Friday, December 30, 2005

Back From The UK

Well, now, I'm back from Christmas Holiday with my sister and brother-in-law in England. This is not really about boating or sailing because we didn't see a single boat while I was there. Too bad. Not really.

The UK is a spectacular place. That's not just hyperbole. Think about this: They were a coherent (mostly) society 1000 years before us. They've survived their horribly violent beginnings, their rise to world domination, and drift away from same but remaining as a world power - something no other society has successfully done in history. Most are violently finished after their rise to power (see the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. Germany. USSR.). This has had the obvious effect of creating a nation of reasonable people. And friendly!

The English government seems complicated but apparently very resistant to subversion. Unlike our which is, most people feel, so corrupt as to no longer be representative. Before you flame me with your indignation, I remain an American and I do love my country. However, you'd have to be rabidly blind to see that special interests actually run the country via political action committees, election donations, and so forth. There's a lot to love about America, but there's also a great deal to be very, very worried about.

Anyway, this isn't a rant about the accelerating loss of rights here. It's really about the UK.

This is not to say they don't have problems - they most certainly do, but their approach to them seems, well, more reasonable. And they seem far more tolerant.

But all that aside. Here's the thing: natural beauty is appreciated in the United States mostly because of size. I mean, the Grand Canyon is beautiful because of it's grandeur, it's massive - it's, well, grand. The Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, Great Plains, the bad lands - they are all beautiful in their wildness, their ability to humble, and their sheer size.

Not so the UK. Remember it's slightly larger than New England. That's pretty big, but it's been in use continuously by one society or another (or more) for over 5,000 years. And they've been taking care of it. So the natural beauty comes more from the obvious care than from the expanse. It's just a different sort of natural beauty, not better or worse - but for the most part it can be beheld in one look. There's something extraordinarily satisfying about that.

For instance, since England was almost denuded of trees because of the need to build ships and produce charcoal. Trees are precious; it's apparent because almost all trees over about 50 years show signs of pruning and shaping. Estates hire people just to manage their forests.

When you look to fields, you can see how they have been cared for. The beautiful shapes, and the perfection of form!

There are other incredible sights, too - here a house from the 1700's is considered very old, and all things considered it is. But in the UK, the place is just getting the lived in look! They were building places to last (and still are because lumber is so expensive). My brother-in-law mentioned houses built in the 1940's are still considered 'new' houses!
Roman Steps
We went for a walk on a path along the Clwyedog River in North Wales. You may notice the river isn't all that big. In our standards, it's a healthy stream. It's an example of what I was saying before about being able to grasp the natural beauty in one exquisite look.

Yet it was a source of power for mills and furnaces and what have you when the US was just getting started!

We started at Bersham Iron Works, which is also the Bersham Heritage Centre, and ended up at Nant Mill, about a mile or so walk. In that mile, aside from the two places I mentioned were, in addition to the mill races, a 'roman steps', a beautiful waterfall, and an ancient bridge. And the path, although muddy, was very well tended.

Walking is very popular there. Even when it was frost cold (unusual for the western part of the UK) we met other walkers with their dogs and children. All with a smile and a "Good morning!" or "Good afternoon!" Waterfall

In the US, it would be very unusual to see these sorts of sights without long periods of travel between. There, we're talking about ten minutes of strolling. Power walk, and you're by this stuff before you know it! You just can't help stopping and exploring and even touching some of these things. The sense of antiquity, of history, is almost overwhelming.

You can't hardly swing a dead cat without hitting something of historical significance. Really. I say this, of course, not having a dead cat to swing, but had I had one and the room to swing it, you could guess the results.

Well, we went for lunch on Boxing Day (which, oddly enough has nothing to do with pugilism orAncient Bridge the Boxer Rebellion but is the day after Christmas see Wikipedia's Boxing Day) to a place called Frogg Manor, a real manor house that is now an inn and restaurant - the owner seems to do everything. He was vacuuming when we came in, was the social host, and as he is also a spectacular chef, prepared our meals. His attentions were friendly and welcome. A bit of a nut, too.

If you're ever in Chester, UK, best go there. You will be very happy you did!

One of the bad things about the UK is that they use pounds like we use dollars. This is very disturbing, especially in restaurants. A meal in a pub for three here would cost $50 or $60. I'm talking about a hamburger and beer each. It's still 50 or 60 over there but in pounds, the dollar value is like 1.7 times 0r $85 to $102. So you have to think about that some. It's really the only downside of the UK.

Well, there's one more thing. If you can avoid Heathrow Airport do it. Really. Unless you like long walks back and forth to places and queueing (lines). If you're just flying to London, then ok. But if you're going on to other places in the UK, be prepared to spend at least an hour and a half getting through customs and security, and traveling between terminals. Oh, and the signage isn't too good either. On the good side, British Airways usually holds planes for connections. And everyone there was unfailingly friendly and helpful.

Well, I have to prepare my new mainsail for putting on the boat Sunday, Jan 1, so that's what I'm off to now. If you get the chance, do go to the UK. It's spectacular!

See you on the water in the New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Goin' Away

It's been a while since I've had anything to say (that is, of course, assuming you've already thought I had anything to say). In any case, I've been busy getting ready for a trip to England for the holidays.

It turns out, that this year the weather hasn't been too great for sailing. I mean, it was ok. Not too much snow, but so cold I wasn't interested in taking the boat out by myself. My friends are all busy doing holiday stuff to get ready for their families and I am as well for my trip. So, no great sailing stuff going on.

