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Introducing "the one-fingered boat"

What's the current phrase? "I'll just leave this here":

Behold the brave new world of recreational sailing. This design from a very reputable firm is  conceptually divorced not only from our own experience of sailing, but in most respects (apart from the clever stowage notions I like to poach from newer designs) is very different from the direction we are going with our refit, which is notable for the complexity involved in making things simple, strong and enduring

So for us, "one-fingered" has a particular meaning in this superficially harmless product spiel, and quite another when put against the agenda of a sail voyaging family planning to be several thousands of kilometres from the nearest Swedish electrician.

And a sailing family, I might add, have come to appreciate the implacable enmity of electrical circuitry and salt water. Or even Lake Ontario's dampness, really.

I have considered Halberg-Rassy to be, along with Oyster and Swan Nautor and J-Boats, to be in the top tier of production builders. You can reasonably predict who I consider to be in the bottom tier. If they've gone this route, it must be because "the market" demands it. No builder of such an unlikely and fickle purchase as a forty-odd-foot sailboat can afford to ignore potential buyers, even if they require the largest sort of training wheels and soft-spot helmets. So the absence of a peek into the engine/machinery spaces, or a look at where the vast amount of batteries must be stored to power this push-button boat is perhaps purposefully absent. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" should be on every bill of sale, perhaps.

An early meeting with the Hallberg-Rassy focus group, perhaps?

So here's a little test for readers, a little "market research" for this benighted boat blog, if you will. There are no right or wrong answers, merely opinions.

Watch the video and submit answers to the following questions:

  • 1) What is interesting about this design, and why?
  • 2) What is questionable about this design, and why?
  • 3) What is problematic about this form of new yacht review?
  • 4) Would you consider purchasing this boat, or a boat similar to it for your own use?

Answer any and all. If I get sufficient response, I'll consider sending a small, nautically themed prize to the best (meaning in this case most insightful) reply. Consider it my own form of market research, in this case to reveal biases of the readership of a sooty, overextended and cold boat refitter trying to stay a half-step ahead of his own ignorance and talent for self-injury.

Clearly, and rarely, with this video,  I am somewhat at a loss for words here, although I did find notable that the question "how does she sail?" is not asked until the final two minutes.


Medium rare to weld done

Still capable of burning down the garage, but you have to start somewhere.
Having found it periodically problematic to find a welder to do many of the jobs required aboard Alchemy, I've resolved to learn how to weld myself. But the currently strained budget and my book-only knowledge makes a slow, careful and heavily protected start with the equivalent of a welding toy, in this case a discounted Lincoln MIG-Pak 140 model. This is a gasless wire-feed flux core type (or gas shielding can be used) suitable for light gauge steel and aluminum. I can get my weld on with essentially scraps, or pieces from Metal Supermarket, and make my inevitable learning-curve screw-ups cheaply. I can also compare and contrast the results of "gasless" versus "shielded" welding. I am already aware that there are definite advantages to shielded welding, but my needs are essentially low-volume, will be done in the open air, and are rarely concerned with end-product appearance, merely strength. There is very little I will make for myself that won't be immediately primed and coated in Something Two-part and Industrial.

The advantage to this particular welding unit for me is that it runs on standard 120 VAC current, although at its highest setting, suitable for 1/4-inch stock, it needs a 20 amp circuit. I figure that I can even use the relatively wee Honda 2000 to power it at half its settings, which would suffice for making brackets and the lighter sort of frames.

Anyway, the steel fabrications I had made a few weeks back for the engine stringers and the thrust bearing "yoke" have been for the last couple of weeks clamped and scribed in place:
To be primed and painted and drilled, etc.
Built to get the shaft, and to like it. Damn, sailing's rough practice.
What was proving difficult was getting hold of a welder to do the actual "melt it to the boat" bit. Greg the Welder, who fabricated our solar panel arch and welded it to Alchemy lo! so long ago, was barely contactable by phone, and despite his best efforts, admitted he was booked until April.

We launch in April. Not good.

I asked a welder at the club if he wanted the job, No, he said, but he put me on to another semi-retired other welder/club member, who already said in the past that he didn't want the job, but who might have an apprentice up for it...sometime...


