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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cruise Tuscany

Tuscany conjures images of rolling hills, vineyards, olive trees, rustic villas, sunsets, and exquisite wine.  However unfair, add beautiful sailing to your dream sequence and let me tell you what I saw. 

The morning after sampling much Multipulciano wine, was a smart opportunity for my wife to suggest doing something different.  “Let’s take a ferry and visit “Isola d’ Elba.”

Skeptical, I didn’t smile until the ferry left Piombino’s docks, exposing the turquoise Mediterranean water and near perfect sky and temperature.  Five min later we spotted our first blue water cruising sailboat which didn’t drop from view until at least one other sailboat appeared—a standard maintained throughout the voyage.  Fifteen min later Isola D’elba appears like a steep mountain range rising out of the sea  The countless mountain ridges decended to form peninsulas which coupled making romantic coves awaiting an anchor.  Many coves were uninhabited some had towns and five on the island offered full service marinas.

The ferry docked at the island’s busiest harbor. Portoferraio.  Other ferries stop at Cavo, Rio marina, Porto Azzuro and Marciana marina.  The Europeans carve towns into hills with a charm that warrents poets and painters to portray.  

We stepped off the ferry into tourist-ville and quickly escaped via the nearest bike rental shop.   Biking is a great way to experience the island.  Getting into a car or bus means getting out of the environment you are visiting. Biking is healthy, fun, more conducive to stopping at vistas, talking to locals, and offers better parking with zero fuel costs.  It's no surprise more cruising sailboats are stowing  folding bikes.  We packed water, wine, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and bread- our reward for the up hill portions. Elba's cliff top views are amazing and that they also feature many sailboats, makes Elba feel like home.

In the afternoon, gelato in hand, we walked the docks. As in the US, Beneteau dominates as does Lagoon(catamarans).  I noticed far fewer Hunters and more Gibseas then I’m accustom to in the states.  On Elba sailboats out number their power driven sisters.  True, sailboats don’t deliver mail or passengers, or cargo but sailing is part of Elba's culture.  Reluctantly boarding the ferry, I spotted a sailing school with adults practicing docking procedures.  When the ferry turned, I spotted fleet of lasers beating towards a mark.   I felt guilty interrupting their view with a giant, obnoxious, bus carrying, diesel burning ferry.  If the ferry’s stopped, much of the island's approach  looks the same as it did 100 years ago.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Nightmare on North Causeway

A Young Yacht Owner's Lessons learned:

“Mind numbing” describes the full day of motoring the intra costal waterway at 5 knots.  Twelve hours of watching, depth sounder, buoys, and GPS, stimulates a yearning for the open ocean, and beer.  We were less than a quarter mile from that beer when disaster struck. 

One hundred yards from a slow-to-open draw bridge, I started a circle to allow time for it to open.  This particular draw bridge was old, slow, and sounded like a hundred wrenches being dropped down a metal stair case.

The tide and wind were racing in parallel toward the bridge,  I was just past halfway through my circle.  The jib was flapping and had just crossed sides as I started furling.   
It was just then that we noticed a jib sheet fly through the block to join it’s brother on the new leeward side.  “I’ll get it” my wife said as I continued furling.  She still had one foot in the cockpit when engine suddenly yelped Thung-kk, and stopped.

You have the picture:  A tightly strung jib sheet in the water leading towards the prop. Wind and tide gushing towards a slowly opening bridge, 100 yards away.  The main sail stowed under a sail cover.

Instantly, we were in danger.  The boat (also our home at the time) was drifting, sideways towards destruction.

Offshore cruising sailboats should have anchors properly secured:  Out of the way, low, and if possible, centered.  Ours, was none of those.  Having anchored last night, it was ready to drop.  I ran forward, untied, kicked, swore at, and pushed the anchor overboard. Then I prayed and waited as we quickly drifted closer to rocks and a half opened bridge.

How deep is it?
Will it Set? 
If it doesn’t, can I get the jib out in time?
Can I trim the jib with the sheet stuck around the prop?
Will insurance cover this?
Is this how my dream of living aboard ends?

Just then the sideways drifting hull started swiveling, bow pointing into the current.  The chain tightened, emerging from the water straight ahead.  I can’t overstate the feeling of relief felt as our stern swung just twenty yards from the wooden structure that ushers traffic under the bridge.  People fishing the nearby rocks appeared, relieved. It was holding.  

