Saturday, October 22, 2016

Friends Across Oceans

By Anushmita Mohanty
We had a chance to get together today with our cruising friends Paul and Deb of Lat 43 fame. We haven't seen them for nearly two years since they watched Kintala for us at Dinner Key while we went back to St. Louis for a visit.

It was like we just saw them yesterday.

This is one of the mysteries of cruising friends. We say hello at an anchorage and one or the other of us may depart early the next morning without even saying goodbye for places unknown, yet two years later we'll run into them and be laughing in the cockpit over beers within minutes. It's an amazing community, a sustaining community, and one I'm incredibly glad to be a part of. When we first explored the idea of retiring onto a sailboat, the cruising community was not one of the benefits we anticipated. As we close out our third year and embark on our fourth, the cruising community is the number one benefit. A true global network, a global family, a society of some of the most amazing people we've ever known. Thanks Paul and Deb for reminding me.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Navigating the playground

Even normal elections are a little weird for me. This one, being anything but normal, is setting new standards for weird. It isn't so much the candidates themselves. American politics is a blood sport. The two dominate political parties of the USA have been at each other's throats for as long as I have been alive. Neither cares for anything but getting into and staying in power. Actually serving the people of the US is a distant second, if it is a consideration at all. Being leaders of a society helping set a course in history that benefits all of human kind? Never a thought at all. Though I don't remember the earliest of the 15 elections in my lifetime (16 is the one in the works at the moment) it seems to me, since Carter beat Ford, each has gotten a little more ugly than the one previous. A trend that seems to have accelerated on some kind of exponential curve since Clinton beat Bush I. But that isn't the reason I think elections are weird, and this one particularly weird.

There is this thing called “deep time”. It is the concept of time, not as it fits our human scale, but as it fits the history of the earth, the solar system, and the cosmos. I am a fan of the idea. I suspect a lot of sailors are. It is near impossible to be too full of one's self out in the big, particularly at night. If it is a quiet night with calm waters reflecting the stars back at themselves and no horizon to be seen, a small boat becomes a true spaceship, afloat, with the galaxy shining in all directions as far as the imagination can reach. The knowledge of billions of years passing while it all unfolds fits; the idea that our entire galaxy could easily be erased with the cosmos barely noticing doesn't seem outlandish. The evolution of the cosmos is mostly mystery, as is how our little lives fit into the show.

If allowed, the awareness of “deep time” (and its compatriot “deep space") will seep into and completely rebuild a world view, slowly filling the mind and heart with a perspective that is rare in a modern, western society. Deep time will erode the hubris of seeing the history of the earth as nearly identical to the history of the human race. It will erase the illusion that the evolution of the cosmos “led” to our scruffy little claim on intelligence in some preordained way. If one is lucky the delusion gets replaced with delight. All is mystery and we are the newest thing around, just getting started. We should be like children in a playground; laughing, discovering, and learning. And, in a lot of ways, we are. We have shot rockets to the moon and nearby planets. Two of our toys have left the solar system and are now in “deep space.” We have written stories like “quantum mechanics”, “string theory”, and “relativity” that, while not completely accurate and nowhere near complete, will help pass what has been learned about the cosmos on to the next generation.

But our playground has some bullies trying to spoil the fun, small minded little tyrants throwing fits and demanding that they get a bigger share of the cookies. They assault the ones weaker than themselves and group into nasty little gangs that often fight with each other. I, for the most part, think it a good idea to cordon them off into an empty corner of the playground and let them have at it. Sadly though, they tend to throw rocks around that hurt those not interested in their bickering. And they have their hands on big rocks, ones that could knock down pretty much everything and hurt everyone in the playground.

They can't actually destroy the playground itself, just the toys and shelters we have built on it. The idea that human race can “destroy the planet” is a bit more hubris on display. It isn't even likely that the human race can even destroy itself. The planet will, eventually, be destroyed. But it will take an exploding star to do the deed. Human kind will be long out of the picture by then, having either faded away or evolved into something new. Either way eons of the earth being a desert planet (think Mars) before the sun makes its final assault, will make it unlikely any intelligent beings will be around to rue the day.

