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2016-05-30

Trial by sail

In very weak wind, the "new sail creases" still show.
One thing a boat refitting blog tends not to emphasize is actual sailing of the boat. This is a pity, of course, because that's the point of all the learning and labour. Anyway, we had been asked by our splendid neighbours, the Dulmages, for "a boat ride" before they move to Vancouver shortly.

Well, of course. We'd love it.

First, however, we needed a sea trial of the new main. Before the actual day of Having Guests Aboard, we went out in frankly miserable wind of perhaps five knots, all the better to diagnose and repair our line reeving and our sadly decayed sailing skills.

After only a few embarrassing if trivial incidents, more involving the role of heavy fenders in trapping sheets and furling lines, we declared the boat Fit for Minor Sailing. Minor because there's still loads of gear, tools and mysterious fluids only semi-secured and the head is filled with painting supplies and the beer is warm off dock power, as neither an inverter nor a 12 VDC power socket is installed. They're aboard, but not installed.
Cabin Boy in a rare moment of unmoody teenager.
Frankly miserable went up a Beaufort scale to mediocre, fitfully from the ESE, so out we went. We we reminded of a few things, such as a) the hydraulic steering quite unlike the tiller of dear old Valiente (still unsold, make an offer), both in terms of reaction time (hydraulic is slow and I feel as if I'm oversteering) and feel (hydraulic has none). Still, when Alchemy's steering is "dialled in" and we are on a beam reach or slightly aft, the boat pretty well self-steers, which bodes well for the bypass plus windvane proposition.

That's more like it.
I left the sail rather flat as I didn't want to develop speed and spilling the main would get us standing up quicker if I started to hear items shifting overmuch down below. Even so, the boat's undeniably as lightly loaded as a steel behemoth can be, and we did heel a bit. It felt good, actually, even if it was at best five knots in 11 knots true.
Haven't decided whether I should take the topping lift off entirely when sailing.
Anyway, a hot day on shore was cool gliding over the still chilly Lake Ontario, and one of the kids needed a blanket to keep warm. Luckily, we've had that sort of thing aboard for ages, given that sometimes I'm reading a manual in the dead of winter and a tiny heating fan does very little.
Sometimes shots like this remind me we sail a fairly big boat. Well, big to me.
Of course, some errors were made. We are still getting used to the fact that Alchemy needs to make a far more assertive tack, and, once tacked, needs to be helmed equally assertively, lest the Yankee jib backwind and you have to start all over again. While typical and in fact expected, it's different from an IOR design where the tacks are as little as 65-75 degrees. Nothing broke or complained, however, just a slight bit of sailorly muttering. There were children present, after all.
Mrs. Alchemy at the helm. Maybe I'll restore the tiller for her birthday in three weeks.
 All in all, a pretty nice sail...we were out nearly four hours, even in the light air. Helming from "below", however, at the pilothouse helm, with well-meaning if view-obscuring crew on the coach house, made me think that I want to get that second throttle/shifter at the outside helm....where I can see. The pilothouse is great for reading dials and playing with the radio, but I could use a better field of view. And dudes in dinghies should not sail out when I'm coming through the gap in the sea wall, please. It's nerve-wracking to see a headboard on a triangle of Kevlar going by at pipe-rail height, really closely.
Not pollution, but mist from the warm air over the cold lake.

2016-05-18

When you want a little roach aboard


Trple-stitched, reinforced both hither and yon, and a very deep second reef.
The commission process continues: Behold Alchemy's new main, which I hope will drive our boat in all weathers. Today was not as light air as forecast, but light enough to put on the yankee jib (the poor furling was eventually fixed), the staysail and the main. Mrs. Alchemy was a huge help, despite the fact that we really need to record the working configuration of all control lines, blocks, beckets and shackles, because we screwed up a few things even a sketch would have avoided. 
The numbers are only close, not exact, because my "trapezoids" do not have parallel bases.

