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2014-04-24

Oil and painting

As with Valiente, much of the waterline and topside cleaning will be done post launch
Today was a good day to paint, being both clement, if cool, and a day during which my long-suffering missus wasn't off repairing some wayward creature. The wear and tear from last year's "didn't move" time at dock meant only spot anti-fouling, zinc daubing and barrier coating was necessary, with only a bit to finish tomorrow if I can get paying work done tonight.

Mrs. Alchemy does the happy dance to appease the gods of two-part epoxy.
Meanwhile, I deployed our usual mooring lines and coiled down the "sling lines" so that the good ship Alchemy, once slung and aloft this Saturday, can be more or less (depending on the wind) maneuvered by line pullers on the ground. It's alarming and fascinating and often raining.

I'm getting a sense of remoteness here.



This is the latest fix in the Drive to Drive, '14. Before you is the freshly installed Remote Oil Filter Kit (engine end). For some reason unknown to the unmechanical such as myself, oil filters are usually spun on to threaded barbs which are bolted sideways into engine oil sumps (basically the pan in the bottom from where the oil is pumped, circulated and does its lubing and cooling thing).

Yes, like that. Thing is, if you spin off a filter in order to change it, about half the oil IN the filter will reliably pour OUT of the filter and into your bilges. Surprisingly, this doesn't service the pumps as well as one might think, although even a cup of oil can leave a kilometre-long slick in the water.

The length of the screws required meant I had to angle in the outboard ones. I try to have explanations for what appear to be mistakes.



The solution is to remove the filter from the engine and its problematic horizontal orientation, and to  make it "remote" by mounting it vertically on the nearby bulkhead. Those wires and hoses will be tidied up a little later.

If I need to change a filter, I can do so without emptying the engine or spilling oil.
The total hose runs are about 28 inches, and the total "lift" required is about 12-13 inches. At the typical 50-75 psi diesel oil circuit pressure, this shouldn't be an issue, and yet the "top" of the oil circuit is still below the top of the engine itself.

If there is any spillage, it will tend to fall just to the right of that engine stringer, an area easily swabbed.
Onto other stuff tomorrow. The T-fitting for the dual exhaust hose setup is ordered.

2014-04-22

Christmas in April




Now with glow-in-the-dark properties!

Due to the vagaries of international trade and, presumably, becayse I desire only the finest and least often ordered in boating gear, the Plastimo handheld compass I asked for as a Christmas present was picked up today. It's called an Iris 50, I was impressed with it in use during last November's RYA course in Brittany. I didn't think it was roughly as hard to obtain as a no-fault divorce.
When told to "get lost", I like a challenge

The other thing I asked for as a prezzie was the equally RYA-centric Portland Course Plotter (I already have a lovely pair of brass dividers). So chartwork can proceed apace this season, even if chartwork seems to some like nodding off in a scriptorium.

Freshly anti-fouled. Much needed topside cleaning to come when I fix the gaskets on the powerwasher.

Oh, well. I cling as did the whale's lunch Job to his faith in a capricious and possibly psychotic Yahweh to my continuing honing of my traditional navigation skills, and there's fingernail marks in the chart table to prove it. Sailing may be going digital, but there's something very analog about bending on a main on a cradled boat in 25 knot breezes. Alchemy launches on Saturday, and Valiente early next week.


2014-04-21

When is a skipper a captain?

"Arr, matey, I be parallel parking this scurvy scow!"
Clearly, despite the eclipsing in most senses of the Age of Sail, the allure of the rank of Captain remains culturally intact, if at times nautically dubious. Now, as a title, it's never gone out of style as a military rank in various armed forces, nor is the usage of Captain a thing of the past for the commander of commercial, merchant vessels. But those uses are essentially professional in nature.

Slicker, peaked cap, spoked wheel and manly facial hair: Most male cruising sailors are using "old salt" as a style guide.
Is the skipper of a private yacht in any sense a captain? I've been called that, usually by someone trying to sell me something boat-related, but also occasionally by marine police or Coast Guard officials by way of inquiry. But despite a plethora of nautically themed headgear that imply a sort of braid-accessorized naval authority, I am unsure whether anyone in a sailboat (or powerboat, for that matter) is, unless such an individual is an actual current or former professional mariner or ex-Navy member, a "captain".