I was preparing for a swim just as the coast guard motored by.  They offered to call a towing service but declined to lend a hand.  They were most insistent that I not get in the water.  My second mistake of the day was listening.  Next time, I’ll follow my instinct and free my own boat (thankfully there hasn’t been a “next time”)

It’s a common expression that when ever two sailboats are side by side, you have a race.  I had won a few such races that day.  Our jib and motor combined passed other cruisers reluctant to set sail.  

Now I was more than humbled as these same boats.  Looked eerily upon our disposition.  This was further exasperated by a little misunderstanding I had with the bridge operator.  I had requested the opening then, to his bewilderment, I appeared to just anchor in front of his pass through.   Car traffic was waiting over 10 min before I realized he was afraid to close it.  I radioed that we were having troubles and to close the bridge.  He immediately did so and then, for some unknown reason, he assumed that it was unsafe for him to open the bridge again. So the entire day’s worth of traveling sailboat “companions” were now circling around waiting.  They had been told that there was a boat in distress and that the bridge could not open. I hailed the operator again and suggested he continue normal bridge procedures. Immediately traffic stopped, the bridge started opening and all the boats lined up single file and passed close-by as my anchoring spot didn’t leave much room.  While thinking this couldn’t possibly be more humiliating, I then noticed a growing crowd of pedestrians overlooking our situation from the fixed part of the bridge.

Eventually the towing service arrived.  I was surprised that he towed us rather than tie along side.  But he expertly towed us forward just enough for me to pull the anchor.  The further upstream to put for some turning room.  He called the bridge for an opening and then swiftly turned us back towards the throughway, keep just enough speed to maintain steer-ability.  

After making the turn,  I was uncomfortable that the bridge was still closed.  But we had time and honestly, I was happy someone was communicating with the bridge operator.  Still, I asked, and the tow boat captain confirmed, it would open.  Soon the bridge started its haunted clanging noises, but still, given the our pace, this was could be “close” I thought.  Aware that I had just asked, and that my shaken nerves could make me edgy, I decided to remain silent (mistake number 3) as we swiftly powered towards a mostly closed bridge.  Then something happed, the bridge noises stopped.  We were nearing the point of no return now 30 feet form the actual bridge I shouted Jim! Get me out of here! The driver, now under the bridge, did the only thing he could do.  He put his 300 horse power engines in reverse and flew by me in the opposite direction.  We exchanged grimaces as he passed, as if to agree that this was going to hurt. When the line grew tight, we collided just forward of my beam, loudly.

To imagine this seen, picture the bridge with one hinge, to starboard (on my right).  The left side of the bridge arc’s upward and to the right creating a gap for masts to pass by.  The channel’s left side is where masts safely pass the bridge.  Now picture the tow boat reversing past my starboard side (near the bridge hinge).

While all this was occurring the bridge resumed opening slowly.  
As the tow line drew taught my boat abruptly slowed down but to me time moved slower.  We seemed to hang there for minutes until bow began to the pivot on the towline.  By god’s grace, the stern began swinging left, towards the tiny but slowly widening gap on the left side (the lifting side of the bridge).

I was thinking how to vacate whichever direction the mast fell.  Few options on a boat 12 feet wide.  The crowed, was now gripped by their show.  I remember one guy Yelling Oh no! No! It’s Going To Hit, IT’S GOING TO HIT!!  
All eyes were glued to the top of the mast.  It’s path arched with the pivoting boat while the bridge arched up and right.  The two arch’s formed a near miss like the way a high jumper snakes their body up and around the fragile pole.  
Were I sitting on top of our mast, I could have reached out and touched the bridge.  The crowd cheered as we (including the tow boat) passed sideways by the still opening bridge.  The man yelling was now saying “Wait… My God it May Make It, it’s going to make it IT’S MAKING IT!

Once tied at dock, with all systems off, We were traumatized.  There was the crash site which had made an ugly mark but amazingly no damage (A toast to CE Ryder’s quality blue water sailboat construction).   Then there was the line tightly tangled in the prop.  As I readied to dive, my wife for the first and only time said “Can I pour you a shot of rum” 

As it turned out.  The bridge operator had engaged the bridge to open but experienced an issue and had to switch to a backup device which caused the delay. 

To this day if you sail with me, you’ll notice all four sheets are checked for a secure figure eight knot prior to departure.  Also ingrained in my head is, when ever a line is suspected to be overboard, shift to neutral.  These lessons were recorded in my log along with "Blue water cruisers belong at sea."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Used Sailboat Hull Design, Evolving Opinion:

When reviewing blue water sailboats for sale, know your heart’s position on Cored-Hull vs Solid Glass.  
Traditionally, I preferred sailboats with a cored hull as if it were Integrity’s hallmark.  Cored hulls have been the practice of solid names like Southern Cross, Pacific Sea Craft, and Gozzard (although other quality builders use solid glass).  These proven sure footed ocean going sailboats, if maintained, are worthy options in the used sailboat market (trumping opinions on core vs solid glass).  

