2014-12-13

I zinc, therefore I exam


Not all zincs are created equally, and not all zincs are even zinc


There is clearly always more to learn about how even strong materials react to stress imposed under laboratory conditions versus in the real world, just as there is much to learn about galvanic action on  metals when they are used in a boat hull in the weak battery fluid that is salt water. I have decided that I will take a little chance with deformation with the more pliable grades of mild steel, for instance, in order to avoid a catastrophic failure with stainless steel (SS) or other comparatively brittle grades of steel. It's among the things I'm learning as I'm teaching myself to weld. 

Even a simpleton such as I am should come out of this with an even number of digits
I will also mix metals with proper isolation if the potential for galvanic interplay is low or can be mitigated. An example would be my aluminum pilothouse roof, which sits on an inward flange of the mild steel sides of the pilothouse. It was originally through-bolted in 40 spots and sealed with a bead of the dreaded 5200, which I think is great stuff for gluing on fibreglass keels, but should come otherwise with dire warnings. particularly for those end-user who tend to idly scratch themselves.. It took many hours and many reciprocating blades to pry off the roof of Alchemy in 2011 in order to swap out the old engine via a Polecat crane. Now that the engine installation is more or less completed, and, short of installing a series of water tanks that will fit through the companionway, the reinstallation goes thusly: Grind the mild steel flange back to bare metal. Coat with a couple of layers of high-zinc galvanizing primer. Top with Endura two-part epoxy to keep it unexposed to the various elements for the foreseeable future.
Not necessarily a brand endorsement, but among a group of similar products required.

Here comes the science: I want to put nylon bushings in every steel flange hole (40 of ‘em, remember?).  Then I want to lay down 1/16th strips of Delrin or HDPE atop the flange with appropriate holes for the bolts. Beside this plastic strip, which performs, along with the bushing, the role of electrically isolating the aluminum roof from the steel hull structure, I want to also lay down a line of butyl tape. This can be a fairly narrow line of tape, as it will be compressed in place as a barrier to water ingress, on the outside of the HDPE strip, which itself can be bedded with something that will given without severe difficulty in the future. Fit the 40 SS bolts and 40 new nylon washers and Nylock nuts to fit through the bushings, and put dielectric goo on the threads. Dog down as is sufficient to squish out the butyl, and trim to desired neatness.

This method (SS bolts, “other metal deck” and “other metal backing plate”) also applies for any deck gear, as making backing plates from SS is a royal pain, whereas power tools shape 1/4″ aluminum plate easily. In practice, this means attention to paint service is critical, as "rust" is a lesser worry than voltages, in some senses. EPDM rubber strips, able to withstand compression and UV exposure, seem like a good bet here when (for instance) bolting the typical sort of SS clamps to support awnings or biminis to the extant, painted pipe rails. The likelihood of paint plus rubber failure is low. And, of course, when one is making electricity, the need for effective insulation/isolation is commensurately greater.

"What do you mean, 'you forgot the gasketing'"?

Even on a plastic boat, I’ve sometimes chosen encapsulated ply over aluminum as a backing plate choice because of the number of SS bolts involved and the unlikelihood of keeping everything both isolated, in strong compression, and yet fully dry.

My impression is that in materials such as chain, plate or in gear such as failed stays and bolts, it is the prep and awareness of the role electricity plays in the weak electrolyte we call the ocean that defers or at least delays the majority of unpleasant surprises. Certainly the process of “ground tackle” is not commonly thought of in an electrical sense, but dissimilar metals in anchoring, even in a galvanically benign (presumably) open roadstead can have a negative effect on top of the differing material characteristics, such as ductility, of their respective parts.
Two very helpful volumes that are destined for the onboard library.

I have found Bruce Roberts’ “Metal Boats” and Nigel Warren’s “Metal Corrosion in Boats” excellent resources in understanding, at least for starters, a complex subject with many possible reactions and solutions. But even if you think you know this topic, and have taken all necessary measures, one should never neglect to actually examine your vessel, metal or not, for signs of wastage or corrosion due to galvanic issues. Part of dealing acceptably with this involves a little gadget called an isolator,and is a topic I will return to in the future.
Meet my little friend.


2014-11-16

For when you just can't find the words

I've heard conversations on the dock featuring these technical terms.


2014-11-13

The myths we share

King Neptune: May require occasional appeasement; sacrifices, perhaps some episodes of transvestism.

