2014-04-19

Exhaustive reasoning, part 1

The number of boats containing all of these elements (fab waterlift, muffler, gooseneck)  is likely not great.
Work and an abominable winter here in Toronto put paid to many scheduled boat upgrades this winter: the few days it was clement enough to shovel the decks (yes, this was required more than once), I was often bogged down with paid labour, a good portion of which goes toward boat gear and other arcana for our ark. 

But spring, in a sputtering, half-arsed fashion, has arrived just short of our launch weekend, and some windows of non-freezing, non-hailing weather have opened up. I don't need non-hailing except for painting and deck work, and I have seven days to finish that. 

So I decided yesterday to dwell in the still-chilly bilges of Alchemy, and fashion a means by which the diesel's elemental effluvia of smoke and water will leave the boat. In my experience, sad but commonplace, such reasoning is far from elemental. It requires more than a superficial understanding of why water wants to go where it does, and concepts like back pressure and air pressure and anti-siphon loops, oh, my. I've had cooling water, which is the part that makes a wet exhaust wet, back into the engine more than once due to the failure of various components and, I have to admit, an incomplete understanding on my part of the forces at play.

Basically, diesels need to be cooled. They typically have "internal" coolant in the form of glycol-type antifreeze or "Prestone" circulating under pressure through various passages in the block. This is piped through a heat exchanger bolted on the side of the block. Much as air and fans cool a radiator in a car, so the "external" pumped seawater takes engine heat away from the internal coolant circuit and then, in the form of somewhat warmer water, into the flow of exhaust gases and then out of the boat. Confusingly, the two circuits are called "raw water" (sea water from the outside) and "fresh water" (not water at all, but antifreeze, which has higher boiling and, obviously, lower freezing points). Boating's funny that way.

"Wouldn't it be easier just to pump cold lake or sea water through the engine directly?" some might ask. The answer is yes, it would, and this is the state of affairs on my rather basic Atomic 4 gas auxiliary engine on my 33 footer: I open a seacock and lake water goes into an engine driven impeller pump chamber and then through the block (the bit with the pistons and crankshaft in it) and then into the manifold (to cool the gases a bit before reaching a "mixing elbow" where the water combines with the exhaust and is "lifted" out of the boat (more on this later).

This works because fresh water isn't as corrosive as sea water. This also works because I have a filter basket. If a piece of weed or a bit of plastic bag gets into the raw water circuit, I usually find it here:

It's appalling what I've found in this sort of thing on Valiente, to which I can only attribute to a lot of sex at the water's edge.
Fair enough, but why have outside water, which is frequently polluted with various organic and inorganic chunks of horribleness, go through the engine at all? I occasionally "flush my block" at season's end, and I always find sand and fine bits of plastic and whatnot even my precautionary basket filter missed. In theory, the added complication of a separate raw and fresh water cooling setup means the narrow passages of the diesel's cooling circuit never see anything but (presumably non-cruddy) antifreeze, which one changes after a known cycle of runtime. The heat exchanger is a different story, of course; it may see all sorts of crud going through it, lessening flow and therefore the ability to carry away heat, and it may be subject to various forms of corrosion and general damage, particular if one is a little slack in servicing it or paying attention to its appetite for zincs. This is why a spare exchanger is right up there with a spare starter in the "big ticket" list of diesel components the cruiser may wish to consider.

Your overheat warning system can range from "beeeeep" to Star Trek. Photo (c) Setsail.com
Of course, steps can be taken to lessen the crudification of this important component, and I went over that in a previous post, but while you can use technologies to alert you to problems in the cooling circuit, I think the best course is to regularly schedule a clean-out of the heat exchanger, particularly if you are cruising in waters full of sediment (river deltas and many harbours would count) that will inevitably end up inside your hoses.

This brings us to the exhaust system, which is primarily concerned with the byproducts of diesel combustion in the form of very hot gases, and getting them safely out of the boat. While a steel sailboat can, in theory, have a diesel dry exhaust with the aid of keel cooling, the boat wasn't set up that way and there's some advantages in my mind to keep all the plumbing in one area. Not to mention that wet exhausts are less sooty and quieter than are dry, which, however, are fine on workboats and so on.

If anyone reading this can tell me the difference between a waterlift and a waterlock (both of which frequently have the word "muffler" after them), please let me know. They are at the heart of the exhaust system in that they both "lift" water from below the waterline up and out of the boat, and "lock" it from backing up into the diesel engine, which would explain somewhat the variable terminology.

Both fancy and schmancy, and yet of all the things you can make a waterlock from, plastic is my least favourite.
I considered getting a fancy schmancy Vetus NLP 50S one for the simple reason that, unlike most boats, Alchemy's exhaust goes to one side (starboard) and therefore something that can rotate 90 degrees off a straight run had its charms. I also liked Vetus gear and indeed have an elderly but effective Vetus waterlock on Valiente. Installing that was the day I found out that my wife can squeeze into the stern of a narrow IOR boat, sufficiently lubricated by swearing, of course.

Basic but functional, and it didn't back up water into my Atomic 4 like thefailed Onan waterlift of unlamented memory.
But the otherwise desirable Vetus NLP50S was European, and therefore predictably expensive, and it did not answer a related exhaust issue: the need for an anti-siphon valve and hose setup. A more elaborate form of vented loop, these devices contain a small piston-type plunger and spring that allows flow in one direction and not the other. If, as is often the case, the engine is at or just below the waterline, the water from the "raw water side" of the cooling circuit would, without this device, fill up the entire run, and would likely cause water to back up into the engine manifold. Which can ruin one's day and has ruined mine. 

