saw the place in context, didn't care that the paint was old and the floors needed sanding and that some of the improvements were visible through holes cut in the ceiling. That doesn't matter when you already know you are going to gut the place. It would be like putting on full makeup prior to having plastic surgery. So we didn't. I kept my old boat clean and gave it a cursory topsides buff, but I didn't, by a similar logic, pretend it wasn't 43 years old.

We avoided a general listing with the house. We showed it about a dozen times over five months. No "fluffing", no $25K "staging" or "white boxing": just a sign out front with the "Exclusive" label on it.

We named a fair price. We got that fair price. We paid a fraction of the usual commission. The tactic and the price was based on my extensive research of the 20 nearby houses that had changed hands in the last 36 months.

I mention these aspects because houses and boats sell according to similar agent/broker models, but those models are variable...if you, the buyer or seller, so request. If you don't like the game, change the rules. If you don't like the game with changed rules, don't play the game. I see non-garbage boats on Kijiji I would jump on, if I didn't already have a boat and if I knew anyone who wanted a boat...but, of course, I don't. If you're not paying a broker's cut because you resent broker's cuts, you can keep a surveyor on speed dial. Apart from the price used boats command, selling and buying one outside of the former paradigm is, like so many other fiscal activities in our brave new world, largely frictionless. That said, I can't blame a hungry and probably depressed broker for trolling any name they have. Neither should any buyer or potential buyer. After all, you may want to sell your boat someday, and, unlike an algorithm, a broker may not be interested in your custom at any price.

I had my first boat with a broker for 18 months. We showed it about 25 times. Not a single offer. A guy in my club offered me half of what I'd listed it for, no survey, all cash. I see my good old boat sailing off the mooring regularly. I have no regrets, save I'll never get those 25 showings' worth of time back. And that includes the hard and generally (in my experience) honest work brokers supply.


The "selling up" part of sailing away

Well, that certainly was a process.
Looks as if we are to be happily homeless. The house has sold and we have most of the summer to get rid of stuff that isn't coming aboard.

As many a cruiser knows, selling one's shoreside home is a big step and not one casually taken. But it is frequently done, as the idea of remote landlording in order to keep rent covering the costs of sail repairs and rum-based beverages is a sort of anathema to many for whom the more-or-less literal cutting of the docklines symbolizes freedom from dirt-based woes.
As I remember, this book was eccentric but insightful, and had a lot of interesting ideas that may have influenced me.
Originally, we had planned to "rent-farm" our house to maintain a base in our expensive home city. But the idea of paying others to mind the shack in our absence seemed...dodgy, as did the very expensive rents we would be obliged to charge. So we chose to sell up. Our method was a little different than most, however, and therein hangs the tale.

Toronto housing has become ridiculously expensive. As the house taxes are linked to the appraised value (as is the insurance), it costs about $12,000 a year to starve to death in place here. I am a freelancer and my wife works for a charity. When we parted with our last set of tenants, we parted with $21,000 a year in rental income, although to be honest, it would have been impossible to sell the house from a display point of view with the upper two floors occupied by twenty-somethings with an incontient chihuahua. 
I will pee, shiver, whine and then pee again.
But we don't necessarily plan to sell up. Well, not entirely. We think we need a base camp in a small Ontario town, close to water with enough depth to visit with the good ship Alchemy. We want to keep our stuff in the basement and garage (separate entrances) and rent out the top of whatever house we get (at a small fraction of whatever we would pay for the same thing in the city) and thereby maintain a presence as citizens, a mail-drop and a place to keep our stuff until we return. Assuming we do. And, modest income. Which will cover our taxes, etc. And, as the only principal residence, should we need a house in a hurry, we'd have one. In a small town, near to water.
Something like this, which we've all seen a thousand times, but cheaper.
We sold our house through an exclusive listing deal. It wasn't listed and we staged nothing and had no "showings", per se. This was quite deliberate. Most people in Toronto tart up their places on the cheap (the "lipstick on a pig" tactic) in an effort to appeal and to have the property potential buyers are paying too much for appear "modern". It's a load of bollocks, smoke and mirrors, of course: People who buy homes immediately redecorate if they don't start hacking away at the very walls in order to exercise their personal tastes and credit ratings. I noticed that in our immediate vicinity, in which 20 some houses have changed hands in the last few years, virtually all have been extensively remodelled, if not actually gutted and rebuilt. My alley way has been and remains a contractor's parking lot.
Our bathroom is slightly nicer. Photo (c)
We did not wish to waste time, money (we didn't have) and materials to bring the place up to the expectations of the house-hungry masses. We didn't want to "redecorate" knowing that it would be binned the day after close. So we made the listing exclusive and had about 12 showings in nearly five months, with the for sale sign seen above taken down for four weeks in the usually market-snoring month of January.