The fine author over at Boat Bits had last spring a small note on cruiser conformity. I've had reason to reflect upon the topic of late. I believe it's a truism that even self-proclaimed non-conformists like cruisers actually prefer company...particularly company backed by the bland, Taco Bell-like strains of Jimmy Buffett, although this affliction is not universal.

You can guess my feelings on the faux-piratical works of Mr. Buffett.
Rule of thumb: the more elaborate the hat, the more suspect the religion.

But it's true, insofar as myths go: Cruisers often feel they have broken free of the pack by their choice to cruise. Some even crow about it. It's part of the self-mythologizing of the modern cruiser. It's self-mythologizing in the sense that if you go to sea with all mod cons and are in constant touch via nine kinds of gadget to loved ones and other lubbers. It's self-mythologizing if your boat is on Spot, Marine Tracker and cruises in convoys like ARC. If, to mangle Vera Lynn, you'll never sail alone, are you really blazing a path of individuality through the pitiless waves at the ends of the oceans?

Not that one must, of course. After all, others went before all of us, when it was a lot harder.

Please note there's nothing wrong with this self-image of ruggedness: there's no reasons whatsoever that those who've worked hard to actually get onto a well-found boat (if today's production cruisers can be judged as well-found) should not enjoy their time as they see fit. And, arguably, it's a lot of work to live full-time on a boat, and for most sailors, the amenities are all the sweeter because they often involve more labour than is customary in, say, a new condo. It's just somewhat cognitively dissonant to some, and I am among them, that "cruisers in clusters" should wish to trade one commute (to work and back) for another (to the beach bar and back). The "cruiser lifestyle" so prominent in Mr. Buffett's oeuvre can devolve into a clubby boozefest with lashings of infidelity...or so some tales told have suggested.

For some, it's a sundowner, for others, a way of life.

Of course, it hasn't escaped my attention that this aspect of "cruiser culture" is just a sunnier, sandier version of some local YCs of which I've darkened the doors. The boat, and the sailing, often seem secondary to the activity within the communal tree fort of Permatan Bay. Like attracts like. No mystery there. But being too long among a bunch of self-declared non-conformists (cruisers who've "stuck it to the man" by sailing away from the ol' nine-to-five) can itself grow conformist. It may be something to keep in mind: a sort of "I didn't come 9,000 NM to hang out with the cast of a Freedom 55 commercial" refrain to ward off complacency.

Stock figures: Fifty-five and white is no way to go through life, son.

Now, unless you have been given a free boat and possess a marketable skill (and most skilled people tend to overestimate the "marketable" part), you have to be at least affluent to go cruising in the first place (or that is the general perception), and so former wage slaves with three pensions tend to rule the waves. The same well-serviced demographic can be frequently found spouting off libertarian and/or hippie sentiments while smuggling a disassembled Mossberg in the headliner "just in case". It's funny how a realistic evaluation of how others should act is often the first casualty of material success. Not exclusively, mind you: I've known of a few sailors who have integrated charitable works and educational endeavors into their cruising life, and have "good works" scribbled on their boat's "to do" list, and more power to them for it. But if poor people are annoying, why go to poor countries? Why go to poor countries just to cluster among people just like oneself? One answer is that, with not many exceptions, the reality is that most people who can afford to cruise in the first place are from generally pasty countries where there is a tradition of doing so. Yachting, after all, didn't really exist until aristocrats invented it, and it's trickled down to the upper middle class in the intervening centuries. There are exceptions, of course: people can get cheap or free cast-offs or can made boats out of rubbish and salvage with little but skill and time...but they tend not to sport parrot-themed headgear. Thankfully, I think.


Clearly, the sailing life, whether one is a Napoleonic Era naval re-enactor or the purchaser of a new Beneteau Sense 46, is at heart a conservative one, if not necessarily in the political sense. Techniques and materials are tested and discarded over decades and even centuries in the harsh light of the verdict of the sea: if a way of doing things is inappropriate or ill-suited for its purpose, the very waters and winds will make short work of them, and possibly make shorter work of the venturesome sailor that precipitously employed them.