A note on our logic in going with just two mainsail reefs

Some have questioned our decision just to go with two deep reefs rather than the customary three (or even four). Part of our decision relates to weight aloft, a desire to keep the reefing gear simple, and the simple acknowledgement that our SA/D calculation is "heavy goddamned undercanvased motorsail" (it's about 12.5, if anyone is keeping score) and that we carry full sail longer than many other boats (all things being both equal and tied down properly) and that if we do need reefing, it's going to be a significant sail reduction, which can be considered a "gear shift" of sorts.

The boat as built differs slightly; the pilothouse is longer, for one thing.

The photo above is a reproduction of the original designer's intent and sail plan. The actual boat is somewhere, but not significantly, different. We have no storm trysail at the moment, but we do have a storm staysail. Our idea is that the second reef is deep enough to take us to 50 knots of true wind speed, above which point we are in heave-to, bare poles plus storm staysail, or put out a drogue territory. The choice of heaving to versus running off is situational, of course, and there's strong cases for both in variable circumstances. Preparation, however, is key, and that includes the crew with the correct clothing, adequate rest, the proper safety gear and the proper preparation of the boat in terms of lashings and stowage. I've been in some heavy weather when gear has come loose, and it's no joke to be the person who keeps a flogging solar panel from going into the Atlantic.

Alchemy, being a heavy displacement full-keeler, is intrinsically sea-kindly in a blow (bar bad stowage or bad seamanship) but if we have enough information about the "storm track" of whatever storm track the gale we happen to be in, and land isn't nearby, running off is also a sound tactic.

The photo the new main with the numbers represents a rough (because my sail areas are off a bit, due to non-parallel bases of the trapezoids comprising the sail area reductions of each reef) estimate of how much sail area reduction, and thus sail power applied, there is to each reef. The actual first reef sail reduction is about 35% and the second reef is about 67% of the total main area, which are ratios I devised with the sailmaker as matching our goals. I estimate is about 305 square feet for the old main and about 330 square feet for the new one picture. It's not hard to factor in the sail gained by the extra roach and fractionally higher hoist and foot dimensions of the new main, but it's not strictly necessary to calculate, either; this main is heavier, but bigger: performance in light air should be a wash, whereas it has been built to withstand higher true wind speeds better. As experienced passagemakers Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger note, the amount of time spent in truly windy weather can be quite low, and the tools to avoid it at sea have improved greatly in the last 25 years.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but the current sail inventory consists of
  • light air main (spare; stowed)
  • heavy air main (on the main)
  • Yankee top jib (rigged on the forestay furler)
  • light air genoa (spare, stowed)
  • Cruising assymmetrical chute (stowed)
  • Staysail (bagged, hanked on)
  • Storm staysail (stowed, hank on) 
If some deficiences in the sail inventory are noted, we will remedy them. Frankly, we need more real-world operation to determine that.
 
Vang always sounded villainous to me.
Prior to the initial Big Hoist, however, came some prep and untangling and sorting of the many halyards and lifts descending from the mast. Shrouds were further tightened, cotter pins and rings were pocketed, as we the usual tools. Oh, yeah, and I had to put the boom on. Some innovations this season include a triple-block vang and some upgrades in the shackle department, thanks to a providential Craigslist score some time back.
Wichard gear: Choose it even for unconvential uses.
Being a largely self-taught sailor, save for those RYA adventures, I have been known to use boat gear in non-standard ways. I needed a way to fix the topping lift to the boom. The conventional way, I'm guessing, would be to add a second bail to the one below the boom leading to the mainsheet. I like the idea of the topping lift being quickly detachable, and I had a Wichard tether shackle in my Box o' Parts, and so here we are. Given that the topping lift line is 6 mm Dyneema core and the shackle can bear two tonnes of weight, I have no doubt lifting COBs and, more mundanely, general cargo and tenders aboard with this setup will be straightforward. I think I should, however, get a compression tube over that through-bolt prior to any such antics. 

The staysail in the anchor well. We generally leave it rigged and ready to go in its bag, like a spinnaker.
We were pleased with the tabernacle steps. They enabled me to stand comfortably to secure shackles to the main's headboard and, later, to bungee halyards to keep them from slapping: this action makes you friends on the docks.