Every potential buyer brought to the house was either a landlord, a renovator/house flipper or someone looking to develop the land beneath the house. Or a combo of all three. No one ever mentioned the price we were asking, which was a lot firmer than most because we had done our homework.

The homework consisted of me watching the 20 or so surrounding houses change hands like a hawk and, using a website called, plus bluntly asking people what they got, I thought to make what discretion describes as "a certain price"...I'm willing to describe methodology, not the house's cut. Our agent levelled up to Certain Price plus $50K to give us a way to back off "as a gesture" and I did not waver from that number, convinced that it was what the market, at least the more selective market I was attempting to attract, would bear. We sold it for very close to Certain Price Plus, meaning we've made a little bit more than we'd hoped for and that money will cover our agent fees, which were less than those of a typical MLS listing, and the costs of moving to a condo until the boat itself is in liveaboard condition.

Because we have no car and need to dispose or dispense with a lot of our possessions, the house close is September 4th (the first day of Cabin Boy's Grade 12). We need that time to get this season's launch done and get the mast (with the new radar) in and several other boat-related jobs come before and after: I am obliged by our insurance company to have an insurance survey done for March 30 and it's headless chicken time.

The long close, which I was grateful to get, particularly given the workload of the next five weeks before launch, will allow us to view our possessions with extreme prejudice and Kijiji, Craigslist, curb or garage sale them out of our existence. Some things, mainly a few books, keepsakes and tools I want to keep for the next house, we will put in storage. Others, like my ridiculous cache of boat spares, I will flog to other boaters.

We both will still have to work our jobs until we actually close this deal in September, and the line of credit we've been paying down will likely go in the wrong direction for a few months due to the expenses of moving and related costs associated with this place, like having it cleaned up and renting a dumpster for those things not wanted on the voyage, etc. Obviously, once paid out, we will be debt-free the next day, although we will keep the line of credit at zero dollars should we need an emergency fund. We only had the line of credit in the first place, because we converted our relatively paltry remaining mortgage to it 15 months ago. We've paid off this house twice in 19 years, and mostly via tenant rents. Our bank loves us, pets us and calls us George. But the key to pulling this off on our comparatively miserable incomes has been to spend as little as possible. The reward is going sailing for a few years.

We will be renting a condo nearby until we are ready to move aboard Alchemy. We hope to head down the St. Lawrence in June, 2019 after Cabin Boy wraps high school. We will, at that point and assuming he graduates, call him Cabin Man. We are looking for something local so that we can have him continue to walk to school, as he has his entire school life, and which is the same distance or less to the boat. We will probably try to rent for July or August 1 to give us time to move in gradually. Because I have plenty to do as it is. But this is another major step in getting off the dock and achieving the cruising life.


Through hull and back

The foil was there to act as a shield for grinding and welding hot bits flying into a mysterious part of the boat I call "the smuggling locker".
Behold the starboard exhaust pipe nipple. It's more or less right at the unloaded waterline of Alchemy and is the passage for the combined diesel exhaust and cooling water. As the attentive may recall, I had a flooding episode last August when the threads on the port 29-year-old Schedule 40 galvanized steel pipe nipple that drained the galley sink failed and water came in. Unfortunately, because I'd spilled some transmission fluid while doing an oil change in the bilges, I had left the bilge pump off. Won't make that mistake again.