Treblex, the Mississauga-based metal fabrication firm,whose work impressed me and Capt. Matt, my "installation advisor", put me in touch with a couple of names. One called back right away, but said he'd need about a week and a half to get to me. The second guy whose name Treblex gave mecould've been by in three days, but in a mounting sense of panic at the passing days of winter, I'd already booked Welder Number One. Welder Two has some designs for various fabrications I need, and as some marine fabricators have already turned me down, albeit in a helpful manner, for being too piddly a client to work for, Welder Two might get those jobs after all.
Diamond Sea Glaze made this for Beth and Evans of S/V Hawk. I am not her, alas, and I think DSG have gone a bit higher-end. Evans was kind enough to correspond with me about how it has worked on the Big Real Ocean.

Welder One called back unexpectedly earlier this week and said "his guy, Jeff" could drop by Thursday morning. Which is how we got to here, finally:
Fire in the hole!
This is the by-now tiresomely familiar sight of the Beta 60 being kept in suspense. The process was "put welder and gear down hole; raise engine to reveal welding job; place planks as 'safeties' in case chain fall fails; reverse steps to free welder".
He was quite capable of cutting his way out, if I went for a walk or something

The misty appearance is the smoke from burning primer, for which I was lightly chided by Welder Jeff for being too witless to remove prior to his Smith God routine. Bad skipper!
Possibly not to code, but the gantry mods I made were apparently sufficient

The stringers were continuously welded at both ends and "stitch welded" periodically along their sides, Welder Jeff assuring me that this was more than sufficient to stay attached should the seas boil and the winds howl, etc.

The weld is so bright, I've got to wear shades

Here's where the thrust bearing got welded directly to the hull.
And where the Skipper figured out a better camera angle other than "straight down".

Yikes. I went to ground level to confirm my approaching date with bottom paint.

These are "heat marks". They are evidence of "successful penetration". Write your own joke here.

Yep, that's burning bottom paint. Oh, well, now I know how to relate stuff on the inside to stuff on the outside.
Boat osmosis or lava? You decide!

The other side was equally spot-fried, but not, I was assured, "all the way through". Well, I would hope not. That could impede sailing plans. Welder Jeff actually commented that the steel hull at the turn of the bilge was "surprisingly beefy, probably three-eighths of an inch thick or better". Thanks, Welder Jeff. I feel better already.

Now that this particular skills bottleneck has been cleared, I could write, and may yet write, an entirely separate post on the struggles I've had finding tradespeople (marine and otherwise) who were a) competent, b) reliable, c) not extortionate and d) in existence. A brief confab with Jeff on the state of his world underlined how busy he is, how very few young people are going into the trades, how "no one wants to get their hands dirty", and if they do, they are making craploads of money in Fort McMurray.

Short of encouraging our son to go into the trades so he can support his poor, old, by-then salt-encrusted mum and dad in our mutually pensionless dotage, I can do no more. Well, I can try to improve my own skills to lessen my reliance on others, who aren't likely to be found in tropical lagoons anyway.

That's how this post began.

On Monday, we move to the final positioning, the drilling of the stringers to take the motor mounts, and the final dry-fitting of shaft, coupler and prop with the various extras. Onward, upward, spendward.


Strutting and gassing and lighting

How hard can two rectangles be? I guess we will find out.

Recently, I've had to research every type of "gas spring", which is the name of the category, by the way, for the lifting mechanism of every sort of hatch or platform that is heavier than something a simple bronze or stainless strut would hold open with confidence, which is why it's top of mind.

Related project to the engine bay "clamshell" hatches: For them to open, the last step into the pilothouse must raise or lower out of the way.
The ongoing engine stringer/thrust bearing project (more on this soon) was made easier by the removal of the lowest step of three going from the aft deck down into the pilothouse.

Watch that last, missing step. It's a doozy.
Removing this gives enough "air" to get a welder down and around that engine, which needs to be flown up and secured once the welder is down with all needed gear. It also would be latched in the up position when the bay hatches are upright. After a bunch of fruitless searching for a folding bracket that would fold up, and not down, and yet could support a human's weight in a seaway, all I could find was something representing overkill in several respects:

Works in the right direction, but is too big and too strong.

