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Another nautical milestone passed...or is that "mile buoy"?

After considerable consultation and debate, I've purchased this engine for Alchemy. A fellow in my club announced himself not only as the Nanni diesel rep for Toronto (a French marinized Kubota), but as the Beta Marine rep (an English marinized Kubota).

This is the "keel-cooled" version used in barges and whatnot, but I'll have the usual heat-exchanger on it, but with two alternators, a ZF25 hydraulic transmission, the raw water pump relocated (perhaps) to the top of the engine, and the oil filter relocated off the block, rotated to the vertical and put on the bulkhead for ease of filter changing. This last "option" makes sense also because you can fill a vertically oriented filter with fresh oil and spin it on, leaving very little oil-free space in the circuit when you fire up the engine again. Also, you don't spill much, if at all. Makes sense to me.

The basic layout and measurement of the 60 HP block are here:

I will have to fab up a cardboard mock up to play with to determine motor mount positions, "risers", if needed and distance from the forward bulkhead. I have to include the space needed for the thrust bearing, the stern tube, the PSS (shaft seal) and the Aquadrive unit, all of which are aft of the transmission plate.

So there's a lot to figure out and no doubt a lot to measure, measure, cut. I'll keep my miniscule, if surprisingly international, readers apprised of our progress in the New Year.


Peru-sing South American Cruising

This might be the first time I link directly to another blog's post instead of writing it myself, but Michael and Edi on Sequitur, a Canadian Hunter 49, have posted a reminder that it's not all barbeques and sundowners for the ocean cruiser; a large part of it can involve bribery, bureaucracy and extortionate fees.

What's Spanish for "I voted with my keel"?

A very good post from cruising grounds less familiar than most for many Northern Hemisphere sailors.


Climate change skepticism and the contemplative cruiser

Ask sailors about global warming/climate change and count the number of sailors you've asked and add one. That's about the number of contrasting viewpoints you'll get.

I have never owned a car and choose to live downtown as a consequence. Or, perhaps because I get to see the tense, often angry faces of car drivers from my perch atop my bicycle, maybe I should say "as a benefit". I've made no secret that not owning a car has freed up what I figure is $6,000-$8,000/year for activities such as sailing. I'm not rich (in the First World, anyway); I couldn't have a sailboat in the water and one a-building on land if I also drove.

But I don't feel particularly virtuous about it. As a teen, I owned and drove with pleasure smoky little two-stroke mopeds as close to the 60 km/h speed limit for them as I could get away with. I in fact got a ticket once...for speeding...downhill.

I also don't hesitate to fire up either my woodchipper or my chainsaw in twice-yearly tamings of the abandoned woodlot I call my backyard.

I certainly wouldn't mind a car on those days when I'm moving vast sailbags or batteries to and from the boats. If they made a diesel/electric hybrid Honda Element or Nissan Cube, I would be sorely tempted, because basically I need a wheeled box to carry heavy and bulky "stuff" short distances. I essentially have two sets of tools (Boat and Garage) just to dodge towing 40 kilo tool chests in one of the several wheeled carts I have for my bicycle.

Still, with a waistline at least as old as my head, I derive physical benefit in the form of exercise via towing metal lumps hither and sometimes yon. I also get to experience what the heated garage types often do not: plenty of time in the open and frequently windy, damp and/or scorching air. Combine that with even the local sailing (not exactly a trackless vista, but still decent enough to see weather advancing rapidly), and I would say I get to look at the weather more than most, but less than, say, the average forest ranger or mountain guide.

I accept that in my lifetime, the climate is showing signs of change. I would say that the predictability of the climate, in terms of historical trends, is lessening and "unseasonable" weather (whether colder or hotter or wetter or drier than in, say, the midddle part of the 20th century) is increasing.

I don't know the reasons. I do know that we live in a country (Canada) where we are quite profligate in our use of fossil energy and also in which some of the more notable climate change events occur (such as permafrost thawing and the opening of the Northwest Passage). I also accept that "change" in this sense could include this sense of a widening of such historical norms and a lessening of the predictability of seasonal weather trends.

I am also a sailor planning a world cruise starting in a couple of years. It would be injudicious, to say the least, to disregard the role of climate change in our planned journey. My pilot books are established on these principles: that over some 200 years of data recording (mostly by the U.S. and U.K navies), it has been possible to discern patterns that exceed raw chance in terms of what sort of sailing weather one might expect in given areas in given months.

So while I encourage a healthy and indeed scientific skepticism over the causes (and by inference, the range of possible solutions) of climate change, I don't reject the premise that burning fossil fuels created over millions of years in a handful of decades, or widespread deforestation in favour of farting cattle has had a measurable effect on the planetary climate.

It would be surprising if it hadn't, given that we are pretty clear on what a single large volcano can do as a matter of historical record: Bugger up the summers for a few years.

I have been visiting a very popular blog of late that is critical of a lot of the current climate change science....and rightly so, I think. There's a lot of alarmism and conclusions drawn from too little data on what are, after all, extremely complex systems in which the effect of human activity is only a part, and to an as-yet unknown ratio. But while I do not accept nor encourage the sort of evangelical self-hatred of all man's works that some "greens" espouse, neither do I believe that the viewpoint of those who posit that "all climate change science is bunk; let's all hop in the SUV and drive slowly!" is particularly helpful, either. It's clear that at least some "deniers" have an interest in continuing to live carbon-profligate lives, and the consequences be damned as long as there's gas for the monster truck and propane for the hot tub. Some of the posters have a bullying tone I don't find helpful. Others are clearly still upset that The X-Files was cancelled.

And yet one of the reasons to go cruising in this decade is the rather disturbing notion that the next decade will see some potential locations either turned into sandbars, or the site of climate-change-fuelled civil unrest, or both. Last chance to see, and so on.

I welcome future illumination. Preferably with a warm, white LED, of course.


Wind makes the boat go

There was a recent thread on a sailing forum I frequent soliciting advice on "heavy weather strategies". Now my experience of big air is both limited and local, although I've spent about two weeks on the Atlantic in the last three years in rather different situations. Anyway, I gave the following account of what I've learned since 1999.