When taking off the starboard side ball valve, the starboard side pipe nipple (the drain for the head sink), crumbled. This occasioned a rapid revision of the winter to-do list. New, non-metallic ball valves were ordered, and welder-fabricator extraordinare Andrew Barlow was located and offered boat bucks to replicate the four engine-bay pipe nipples, two which were the problematic below the waterline drains and one of which was the starboard side, waterline-depth exhaust and the second of which was the port side bilge pump exit.
The pipe nipples were all 1 1/2" outside diameter and were upsized with these rough fittings to take 2-inch I.D. exhaust hose.
The waterline pipe nipples, perhaps because they've spent less time submerged, were in markedly better condition than the "drain" nipples which were always submerged in water. I can't draw any conclusions about this in terms of any galvanic/electrolytic component to the failure of one and the clearly imminent failure of the other, save to note all these nipples presumably date to the boat's construction in 1988 and maybe 30 years is all you get. Maybe 20 is a better plan. Less nerve-wracking, certainly.
Mrs. Alchemy, who fits this space better than I, put up some tinfoil to keep grinder sparks from flying into the aft cabin and other places I did not care to have ablaze while I was doing hot yoga below decks.
I do know that, as with every "reset" on this boat, I have an opportunity to change the old ways for the new. Schedule 40 galvanized steel pipe was replaced with Schedule 80 316 grade stainless steel  pipe, welded in three passes with stainless steel stick welding to the hull. As can be seen from the linked chart, Schedule 80 pipe is over a quarter greater in wall thickness than Schedule 40. I'm going to paint these inside and out with two-part epoxy, as well, for insurance against corrosion.
Wanted on the voyage: the drain nipples, left, with NPS threads, and the exhaust nipples, right, which are grooved to take hose clamped exhaust hose directly.

A fly in the proverbial ointment in the fabrication of these pipe nipples was the typical NPS "straight pipe thread" customary in the marine industry. Most home plumbing fittings have NPT threads cut on them, the "self-sealing" type that does not require pipe dope. NPS require pipe dope, or the pressurized water external to the boat will creep up the threads...not good. For the puzzled, Rod Collins explains why this is important here. Note I do not have the load-spreading flanges seacocks on fibreglass and wooden boat require as a steel hull plate is essentially its own flange. But I still needed NPS threads: the Forespar 93 Marelon ball valves and they are quite clear on why NPT won't work.
The outside of the exhaust pipe nipple, minus the nipple. Further grinding down to "flush" followed.
Andrew, who has a machine shop where he works, expressed frustration that not only could he not locate makers of the very typical pipe nipple sizes I needed with NPS threads, he could not even locate an NPS die I could purchase so that a lathe operator could cut these threads. Trusting in my own powers of Google-fu, and already knowing that a fair bit of plumbing uses these threadforms, I tried my hand at sourcing the needful.

No...luck. I found places in the States that had what I needed, but not locally. Every gruff-voiced plumbing supply guy knew exactly what I was talking about, but couldn't help me. Luckily, Andrew found a fellow who had the right dies and could do the work quickly. And cheaply. Huzzah.

Lights, action, camera. Good thing I haven't put in the water tanks yet.
Having removed the existing nipples (grunt work a specialty), Andrew moved in to prep the area to be welded (a few passes with a sanding disk of ferocious efficiency on a DeWalt angle grinder of surpassing sincerity). His Miller welding unit is beautiful, compact and can work on 120 or 240 VAC, but to get the right penetration, 240 VAC is better. Andrew therefore brought some 10 ga. lead and a willingness to get into the yard's power stand to good effect.
I was prepared to sacrifice a 30 amp shore power cable. I didn't have to.