What may have been lost is the sense is just how selective that conservatism can be, and how for many a sailor such selectivity may be, sometimes, a dead end. We sailors took to Dacron in the 1960s over "traditional" canvas sail material and manila lines because Dacron was superior in nearly every respect: it didn't predictably rot in sunlight and was predictably stronger. We are beginning to shift from steel wire shrouds and stays to PBO rigging and "soft shackles" for the same reason: greater strength, more resistance to "rot" and less weight aloft.

One could say similar things about modern anchor designs, daggerboards, electric auxiliaries and even the sort of things I have been known to make light of, like steering via iPhone or a wristwatch. All new techniques have, in the conservative sailorly mind, not only a battle to establish their intrinsic worth, but a fight against the stolid inertia of sailors when it comes to adapting new techniques, technologies and materials...given that the older techniques, technologies and materials work quite well enough, thank you very much. Dad's CQR is barely rusty!

This is not in itself to be derided: sailors are thrifty by nature and necessity and like to think of themselves as self-reliant and, returning to the realm of myth, perhaps tied to the mast gazing steely-eyed into the face of the tempest. This sort of self-mythologizing goes back to Odysseus, and maybe further, of course. But sometimes the "good enough for Cap'n Grandad" mindset can be a set of blinders to the opportunities of improving one's seamanship or expanding the contents of John Vigor's black box of prudent preparedness.
Don't leave shore without it.

Even the most rugged of invididualists, and sailors tend to think of themselves as pretty independent, boot-strappy types, can forget that we've spent 99.9% of our evolution in small, mobile groups in which innovation was, at best, incremental, and princely solitude usually turned one into dinner. So the myth of the lonely skipper (or the tiny brave crew on the tiny stout vessel) alone against the raging sea with fids in teeth and lengths of jute stuffed into belts is only so if you really work hard to ignore the last 100 years or so of technology.

One needn't be alone today at sea. One can be, of course, and more power to the truly self-sufficient sailor out of easy contact with land and all its snares, but now it's a choice.

This does not obviate or lessen the reality that skipper decisions must still be made, should crises intrude on the voyage. Decisive and prompt actions (and the consequences of same) will likely remain a big part of cruising until such time as crew (and boat?) can be beamed out of the tempest, Star Trek-style.

So perhaps it's time for some new myths to which the sailor can aspire.


2014-11-07

What other boat refitting blogs won't tell you

There's actual snow in that sunset.
In case one is completely delusional and thinks "hey, this sailing around the world ambition is a bit of a doddle: all I have to do is fix up some old boat and push off", I would like to, by example, provide a small reality check.

I have alternated in the last two weeks between my paying work, the usual household stuff, and hauling out and winterizing two boats. While these are arguably the problems of someone, in worldwide terms, of relative affluence, it does not diminish in any sense the time and labour involved.

Let's take today, for illustrative purposes: Having finished by noonish my duties to one of my clients,  I determined to go down to Alchemy to get a start on the fuel system. Let's face it: a jug of diesel with a fuel and a return line clamped awkwardly in place is no way to run a freshly instaleld diesel, even if said diesel has run quite cheerfully for 2.1 hours (as per the hour meter) on said half-arsed provision.

But what the other refit blog won't disclose is that in order to do anything constructive, one must undone the previous efforts. Add to that a fair bit of stowage, followed by unstowage to get at the things you've forgotten are beneath the things you've just stowed, and the time alloted can be eaten quicker than an unzinced hull moored off a nuclear plant.

I wanted to set up the "proper" fuel system, which involves installing the FilterBoss dual Racor device in a place both easy of access and not so high up that it would tax the various fuel pump. So first I had to undo the diesel jerrycan. Then I decided, it being both cloudy and wintry, I should rig a second 15 amp power cord. I also hauled up to the deck level the roughly 25 kilos of docking lines (there are chains and shackles and general beefiness in play), because we are not permitted, nor is it a particularly bright idea, to leave them loose on the slips, given the possiblities of ice and storm.

More power is required if I wish to run heaters, which I really should, because it's already bloody cold.

Then I needed a light, which I found in the aft cabin. Then I heard the ripped and worn tarp overhead flapping in the breeze, and concluded "well, it's no use having rain coming in because I put the gasket repair of the pilothouse hatches down the list" (which I have), and so I thought "clever you, to have several 9 x 12 tarps and hundreds of cable ties to hand". But alas, unclever me, I had buried them in the paint locker, which was topped by various boxes of cable, which was jammed into the pilot berth.

One can see where this is going.

