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

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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:

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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:

Sydney:
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Rio:
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Phang Nga Bay, Thailand:
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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:
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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:
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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!:
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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:
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Photo courtesy of Jessica Rousseau

Or give us a sense of scale:
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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:
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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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Distributed Power Systems on an Average Cruising Boat: I say no!

Clark November 13th, 2014

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Distributed power systems (or digital switching systems, or smart power systems, or intelligent, or multiplexing power systems…the industry is still settling on a name) are going into many new boats. I have a friend in the luxury power boat business, and he says distributed power systems save thousands of dollars, and reduce weight by hundreds of pounds, on every build. For builders it’s definitely the way to go for shipboard electrical systems. But is it right for owners?

If you’re not up on these systems, here’s what they do: Take the bow of your boat, where you might have some navigation lights, a windlass, a couple of reading lights in the forepeak, and a fan over the bunk. In a conventional installation you’d have a big set of cables running up to that windlass, a pair of wires to serve the nav lights, a pair to serve the fan, and a pair to serve the reading lights, but lights are often wired in parallel so that a pair of wires serves several cabin lights. In this conventional system, each circuit would have its own switch and its own fuse or breaker.

In a distributed power system a single pair of cables would run to a central location in the bow and terminate in a node or remote controlled breaker module (again, the industry hasn’t settled on one name). From this node, wires would branch out to the windlass, the nav lights, the fan, and the reading lights, but each device would be turned on and off through computer wizardry. You’d still have on-off switches for your reading lights, but the switches would actuate a breaker/switch within the bow node. All of these devices could also be controlled from a central location aboard.

The advantage of such a system is that instead of running four sets of wires to the bow, you only run one pair of cables and a tiny set of signal wires. Multiply this effect throughout a large boat with a complicated electrical system and it reduces the amount of wiring, and the time to install it, by a lot…by hundreds of pounds of wire, my friend says.

If you want to get fancy with one of these systems, the sky’s the limit. You could have a program, served from the central location, called “Night Sailing.” You press the night sailing button and the nav lights come on, the wind instruments, the electronics, and some very dim red footlights in the main cabin. You could have another program called “party time,” another called “night motoring” (add the steaming light), and one called “at anchor.” The system could tell you when a bulb blew out, or when something was consuming more power than normal, or when a bilge pump was running more than it should, or how cold it is in your freezer.

Manufacturers include Carling, with its Octoplex platform, Swedish company EmpirBus, and Capi2, just to name a few. Ben Ellison has written extensively on the subject on Panbo.

The problem with these systems, or the potential problem, is summed up in one word: Computer. There’s that saying about how to err is human, but to really screw things up it takes a computer, and I think I’d rather not have a computer controlling the juice to my shipboard electronics when I’m trying to thread the needle between a couple of ice bergs in shallow water to get into a tight anchorage before the storm blows in: “Oh yeah, no big deal, just have to re-boot the system and it’ll be fine. Oh wait, it seems to be hanging up. Let’s try de-powering it completely then re-install the configuration file…” You get the idea.

As I’ve said before, marine electricians and marine electronics experts (except those who make distributed electrical systems) seem more apt to quail at the mention of anything “networked,” be it the boat’s whole power system or just the electronics. We like things simple and field repairable.

Hallberg-Rassy uses the EmpirBus system on all of their new builds. The pages in the owner’s manual (section starts on page 20) that refer to the “state of the art distributed power system” scare me out of the whole idea: the recommended spares, troubleshooting, and contacting the EmpirBus dealer in say, Palau. With a conventional electrical system you could get away with a spares kit consisting of spare fuses/breaker, some wire, and some crimp-on lugs and connectors…and any marine electrician, anywhere in the world, could repair your system.

Manufacturers claim these systems are fairly dependable, but bugs, interoperability issues, and vendor reliability are always at play with any technology.

Still, the technology is probably too good to pass up on new builds for larger boats. Distributed power systems have been used on aircraft for decades and very few seem to fall out of the sky. Commercial aircraft have thousands of circuits, and some of these newer yachts may come close, but on an average cruising boat I draw the line. I’m saying there’s a sweet spot – somewhere – and below that it’s just not worth it.

I counted all the circuits on my 40-foot cruising boat, and I’ve got most of the gadgets. Forty circuits. All the lights, all the pumps, all the electronics, all the blowers and fans, and it adds up to forty different electricity-consuming devices. Forty circuits just doesn’t add up to enough complexity to warrant a distributed power system, in my book.

And here’s a second reason to ponder: LED lights. I’ve only changed a few of my shipboard lights to LEDs, but over time, as the old fixtures fail or get uglier, I’ll eventually switch all of my lights to LEDs. LED lights use less power, produce less heat, and thus use smaller wires. If one of the main goals of distributed power is to reduce wire weight, LED lights accomplish much of this same end when you consider that the majority of your onboard circuits service various lights. (Of the forty devices on my boat, half are lights.)