That sinking feeling is when the head backs up and sinks you.
So, understanding where the waterline is on the inside of the boat, where the engine is in relation to that waterline and planning for the vented loop setup is pretty critical. Did I mention that they are important in the plumbing of the heads? Well, they are, and that's a topic for another day.

The KISS option: Take out the valve thingie and run a length of hose out onto the deck.

Now, it's true that you can just have the "vent" part of the vented loop free of pistons, springs and flappy bits by simply running a length of hose up and out of the boat, to either a skin fitting in the side of the boat (well above the waterline, of course, and perhaps with a gooseneck loop of its own) or even out onto the deck. If you are underway, you'll see the occasional spurt of water when powering through the briny, and which, not being a jet of hot steam, will reassure the watchstander that all, in at least this respect, is well.

But what if you could dispense with the anti-siphon loop altogether?
Now you're talking. This suits me to a T-fitting.
Behold the "North Sea Exhaust". The transverse pipe is the key to vented looplessness, a term I hesitate to use, never mind to coin. Sounds vaguely quantum mechanical, instead of just diesel mechanical.

It's from Dave Gerr's excellent Boat Mechanical Systems Handbook, which, along with Nigel Calder's Marine Diesel Engines, and Charlie Wing's Boatowner's Illustrated Electrical Handbook, are my go-to reference books for trying to make Alchemy mobile, functional and not prone to exploding. I believe all three should be greasily indispensible aboard any self-maintained pleasure craft.

Because my boat so closely resembles in plan a grubby Norwegian herring boat, and because I wanted to know if the missing vented loop and its evil, failure-prone and crud-attracting spring and plunger was artistic error or not, I contacted Mr. Gerr with the following questions:

Hello, Mr. Gerr:


I'm restoring a custom 1988 steel pilothouse cutter sailboat for long-term passagemaking and already have the engine in and lined up. It's a Beta 60 replacing a Westerbeke W-52. 

The exhaust outlet for this engine is 2 inches/51 mm. The waterlift muffler I have selected is a 10 litre Centek of the same fitting size which will go partially in my keel bilge.

My old exhaust port is close to the waterline on the starboard side. What I wish to do is to replicate the North Sea exhaust,as I have an identical welded pipe on the port side currently used for bilge water hose. My idea is to run the exhaust to a mixing elbow and down into the Centek, and then up to a T-fitting right under the pilothouse deck. Exhaust plus water would then exit slightly downward (about six inches down the hull over a six-foot run, assuming the T-fitting is more or less centered under the deck) to either starboard or port, both of which would have seacock shut offs for extended sailing periods OR a single shut off just underneath the T-fitting. 

My questions, should you be kind enough to give your opinions, are this:

1) Is it necessary to have an anti-siphon break in an exhaust set up where one end of the transverse exhaust (the "high" side) is always exposed to the air? Yes, I have had stuck anti-siphon break pistons lead to kerosene flushes...if I did need this, I would simple run a 1/4" hose out onto the deck).

2) What is the best material to make a T-fitting out of? Stainless welded, galvanized pipe or black iron? I intend to use typical Trident exhaust hose for the supported runs port and starboard.

3) Do I need to take any particular measurements beyond what Beta and Centek recommend regarding minimum heights and clearances? It strikes me that this answer is no, as the system is "open" in a way that (save for the anti-siphon) a exhaust hose to the transom is not.

4) If I wished to put an exhaust alarm or even a solenoid shut-off in line in a North Sea style exhaust, where would be a good spot for that to go? I dislike the idea of a solenoid shut off for the same reason I don't like electric heads: water and amps don't play well, but I haven't decided wholly against it.

In common with other "names" (including Bob Perry, Bill Wallstrom, Ted Brewer, and George Cuthbertson) in the boating world with whom I've had conversation or correspondence, Mr. Gerr was generous with my idiot pestering. His reply:

Glad to hear you’ve found my book useful, thanks. In answer to your questions.

No, you don’t need a siphon break on a North Sea exhaust with the outlets above the WL.

I recommend against metal in the wet exhaust run. Fiberglass tube and exhaust hose is better in the wet portion—lighter, less expensive, and easier to work with.

The governing heights are those from figures 7-12 and 7-13 as well as 7-14.

An exhaust temperature alarm would go in the wet exhaust just before entry to the waterlift canister. If it won’t fit there, then just after the canister.

Good luck with the project.

Works for me. About the only thing I hadn't considered was having a fibreglass T-fitting to send water either port, starboard or (conceivably if we are motoring at zero degree angle of heel) both. Of course, the waterlift I eventually chose is itself fibreglass, which melts/burns at a hotter point than the Vetus plastic, and yet does not corrode like the stainless "pot" waterlift I removed when I hauled out the old Westerbeke.

Did I mention it was $200 less than the Vetus? That's a lot of rum.