"My strategies, such as they are, are different depending on my proximity to shore, the boat I'm on, whether I'm alone, with crew, or AM crew. Way back when I was an appallingly green sailor, I saw 40 knots solo on Valiente, my 33 footer, and got into trouble when a gust..a predictable gust coming out of a river mouth and clearly visible valley... laid me over on the lee side with no harness and no PFD on. I lost some finger meat releasing the main sheet and learned to be more careful and less caring if a fender rolls off the deck in half-gales. Repeat the mantra: It doesn't matter if it looks NOT retrieve the fender when the boat's on autopilot above 28 knots. Bad things will happen when you are on that sidedeck...particularly if you are concentrating on appearances and not on sailing the boat actively.

I have seen 30-35 knots with my wife and kid aboard on Alchemy, the pilothouse cutter, which has pipe-sized rails instead of lifelines, and which features cambered, dry decks, and, of course, a way to steer in relative comfort. I found in this case that having just a staysail up (hank on for simplicity) drove the boat near hull speed and yet gave plenty of control and balance...if little in the way of pointing ability. So "reduce sail toward the center of effort" is a good one in increasing winds.

Another one not in many books is the idea of preparing hot drinks and soups in thermoses, sandwiches, energy bars, anything you can stuff into your face with one hand quickly. You use up a lot of energy running a boat in big seas and wind, and you will stave off fatigue if you are properly nourished. These days, it is rare to get surprised by bad weather: even local squalls are preceded by signs in the sky that they MAY occur, so it's easy to get together food and drink at the dock if you think you are in for a stretch of heavy weather.

I have seen 30-45 knots as a delivery crew for protracted periods (meaning what they call "fully developed seas" of six metres/20 feet) in the Atlantic out south of Bermuda, and the logic was to keep a bit of jib out and a little bit more main (it was in-mast furling, which was new to me, but which worked well) to continue to drive the boat near hull speed in order to maintain control and to avoid pooping, broaching or the dreaded pitchpoling. This worked very well, generally, except when squall lines would pass with 40-plus knots and confused seas. This is when knowing where the handholds are is essential, because if you break an arm offshore getting thrown into the cabinetry, it might stay broken for a there's no harm in crawling if it gets you to your station. Also, take care with normal life: getting pants on while keeping one hand for the boat in a squall is difficult and like playing blind rugby.

I saw 60-knot squalls in my home waters this last summer as race crew. At some point, most boats will have to suspend racing in dangerous conditions, if only to preserve their sails and rig. How that is to be accomplished is quite individual, as is the decision to slow down or press on. We tore our jib, a Code Zero and an assy. spin in the space of about 90 minutes in three separate squalls. The last time, we furled in most of the jib (we had about 20 seconds warning thanks to the sight of exploding spinnakers in the mist aft of us) and let the mainsheet go as we turned to face the wind. Then we more or less got pinned 30 degrees over in a sort of half-assed heaving to attitude that nonetheless was easier on the gear. This allowed us to resume racing when approximately one-third of the fleet of nearly 200 boats had to retire, many with extensive damage. So that heavy weather strategy was "know when to pause and take stock". Running ahead of wind can work, I am thinking, to a certain point, but that point will vary with one's confidence, the qualities of the boat, and the abilities (and strength) of the crew. A fully crewed race boat can push the issue a lot farther than a cruising couple.

For truly appalling, long-term heavy weather, like getting out of the way of a cyclone or a deep trough of heavy, cold wind, I would carry the Jordan Series Drogue over a sea anchor. My particular boat is better suited to running off at an angle, I think, although deliberate "testing" of this by seeking out loads of wind and trying to heave to or run off in an area where I'm not far from help if I screw up is advisable. Practice whatever techniques you choose before you need them: an example many people do yearly is getting under full sail and then suddenly chucking a hat or a life ring over the side and shouting "Crew overboard!" Whether the boat comes about and to a stop in an orderly fashion or not is instructive, to say the least.

Knowing one's boat seems to me to be key: The method that works on one might not work on the next, but generally, having the proper sails and the bulletproof means not only to reduce but to secure your sails, deck gear and all lines (because if it's sheeting down hail, you can't keep track of where that 100 feet of Spectra furling line went...over the side and into the prop, maybe?) are key tactics. Keep the decks clean and the gear lashed, because then if you have to go forward to deal with something, you won't get smashed or tripped while you're dealing with jacklines and flashlights. Because you secure jacklines at sea and you clip on whenever you leave the cockpit in heavy weather, and whenever you are on watch alone, which will be frequently.

I have much still to learn, but I do notice myself making fewer gross errors than before, which is progress of a sort.


What a difference a year makes

I find it interesting to note that a year ago today, I was crewing on a Bristol 45.5 approximately where the "s" is in the current position of decaying ex-hurricane Tomas. I can only imagine the sea state at that position is much more severe than the conditions we experienced, and they were no daysail on a pond.

A year ago, we were being squeezed between a vast low-pressure trough and a decaying Hurricane Ida. Worse weather, according to nearby boats racing in the Caribbean 1500, was all around us (except in front of us!). Nonetheless, we were getting plenty of wind in the 20-35 knot ranges, with squalls better than 40 knots at times, and large, rolling seas in the 12-18 foot range (I'm guessing, because I sure haven't seen more than 10 feet on Lake Ontario). We made excellent speed in an inverted "L" shaped course from Virginia to USVIs skirting Bermuda, and while it was a fast passage, it was also rough enough to be "instructional". Cheers to skippers Bruce and June for giving me the opportunity...and I'm sort of glad we had weather, but not this much weather.


Grinding my gear

I'm starting to address some functional and structural shortcomings on Alchemy as I progress on the boat preparation path. I've avoided to this point much in the way of cutting, grinding and otherwise irrevocably altering the metal fabric of our boat, partly out of fear of making a mistake and partly because slicing bits off the hull imposes certain time and action restraints when it comes to launching again in the spring of 2011.