I did complete all the things I wanted to with the stuff I bought from Sailrite. But since there's no real rush to get the new sails on the boat, I don't have to go out of my way to test them all. Except for the mainsail turtle. But more on that later.

So, I'm going to Chester, UK, and it's near Liverpool. And in Liverpool, if you ever get there, is the most fantastic maritime museum that I have ever seen! It's spectacular with all of its exhibits. If you get there, go. You won't be disappointed!

Every weekend, though, I still go down to the boat and check the bilge (which always has water), the through-hulls (for cracks or leaks), clean the snow or bird-doo off, and generally putter about. If it's warm enough, and I'm going to stay for awhile, I'll light up the heater, and maybe make a cup of coffee or soup. It's kinda fun.

When I get back, it will only be a few days until New Years, so if January 1 is going to be really nice (40+ degrees and sunny), a group of us will go sailing, and I will put the new main and jib on to see how they fit and look... That's exciting, too!

Well, must pack and take care of all the little things that must be done before a trip!

See you on the water!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

First Snow

This is the day after the first snow of the season. Of course I have clean off the boat. Every year I move Inertia from her winter home to summer home and back. Winter home is Haverstraw Marina, located, oddly enough, in Haverstraw NY, about 30 miles north of New York harbor.

I've been coming to Haverstraw Marina for over 13 years - and I was docked there for 10 or 12 years before that. It's been my home when I lived aboard. I've had an awful lot of fun here. If you have a deep draft boat, when you come up the Hudson, it's a pretty good place to stay. There used to be a restaurant, but it burned down recently. However, about a mile away to the north is a bar/grill. I've never been there, but how bad can it be?

Back to Inertia - we got about 10" of snow yesterday and I spent most of the day snowblowing and shoveling. But today, I wanted to get the snow off the boat. So here's some pictures of Inertia under snow.

Today it was 35 so the sunny side pretty much melted off, but you can see that in the shade, the snow was nearly untouched. You wouldn't think it would weigh all that much, but I'd say it was enough to set Inertia down another inch in the water - that's like 1200 lbs. or so. And it's a lot of snow to remove with a plastic dustpan!

Anyway, the boat inside was dry and surprisingly warm! Ok, not shorts and tee-shirt weather, but very comfortable - well above 30. Hey, when I lived on my Ranger, there were winter days I got up and it was less than 30. Try getting dressed in that!

Frankly, the day was nice enough so that I could go sailing! Light breeze from the south, sunny, and warmish. However, it was getting late, so it was also going to get really cold.

I hope I can get out once more this year - business and other obligations are taking over prime time - and so it the weather.

January 1, though, is the traditional first sail of the season! Hey, maybe I'll see you on the water!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Old and New Friends

Well, I'm not really a joiner. I never have been. I don't like clubs or cliques. But this Friday last I rejoined my old yacht club (Hudson Cove Yacht Club). It's funny - I've been away from it for two years, but it was like I'd never left, all my friends still there, and surprisingly to me, happy to see me!

Admittedly I belong for the advantages at other yacht clubs, many of whom only rent moorings or slips to other yacht club members, or they provide them at reduced prices. This is a good thing. I've mentioned how the marine industry has slowly but surely swung back to making boating an elitist activity by charging prices that bear no relationship to value (hey - not just boating, huh?). But as a leisure activity, it seems you'd want people to stay. Or there's just a lot more money around than I can see.

So, back to the club thing - it was their Christmas Party, and it was a great deal of fun to see everyone! From what I hear, they were just as thrilled to see me. Who'd a thunk it?

In case you're interested in joining a yacht club, be aware they run the gamut from effectively social clubs only (with no facilities) to down home, earthy clubs with spare facilities, to great big clubs with grand mansions for club houses, 24 hour launch service, formal dinners and other occasions. You choose - it can be as little as a couple hundred bucks to many, many thousands.

If it's an accredited club, you're all set for 'reciprocal priviledges'. Cool beans.

Although this year I'll stay at Barron's boat yard, next year I'll try to join City Island Yacht Club or Harlem Yacht Club, both on City Island.

There's something to be said for joining at least one club!

See you on the water.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

New Projects and A Company You Should Use

Well, today has been a day of frustration with brick-and-mortar stores. I could not find anything I wanted, or if it was there, there wasn't enough for the project.

As I may have mentioned, I've received most of my sails from Somerset Sails, and although they seem well built, there are a couple of nice pieces missing - not their fault. I wasn't specific enough in my specifications.

For instance, on my current mainsail, I have reef points on the luff that contain some strapping through the grommets with rings on either side to hook on the gooseneck reef hooks. This is really nice because you can hook either side, you can rig lines to the eyes to pull down the sail from the cockpit, and you don't have to struggle to get the grommet itself on the hook. The new sail doesn't have them, and it's because I didn't ask for them.

Anyway, I thought I'd go ahead and pop over to the nearest West Marine Store for the rings and webbing. Ok, I realize that a brick-and-mortar store needs to make a profit because they need to pay for a lot of overhead. So we pay the premium for having what we want in our grubby little hands right away. Well, this works out fine if the store has what we want and enough of it.

Well, they didn't. They had exactly the wrong amount of rings - I need 6, they had at most 2. But the rings were either $8.99 each or $9.99 each - depending on the ring thickness. Also, I needed 3/4" polyester webbing to go between the rings. They had 1/2", and it was $.99 per foot! So, I didn't buy it.

