2015-07-31

We apologize for this interruption in service....

It's been pointed out to me recently that it's been several weeks since a post has been made. So this brief missive, directed to the two readers I may have left, is proof I haven't been killed in a horrific caliper or crimping accident. There are items to report...but soon, soon...

It's been a busy summer. There have been Solstice dawns to observe; this was shot at a beach party I've attended for over 30 years, because I enjoy it and it's a beautiful way to kick off the season.
I don't recall a "diploma". His is larger than my wife's university degree.
"Other than boat related" has dominated that summer, alas. There was the pressing matter of seeing Cabin Boy Number One finish elementary school.

Yes, but can you reduce a sight?
And my wife, the wildlife rehabber, brought baby pigeons home...and, because they needed feeding every few hours, BROUGHT THEM ON THE BOAT when we overnighted. There may still be millet in the bilges.
Certain elements of my life are well beyond my control. Sailing with eight pigeon chicks is emblematic of this.
 There were dinghies to assemble and cabin boys to row them:
This 10-foot nesting dinghy, which also has a sailing rig, is going to be our son's primary tender. The more cargo-oriented Portabote will be ours. Unless circumstances dictate differently.

And there was an enormous amount of paying work in June and really, well into July right up to the present. Good for the bottom line, less good for boat-related tasks. However, there has been time for the occasional refreshing dip and boarding ladder testing:
Cabin Boy can swim perfectly well, but he likes to bob and doze off a bit in the water.
There's been a few sailing days...this one saw us overhaul a similarly coloured  Viking 28, the "little sister" to our Viking 33, Valiente.
"Eventide": I don't know where she's berthed, but that's a nice design on the jib. We effortlessly overhauled her.
Fortunately, our fairly paranoid weather sense led to looking aft and we didn't like the look of the sky.  I fancy I can "smell" weather and (broadly) sense barometric changes. It's either something innate or is a skill I've learned and which I am mistaking as innate. Either way, it's kept me safe and dry since I was a kid.
It wasn't like this, I mean.
So we dropped and secured our sails, kicked the fenders over the side and motored back to the marina and tied off with the requisite spring lines. A mere five minutes later, a characteristically brisk squall of short duration passed over. I would say it blew at 35 knots or so.
One of these babies: you are seeing the backside of the squall we ducked. Happens about a dozen times a summer, and you can heave to or run off without much concern, because they are gone in five to 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, a Viking 33 we hadn't noticed during our excellent sail was out in the squall, and evidently was too close to the rocky lee shore of  a local water slide...and she met her end there.
Very sad, although my first rather mercenary thought was "this makes the boat I'm trying to sell a wee bit rarer". Photo (c) Jeff Cooper
According to fellow Viking 33 owner Dan Erlich (Ketchup): "Last Sunday during a line squall the inexperienced young owner was too close to the rocks when the squall hit and his crew went below to be out of the rain.  He had no one on deck with him.  Hull number 24 has the traveler on the coach roof so the helmsman could not dump the main sheet.  That is why I prefer the traveler in front of the companionway on this boat.  The engine on this boat was a 15 Hp outboard not suited to pitching seas or extreme heel angles and no one felt compelled to have the anchor and rode ready to use.  The result was boat was pushed upon the rocks and then holes were eventually punched through the hull in several places."
Ouch. It's never good when a boat dies.

The still-kicking, for sale boat, after the pigeon incursion, needed a good clean, so a good clean was done, partly via the removal of the accumulated crap we've felt necessary to accumulate over our years as cruisers.

The full horror of "colour-blind Scotsman brown plaid" is revealed when you stow the sails properly.
Of course, having done this task of subtraction and the application of elbow grease and teak oil, the boat's rarely looked better, and I want to keep her all over again. But I will entertain thoughtful offers.
I haven't seen the top of this navigation table for three seasons. Usually it's covered in obscure little boat bits, logbooks, and charts.

For simplicity's sake, we dealt with deck and hull cleaning by motoring over on a calm evening to the bigger boat Alchemy, which has a power washers and all sorts of cleaning supplies. The nearby presence of a soot-producing airport was revealed as dirt sluiced off the boat in impressive amounts.