One of the more minor, if finicky, job has been the removal of the fixed (Lexan) portlights in the pilot house and their replacement with portlights capable of opening.

The pilothouse is the nerve center of Alchemy and is where the crew will be spending a lot of time, either in staying out of heavy weather, taking a break from the sun, or making use of the navigational instruments, course plotting, radios or other gear. While there's a separate helm on deck (and when the new engine goes in, a second set of engine controls), the pilothouse is where the nominal "driver's seat" is, and yet it's like sitting in a steel and plastic greenhouse. Rigid insulation will lessen the heat transferred via a big flat aluminum roof, but the two rooftop hatches (about 7 x 12 inches) and the single opening forward window simply aren't enough to keep the air moving. At the same time, the wind or weather might argue against having the companionway hatch open. So a semi-sheltered way to get air through the boat was as much a necessity as a choice.

This is the "dry-fit" result:

"Dry fit" in this context means that all the pieces are bolted together tightly to conform to their permanent positions. Absent, however, are the final priming and painting of the metal made bare via drill bits, angle grinder (grinders, really, as I wore one out) and Dremel. Also missing is the butyl tape and bedding/caulking necessary to make all this as waterproof as possible, considering that at some point a few tonnes of seawater could whack it with intent.

If it looks nice (this is the view from the side deck, thank the firm New Found Metals. I had heard through the cruiser/boat repairer grapevine that this American firm did semi-custom castings and had a bevy of stock parts with the reputation for simplicity, accuracy and sturdiness that an ocean traveller seeks. After a chat with the firm's president at the Toronto Boat Show, I learned these portlights weren't, as these things go, particularly expensive.

Here's the SS screen installed. Bugs, I snort at your feeble attempts at ingress!

I won't go into the tedious details of making a circle X inches across X plus 3/4 of an inch bigger, except to note that I should really invest in ear protection and stop wearing sandals when I'm turning steel into splinters. That white surrounding 1 1/2" ring is HDPE plastic, a necessary "spacer" to make the "spigot" more or less flush with the "trim ring". My god, this blog is educational, I should provide diagrams. A fibreglass boat will tend to have thicker sides; my pilothouse's sides are by contrast, about an eighth of a inch (3 mm) thick. The "yachtie" turn would be to carve up a small section of teak trunk, and to use a coping saw to make a wonderfully boaty teak Life Saver. Well, apart from the fact that a chunk of teak that width and thickness (13 x 1.5 inches) would be more expensive and certainly more ecologically heinous than the portlights themselves, I just don't like wood much on steel boats. Odds are good that all this will be buried behind insulation anyway, and HDPE is cheaper and more rot-resistant than wood, and besides, we are talking about what is chiefly a great big plastic washer.

Perpendicular view, now with transparency!

Anyway, I've learned some shortcuts, and, just in time for winter, I can now have fresh air even when it's pissing down outside.


Thoughts on efficient sailing

IN a recent discussion from a sailing forum in which I participate, the usual question of "what cruising boat should I get?" came up, and is usual with these sort of discussions, the merits and flaws of the more traditional, heavy displacement, cubic metres of tankage-style of cruisers came up, specifically the Island Packet line. Bob Perry, noted naval architect and writer (and designer of boats both heavy and light), noted:

"Listen, my pal with the IP 38 races it! He enters single handed events on the great lakes and he does quite well. He loves to tell me ( ad nauseum) about how he can beat a Valiant 40.
" Ok, so once you beat a Valiant 40 now shut up."

Making a boat go or not go is usually far more about the sailor than it is about the boat. Many IP owners are non racers and less than skilled sail trimmers. They could make the latest IRC racer go slow, very slow.
Sure the IP will not be as close winded as some boats but you can foot off a bit, sail the boat on the fat side and just let her roll along and you'll do just fine."--Bob Perry from

To which I replied: This is true. If I can make this thing sail at 4.5 in 9 knots apparent, anybody can trim any boat to its maximum potential, which may prove surprising not only to the guys on the race course, but to the skipper!

I consider it a truism that while not every boat is a racer, but any boat can be raced.

Most people, with the exception of racers, don't realize their boat's full sailing potential (and I don't just mean speed, but rather efficiency of the boat slipping through the water, making the minimum of lee, and having the ballast organized to provide the smoothest ride, among other considerations). Yes, some boats are inherently slower than others, measurably so. But technique and familiarity are key, and this is why I tend to cruise as if I am racing in the sense that I took all I learned in five years of flag-winning club racing (which is not all there is to learn, by a long shot) and transferred that to cruising.

Why? Because a boat sailed efficiently is a happy boat, with a happy skipper. It is fulfilling its reason to be.

Sometimes, the key to learning where to start is from crewing on the boats of others, or reading books or mucking around in dinghies or even looking at your own boat in a new light. About six years ago, I switched to a Gori folder and took about 300 pounds of gear out of my 9,000 lb. '70s racer-cruiser. The difference was noticeable and I found further tuning and sail trimming "fixes" that made the boat even more of a pleasure to sail than it already was. I transferred this knowledge to our newer steel "old shoe", and found similar "gains", although obviously to a different scale and degree. Still, it surprised more than one observer, crew or passenger to see such a big, heavy boat move in light air and manoeuver with something approaching grace.

Playfulness leavened with science will tell anyone more about their boats, even if it's generally thought to be a slowpoke. An example: My steel cutter [I]Alchemy [/I]is getting its batteries increased in weight by about three times, but they are moving forward to the CG under the mast. The new engine will be about 150 pounds lighter and about 1,200 pounds of lead ingots in the bow will be replaced by chain and tools, which are coming out of the pilothouse lockers. The water tankage remains the same at 200 gallons, but is moving down onto the stringers and frames instead of mounting beneath the side decks (this was a poor choice by the P.O.). Lastly, I'm putting on a feathering prop. My experience with both a folder and my friend "Cap'n Matt's" experience on his steel ketch with an Autoprop convinced me that a fixed prop, while mechanically simpler and much cheaper, created unacceptable drag.