The current ABYC standard says that 16 gauge is the smallest wire you can use aboard a recreational yacht, unless it’s strictly a signal wire. Sixteen gauge is overkill for most LED lights. The pigtails coming off some new LED light fixtures are 20 gauge, maybe 22 (this is very small, like the size of a strand of dental floss). Point being, with wire this small, even at 18 or 16 gauge, you can serve all the lighting needs of an average cruising boat and the weight and complexity will be negligible. The wires feeding LED lights won’t be much bigger than the signal wires in a distributed power system. In other words, with or without distributed power systems, the wiring looms on the boats of the future will be much smaller anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for distributed power systems in the marine world, and there’s no stopping progress, but I think it’s overkill and overcomplicating things for the average cruising boat. By average I mean a boat about like mine with something like forty circuits, and by cruising boat I mean likely to be in a place where parts and expertise may be months away.

Weather Bomb in North Pacific

Clark November 6th, 2014

Super Typhoon Nuri has more to say. Already one of the most powerful cyclones of 2014, Nuri is predicted to become an extratropical cyclone in the Bering sea: “Bomb”…perfect storm…if you’re on a boat, sink it and run for your life.

This monster is predicted to break records, create 50-foot waves, and alter the weather over North America for the next week or two. Weather nerds, get ready.

Here is an excellent analysis.

Just a comment: When there’s a weather forecast like this, this one for tomorrow in the Bering Sea, maybe they should put some parts of it in capital letters, or red, or something. And when you’ve got the first part of it saying what it does, the patchy fog and rain don’t really figure in…kind of like having a sword through your chest and fractured skull, with slight headache, loss of appetite:

Fri S wind 20 to 40 kt becoming SE 50 to 65 kt in the afternoon. Seas 9 to 13 ft building to 15 to 27 ft in the afternoon. Patchy fog. Rain.

Fri Night S wind 40 to 55 kt. Seas 23 to 38 ft.

Dismasting in the North Pacific

Clark October 13th, 2014

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Photos courtesy of Jolyn and Ken Zielesch, aboard cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas

Bill Edinger, founder and President of Spectra Watermakers (and my boss), set out earlier this year on a five-month sailing sabbatical to French Polynesia aboard his Norm Cross-designed 45-foot trimaran, Defiance. He, family, and guests sailed to the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society Islands, then up to Hawaii, all in a very seamanlike manner.

On the final stretch from Hawaii to San Francisco they hit the edge of the Pacific High, as returning sailors are wont to do, and motored for a day or two. This is when disaster struck. In Bill’s own words:

“Sunday the seventh we were motorsailing along in light wind. I was just coming off my 12:00 to 3:00 AM watch and was down below starting coffee for Kevin who was next up when we heard a loud bang. We both ran on deck to see the mast canting aft by about 30 degrees. I yelled to Kevin that we needed to get a halyard forward to keep the mast from coming down. He ran forward but before either of us could do anything the mast came all the way down. It seemed slow as the boom and vang collapsed on the top of the dodger and the mainsail sort of cushioned the fall. The mast of course was hanging out over the end of the port ama (float). The good thing of course is that no one was hurt.”

“The toggle on the forestay had failed. Unfortunately this is the only stay going forward. When the boat was re-rigged a while back this stay was upped a size to 1/2″ dyform wire which should have been bulletproof. I can only think it failed from shock load fatigue as the mast pumps a little fore and aft in a seaway.”

The offending toggle:
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“We retrieved the mast by cranking it onboard forward with line and winches. Every few inches we had to stop to see what lines and rigging were hanging up and clear them before moving on. The mast appears in good shape. The main was a total wreck as we needed to cut it away, and the jib furler was over the side and dragging behind. We tried to save it but in the end had to cut it loose. Boom looks salvageable. The dodger was wrecked on one side and the port rails bent. Once we got the mast onboard we started lashing everything down and dismantling what rigging we could to clean things up. Over the next day we refined things by supporting each end of the mast with some milk crates and shims to keep the mast from rocking back and forth on the cabin top.”
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“The Radar seemed undamaged so we rigged up a mast using our dinghy floorboards, mounted the antenna on deck just above the maststep and managed to get it working fine. I also retrieved the VHF antenna and jury rigged the VHF radio and AIS which is working so so.”

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“I have to say the teamwork was fantastic. The whole crew was focused and calm throughout the whole ordeal.”

“By the time we got everything cleared up it was late morning and we re-started the engine and got going again. We figured we had enough fuel for about 500 miles but had over 1100 to go. I called the coast guard and reported that we had a non-emergency situation but would be needing fuel to get all the way back to San Francisco. They had us checking with them every four hours or so and by the middle of the second day called us to report that the cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas would divert from its course to deliver us fuel by late afternoon.”

20140909_000614.mp4 from Bill Walton on Vimeo.

“Around 3:00 PM the cruise ship delivered 100 plus gallons of fuel (as well as a bunch of fresh fruit and other goodies thrown in!). We were definitely the show of the day as 1000 or so passengers lined up to watch the fuel transfer by three guys in a RIB-type boat. As soon as the third and last trip was made the whole crowd broke out in cheers!”
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A happy ending and a story to tell for those aboard the cruise ship. Bill and crew motored through the Golden Gate a week later.

