Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bimini Test Sail

A little strap adjusting...

Some more strap adjusting...

And she's ready to sail.

Unfortunately the wind didn't agree.  We did go out for a short sail with the drifter up and then came back to the dock to spend some time just sitting in the cockpit admiring our handiwork.  The project is officially declared a success.  Now about those side shade curtains...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New duds for Nomad.

Well, as close as we can figure we put about 50 total man hours into our bimini recovering project.  Keep in mind that includes a fair amount of hours watching the DVD that came from Sailrite.  We would watch the appropriate section, then complete the task described, then go on to the next section.  The DVD was definintely more helpful than the printed pdf instructions.  Sailrite is a wonderful company but they need to hire someone else to write their manuals.

On the subject of Sailrite, I can't say enough good about their customer service.  We had a couple questions along the way which we posted on their forum and I kid you not I never had to wait more than a 1/2 hour for an answer.  My only comments at all are that we either missed the fact that the zipper for the backstay wasn't included or they didn't say, so if you're doing one of the kits be sure to buy a zipper for the backstay.  Also, we used some of the binding to bind the center seam that goes over the center bow, something they didn't do but I felt was necessary to assure that the seam would survive the constant abrasion of the bow.  This means that you would need to buy an extra 10 yds or so of the binding if you want to do this.

All in all it was a great project that turned out better than we had anticipated.  Tim did most of the sewing since he wanted to learn and brought some really good ideas to the table even though he was unsure of the procedures.  It turns out that sewing and riveting aluminum are very similar indeed.

Things learned:

  1. When it's 110° heat index, bring the bimini frame home and work in the air conditioning.
  2. Sailrite machines should be oiled every time you change the big 250yd spool of thread.
  3. Wood floors make great places to lay out bimini fabric.  Carpet would have sucked.
  4. A couple days uninterrupted would have been better than a week of 4 hours each night after a long day of work.
  5. Spend the money and buy a hot knife if you're going to do a bimini.
  6. Spend the money and buy a swing-out binding attachment.  It saves a TON of time.
  7. Watch the DVD about 20 times before you start out.
  8. Don't be afraid to attempt this.  It is most definitely not rocket science.

The Last Zipper!
What you're seeing on the top is the reinforcement square for the backstay opening.  We have twin backstays.

An underside view

An underside view of the zipper that leads to the backstay opening.

Nice corner work, huh?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Home ec

When I was in High School only the young ladies did "home ec." I was a "motor head," one of those kids whose talents lay more toward fiddling with things than with sitting at a desk learning facts. The fact is I was a terrible student who hated being in a classroom from the first day my Mother dropped me off at Kindergarten. (At least that's the story she tells; and my subsequent years of school experience certainly support her claim!) I did all the "shops," wood, metal, electrical and drafting. But I didn't do home ec.

The decades scrolled by and I put my hands to a lot of machines using a lot of tools, metal fabrication, fiberglass molding; aircraft, motorcycle, and auto repair; house remodeling, AC and DC wiring, some of whose basics I learned back in my high school shops classes. But I didn't do home ec. Which means I never tried to make anything out of fabric or cloth...which means I never worked on a sewing machine...until now.

Now Nomad's Bimini frame is set up and pretty much fills a spare bedroom. Deb has supervised us laying out the plastic sheet used to make patterns, and those patterns have been used to cut yards of fabric. Fabric not needed for the Bimini cover has been sacrificed on the alter of an Ultrafeed Model LSZ-1 Sialrite as I try to master the art of sewing. I finally made it to home ec. And I have to say, it has been a long time since I climbed a learning curve this steep!

One would think someone who has laid out and shot countless rows of rivets within tolerances of a couple of hundredths of an inch, would be able to sew a straight line. But one would be wrong. The lines aren't straight, hell, the individual stitches IN the line aren't straight. How did I manage that?

So far my foot seems capable of finding just two throttle settings. One gets the machine making that straining humming noise that motors make when they don't have quite enough juice to turn. The other is wide open with thread, needles and fabric seemingly flying off in all directions. Running the bobbin dry and having to fill another can stop proceedings long enough to finish a Rum & Coke and I am magic at breaking the thread. Re-threading the machine from scratch can twist my brain into a hurt and if you don't get it exactly right, nasty things happen to what is supposed to be a "stitch." Then (of course) the thread breaks again. For added fun there is this thing called "binding." Binding is when you take a thin piece of fabric, fold it around the edge of another piece of fabric, (or two, or three) and stitch the whole mess together into an attractive finished edge. Sailrite has a fancy little swng-out bit that feeds binding material into the presser foot in a continuous stream. Even with that I managed to 1) run the binding off the edge, sewing it neatly together but missing the base fabric entirely then 2) actually folding the base material so that it leaked out from under the binding in an ever growing triangle. And that with a fancy tool that is supposed to make the whole thing "easy."