I got home and thought, "Hey, I'll go online and see what has!" Not only did they have what I wanted, while I was there, I thought of two more projects they had the stuff for - namely, the boat name on the new sail cover from Somerset Sails, and for my new asymmetrical spinnaker I've devised a tack attachment point on the bow roller that I have to make strapping for. More on that later, though. I also thought I'd make a nice bag for the new mainsail (Martin at Somerset Sails indicated I'd use a long tube made out of something like plastic tarp material. Apparently, with the very flexible full battens, you don't remove them). I thought I'd use one of my old sails as material for a mainsail turtle. So I ordered a 10' zipper for just that purpose.

The long and short of it: the 3/4" webbing - $.10/ft., stainless steel ring: $2.99, 10 ft. #10 zipper: ~$17.00. I ordered more stuff, so my total bill was around $90.00. And I got to talk to a knowledgeable human being. So, if you need anything for making, repairing, strengthing, customizing or almost anything else to do with sewing, sails, covers, canvas anything, or whatever, go to or call them at 800-348-2769.

This by way of saying, if West Marine had had any of the stuff I wanted, I would have bought it and paid a lot more for it. Moral of the story: If you're going to run a retail business you must do one of two things, preferrably both:

  • Have a good inventory of the items you sell
  • Have good pricing on those items
If you don't, especially in this day and age of online shopping, you're screwed.

Ok, so I can't do the project today. But there's nowhere I could go to get the stuff to do it today anyway, so if I wait until next weekend, so what? Or during the week.

The next frustration was with Home Depot. But that's not really sailing, so I won't go into it. But once again, it's a struggle with a brick-and-mortar.

Now, for the downhaul project for the new asymm - My friend Laura has one and she's rigged the thing so that when she uses it, she has to remove the bow roller so that she can attach a block to the bolt that holds the roller. That means she can't anchor when she's going to use the asymm. Here's my idea: I bought, from Sailrite some 2" webbing and 2 - 2" D-rings. You can see where I'm going - I'm making a strap ending in the D-rings. The strap goes around the bow roller, and a shackle holds them together. On the shackle goes a block, et voila! a downhaul! So, if this works, feel free to make one of your own.

You're probably wondering where the mess goes when I'm using the anchor - well, it slides off to the side and gets tied to the hooks below the roller-furler gear. Or it just hangs down. I'm sure I'll figure it out.

When I get to these projects, I'll let you know. Pictures and all.

On another note - I had to send one of the sails back to Somerset Sails as it wasn't constructed the way we had discussed. I called Martin and mentioned it, and without hesitation he said to send it back. No hemming, no hawing. Bim, bam, thank you, m'am. Admittedly, I'm a little disappointed that I had to do that, but I am forever grateful that there was no discussion. That's service, and that's the kind of companies we should support!

See you on the water!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wow! Christmas Early

Of course, it's damp, and overcast and generally ratty weather but the first three of my new sails have arrived from Somerset Sails.

How exciting - I want to unfold them in the house to see what's what! But the house is not a loft, and I know this is the last time these sails will see their current neat folding. But so far, they look magnificent. It's unfortunate that work interrupts sailing!

So far, I've gotten the new main and the 140% genoa, a 95% yankee, and a new main sail cover - which I'll sew the Inertia's name on. The only other sail I'm expecting is a 175% asymmetrical spinnaker.

To describe the sails:

The main is a tri-radial full battened main with draft stripes, numbers, logo, with two reefs and a cunningham. The appliques are all green to match the hull stripes. It's built with Contender cloth with a combination of 7.4 oz. and 7.01 oz. weights.

The 140% jib is also tri-radial in construction, also with green appliques - numbers, logo, and draft stripe.

The yankee is a small working sail for those days when the 140 is too big. I know the sails are supposed to be roller furling, but typically they don't perform that well reefed. So I'd rather change them if the wind's going to be up for any length of time.

When I get the spinnaker, I'll let you know about that.

If it's not too cold this weekend, I'll try them out. I can't wait! Pictures to follow, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Putting the Boat Away

Today was warm - around 50, but overcast with not a breath of wind. So I decided to change the oil and oil filter for the winter. It really only takes a couple of minutes because the engine has a hand pump on the engine oul sump. Good thing, too, because there's no other way to get the oil out without just dumping it in the bilge and getting out after that.

Anyway, it's kind of sad. Sure, I know I'll be out sailing again this season, but each step to storage is another marker in the road towards the dead of winter and when the boat is fully 'asleep'. No matter what else happens, though, our group will go out on Jan 1. I'll be sure to report on that.

So, while changing the oil, I saw some coolant on the deck below the alternator which is below a water hose. I looked around (and this is a good thing whenever you have the engine cover off) and found what looked like a leak behind the water pump. Turns out there was a loose hose clamp. Whew! I certainly don't want to replace the fresh water pump now!

Ok. I've been bouncing this around - The marina I was at in Connecticut has raised it's prices to nearly $100/ft. for the summer, plus $400. in electricity for the same period.

When I got into sailing, it was a period of time that you could own and sail a boat pretty inexpensively. But now it's getting harder and harder to do that - not because of the maintenance since I do that myself, not because of fuel since I don't use more that about 30 gallons a season, but because marinas are charging more and more for less and less service.

But I digress.