So my design is much simpler. An eye and hook can secure it, or even a loop of bungee, and a metal "C-strut" can support even the impact weight of a wet crew stomping on it.

Pretty representative of the genre

As for the bay hatches, this type of gas spring is nice, although I could just as easily use the very same sort of sliding hatch strut used on most deck hatches. The doors have to be kept open, and that means only their own weight has to be supported when open. When closed, the frame of the "bay hole" itself, plus the overlapping center "lip" does that job, unless my design, currently under review by a fabricator, is insufficient.

On the subject of where the backsides go, as the pedestal type of gas spring for helm seats are quite spendy, you could get everything from a bus driver's seat mount to a salvaged barbershop chair base to accomplish the same action in a compact manner.

Priced with the customary "Marine means times three" factor

We actually tried to acquire a "salon chair" for $99 last year, but we didn't get a call back. Might have been a dodged bullet, as I suspect the pedestal to seat plates and pedestal to floor connections are both robust and less prone to corrosion than barbershop specs typically are.

The reasons for this particular line of enquiry is because there is a height discrepancy between my wife (and my son for the near term) and myself. We therefore require a helm seat in the pilothouse that can move up and down and fore and aft. Ideally, a sailing helm seat would pivot side to side on some sort of friction fitting, either to make sailing on a heel comfortable (if one was, for instance, on a night watch during a cold rain from the pilothouse in the mid-Atlantic) or to shift side to side in a cross-swell. According to a recent thread I started in Cruisers' Forum, however, that particular sort of pedestal seat base doesn't seem to exist currently. So it may end up being another fabrication job, or we make do with an off-the-shelf solution.

Eh, may be overkill...the measuring tape will confirm, but the arm and foot rests are nice

Strangely, I have done exactly that with the seating solution I envision for the forward workshop. Preliminary designs, taking into account the time likely to be spent in there, the need to shift my weight and the space available, gave me a  very quick idea I might not have otherwise had if I drove a car: a bicycle seat on a post. For better or for worse, I am used to bike saddles, and I can literally salvage everything I need out of my garage. I can even make it spin...

I'm looking forward to this part of the rehab, actually. It's probably within my skill set to do it right.

Back to the "strutting", I need to investigate gas springs for my engine bay hatch and my steel forepeak deck hatch, both of which will be "unlight". Another dinette-weight project will be the new saloon companionway steps I am planning to frame up, which will cover eight Trojan L16s in a welded, stepped box, which will themselves contain battery boxes for each pair. One of the very few things I like about current showroom queens are the gas springs that allow a companionway hinged at the top to rise with a kid's grade of arm strength and stay put under pulled down, much like a well-fitted sash window.

This is bigger than I'll's from a Beneteau 55... but picture something similar going up like a van's rear hatch.

The point is to take all the half-ton of batteries I intend to carry right to the CE of the entire boat, meaning I can dispose of the lead pigs acting as trim ballast forward...and replace it in part with tools and spares.

The gas springs used for truck engine hoods should be about the right size. You could use gas springs in combination with a locking strut in a number of applications around the boat in a similar fashion, including fold-away or fold-up table or nav station surfaces.

Lastly, today's hot boater tip is that Lee Valley seems to be selling moddable warm white and coloured LED strips for a price I find reasonable, and will do so for bulk discount. Many sailors have for many years been taking out the old auto-type 12VDC incadescent bulbs in favour of LEDs, particularly as the first-generation "cold and bluish" type have declined in favour of "warm white. But this Lee Valley system is more or less snap-together, looks nice (I've seen them in person) and dimmable, all attributes that are like catnip to the amp-conserving average boat fixer. I saw the RGB ones and thought "hey, go from 'blended' white to pure red in the pilothouse with the turn of a pot dial? I can get behind that!"

Part Lite-Brite, part Lego.
Naturally,  I think LEDs are the absolute bomb in any boat place that requires small amounts of light (like inside lockers soldered to a 9V battery and a contact/reed switch), or for "mood lighting" under the lips of cabinets aimed up or down.