I have to admit though, it is a huge amount of fun trying to figure it out. Deb is a patient instructor and I'm sure I'll get the hang of it. Like everything else, mostly it just takes practice. Cutting fabric is a sight easier than cutting 2024T-3 and though I haven't managed a straight line yet, one can put in 1000 stitches in the time it takes to drill, burr and shoot 10 rivets. Maybe with a couple of thousand more I'll figure out how to make them straight?

In any case we don't know what the schedule will be for making the lake this weekend, if we make it at all. The Bimini has to get finished, and not just because I hate to have projects unfinished but not being worked on. It will be nearly 100 degrees around here this weekend. Without a Bimini? Ouch. And with the heat will be TRWs. The only way we could get the frame home was to feed it into the Saturn with the legs sticking up out of the trunk and the open passenger side window. Not only is it a weird looking thing going down the road, but running in rain would be a bad idea.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dog days

I got curious as to why these are the "dog days of summer." A guess would have been that summer is marked by canine types hiding in any shade they can find, tongues lolling out as they pant in the heat. A good guess, but wrong.

It turns out the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, (a.k.a. the Dog Star) resides in a constellation the Europeans called Canis Major, a.k.a. The Big Dog. In the summer The Big Dog rises and sets with the sun, in other words we can't see it. Apparently those same Europeans thought the heat of the dog star, added to the heat of the sun, is what makes summer such a grueling test of sweating it out. Thus, "The Dog Days of Summer." (Turns out they were wrong but it is a better story than panting puppies.)

However they got their name weekends in the summer in central IL, living on a boat, can have one acting a bit in line with my original guess...lolling around, panting like a well cooked dog, and just looking for a little relief. For sailors that is normally found by rolling off the stern and into the water. Truth to tell though, the water temp is getting up there as well, making the lake feel more like a hot tub than a swimming pool. (Actually, given the color, consistency of the water, and the odd things floating around, it is more like falling into a bowl of warm soup. Appetizing, isn't it? It takes some serious heat to get me to jump into that, mmmm...stuff? But jump I do. For all of its delights sailing is not for the mysophobic.) An added bonus is the insects; corp bugs, Japanese beetles, and mosquitoes...hoards of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that seem to enjoy dining on 40% DET insect (supposedly) repellent.

So living on Nomad isn't always the idyllic portrayal of life at ease. For me the worst part of the day is the few hours that lie between crawling into the V-berth and actually falling asleep. (If it isn't actually a few hours, it can sure feel that way.) For some reason hot + tired but not sleepy + very little breeze = bug bites itching like crazy. The buzz of a stray mosquito that found its way past the screens and is looking for desert, is enough to make the skin crawl. (Those same hideous little creatures make it impossible to sleep out in the relative coolness of the cockpit as opposed to being holed up in the boat.)

Morning always comes to the rescue. Nomad nods gently on her anchor. The cove is quiet, cool(-er at least), and the day holds promise of breezes and sailing. After breakfast Deb gets the inside of the boat ready for travels while I pick a foresail to start out on, sort out halyards and reefing lines, and try to remember to take the anchor light down. When ever we can we sail off the hook, which can make me smile for hours. Then we set off to spend a day exploring our little lake and learning a bit more about living on and sailing a boat. And that is the purpose of the whole exercise.

I'm not sure the Islands are going to be a favorite place for us. We may end up chasing cooler climes, foraging further north than is the normal hunting ground for "cruisers." For now the lake is the best we can do and it is (for us anyway) far better than what a lot of people get to do. Hot or not, bugs and all, it is still my favorite place.

I wonder though, how far can a mosquito fly off shore?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Close," so they say,

"only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."