So, I thought maybe I'd go back to City Island, which I really like - it's great - but do I go to Barrons? It's on the east side of the island west of Hart Island, so it's really well protected. And it's pretty cheap. But the launch service is spotty. It's from 9 am to 6 pm. And on Saturday nights, the party boats run up and down the channel at speed all night long with music blaring and throwing huge wakes. Really uncomfortable for sleeping. It's inexpensive, though. And I like the owner. He'll haul the boat on demand, and we have been known to party together.

On the other hand, there are some mighty nice yacht clubs on the west side but they're $2500 to $3000 per year. That includes a bunch of money for the restaurant on site, and there's a clubhouse.

Still, this year I bought new sails and I want to put a couple of solar panels on board, so I decided today to go to Barrons, at least for this year and save some bucks. Next year maybe a club. But this year, save some dough.

But back to the other thing: marina's and their ever increasing appetite for money. It's endemic to all industry, but especially bad for boating. It's been a struggle for the marine industry to show that boating's not the elitist sport it was once considered. But when it charges become frivilously large it forces those of us that aren't spectacularly wealthy out - making it once again a sport of kings.

My own take on this is that it sucks.

I hope to see you on the water!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Turning Useless to Useful Space

Let’s face it – no boat is perfect. Inertia falls squarely into that category, but I’m slowly and surely making changes to have it move closer to that ideal. One such change is removing the starboard icebox and replacing it with much needed storage.

When Ericson designed the 34 II they tried to keep the cabin very traditional but with some ‘features’ added. One feature is the aft facing nav station that uses the settee as seating. Frankly, I think an aft facing nav station is a ticket to the barf train in a seaway.

What it does do is free up space aft of the nav station for something else. The something else that Ericson chose was an icebox. This icebox is badly shaped and poorly insulated resulting in having nothing stay cold and vast quantities of ice poured or pumped down the drain. The main icebox in the galley is far better. More than that, this year I purchased a portable refrigerator/freezer that runs on 12v and 120v. I plan to add solar panels to power it on a mooring. More on that later.

Many people won’t tackle a project like this because they feel they don’t have the skills or it will reduce the value of the boat. The skills necessary aren’t that great for removal or installation, but construction requires the special tools and skills of a moderate woodshop. My best friend Leigh has both. In spades. More to the point, he likes projects like these as long as he doesn’t have to go on the boat to work on them. As far as reducing the value of the boat goes – chances are that if you don’t like a ‘feature’ and you change it to suit yourself, others will feel the same way. Besides, you didn’t buy the boat as an investment, did you? If so, there’s a bridge I’ve got to sell to you.

So, the first step is to remove the icebox. When removing furniture from a boat, expect surprises. Remember, they are put together before the deck goes on. It makes life much easier for construction, less so for destruction. In Inertia, all the wood screws have plugs so it’s fairly easy to find them. But sometimes you just need force. Just be careful not to damage the stuff you want to keep.

In this case, the only thing I had to be careful of are the wires and hose that travel against the hull.

Once all was removed, I made templates of the fore and aft bulkheads so Leigh and I could create a frame that fit between the stiles and the hull. Templates are VERY important, so take the time to make them wherever you can’t do direct measurements. That way you’ll have references in the shop. Also, digital cameras are a terrific help!

The design we came up with was a good solid work surface, two 7-1/2” deep drawers, an equipment shelf and at the bottom, a small locker. I decided on flush fronts, which given my experience, I’d probably change now. But that doesn’t affect it’s usage, it’s just looks.

The next step is to build the whole unit in the shop, drawers and all. I’ve no pictures of that, but back on the boat, I’ve taken the unit apart, installed the front stile, and then the drawer slide frames with cleats, and the top work surface cleats. When installing cabinetry on a boat, you’ll often have to decide which bulkhead you’re going to call ‘square’. I chose the aft one with the head door. This resulted in a small space on the forward end. I shimmed and screwed in from both bulkheads into the stiles.

I glued and screwed the supporting cleats for the drawer slides so that they wouldn’t torque away from the front stile. They are not attached to the drawer frames. This allows for movement as the hull works (and they all do).

Next, I laminated the top work surface and installed it. I installed the drawers and the lower locker’s hinged door. The whole installation took about 3 hours, the removal took about the same, and the construction took about eight hours. I used mahogany for the visible surfaces and birch plywood for the drawers and substrate of the work surface. The interior surfaces have been sprayed with polyurethane, and the exposed surfaces have been oiled with teak oil, like the rest of Inertia’s interior.

Now that it’s done – I have a 21” deep drawer, a 17” deep drawer, a 13” deep shelf and a beautiful wine locker! Much more useful, and if I may say so myself, very salty!

For comparison, see the photo on the right compared to the original icebox. Maybe your next project won't be as complex, but if it is something that makes your boat more enjoyable, then go to it! If you can't do it, there are those that will and very often at reasonable prices. Even Inertia's previous owners like this particular project's outcome, having suffered with the lack of storage. Go to it! Make your boat yours!

See you on the water!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cool Sailing

As you know - or maybe not - that Sunday last (Nov 20th) I took 7 of my friends sailing. Their boats are all put up for the winter and they need their sailing fix, too.

On the Long Island Sound, the saying is if you don't like the weather, wait an hour. On the Hudson River, it's only 5 minutes between wildly different weather conditions. For instance, we all started our sail under full sail ghosting along in 8kts of wind. A few minutes later, it was a nice 10-12. A few after that, nothing. Few more minutes, 18-25, and we had to reef the main and jib. Later, 10kts, and finally when we got back to the dock, calm.

