Big Tough Sailor

Clark July 17th, 2014


Okay, maybe not that tough:

Boom! Volvo Ocean Race 2014

GoPro: Great White Shark In Sydney Harbour

Clark June 12th, 2014

I spent over a year on and off, anchored right at that spot, and jumped off those rocks many times. It looks like since then somebody’s put an (ineffective) fence around them. The very first time I dropped anchor there, after entering the Heads for the first time, and old salt advised me on the holding, and advised me not to swim. I asked why, and he made the the big mouth sign with his arms. Throughout the year+, and many hours of lovely swimming around that bay, bottom scrubbing, etc., I came to dismiss all the the rumors about man-eating sharks in Sydney Harbour/Port Jackson. Hmm… What a video!

Cheap LED Strip Lights for Boats

Clark May 6th, 2014

Looks like Ben Ellison also just blogged about inexpensive LED lighting – when it rains it pours – but note that one of these entire color-changing, dimmable, waterproof strip kits costs about half what a single marine LED fixture costs.

These LED strip lights must be in every college dorm room on the planet by now. They’re cheap (about $30 for a complete kit), they can make all the colors of the rainbow, and using the included automatic controls they’ll do all kinds of fades, flashes, and disco colors, which are kinda fun.

For a boat they’ve got other advantages: They use little power, about 3 amps at 12 volts to light up a 15-foot strip at full power – this is enough to light a large main cabin; they’re flexible and waterproof; and they can be set to just dim red, which is great for night sailing without blinding the crew. Finally, the strips themselves run on 12-volt DC, meaning they can be run directly off ship’s power on most boats. The kits usually come with an AC power supply, which can be chucked. The connector from the power supply input will need to be cut off, then 12-volt ship’s power can be connected directly. Here’s what I bought on Amazon:

I’ve read that these LED strips can overheat and burn out with voltages over 12 volts. I’ve run my system at full tilt with my engine’s alternator charging, so voltage over 14 volts, with no detectible heat. Obviously you should conduct similar tests with your system to make sure you don’t burn out your LEDs or start a fire.

These strips make all the color combinations just like a TV screen: Red, green, and blue LEDs can be mixed to make any color, sort of. Much like fluorescent lights, the color of LED lights can be less than pleasing. For home LED strips they make various natural white or sunlight white variations, but these are just white LED strips, without the other colors. On the color-changing strips their version of white, which is the red, the green, and the blue at full blast, is a sickly, bluish, hospital ER kind of light:

What I find more pleasing for evening relaxation is their version of orange, which is red with a touch of green, and no blue whatsoever:

Full disclosure: I’d been mulling this idea around for about a year when Green Brett wrote a very good article in Cruising World. You can see his wiring diagram here.

Mr. Brett saved me a lot of time, I assume by making a lot of the same mistakes I was about to make, and finding solutions. I was so impressed I just went out and bought exactly what he told me to buy, but then I had to screw it all up by getting fancy: I wanted strips on both sides of the boat, so I’d have to split my system in half. Then of course I’d want separate on/off switches for each side of the boat, in case I wanted just the galley lit up, but not the bookshelf on the port side. And while Mr. Brett installed footlights, and had a nice overhang under a settee to install and hide the LED strip, I’d be installing mine as under counter lights to illuminate my galley bench top and the bookshelf on the opposite side of the cabin. I’d have to find a stylish way to hide them.

You’ll want to hide the LED strips because they’re ugly, or at least not very nautical looking, and if you look right at them they’re blinding. I figured I needed a half inch thick teak batten to shield the LED strip, making them invisible unless you were lying on the cabin floor, and making the light diffused rather than direct. Of course this teak had to be ordered, cut, shaped, drilled, countersunk, and varnished, adding another few hours to the project.

Look at the size of the box, and the amount of packaging, to mail a teak stick:


Since these LED kits come with a remote control and controller, Mr. Brett and I both agreed that we might as well install the controller for a laugh, so we could have all kinds of strobe, disco, flashing, fading fun. We also both agreed that we’d probably lose or destroy the remote control in no time, so we’d better install a manual override. Mr. Brett installed a manual fader just for red; I went for manual controls on all three colors.

Again, this stuff is pretty cheap, so it’s not the end of the world to change your mind a bit. I junked my whole first purchase and bought a double density LED strip (300 LEDs per strip instead of 150) for another $30, just because.

