New Island Formation In Tonga

Clark March 17th, 2015

The formation of this new island, Hunga Tonga, is getting worldwide publicity. In the diptych above you can see two unconnected islands in the image to the left, now nearly joined by the new eruption in the image on the right. If you haven’t seen the photos taken by GP Orbassano, an Italian expat who lives in Nuku’alofa, you can see them here.

All along I thought this eruption/new island must be the same as one that made the rounds years ago. In 2006 a cruiser, Fredrik Fransson of s/v Maiken, motored through a sea of floating pumice, then came upon the eruption, and the nascent island. He sent back striking photos and an account. If you haven’t seen those, you can see them here.

It turns out I’m not keeping very good track of my newly-formed Tongan islands: The 2006 eruption was at Home Reef, about 150 miles away. Home Reef has erupted and surfaced, only to be washed away again, several times in recent history. I can’t seem to find any information about it’s current state. They say Hunga Tonga might wash away too. It looks pretty substantial to me, but not substantial enough to buy a timeshare.

NASA photo of Home Reef:

The earth is alive!

New Steering Wheel Adventure, Part 1

Clark March 16th, 2015

Let’s cut to the chase here: If you’re going to buy a new steering wheel, make sure it fits your boat, cuz making your boat fit the steering wheel is a big deal.

The venerable steering wheel on my nearly 50-year-old boat is tired. It’s made of of aluminum and coated in Bakelite, or some such substance. The aluminum is bubbling and corroding through the coating in several places, and black electrical tape covers the horrors and protects my hands from injury.
I’d had my eye out in second-hand chandleries, and online, because new steering wheels are expensive. The cheapest you can posssibly get a brand new basic 24-inch (my size) stainless wheel is about $700, but if you want a little bling, like teak around the outside, you quickly get up over $1200. I once thought I wanted a classic teak wheel, for my classic yacht, with the spokes and handles – full Gilligan’s Island – but the handles can cause mischief. My dad once had the pocket torn out of his windbreaker by the classic teak wheel on our family yacht when our dutiful autopilot made a hard turn to starboard. And classic teak wheels, new, are also very expensive. This one, in 24-inch diameter, runs about $2300 from Edson:
So a destroyer wheel it would be, and when I found this one on Ebay for $200 I pounced:
It was advertised as having teak accents, but I think it’s actually rosewood, or some other kind of dense tropical hardwood. I was very happy with my bargain hunting. There was one little thing I didn’t pay much attention to, the hub or taper size (the size of the hole in the middle). I figured, from the photos, that there was plenty of meat in the hub of the new wheel, and if it needed to be altered it would mean a quick trip to my local machine shop.

Au contraire. The hub was indeed the wrong size. It was a 3/4-inch taper and my old wheel takes a 1-inch taper.
I popped in to see my machinist and he broke the news to me: “Thats’ actually not so simple.” It appears they do it on a lathe, and lathes don’t have enough room for something 24 inches across. I thought they would bore out the middle with a tapered reamer, like this:

Tapered reamers cost about $200, and I guess your average machinist doesn’t happen to keep a variety of them. I thought about buying one myself, as I’ve got access to a mill, but the reamer would cost as much as the wheel, and there was a good chance it wouldn’t work: The machinist said that because the keyway was already cut in the hub of the wheel the reamer might go all lopsided, or lock up, or just not work out. Just buying the reamer was dicey, because they’re measured by size and pitch, and I wasn’t terribly confident in my ability to measure whether I had a 1-inch, 7-degree taper vs. a 1-inch, 12-degree taper.

The machinist suggested removing the “steerer”, the part the wheel fits on, with bearings and a sprocket, and turning the shaft from the steerer DOWN to 3/4-inch. This would be a major project, as the steerer is well-attached and buried in the 50-year-old console on my 50-year-old boat. Replacing the steerer with a new one was also about a $700 proposition.

A steerer:
He also suggested cutting the hub out of the wheel, then turning it in a lathe, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to weld it back into my wheel exactly straight. Sigh.

I finally got hold of the biggest, baddest machine shop in the region that does all the big ship propellers in Alameda. They said they could do it for about $200 on their lathe, which was big enough to accept something 24 inches across, but I’d have to give them the steerer too, so they could confirm the fit. Sigh.

If the steerer had to come off the boat, I’d try to save myself $200 and turn it down myself, and thus began a fairly overwhelming boat project, which has rendered my boat a construction site and unusable till summer, if I’m lucky. To skip ahead, the project got out of control because to remove the steerer I had to largely disassemble the 50-year-old, crumbling wooden console, and in the process I decided to rebuild the console. Here’s what it looked like a few weeks ago. There was a steering wheel there once, and my boat could actually sail places:

…but back to that steerer.

I removed the greasy, rusty, filthy, 50-year-old chain and got the steerer out, then disassembled the steerer to extract just the tapered shaft, the part that would need to be turned down. Of course I would completely rebuild the steerer, regrease it, repaint it etc., which is just one small and relatively painless facet of this project gone awry.