Oddly enough, I think the idea of deep space and deep time, ideas that are new to western minds raised on western religions and philosophies, are helping spark the worst of the bullies. They are aghast at the idea that they aren't that important, that no one important is taking notice of them, that the cosmos looks upon their antics and tantrums with complete indifference. It is an idea, a knowing, big enough to knock the pins out from under a society built on a delusion of importance, and some are having a tough time coming to grips with the reality. We can make the playground a garden or a garbage dump, nothing will stop us from doing either one.

Anyway, elections are weird because they are always about the bullies. They are always about wars and borders, throwing rocks and stealing cookies. They are never about delight, learning, growing, discovering. The most childish (in the worst way) among us strive to win. Some of the equally childish (in the worst way) among us take up sides, tagging along behind the bullies hoping for a cookie or two out of the stash that has been stolen from others.

The child-like among us (in the best way) can't avoid the whole mess, much as we might rather be playing with our toy boats, learning how to swing on the big swing, or meeting and making new friends. For the time being, the bullies have taken over much of the playground.

Still, in my more optimistic moments, when the muse of deep time and deep space breeds hope, I like to think that the bullies are a minority, a temporary inconvenience, an aberration that attracts more attention on the playground than they deserve. I like to think that, someday, the rest of us will grow up enough to take their rocks away, rescue the stolen cookies, and go about the playground of fitting life into the universe without giving the (now harmless) bullies much thought.

But we haven't grown up that much, yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Good and Perfect

A good day on a boat is:

  • Any day nothing breaks
  • Any day the weather treats you kindly
  • Any day you get to sleep in with a 70° breeze wafting in through the V-berth hatch
  • Any day you spend with other cruisers
  • Any day you sail more than you motor
  • Any day you aren't in a gray cubicle on a Monday morning
But Sunday? Sunday was the rare perfect day.

Tom and Lesa on Panacea
Our friends Tom and Lesa on Panacea texted to see if we might want to go for a short sail Sunday afternoon. (Need you ask?) By 2:00 we were out of the basin and hoisting the main and the jib. We sailed all the way to Egmont Key in 12-15 knot winds and the Island Packet trimmed nicely into it, yielding a steady speed in excess of 6 knots. The breeze was comfortable - not too warm - and the water a deep blue. As we all had plans in the evening, we tacked just before the shipping channel to the Gulf, and headed back to the Manatee River on almost exactly a reciprocal course. Four hours of perfect sailing.

The Mary T, a Morgan 38

It was an elixir, and it would have been enough all on its own, but earlier in the day some folks whose blog we follow contacted us to see if we had time to get together Sunday evening. Although landlocked in Bradenton at the moment due to a family emergency, Ken and Amy on Mary T have traveled from Florida to Isla Mujeres and then on down to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, a trip that holds some interest for us. We wanted to pick their brains. After a short tour of Kintala, we headed over to the Riverside Grill for dinner. We had a wonderful evening trading stories and laughing. All of us have been separated from other cruisers for some time and it was good to remember one of the things we enjoy most about this lifestyle.

Perfect sailing and new cruising friends? Yeah. A perfect day.