I'm just glad we seemed to be the only boat plugged in.
Zap factor enhanced, the prep proceeded. Bare metal (which I will paint over in a day or two when it warms up a bit) was revealed where once were nipples. Sailing is dirty fun, isn't it?
Well, at least I can gauge the thickness of the paint lay-up.
Andrew had me holding the pipe nipples on the inside while he did a couple of tack welds on the outside. It looked thusly from his viewpoint:
This job on a non-steel boat would have been half as loud and twice as long. I know because I've done it.
And like this from mine:

...and after.
Once the external tack welds were done, Andrew proceeded to make several passes of the SS stick both externally and on the engine bay interior. We agreed that doublers were unnecessary, such was the strength of the welding in making the pipe and the plate as one.

The whole bay needs a clean-out now and the engine a wash, but nothing caught fire.

Brought to you by Hydraulic Hatch, improving your blog since 2017.
The work was completed in three and a half hours and I am well-pleased. I have an insurance survey happening on March 30 and it will be nice, if not essential, that I get the boat back to "able to float securely" condition for that date with the new ball valves in place.
No nipples like new nipples.

Oh, and while I alluded to this earlier, I did not quite explain why the redo of the both the port and starboard waterline pipe nipples was necessary. It's because I'm finally going for "transverse exhaust" idea I mentioned four seasons ago. I have all the parts aboard I need, save for a couple of reducer barbs, and it's pretty straightforward to do.

The "skin fitting" with appropriate flap for the bilge pump exit.

As for the bilge pump (which will remain forever on "auto" going forward, naturally), its new exit will be near the exhaust, but not so near as to ever get warm. I can fit that myself.


Equalization, right

Just foggy enough to obscure the ice pans.
We had unusually warm weather earlier this week for February in Toronto, but a necessary spot of maintanance aboard went better at 10C than the -3C that is more usual at this time of year. Some welding and fabrication work will necessitate moving (and therefore disconnecting) the house bank a couple of metres forward into the saloon. At 55 kilos each (and there are six of the L-16 six-volt batteries to shift), this is a "non-trivial" task. I thought I'd give them not only a full charge, but an equalization. Here's some of the steps involved.

Readers of the above link, or the merely experienced, will notice that equalization is called for if trouble is suspected in the form of "tired" batteries as expressed via a historical review of amp-hour metering. While this is a complex subject, the analogy in the article of a car's fuel usage versus its remaining fuel supply is helpful, but I would add that a battery's range, in the form of useful amp-hour (Ah) capacity available, is an extension of that analogy. Just as a car can accumulating "junk", making it heavier and less efficient, so can a battery accumulate sulphation on its lead-antimony plates. This can be due to incomplete or rapid cycling of the charge, or other factors like damaged or corroded cabling or low electrolyte levels.The only way to know is to measure and evaluate against your particular battery bank's values, as seen in the first two illustrations here for mine.
The use of equal and robust cabling seems to have been a good idea.
I measured the specific gravity (SG) of all the individual batteries in the bank and corrected this value to an ambient temperature of 10C. All came in at 1.275, which suggested a full state of charge. This agreed with Victron's VEconfig monitoring software on my pilothouse computer. I logged all these figures for future use. Differences suggest different actions.
This was the "resting" voltage after about an hour off the charger. Again, it's suggestive of batteries in good nick, although a truer test would involve a longer rest off all DC loads, again, depending on ambient temperature. As I already knew the batteries had been pretty much babied in terms of watering, keeping the connections tight and keeping the discharges relatively low, I took it as given that all was basically well. Peering down the fill holes, however, I saw a slight lowering of the electrolyte, not enough to uncover the plates, but enough to merit a watering of 150 ml per battery. Th
The choice of skippers for house banks and ice cubes.
The Victron manual suggests, rather obliquely, I find, a way to manually enter equalization mode, which is a state of overcharge (15.5 VDC) sufficient to knock sulphation off the plates, via clicking the main switch on the front from "on" to "charger only" and back again. You are rewarded with blinking "bulk" and "absorption" LEDs, telling you your charger is cooking your batteries in a method (timed) calculated to have the desired effect. Well, I couldn't get this to work, and phoned the redoubtable Stefan at Ontario Battery Services to advise. He suggested, rather than developing a knack for the switch, I simply input the desired absorption stage voltage into the interface and then give it an hour. So I did. The electrolyte sizzled gently (bubbles of hydrogen are produced during th process) but did not noticeably heat the bank up; I have a temperature sensor to warn me of this, as well as fingers.
Saved as an "equalization profile": this software is pretty technical to use correctly, but is also easy to configure.
Did I actually need to equalize the house bank? That's debatable, which is why I didn't do it for hours on end. Equalization can erode the plates in time, so it's a trade-off between knocking the crud off and shortening the life. But this was the first equalization I did since installation and a general rule of thumb is "do this a couple of times a year", although a more shore-independent boat with a smaller house bank than ours of 1,185 Ah (@20 hour rate) might do so more frequently. People have to go to the dock for it. We won't although we will if it's logical or more convenient to do so. When I upside our alternator and tie in the solar panels, I should be able to equalize underway. But that's a topic for the future. Onwards to more welding.