Then I approached The Beast:
The lathe at my work weighs as much as a Ford F350 pickup, and is bolted to the concrete floor with 3/4″ studs.

I’ve always used it to turn plastic, which is relatively forgiving, with little black curlicues flying everywhere. This would be my first try with steel. If I destroyed the shaft it would be minor catastrophe, because replacing a shaft from a steerer built in England fifty years ago isn’t going to happen.

And what I needed to do involved a little guesswork. If you look at my crude diagram, you’ll see I knew where I needed to be at the fat end of the taper, and at the skinny end of the taper, and I knew how long the taper needed be, IE the distance from the fat part to the skinny part. I could measure all of these from my new wheel. And a bit of good news, the threaded part at the end fit through my new wheel, so I wouldn’t have to turn that part down and cut new threads.


A modern lathe can be programed it to do these things – I need to get from A to B at a 20-degree angle – but this feature was not available on the lathe at my work. As you can see, it was built in 1956, long before programmable anything:


If I wanted to do some math in my head I could figure that for each 1/1000th of an inch I went to the right I’d go .3/1000 inboard, but this would have been tedious and more prone to mistakes, methinks, so I planned to just take it slowly and remove the shaft from the lathe to check the fit with the wheel frequently. With trepidation and fear I approached The Beast, a machine capable of ripping off a human arm in a nanosecond.


A good trick I learned is pressing a flat file on the work while it’s turning in the lathe: this takes down the ridges and evens things out. After an hour or so of turning, it was a decent fit to the new wheel, but this was only the beginning…

Colin Firth to Play Donald Crowhurst in Biopic

Clark February 10th, 2015

Talk about a long wait. The book, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, was completely out of print for some years, but a cult favorite and the subject of many late night cockpit ruminations.

It tells the tale of Donald Crowhurst who, along with the likes of Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnson, and Chay Blyth, entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968, the first singlehanded, non-stop round-the-world race. Indebted and under intense pressure to succeed, yet woefully unprepared and inexperienced, Crowhurst never made it farther than the South Atlantic. He faked his positions to appear he was in the lead, then went mad and committed suicide. The story has come back into vogue, just from the passing of time, or somehow reflective of our current fascinations and insecurities.

The excellent documentary, Deep Water, came out in 2006, telling the story with excellent original footage and interviews. I give it my highest recommendation:

But now the story is hitting the big time, a full Hollywood production: blue chip director, blue chip writer, and Oscar winner for best actor, Colin Firth, playing Crowhurst. You’ve got to admit they really look alike:

I can’t wait! I’m very excited to see how Hollywood spins the tale…or completely botches it. Please, please, oh pleeeeeze don’t blow it with the sailing stuff. Hire a simple technical consultant – any one of us will do – to consult on the film so the sailing bits aren’t rendered ridiculous to sailors, like All Is Lost, The Perfect Storm, or pretty much every other movie about sailing or the sea. Please don’t have white squalls materializing out of nowhere, 100-foot waves swallowing boats, vicious sharks chewing on rudders, or people dangling from rigging for no good reason with lit cutting torches with no hoses attached to them.

I wonder who’ll play Sir Robin Knox-Johnson? I’m going with Geoffrey Rush.

Wire Fraud Cruisers Nabbed in Bahamas

Clark February 9th, 2015

The Winberg’s second attempt to flee justice aboard a cruising sailboat has been foiled. The couple faced trial for wire fraud, and decades in prison, if convicted.

The couple and their seven children tried to flee the country in early December, but ended up sinking in Galveston Bay, Texas. Their infant wasn’t breathing, but was revived with CPR. The locals knew something was up when they fled ASAP, and abandoned the boat. It turned out they’d given fake names.

Now, two months later they almost got away with it again…almost. A different boat, a different coast, and they were off to the Bahamas, where American tourists promptly recognized them, and alerted the Bahamian authorities. They are now in Miami and the children are being assessed by Child Protective Services.

The Winbergs obviously didn’t know quite what they were doing when it came to sailing, per the incident in Galveston. I guess when it comes to fleeing the country one doesn’t have a lot of options, if wanted by the law. If you get on a commercial flight you’ll be nabbed. Driving into Mexico, and points beyond, is an option. Sailing off into the sunset is another, but they probably should have gone farther than the Bahamas, and maybe hid out somewhere a little more off the beaten path than the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

More here.

Flyin’ Hawaiian Sinks Off Monterey

Clark February 5th, 2015

This boat was one of the many eyesores dotting Richardson Bay, where about 200 liveaboards anchor with apparent impunity to local, state, and federal laws regarding registration and holding tanks. I always assumed it was built just as a floating home, and had no inkling of the owner’s dream of sailing her to Hawaii. I’d heard about her construction, all from materials purchased at Home Depot. I kayaked around her one day with a friend and deemed her unseaworthy beyond the confines of greater San Francisco Bay, and maybe a stretch within.

More here in the Marin Independent Journal.

Sacrebleu!: French frigate Latouche-Tréville

Clark December 18th, 2014

I filmed these guys during a Sunday sail on Condesa. The radioed to ask about mal de mer, and I suggested ginger candies and those wrist bands.