Very possibly the last time my navy will raft up.
 The result was a markedly cleaner and less cluttered vessel, inside and out.

Ooh, shiny.
 But the real work on Alchemy has not been avoided or shirked. Something fuelish this way comes.
I'm actually starting to enjoy wire work and brand-new circuitry leaping to life in a safe and non-flammable fashion.

More to come, sooner, too.

2015-05-20

In praise of older hydrography

Somehow you'd think the scale would be better.

Thank the Canadian Economic Action Plan, I suppose, for the low-res graphic above. For those sailors and casual readers who may wonder if they need to up their kale intake, it's the cover of the latest "Chart 1", the Canadian Hydrographic Service's glossary of terms and graphics that is the key to understanding and decoding (at least until it become second nature to do so) the paper charts mariners, including recreational sailors, are legally required to carry aboard under the Carriage of Charts provisions of the Canada Shipping Act, and which are available at the better sort of nautically minded shop. In some cases (but not all), electronic representations of these charts will suffice, but you need to have Chart 1 at hand as a navigational Rosetta Stone to read the hieroglyphs chart makers customarily use. Contrary to popular belief, the closer one sails to shore, the more crowded the water gets from the view of the nav table (another rapidly outmoding term) or the helm plotter.
The U.S. cover is also a litttle hard to read, almost as if it's trickling down.
Of the several countries' waters in which I've sailed (Canada, the U.S., Antigua, the USVIs, the U.K., France and Portugal), most seem to follow similar conventions regarding their nautical charts, and, as world shipping grew, this was reinforced in the last century by adherence to the standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Looking back, the science of hydrography as a practice evolved in Europe during the Age of Exploration, although the Arabs and Chinese certainly made excellent maps and navigational tools. While the actual charts of coasts and little sugar-producing islands were guarded with the same strategically prompted ferocity as are nuclear missile blueprints are today, the conventions of hydrographical measurement tended to standardize on the British, and, to a lesser extent, the French, model. This was particularly true after the fixing of longitude became accurate and mechanically aided, and with the introduction of superior cartographic techniques. Yes, the books linked are strongly recommended for those sailors capable of prising themselves away from the latest romantic peregrinations of The Bachelorette.

The result is that, with any relatively modern country's equivalent of Chart 1, the sailor can use their local hydrographic services and charts. Bias does play a role here, however, as a few countries have charted most of the world for their own national reasons: the U.K.'s Admiralty charts are generally considered the most thorough, whereas the U.S. NOAA charts are both free in electronic form and are in easy-to-download formats amenable to printing. My own choice would be dependent on destination (former British possessions tend to be better charted by the British) and (this is critical) the last update of the chart in question. If the surveyor was Captain Cook, admirable, innovative and careful as that particular hydrographer/explorer was, take the observation as, at best, provisional, and charts based on inaccurate information, irrespective of the media of paper or pixels, is why you keep a watch. Even the chart printed yesterday unrolled aboard still whiffing of ink (or the plastic and brass of an SD card) is only a snapshot in time of what is really in front of one's bow.
One of these things is not like the other.
As such, the debate between which is better, paper or pixels, is, I find, rather sterile. As this brief but excellent paper examines, it is the evolving human tendency to "trust" machines that is causing to fall into abeyance the simple acts of direct observation that would keep electronically navigated vessels safer by simply looking out and around in order to provide a real-world context for what the Playstation Plotter is insisting is real. Any trip to a restaurant in the last five to 10 year will reveal several beautiful couples facing each other with their eyes locked on their smartphones, which, contrary to the name, do not make you smart. And yet I am far from a Luddite; along with Ben Ellison of Panbo.com, I believe the fault is not in our plotters, but in ourselves.
Get the picture, sailor?