Fiat lux redux

Those wires will be tidied up when I can get the right connectors. All will likely go down the starboard "helm pipe".
I took advantage of some clement weather (well, clement enough for February in Toronto) to do a reinstallation of our to date benighted solar panels. I say "benighted" because until the recent fabrication to put a bracing set of pipes on the leading edge of the solar arch, these four 135W panels haven't popped a single electron into the batteries.

In addition, fabricator/welder Andrew B. also put out supports to take the outboard pair of panels...well, slightly further outboard. Now the gap necessary for the two backstays (which I stupidly failed to consider in the original design) can be seen. What remains to be seen is how or even if I will bridge the gap. The original plan was for these largish panels to act as a solid bimini to protect the aft deck from sun and rain; I'll need snap-on Sunbrella panels or even rainwater-troughs to do that now. Still, the beefed-up solar arch is easily strong enough to support that weight.
The part you can't see is the slushy hummocks on the deck.
As for getting the light to do useful work, the wires on the outboard and inboard panels on either side will be "Y" connected and dropped down below decks to a junction box below, and then to an MPPT and hence to charge the house bank. That will wait until launch, I think, because I have a lot of work to do in the aft cabin to route it properly as we redo the berths to athwartships and put in the AP. I want a free hand with that process.

An unknown is the state of the port outbound panel. While I was moving on deck to take it below in a gale, it blew out of my hands and was damaged on contact with the ground. I was only moving it because Mrs. Alchemy had expressed concern about it blowing off the pilothouse roof. If it no longer outputs, this model of panel is still made (or, at least, its form factor is made) and, as is the way of things (and why I now buy some gear as late as possible), it is considerably less expensive than when I first bought them.

The next three days, paying work permitting, are going to be both warm (again, for February) and rainy, so it's "indoor work" for me. Which is fine: I get to listen to podcasts and can swear freely.


I ♥ my new radar

She's a big 'un.
As the snowy weather, some welcome work and a minor surgical procedure have me sidelined this week, I thought to unbox the new Furuno 1815 4 KW radar I intend to bolt to Alchemy's mast in late April. The kids seem to like it.
Always good to know.
Furuno gear is as well-packed and organized as any higher-end Japanese gear I've encountered. The "important information" is undoubtedly online, but it's a nice touch to include the info in the box, because it would be HUGELY ANNOYING to get the radome up the mast, attach all the requisite wires and then get nothing, or the wrong thing.
Do NOT unwrap prior to installation.
The default power/data cable is 10 metres in length. This may well be enough to go two thirds up the mast, down to the deck and into the pilothouse, but I'm going to have the seller exchange this for a 15 metre length (it's coming in next week or so in another shipment) and I will hand this one over. I would rather have too much than too little cable; for instance should I for some reason wish to take the radar display aft to the outside helm, I'd use most of that 15 metre length.

There's a packing list and templates for each compartment in the 25 kilo box.
The chunkiest part, of course, is the 4 KW radome, which appears to be of the 19.2 inch form factor. The other model I was considering, the Furuno 1835, has a 24-inch dome that's heavier. The range is similar, however, and the power rating is identical. The difference between the radomes, for those of a technical bent, is as follows for the 1835: a horizontal beam width of 4.0 degrees and a vertical beam width of 20 degrees. The equivalent numbers for the unit I've purchased are 5.2 horizontal and 25 on the vertical. Both units work from 0.0625-36 NM in range, although the higher, the better, if you want that distance range. You may calculate your own potential range here.