Mr. Brett figured out, I assume the hard way, that there are all kinds of possibilities for certain LEDs to light up unintentionally: Each strip has four circuits, the three colors of LED, plus a common or ground. By customizing the system to have both the automatic and manual controls, it’s easy to end up with unintended lighting, like the other colors of LEDs glowing dimly when you intended to just have red. Mr. Brett used a DPDT (double pole double throw) switch and a diode for this purpose. I ditched the diode and went with a TPDT switch (triple pole double throw) switch:

These switches are like two or three on-off-on switches in one, with each individual switch called a pole, and each position called a throw (on-off-on is double throw, just on-off is single throw). In my installation one pole is used for the 12-volt power feed positive, another for negative, and the third for the LED strip ground. This way all three of these are switched from one controller to another (or completely off) with no chance for a sneaky back feed.

My TPDT switch, just missing the 12-volt ship’s power connections:


To show things a little more clearly, here is a diagram of a TPDT switch:
In my installation, the terminals are as follows: 1. Ground to automatic controller 2. Ground to LED strips 3. Ground to manual controller 4. Positive to automatic controller 5. Positive 12-volt ship’s power 6. Positive to manual controller 7. Negative to automatic controller 8. Negative to ship’s power 9. Negative to manual controller

In other words, the switch is switching three different things – the LED ground, ship’s 12-volt positive, and ship’s 12-vold negative – back and forth between the two different controllers, with an off position in between.

There should be a 5-amp fuse on both the positive and negative 12-volt feeds.

At this point I’ll admit I probably made this way more complicated than it had to be. If you just whack off the AC power supply and connect 12-volt power, and use these kits as they come, with the remote control, everything will be just peachy.

Here’s the whole magilla:
The white box at the top is the automatic controller, with it’s little infrared remote receiver and the output wires sticking out to the left, and the 12-volt power input on its right. Just below the white box is my TPDT switch, which you’ve seen before. On both sides of the TPDT switch are my on-off switches for each side of the cabin. At the bottom is the 3-color manual controller, with its 12-volt power coming in from the right, and the LED outputs on its left.

The LED strips can be cut every few inches, at specific points, to make them any length. Once cut at these points, you’d need to solder on a new pigtail to connect it to power. Here, where I’ve cut the strip, you can see the three circuits for the three colors, plus the common. Note that these strips use a positive common:

My LED strip came with pigtails at both ends (I think most do), so I was able to cut the strip in the middle and still have a pigtail on each section without any soldering.

I’d wired my whole system and screwed my teak battens into place. It was time to stick the LED strips in place, peeling the tape off the 3M adhesive backing. In this case 3M stands for Maybe, Might, and Might not stick. In my case it stuck…for about three minutes. I even foresaw this and went over the surfaces with acetone and a heat gun beforehand, just to make sure they were very clean and dry. Back to the drawing board.

The LED strip suppliers sell these little silicone saddles, for holding the strips in place with screws. But the saddles would change the location of the strips in relation to my teak battens, so I’d have to seriously customize my teak battens, just so the strips would still be tucked up into the corner, snug against the battens:

With the saddles installed:

Once I’d installed my saddles, the strips went into place just as I wanted, tucked in right against the teak battens:

Typical. Typical boat project. I don’t know how many hours. 20? 30? for a fun and funky project to install some cheap disco lights on my boat. Was it worth it? Yes, it was worth it, and total materials were something less than $200, with $80 of this going to the teak stick. If we graph our boat projects and call one axis of the graph “functionality,” and the other axis “bling,” this project would land in the upper right quadrant, having both functionality and bling, whereas replacing a bearing on the steering linkage would have functionality but no bling, and new varnish would be pure bling.

Here is my final control layout, integrated into the stereo shelf. Yes, it’s a lot of switches and controls, but keep in mind it’s not just a light switch but a Main Cabin Lighting Color and Intensity Control System:

Again, the switch in the middle switches between the three-color fader and the remote control, with off in the middle. On either side (with the red tips) are the on-off switches for each side of the cabin:

Here’s the dim red. It can go much dimmer than this, as in barely visible, but of course you can’t take a picture in no light:
Here’s green:
Here’s blue:
And here’s purple:

A color for every mood. You can imagine the obnoxious strobe function. The slow fade function is kind of nice, if you’re in the right mood.