So, to the sounds of Beethoven's symphonies, which, blasting away inside a partially uninsulated metal boat, can be appreciated at some distance in the boat yard, I set myself to the tasks at hand. One issue was immediately apparent: in order to safely transit from dock to slings, and hence from slings to cradle, I had put most of the boxes of fasteners, hooks, sailing bits and random tools atop the locker in which I keep the sort of tools one requires to install FilterBOSSes.

Anyway, I had to move an excessively large amount of gear to merely reach the tarp stores, after which I removed the old raggy one, installed the new, replaced the boat hooks, froze a bit in the wind and snow (yes, there was snow, unseasonably, I suppose), and vacuum the dirt in the boat from the haulout-related footprints.

And then the sun went down (see Figure 1).

And I haven't yet got to the reason I was ostensibly present, because I needed to rearrange so much stuff.

And that what other boat blogs won't tell you: a significant amount of time spent refitting is actually spent rearranging, cleaning and sorting. With a touch of labelling.

Please don't tell anyone.





2014-11-04

Sling shots

It's never been easy to explain why I have two sailboats, nor has the phrase "but one of them is in pieces" garnered much sympathy. But them's the facts: I never sold my first boat and have enjoyed it through the (literally) long years of Alchemy's rehabilitation.

Also, we don't own a car. I ran the numbers, and owning two sailboats is cheaper on a yearly basis, all-in, docks and insurance and winter storage, oh my. Clearly, however, the time is drawing nigh when I have to acknowledge, now that Alchemy is officially mobile and getting her mast back in next spring's priority, that I may have one sailboat surplus to our needs. More on that soon, but in the meantime, what our little navy has as a commonality is the need to spend winter ashore, so here are some 2014 sling shots.
The non-dock-side is where I keep the crappier of my fenders. If you were at a finger end, you would, too.
Alchemy came out, as has been customary, first on October 25 in my boat club's general haulout. The keen-eyed will note that for reasons best known to the yard honchos and perhaps the crane operator, Alchemy, which has consistently been hauled to her cradle bow to the west, needed 180 degrees of spin (that's the RYA training talking, that "degrees" reference). Having already "hovered" in place for some minutes, awaiting my turn to be slung, I managed a respectable coming-about under engine control. I am so far quite pleased with the "out of the box" performance of my VariProp, and its four blades, even in "dead slow forward and aft" were able to turn Alchemy's bow and stern effortlessly. It remains to be seen next season if I need to tinker with the pitch settings. Frankly, I got sufficient stares of disbelief from some of my club's members to indicate they were astounded to see Alchemy moving at all, never mind with a degree of competence and control.

Always alarming a sight, even in excellent conditions for photography (it was a touch windy).
While the prop itself is a little dirty, in general, the anti-fouling held up, despite the lack of ablation my dilatory diesel work could supply.

That charming solar arch has to be rejigged: I made an error in leaving enough room for the twin backstays to get through.
There's plenty to do this winter; even if I possessed laurels, I could not rest upon them, nor do I have the impression they make a decent sea berth.

Note most of the conscriptees standing well back: Nobody wants to be under our boat "just in case".
The jury-rigged diesel can, for instance, will give way to the arrogantly named FilterBOSS system acquired lo, so many seasons ago. And water and batteries, oh, my. And more welding. Some holiday this has turned out to be.


She's come unslung: Alchemy's berth until April 2015.
The jobs with Valiente are more in the way of cleaning and tarting up in anticipation of selling her. Regretfully, but after several family dinners at which I've unsuccessfully tried to give her to various in-laws and relatives (just until we return, mind), I have come to the sad conclusion we must part. And given her unfashionable, if still fast, lines and even more dire brown plaid interior and non-condo-like amenities, I don't expect to increase the cruising kitty overmuch. Still, having only one boat will further focus my efforts. Too bad I've enjoyed this one so much.


Valiente came out today (November 4, 2014) under less benign conditions. Firstly, the keel or prop got fouled when I cast off from my marina dock and I couldn't get the Gori folding prop to deploy properly in forward. The wind pushed me sideways while I was attempting to shift the suspected sea grass off the drive train, and a light thump on a dock end put a fresh scratch on the gelcoat. Then, having found thrust (it wasn't an engine fault, more "marina can't be arsed to mow the weeds" fault), I ventured eastward across the harbour in rising winds that were 20 knots, forecasted to gust past 33 knots, straight into the channel where I was to haul. 
Not my flag, but I will own up to the Portabote.