I expect all these efforts to have a salutary effect on the boat's sailing characteristics and to increase both stability and "sea kindliness". Yet it is sometimes assumed that given that it's a 15-16 tonne boat, there is very little I can do that will have much of an effect.

That is not my experience. Any boat and any skipper can be improved. Sometimes it's about learning or relearning many of the basics of sail power; other times it's about removing heavy crap out of the boat or to a better spot. Skippers in the age of sail knew this about "ballast" intimately, because poorly stowed ballast could kill you if it degraded the handling of the boat or caused unacceptable losses of stability.


Two against the sea!

After my kid spent a couple of weeks in "sailing camp" (see hot Opti beam reaching action above), I decided in my skipperish wisdom that it was time to test the Incredible Nesting Dinghy, Optimist Pram.

I make no apologies for the vile pun, as it was geared to amuse a (then) seven-year-old boy.

Anyway, I spent a portion of an unseasonably hot afternoon assembling and rigging the dinghy, not really aided by my son's queries along the lines of "do you know who Captain America married?" and my own lack of memory as to how I did it the last time. Eventually, sweat and lucky guesses mostly prevailed.

Sorry to say, but I was, until yesterday, a dinghy virgin. I cannot tell a lie: instead of messing about in boats for a tender age (pun intended) in Optis, 420s, Lasers and finally something really tippy and squirrelly, I in fact never drove a boat until the age of 38 and my purchase of Valiente, a 33 footer of the mostly non-tippy kind.

As I didn't dare take cameras or cell phones aboard (dinghies are indeed tippy, something my son decided to talk about ceaselessly while we were out, I don't have "action" photos. Instead, this is the little boat, sails stripped and charmlessly parked aft of a garbage bin.

Yes, that's a lot of rig.
Dinghies are, well, sensitive. I haven't had this much trouble with the concept of feel since teenaged dating. Eventually, with my son on the helm and me pulling various ridiculously undersized strings (or so it seemed to Burly Sailing Dude), we tacked and gybed with reasonable efficacy.

Mostly reasonable.

More study and practice is needed. As this is supposed to be the "sports car" (with the Portabote as the "van") of the tender pair to the good ship Alchemy, we will need it. But yesterday was a good start: We didn't tumble in and we sailed back to the dinghy ramp unaided. The thing's still a heavy bastard to yank around a parking lot, though (note to self: Inflate cart tires!)


A wee summer getaway on the Low Seas

Last Monday, we decided to take a quick trip to Cobourg from Toronto. This is a mere 100 km. NNE, hardly an expedition, but we like the little town, and we like the well-serviced marina, and the boat was running well, if in "Spartan" mode. I'll leave what that means to your collective imaginations; however, no lake was harmed in the making of this voyage.

So here are a few pictures. This is my son in 2005 at said compact destination:

And here he was last week.

He'll be nine in a couple of weeks and has been sailing since he was five days old. Yes, that means the photographic proof predates digital!

As is so often the case on Lake Ontario in the summer, decent wind was NOT a feature of this trip.

Consequently, the Harry Potter Book Club held several meetings.

Yes, my kid can read, but he still likes being read to.

We did get a chance to throw up some sail...

...but even with my cruising spi, we could only make about 4 knots in 6 knots of wind. At least it was from the south east, a rare direction here. Getting "up lake", meaning to the south west, is usually a chore of beating long tacks.

Eventually we just motored...straight into fog. Also note why boats with worn gelcoat and child passengers need frequent cleaning...oh, the footprints...

About 30 seconds after I requested my wife to hand me the can of compressed air, I had to blow it at a drifting fishing boat that came out of the fog directly in my path...five miles offshore...(sailorly invective omitted).

Anyway, that was our mid-week getaway: 75% motoring in next to no wind with about five hours of actual sailing...sigh. Now, back to boat reno ashore.


Well, that only took 18 years

After years of having other sailor types express shock and horror that I hadn't seen this fairly mild comedy about a dubious yacht delivery skipper and an uptight family who inherit a vintage ketch, I located it on DVD and myself, my wife and our eight-year-old son watched it tonight. It was indeed mild, but had a few laughs and not too many errors on the seamanship side. Kurt Russell's "casual sail0r" character reminded me of a few guys at my club, actually, who know a bowline, a long splice and the rest is instinct. And beer.

Sometimes that's not a bad thing.

Vintage winches feature pinches

I recently received a pair of vintage winches, Lewmar 44 ST (self-tailing) Ocean Wave models from the '90s. I purchased them for $200 each from a fellow sailor on on the assumption that they had never seen salt water, and having now stripped, serviced and getting them going clackity-clack in a proper fashion (I have to earn the rum around here), I believe that they haven't been soaked in brine and will find a nice home as "backups".
Helpful when pulling to pieces.

Curiously, they have slightly different guts, although they are identical on the outside. The one on the right has some sort of two-part base with a kind of internal sleeve for the central post...

...whereas the one on the left has a solid casting.

Anyway, they are built like tanks and show wear only in some superficial scratches and dings in the chrome. They will probably go on Alchemy as secondaries for drogue or warp use, towing or "big air" downwind stuff like running twins and will be mounted behind the current Anderson 40 primaries and Anderson 28 secondaries. The Andersen 40s are sized the same as these 44s...winch sizing is an arcane and arbitrary thing. Spares are still available, and I received, happily, full documentation.

I think this deal is almost as good as the $200 80-pound used CQR anchor my fellow sailor Maria P. scored down in Mexico last week:

Likely off for a short cruise next week. Frankly, we need the practice.


Squall aboard at the Lake Ontario 300 race

Leaving from Port Credit, all looked fabulous forward...
...but in order to get a hint of what was to come, you had to look aft.

Ahoy, maties, 'tis the Ancient Mariner back from t' voyage...a voyage that will pay for many a sailmaker's kids to go to college...

Short version is that everyone on my crew is safe and we came second in our fleet on both finish and corrected times, which was very gratifying. That was after a very frustrating, if typical, early Tuesday morning that saw us ghost past the finish line at one knot of boat speed.
The calms after the storms.