These numbers break out in interesting ways: the higher the horizontal beam width, the lower the discernment or "sharpness" of the display. The vertical beam width, on the other hand, should be desirably high to account for the typical pitching of a sailboat at sea. The heeling, on the other hand, is dealt with by a self-levelling radar mount. I'm getting this one.

The main use for our radar will be twofold: seeing marine traffic on passage and seeing weather around us. I'm more interested in distance (hence the 4 KW radome, although the draw is reported as just 38 W) than I am in spotting a stick in the water a mile ahead. The nature of the sort of sailing we intend to do is largely high seas: radar buys you time. That said, this radar can be tuned to a pretty tight standard of seeing canoes and geese at 3 AM in the fog 1/2 NM ahead, should that be necessary. But I have seen radar used to steer between thunderheads and localized downpours, and I think this radar will excel at that.
I expect great things from you, radome.
There was no need to unwrap this radome prior to installation: this was just a check. 
Thorough, aren't they?
The 1835, which a few ocean folk have recommended to me, is a pretty sweet unit, but the 1815 debuted in 2017. It "paints" AIS targets more readily and has visual clues, such as "True Trail" mode, which visually suggest the speed and vector of objects of interest, such as radar targets that are also AIS targets.
The AIS info at the bottom of the cursored vessel is smoothly displayed with the radar return.
Rain and storm clouds and squall lines provide variable returns, although they are often gratifyingly tall enough to  be seen beyond the nominal distance limits of the radar. The same can be said of masthead-mounted AIS: it would not be ridiculous to "see" the AIS data of a fast-moving container ship at 50-60 NM given that its own antenna might be 60 metres off the surface of the water. AIS is also in the VHF band; certain atmospheric conditions can cause "skip" and multiply the occasional reception by several times. I once heard, for instance, the U.S. coastguard in Cleveland, OH in Toronto...on my handheld. It didn't last, but it was an example of skip. I wonder if an AIS target, ported to the radar display from my Vesper transceiver, would show up on the screen not as a "blip", but just as a contact on the lower half of the display? I'll enjoy playing with this, I can tell you. Someone else will have to sail!
It's possible to avoid a lot, but if you can't, it's good to have some warning of heavier weather approaching.
Above is the "weather" use of radar. The 1815 has a full manual mode, which, having fiddled with older radars and radios, I'm accustomed to using. I look forward to this as well, because I want to see if radar can spot certain phenomena, like "clear-air squalls", I've experienced at sea. Or maybe it was a microburst. Anyway, a bit of warning would have been nice, if that's possible.

The wires that go into the display. I have to run right-sized wiring to the display unit, but the draw is pretty low: 3.2 A
The plan is to have the display at the helm. While this unit is supposed to be either helm-mounted on a pivoting base, or flush-mounted into a nav station bulkhead, I am going to try to mount it on a strong armature from the pilothouse roof. That way, it can be tucked away and secured when not needed.
More fuses and covers and literature.
My plans to do this, however, might have to change if the radar display affects the helm compass, which is actually pretty accurate (locally, at least; it will almost certainly have to be swung in the Southern Hemisphere).
I was concerned this unit would be too small. My hands are large: I need not have worried.
The display unit itself is 8.4 inches top to bottom. That seems small, but I had a good look at it, as did Mrs. Alchemy, dragged over from her Boat Show gig as temp worker at a chandlery, and while there's a lot of information on the screen, it's easy to read. Again, this is most likely going into the pilothouse and will be closer to our eyes, should we wish, than the plotter will be, and it's only seven inches wide.
Sorry for the focus; I should've used the flash.
The back of the unit is pretty simple and robust. I'll post about it again after it's installed and running.
Oh, the places you'll go and you'll see their outlines first!
In the meantime, insurance survey time has come around again and there is much to do aboard prior to that expensive but necessary exercise.