The two men, Uli and Clayton, who comprise the entirety of the Pier 35 staff, were muttering dark imprecations of doom and invective against the gods, the weather and "the stupid boaters who left things too late", otherwise known as their customers. Alas, I felt compelled to point out that I had been scheduled to get hauled on that very day (I wanted to go the previous, calmer day, but had been dissuaded) and had in fact arrived an hour early.You go to Pier 35 for the price, not so much the charm, but they like me enough to hand me lines off other peoples' boats. Otherwise, I'd just be standing around waiting for things to happen.
Six boats were hauled while I was present. Clearly, I'm not the only guy who likes post-Hallowe'en sailing.
Things did eventually happen, and despite some irregularities with pad placement, or rather boat placement requiring pad adjustment (yes, I am sure they are numbered correctly!), winter squatting was achieved.
Look at all the crap I still have to drag below!
Not pictured (because I have to work at least part of today) was my $100 ($3/foot LOA) power wash. Frankly, dragging down my own power washer and a genset and a length of hose via bike cart has lost its charm for me, and this is a rare splurge. I even evinced a double-take from the Pier 35 guys, who with their customary drollery, informed me "you are finally getting smart".
Fate: Uncertain. Bottom: Washed
Unfortunately, that sort of intelligence boost could me an end to my need for Pier 35's overwintering services. With just one boat, I can stay at the club, or rent out our whole house, move aboard and try out "Winter in the Water!" at the marina at which I've been keeping Valiente.

We shall see. I wouldn't want to rush things.

Clearly, more to clean up and stow, but the motor won't freeze into irreparable chunks now.
UPDATE 2014.11.06: Sloop winterized, main stripped off boom and bottom power-washed (yeah, this year I actually paid to have that done because it's a big drag to cart down both a power washer and a genset to run it to The Yard That Hath No Outlets). I would've done more, but the rains, they came.

2014-10-29

The sun sets in the West Marine

 
I rarely darkened the door, except when they had anti-freeze or anti-foul paint on sale, but this is a sea change for Toronto boating.

A rare news alert from me to my readers in Southern Ontario who may attend the Toronto International Boat Show in January: As has been rumoured around the docks for some time, West Marine is closing up shop here in Toronto on Jarvis Street, which will leave only the revived Dock Shoppe (in Genco Marine's former digs on Queen's Quay) as the only chandlery proximate to the downtown waterfront.

Reliable sources state that West Marine should have a closedown sale at the Boat Show prior to the Lower Jarvis Street store shutting its doors in January to make way for the inevitable condo project. Word is that West Marine will be winding down its Canadian operations entirely when individual store leases end, with the goal to be completely out of Canada by 2017. It remains to be seen if the sale will be merely of the 25% off variety (boat show special) or the 70% off seen when The Dock Shoppe closed in 2012. I'm still installing things on Alchemy from that epic haul of gear.

So, if seeing the shrinking number of indifferently built sailboats that resemble condos puts you off at the Boat Show, you may wish to attend this year's event in the hopes of deep discounts. I rarely shopped at West Marine, because I tend to be less about the anchor-themed placemats and more about fisherman-grade gear, but I don't like the reduction of local choice in retail chandleries to one. Given the recent shuttering of Island Yacht Club and other rumours about clubs barely hanging on, it doesn't bode well for chandleries here in pricy, roads-torn-up Toronto and it looks like I'll be pedalling west...or sourcing on the internet...more than I had hoped to do.

2014-10-26

Skipper by name, windy by nature

Panorama of Jolly Harbour, Antigua, where we were. Photo (c) Steve P.
Well, it's been two weeks since my first hurricane. Along with the rest of the week, it was quite educational.
One hand for the shore on Antigua, smack in the middle of the eye of the tropical storm that didn't get the 45 knot memo.
Now, said storm, called Gonzalo, wasn't supposed to be of hurricane strength  It was supposed to be a tropical storm of 45 knots or so. But nature will have her way, irrespective of the embarrassment of puny meteorologists, I suppose.