Saturday's start was fast and very crowded and which saw a boat not in our start fouling us over the line. We had two violent squalls in the first two hours, one south of Scarborough lasting about five minutes at what I estimate was 40-45 knots and one about 25 minutes later south of Oshawa/Whitby that took about ten long minutes to blow out and which clocked 50 knots on our vessel before we really were too busy to look anymore. We have reason to believe it went to 60 knots because a boat near us took a shot of their WSI registering 59.8 knots which we saw after we had finished. I felt a little funny seeing that, I can tell you. Certainly, I recognized the sound of the 45 knot squall, but the heavier one flattened the seas, had marble-sized hail and roared like several freight trains. The first squall saw two of our crew on deck trying to wrestle the sock onto our assy spin while enduring a fearsome heel and pelting hail. They were safe, however, if strained. The assy spin was torn and stowed, but it can be repaired.

The archetype of a parade of Lake Ontario squalls. It barely rained and didn't blow back in the city.

About four miles further on, I was watching aft and saw a spinnaker explode on a boat about a quarter of a mile back before it disappeared in mist, which gave us about ten seconds to partially furl the jib and to release fully the main as we turned partially to the wind. This probably saved us more damage, as the boat was pinned at 40-45 degrees over for some very noisy minutes as we watched several hundred grand in composite sails disintegrate on several boats we could see around us. The radio buzzed with abandonments and reports of damage and injury and a trimaran having flipped its four crew into the lake. They were all retrieved safely. The best analysis of what actually happened from a meteorological standpoint can be found here, while the skipper's take on the entire race is found here.

Our damage was a torn leech line cover that meant we had to partially furl for every subsequent tack, a ripped up assy spin, a Code Zero with a hole chafed in it that we repaired with duct tape (how Canadian!), a damaged stanchion, a lost Dyneema spin sheet and some underwear, although I can't confirm the last bit. Later on, in the 25-30 knot following winds that propelled us the rest of the day, the barbeque on the rail simply sheared off, no doubt amusing some fish. We had a surplus light air spin of vintage years that we used pole-forward as a fake Code Zero in the middle of the next night, but it was only good to 10 knots and we had to douse it when faced with further, if only a measly sub-30 knot, squalls on Sunday night on the American side of the lake.

Proof we dipped the boom (!):
Weed heeled a bit.

It was the biggest squall any of us had seen, and I was sailing with some experienced sailors. If the 60 knots of wind speed is true, and I believe it's credible that it blew that hard, that's bettering what I had in the Atlantic delivery I did last November by 15 knots. Here's what 60 knots does to sails on a racer:
Painful to see, unless you run a sail loft. Then it's porn.

Out of 198 boats, 59 "did not finish", 33 of those due to too much damage, injuries, dismastings or capsize, and the rest because they were frightened/exhausted and wanted to stop their suffering. I think that maybe 30 feet should be the lower limit for this race, because of the sort of exhausting wave motion I saw on the sub-30 foot boats. The exception was the 20-foot Mini Transat boats, which faired well, but are arguably made for such conditions.

Also, beating up the U.S. side is tedious work. I much preferred the downwind legs.
Red skies at night was nice, however.

All in all a great trip, a great crew and a great experience in getting a fairly large cruiser to race effectively. Had we had a second A-sail, we might have won on corrected time.


A suit and spi affair

My wife is working part-time at a local chandlery (yay, employee discount!), partially to make the money I don't make when I'm gutting the boat, and partially because if she has to have a job in retail, at least this one is educational for our future boaty endeavours.

So I was down there pawing through the sales racks and found something very much like this:

They are a set (bib pants and hooded jacket) of cheap (well, cheap enough) coastal-grade, non-miracle fabric foul weather gear. I went on delivery last November with only a pair of bib foulies; I just used my usual rain jacket by Banff that I use for cycling and on Lake Ontario. I knew that the center cockpit position was well-protected, and that I was unlikely to get continuously soaked by waves like I would in a race.

Still, I thought that with a smaller, wetter boat in the water, I should have something basic around here, so I picked up these for a hundred bucks, mainly because the jacket fit. My body-type is Lowland Gorilla, and when the chest fits and my arms are bare halfway to the elbow, I tend to buy whatever it is, knowing that opportunities for properly simian clothing don't come every day. Also, the foulies I intend to get before we leave are more, uh, technical, and run for four to five times as much. For sailing in the summer and fall rain on Lake Ontario, this'll do.

I was staring at the lurid colour of the things one night last week when I got a call from a fellow club member, asking me if I wanted to crew on his 47 foot Catalina during the Lake Ontario 300.

Easily flattered, I said yes, not thinking how rusty is my spinnaker setting work and how, in a race, you don't really hove to for clever cocktails. Understand that I have raced, at the club level, and pretty successfully, too. In fact, I recommend club racing between rated boats to anyone who wishes to accelerate and/or consolidate their sailing knowledge...despite the yelling from the Cap'n Bligh A-type who frequently sail little boats against each other. You can learn as much from a horrible warning as from an avatar of civilized competition.

Anyway, looks like I'll be "going to sail the low seas" in mid-July. Y'arr, redux.


A Brace of Vikings

Nice, isn't it? This is the lightly used main from a C&C 33 recut for use on the Viking 33, the elder boat in my half-landbound "navy". Really, it should have full and not half-battens, but we'll start slowly this year, shall we? Really...I should be working on the other boat, not sailing at all, but it was so nice yesterday!

We got the plastic boat underway yesterday in somewhat marginal light air that actually improved even as the temperature rose past 30C. For a first push-off of the season with the wife and kid, it was blessedly free of complications, skipper foul-ups and error, and we got in about four hours of decent sailing on a gratifyingly beautiful Sunday afternoon.