So, Captain Douchebagge, we meet again.
Certainly, as has been seen with the sad and disappointing cases of the captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia and the recent sinking of the South Korean ferry, expectations are quite high and seem to include that "the captain stays with the ship" ...or at least isn't on the first boat off. Whether they are legally obliged to linger until they themselves are in danger of drowning is another question. Being captain is a job, not a holy office, despite what centuries of naval literature have suggested. Nonetheless, it's a rare job that has some real power when actually at sea. Not to mention a nice hat.

So the bumboat boys know who to pester
I've encountered holders of Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Yachtmaster qualifications who don't object if you call them "Captain"...but that's not quite the case, is it? "Yachtmaster" sounds a bit kinky when shouted across the deck, and yet that's most accurate. Harder to fit on a hat, though.

I see the YM course as a qualification, but not as a licence like a "ticket" from a marine school or institute. Some sailors obtain either through youthful employment or via military service or working on tall ships or coastal boats, certifications like a "60-tonne Master Limited". But generally, this pro or semi-pro level of mariner education is not pursued by those who wish to just sail their own boats, or, at best, run a rather limited sort of charter operation, 

But the lure of the title remains: The "ticket", leading to the stepwise attainment of the rank of Captain, is a sort of guild distinction. In the British Merchant Navy it's like being in a trade (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchant_Navy_%28United_Kingdom%29); you have to take both shoreside courses and "work study" aboard vessels if you want to get to second mate.
A Captain able to find rum before it's gone and all the occult treasure and seamonster one could wish. Docking, not so much.
Similarly, I don't think the licences the MCA issues are equivalant to RYA certifications in the sense that the person successfully completing the course is a licensed mariner. None of my research on RYA courses, despite a lot of informational crossover, lead me to consider them STCW qualifications.

I think the equivalency might be "private Cessna jockey" versus "commercial airline pilot", or private car driver versus the tractor-trailer driver of road freight. If I fly a Cessna for fun, it doesn't qualify me to fly a DC-3 for money, although if the DC-3 pilot has a heart attack, the Cessna pilot is probably the best option for experiencing a flame-deficient landing. The YM Offshore, which a good sailing friend of mine has recently achieved and is happily using on his sailing adventures, isn't a commercial or a professional certification, whereas a Captain is a sort of trade description, as well as a title or rank. Interestingly, until the mid-18th century, a naval Captain could be any titled lubber, Court hanger-on or Army guy, and was the person who made "naval" decisions based on the advice of the ship's master, the non-dilettante career sailor actually responsible for the sailing-not-sinking part. It took a series of reforms to professionalize the Royal Navy and to get the "place-men" reduced, although advancement still favoured the well-connected and the aristocratic.


If this is your charter captain, switch to a walking tour.
Anyway, while it's harmless to call yourself "Captain", I find it imprecise and allusive to professional attainments in an area other than pleasure craft operation. I would allow that the owner and skipper of any given vessel is its Master, but one doesn't need the RYA or the CPS to tell one that. Any warm body with a PCOC is an "operator" in front of the water cops, and a "master" in Admiralty law. I can claim salvage as a master of a sailing vessel, should I wander across something not under command or 'clearly adrift', although this is a very nuanced topic in law, and there are many who would suggest that the line between righteous salvage and vile theft is permeable. Skippers or captain, beware.

I have seen a document
on official RYA stationary in which the "am I now a Captain" question was answered with "we take no stance" is an attempt to say "call yourself Captain, because it doesn't matter".  If people think they are captains, or even armchair admirals, it's going to have some sort of persuasive effect on RYA course-taking, even though that is *never stated* in the literature; it's sold as "the opportunity to improve one's seamanship skills" (which it is, of course), or the opportunity to evaluate one's existing skills (which it also is, as in the case of professional mariners who can "challenge" the higher YM exams and basically get passed into them for the purposes of post-career mucking about in boats.  

Another fictional old salt, only this one is just "Skipper". Note the cardboard signage on "S.S Minnow". Good grief.


So while I'm happy with "Skipper", I'll leave "Captain" to the pros. The simple fact is that there are different expectations that are bundled up with "Captain", and if you screw up, as one does, it seems worse surrounded by braid than when one is just "Skipper". And as for the hat, I'll bow to my pasty Celtic ancestry and just go with something that keeps the melanoma at bay.
Also good for garden work, I would imagine. Gold braid and anchor badge optional.
 