(The above video is copyright Danny Jules, an Antiguan I've never met but who was shooting and ably describing events at the height of the winds. At this point in the tempest, I was crawling on all fours off a vibrating dock while a small yacht was enthusiastically trying to roll over me.)
Ffryes' Beach, Antigua, looking toward Monserrat. Note the left-hand hillside: it's an active volcano.
But to backtrack: I had arrived in the company of "Johnny Canuck"in  Antigua, one of the Leeward Islands, on Saturday, October 11 as a precursor to taking the RYA's Day Skipper course. I had taken a Yachtmaster Coastal course in Brittany 11 months ago, but due to poor preparation, fatigue from a compressed work schedule, and a bone-headed slip-up regarding IALA buoyage in Europe, I hadn't passed. This course was a bit more basic (although it was by no means trivial or particularly restful, especially when compared to the minute amount of seamanship required to obtain Canada's PCOC qualification).
 Lennox Scotland, tour guide, driver and probably the hardest-working man in Antigua.
Antigua itself is a study in contrasts. There's a lot of wealth there in the form of hotels, villas and accommodation for the bigger sort of yachts (and the bigger sort of tourist-hauling catamarans), but despite the fact that the volcanic soil is quite fertile, there's very little agriculture; consequently, nearly everything that can be drunk or eaten, save certain seafood items, is imported. The place isn't cheap, and yet I didn't see that the locals were getting much "trickle down". A part of this may be cultural: local tour guide and "fixer" Lennox Scotland (above) alluded to his country's habit of "working, but not too hard". Mr. Scotland himself seemed somewhat of an exception to the rule as he had several businesses on the fly and was friends with the Prime Minister, whom he knew from childhood.
Vast, tourist-packed cats that motor, not sail, around the island all day: More common than frigate birds.

After about 36 hours of welcome decompression and course prepping as the guests of Ian (our instructor) and his wife Cindy Grant, who were kind enough to have us prior to taking an RYA course with Miramar Sailing, we awoke at dawn (something I find unavoidable in the tropics) on Monday to troubled skies and rising winds. The weather report had suggested the sort of gales typical with a fast-moving tropical storm like Gonzalo, but I had a sense, as did marine veteran John, that we were going to get a little more than had been promised. When my barometer feature on my watch tumbled from 1006 mb to 990 mb in just over an hour, things were feeling a touch dready.


This video shows our instructor's personal boat, a 1980s Jeanneau 32, rolling and bucking at dock, just prior to uprooting the stern cleats from said dock. Ian had gone off Miramar headquarters, a few minutes' drive, to prep (over-optimistic, as it turned out) for the commencement of the five-day course that myself and two other students were taking; John, who has his Yachtmaster Offshore certification, seems to have a hobby of sailing on courses he's long since passed, but to his credit, he claims to always get some educational benefit from the process!
I would suggest this was irrelevant advice during the height of the hurricane. Photo (c) Steve P.

Ian's partner Cindy returned to the villa only to have John and myself inform her that a particularly savage gust (which were increasing in strength and frequency) had peeled off the plank from the dock on which Ian's boat's stern cleat was mounted. As it was too dangerous to board the Jeanneau or even to fend off its vigorous assault on a Whaler-type runabout on which it was thumping, I accompanied Cindy (as ballast!) in her small SUV to go back to Miramar to inform Ian of the situation.

What'cha gonna do when it comes for you?
Amidst a hail of debris, palm fronds and one particularly well-aimed coconut to the roof, we arrived to see that Miramar had its own problems and that three of the school boats were in danger of snapping their lines. I have never seen a line so taut that a man standing on it would fail to deflect it to any degree, but Ian's face wasn't happy when trying to get back on the dock from the boat most broadside to the gusts. We went back to his villa in what could be best described as "loud, liquid air" to see this:


After that, things got a touch worse. The boat crushing the unseen runabout parted its bowlines, went broadside to the howling wind and slammed into the neighbouring villa's (thankfully empty) dock.



After the storm...the damage is on the starboard bow, but she's a tough old bird.
This particular dock had two concrete posts of somewhat sturdier potential than Ian's own, and Ian went aboard, even as the boat was yawing and heeling some 40 degrees, to rig ropes. I had the unusual experience of wrapping an anchor and a chain around a post to keep the boat in place while further lines were deployed.
A "lilo" (British for "inflatable pool chair") belonging to the Grants was returned from a hundred metres to windward.