I mentioned the idea of installing large seacocks between the hull and the exhaust hoses, the idea being that if a particularly hard heel defeated the T-fitting riser at that point, the seacocks would keep seawater out of the system and, eventually, the manifold. Only someone bitten more than once by water backing up would even think of this. Naturally, I thought "I will rig a solenoid and actuator so that I can't key the start without opening that valve!" Of course, a length of threaded rod with the keys left hanging on it might work, too. So I would have to consider heat-tolerant seacocks, perhaps some welding, a fibreglass T-fitting at the "top" of the exhaust setup, and some sort of exhaust water temperature alarm, where Mr. Gerr suggested. And lots of the best sort of 44 mm AWAB hose clamps. Below the waterline doings involving hot gases and water is not the place to cheap out with the hardware.

The problem is the date and my time. It's long since past time that I actually get the boat moving, and despite the protractedness of the process, over which my sailor friends continually needle me, I am just as eager to see some signs that my work and cash have achieved something. So I'm going for a kludge. It starts with getting properly hosed.
Common as muck, but apparently now not to code.
This is a mildly reinforced hose commonly called "red heater hose" or "radiator hose". It also comes in black, but many sailors call it "red heater hose" probably because they are drunk or senile. You'll find it on almost every boat afloat where the wire-reinforced, super-stiff, fire-, chemical and urine-resistant "exhaust hose" is not required. I've got 40 feet of the stuff in the popular 1/2 inch and 5/8 inch sizes spread over two boats and a garage. According to the omniscient Mitch of Genco Marine, the chandlery most convenient to my club, it's no longer approved, to code, or in favour. Checking some sources, including the thoughts of the above-cited guru Nigel Calder, I found that this has been the case for an alarmingly long number of years.

In trying to get away from the loop, I learned I was out of it.

Pardon the filth: there's more reconstruction underway here than in the post-bellum South.
So now one must use reinforced, less-burny hoses at four to five times the cost per unit of royal appendage. The top hose is for the dreaded anti-siphon, and the bottom is some rather nice corrugated exhaust hose to get from the engine outlet to the waterlock. Both are bendy enough to veer the way I require.

I have a Vetus anti-siphon; this is a Chinese knock-off, but I expect it won't be in use very long.

The dreaded anti-siphon loop is temporary: I just want to do a "test-fire" to adjust all my controls and to get my engine actually, you know, turning the five grand worth of Super Prop I have pinned to the shaft. The loop is trimmed with a hacksaw to the "25 mm" point, which fits the 1-inch successor to the old red heater hose.

It's an emotional time for me, hence the blurriness.
First, I positioned and hooked up the exhaust hose. This involved trimming to size with hacksaw and heavy-duty Dremeling, which obligingly demonstrated that this type of hose would, in fact, burn or at least would copiously smoke. But I got the clean cuts I wanted. The minimum height different is supposed to be 250 mm or 10 inches. This is 9.5 inches. I promise not to motor on a heel before I change it to its final form.
I did the usual double-clamping with opposing nuts, which sounds like a float in the Pride Parade.
I'm not entirely happy with the location, or rather the lack of "drop", of the waterlift. It's close enought to the centerline of the boat for me not to worry about motoring while heeled much, but it could be a few inches lower for an ideal installation. The only way to do that, however, would be to install sone sort of stand or shelf in the keel bilge, and to back off the shaft to drop the waterlift down there, which would make access problematic. I will have to ponder this one and keep an eye on just how well it's working in real conditions.

I didn't forget to clamp that right-hand hose.
The anti-siphon loop hose is stiff enough to stand vertically on its own. For safety's sake, I will use metal strapping screwed to the loop and to the wooden surface aft to keep it from moving around. There is also a small vent line I will install off the plunger bit for further bulletproofing, but, as has been mentioned, this is just a first crack until I can rig up the transverse exhaust and go "loopless".

Looks reasonably non-explosive.
So there's that done. I have to hook up the controls, the raw water supply, the battery cabling and the remote oil filter, plus a temporary fuel supply until I can drain and clean the keel tanks. Given that we launch in a week, I'll likely need a tow to my dock, but such is life. Getting angry about things I can't change will kill me with stress, rendering the entire endeavour pointless. But this to me is some welcome progress. Part 2 will appear (I hope) shortly, and those interested will see that rare bird...a double diesel exhaust in a sailboat. Thanks to Dave Gerr for his helpful advice, and for seeing fit to put such an intriguing idea...to a man sick of kerosene flushes...in his how-to book in the first place.



2014-04-10

The new VHF is a MMSI affair

The boat show special arrived in March. Installation took a little longer.

Sailors, despite all their modern toys, are known for near-medieval levels of superstition. Whistling is somehow related to the attraction of storms to boats at sea, as is the scratching of the backstays to the ending of calms. Clearly, the refusal to leave port on a Friday (which is amusing to me as not only have sailors been historically irreligious, but not even particularly Christian) didn't help the tall ship Bounty.

What is clear is that when Age of Sail sailors weren't passing sewing needles through noses to avoid hauntings, they would assuage their quite-reasonable concerns about drowning or otherwise expiring at sea with a medley of magical wards. They knew, as we still know today, that it is the indifference of the elements and our own inattention that will get us killed offshore, even if the odds are much higher that one will be killed in that most quotidian of ways: on a road...particularly on a motorcycle. Injury, on the other hand, is all too common aboard, which is why we've taken first aid courses.

Sticky buttons and dodgy reception did not endear this unit to me; my equally aged ICOM M-45 on Valiente did and continues to do a better job of basic R/T.