By “cored hull” I am referring to one layer of glass at least 3/16 inch thick fiberglass pressed against a synthetic layer of core .5 to 1 inch thick.  

I say “synthetic” because, despite it’s weight, stiffness, and cost benefits, balsa wood (common core material) has no place on a blue water cruisers- Not even in the deck (although hard to avoid).  There is no balsa aboard Shannon or Island Packet Yachts.  When balsa gets wet, and it will (despite what the sales person says), it turns to mush.  So Balsa is great when new but this article is for used sailboats buyers and we like synthetic core.  

Cored hulls have benefits. Simply put, they’re thicker.  Cored hulls offer insulation from temperature and possibly sound.  It’s almost like having two hulls so when a floating object lacerates your outer hull, your boat keeps sailing if your inner hull remains uncompromised.  Lastly cored hulls present fewer condensation issues inside (most applicable in extreme temperatures).

While these benefits are real and hold value, cored hulls, present an opportunity for moisture to collect where it can’t be dried.  Even if owners use proper methods to fill holes when adding fixtures, the two layers of glass create a chamber which, over decades, traps moisture. What happens when that collects and freezes? What is it’s impact on the glass and the core it self?  These are unknowns and when helping customers find a 25+ year old used sailboat to carry them over the horizon, I prefer fewer unknowns below the waterline. 

My current boat has an air-x cored hull.  I feel safe with her integrity but if privileged to buy another boat someday, I’m drifting towards ocean going sailboats with solid glass hulls.  There is simplicity in it.  You have fewer unknowns as the water meter readings really tell the story.  You know what you’ve got which inspires confidence in your boat.  When far from land and help that confidence is priceless.  John Kretschmer (sailed over twenty Transatlantic crossings) refers to the value of “confidence in what your boat can do” as essential to successful storm sailing.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some quotes from sailors I respect.

“I prefer solid, un-cored hulls below the waterline.  I appreciate the advantages of cored hulls, especially in the topsides and deck, where they reduce weight and offer strength in certain applications.  But down south (below the water line) I want solid glass.”
-John Kretschmer:  Sailing a Serious Ocean International Marine. 

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #72
Hull thickness, solid fiberglass: The general rule is that skin thickness in inches should equal at least 0.07 plus the waterline length in feet divided by 150.”
- John Vigor: Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling, and Gear (Mar 21, 2001)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Successful Head Repair for Blue Water Sailboats

My blue water sailboat is a  1980’s cruiser but her head is less than one year old. Yet, a few minutes after pumping, “stuff” fills back in the bowel.  This repulsive issue could intensify if witnessed by paying customers.  Fortunately, there is a simple answer.  Most cruising sailboats have heads that use a joker valve to prevent back flow.  Joker valves are typically soft rubber valves the size of an espresso cup.  They wear-out annually (most likely by design) and while only $13, Joker valves help keep marine stores in business. 

Jabsco, owned by Xylem, makes the heads found on most American blue water sailboats.  However, the Joker valve is ubiquitous across manufactures.  The following list provides all you need to solve this problem plus some advice from recent experience.

  1. Watch this Jabsco video:  Note: The factory supplied screws are self tapping so when refastening, be sure to patiently spin the screws gently till the original threads catch, otherwise you carve new threads that will fail. 
  2. Clean the area.  You’ll likely be positioning your face and hands in some badly forsaken places.   Also pump fresh, clean water through your entire head system.  This provides peace of mind during this otherwise messy task.  
  3. Use a portable hand held bilge pump to empty the bowel.  Keep pumping until it stops refilling.  If the water looks dirty revisit line two.
  4. The video displays  a brand new head, on a table, bright lighting, and ample work space.  Your blue water sailboat's head is probably wedged tightly between dimly lit bulkheads. This is why man invented the socket wrench. I recommend replacing the factory’s screws with identical brethren, except with socket heads.  Please note: Jabsco doesn’t provide “socket screws” because it’s very easy to over tighten- indicated  by the sound of crunching, cracking, plastic followed by swearing.  Be very gentile and remember you are working with fragile imported plastic. 
  5. Lastly head lube keeps the pump working like new.  I’m hopeful it also  delays indefinitely the otherwise inevitable rebuild.