It was at this point that we figured the height of the wind happened: some prolonged gusts of what we estimate was 80-plus knots, which meant we crawled off the dock on all fours as a spasming yacht tried to climb up a shuddering dock and squash us. Very vivid, and very bloody loud (see Mr. Jules' vivid video above).
Cadenza, the Hunter 42 that took half of its dock aground and tore up hull to deck joint and toerail (but which is probably salvageable). I saw this boat's dock split in half in front of me. Yikes.
The tropical storm hurricane, not being forecasted as such, was not prepared for as well as could be expected on Antigua. Canvas was left up and sails left on booms and forestays, creating windage that led to damage or, in some cases, probably to the loss of boats. Above pictured is a Hunter 42 I personally saw tear a boat-sized chunk of its own dock apart, only to ground heavily on the manmade island in the middle of Jolly Harbour. It sustained obvious and fairly severe damage, but was later secured and, as can be seen on a calm day later in the week, did not appear to be breached nor to have taken on water. Still, a sight I could have lived without, and illustrative of the immense power of the wind to part not only right-sized lines, but to tear apart pilings and lumber effortlessly.

We later heard that 15 boats were sunk in Jolly Harbour and hundreds of homes were flooded, deroofed and left without power around the island. By mutual agreement, we passed on starting the course that day, partially because the assigned boat had sustained some (reparable) damage, but also because everyone's nerves were well-shot by lunchtime. Astoudingly, the power did not waver in the villa properties, possibly because of standby generators. In the aftermath, local word was that Gonzalo, which would go on to do even greater damage in St. Maarten and, days later, Bermuda, went from TS to Cat 1 very rapidly over Antigua I saw a pressure drop of 1003 to 990 mb between 0700 and 0830h and from that low to bounce back to 1006mb by 1130h. I estimate as did the people I was with that we hit 75-80 knots at the very height of it. So my old "record" of 68 knots in the last squall of the 2010 Lake Ontario 300 has been, I would say, well broken.

Typical Antiguan coastline with atypical eight knots of true windspeed

Now, the good thing about a hurricane is that it's eventually over. The bad thing, from the point of view of taking a sailing course in a spot in the trade wind belt where the breeze is always 15 knots from the east, is that a hurricane literally sucks all the expected and customary winds away with it.
Ian Grant: A man who loves his work of improving mucking about in boats.
Still, RYA instructor Ian Grant is a pro and not only compressed five days of practice into four, but managed to have us travel 76 NM out of the usual 100 NM in conditions where hitting 3 knots of boatspeed was a rare and fleeting achievement.
Julie at the helm: She had achieved her Day Skipper ten years previously and was up for what's called a "mile-building course" to refresh her knowledge.
We weren't all there for the same exact reasons, of course. John C., although he participated in many of the activities, wasn't actually on a course, whereas Julie M. was on a quest for "official sea miles" (the various RYA course have minimum miles at sea requirements, some of which must be watch-standing, at night, in tidal conditions, and so on), whereas Steve P. was looking to consolidate his skills by going for a "Competent Crew" certification.
The fit Steve, who had an amazing trove of off-colour jokes and was ridiculously fit.
That's somewhat of the point of RYA courses, or at least what I've seen of them. You take them to have your existing knowledge and seamanship evaluated and, where such holes exist, they can be patched or at least identified on the fly. Everyone aboard was, or so it seemed to me, rather better than was strictly required for the course level they were taking, and certainly the boat handling, tacks, gybes and so on, while not particularly demanding given the light air conditions, were very well executed. I was rather impressed, as seemed Mr. Grant, at the execution of the "back the Beneteau down in a zigzag pattern between six or seven closely-spaced mooring balls". It was nice to have that level of skill aboard.
John at peace before his mood was soured after learning every restaurant in Antigua refrigerates red wine.