The lighthouse at Egmont Key in Tampa Bay

Friday, October 7, 2016

Floor Refinishing Progress Report

Yesterday I finished the main salon area of the floor so I have completed the small section in front of the V-berth, the small section in front of the head door, and the main salon between the two settees as well as all the hatchboards. I still have the two sections between the galley and the nav station as well as the two sections in the aft cabin. The ones between the galley and the nav station will take twice the time because I have to lift the companionway stairs out while the finish cures. This means only one coat per day and at seven coats, that means twice as long. I'm incredibly happy with the results so far but I do have several comments to make about the Circa 1850 polyurethane finish that I'm using from Jamestown Distributors.  In no order, here they are:
  • The finish is incredibly hard once it cures. I had some that had overlapped another section and when I sanded it, it just laughed at me. This is an excellent finish for salon floors.
  • The finish is not the easiest to put on. They say you can use a lambswool applicator, a lint-free cloth, or a bristle brush. For ease of cleaning, I bought a really good, top-of-the-line natural bristle brush. The problem is that it is very difficult to apply evenly. I chose the satin finish because I hate gloss finish on a floor since it eventually scuffs down to satin anyway. I think satin is easier to keep looking clean. While they tell you in the instructions to thin only the first coat with mineral spirits 10%, I found that I had to thin every coat to get it to flow without leaving brush marks. You have to measure carefully because the more thinner you use, the flatter it appears when it's dry.
  • When it comes to you, the flattening agent is one giant gelatenous glob in the bottom of the can. You can't shake it because it will introduce air bubbles that will then apply to your work, so you have to stir it. It takes at least 30 minutes to incorporate all of the flattening agent by stirring, a feat made more difficult by the fact that they fill the can to the absolute top of the rim. I appreciate getting full cans, but it's impossible to stir without spilling.
  • The published dry time for recoat is 3 hours at ideal conditions. We are currently running an air conditioner which keeps the inside of the boat right around 70° and 60% humidity, very near their perfect conditions, but I found that it was really closer to 5 hours before I could sand the finish without clumping the sand paper.
  • The price on this stuff is incredibly reasonable for the quality, and Jamestown Distributors is a real pleasure to deal with. Shipping was quick and the product was well-packaged.

Here are before and after photos of the section of floor that was soaked with diesel fuel. The after photo is complete with seven coats of Circa 1850.

One thing I will say - I'm very happy that I started with the least visible section and worked toward the most visible. In the beginning I was hesitant to sand very deeply, worried that I would sand through the veneer. As I worked, I was able to learn just how deeply I could sand so it began to look better. Also, my skill level improved immensely as I progressed, so if you visit Kintala, please don't look too closely at the V-berth section, OK?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Test Flight

Many of the entries in my stack of pilot log books make reference to being a “maintenance check flight”. The vast majority of those were utterly routine. A few involved more exotic procedures, like engine shut-down and restarts at various altitudes and / or speeds. And yes, there was a time or two when the re-start failed, resulting in an “engine inoperative” landing. Though you wouldn't know it from the social and entertainment media of the US of A, such isn't any kind of real emergency so long as a) the inoperative engine isn't the only one installed, and b) the remaining engine(s) don't quit for the same reason as the first. (Think “running out of gas”.)

One of the many Cheyennes I did maintenance test flights on.
Once in a rare while something unexpected would pop up. Test flying a Cheyenne with a window removed for photo work resulted in a blast of air coming from the emergency gear extension access;
unexpected but non-threatening. A different Cheyenne had a pressurization hose come loose right around 18,000 feet resulting in a really rapid decompression. Unexpected, only slightly threatening for the first few seconds, and very loud.

Two “maintenance test flights” fell into a completely different category of threatening. One was a #2 engine failure (starboard to a sailor) on a small, twin engine Baron just as the gear left a narrow, not very long, runway that faced a hill. I did the things pilots need to do in such a situation, scraped over the hill getting a pretty good look at someone mowing their lawn. (They got a good look at me as well). As soon as the hill was cleared the emergency part of the flight was over, and yet another “engine inoperative landing” entry was made in my log.

The second was the test flight of an ultra-light that had already been crashed once.  The cause of the crash was still a mystery. The pilot flying had suffered both a broken shoulder and a concussion during the event and remembered nothing of that whole day, resulting in him being of little help in figuring out what went wrong. The rebuilt craft had been carefully inspected by several people, including me, and nothing seemed amiss. Still, taking it on the maiden voyage after the rebuild might not have been the smartest thing I ever did; that thought flashed through my mind as the machine leaped into the sky in an impossibly steep, near stall attitude that I was unable to correct even with full nose down elevator. Had I been wearing a parachute that day I would have certainly used it to join the caterpillar club. Getting down in one piece involved some scary flying, monkey-bar antics to shift some weight, likely used up at least two of my extra lives, and still makes me wince when I think of it.