I hope this article helps keep your repair quick, hands clean and a head clear for sailing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wild Departures

This spring’s been busy with sailing charters.  I love this work, this time of year.  The wind, temperature, tides, even the dolphins cooperate.  I especially enjoy the people appreciating the area, the boat, and sailing. 

When busy, my boat handling skills improve.  It’s cyclical-- Successful dockings, impressed customers, improved confidence, more experience, more skills etc. But every market self corrects.

My wife and I went for an after work, dinner sail.  The tide runs parallel to the dock and was coming in.  My bow was pointed out and the wind was blowing us off the dock-- circumstances for easy departure.  The wind however was unusually strong and angled such that the boat was practically sailing at dock.  The sailboat slid forward on gusts and the tide carried her back in the lulls.  I only have 5 feet fore and aft before I hitting expensive neighbors. 

My hastily drafted theory/experiment was to keep both the stern and aft spring lines attached.   This will keep the blue water cruiser steady while I release the bow.

I could have asked my wife for help.  I could have brought the stern in closer.  I could have used a mid-ships cleat.  We could have eaten at dock.  I could have done many things.  But I am a charter captain with sharp skills, confidence, and a soon to be deflated ego.

I untied the bow, jogged back, untied the stern line, through it aboard, and noticed, the current was loosing to the wind.  The boat didn’t drift back onto the aft spring line, which would have swung stern toward the dock (Making it easy to board).  Instead, the entire boat was simply sliding away from the dock.  I grabbed the aft spring and tried to pull the stern in.  This only spun the  bow, now broadside to the current, further down stream.  The boat was perpendicular to the dock.  I held the aft spring which served as a piviot while all 25000 lbs of blue water cruiser drifted (fast) towards the boat neighbor.
I yelled Vivi give me shot in reverse!  Normally this request is accompanied with hand signals signifying which way to pull/push the transmission.  Without the hand signal, we have about  a 50% chance that she’d remember “reverse is up.”
  She leaped into position and thankfully her mental coin landed up as she pulled on the transmission and matched my urgent tone with assertive throttle. The boat responded, I coyboy’d on to the Wind vane self-steering.  As she returned to neutral. I quickly pulled the dock line out of the water.  The bow swung past 90 degrees to the dock and my neighbor stern was two feet away.  “Now a shot in forward, HARD!”  At full throttle, the only thing that collided was exhaust smoke which plastered my neighbor.  Our sterns cleared by only a few inches. 
Yahhh Hooo.  I climbed aboard - more lucky than good but exhilarated, humbled, and slightly wiser for next time.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Replacing Head Discharge Hose Aboard a Used Sailboat

In my experience, every used sailboat pluming project requires creativity.  Standardization hasn’t matured like it has for home pluming projects.  Here is one simple lesson that I hope will save you frustration. 

The most common cruising sailboat head is the Jabsco or Wilcox-Crittenden manual head.  These call for waste discharge hoses (The hose you really don’t want leaking) with an 1.5 inch inner diameter. 

The most common, easily found, smell proof, 1.5 inch ID discharge hoses is the spa hose found, in Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace hardware etc.  Yes, I have driven to all three to verify.  However, their inner diameters aren’t exactly 1.5 inches- they’re closer to 1 9/16.  Given pressure or just time, the spa hose leaks.  Of course sealants and excessive clamping all help but if you want to do this right and, just once…  It’s worth the extra drive and few dollars to buy the hose from West Marine.  Perhaps other marine supply stores use the same suppliers as West but I can’t promise.  Meanwhile, the WM hose fits all my Jabsco 1.5 inch OD fixtures snugly and no leaks- critical aboard any blue water cruiser.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Turning Your Sailboat Into a Business and Make Cruising More Affordable

Done! I highly recommend it.  As of 2014, all my boat’s expenses are legitimately tax deductible. The process was long but, for boat enthusiasts, it’s enjoyable.  

Could you benefit from this?  “Going corporate” worked for me for four reasons:

     A.  I have an old, but seaworthy blue water cruising sailboat.

     B.  I’m not rich.  Whether walking the docks or the isles of West Marine, I’m frequently reminded that most yachtsmen live beyond my means.  When sailboats stopped delivering passengers and mail, sailing in America became a privilege for the privileged.  For me, every discount is greatly appreciated so making this year’s dock fees tax deductible was motivating.

     C. Sailing provides a growth path.  Living aboard a 1981 used sailboat inspired me to study and practice: Electricity, wood, fiberglass, engines, and plumbing. Boating instilled the courage to attempt repairs before hiring experts and to disassemble broken things before tossing.  Such learning felt more like exploring and is exciting.  Having an eagerness to learn, serves me well on the path towards professional sailing.