We are pretty much at the break point between me wiring up strips off a spool obtained from an "industrial concern" and the price of retail at places like Lee Valley. I thought I'd have to make and measure my lighting, but it's going "prêt-à-porter": just buy what you need and screw it down.


The buzz on boat alarms

The deluxe version?
Despite the oft-repeated goals of cruisers to laze in hammocks drinking out of pineapple mugs, the cruising boats used to get to hammock-positive locales are increasingly complex machines.

One could easily neglect to check certain dials, digital displays or indicator lights on the modern boat, and thus fail to note (or have the watchkeeper fail to note) engine overheating, low oil pressure, water ingress or some other potentially fatal condition, like a propane leak or CO build-up, requiring immediate skipperly attention.

A personal favourite

Having had low oil pressure and cooling water overheating issues on our boats in the past, I am a fan of early warnings. There's a gas/propane sniffer on Valiente, along with a CO detector. I typically check for "output" of cooling water at the stern and eyeball the temperature and oil pressure dials of the very basic Atomic 4 control panel, and so haven't bothered with buzzers. On Alchemy, I will install more alarm setups because more of the critical systems could self-destruct without immediately noticing the process, and also because, frankly, there is a lot more at stake than aboard a Lake Ontario day sailer.

And Canadian-made, by gum

Plenty of alarm widgets or alarm systems exist for the cautious/paranoid/typical cruiser, and some are very clever indeed, and cross over into the solenoid or automatic actuator realms.

But I wonder: why don't boat system alarms talk? Cars talk, GPSes talk, even cheap alarm clocks murmur instead of buzz. Even smoke detectors can shout at one. Even personalized smoke detectors exist.

"Get out of the house, ya little pyro!"

Voice recognition, as fans of "Siri" know, is a thing of the present. So why should a host of boat alarms buzz with essentially the same range of tones?

It should not be massively difficult to replace that growing host of various buzzers with the sort of circuitry that is found in “talking/singing birthday cards”, or “talking seatbelt alarms” in cars and the like. Or to rig just the chips capable of holding a two or three word message, along with a small amplifier, to make a personalized alarm.

Imagine hearing instead of some random buzzer in D sharp, you heard your own voice saying “Fuel pump overpressure!” or “Bilge past six inches!” or the very useful “Exhaust temperature past 100C!”
If one did not wish to actually record specific messages, one could simply throw in random…but distinct…noises on pre-recorded chips, like "birdsong means bilges", or "fly buzzing means fuel", and so on.
Functional, but a little HAL 9000

It’s the distinctiveness of the alarm noise that is desirable. Buzzers tend to sound alike, because they all come from the same factory in China, I would imagine., the human mind zeroes in on those in terms of direction and content far more easily. Of course, if you find the idea of a verbal alarm a little creepy, there are some less buzzy options.

Picture combining the “talking alarm” with “The Clapper” for a shut-off, and you’ve got the basis for a marine products empire where the average customer’s age is already well past “I should’ve worn earplugs during that Alice Cooper tour in '72”.

Personally, I am not quite that age, myself, and due to plenty of deafness in my family, I have both nursed my hearing and had it regularly tested; it appears I'm in good nick. Spend time at an average boat club, however, and it's clear a large percentage of Boomers have listened to a few too many booms to hear their pants ringing in anything but a dead-quiet environment...which the sea is rarely.

Like my idea for dim, five-second red LEDs that would be triggered by movement across the sill of companionways at night, or a 9V battery-powered, reed switch-activated, under-lid LED locker light, I do not see a strong objection in cost or complexity of a “talking alarm” to easily distinguish what part of the boat’s systems is complaining.

It only sounds like Star Trek. The actual electronics involved would not be beyond the average electronics hobbyist, which most cruisers already are, because they can't afford not to be. I built kit shortwave radios and repaired my guitar amps as a teen and still do various electrical bench work (I'm trying to reboot an old Furuno radar I found, for instance); I don't think any of this at the level of "home-brewed" is very difficult to rig. If someone's already invented these sort of gadgets, I would enjoy hearing about it. Just not in the form of a buzzer.

"I'm sorry, Skipper, I can't unlock the rum cabinet."