This longing for mitigated and interpolated reality is curious to me in the same manner as gazing at a hammer before pounding a nail is. On the other hand, I started sailing in 1999, and, perhaps more importantly, started navigating in 1999 via formal instruction...and I have yet to stop. While plotters existed in somewhat more basic forms in 1999 and were even acknowledged as the coming thing, I was trained to use paper charts in order to grasp the essentials of navigation, such as taking bearings off land marks, the difference between magnetic and true compass readings, and using every bit of information available to me, such as "running the depth contour" to give me a greater confidence that me and my boat were where we should be...or to suggest and confirm that we were not, a situation that can evidently affect even the most well-equipped vessels. Plotters are great and are inarguably convenient, naturally, but I am starting to conclude that they only make you a better navigator if you were a pretty good navigator to begin with. If you are not, on what basis are you going to find errors that could kill you? Faith-based navigation works about as well as anything else faith-based: while there are aphoristically no atheists in foxholes, there are no fundamentalists wielding dividers.

The British example of eyestrain.
For those who suspect that their plotters, if not actively leading them astray, are not teaching them the situational awareness critical to safe and thorough navigation, there's hope in the form of formal instruction, or even in the purchase of dead-simple flash cards and books with which the sensible sailor can grasp the related fields of chart mastery, buoyage, pilotage and who exactly gives way to whom in a crowded (or not) seaway.
Don't leave dock without them.
While British (and while you have to grasp the IALA buoyage system differences), these are of enormous help in relating what the charts says to what you are rapidly approaching and what that might mean to earning a sundowner.





Particularly helpful, and thanks to John C. for the review.


Clearly, if one wishes to spend enough money, there are electronic plotter setups,  particularly the newer (and priced accordingly) ones that provide a 3D view, that can allow easy navigation, especially at night or in fog when, short of creeping right up to a numbered buoy (which I have done more than once) to confirm one's location, you have little other options short of stopping, heaving to, or anchoring, if possible.
Bay Lake, as Canadian as "Avenue Road".

A compromise, rather than the multiplicity of proprietary formats of the various plotter manufacturers is to use a means to rendr paper charts in electronic form, as is the case with the free OpenCPN and other raster-based displays. For some, the familiarity of the paper chart (which have the advantage of the standardized symbols as well as the typically faster updating of a national hydrographical authority) makes the use of raster or vector (know the difference!) charts in electronic form easy, and in some cases, intuitive.



Warning: May not be intuitive.

So if you have paper charts, as is still required, you might as well use them, or at least be able to read them. Gleaning through your local charts with the relevant pages of Chart 1, perhaps with a suitable beverage, is still a good place to start. I daresay that you'll get more out of the fleeting squiggles on your nav app-equipped iPad if you choose to use one. I opt for a mix because sailing for me is more engaging when I have puzzles of trim, helm and, yes, navigation to solve. I have a GPS, several in fact, but I like to take bearings and make little cocked hats and whip out the sextant and even to swing the lead to determine that it's right. It nearly always is, of course. It's the electronic chart that may be wrong: Paper charts, too, can be, or at least you can be the first poor bugger to confirm that by means other than mere charts.

2015-05-10

Torquin' 'bout a revolution

Yes, my bilges are filthy. This will soon be remedied.
Keel failures being top of mind of late, I brought my torque wrench, a half-inch extender and the appropriate 1.5 inch socket to tighten Valiente's keel bolts. There are several 1.5 inch nuts and two 3/4 inch "little" ones at the leading and trailing edges of the keel.

I couldn't tighten the bigguns, hauling with intent and with the torque wrench at 250 ft/lbs., near its upper limit. The smaller nuts took about an eight of a turn. This gives me confidence and reflects what's happened every couple of years or so I've done the job. Unfortunately, it's not easy to get at the keel bolts of many modern production boats, and that's not confidence inspiring.

2015-05-06

When the boat moves on land

One of several places I could fix if I can colour-match the 42-year-old gelcoat well enough.
Aside from this easily remedied scratch picked up recently, my winter quarters for the for-sale boat off Cherry Street are generally uneventful and safe: the snow buries the cockpit and the nearby recycling plant coats the decks in grime, but the price is, for Toronto, as reasonable as it gets.

The custom bow roller seems to suit the boat. It's a rare sight on a Viking 33.
But I prefer being on the water, naturally. The old girl looked nice this morning. The lines looping down are for positioning the boat once in the slings.
Enter Uli and Clayton, the only hands on deck at "Pier 35". They can do this stuff in their sleep, although awake is better.
Enter "God's Chip Fork": the hydraulically powered trailer that lifts up the cradle, baby and all.
The boats are packed so tightly (space equals money in the boat stowage business) that a very fine sense of geometry and navigation as applied to elderly forklifts is required.
Mad skills!
 The wiggle room...literally, as the little forklift has to canter back and forth in the brief video below...can be snug. This is actually one of the easier extractions I've seen.