     D. My real job.  Working for a large conglomerate involves knowing that layoffs are often pending.  Preparing “plan B” eases that worry.  It also feeds a longstanding vision of retiring (in my sixties) and teaching Sailing. 

Turning Your Sailboat Into a Business and Make Cruising More Affordable

These steps outline my meandering path- You can plan faster routes

1. Purchase a seaworthy sailboat (more about that later)

2. Obtain a Captain’s License
I found a school online, paid the money, attended class, and passed the Coast Guard test.  For me, this was the only way.  The schools teach you to pass the exam.  This sounds obvious but often higher education uses class time to engage students in theoretical discussions.  This leaves the “passing exam” task to students and their books.  My school had a select range of the USCG’s questions to administer and they taught us to answer them.  The course was around $1,000 and a significant time investment. However, I enjoyed the learning.  Unlike school, this was not a chore. The other option is to self study and challenge the USCG proctored exam.  This was not realistic for me. 

After passing the exam, I started the hoop jumping, red tape cutting, and bureaucratic back & forth required when working with the Coastguard.  If you’re patient and follow the process, eventually you’ll receive a certificate (now a passport like booklet) that you can fax to your insurance company for your first payback.  For me, this was a few hundred dollars off of my annual insurance bill.

As a certified captain consider also these options for supplemental income.
  • Provide sunset cruises – Check with your insurance company.
  • Teach sailing
  • Lease your boat to a local school.

About four years after earning my license, I finally contacted a local sailing school and, after flashing my USCG license and passing a sailing interview, I started providing the occasional weekend sailing charters.  This was tremendously satisfying- a passion turned profitable…  Well, the boat costs more than the occasional charter earns, but it still feels good to see dollars flow back the other way.

3.  Establish a Business
The new income prompted me to register a company with the state.  A Limited liability company (LLC) does two things:
  • Lowers Taxes: The boats’ expenses become business expenses and are deductible from our house hold’s income.
  • Secondly a boat related lawsuit could only result in loss of the  LLC’s assets so, our land home is safe. 
On January 1, 2014, Access Freedom Sailing LLC was born. Filing the “Articles of Organization” In Florida costs $125 and was easy compared to the coastguard’s credentialing.  See your state’s website for an application for a Limited liability company.  

I also opened a business account at a local bank with a credit/debit card to help track income and expenses.  For cash purchases I save receipts and plan to count them with a good cabernet next tax season. 

Please Note:
  • The IRS will be checking:  I know a sailing Instructor that filed his boating “Losses” against his income three consecutive years and on the fourth year, he was investigated.  The business has to be real.  Fortunately for him, it was (and is)
  • When gazing at new “nice-to-have” boat devices especially electronics, the seductive thought that “It’s tax deductible” can warrant some pretty bad decisions.  

4.  Instructor Certification
My chartering work was for an organization called Windward Sailing – which also has an excellent school and talented sailing instructors.  They use the American Sailing Association’s (ASA) curriculum and credentialing process.  It was a natural next step to start accumulating instructor certifications.  I’ll be 65 someday and will to retire ready to teach ASA classes. 

Instructor certification costs nearly $1,000.  However, once paid, the classroom and sailing experiences were exciting. I was learning from other sailors, reinforcing the concepts from the captains license course, sharing sea stories, exchanging used sailboat tips and tricks and getting acquainted with a national organization of sailing instructors.  Like most passions, the better you get, the better it gets-- and sailing is no exception.  Weekend instruction revenue will help feed my boating habit in the winter, when classrooms are warmer that sunset cruises.

This is not for everyone.  Becoming a yacht sales person is easy. Surviving as a Yacht sales person takes intense dedication, a broad skillset, resourcefulness, and a passion for boats.  I am lucky to know such people and luckier still that they’ve taken me aboard.  Mike and Mary founders of Paradise Yachts bring honesty, an impressive network, and an impressive results to customers looking to buy sell or learn. I am glad to be learning from them (on weekends and evenings).  I won my first boat for sale and I look forward to posting more, so if you want a good, used day sailor with a cabin and popup roof, let me know, I’ve got an option for you.  
Do you remember step one above (purchase a seaworthy sailboat) I’d be a fool not to mention that, I’d be glad to help find the right sailboat to carry you over the horizon.

Overall, turning my boat into a business was not the result of master forethought-- just me, doing what I enjoy, and taking the next logical step.  Thankfully, they’ve made yachting more affordable and more importantly, I’ve grown better, safer, and smarter at sea.  I wish you the same.