Lest you think this was gusty wind, it was not. It blew steadily at each of these speeds for several minutes before notching up or down. Very little transition. It is what makes Hudson River sailing so challenging and interesting. For pleasure sailing, it's a little trying since tacking several times in a few miles is the norm, not the exception. It's fun, but wearing. So a pleasure sail on the Hudson tends to be relatively short. Also, there's not many places to go.

But for a couple of hours of really pleasant sailing, especially late in the season, there's nothing like it.

I'm not big on sailing with company - I mean, I'll do it, but not often. In the cool and cold weather, though, it's really great because my guests appreciate the 'gift' of sailing. It reminds them of the season before and the one coming up. Me, too.

It makes me really glad for them, for the boat being ready to go, and for the unmitigated joy of just sailing for sailing's sake.

See you on the water!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another Circuit About the Sun

Well, this weekend is the first weekend of my 54th circuit about good ol' Sol. My friends have been wonderful, both sailing and not.

Unlike most people in the northeast, and especially on the Hudson River, I'll sail as long as there's no ice on the river. This presents some problems with winterization, of course. I've already put a 'tee' in the engine intake so I can winterize the raw water system in a matter of seconds.

Yesterday, I did the same for the intake of the head.. And what a difference it made in winterizing! Now instead of horsing around in tight spaces to do it, it's a pump, pump, swish, swish -all done!

Today I'll be sailing with the usual group of suspects plus Bob and Carol Garabedian and Bobbie and Warren Breslow. We could be our own yacht club as much time as we spend together. Afterwards, a cook out. Just like the summer.

It's supposed to be 50+ with 8 to 12. Wonderful. I'll run the heater for those inclined to stay below, and it'll be great.

Each year around my birthday I really take the time to appreciate my sailing friends. Herb and Gina, Laura, the aforementioned Bob and Carol and Bobbie and Warren, people you're soon to meet, like Jack and Art and Catherine.

Of course, my non-sailing friends are just as important. There are fewer of them as time goes on. More and more I am thinking of permanent residence on my boat. It's a wonderful existance. Everything you own within your reach! You have complete control of your environment. Well mostly.

Sure, there are challenges. Like what to keep and what to throw away. Also, heating and cooling is problematic, but do-able. Also, it's getting harder and harder to find a marina that accepts liveaboards.

The only thing that prevents me just now from doing it and sailing off into the sunrise is the boat is not yet self-sufficient energywise, my finances are not yet self-sufficient, and I'm not ready to retire just yet.

But who knows what the year will bring?

Whatever it is, it will be especially sweet because of my friends.

See you on the water!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What makes a good boat?

Opinions are like noses - everyone has one and no one wants another. That said, here's my take on what makes a perfect, or at least a good, boat.

The first attribute a good boat must have is its ability to stay afloat. It is the nature of a boat to want nothing more than to rest comfortably at the bottom of whatever body of water it happens to be bobbing in. If water doesn't get in through holes in the bottom, it will through leaks in the deck, cockpit, ports, hatches, mast, ventilators and so on.

More to the point, if a boat has a cabin or cuddy then it's really important it remains mostly dry - there has to be some refuge from the weather if only to give you a place of calm and dry in which you can gather your wits before continuing your pitched battle with the sea.

Beyond floating and staying dry the rest is all taste and gravy. Here's where opinions of a good boat split.

If you were to hunt for your perfect boat, where would you start? When I decided Mudlark, my Rhodes Meridian, was too small for comfortable cruising, I thought, based on Mudlark's sweet handling, forgiving design, and beautiful lines that I wanted a boat just like her, but bigger. Mudlark's characteristics came from a full keel with a large attached rudder, low aspect ratio mainsail, and relatively small jib, classic CCA rules design. With tiller steering she was pretty maneuverable and could be balanced with sail to hold a course without hanging onto the tiller. Although she was tender and wet while sailing, below was dry, mostly. She had a lot of room for a 25' boat.

A funny thing happened in my search for a new boat. I looked at several boats with full keels and attached rudders, with low aspect mainsails, with beautiful and jaunty lines like Mudlark such as Alberg 35s, Camper Nicholsons, Southern Crosses and so forth. But what I ended up with was as much a surprise for me as it was for my friends.

A Ranger 30, Wind Hawk, with a fin keel, balanced fin rudder, IOR design, withWind Hawk - Bottom a fine and flat entry, mostl flat aft sections, low aspect main and huge foresails. It had 4,300 lbs of lead in the form of a 'shoe' at the bottom of the keel on a 10,000 lb boat, and so was very stiff. She carried her beam aft of the mast and tapered fairly quickly towards the stern. From above she looked tear-drop shaped.

Yet, for all it's weight, it sailed very well in light air and very well in heavy, but was mediocre in the typical airs found in the Hudson and Long Island Sound - from 10-18kts.

That said, she was twitchy - there was no way to balance the sails and helm so she could self steer like Mudlark could. She could, however, turn around in her own length. When I first acquired her, she had a serious lee helm, meaning that rather than pointing into the wind when the tiller was released (weather helm), she'd merrily sail downwind. My friend at Samalot Marine, George Samalot, pointed out that I needed to move the power aft in the boat.