Push it or pull it, it makes no difference.
 There's no pictures of the crane action today, as I apparently have the Pier 35 "can be trusted not to make things worse" seal of approval and I was helping to move the impressively butch hooks and slings to speed the process along.
Yes, I retrieve ladder, cradle pads and my bike in one go.
 The engine once again started with little hesitation, and I loaded up my cradle pads (they are easy to steal and hard to have made when you notice they are stolen about 30 seconds before you need them) and slowly chugged the couple of NMs back to Base Dock.
Farewell, filthy yet secure boatyard! I may not see you again if I can sell this boat!
As the photos and glassy waters suggest, a marginal day for sailing is a great day for launching and motoring. I've never done this boat point to point so rapidly and with so little fuss. Which is nice.
Back, tied off and charging. Harmony has been restored. Except for the power washing bit.
And, with the mast already in (although I need to tune and replace some cotter pins and rings), I may be able to squeeze in some nice chilly sails this week. Or to give people boat rides. All you have to do is "hold this" when I say "hold this".

2015-05-03

The russet-bottomed Land Rover takes flight

One of the three or four R-class boats clustered at our club. It's like going into a parking lot filled with Toyotas and Nissans and finding a cluster of immaculate Duesenbergs.
Launch day is invariably nerve-wracking for both the things that may happen as for the thing that do. Despite the overall level of confidence I have gradually gained in my own competence and ability to prepare well enough to dodge disaster, every year there are veteran sailors to whom bad things happen. I've had a "waterline view" of some of them as I tend to be crewing on one of the safety boats in the Western Gap, the presence of which is to be the first response to one of the shoreside crew or "slingers" falling into the exceeding cold (2-4 degrees C as of today) water. It's one of the few "all hands on deck" (or, in this case, gravel) events that sees a mass turnout of volunteers, some of whose jobs require a great deal of planning and precision to ensure that closely packed, multi-tonne vessels gingerly take flight and hence to the lake without drama or incident.
This is Fire Escape, a Regal 4260 powerboat belonging to a fireman (clever, no?) and which is, at 10,000 kilos (22,000 pounds) in the same weight class as the 15,000 kilo Alchemy in terms of manhandling.
I was quite busy on the water, which made the surrounding air chilly enough to demand four layers under my foulie jacket despite very benign and sunny conditions, and didn't take many pictures. About 20% of the launched boats seem to have engine or steering trouble daunting enough to keep our club's workboat, Storm King, busy with tows, although I'm not sure why this is, as it's not onerous to do an engine start on land with a couple of pails of water, along with other recommissioning tasks.
Eh, they went with sticky letters instead of my suggestion...

I know that many of our membership are getting up in years (or have died and the boat goes to surviving kin), and that delegating these tasks to less-experienced friends or relatives rarely is as comprehensive a process as the boat's owner customarily performs. One of the courtesies the safety boats perform is to confirm that a freshly started boat motor is exhibiting "throughput" of the necessary cooling water along with the exhaust gases. In my safety boat, we noticed an old C&C which wasn't gushing at all. The single helmsman (not the owner), who we assumed was doing a favour, went below to check the seacock, and emerged, rather quickly for his own years, to announce that the boat was taking on water! A call for a tow was made. As it turned out, and as some of you will have guessed, the seawater intake had not been closed and had not been clamped back on to the motor, and the man tasked with taking the boat from launch to dock didn't know (or couldn't reach) the seacock to either fix it or just to stop the sinking. All was rapidly fixed, but it argues that if you can't, for whatever reason, recommission your boat, you'd best make a meticulous list of "must-dos" for the well-intentioned to do it for you.

Storm King tows the big "Blue Barge" used for lifting mooring anchors off the bottom and other beefy tasks to its tie-off spot. The Blue Barge, while very useful, is an absolute pig to steer and keep on station and has a history of pitchpoling should one's geometry and physics be not up to snuff.