When it came time to replace the elderly Navico VHF that came with Alchemy, I determined to take no half-measures and to appease the gods with the good old belt and suspenders approach. Those who purchase modern boat electronic, particularly in the communications/navigation realm, are aware that there's a lot of "confluence" underway, in which one device can do a number of jobs. So when I heard that a new iteration of the well-regarded Standard Horizon GX-2150 VHF with AIS (the GX-2200) was going to shortly grace the shelves of my local chandlery, I had a "shut up and take my money" moment. Particularly as the boat show price was compelling.

Why have GPS and AIS on one's radio? Well, it's a no-brainer for me: A radio that can tell me, thanks to GPS and AIS, my direction, speed and bearing backs up my plotter, which doesn't necessarily need to be on in open waters. Similarly, having a basic AIS on a simplified, but sufficiently text-supplemented, representation of a circle in space around our boat gives the helmsperson a bearing to other vessels, their CPAs (closest point of approach), their SOG (speed over ground) and, of course, a way to hail them on the VHF through the magic of DSC. DSC, or Digital Selective Calling, is a combination of a sort of paging or hailing system whereby specific boats (ones for whom the caller has an MMSI number) and an emergency alert setup: that's what the "big red button" on handhelds and base unit VHFs is for. So the particulars of one's own vessel, and one's current lat/lon, thanks to the GPS, are sent, depending on the location of the boat's antenna, many nautical miles in all directions. As a bonus, it's estimated that the range of a DSC call exceeds that of a voice call (such as a PAN PAN or the dreaded MAYDAY) by some 15% And let's face it, if you ever do need to push that particular red button, you probably have better things to be doing than shouting into a mic, right?

Hello, sailor: If something like Queen Mary II is in one's vicinity, one wishes to know.
The AIS element I've mentioned before as being what we consider to be one of the more significant advances in yacht gear safety and awareness. While "the oceans are full of things this size" is rather a hyperbolic statement, they are far from empty. Big ships can and should be considered as clueless as a liquored-up elephant herd stampeding a village, or perhaps like a sleeping whale in the path of a sailboat. AIS, the signals of which must be transmitted from all commercial shipping, can give the skipper of a cruising yacht a heads-up and a suggested course of action, which is typically "away". RADAR, which I consider the partner technology to AIS, gives you a chance to avoid rocks, land, (sometimes) debris and those smaller craft, fishers and the like, who are unlikely to have more than an old transistor radio aboard.
The shortest game of "chicken" ever.
So that was the logic of getting the new Standard Horizon product: lots of useful gadgets in one decent radio. I say decent because I have a few SH handhelds with which I am quite pleased, and my initial shipboard tests were very promising. Other equally well-regarded manufacturers, such as ICOM, make similar "combos", but at a higher price, and Not at the Boat Show. So Standard Horizon it was. But first, for those like that sort of thing, I did a "deboxing" to make sure all pieces of the new gear were present:

The SH GX-2200  is relatively compact and could have gone a number of places inside the pilothouse.

All was accounted for, along with the RAM3 remote mic that will be at the outside helm. Many of the functions of the base unit can be replicated from this handheld, which is suitably water-resistant.

The 50-odd feet of cord is handy, too.

Seen below is the provisional mounting. I have an old Signal Mate roll-up "emergency" VHF antenna I used as my mast is still in the rack. Hell, so is the whole boat. Height of antenna was therefore a good four metres. The mounting is provisional in case the VHF affects the Ritchie helm compass, the soft iron ball of which is to the right. So this may be moved. It's very shippy looking where it is, however. The old mount for the deceased "video" depth finder fit quite well.

Out of the box and with a dollop of improvised 12VDC, the GX-2200 rapidly found its bearings without an external GPS antenna.
Job One was inputting the MMSI number I obtained recently (and remarkably quickly and painlessly, he exclaimed in rare gratitude) from Transport Canada. This, for reasons of security, one supposes, is a one-shot deal: you have just one try to get a nine-digit number into the VHF's memory:

While the size of the manual is daunting, the drop-down menus and "soft keys" are logical and easy to suss out.
Checking, checking, squinting, squinting...

Each country has an MMSI "code": I am guessing Canada's is "316". Why, no one may know.

 Then you have to do it a second time. For keepsies, one presumes.

Ar, they be some dirty digits, Skipper...ye'll mar the finish with 'em!
Just a note here that if you have a handheld VHF (the "walkie-talkie") with DSC capability, you tend to load it with the same MMSI as the "mothership". If you, like me, have two boats, however, and shuttle a handheld between them, you can get a number called a Maritime Identity Number. This is a kind of second tier to the MMSI in that it's related to the handheld itself, not the boat, per se. As I have two DSC-capable handhelds, I will likely put the MMSI into the "better" one (it floats!) and get an MI for the other.

Once the (correct and triple-checked) MMSI numbers are input, the results are fairly dramatic. Within seconds of hitting the AIS button, I located several nearby workboats, probably dredging out a runway or something.

"Lubie"? Lubberly.
A quick scan of the manual revealed ways to learn more:

This is the "2NM" setting. Three boats were transmitting AIS data.
Now, it's important to note that this VHF's AIS is simply a receiver. They don't know that I'm around or where. Even if I hit the "call" button, their VHF would simply "ring" at their end and I might not show on their RADAR. For that, I'd need an AIS transponder. A later post will delve into the desirable and undesirable aspects of having one on a cruising yacht.