Battenless, a sail's more like a tarpaulin. A four-grand tarpaulin.
The Tides Marine track, plus the batten slides and SS slugs, worked very well on the initial, battenless hoist. We wanted to check the dimensions before doing that somewhat tricky operation (the wind had picked up). We were gratified to see that the hoist height was just about perfect and that the new main made use of some space previously filled by air at its trailing edge with roach. As mentioned previously, this is an attempt to get just a little more sail area in play to drive us in lighter air a little more effectively. We will test that theory this summer, which is evidently going to be stormy.
More or less flattened, and the roach favours the lower portion of the main.
Battens in and fully hoisted.
The two reefs are unrigged for the moment, as I want to ponder the best lines for the job. I also need to get a tack hook and other bits and pieces, although much of this can be improvised with light lines.

Battens battered in.
The new main is old school. There's really nothing on its nine-ounce Dacron surface that wouldn't have been (save for the "system" of the slippery external track) on a cruising main 25 years ago. We chose that because we need to be able to do our own repairs and because we are realistic about the go-fast pontential of Alchemy: There isn't any. We need a strong sail to keep up to capture the wind to make us go; with many boats, the sails are very light, very strong and very expensive. Ours ia a different path.
These sewn-in fabric bands spread out the shearing forces on the sail's corners; in this case, the clew.
 I was pleased with what I saw today and we are pretty sure the fit is close to exact out of the (literal) bag. Of course, looks aren't everything: a few challenging sails will tell us this vital piece of equipment's true value.
The old mainsail cover simply won't do.
It didn't take look, however, to confirm what we and our sailmaker had already anticipated: the heavier sail material and the stacking slugs of the Tides system make for a physically larger pile on the boom top. We'll need a new sail cover, and soon. This needs to last us for many years and thousands of miles.
And this is why: the old one has been outgrown.



2016-05-14

Sticking around

Much grinding...much.

The Tides Track System I purchased over the winter went onto the mast a few days ago, and the new main is waitng aboard to go on it the first day it isn't blowing a hooley.
It's actually a literally slick piece of kit.
Getting it on took some time and Mrs. Alchemy was both helpful and patient as I lengthened the existing mast gate with a combination of multiple Dremel grinding bits (they really were too small to do more than deburring and clean-up) and the alarming effective six-amp angle grinder, which was bordering on too big, as I was going for precision and the ideal of only removing the minimum of mast to take the fitted "slug-shape" of the bottom of the track. Eventually, we got it done, and my measurements appear sound. The real test will come with the sail hoist and sea trials, but everything in its right order when it comes to commissioning for a new season, right?

Alchemy's Selden mast is heavier than most, because it's specified for an ocean-going motorsailer. I estimate the weight of the mast and the 11 stays (jib, staysail, four lowers, four uppers and two afts) is between 200 and 300 kilos. Usually, I get four or five men to help me deadlift it onto a mast dolly cart maneuvered by the missus, and it's difficult for me alone to rotate it once it's on four sawhorses. Nonetheless, this is invariably part of the preparation, as the many halyards and hoists and stays have to be secured on the right side of the spreaders if angst and shouting are to be avoided when it's hanging from a hook above the tabernacle.
The VHF connector came apart in my hand, so onsite soldering and heatshrinking was required.
The process of getting the stays in the right spot involves wiring them to the spreader ends and taping over the wires to avoid tearing sails. On the boat end, turnbuckles must be inspected and threads lubricated.
The new mast crane, dubbed "the shuttle" is small but up to the task, evidently. Watch yer balls.
Because of the number of stays, the weight (and therefore inertia, should the wind pick up) of the mast and because I have in the tabernacle that needs the mast to be in just the right position to take the transverse mounting pin that allows self-stowing for service or going up French canals, we tend to have a horde of helpers if we can find them to do the job as quickly as possible. This gets us on and off the seawall with a minimum of fuss and delay, as weather windows are tight and everyone wants to get their stick in. Things went largely smoothly, save that a Vice-Commodore split his scalp open walking into one of our solar panels, which was unfortunate. Made of stern stuff, however, he accepted a pint in recompense. It's the club way.
Further tensioning would follow by me back at the dock. The point is to make it good enough to avoid toppling.
I find the new prop is pretty damn effective at stopping the boat, and making use of prop walk is helpful to actually swing the stern into our dock. It alarms observers a bit, however, as they don't expect sudden corrections from one of the bulkier vessels in the club.