As per usual Nomad spent Friday and Saturday night in Coles Creek. Friday saw the spectacular sunset. Saturday we were rafted up, this time with s/v Paradise, s/v Time Out and just plain old s/v. (It turns out not everyone names their boat.) Sunday morning the assembled kind of drifted into the day, breakfast, a little coffee, some general chatting and lounging about. A few comments were made on how quiet the lake was. Other than a fishing boat or two not a bow, stern or sail could be seen. After a while Deb, as is her habit, got around to looking at the radar picture. The weather had been benign all weekend, hot, a little wind, with any chance of rain not showing up in the forecasts until Monday. So she was a bit surprised to see a massive bow echo of storms bulling its way across the MO / IL border, horns aimed straight at our little lake. Estimated time in route? Just over an hour. In the immortal words of the Jettson's dog, "Rut Row George!"

The pace picked up on our 4 boat raft as quick preparations were made to get underway and beat the weather to the pier. (And thus was explained the lack of activity on the lake.) Nomad was the first to take flight. We debated making a motor run but, if there is any real wind at all, our little boat scoots along much better under sail than she does being dragged along by nine anemic horses and a pony. Time Out and s/v No Name followed us out of the cove. With more than 20 horses each to call on they pointed for home and galloped past. Paradise took to the lake many minutes behind us.

As we closed on the front door to the marina the thunder unexpectedly close, a smudge on the horizon, and just the feel of the air, had me starting to think I wasn't going to get away with this one. Bow echo storms have a nasty habit of shoving a killer gust front ahead of them, the kind that topple trees, knock careless pilots out of the sky, and are certainly capable of trashing one little sailboat caught out with her sails up. I was getting that itchy feeling between the shoulder blades that foretells a nasty sneaking up to scare the snot out of the timid and lay a hurt on the bold.

We got close enough to drop the sails and I was concentrating on helming the straightest line possible through the channel when Deb, putting the last of the sail ties on the main, looked behind us and said, "Here comes the wall cloud." I didn't bother to look back, she knows what she's talking about. Nomad's nine tired horses,(and a pony) were being flogged for all they were worth. But I knew they were no match for what chased us and I wasn't sure I had given them enough of a head start.

The 180 turn into the marina proper put us bow into the building wind, and we slowed noticeably. I hadn't touched the throttle. The second 180 put the wind behind us with safety just feet away. Little Nomad has never made such a quick entry and hard stop at the pier before, at least not with me driving. Willing hands caught 2 tossed bow lines and the spring while I jumped ashore (or at least a-pier) with the stern line. Throwing the fastest cleat knot of my short sailing life meant Nomad was safe. Moments later the trees gave way under the force of the wind and some serious ugly passed just overhead. It isn't often one sees clouds that threatening, that close. (The bubble clould in the picture looked for all the world like is was falling right on us. Spooky.)

Later in the afternoon, now sailing under a barely straining drifter and coasting over a quiet lake, I got to thinking. Maybe making the run for home plate wasn't the smartest choice I ever made. If we had been caught out in the channel or worse, among the piers, there is little chance I could have kept Nomad under control. Paradise, with a much bigger engine, decided they couldn't make it in time. They spun the bow up into the wind just outside the channel markers and rode out the blow. Even then it took enough RPM to cause their overheat alarm to sound. Nomad's only hope, in similar conditions, would have been to toss the hook and hope it grabbed. And that would only work if we had time to stow the canvas first.

We left a good hiding place with a great bottom for the anchor, to barely make it onto a concrete pier surrounded by other boats, after passing through a narrow channel. A better choice would have been to back as deep into Cole's Creek as depth would allow, set the hook hard with all the rode we had, and button up the boat. Then just ride it out. Uncomfortable maybe, but with little chance of losing control of the outcome.

Close. I guess it counts with thunderstorms as well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oscar Wilde and the Do-Nothing Day

Oscar Wilde once said that "To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world.".  He should have been a sailor.

Last weekend Tim had to leave the lake Saturday evening because he actually had to go to work Sunday morning, and since the wind deigned to grace us with its presence on Saturday, we stayed in our little cove at Cole's Creek for the whole day doing.......absolutely nothing.

I mean this in the absolute, purest sense of the word.  We sat in the cockpit and watched the great blue herons chase each other back and forth across the cove.  We watched the crazy fishermen rushing madly around the cove trying to hyper-fish.  I know, it's an oxymoron, but they do it.  We dozed.  We stretched.  We occasionally looked at each other in that married-for-35-years way that exchanges a thought without any words.  And not once did I think of my to-do list that permanently resides next to my computer on my kitchen counter.  It was life at its simple and most elegant best and it's perhaps what I cherish most about our little home-away-from-home.  It is my refuge from the "busy-ness" that so pervades every other moment of my week.