This problem was solved with three steps. First, I moved the mast foot forward as far as the adjusting plate would allow which gave the mast a aft rake. Second, using the forward lower shrouds, I put pre-bend into the mast, and finally, I replaced the shelf-foot main with a loose-footed main George built so that I could really add draft to it and bring power back. It was not unusual for me to sail with two feet of draft.

Compared to Mudlark, though, the difference was like night and day. Mudlark was a family sedan, Wind Hawk was a sports car. Also with the higher freeboard I could sail comfortably and dryly in much worse seas and weather than Mudlark would allow.

Cassiopeia - ALIRMy friend Laura's boat is a Beneteau 42.7 which is very much an update on the IOR designs, with nearly vertical bow, very flat aft sections, and carrying the beam for much farther aft, almost to the transom. This makes her very bouyant aft and it is not difficult to surf the boat in the right conditions. She's fast and comfortable to sail, fairly easy to maneuver, and as you see, a fine looking vessel.

Cassiopeia is light for her size, as are most all Beneteaus. She is cavernous below, and has all the amenities you'd expect. She has the three cabin layout with two heads.

She's been in the ocean racing and cruising and has stood up well to it. This says alot about the engineering and construction at Beneteau.

Because she's light, sail area gets reduced early and often. Although it doesn't look like it, in the picture, she's overpowered.

My current boat, Inertia, is an Ericson 34, as has been mentioned. Let's look at her bottom and see where she fits in the spectrum. As you can see, Inertia's underside is very different from Wind Hawk's or Cassiopeia's - not particularly flat aft, beam starts around the mast and carries quite far aft, but then narrows at the transom. This gives her great heeling stability, but with the fine ends, less bouyancy forward and aft. In addition because the aft section isn't too flat, there's no surfing this boat. She's designed primarily for upwind to broad reach sailing.

You'll notice the wing keel. It doesn't significantly reduce the total draft, and when heeled, actually increases it. But what it does do is help keep the boat from bouncing in chop and provides enhanced lift when sailing to windward.

Finally, Herb & Gina's boat, a Passport 40, is a full-out world cruiser. It has a modified full keel with skeg mounted rudder. It's heavy, strong boat that can carry an impressive amount of canvas. I don't have a picture of her that would help here so you'll have to wait until I get one...

Anyway, each of these boats has their own pluses and minuses. Here, you'll have to decide what's important to you and what you can live with. Take into account where and what kind of sailing you'll do. But I'll give you some of my insight.

First, because I primarily singlehand, I need to have the controls near the helm, such as the main sheet, traveler, jib sheet and jib car control lines. In addition, because I have to stay safe or that's the end of the story for me and the boat, below has to have a lot of handholds, and not too many sharp edges to hit.

Beyond that, there are comfort level items that I appreciate.

  • If you have an auxiliary inboard engine, your best bet is a diesel. They're easy to maintain, safe, fuel efficient.
  • It's lovely but not strictly necessary to have hot and cold running water. I have it.
  • The head should be somewhere near the middle of the boat, facing fore and aft preferrably with good support on either side.
  • The bilge should be easily accessable and of sufficient volume to hold the water that comes aboard from rain and sailing (if any) for several days before wetting the floorboards.
  • There should be good ventilation.
  • When below, you should have a feeling of confidence, security, and comfort. Sleeping arrangements should be secure if necessary.
  • There should be an autopilot or the boat should be able to self steer for short periods of time reliably.
  • There should be many strong handholds or clip holds for harnesses wherever you spend time topsides.
Even a boat missing some or all of these things can, with time and effort, become the boat you want. Or the one I want.

The two most important factors that you really cannot change are how the boat handles the sea and how you are going to use the boat. If it's going to be your vacation home or back porch on the water then your needs are going to be different from mine. If you entertain a lot and you motor when the wind gets above 12 knots, then any of the modern production boats will probably suffice. Hunter and Catalina jump to mind. For all their engineering, they, in my opinion, are not good offshore boats and somewhat scary in rough weather. Yes, you can do it. You can row across the Atlantic, too. But would you want to?

The Beneteau Oceanis line of boats are similar - they're really for entertaining, with typically conservative sails and large motors. They have drink holders and fold down seating and so forth. They also have a great big table in the middle of the cockpit. If you're on your own, it is guaranteed to always be in the way.

If, on the other hand, like me, you need to get around on deck, you don't need that stuff.

Next, the size of the cockpit is moderately important, both from a control and 'pooping' point of view. Since most of us are coastal sailors, cockpit drainage is not that important. But having an 8' long one where you have to put the boat on autopilot to manage the sails is not the best of configurations. One of the things I loved about Wind Hawk was the small cockpit, barely 5' long with the main sheet traveler on the bridge deck. I could sit at the tiller and reach all the lines.

Until I moved the traveler on Inertia, it was always a problem managing the main. I'd need the autopilot just to move the traveler since it was unreachable otherwise.

You wouldn't like a car where the gas was in the passenger side of the car, and the brake in the back seat and so forth - the same thing goes here.

So when looking at your boat, think what would make handling it easier. With some dollars and sweat, you can probably make it happen.

I'd be interested to know what other people think makes their boat a good boat.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Cast of Characters

Yesterday was a beautiful warm fall day, with pleasant breezes and blue sky with a patina of haze. So I went bicycling with my good friends Herb and Gina on a trail in Westchester County, NY. It's one of those that used to be a commuter rail bed, but was torn up in the late 50's. Although whomever did the tearing thought it a good idea, it has left the area woefully under serviced for public transport.

But that's not really why I'm writing.