After all the boats (almost three-fifths) had been launched into the Western Gap, the action shifted with the cranes to our basin, where safety boats are not used as there are ladders and far shorter distances at hand.
Alchemy has no waxed gelcoat to preserve, and so no clever gelcoat nappies are used as is the case on Fire Escape.
The cranes used for launching the club boats, which vary in mass from one to approaching 20 tonnes (and no, we aren't the heaviest boat, but we are likely in the top 10) are, I believe, capable of lifting 40 or 50 tonnes...but that's at a near-vertical angle. The cranes operate in circular sweeps: the farther away the boat is from the massive crane truck, the lighter it must be in order to lift without tipping. This means "crane moves" and about 15-20 minutes of prep as stabilizing legs are put down and various bits of gear, such as the "spreader frame" seen below", are moved. It's pretty interesting to see, if at times a touch alarming because the price of getting it wrong is easy to imagine.
Those cables are bigger than they seem because that boom is so long the whole thing is far away, Dougal.
The crane operators are exacting, however, and are able to cherry-pick boats from tight quarters in a fashion that would be called "nimble" save that nimble's a pretty dainty word for hauling big boats around.
At the extreme right can be seen a "pusher stick", meant to keep the boat being launched off the seawall if it is swaying. Little wind yesterday meant that wasn't a big deal.
Alchemy came right after Fire Escape. Because of her full keel, and because she sits fore and aft in her cradle in somewhat different spots year to year, "cinch belts" are usually called for. These keep the slings from moving, particularly when one is on a sloped section of the hull as is the case with the forward sling below.
There are also "sling marks" on the top rail, but they are usually only proximate, as Alchemy's full keel means she doesn't have to land on the same spot in order to be safely upright.
So there's a bit of fiddling and many muddy if purposeful boots on deck. It's why I defer the hull wash until after launch, really.
The lines leading from the fairleads are called "control lines" and are used to "steer" the boat once aloft.
More fiddling and discussion and reminding from the owner of the necessity of cinch belts as will be apparent in a few photos.
Ideally, the aft sling should be forward of this point (especially given the couple of hundred pounds of line and anchors I stowed in the forepeak this spring), but you can only do so much.
 When all is judged ready, the sling handlers step to the next deck due.
Alchemy's mass and general bulk and metal tend to lead to more urgent shouts of "everyone stand back!" It's prejudice, I tell you!
That forward sling would be happier about 30 cm. aft, but you can't have it all. Where would you put it?

I'm not sure why the bottom paint looks a touch patchier this year. It's not like we stinted on it. Perhaps the chilliness of the application opportunities? We'll see if the growth is an issue in the fall.
And perhaps we will decrud or replace those nasty fenders which customarily lurk on the outboard side of the docked vessel.
The myriad things that needed stowing, or at least stowed lower in the boat, did not, despite the bow-down aspect of the boat in slings, did not plummet or lurch, as far as we could tell, during the airborne portion of the program. Despite our relative confidence in getting these parts right, however, I doubt I will ever feel entirely happy seeing our boat fly.
Love is a many-splendoured sling.
But despite the mutterings of "Jesus Christ, would you look at the size of that thing!" and strategic repositioning (which wouldn't help if the cables broke, really), down she came, safe as houses.
I for one enjoy owning a boat that inspires others to invoke their gods.
Nearly there...they call it "splashing", but it's more gentle if done right.

The engine started instantly, the prop turned eagerly and the shifter shifted when pulled and pushed. I think I heard about a quarter-second of squeal from the shaft, but all seems otherwise to spec. You make your own luck through work, it's said, and I believe it these days.
The rarely seen Mrs. Alchemy, who doesn't care for being photographed yanking on a spring line. Or photographed, period, really.

Back at dock, there were still a number of jobs: fetching the nesting dinghy, loading my bike trailer with cradle pads and ladder (yes, it's a feat of strength), and arranging the lines to accommodate our new slip neighbours, a young couple named Doug and Nicole who have just bought an imposing Mainship 390, a trawler big enough to be a northerly windbreak for us and for which we'll have to rig springs to keep our bowsprit out of their swim platform. Valiente launches next week, with I hope will be as little drama as Launch 2015.