Which is the long way around of saying I take test operations very, very seriously. They are never spur of the moment, always well planned, with much thought given to what might go wrong and what to do in response. So when the word came down yesterday that we were going to “sea trial” the boat I have been working on, well, lets just say I was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

The sea trial boat a few weeks ago
The boat isn't near done. There is no floor over the cockpit leaving batteries and other electrical equipment totally exposed. There are no covers over the engines, no hatch in the forward bow, and no windows in the cabin. There is no helm seat or rail, just a foot or so of standing space keeping the person at the helm from falling onto either one of the two exposed engines, or the exposed fuel tank. There is no VHF radio or navigation equipment. My pilot-trained paranoia envisioned a stern-heavy boat shipping water aft, shorting out everything important, with me swimming home with my butt hanging below the frame tubes of an ultra-light trying to shift the center of gravity (cg) forward.

The lift straps went limp and the boat settled into the water nearly perfectly on its lines; no evidence of being stern heavy at all. There was the slightest list to starboard which, given that nearly all of the 4/0 cable in the boat runs up the starboard side of the bilge, wasn't a surprise. We let it sit there for a half hour or so making sure the bilge stayed dry, which it did. With nothing stopping the show the Yard Owner, the Engine Guy, and yours truly stepped aboard. Start and house batteries came on line without sparks or smoke and the big Cummings engines rumbled to life with little coaxing; loud though, without covers. All communications from then on was done by shouting. The bow thruster churned massive amounts of water and, in the cabin, could be heard growling even over the engine din. I think, if we had put that dude in the center of the hull, it would just shove the whole boat one way or the other without much effort. (Wouldn't that make docking easy?)

We eased out of the lift pit and into the Manatee river. A few minutes later we were howling along at near full song, spray flying past the windows with (to a sail boat guy anyway) a massive wake chasing along behind us. The boat leaned port and starboard as the trim tabs got tested, another new thing to a sail boat guy. Sweeping turns didn't seem to upset the hull any and no spray came through the open windows. Even though the new props are not yet installed, robbing the boat of 150 RPM or so, top speed on a phone GPS app came in at 34 miles per hour. The engines ran smooth and sweet. (Still loud though.) The electrical system worked as planned. Engine Guy was happy. Yard Owner was happy.

I was glad my butt was dry.

Hopefully, soon, the wiring work will wind down. The bulk of the heavy wiring is done; bow thruster, windlass, inverter / charger, batteries and sundry switches, DC and AC breaker panel main power distribution panel, and a secondary distribution panel at the helm. There are still some lights, LPG gas control, and electronics to go. The stove isn't installed yet, nor is the refrigerator. The air conditioning has power but, for reasons yet to be determined, isn't running the fan at full speed or closing the compressor relay. The engine fire bottle lights are about half wired and I need to change the trickle charger line. (For some reason the paperwork calls for a 10 gauge wire on a 5 amp circuit, a puzzle yet to be solved.)

Still, it was fun to see much of the summer's work tested, and log my first real “sea trial”.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Rebuilding a Forespar Whisker Pole

Kintala came with a whisker pole mounted to two brackets on the deck. It took us quite a while of sailing the boat before we dared try the pole and we almost dumped Tim into the drink trying it. We weren't impressed.

Along came a good friend of ours, Barry, who showed us how to use the pole. I'm embarrassed to say how easily he did it, and he's considerably lighter built than either Tim or I. We began, tentatively, to use the pole. After two years of using the pole while cruising, we weren't sure how we had ever sailed without it. We spend a considerable amount of time sailing on just the genoa, and an even greater percentage of that time sailing in light wind. If you try to do this without the pole, you end up slatting the genoa and greatly decreasing its lifespan.