When we tell people about selling all of our stuff and retiring onto a boat, I pretty frequently have people ask me "But what will you do with all that time?" and while I suspect that boat maintenance will eat up a huge portion of it, I hope to be able to say "absolutely nothing" about at least part of it, with the exception, of course, of reading a little Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Check is in the Mail

Since our class that we had scheduled over the 4th of July week was cancelled due to BP's ineptitude in the Gulf, we've been steadily looking for another class or trip to take its place.  We had been looking for some time at John Kretchmer's voyages but all the ones we could afford were always filled up before we could get on the list.  After several emails to John regarding our oil spill fiasco I think he took pity on us and he booked another trip just so we could get scheduled.  November 28th we will be heading out from Ft. Lauderdale to cross the Gulf Stream and head to the Bahamas on what he lovingly calls the "Bahamas Bash".  I sent the deposit check out today and to say I'm excited is what you might want to call an understatement.

We've heard one of John's lectures at the Chicago Boat Show and read a good  many of his articles and books.  I've always thought his sailing philosophy closely matched ours and felt that with his laid back attitude he could teach us quite a bit in 5 days.  If you would like to see the boat we'll be sailing on you can see the details of it here.  There's also a video of it although it takes a while to load.

Bahamas here we come!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Strange celebrations

July 4th – a bit of a strange holiday where we celebrate things we don’t really approve and take pride in things we didn’t do. The more I think on it the stranger it seems. I don’t know that I would have actually cared for any of the “Founding Fathers” (which is kind of a pompous title). Many of them actually owned slaves. Could you sit at their table and enjoy a dinner prepared and served by slaves? It never crossed their collective mind that women deserved a political voice and be allowed to vote. And who gave these guys the right to tell women what they should be “allowed” to do in the first place? Even as they declared their independence from the imperial rule of England they sanctioned the ruthless destruction of the civilizations that had long existed on the land they coveted for their new nation.

What can we celebrate? As time has passed between us and them, people of conscience have worked to keep the best of what the Founding Fathers envisioned while fixing (lets be honest) some of their real screw-ups; a work that will go on as long as human society continues to evolve and advance. But I think that’s the way it will always be, the advances we make being like the tide. It sweeps in, sets a new high water mark of a people electing their own leaders rather than being the subjects of kings and popes, but then it ebbs. At the low point slaves are shipped while woman and children toil away in sweat shops. The tide turns and swells once again, slaves are freed, unions form to protect workers and force living wages, women demand and find their voice. Then comes the inevitable ebb. Jim Crow becomes the law of the land, unions turn corrupt, the KKK rules by terror with a wink and a nod from the powers-that-be, women find themselves still with a second class status in the work place. A slack time then the current runs the other way. Civil rights laws are passed, glass ceilings are shattered here and there, people notice the environment could use a little care, union "bosses" go to jail. The opposing forces build and force a retreat. Religious fanaticism rules the headlines, military conquest and wars without cause or meaning or any end in sight swallow up the budget, civil liberties take a step backwards, “illegal aliens” become the new “niggers,” corporate profit is deemed more important than clean water. Ebb and flood at different stages throughout the world at different times. But the flood sets a new high water mark when it comes and we do a little better job of being humans.

Deb and I celebrated the 4th by spending the long weekend sailing little Nomad, putting 52 miles under her keel, spending 2 nights on the hook with the cove all to ourselves, one night rafted up with good friends (12 boats full!) and enjoying a fireworks display.


The weekend gifted us with some good sailing weather, a lake full of whitecaps, and wind enough to call for a reef in the main. Oddly enough, even with the perfect weather the lake was kind of abandoned. (Except for the Saturday night fireworks, where powerboat follies were as much a part of the show as the air bursts.) Indeed, on the hook Sunday evening not a single other boat could be seen, there was no sound of engines or lawn mowers or airplanes, the houses (usually in sight on the far side) were obscured in the setting sun and haze, no lights marked the horizon. There was nothing to indicate that Deb and I had any company anywhere on the planet. It was a strange thought for an odd weekend to celebrate a puzzle of history, which we call the United States of America.