Looks like a proper boat again.
Knowing that this weekend was forecasted to be largely wet, cool and approaching gale-force, I spent a couple of hours last night tensioning (but not tuning, that comes later) the stays and shrouds, cleaning up and coiling down the various halyards, bringing down the heavy line used to tie the mast crane hook to the mast (and which I reached by climbing my new steps, which didn't budge) and by setting up the boom, as seen above. I then bungeed everything down, because I dislike "halyard tink" and so do my dockmates.
Still a few tweaks necessary, but things are looking good.
Aside from that solar panel incident, less blood than usual was shed during this year's commissioning and I have a pretty good feeling about the boat in general. All of which is good, because I am going to make some more major changes in the weeks to come.

2016-05-04

An unexpected bottom job

I still like the boat, despite the push to dispose of her.
Behold Valiente, the Viking 33 I've been attempting to sell for some time now. Behold her freshly semi-scoured waterline (there's only so much I can do without a Multi-master and a power washer) and her freshly VC-17'd bottom. I had hoped this job, a springtime ritual for which I have little love, would have fallen to another, i.e. "the next owner", but this has yet to happen, despite the incentivization of dropped price.
Phones and I have a complex relationship akin to that of 50 Shades of Grey
Speaking of dropped, guess what exited a pocket straight into the tray while I was crouched anti-fouling the keel? Every mishap involving a phone has happened to me either under, coming on or coming off a boat. It's a sign of something.
That largish hatch has provided many a sleep-positive zephyr.
Having been informed, among other things, that sail bags in the V-berth were detracting from the presentation, after replacing a leaky scupper hose I'd found, I chucked Jibs 1 to 3 into the quarterberth. The main stands alone, but one can see it's a full-sized berth now. I have to say, however, if you're looking for palatial sleeping, this isn't the place. If you're looking for a fast, lively ride, it is.
The ruddy rudder, freshly Brazilianed
I burnished and serviced the prop on the basis that shiny objects attract magpies, or something. The rudder got a sanding on its leading edge. I'm sure it'll add a knot. 
Ready to launch, but nowhere to go. She's got some nicks, but she's still pretty.
There's a prospect coming this weekend, says my broker, hence this flurry of prettification and prep. We'll see how it goes. Two random guys in the yard took a tour while I was cleaning up. One of them had just bought a CS27 for $5,500.  This officially makes classic plastic boats cheaper than yacht club memberships, meaning the boat is barely significant in the sailing equation. The real question is: Can you afford to keep any boat? Particular boats matter hardly at all. Next week or so, I'll probably have to start paying for land storage. I could launch immediately. The batteries are charged and the motor has been dewinterized. Make me an offer.




2016-05-01

Beltane splash


Slipped and slided
Today is the first of May, in many Northern Hemisphere cultures the traditional start of spring, irrespective of the chilly winds or the pelting rain that may be occuring in your locality. In ours, the last day of April was our club's Launch, 2016.
Prop property of Alchemy

After a few last-minute tasks, such as the servicing of the Variprop, the day began at sunrise and was slightly cold and increasingly windy as the hours passed, but still, it was a day very amenable to effective launching.
Cranes are the most popular birds ashore this time of year.
This year I was one of the crew on the club's workboat, the vessel designated as the towboat for boats with either known deficiencies of propulsion, or those who find out that what ticked over nicely in the cradle does not always do so when introduced to a 5C lake. 
My club, National YC, uses professional crane operators, but the rest of the process is done by volunteers.
As can be seen, conditions were nearly ideal with an intermittent zephyr from the increasingly popular east. Most people who've paid attention have noticed in recent years a higher proportion of easterly winds in our area. While generally benign, it does make for a damper and chillier waterfront and does indicate an evolution of the historical wind patterns. 