Back a few months ago while we were heading down the east coast of Florida to Snead Island for this job, we put up the whisker pole with a new rigging design we had read about in an article. I doubt that it was the rigging design, but the inner tube of the pole bent and broke after we had it fully extended. We tied up the pieces and anchored them to the mounting bracket the best we could and added it to the summer project list.

Early in the summer, I contacted the wonderful tech support at Forespar. They were kind enough to tell me that it wasn't entirely our fault that it broke, since it was two (not one, yes two) sizes too small for our boat. Go figure. Unfortunately, a new pole properly sized for our boat was just under two grand. Definitely not in the summer budget.

We began to look on Craigslist and eBay. We did find one that was the right size, but the description included the fact that one end didn't come with it. That end would have set us back nearly $500 so, with the price of the pole, it was also out of our budget. After a while I started looking at the possibility of repairing ours. Yes, it was two sizes too small for our boat, but it had lasted us almost 5 years and who knows how long it was used before that. As long as we were careful about the load we put on it, it might be worth exploring. After a few days of research, we surprisingly found that West Marine had the pole precut in the proper length and at the best price. Who knew? I ordered one from the parts department here on sight and waited the three weeks for delivery. As a side note, Rig Rite does also have most of the parts, but we were able to get a better price through the boat yard here from West Marine.

It appears that Forespar doesn't really want you to rebuild your poles, though. Finding information on parts and reassembly was difficult at best. I did happen on the basic drawing on their tech support site that I used throughout the rebuild that you see below.  It's part of an interesting article about whisker poles so read it when you get a chance. After removing the pole ends, which were all riveted on, you end up with four basic pieces - the outer tube, the inner tube, the inboard end fitting with the attached stinger tube, and the outboard end fitting. There are also two bushings that enable the inner pole to slide in and out. Every rivet had to be drilled out, and every screw was completely corroded in place and had to be drilled out and retapped.

New control line and jaw control line
While I was waiting for the new inner tube, I removed the old control line and replaced it with a shiny new one. I also removed all the smaller lines on the outboard end that are used to pull open and lock the jaw as well as provide loops to hook guy lines. One of our sheaves was completely locked up from corrosion and had to be drilled out and replaced. Fortunately, we had one just the right size from a block that we removed from The Floating Bear fiasco. Score!

The broken 90° tube. You can see the missing outer nut
where it's supposed to be in the photo above
There is also a 90° bent piece of aluminum tubing that guides the short piece of line on the outboard end that pulls open the jaw. It has a threaded end on it that comes up through a hole in the side of the tube and then a nut screws down on it. The whisker pole is aluminum, that tube is aluminum, and the nuts are stainless. Can you say corrosion? The little tube cracked and the nut fell off. I was unable to find a replacement online so I called Forespar and they were able to get me one.

A new jaw control cable. You can also see the new sheave where the
control line exits the end fitting. Please ignore the dirty deck :(
The hardest part of the rebuild was figuring out how to reassemble the pieces. It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You have to slide the inner tube into the outer tube until it's completely inside, install the stop bushing on the end of the outer tube, slide the inner tube back through that bushing, and then put the end on the inner tube. I confess it took me two tries to get it right. Some of it I riveted, some other pieces lent themselves better to being assembled with screws and nuts.

After a sigh of relief that it actually worked the way it was supposed to, I strode confidently to the foredeck to mount it in the brackets. Ummmm...when you order the inner pole it comes pre-cut at nine feet four inches, the exact measurement that it's supposed to be for that model pole. Unfortunately, some previous owner cut two inches off the end of the pole so this pole won't fit. After looking at it with Tim, we realized that the aft bracket had been installed backwards and so, rather than remove the bracket, rebed it, and reinstall it, they decided just to cut two inches off the pole. Go figure.

The whole project took about three weeks including the waiting, but we  have our original pole restored for a little less than $250 instead of $2K. Yes, it's too small for Kintala, but cruising budgets sometimes demand some compromises and this is one of those for us.