Given the location, these boats might have been servicing nav aids, such as the suite of local buoyage. The ice is, after all, mostly gone.

You don't lose the VHF part of the radio while you are checking out the AIS signals of surrounding boats. You can have a sort of "screen in screen" setup whereby you can show AIS, GPS, GPS compass with SOG and other data at the touch of a button.
Add caption
And there's the usual bunch of NMEA data wires at the back so all this can be fed to a plotter or even a PC for navigational goodness.  I did a radio check with "Prescott", the closest Coast Guard station, and was told that even with my dubious antenna, I was "loud and clear". I set up the DSC function to do a test call, and that worked in only two seconds, signalling "DSC ACK" (which doesn't mean the radio requires a Heimlich Maneuver, but rather that the DSC call has been ack-nowledged). So functionality has been achieved.
Wonky light in the pilothouse can throw off my camera, it seems.
The power was a different story. Bare wires twisted together is fine for test purposes, but even if the current (pun intended) VHF location is temporary, I prefer to conduct myself (pun intended, again) with a little more professionalism. So I installed Anderson Powerpoles on my DC leads. These "crimp and snap together" doohickeys are superior to ring or Molex connectors that preceded them, and have become very popular among the amateur radio fraternity (I use the term "fraternity" based on the visual evidence of prevailing beardiness), and are considered the right choice for low-resistance and firm connecting.
Conduct yourself accordingly in the wide world of radio.

While it took me some blood and sweat and seamanlike language to figure out how to assemble the things...they require a bit of force to get them to engage properly and I don't have the ideal crimping die...I did get them to work and will use them around the boat going forward any place where solder or other more permanent crimping isn't called for...and quick removal may be.

For the intrigued, here's a helpful instructional video:
And now, with launch approaching, it's back to the boat for me. At least I can listen to WX again.

2014-03-31

All is unseamanlike


It's like there hasn't been a clearance sale at West Marine since 1980.

Darwin denied his due. That's what I thought, probably with characteristic harshness, while watching the survival film All is Lost, which has been widely admired as both a technical tour-de-force and a heartwarming triumph of acting for Robert Redford, nameless aside from a credit calling him "Our Man". R.R., all craggy and sun-aged, at least has a boat of his own vintage: a typically worn, late '70s Cal 39 that looks as if it was last updated in '81, right down to the brown plaid cushions. It looks fitted out for Lake Ontario on a 15-knot day. It does not appear to be adequate for solo sailing in the Indian Ocean. The two are different activities.

My wife and I watched this film with some trepidation; we suspected it would, like almost every sailing narrative film we know of, be a little slack on the seamanship details, and in this we were not disappointed, except that we were. Again.

When one is a person who is trying to live his or her passion, and, intending to continue to live, has internalized those habits of mind and of safety best suited to keeping them alive, it's clear that when one is watching a movie that takes unnecessary shortcuts with reality, the effect can be jarring and can take you out of the narrative flow of the movie.

The experience of watching the dramatic and admittedly well-shot (and good sounding; we thought the sound effects were well-composed and mostly "realistic") visuals was therefore akin for these sailors to telling a martial artist to "fall awkwardly" after years of doing breakfalls: it's incredibly difficult to remember how to do things wrong when doing them right is internalized!

Warning, loads of spoilers ahead: Some clangers that killed the narrative thrust of All is Lost include a scene, for instance, where Our Man's fallen mast is freed by a couple of swipes of a blade through a halyard; both my wife and I said simultaneously "where's the bolt cutters?" Why did he not lift up his flaming half-jerrycan of burning paper, or have it held over the water? Where was his pump handle? Where was his bucket? Where were his ditch bag and EPIRB? Where was his PFD or his jacklines? Why did he sail on port, bringing in yet more water that overtopped his batteries (I assume) to get back to his sea anchor? He could have "chicken-gybed" on starboard to get to the same place! I'm not even sure that a Cal 39 would stay inverted given its ballast ratio.

I could go on. And on. You get the drift.

Foulie play: Our Man must have superheroic upper-body strength...and lifelines don't work that way.


Sure, it's easy to be critical, and it's easy to acknowledge that stressed people screw up things that should be ingrained, but the overall impression is that whatever other qualities "Our Man" had that (ultimately) led to his survival, preparedness and basic seamanship were not uppermost. At sea, you make your own luck (John Vigor's black box theory). Active prep is superior to reactive MacGyvering.

And that is what took us  crash-gybing right out of a film that could have been better if it didn't star a non-sailor, and hadn't been written by a weekend sailor. There were things shown that wouldn't have made sense to a general audience (how a sea anchor works, for instance), and other things not shown that made a sailing audience cringe. I would say it's the recent immersion in all things RYA that might have made me more touchy, but I think I would have been about 80% bugged by this film even 10 years ago, when I had fewer sea hours and much, much more to learn about safety and seamanship.

Now, where did I leave my ditch bag? Never mind, I look fabulous for 77!


Coincidentally, we saw Gravity last week, which one Web wag dubbed All is Lost in Space, and while that film was even more impressive than All is Lost (or at least, less familiar) in terms of visuals. But the problems for us were the same: the idea that three space stations and the Hubble orbit at the same altitude (also the same altitude and vector as satellite debris, apparently) and *within sight of each other* wrecked that film for me, as well. Space doesn't work that way, and neither does single-handed sailing, as depicted in All Is Lost. The fudging or the actual wrongness of the details treat the suspension of disbelief like the cratering of the bridge over Tacoma Narrows. Sailors can't bear the goofs, and non-sailors won't realize they are watching How Not to Do It.