I've written about the old boat before, but to reiterate, it's called a Viking 33, a 33' 7" "racer-cruiser" drawn in the very late '60s by the C&C firm of yacht designers and builders. Bearing the distinctive (at least on the Great Lakes) C&C "star and stripe" cove line, the Viking 33 was built by Ontario Yachts (responsible for the Ontario 32 pocket cruiser and a few other well-regarded boats) for about eight years. Mine (Valiente) is hull #32 of approximately 150 constructed, and was built in 1973. I know of about five or six still sailing in my immediate area, including one, Sveeta, a 1974 model at my home club, and Ketchup, another 1974 at RCYC.

The owner of Ketchup is Mr. Dan Erlich, a fine fellow I got to know via an e-mail list about 10 years ago on the subject of care and feeding of the Atomic 4 gasoline auxiliary engine, a simple and reliable beast that, despite its more or less 1940s design, is the right size and type for short-haul movement of recreational sailboats.

Today, small sailboats tend to have either outboards off the stern (not great looking, too much weight aft and too exposed for my liking), or small diesels inboard (heavy, expensive and not suited to short operational intervals). A low-compression, gasoline inboard no more complex than a riding lawnmower engine makes sense for a sailboat that isn't going to need hundreds of miles of range, but engines like the Atomic 4, once the Number One auxiliary engine choice in sailboats under 40 feet, has fallen to the mighty, and mightily inappropriate for most sailors' needs, auxiliary diesel, which I find a pity, as to re-engine our classic plastics with diesels in 2010 makes no economic sense; a pair of sculling oars would be the more logical course, or perhaps putting a shaft on a sole-bolted exercise bike.

Needless to say, any engine that sits idle for six months of the year and which ceased production a quarter-century ago requires some sort of support system, and Dan is pretty clever at both obtaining increasingly rare spares and making them come to life again. Despite having near-identical boats (although I've opted for "stripped out" and Dan's got a comfort- and cruising-oriented family and hot-and-cold-running everything), we've never...until our respective darlings side-by-side. Dan was out yesterday with his mother for a nice cooling ride and so we "gammed" and ran parallel for about four miles to the west-south-west, "in front of the Island" as we say in Toronto.

What a great trip. We had near-identical sail sets and it was very interesting to see how closely the boats performed in "level" conditions. It was also a little odd to see what one's boat looked like from a distance! I rarely meet another Viking 33 actually sailing, and having both boats tracking within a boatlength on the beam was a great opportunity to check out variables, that while only of interest to the owners, were fun to observe.

The cheerful second helmsboy was also fun to observe:

Also, quite frankly, they are "hot", responsive boats, and I like tweaking the controls to get that extra 1/10th knot in close's about as near as I get to racing these days.


New slip for an old boat

Why, yes, I should be slaving away in Alchemy, engineless, with a pilothouse roof held on with bungees and a couple of bolts, and with a "to do" list stretching into 2011. But all work, etc., even if the "play" portion of that particular proverb is actually "more work on a different boat". When the result is this, however...

...I can forgive myself my quasi-dereliction. As related earlier, the "old boat" was launched (as opposed to languished in a parking lot) this year due to the serendipitous coming together of factors, plus a lot of elbow grease to ameliorate a few years of semi-benign neglect. Anyway, the boat was launched (into a 25-knot headwind) and after some tension surrounding the motor start (it chose eventually to burp into life), and a few days later an extremely rushed "masting" and more angst, the boat is ready for the application of sails and the true commencement of recreational operations.

Even Casey the dock dog was impressed, and, after a hot day inside our landbound "project" boat, I suspect I'll be, too, even if it's only to lay about the plastic boat's cockpit swilling semi-frozen ciders. A cooling evening sail will be a bonus, as my fellow skipper "Overboard" has rediscovered on her concrete canoe down in Mexico (


Launching Sideways and the Skipper's Nerve Medicine

I spent yesterday literally clearing the decks on Alchemy in preparation for our boat club's Saturday launch. We (meaning myself, my wife and the boat...ever notice that solo sailors say "we" when referring to themselves...and their boat?) are not launching this year as there is no engine aboard and extensive welding and tank replacements and prop pulling, etc. are to be done...definitely not water-work.

We will, however, be moving about 10 metres south and west in order to facilitate cradle storage. Owners have to be present during crane moves, and I have an "away" job on Launch Day, so my wife will be present to "supervise". Having had some unfortunate experiences during boat moves (see May 8, 2007 entry), there's always a little bit of nervous tension about seeing the boat out of its natural element (water) flying through one unnatural element (air) and flying over another (earth).

The deck clearing was prompted by the move. All tenders were attached to the perimeter fence to leave a clear field for the "sling guys" to position the crane slings at marked points on the hull.

I have attended Launch and Haulout some 20 times at this point, and I still am not entirely comfortable with seeing the boats most of us devote a lot of time, money and sweat to maintaining rotating at the end of a husky hoist some 30 feet in the air, to be "splashed" into sometimes rough waters. But it's a simple fact of life in Canadian waters (with the exception of mild British Columbia) that boats tend to spend half the year in cradles, and that means transfers via cranes or TraveLifts are a fact of the boating life here.

Most of the time, it's quick, safe and expertly done by practised volunteers and hired crane/yard operators. Most of the time.

Perhaps it's timely to list a couple of the skipper's tipple recipes. Owning a boat has actually restricted my recreational boozing significantly, because, unlike many local sailors, I rarely imbibe at any point in the day during which I can be expected to operate my vessel. I don't have a car, but I wouldn't drink operating one then, either, and not just because of the laws, but because it's easier to be stone-cold sober (rather than scraping "just under the legal limit") than to court the disaster of impairment. Boats are slow-moving, sure, but carry vast amounts of inertia once in motion, and the water can be a weird combination of monotonous sameness and infinitely distracting. Mowing down a kayaker or hitting a log would be easy, and even easier with one's drink on.

Nonetheless, when one and one's crew are tied to the dock, and the boat's "put away" and the dinner is served and the lanterns are guttering in the cool breeze, there are few finer moments than relaxing with a sociable beverage on deck. Wine aboard (a topic I will deal with in the future) with meals is customary, but beer or cider taste better if the sun's still up. After dark, however, I like gin or rum-based drinks, and these two have proven popular at home and aboard. One's a classic, and the other I think I may have invented.