There was a fair bit of navigation in the form of coastal pilotage to get done, with the usual overfolded and pencil-nicked Imray charts I've seen before on RYA boats. Some modern passagemakers would suggest that working with hand compass bearings, sailing the depth contour, and working out backsight is overkill in this age of GPS plotters, and that sextant work/celestial is clearly not necessary. And generally such folk wouldn't be wrong..until the governments that run the GPS constellation panic and turn off or degrade GPS because of some perceived threat.
Pilotage in the daylight's a bit of a doddle in Antigua as there are loads of easily spotted hills and the biggest one, Mount Obama (not a joke) has a conveniently distinctive radio tower on it.
Now, when I can, I like to reduce sights for the mental exercise (not much as I have various "easy" methods of doing it on a single page), but also because, unlike GPS, using sextants and bearing compasses ties me into my environment in a more tactile way. Dead reckoning, transits, CN, pilotage and even, if you are feeling very nautical, the old lead line, is all good because YOU know where you are; you aren't taking the word of a machine interpreting a stream of data, which clearly can't care if you end up with a chunk of reef through the V-berth. I'm no Luddite; I just like the unchanging stars and paper charts to reinforce the man-made aids to navigation to suggest the most holistic awareness of where the boat and her crew are. The old ways are complementary to the newer; to abandon their tactile, analog contribution to situational and positional awareness would be akin to throwing out a hammer because you've purchased an electric screwdriver. The RYA would appear to agree: you're supposed to know where you are without the aid of a plotter, and to make "passage plans" that outline in detail how to arrive at places you've never seen based on chart information and, if you can winkle it out, "local knowledge".
Another view of Monserrat, which has lost much of its population since the last big eruptions.

Lest I give the wrong impression, however, there's plenty of time (especially in light airs) to actually look around and enjoy the environment. Antigua, its sister island of Barbuda, and the surrounding islands in the chain (including Nevis, St. Kitts, Redonda, and Guadaloupe to the south, all visible depending on conditions) are very appealing and surprisingly individualistic and there's no shortage of sea life and weather to admire.
More typically tropical Antiguan sunset. Photo (c) Steve P.


The waters are warm and beautiful (though I never fancied a swim, probably due to the lurid jellyfish that was sucked into the Lavac head...) and the view are spectacular.






Beating a course to round the SW corner of Antigua.

Post-hurricane clouds: By week's end, we were hoping one of these would hold wind.

We made an effort (sailing fitfully, then a quick motor) to overnight at English Harbour, the British naval base greatly expanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson into one of the nicest and easily defensible harbours I know of.
On course for English Harbour at a blazing 2.3 knots.
Once there, we were able to have a decent wash (the facilities seemed largely undamaged from the hurricane) and could admire the various fortifications, old "Fort York"-like architecture (but bigger and surrounded by palm trees, naturally) and I even took in a charming local museum, which, unlike similar places here in Canada, had its windows thrown open to catch the breeze...such as it was.
The columns called The Pillars of Hercules, plus The Hat of Steve.

John suggested we Med moor right here. We didn't use the tender all week, although we anchored a few times.

English Harbour boat yard: The place is a strange mix of good old boats and superyachts and Julie.

Why, there's one now: about 80 feet of aluminum ketch.
...briefly eclipsed by yet another vast touristic catamaran...

The Admiral's Inn, should one ever feel the need to have a Sunday roast at 17 degrees North. Easy to find, it's to the right of the tribute to Nelson's penis.

Obligatory model of HMS Victory. The place is a Nelson fanboy's dream and a sort of colonial shrine.
Nelson died shortly after hoisting this signal. My camera died shortly after taking this shot.

Shirley Heights, not only a great place for a fort, but also a big party spot.

Thanks to careful planning, we were able to eat ashore most nights, a few times in Jolly Harbour itself, sadly featuring after Monday a few smashed or sunken boats. Conveniently proximate was a dock where we practised stern-to docking, warping off and other exercises; a 20 metre walk away was Al Porto, an Italian restaurant run by a charming French couple, Alain and Sandrine, serving a lot of local seafood and the aforementioned too-cold red wine. And Ian's daughter works there...Antigua's not really very big, is what I'm getting at.
The good ship Miramar, our home and classroom. As it was a 1986, I found the layout logical and the construction robust. Don't get me started.

A pair of the hardly rare "Charterus Catamarani". Easily spotted by the constantly roaring gensets.

In my opinion, more restaurants should have 60-foot docks.

In the end, and after many experiences too mundane to mention, I got my Day Skipper cert, and with it, a little thing called an International Certificate of Competence, which ensures port officials I'm less of a menace over the waves and in their harbours than I might be with, say, a rotten, token affair such as a PCOC. Ad astra, babies! Although I do not care to see that sort of weather anytime soon, and if I see it coming, we will run out to sea...it's crazy on land in a hurricane.

"Nelson's Blood", eh? I'd heard he was sent back to England pickled in brandy.But I do enjoy a tot of rum.