2014-04-20

The whirlpool of controversy churns

The ship's wheel being handed over to rescuers prior to the scuttling of S/V Rebel Heart. One of the sadder photos at sea that I can recall.
It's a funny feeling only possible in the last 20 years or so: the sense of vague familiarity that fleeting contact on the Internet renders possible between otherwise complete strangers. My first contact with Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, the American owners of a Hans Christian 36, was through, mainly, Eric's posts under the handle "Rebel Heart" on the Cruisers' Forum website.

S/V Rebel Heart as seen from a U.S. Navy helicoptern 900NM off Mexico

It's led to much debate and soul searching, not only about the very few facts known about the rescue of the crew of S/V Rebel Heart and her abandonment/scuttling, but about the nature of the armchair admirals and veteran sailors alike who have posted some pretty hateful things (in the guise of constructive crticism, naturally) online, most of which are based in the implied idiocy of taking young children offshore. The sailing writer and delivery skipper Charlie Doane, who himself was rescued from a busted catamaran in January, thinks that children might buy sympathy, as he didn't get much himself.

Now, there are some who feel that calling for help is inviting regulation of the cruising lifestyle; sailors are supposed to be self-reliant and to only seek aid in the most dire of circumstances. And yes, it's easy enough to come up with episodes where squadrons of SAR resources have been dispatched for what many would derisively consider trivial reasons.

But we aren't all alike in our capacity for managing trouble aboard. Maybe we should be more so. I'm trying to gather experience and training to that end because of incidents I've heard of where accidents could have been avoided...or not required rescue...had the crew been a little less unknowing. Or more lucky, one can also conclude.
Reefed down to keep the motion kinder, I suspect.

The reason the Kaufmans hit the big red button on the EPIRB is still not entirely clear to me, but a series of rough weather episodes, and a cascade of no-doubt-related equipment failures, was tipped over into the "rescue us" category by the youngest (one year old) Kaufman daughter exhibiting a persistent fever. Of course, being some 900 NM offshore, rescue was not instantaneous; my understanding is that it took three days before a ship with Zodiac-style tenders and the right sort of SAR personnel could arrive at Rebel Heart's location to take the crew off, and to "cut the hoses" and deliberately sink the Kaufman's vessel as it was far too distant from shore to be reasonably salvageable, and because an uncrewed 36 foot yacht is a significant hazard to navigation. It's therefore customary, if abandoning ship, to sink it by cutting below WL hoses or opening seacocks or even punching a hole in the hull.

Rebel Heart was a Hans Christian 36. Also known as a "Union 36", you'd need a big chisel to punch a hole in this hull. It was made of fibreglass, but weighed only about three tons less than does Alchemy, a larger and steel boat. It was a reasonable, if not particularly swift, choice for conservative cruising.

Rebel Heart's skipper Eric Kaufman has some sort of U.S. Coast Guard qualifications and is a former submariner; he would have known this. All else aside, the deliberate and necessary sinking of one's seaborne home is an occasion of deep sympathy for any sailor.

Probably because of the three-day window before a ship could reach them, and very probably because very young children, ages 1 and 3, were involved, this story "broke big" and became, briefly in the ever-advancing news cycle, big news. I first read about it on a comedic news aggregator website, and was shocked to realize "hey, I know of these people". The news site's members, not in the main being sailors and taking their cue from the press, were predictably scathing. Today's easily outraged online commenter does not hesitate to call for the authorities to remove children from their parents' custody, or to advocate "making them pay" for their own rescue.

The general public's feeling on learning that small children may, at times, cross oceans in Bob Perry-designed boats.
Less obvious was the criticism found on various sailing forums, particularly the one where Eric and occasionally Charlotte posted their plans for several years. Some of it, despite our own somewhat different circumstances, hit home with me. Eric and Charlotte, whatever the quality of their seamanship and their choices, were quite typical of younger cruisers in their commitment to blogging and documenting their preparation and thoughts on cruising. They had so much to say, in fact, that they split their "boat blog" into two sections: one for the dad and one for the mum. Both are pretty good writers, but while Eric's blog is a fair bit like mine, Charlotte's is more wide-ranging and covers a lot of mothering issues and deals with her child-prep and children's clothing. There's even a link to her Etsy shop. There's even (as seems sadly inevitable in these cases) stories of "I told you so" coming from "concerned family members". Hmm.