With the three or four feet of strip I cut out of this middle this whole system runs at just over 2 Amps at 12 volts, for what I consider good lighting for cooking, eating, and general main cabin activities. They claim these strips will last for over 30,000 hours:

Coast Guard Boardings: My Number Was Up

Clark April 17th, 2014

After writing the posts about Coast Guard Boardings, I was wondering when my number would come up again. It came up last weekend.

The boarding and paper-checking were routine, but some of the things the boarding officer told me were not.

To backtrack a bit, from some of the comments from my posts, some think I’m taking a crack at the Coast Guard, but this is NOT the case. I’m taking a crack at Title 14 section 89 of the United States Code, which I think should be repealed or revised, especially with regard to recreational craft in domestic waters. I’ve got complete respect for the US Coast Guard, and don’t blame them at all, because it’s not their fault. They’re just doing their jobs, and doing them very well, I might add. Given that they have “one of the most sweeping grants of police authority ever to be written into U.S. law,” instances of abuse or rudeness are almost nonexistent. As I’ve said before, they’re usually very polite.

Friendly guys on a tough mission:

Now back to my boarding. The boarding officer, after asking if there were any guns aboard, told me that this was a terrorist sweep, not a suspicionless search, or what they often call a safety inspection. He said they were part of a special anti-terrorist task force, funded for the purpose, and that we could tell they were part of the anti-terrorist task force because their bow-mounted machine gun was uncovered. I guess in a regular search the gun stays covered.

Their uncovered machine gun:

That’s a mighty big gun, if I do say so myself, I believe an M240. I wonder if one of those things has ever been fired in anger in domestic waters, and if so, under what circumstances?

Anyway, he said that because this was a terrorist check they wouldn’t be checking any of our safety gear and the like, just my papers and ID. This made it all go very quickly. He checked my documentation, my driver’s license, and then asked for my phone number, which I gave him. We’ve been dating ever since. He said that there have been a lot of boat thefts lately (there haven’t) and that their mission was to make sure everyone driving a boat is who they say they are.

All very polite and routine, but still, being unexpectedly boarded by heavily-armed men always raises my pulse a bit, and we were right in the middle of hors d’oeurves.

Part of the stated goal of Coast Guard boardings in general, and especially the goal of this new anti-terrorism task force, is to protect against the “small boat threat.” There has never been an act of terrorism carried out from a boat in the United States. I’m not saying it won’t happen, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t take steps to guard against it, but it’s not something that just happens every day, more specifically, it’s never happened.

The only instance of the small boat threat becoming reality was the Al Qaeda suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, which killed 17 American sailors and injured 38. A similar attack against a French tanker, also in Yemen, happened a few years later, but nobody was killed. While tragic, these attacks happened in foreign countries, and were carried out against a military target in one instance, a tanker in the another.

I agree that the small boat threat could become reality in US waters. I agree that the Coast Guard should take active steps against it. Patrolling high-profile targets, like the America’s Cup, military bases, tank farms, and refueling depots is probably an effective tactic. Pursuing vessels engaged in suspicious activity (as would be allowed under the Fourth Amendment under probable cause) is probably an effective tactic. Collecting intelligence on suspicious activities that might lead to an act of terrorism from a boat (also permitted under Fourth Amendment, leading to a search warrant) is probably an effective tactic.

Randomly boarding one of the twelve million registered recreational boats in America is not an effective tactic.

Infant Rescued from Cruising Boat 900 Miles Off Cabo

Clark April 7th, 2014

BklDqHbCEAA63TI.jpg large

There’s been an ongoing rescue of a one-year-old baby from the cruising boat Rebel Heart, which is about 900 miles west of Cabo San Lucas. They haven’t clarified what the illness is, but it’s been an elaborate rescue, complete with mid-air refuelings, medics dropped from air and landed aboard, extraction of the infant, and a happy ending.

The whole episode is tweeted on the California Air National Guard Twitter feed, with photos, links to relevant articles, and updates.

Dozens of Cars Lost from Deck of Ship in Storm

Clark March 12th, 2014


a) I’m never shipping a car with these guys
b) I’m never sailing the Sea of Japan in winter

The Hurricane of 1939, Newport Beach

Clark March 6th, 2014

This video, a gift to our local nautical museum, just got posted to YouTube.