The Bark and Stormy

Not quite Bermuda's national drink, but a reasonable facsimile we enjoy.

4 oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum (Havana Club 7 year old may be substituted, but not amber or "spiced" rums)

12 oz. Canada Dry or Vernor's ginger ale (ginger beer is not always available).

Healthy dash of Angoustura Bitters.

Pour into a pint tankard over ice. Grate fresh nutmeg and/or cinnamon bark into drink to taste. Briefly stir and garnish with lime wedge. Serves one.

The more abstemious among you will note that this is essentially a "double", or rather two cocktails at once. This is because a) it is good enough that you'll want two, b) one wants to minimize the transfer of beverages from the galley to the deck, and c) England expects every man to do his duty, and this is far less damaging than the old grog ration that won Trafalgar.

The Corolla

Named so because it's an accelerator subject to recall.

2 oz. London Dry Gin (I like Tanqueray and Gordon's here, but you can use Bombay Sapphire to good effect if you prefer)

1/2 oz. Limoncello

Assertive dash of bitters

4 oz. of ginger ale or fizzy lemonade, or lemon juice and soda.

Mix in tall glass over ice and garnish with lime wedge.

This is more a "sundowner" and is very nice during hot weather. One can also pretend it discourages scurvy. I like the "gin and ginger" mix personally, but frankly it's the Limoncello that makes this drink work. Just remember that Limoncello is quite sweet and a little goes a long way.

Fleeting marine instrument industry note: Garmin, the well-regarded U.S. makers of plotters, GPSes and, more recently, radars, have announced a bid to acquire Raymarine, the venerable, if not always well-managed, British instrument makers. While I am aware of Raymarine and Garmin's respective reputations and market share in North America, I don't know how Garmin does in Europe, where I saw and continue to hear of a lot of Raymarine products on recreational yachts. I would say that Raymarine and Furuno were about evenly split in Europe, to judge from dock-walking and peering into various well-equipped cockpits, with the relatively unknown in N.A. Navman brand in third. I also saw a few NASA logos. NASA ( is the unfortunately named British firm that makes affordable AIS units and other instruments. I think they are aligned or owned by Si-Tex.

Anyway, we live in interesting times. I've seen too many balky or unintuitive Raymarine units to mourn much (I even own a Raymarine 420 plotter that came with the boat), but I'm not sure that Garmin, a newer firm lacking (perhaps undeservedly) a reputation for "oceanic grade" components, can capture Raymarine's loyal following. There are pluses and minuses for boat owners as the instrument industry consolidates down to three or so major players, but it remains to be seen whether more reliable gear at a less onerous price point will be the result.


Best practices for worst cases

-->Photos: Guy Perrin.
Where we live on Lake Ontario, what inclement weather that exists in the six-moth saling season is typically brief, although it can be as intense, particularly during summer squalls, as all but the most brutal offshore weather. This can come as a surprise to saltwater sailors, but I think it’s generally acknowledged as true that sailing a well-found vessel on the Great Lakes in the heavy airs of spring or fall, or in the 50- to 60-knot storm fronts that can fall onto the Lakes like meteorological sledgehammers is good practice for oceanic passage making.

Having now spent time in salt and fresh squalls, I can see this point, even if I need ski goggles. Exercising safety tactics in bad weather is an easy one, but given that one can sink in a calm sea, preparedness should always be on the yachtie’s mind…that and a really good rum drink recipe.
By way of cultivating the sailorly version of what the police, rescue and military folk call “situational awareness”, I and about 300 other attendees spent a crisp Saturday recently in an auditorium near to Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s shore-side clubhouse.
RCYC was sponsoring a full-day “Safety at Sea” seminar in conjunction with US Sailing. Attending it would provide a Safety Certificate necessary to enter selected offshore races, and certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Lake Ontario 300 and other long Great Lakes races, but for myself and others, it would consolidate and fill in the gaps in gradually acquired sailing safety knowledge. Eventually, my goal is to take the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore ( certification course in the UK, and I'm about three-quarters of the way in terms of "sea miles crewed" for that. This one-day seminar is like crib notes for the more demanding RYA qualification.

A show of hands testified that the crowd was about 50/50 racers and cruisers, and although the presentations were probably more oriented to large race crews, the knowledge of gear, techniques, equipment and “best practices” was very applicable to single-handers and cruising couples alike. The co-hosts and keynote speakers were John Rousmaniere, famous for his books on seamanship and on the lessons of the deadly 1979 Fastnet race, and Capt. John Bonds, an avuncular and retired U.S Navy skipper with an engaging style, and a seemingly endless well of illustrative anecdotes to support his deep knowledge of safety skills.
While Rousmaniere and Bonds did the majority of the presenting, attendees also heard from speakers such as Herb Hilgenberg (who was of great help to S/V Ainia when I was crewing on her during a delivery last November, as told below) on weather patterns for the Great Lakes sailor, a speaker from the Canadian Coast Guard on the organization of search and rescue facilities and operations, a shipping company executive on why it’s not a great idea to “buzz” lake freighters, and Toronto surgeon and J-Boat racer Michael Chapman outlined the best ways to render first aid at sea. Certainly Chapman’s fairly graphic slides impressed the audience that it’s better to clip on than to injure oneself at sea. It was also made clear that there are real limits to the medical aid one can give aboard a small sailboat, and that evacuation may be necessary (if even possible), so the “how to bring aboard a harness from a helicopter” video came in handy, too.
Both Bonds and Rousmaniere were practised and humorous you wouldn’t mind having in a lift raft, if it came to that, but the emphasis was definitely on avoiding things coming to that. Speaking of lift rafts, one model was inflated on stage, and the various attributes were pointed out. This was the first time I had seen this, and it was much louder than the diagram, and made a deeper impression.
Another deep impression was made by the comparison of USCG-approved flares, PFDs and signalling gear (which more or less applies for Canadian safety gear) versus SOLAS-grade equipment. No, it’s not cheap and yes, I am convinced it’s the way to go when going offshore. Given the utility of the EPIRB and GMDSS systems, I find it bordering on foolhardy that sailors make passages without them. No matter what gear one chooses to carry aboard, the seas (even little Lake Ontario) are still very large, and the boats (even the newest one at our docks) are still very small: it makes sense to make use of every advantage one can to attract help should things go badly out there.
Did I learn a lot of new things? Not as much as direct experience has taught me, no, but attending a pretty comprehensive and multi-pronged seminar such as this was did consolidate a lot of safety knowledge I'd picked up in a fairly haphazard fashion, and it certainly reinforced a few opinions (like the worth of SOLAS-approved gear, the essential nature of EPIRBs, PLBs and similar devices at sea, and the need to take a higher grade of first aid course) I already had. Mostly, though, it helped to better sort my mental sock-drawer, so to speak, of partial and random safety factoids into a better and, I hope, never tested base of knowledge. Forehanded, as the seminar speakers might say, is forearmed.