A sobering shot.

While such "mommy" musings are clearly not unusual, they seem to have drifted into "oversharing" waters, raising the ire of many. Other sailors have been quick to dredge up Eric's criticism of the preparations or skill set (as he perceived them to be) of other sailors who've required saving. What's clear (and not much is) from this online palaver is that things said online are virtually forever, and that everyone, whether lubberly or skipperly, is a self-appointed critic of anyone else who dares to list their plans when it comes to getting the topsides wet. I have even read some very cynical (and I usually consider myself to be more than typically cynical) theories concerns the near-complete silence of the Kaufmans since their safe rescue: that they are going to write a book and that they are soliciting donations.

Well, can you blame them if they kept silent? Why open oneself up to attacks like this?

Charming, as is the case with humanity at one remove. Image (c) therebelheart.com

This couple are likely homeless, or perhaps couch-surfing for some time, and the home they've worked on for nearly a decade is at the bottom of the sea. They've also just survived a situation that might easily have killed their kid 20 years ago, before EPIRBs were generally in use on small sailboats. So given these things, I would be surprised if they engaged their critics on any level beyond a dimissive expletive.

So, as I still don't feel I've heard Eric and Charlotte's analysis of "what went wrong", I will withhold my opinions on their actions, not that they would really be helpful, except in a forensic sense that would perhaps serve our own endeavours. It's a truism of the shipboard life, however, that at sea, the skipper(s) make the call: they must have that autonomy and the preservation of the crew must take precedence. That's pretty well the end of it, for me. I wasn't aboard, and don't know the details, and further speculation must remain empty.

I am quite interested, however, because we are planning much the same sort of trip, but with some differences. The main ones for me are as follows (and are to this point):

1) We have one son, currently 12 1/2, and the same size now as my wife. He's been sailing since he was seven and is taking further advanced courses this summer.
2) My wife and I have done two saltwater deliveries each (and separately) since 2007.
3) I've taken an RYA course and will take more. So will the missus.
4) We both know our pilotage, diesel repair, CN, and first aid and have taken courses (and fixed things while underway) to that end.
5) We've done most of our own refitting. That's why we haven't left yet! Refitting/re-engining a mid-size offshore-capable boat is like apprenticing in four or five different trades, or so it seems. Whatever else can be said for this, if something breaks, you will usually know what broke, where it is, where the spare is, or how to fashion a fix...if you installed it in the first place.
6) We've each experienced, on different boats, sustained gales of 40-50 knots and squalls past 65 knots. We know what that sounds like and how to heave to, deploy drogues or reduce sail to kerchiefs. We know of the necessity of giving ourselves a rest and respite, something very young children are unlikely to grasp or endure.
7) This might be the most important part: We plan to leave Toronto for a summer's cruising in Nova Scotia, and then to haul out for winter in Halifax prior to a following spring Atlantic crossing of the British Isles.

Our "shakedown cruise" will therefore be in waters tidal, oceanic and yet domestic. The Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic in front of Nova Scotia is the real deal, and yet is well-supplied if things break. And things always break. S/V Rebel Heart, by contrast, made their first offshore cruise one of the longest one can make: between Mexico and Polynesia. 

I wonder, however, if my own blog posts and forum musings will come back to haunt us, should we experience difficulties, from the Hun-like hordes of those who, from the comfort of their keyboards, know better how to sail and "wouldn't have gotten into this mess". 

Maybe we should cast off, and then "go dark". I know of a few cruisers who purposefully delay their posts for some weeks for reasons of security (why tell the world, which of course includes pirates and theives, where you are or where you anticipate going?). In light of recent events, I have a fresh appreciation for this tactic.

It's too close to spring launch for me to read Rebel Heart's blogs or even do more than sample the largely useless speculative threads on various sailing forums, but I would suggest that our plans and preparations may serve us better in the long run than did theirs, if only because ours are deliberately incremental, and because our son will be a near-adult and will be capable of being a real crew. Toddlers are, by contrast, incontinent cargo. I'm sure they have other charms, but even though we took our son sailing in a bundle and then a car seat from a very young age, we did not choose to go out of VHF range or in particularly tough conditions. Now we do: he's a good swimmer and lives in a PFD. I look forward to further progress.