I met Herb and Gina (pronounced Gin-a as opposed to Geena) when I had 'Mudlark' 1968  Rhodes MeridianMudlark, my first boat in the Haverstraw Marina. Mudlark was a '62 25' Rhodes Meridian, with a fiberglass hull and wood mast and boom.

Anyway, they had their beautiful Ericson 28, Impulse Too. Now listen to this: every boat they've had is beautiful because Herb is constantly fixing and improving it. Compared to Mudlark, where I was constantly fixing it to keep it afloat.

Don't get me wrong - Mudlark was the perfect learning boat - she was built like a tank, beautifully balanced, and incredibly forgiving. If I had pulled some of the stunts in my other boats that I pulled with Mudlark, we wouldn't be talking now. But that's for a later entry. It will come up, I'm sure.

Anyway, Herb and Gina (almost always said in the same breath - invariably, we speak of them as if they were the same person. They're not, but they are the same 'unit', with all that implies. If you had to emulate any long term relationship, this would be the one) had sailed their boat from Connecticut, which to me was, at the time, incredibly far away! An adventure! Like around the world!

Meanwhile, I had, as my longest trip, sailed up to Chelsea near Beacon, NY and down to Nyack. Perhaps 30 miles in all, at different times. Mudlark was fun to sail, but less so for overnighting.

But back to Herb and Gina. Herb is an engineer by trade and an experimenter by avocation. And what bigger thing to experiment on than a boat? He's come up with bottom paint that really resists growth, a once-a-year wax for fiberglass (which does work). He's not afraid to try things 'that should work', and more often than not, perform as well or better than expected.

That said, Herb is the conservative of the group - the voice that tells us that going sailing in a gale is perhaps not the best idea we've come up with. And he's what we lovingly call "the curmugeon'.

Wind Hawk at anchorStill, when faced with a disagreeable task, he's the first to volunteer. What you wouldn't guess from his demeanor is that he can be an animal on the boat. On Wind Hawk (my Ranger 30), he was bowman, and he was incredible. More on Wind Hawk later.

What all that means is that I'd trust Herb and Gina with my life.

More on Gina later, too, because she definitely deserves more coverage. She's outgoing, giving, social, and a voice of sense in the rest of our somewhat senseless group (not really, but sometimes it seems that way).

We've known each other since 1982 or so - and sailed, raced, partied and currently are growing, um, older together.

When Herb & Gina decided to get a bigger boat they found one in Annapolis, MD. It is the very same Ericson 34 that I now own. They named it 'Moonraker'. I helped them bring it up from Annapolis. I told him when he was ready to sell it, I wanted first dibbs. That seemed to work out, eh?

Also on that trip was Laura, Dave, and Lori, who sadly for us and the rest of the world is deceased. We all get together annually and have a Lori's Brew party where we make, well, Lori's Brew. It involves vodka, blueberries, and sugar. And waiting for 90 days. But when completed, yum yum!

But I digress.

Dave is no longer in the group either, but from divorce.

On the finger on the other side of Mudlark from Impulse Too was a Rhodes 19. Look, some of the most pretty boats designed came from the drawing board of Phillip Rhodes. Check it out.

During the summer when I was busily repairing Mudlark for whatever ailed her, Laura would come down and work on the Rhodes. We often talked. It wasn't until I got involved in racing a few years later that I started seeing her regularly at regattas up and down the Hudson.

Eventually, we started talking at these after-race parties, and when I got my Ranger 30, I asked her to race with me. At the time she was crewing regularly, but her captain's son, Dave raced with me so we kept in touch both on and off the water.

Soon she bought an Alben 28, Penn Central and started racing that. Dave wanted to race with her and I was getting tired of racing my boat, so we both went to Penn Central to race.

Well racing led to cruising, and so on - more on that later, too, but you'll know Laura because of her current boat Cassiopeia, a Benetau 42.7 S that came in first overall in the 2005 Marion Bermuda race. She was also the skipper of the first all women crew to do the same race.

She is also someone I'd trust my life to.

So, today, you've met the core group. There's a lot more to be said about them and our adventures together but this will do for today.

See you on the water!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Late season sailing

Some of the most special sailing times are very late in the season when the sky is cerulean and there's a 8 to 10 knot breeze... It's cool and dry and clear and it's a lot like a drink of cold water on a blistering day.

The other thing about late season sailing is that it's a surprise most of the time. I know I leave the house with a sort of ambivalence about the whole thing because most of the 'comfort' systems like hot water or any water at all for that matter, are winterized. The head is winterized, and all the snack food's off the boat (listen - if you're reading this from North Carolina southward, trust me, winter's a pain in the boat).

When you arrive at the boat, though, and there's a breeze and the temperature is actually kind of comfortable there's nothing to be done but go sailing. Some of my most memorable days sailing have been late fall and very early spring.

Most of my northern compatriots willingly turn their boats into badly designed storage sheds for the winter, and more often than not, on land to boot. Not me. I haul my boat one winter every 5 or 6 years. I do short hauls in the summer.

Normally, I sail with a small cadre of friends on January 1st if the boat is up for it. Well, the weather, too. Since 1980 or so I've only missed 4 or 5 winters because either the boat was out of the water or there was a gale or other really bad weather (one year I set my boat on fire, but that's another story).