2014-03-14

Ninety percent of interesting


Ironically, this book arrived by truck and then by foot.
Note to regular readers: This blog post/book review has been cross-posted to my "nautical books blog" Volumes of Salt.  I feel the subject matter, particularly in light of the effect of world shipping on little affluent yachties crossing shipping lanes because it's fun to be on a boat, may be of interest to sailors...and, or course, those readers who are also sailors.

To the average, non-mariner citizen, how the shelves at their local Walmart (or slightly less proletarian vendors) are stocked is of little interest. There's underpaid people in the front and presumably tractor-trailer docks at the back, the denizens of which labour in obscurity to bring consumers their discount-priced crap.

Rose George begs to differ: In "Ninety Percent of Everything", she gives (to me, anyway) a compelling recap of the "invisible" industry of global shipping, which has been revolutionized both by the internationalization of shipboard labour and ownership, and the related decline of national merchant navies, and the near-total acceptance of the container as the "base unit" of world shipping.

It's getting crowded out there.
In her engaging book, George, a British journalist with a number of non-fiction books to her credit, takes passage on M.V. Mærsk Kendal, a fairly representative sort of modern container ship, 300 metres long and 40 metres across, and capable of carrying 6,200 TEUs or about 3,100 of the more commonly seen (when noticed at all) 40-foot standard shipping containers.

Rose recounts how world commerce got here, and how the shipping container, after much industry resistence and vast investment to alter the world's harbours, became the de facto standard for the transshipment of manufactured goods. While raw materials, grains and liquids are shipped in different types of ships, and while container ships are not, in terms of the world's shipping fleet, particularly numerous, they are often the most noticeable, and, unlike tankers or bulk carriers, those containers can and do fall off. George relates that while only 6,000 out of 100,000 vessels of the world's merchant fleet are container ships, there's no point in building them small as their economies of scale dictate that the price of moving a container's contents (already ridiculously tiny) is reflected directly in how much of it can be hauled in one go.

The diesel engine of M/V Emma Mærsk:You know that when your engine requires sets of stairs, it's pretty big.

Speaking of economy, shipping is the greenest way per capita to get goods halfway around the planet. Having said that, however, the capita of shipping is so large, and the typical low-grade fuel they burn so dirty, that it's estimated that just 15 of the largest ships emit soot to rival all the world's cars.

And it's prettier, too, even if its cylinders aren't the size of bachelor apartments

Eager to concretize George's data in terms I could appreciate, I ran some figures for M.V. Emma Maersk's monster house-sized Wartsila Sulzer RTA96-C diesel engine when compared to my own wee diesel. Now, to be fair, I run standard diesel of the rather clarified, low-sulphur type used in cars and trucks, whereas most ships, including most cruise shipsburn a tarry substance known as bunker fuel.

Guess which one is more polluting?


Emma Maersk's most economical fuel consumption is 1,660 gallons of heavy fuel oil per hour. Let's say "Imperial" or "U.S." gallons don't really matter here. That's 0.260 lbs/hp/hour, according to the manufacturer. My Beta 60, by contrast, burns 4 litres/hr at 2,000 rpm. So pushing Maersk around combusts roughly 0.5 gal or  1.86 L of fuel per second, whereas Alchemy is more like 1 mL/sec.

Oh, buoy, that's a lot of soot.

What bollocks, of course: Alchemy is a 16 tonne, 12 metre sailboat fit to carry perhaps four souls and two tonnes of fuel, water and provisions. Not to mention that Alchemy's diesel is an auxiliary, and, unlike that of a container ship, is not required to run for weeks at a stretch. All of which is true, but the reason that ships use low-grade fuel of high polluting potential is the same reason they hire (when they hire) crew out of the developing world: it's cheaper to do things that way. And price, like most human commerce, is the break point of doing shipping at all.

Speaking of the developing world, George spends a lot of time discussing the blend of opportunity and plight facing the most numerous members of world shipping crews, the Filipinos. She notes it's a blend, because, just as the women of the Philipinnes seem to have self-exported themselves to the Wests in the form of nannies, nurses and caregivers, that country's men are found as the lower ranks of shipping crews virtually everywhere. The lower ranks only, for the most part, due to the relatively low grade of what George calls "marine academies" in their homeland, and in the fact that shipping seems to be somewhat socially stratified, with white Westerners at the captain level, and Indians in the engine rooms, with a smattering of Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans in the middle ranks. George doesn't question this much, except to note that there isn't much mixing among the crew.

Whether this is due to hierarchy or culture isn't clear, although if you are going to be ripped off, it's usually the lower crew who get, unsurprisingly, the dirty end of the stick. That's why there are still missions to seafarers: instead of shore leave, there are merely 24-hour turnarounds in semi-automated container-handling ports; the old sailorly lifestyle of going a-whoring and a-boozing in port for a week is largely history, according to George: the life of today's seaman is too tiring and rushed to go on shoreside toots, and never mind the cost of even getting out of vast ports miles from the fun of a city. So the missions fill the gap and provide small necessities and a respite from the ripoff artists that still plague the seaman's world once off the gangway.