Most boats were self-propelled, but a few with dead engines would prove to be doozies. Doozies that came in groups.
The spectacle of launch is always a compelling one, even from a brisk vantage point on the water. The difficulty is the adjacent airport, where helicopters and "quiet" turboprops can make communication difficult by voice and radio.
Hanging out on the boat.
The observation that most of the boats picured are between seven and 14 metres in length and weigh from two to 20 tonnes gives an idea of the size of the cranes used to hoist them straight out of their winter cradles, dozens of metres in the air and down into the lake with the tiniest of splashes attests to the skill of the operators and the confidence of the "pusher" crews on the sea wall that they won't get a keel to the noggin. Those blue safety helmets really are for show in such an outcome. 
That boat is nine metres. The top of the crane is where eagles dare.
After several hours of towing and waiting to tow, including one tow that featured a huge, unsteerable wooden powerboat that was sinking because its planks hadn't swollen or clinched or whatever the term is that means "I am not having four tonnes of water in my bilges" and which needed a 120 VAC outlet to power heavy-duty pumps,  we got to our row. The process is interesting visually, I think, so here it is in pictures.

The large powerboat beside us is probably close to our weight. The furry stick is a "pusher" for keeping launched but unsecured boats away from the sometimes gnarly sea wall. Note how it also features load spreaders.
The orange rectangle is called a "spreader frame" and distributes the boat's mass around the center point of the crane hook, while also providing a more or less vertical drop to the connections to the slings in which the boat is hoisted into the air. Were the spreaders not there, the slings would compress against the sides of the boat and would potentially damage or even crush the hull. 


Because this boat has flat sides, the owner covers his hull with fabric to prevent the grotty and abrasive slings from mucking up his topcoat.
There's only half a metre or so between boats. If it's windy, as it was at this point, belaying lines are used not only to turn the boat in the slings, but to keep it, once airborne, from swinging into its neighbours, in this case, us.
More is better: We requested a specific orientation of our bow into the wind so we wouldn't have to make a three-point turn.
Seen here are the "control lines"; dropped from the quarters of the bow, volunteers on land use them to turn the boat and, to a limited degree, keep it from starting to swing in the wind if the wind is playing up. Conscious about the inertial potential of a steel full keeler, I usually put out four 40-foot lines.
No use cleaning one's decks with the muck-covered boots in play. The slings are guided by taped sling marks on the rail.
Because the front sling is on the slope of the keel, I request "cinch belts", which discourage slippage when the full weight of the boat is on these slings.
Ready to fly! Note that the cinch belts are nearly taut. They take little force; they are more like suspenders to the main belts.
The boat usually pitches forward 10 degrees or so because the front sling is slightly above the rear sling.
There's never a year that goes by, despite the number of times now that Alchemy's been launched and hauled, that someone doesn't comment on her heft or admitted butch appearance. That's fine. We are comfortable with her relatively rare looks on an inland lake.

Forget it, Jake, it's chine-town.
 Again, the skill of the operator is evident in that I didn't hear a splash. You'd think you'd hear a splash.
The flag shows that there was some wind slotting in between buildings. We didn't want to do a multi-part turn with our windage in the relatively tight spaces involved. We can and have before, but it's not the first bit of motoring I prefer to do.
The people who do this (including Mrs. Alchemy while I am usually in a work or safety boat), tend to do the same job for many seasons. They know their jobs well and generally are very Zen-like, save for the grunting.
Down, aye, down and the engine started instantly. The docking was without issues, either.
We are finding that we are far less worried about the boat's part in getting to the dock than things we can't fix, such as weather or the attention spans of the people maneuvering the boats.
Next: the enmastinging. Alchemy almost looks fast here.
It's going to be a busy season. Stay tuned.