Restoration era sailing

Something a little different today: This post is not another product evaluation or status update about the big steel cutter, but something about deciding to share a boat with fellow enthusiast, and putting in a few hours in order to do that right. Yes, it takes away from the hours devoted to "The Big Project", but all work and no sailing makes Jack and myself a dull sailor, and I'm pretty dull already. This post is about shiny, or at least much less chalky, things.

A recap: Faced with an market for used boats so soft as to be vaporous, I decided to keep Valiente, my first and fibreglass boat, one more year until I could find either a buyer or a way to store it (in a shed? in a field?) for several years until we returned from the five-year trip we are two years from starting.

Having a "spare" yacht does not, in my experience, inspire sympathy, but just as the currently largely dissembled Alchemy is near-ideal in my mind for long-range voyaging, the 1973 vintage, 33 1/2 foot Valiente is ideal for Great Lakes cruising and even club racing. Its design by the venerable C&C firm is narrow, fast and light, with a notable "stiffness" conducive to cutting through the short, square chop of our freshwater seas, and while amenities are few on this pushing 40 vessel, the ride is indeed sweet. Life after a circ may be distant, but I can still see wanting to head out with beer and sandwiches on a nice, responsive tiller-steered boat like the one I fell in love with in 1999. So I am motivated, within reason and fiscal sense, to keep this old girl in some form and fashion. People with big boats say I will never go back to a smaller one, but if I do, I could do much worse than this.

Nonetheless, I can't afford to keep two boats in either dollars or time, and so I was resolved to pay good money to leave her moldering in a nasty waterside parking lot while I figured out what to do. A series of fortunate events put a former sailor in my life who wanted to ease back into sailing. This individual, who shall remain nameless (hence Ni, or "nameless individual") because I get the sense he's a private kind of guy, has brought a lot of practical experience and a strong desire to work to the partnership, and is interested in doing the kind of stuff that, while I like the results, have never found very compelling, like making the hull look nice or rationalizing the wiring.

Long story short, we decided to split costs on a downtown marina slip and get Valiente in running order again. Part of this isn't the usual hoses and gaskets work on which I tend to focus, but a more comprehensive restoration. What follows are a visual record of how an old, oxidized gelcoat topsides can be "brought back" via a few steps, the right product, and elbow grease. All credit to Ni here, as this was his "thing"while I was replacing valves and batteries and losing tools on the "inside".

Here's the hull after one polisher-assisted application of "Meguiar's No. 1", a semi-coarse rubbing compound in liquid form. It's already taken off much of the "age" of the 37-year-old gelcoat.

The view from the front. This was April 6th. We've had with few exceptions very good weather this spring in Toronto, allowing early starts on the boat readying front. As Alchemy isn't launching, the decision was made to "do it right" on Valiente, the sailing component of my cheap-ass navy. Oh, and those little chunks out of the stem will be fixed, and a bow roller I had made years back attached.

The folding prop, in need of servicing (lubrication and tightening of the Allen bolts), and a nice polish.

The finished initial polish on April 12th. Nice, no? But wait, there's more!

The finished second polish, with Meguiar's "No. 2", on April 14th. By this stage, Ni was getting excited. I think it's clear that he likes shiny things and finds polishing meditative in a way I obviously do not. This is actually a good thing in a boat have different priorities and experiences.

Ni "took the initiative" and cleaned out the shaft strut back to the bronze of several coats of filler, bottom paint and related goo. An area that looked like a pacifier for senile lampreys became free and ready for fairing.

April 17: While I started on what would be two cans and three coats of VC-17M bottom paint, Ni continued with the fairing and tidying up of the strut and keel root areas.

Now, the proper way to do all this below-the-waterline fairing and filling stuff involves Tyvek suits, wet sandpaper and excruciating attention to detail. If one is a racer, that is. We "just cruise fast" types resolve to see how a test of a concept works before getting into that time-pit. Not to mention expensive respirator filter elements.

Seriously, this is the most TLC the boat's had during my entire watch in the cosmetics department.

April 19th: Priming the strut prior to applying the last of the bottom paint. Nice work, Ni!

April 19: The final application and hand-polishing of "Starbrite" marine sealant/topcoat/whatever. Ni remarked that the gelcoat was "drinking" this stuff as its "pores closed", which I understand from a chemical point of view but still sounds like one of those dodgy make-up for forty-something commercials to me.

While there are some mechanical and maintenance issues to get at, we "achieved ignition" yesterday on the 20th and are more or less ready to splash the boat and make our way to the pricey but centrally located slip we've procured for this season. A pair of new batteries, a new seacock and various sealants, paints and compounds have been applied, and after a very well needed deck wash (did I mention that the canvas cover under which I usually store the boat was shredded by gales this winter, exposing the deck to the diesel soot and dirt of the adjacent recycling facility? No, I believe I did not), we'll have a boat that not only sails very well, but looks great doing it.

After a hot day down in the bowels of Alchemy, that will make for a very nice break, as well as keeping our infrequently tested sailing skills up.

Coming soon: The Safety at Sea seminar I attended recently, recommended rudder removal, and U.S/Canadian dollar parity and its affects on the self-equipper's budget.