"Nearly everything is transported by sea. Sometimes on trains I play a numbers game. The game is to reckon how many clothes and possessions and how much food has been transported by ship. The beads around the woman’s neck; the man's iPhone. Her Sri Lankan-made skirt and blouse; his printed-in-China book. I can always go wider, deeper and in any direction. The fabric of the seats. The rolling stock. The fuel powering the train. The conductor’s uniform; the coffee in my cup; the fruit in my bag. Definitely this fruit, so frequently shipped in refrigerated containers that it has been given its own temperature. Two degrees Celsius is 'chill’, but 13 degrees is 'banana’." -Rose George, Ninety Percent of Everything.

George, partially due to the language barriers of the multi-ethnic crew, spends a lot of time with M.V. Kendal's Captain Glenn, a man, in the book's setting of 2012, at the end of a 40-plus-year career as a professional mariner. He's proud of his ship and his service, but his perceptions of what the old world of "break bulk/general cargo" shipping was like before the advent of container ports would have been recognizable to my father, a merchant seaman in the 1940s and early 1950s, whereas today's strictly run (the captain is told from head office to increase or reduce speed to meet distant schedules, for instance) operation is more like an assembly line in a giant's Lego factory. The contrast of a man on the verge of retirement demonstrating to the uncomprehending author his mastery of the sextant, while at the same time acknowledging that his fellow sailors are treated "like the scum of the earth" is perhaps a telling marker of the degree and rapidity of how the shipping industry has changed.

George also discusses the shell game of merchant vessel ownership and the dubious practice of "foreign flagging" in ship registration. The practice of, say, "flagging" a ship owned by Greeks through various offshore shell companies, and yet flagged to various countries such as Panama and Liberia (or Mongolia!) avoids pesky safety rules and inspections of, shall we say, more developed countries. So much of the world's fleet is undersupervised and underregulated, or so George indicates, and this is because these torturous paper games are designed to save shipowners money. But it has real-life consequences when ships in bad repair wreck and spill toxic contents, or when (as George notes in another chapter), ships are hijacked for ransoms that may never get paid, and their cheap labour crews are left to rot and sometimes die.

The absurdity of the practice of flags of convenience in the modern world is unlikely to be altered, however: there's simply too much money in the scam. It does, however, lead to paradoxically odd situations, such as last month where the U.S.'s ancient Jones Act of 1920 meant that there aren't really enough American-flagged ships left in American waters to transport road salt from Maine to Boston.

The "E-class" containship M/V Emma Mærsk: There are seven others just like her plying the oceans, and bigger ones on the drawing boards of global shipping. Photo (c) Mike Cunningham
Despite these ongoing industry issues, there's no sign that the world's shipping fleet is slowing down: the next largest container ships in the world, bigger than the E-Class, are already being built in Korea. The world has a seemingly inexhaustible hunger for slightly cheaper crap from somewhere else, and that hunger will make the ships that carry them bigger. Cleaner, safer and more humanely crewed may have to wait.

Venus envy: Not big enough!
Ninety Percent of Everything was a good and informative read, and provides a start contrast to another classic on merchant shipping I read a few years ago, John McPhee's Looking for a Ship. While written a mere 23 years ago, McPhee's story of one of the last American-crewed and registered general cargo ships reads like Conrad penned it. George's book isn't nearly as well-written...McPhee remains a master of making difficult subjects a pleasure to delve into...and has some digressive passages some readers may find a touch disjointed, but it is still an excellent introduction to a vast and global enterprise without which we would soon starve in rags.

And I for one, can't wait for containers to have AIS beacons.

Bonus link: the Elly Maersk set to a hypnotic beat.

Bonus link: The front fell off.

2014-03-04

A prayer for the amateur diesel maintainer

This is a Vivian three-cylinder diesel. No, I've never heard of it, either, but it needs some service.

O mighty Neptune/Poseidon/Aquaman:

 

Give unto me, your faithful servant, correctly sourced spares aplenty should thy diesel prove to have been built on a Monday or Friday, and give unto me credit aplenty in diverse realms to purchase such spares in harbours of dubious repute; lo, even though they be made by unionized Europeans!

 


Give also unto me the courage to attempt, heeding those applicable scriptural passages from Sts. Gerr, Calder and Compton, a host of minor repairs when thy diesel knocketh, overheateth or emitteth the black, white or grey smokes of the inferno, and through such brazen signs and portents let me diagnose thereby thy auxiliary's ailments. Leadeth me to measurements Imperial or metric, but provideth me with tools for both, for my vessel is Canadian-registered, and I bear the doubled yoke thereby.

Let me lay down with stainless hose clamps aplenty; let my spares locker runneth over with fasteners of all kinds, even those parts of surpassing obscurity and dubious utility. May I always have a flashlight to hand, and picker-uppers with which to pick up that which falleth, and a song of praise that thy bilges bringeth forth the lost sheep of my greasy fingers.

Let me suffereth not the wayward courier; keep from me the services of incompetent "experts", sent by the Arch-Lubber himself, who render upon thy auxiliary more harm than good and chargeth me sorely, and greatly oppresseth the rum budget. And let me swear less, but not yet, not yet!