The First Mate at five days of age, September, 2001. I cannot say that I haven't taken an infant sailing.


I would still like to hear the Kaufmans' side of their story if they choose to relate it.

One interesting response to the tidal wave of criticism (and I've been there and done that) is accounts from "former boat kids" who relate the very positive effects of growing up on a cruising boat. There have been balanced accounts supportive of the Kaufmans from sailing parents who didn't come ashore after having children while cruising, and even nuanced pieces which acknowledge (or, at least, this was my takeaway) that cruisers incur envy from those stuck on a treadmill, even if they would never choose the cruising lifestyle. As a recently posted Practical Sailor article indicates, the reality is that it is a series of little things, such as health problems getting worse far from shore, that can end a voyage sooner than that big wave or that howling wind. Here's hoping that the Kaufmans don't give up their dream, and if their prep was sound, they can work on having better luck next time.


Alive, if boatless, the Kaufmans and their rescuers in California
UPDATE: 2014.05.06: I found a post by someone named "Weavis" on the Cruisers' Forum website that is very apt and is applicable to all who venture an opinion on those who go down to the sea in ships, or Hans Christian 36s, for that matter:

Originally Posted by weavis 
As a young physician in training, I was filled with a burning desire to change the world. 5 years on, and having worked with wiser experienced men and women, I came to understand a few immutable principles for living a life. And as an older physician now, the principles hold good.
  • Every single person is entitled to respect. This means, as a friend, a parent, a spouse and as a stranger. We have to respect every one enough to let them live their own life. To make their own path, and to let them succeed or fail on their own terms.
  • We need to be in FULL possession of ALL the facts before we can assess ANY situation.
  • When an event happens, and its not a good outcome, we need to ask ourself, "Is it my job to fix this?"
  • We need to see what help, if any, can be rendered in practical terms for people, if required to ensure they have lots of space to recover and regroup and regain heath or balance.
  • We need to ask ourselves a number of questions privately, "What can I learn from this episode if I am faced with a similar situation?"
  • "Would I have taken the route that was taken to arrive at the situation before me now?"
  • Am I allowing personal, religious or that inner set of rules (that we all have), or the outcome itself to influence my analysis of the situation?
There appears to be a lot of rancour regarding this situation. It would appear some C.F'ers have issue with the personality of the man. Some have issue with decisions made regarding his wife and children, and some have issues with post scenario handling of money.

Life law: We need to be in FULL possession of ALL the facts before we can assess ANY situation.

Even without all the facts, we are faced with the other life Principles to consider:

The journey is over, the vessel is no more, and life has forever changed for this family.


It is not our job to fix this.

Ours is to reflect on the situation and decide for ourselves whether we would have, firstly undertaken the journey, and secondly, what bits we would have done differently. We have the unique perspective of being observers and learning without the pain of experiencing results of choices and circumstances.

Reality is that there is NOTHING we can do. President Kennedy was shot. World wars happened, our parents died, the Titanic sank, and Rebel Hearts journey concluded when it did in the manner it did as a culmination of all things that led to it.

We cannot change a thing. It happened.

Eric cant change what happened, because he would if he could. And all the people irritated or morally outraged that he took his children with him, cant change a thing. All the people aggravated at his personality and attitude who feel a sense of karma in this, well thats ok too, he that lives by the sword dies by the sword, but......... thats a different issue to the CHOICE you would have made in preparing for this trip, and that is all that matters.

We get one go at this life thing. Some of us approach it quietly and some announce it on the Radio.

We are owed nothing by Rebel Heart.

The C.F. community, comprises of all sorts of people who write for a variety of reasons, and if they trumpet and blow, and then the quiet descends, well that is all there is. We are not Erics Mom or Pop or someone owed money, we are just associates, we are not even real friends REGARDLESS of what you think. He has other things to work out and needs to find the best path to live with himself and continue this life.

There is also the 50-50-90 rule: anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong. There is no starting over, you just have to live with the mistakes you have made, and that what you consider mistakes are not what others might.

It would be nice if at some stage, the crew of Rebel Heart tell their story. But you know what? It wont matter to some people. There will be no change in their view or positional stance. It will only inflame them more to convince the world that they are correct in their assessment of everything that happened. And truth is, they might have parts of it right, maybe all of it, and it doesn’t change a thing to what has happened. It can only change what we do in our lives.

Well said, sir.