Man Rescued in Bahamas After 5-Days Adrift in Dinghy

Clark December 17th, 2014

Looks like Larry Sutterfield drifted from Marathon, Florida to Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, on a fishing/camping trip gone wrong.

Engine trouble and an offshore wind? I’ve bloviated about the dangers of such escapades and my close call here.

Full story here.

Vestas Volvo Ocean Race Wreck: Very Naughty Language!

Clark December 16th, 2014

It seems to have escaped the sailing world that Cargados Carajos, the site of the wreck, is not a term to be bandied about in front of children. Google translates it as “loaded f*ck.” Like much profanity in English, it doesn’t make much grammatical sense, but when we’re screaming profanity, are we really trying to make any sense?

I speak Spanish, but when it comes to the finer distinctions of obscene expletives I seek help. One native Spanish-speaker answered my request for clarification thusly: “‘Cargados carajos’ pretty much means loaded f*ck. Holy sh*t would be more like “santísima mierda” o “santos carajos” even. But cargados carajos definitely has some ‘loaded’ in it.”

A Guatemalan guy I work with says this is definitely an expression of Spanish, as in from Spain, profanity, not from the New World. I can find no mention of any Spanish connection with the place. Its first European discovery was by the Portuguese, and cargados carajos doesn’t mean anything in Portuguese.

At any rate, we can imagine some sailor of old (perhaps a Spanish sailor standing watch on a Portuguese ship?) uttering this expression upon sighting crashing waves and a reef awash on what he thought was a wide open sea.

I’m guessing the first reports of the Vestas wreck from this heretofore-unknown-to-most-of-the-world shoal identified it as such, and it stuck for all further reports. Thanks to Team Vestas, it’s finally earned it. They might have used the alternate name, St. Brandon Shoals, which is what I’m guessing the Spanish sailing press is calling it. Tee hee.

Sailor Rescued Off Hawaii After Seach Abandoned

Clark December 11th, 2014

…and he was reunited with his long lost son. Story here as well.

The Money Shot: Getting the Ultimate Cruising Boat Photo

Clark November 20th, 2014

canals 111
For a racing boat the ultimate photo captures plumes of whitewater sheering off your bow. In your wake, just out of focus, a famous rival shakes his fists.

For a cruiser the ultimate photo captures your boat in some spectacular anchorage, or at least the photo evokes a sense of place. We all know getting there is half the fun, but the shot of your boat in the perfect destination proves you actually got somewhere. In addition, this photo should accomplish two goals:

1. Elicit immediate recognition and respect from fellow cruisers.
2. Make landlubbers think you’re a freakin’ daredevil.

Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins), on Fatu Hiva, must be one of the most photographed anchorages in cruising:

Photo courtesy of Brian on S/V Delos

Is there anyone who’s ever anchored there who didn’t at least try to get a good photo of their boat? If you can get one with your boat there alone, so much the better. The Bay of Virgins covers our two criteria: Any cruiser will either have fond memories of the place, or be dying to get there someday. After understanding that it takes sailing 3000 miles of open ocean to get there, any landlubber will be duly impressed.

It is arguably the most spectacular anchorage in the South Pacific, and it holds a once-in-a-lifetime shine because a cruiser is unlikely to return…until his next circumnavigation. It’s also usually the first landfall after the long haul. And there’s the story about how it was originally named Baie de Verges (Bay of Penises) because of the rock formations on both sides of the bay, but the missionaries renamed Baie de Vierges (Bay of Virgins) out of modesty. For a story that has been repeated in every travel book, cruising guide, and blog in the world, I wonder if it’s actually true? All of these make it a truly photo-worthy spot, but of course there are many others…

Some are iconic:

ZZZZZ (28.2)

Rio 091

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand:
Thailand 1 (29)

Chatterbox Falls, in British Columbia, seems to be “that place” in the Pacific Northwest, and any cruiser who’s been there knows that to get the photo you must have transited the Malibu Rapids unharmed:
Photo courtesy of Windy and Mike Robertson from S/V Del Viento

For Harry and Jane on Cormorant, Whangamumu, New Zealand, was one of their more memorable anchorages during their 16? year circumnavigation:

Some photos don’t capture a destination, but a mood: the calm anchorage, happy children at play, the captain casually strumming a ukulele…c’mon!:
Photo courtesy of Kristianne Koch Riddle, S/V Pelican

And some photos take the beauty, mix it with a healthy dose of fear, and voila:
Photo courtesy of Jessica Rousseau

Or give us a sense of scale:
antarctica 043
Telefon Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica

Then if you can get a photo like this of your boat, well, gee whiz, what more can you say?: Vlakvark, nee Tantalus, now Sweetwater in Antarctica:
vlakvark ice hires
Photo courtesy of Stuart Sugden and Charmaine Lingard via Dudley Dix at Dudley Dix Yacht Design

My money shot? There’s only one choice. It’s on the bathroom wall; it’s on the business card:

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