May my Racors runneth ever clearly with clean fuel; may I understand more fully what is a "banjo washer", and, having such understanding, may I replace thy auxiliary's injectors, should this come to pass, in sincere hopes of the restoration of serene function and full shaft output, and in the rock-like confidence that thy vessel may once again churn the seas in both calms and cats' paws.

May thy exhaust be sufficiently cooled and riseth from the waterlift without falling back, for 'tis said the oils and the waters maketh a poor milkshake.

May thy pumps always lift,  may thy lines need no bleeding, and may thy starter cables remain uncorroded, to thine greater glory and in hopes of reaching the alloted anchorage before sunset. 

Amen.

Oh, look...it's Canadian.

 

2014-03-01

The opposite of right

I don't expect the basis of this post to persist, so "enjoy" it while it lasts.

This little gem was found on the Canadian Yachting Facebook page. Scroll down to the "Feb. 26" entry. Props to fellow Ontario sailor Scott B. and anything-sailing.com for spotting it.

Spot the problem: It's not the missing sea boots, nor the suspicious-looking angle of heel.
Now, in most of life's challenges, there's not only a right and a wrong answer, but a range of right and wrong. Putting out a fire with your hands is only right in the sense that it is arguably better to have burnt hands than to die in an explosion made inevitable if you don't put the fire out with your hands, for instance. This is clearly a hard choice. Might be better to just head for the lift raft. But is there time?

In the context of the sea, recreational sailors face the same challenges as professional mariners who receive mandatory education on how to deal with dangerous situations aboard ships. We learn the same techniques and attempt to master similar methods of evaluation through education, and through the development of the awareness necessary to stay safe at sea.

Such education iss mandatory in such countries as Portugal, where the Portuguese Navy is the coast guard and the entire coast is more or less a rough and potentially dangerous lee shore. In North America, we have either "nothing" or feeble, low-bar certifications like the Canadian PCOC, which exposes the new boater to about enough instructional rigour to manage a figure-8 on a mill pond in a Torqeedo-powered Zodiac.

The conscientious recreational boater, perhaps being informed by circumstance of his or her knowledge deficits by the indifferent elements, or possessing insufficient comprehension about how a boat actually works, has a few options. In Canada, there is Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons, a longstanding and largely volunteer-run organization that has a noble mission statement:

To increase awareness and knowledge of safe boating by educating and training members and the general public, by fostering fellowship among members, and by establishing partnerships and alliances with organizations and agencies interested in boating.-CPS mission statement.

And good on them for that. I took with veteran cruisers Ken and Lynn (it's where we all actually met) the 12-week Boating Course in 1999, about four months after I bought Valiente and after an episode of pure and expensive ignorance persuaded me that I had a serious shortfall in knowing how to work my new-to-me boat. The course was not particularly easy, and all of us felt, after a longish exam at the end, that we had earned our then-freshly introduced PCOC certifications, and that we now had some sort of theoretical foundation to our actions and decisions on the water. I have found their standards have declined in this regard in the intervening years, along with the ease with which a PCOC can be obtained.

Nonetheless, I went on, as did my wife, to take other CPS courses, such as Radio Operation, Coastal Pilotage, Basic Marine First Aid and a few others, like Celestial Navigation. There haven't been many long and cold Toronto haulout seasons during which I haven't taken some sort of education that has been intended into increasing my seamanship and general on-board competence. I leave it to Neptune and other sailors to judge how that's panned out.

I've often spoken here about recognizing risks at sea. We learn to evaluate risk through experience, but in many situations, the acquisition of "risky experience" can damage the boat, or injure or even kill the crew. So we take courses to explore risks and safety at sea in a methodical and cosseted fashion, in the hopes that "the right or at least the best answer" will occur to us should the worst case or the riskiest choice manifest on a boat on which we are crewing or which is under our command.

The way individual minds are put together, and the level of one's susceptability to panic or fear will, of course, play a role in whether the training one takes in a warm classroom on shore will serve a frozen crew in a damaging gale. There's clearly limits to education. But (and we are now returning to the gloriously bad bit of advertising above), one of those limits should not be, in my view, promoting an organization's boater education courses with the opposite of what is the correct use of a safety device and technique.
None of whom are now alive, but hey.

The contemplative cabin boy pictured above on what may be a Nonsuch would find just about enough deflection in that lifeline to drown were the improperly deployed tether he's sporting to be used for real. Not only is that the wrong way to rig a tether, it's a way to rig a tether that would most likely kill the user. Were you to lash a baby seat with jute twine to the outside of a car windshield in order to demonstrate the efficacy of your in-dash airbags during a head-on collision, a similar level of utility would be on show.

TETHERS DON'T WORK THAT WAY. THEY WORK THIS WAY.


And that's why I now take RYA courses, despite my current inability to actually pass the things, instead of CPS. There's simply a higher grade of care and professionalism at work. All the good intentions in the world (and CPS is full of people with good intentions) can't make me forgive or forget that this educational organization approved and presumably paid for that advertisement to go live. If they are careless about this, which must have passed in front of many sailorly eyes, how much confidence can one have in the quality of their educational courses?

As an aside, I could let the Christopher Columbus quote pass, even though I and some others consider him a bloodthirsty slaver, but not a tether used in exactly the wrong way, even in a clearly faked-up, fair-weather photo shoot.

Wonder where I learned that? Probably when the ocean tried to kill me and only a properly rigged tether stopped it so I could live to rant another day.