The carnage begins about 3 minutes in, if you’re just into carnage.

It’s bizarre to watch this on the harbor I grew up on, which is usually a very mellow place, and hasn’t had a hurricane since, well, 1939. I’ve only seen waves break inside the harbor a few times in my life, namely the Swell of 1983, when The Wedge was breaking at well over twenty feet.

My dad was six years old in 1939, and he remembers it well.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

“The 1939 California tropical storm, also called the 1939 Long Beach tropical storm, El Cordonazo, The Lash of St. Francis was a tropical cyclone that hit Southern California in September, 1939. Formerly a hurricane, it was the only tropical storm to make landfall in California in the twentieth century. The only other known tropical cyclone to directly affect California is the 1858 San Diego Hurricane, and only three other eastern Pacific tropical cyclones have caused gale-force winds in the continental United States. The tropical storm caused heavy flooding, leaving many dead, mostly at sea.”

Sail Covers Redux

Clark February 26th, 2014


I can’t explain it, but my sail covers have become too small over the years. Either they shrunk, or sails have become bulkier. (Do I sound like an aging man talking about his waistline?) It’s been a real stretch lately, and a ten minute job, to get the sail covers on, especially over my new-ish main, which is still stiff. They were also generally battered and had lots of rips to repair. I’ll say this much though: That Sunbrella is some tough stuff. Those sail covers date from long before I owned the boat, meaning they’ve stood up to at least twenty years in the sun. The stitching has given out and I’ve restitched them, but the fabric itself is still solid.

I had the good sense to first order a swatch from Sailrite, thus confirming my sail covers are made from Royal Blue Tweed. I then ordered several square yards of Royal Blue Tweed, the good UV thread, a square foot of reinforcing leather, and a bunch of twist-locks, and curled up for a night and a day with my wife’s sewing machine. I couldn’t procrastinate on this project because for every day I waited my precious sails were being exposed to the elements.

First of all, it’s a bit of a myth that you need some kind of special sewing machine for this kind of work. I’m sure it would be nice to have a proper sailmaker’s walking foot sewing machine, but I used this one, which cost about $100:
During my circumnavigation I used this old champ, which cost $120 in Panama. It’s the same sewing machine Singer has been manufacturing since 1789:
Neither of these sewing machines have a lot of power, but both could go through 3-5 layers of sailcloth, and even stitch leather. Lots of starts and stops and not the neatest work, but with sail work I find it’s the quantity of the stitches, rather than the quality. And if you’ve ever tried doing it by hand, any sewing machine will seem like a godsend.

I figured if I just split the sail covers down the middle, where they were due for restitching anyway, and added some extra fabric, I’d make ends meet. And so it was: I added twelve inches to the middle of the mainsail; eight to the the mizzen:

Again, the durability of the Sunbrella is amazing: After twenty years the old Sunbrella didn’t fade much compared to the brand new stuff.

While I was at it I replaced the long-gone leather reinforcements around the topping lifts:

And made proper, leather-reinforced exits for the lazy jacks, complete with twist-lock closures:
My first effort at lazy jack exits was with Velcro, and non-reinforced exits. The Velcro didn’t stick after a year or two, and the lazy jacks tore the cover. See how with the repair just forward of the lazy jack exit, I sewed an X over the patch? I don’t know why sailmakers always sew an X over a patch, but I did it too.

The lazy jack exits seem a lot of work, both to make, and to open and close. The alternative is an unaltered sail cover and removable lazy jacks, but then I think you’d have to put sail ties around your sail to keep it from unflaking once you removed the lazy jacks. So I’m sticking with the permanent lazy jacks, and my reinforced exits.

Anyway, total success with just over $100 in materials, plus a good eight hours of my time, but once I’d started I got carried away with lots of little repairs and reinforcements. I’m assuming brand new sail covers would cost considerably more. And they fit, very nicely, with no stretching or struggling.

Mexican Fisherman Survives 14 Months Adrift

Clark February 3rd, 2014

It looks like Jose Salvador Albarengo survived more than a year adrift in his panga, floating from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. A record? His companion wasn’t so lucky.
Here is the story on

Next »