So you might wonder a couple of things. For instance, why don't I, like others, put my boat on land like a beached fiberglass whale? Well, a boat is designed and built to be supported throughout the entire hull. Putting a boat on poppits, especially improperly, is moving the support from a huge area to 5 or 6 very small areas. I've been under my boat while it's on land in a breeze and to see it wobbling around and jumping up and down on said poppits is pretty scary. More than that, there is flexing in the hull that can't be good for the boat.

If you have a wooden boat, you've probably been told not to leave it out for the winter. Not only for support of the hull but also to keep the wood wet and the seams tight. I think the same applies to FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) boats, except for the seam thing.

If you have a boat and you want it out for the winter, make sure the poppits are properly set. The yard may or may not do it right. They should be set so that there is a bulkhead or other transverse support behind it. If you see the hull bent in at the poppit, it's not right. And you're putting undue stress on the hull. Fix it. Or have the yard do it.

Today, boats are engineered to bear some pretty high loads in specific ways. It makes them less expensive to build and in most ways, much stronger than their predecessors. But it also means they're not strong in ways they weren't designed for. Such as held up with poppits.

The other reason I don't haul the boat is that I can't sail it. Let's face it, people ski. That's cold and wet. Winter sailing is far more civilized - I have a heater below (kerosene, Force 10) that holds the chill off, and of course, Yukon Jack, the official drink of Inertia, doesn't freeze.

So today's sail would have been long and slow for the summer. But as a special treat on a cool fall day on the Hudson River, it's incredible.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Let's start. About my boat.

Well, just so you know, there is a boat involved here. It's a 1988 Ericson 34 New. There are some interesting things I've done to it (aside from crashing into things and other normal boating disasters).

First, I sail mostly singlehanded. On purpose. But that means the boat has to be less party boat and more easily handled.

What can you do to make a boat easier to handle by yourself? Glad you asked.

First, though, there has been in the last few years a real change in sailboat design catering to those who would use their craft as a floating porch, a vacation home, a party boat. Controls have been moved farther from the helm and they've been made harder to use - all in the name of more living space. More on that later. But now that I can fit 27 or 28 people in the cockpit, I couldn't reach the mainsheet.

The newer boats are the epitome of living space. That's not necessarily a good thing. First, in a seaway there's nothing to hold on to. There are great gaping voids below that are punctuated with corners and shin high seating. As long as the boat is level, you're cool. But pitching while heeled, that's a different issue....

Anyway, I digress.

So, the Ericson (that I will refer to from now on as 'Inertia' since that's its name) has a lovely interior - the only really wide space is where the galley is between the nav station and stove. But there are bars to hang on to. Once again, more on that later.

But outside - the mainsheet was on the cabin top - this was to get it out of the cockpit for more party room. Unfortunately, it means that a main under pressure is impossible to sheet in because the sheeting is at the center of the boom rather than the end. It requires the use of the winches unless you're way off the wind, and if you're not, you have to luff up to pull the sheet in or move the traveler to windward.

This is wholy unsatisfactory but the way I sailed the first year. The boat in it's then configuration was almost impossible to singlehand, and I was beginning to think I had made a really big mistake in buying it.

So I changed the parts on the mainsheet from 5 to 1 to 10 to 1 but that wasn't too satisfactory either - the amount of line laying about was excessive. Remember, by doubling the ratio, I halved the effort, but doubled the amount of line required to move it. Still, the traveler was an issue.

This was the way I sailed for the second year, though. Fortunately, I didn't encounter any really big winds, so I managed. But there still was some apprehension involved in going out on my own for any length of time.

At the beginning of the third year, (here comes the plug) I purchased the following gear from Garhauer Marine:

  • Spring loaded boomvang, so I could get rid of the topping lift
  • Genoa track cars
  • New heavy duty mainsheet track and traveler car
  • 2 - 2 line and 2 - 3 line breaks for the cabin roof
  • Genoa furler blocks that mount on the stanchions (3)
Let me say this: If you need mechanical gear for your boat, go to and look at their catalog - and give them a call. In this day and age of cookie-cutter boats and expensive and ugly equipment, you'll find Garhauer stuff to be well engineered, built with quality, and beautiful. I cannot imagine wanting any other gear. And they'll customize the stuff to meet your needs. If you want to see some of their stuff in use, look at any new Catalina. That's all they use. For your reference, the whole set of stuff was $1480.00 US, including shipping.

That said, the most important thing I purchased was the mainsheet traveler. I installed it in the cockpit at the aft edge of the bridgedeck. Mmmm. Perfect. I can manage the main from the helm. What a difference!

The genoa track cars make handling the sail so much easier. Shaping can be accomplished in all conditions, especially when reefed.

The hard vang simplifies mainsail control - instead of having a pull up line (topping lift) and a pull down line (vang), it's just one. And I ran it to the coach roof. Wonderful! Also - it looks high-tech.

The next thing I did to help out was to bring the lines from the mast and boom like reefing lines and halyards aft to the cockpit roof. I used the new line brakes for that. No big deal, but they are quite fetching. And rebuildable. And all metal.

Now I can manage the sails singlehandedly with confidence and alacrity. Next up in the saga: new sails, and the plug may be for Somerset Sails. But they won't be here for a few weeks.....

See you on the water!

In the beginning...

Well, folks, this is the beginning of what I propose to be an entertaining blog wherein I'll be happy to poke, prod, insult, grant kudos, and provide various other comments on life today (early 21st century America), and in the meantime probably piss off nearly everyone.

That's ok.

Consider it payback.

Onward, then.