And a happier ending that they saved the mast! Dismasting stories always seem to involve “cutting away the rig,” and I always think that was at least $10,000, more like $30,000 with a mast like Bill’s, sinking to the bottom of the ocean. In rough seas you’d have no choice, but I always figured I’d give it the old college try to get that mast aboard somehow. Still, I thought 60-foot mast on a 45-foot trimaran for 1000 miles of motoring through a nasty part of the Pacific…this should be interesting. It wasn’t until I saw the pictures that I understood the diagonal approach to seagoing mast storage on a trimaran.

Terminology Moment: When your mast falls down on the open sea, by accident, this is called dismasting. When you take it down on purpose, say by a crane in a boatyard, this is called demasting. Please make a note of it.

Once I heard about this I immediately heard three more stories about masts that came down while just motoring along, from the shock loads of the seas. I wonder what the percentage is of masts lost in this manner compared to masts lost in full combat mode?

The Worst Critter Ever On My Boat

Clark September 29th, 2014

Reading Behan Gifford’s rats post made me glad I’ve never had a rat aboard, but I’ve had worse in my book.

I was cruising and surfing my way around the Society Islands and met a young Aussie, Luke, and his American girlfriend, Jenny. They’d been camping on the islands, sleeping in a tent. One thing led to another and I invited them aboard for a few days of surf exploration:
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Luke on the far right; Jenny in the middle

On their first night aboard we’d just turned in, with me up in the forepeak and them in the main salon, where the table drops down to make a double berth. We’d been in bed for about twenty minutes when I heard Luke scream. By the time I got on my feet Luke and Jenny were in the cockpit, with Jenny shining a flashlight up Luke’s ass.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“Something stung me, like a wasp! It must be in our sheets. Look for it.” Luke replied.

I searched through their bedding, and found nothing.

“I can’t find anything. It must have flown away.”

“It’s gotta be there! Look for it.”

I poked through their bedding again, carefully, then shined a flashlight under the bunk. Still nothing. Luke was now retching overboard, as the poison from whatever stung him was making him sick.

I was fairly sure I’d never find anything, but I flipped through their sheets one last time, then shined my flashlight under the bunk again, where a deep cave ended with the slope of the port side of the boat. I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye and redirected the beam of my flashlight. A giant black centipede, which did not like the light, scuttled through a gap under the settee and disappeared.

“Oh. My. God.”

I know exaggeration is common in such situations, but I can compare the size of the centipede to a piece of trim under my table, and tell you that this centipede was at least eight inches long, and about an inch and a half wide with all its squiggly legs and antennae. Let me also point out that I’ve got a serious phobia about big creepy-crawlies. I’ve been known to whinny like a schoolgirl at the sight of a cockroach, and a cockroach is theoretically harmless. This creature had just reduced a big, strong Aussie surfer dude to puking overboard with a flashlight up his ass. What chance did I have?

If you don’t believe how scary a Tahitian centipede is, look at this, and ours was WAY bigger. Ewwww! Ewwwww! EWWWWWWWW! (and why isn’t it biting this guy?):

This centipede was now lost in the bowels of my boat. A wave of dread came over me, knowing this thing was now in the walls, or under the floorboards, and knowing I wouldn’t be able to sleep, or enjoy life aboard, as long as it was around. If I fumigated the whole boat there still wouldn’t be any satisfaction, because it would die quietly somewhere, and I’d find it dead, say while I was lying on my back servicing the fresh water pump.

“Catch it, mate! Catch the bastard!”

I halfheartedly grabbed the colander off the galley bench top, and a bread knife, but I knew all was lost. I’d just have to sink the boat.

“I dunno, Luke, I think it’s run off.”

Luke jumped down the companionway with fire in his eyes and said, “Gimme that,” as he took the knife and the colander.

“Where is it?”

“Well, it was under there, but now it’s gone.”

I shined the flashlight under the bunk again, and there it was again!

Luke somehow lifted the bunk with his knee, lunged in, and chopped the centipede in half with the bread knife. Now the two halves of the centipede were going crazy in opposite directions, but Luke soon had both scooped into the colander. He climbed back up into the cockpit, and threw the two halves of the centipede overboard. My hero!

I just could not have done what he did. I would have got spooked and blown it, losing the centipede into the bowels of the boat again.

I looked in the Merck Manual and read about centipede stings. I reassured Luke that it said they were very painful, but not dangerous. It dawned on me the next day that the Merck Manual only covers North American medical issues, and doesn’t delve into the 8000 different species of centipede found worldwide, many of which are much more venomous than their North American cousins.

The offending centipede must have come aboard with Luke and Jenny’s camping gear.

Luke was up all night in pain and hurling, and still felt wonky the next morning:
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…but felt well enough to surf that afternoon.

Refloating Boats in La Paz – Yay!

Clark September 26th, 2014

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