Archive for the 'Sailing' Category

Bad Things Come In Threes

Clark August 9th, 2017

We were sailing back to the Spaulding Marine Center from a successful first charter on our 1885 gaff-rigged sloop Freda. We left the charter guests at the Ferry Building, set sail, and managed to lay Sausalito in one tack on the ebb. Volunteer crew Rob and I quaffed artisanal cheeses and fresh figs, leftover from the charter, as we enjoyed spectacular Bay sailing aboard the oldest sailing yacht on the West Coast. I was feeling so cocky about it that I suggested, “People always drop her sails and motor the last mile to Spaulding. There’s plenty of room by Spaulding to drop sail. Let’s sail on down the waterfront.”

Thank God we didn’t actually do that! When we neared Sausalito we started getting hammered by williwaws coming down the slopes, and I called the fight. I went to start the engine, and she wouldn’t start. I tried on battery 1, on battery 2, on both, and she barely turned over. It was bizarre, because the boat had been used both days over the weekend, we’d motored for a good half hour at the start of the charter, and Freda doesn’t have much in the way of an electrical system, just a bilge pump and a few lights, not enough to drain the batteries.

“Uh oh.”

I ran up to the foredeck to drop the jib and ready the anchor, but the strop that holds the sheet tackle to the club-footed jib parted. Now with each williwaw the foredeck was swept menacingly by a loose, 15-foot long jib boom. The jib has a downhaul, as in a line that runs from the foredeck to a pulley on the tip of the bowsprit, then up the luff of the jib to the its head. Without it there’s no way to get the jib down without going to the end of the bowsprit.

With all the flogging the end of the downhaul was carried away, and I had to go to the end of the bowsprit, with the jib boom flailing, to retrieve the end of the downhaul. Once I did I got the jib down, and the jib boom only smacked me in the head once, lightly. It turned out this was the only remaining manila strop on Freda. All the rest had been replaced with modern rope:

I assembled the ancient fisherman anchor, which is more for looks than function, and got it ready to deploy.
Freda behaved herself very well. With just the main up she sat in irons, without really moving forward or drifting back.

I was about to call back to Spaulding for a tow, but decided to give the engine a Hail Mary, now that the batteries had sat for a few minutes. It worked!

Now we just had to douse and gasket the main and we were home free. We loosed the peak and throat halyards to drop the gaff, I started taming the main and tying on some gaskets, then fell through the open main companionway hatch:

There are two ways to avoid falling through a hatch:

1. Close the hatch.
2. Be aware the hatch is open and don’t fall into it.

I did not do either of these, but it’s common practice, of course, to close the cursed hatch before furling the main. Luckily I was able to break my fall with my rib cage. It must have looked terrible, because Rob left the helm to jump to my aid, but I seemed to be okay. A day later I’ve got some nasty bruises on my ribs, but none broken. On the other side I’ve got pulled muscles in my arm pit.

So there you go: Engine that won’t start, parted jib boom strop, and falling through a hatch. Three bad things in rapid succession. I attribute it to being out of real sailing practice, still learning the ins and outs of Freda (the saucy old Manx), and being a bit flustered after all that jib boom dodging.

My dad fell through a foredeck hatch in the middle of a race once. He was nearly 80 at the time, broke a few ribs, and that was the end of that race. I guess if you sail long enough, sooner or later you’ll fall through a hatch.

Eight Bells: Bill Ficker

Clark March 21st, 2017

I received sad news from my dad last night that Bill Ficker passed away last week. As a racing skipper, Bill won both the America’s Cup and the Star Worlds. For those of us who know what that means, enough said.

I knew Bill, through my dad, my whole life, and I’d see him at my dad’s coffee klatch when I visited. At this coffee klatch, which didn’t have any slouches when it came to sailing, Bill was always the alpha dog, yet patient, unassuming, and shy about his accomplishments. The last time I saw him at the coffee klatch he said, “If nobody has any more questions or problems that need solving I’ll head out and start my day.” I must have looked blank, and my dad said, “You know he’s completely kidding when he says things like that. He’s known all of us for over sixty years.”

Story here in the Daily Pilot/LA Times.

What Is It?

Clark November 8th, 2016


I was working on a boat in a dry storage area in San Leandro, California, when I saw the boat above. What this strange aperture in its side? On closer inspection the outside of the aperture has fixed vents, made out of plywood:

This outside part does not rotate. In the middle is a galvanized steel pipe, which is designed to rotate, as it is supported by several carrier bearings athwartships:

But on the other side of the boat this axle just sticks out an inch through another hole in the topside, with nothing like the contraption on the starboard side:

I’ve been noodling on it for a few weeks and have absolutely no idea. It wasn’t some thoughtless lark, because the vent thing on the starboard side is very symmetrical, and took a lot of work.

A sideways jet engine? Some sort of revolutionary propulsion system? Something not even meant for water; an unrelated project for which a fiberglass runabout just seemed like the right raw material? I’m stumped.

Global Ship Traffic Via Satellite and Terrestrial AIS

Clark March 4th, 2016

What chance does a humble cruising boat have out there? Not a lot of places where it’s safe to sleep on watch.

That Sinking Feeling off the Baja Coast

Clark February 3rd, 2016

3 on deck
It was 1991, and we were three fools fresh out of San Diego State. Brian had bought an old Catalina 30, and we spent six months fitting her out. Against my protests, Brian changed her name to Break‘n Wind, a boat name I’ve encountered several times over the years, and never liked any better.

Brian’s artist buddy painted the new name and hailing port on the transom, along with some sorry-ass blue palm trees. I asked the artist, “Isn’t break spelled B-R-E-A-K?” He’d spelled it Brake’n Wind. The paint had already semi-dried, so we ended up with one E wedged in there somehow, and another E rubbed out with acetone, and it never looked quite right.
The overfilled cockpit, with fresh flowers from our bon voyage party.

We finally set sail and ran down the Baja coast at night, the boat laden with windsurfers, surfboards, a guitar, scuba gear, and enough food to transit the Northwest Passage. Tim, the third crewmember, was on watch in the cockpit while Brian and I tried to sleep on opposite sides of the main salon.

I was drifting in and out of sleep when the automatic bilge pump light caught my eye. It went out and I closed my eyes again, but ten seconds later the light came on a second time. When it lit the third time I nudged Brian, “Hey, the bilge pump has gone off three times.”

Brian flipped out of his bunk, turned on the lights, and ripped up the little floorboard in the middle of the main salon. Water poured into the bilge from somewhere aft. We opened the engine compartment, where a stream of sea water flowed past the engine mounts.

“She’s taking on water!” Brian yelled.
“What!” Tim peered down the companionway, wide-eyed.

We cleared out the quarter berth to get access to the packing gland, and Brian squirmed in with a flashlight.

“It’s coming from farther aft, and it’s a lot of water now! It must be the rudder!”

We were a good fifty miles off shore, following Captain John Rains’s advice to sail well outside the shipping lanes. Panic.

We tore open the cockpit lazarettes and scattered ridiculous piles of junk on deck: scuba tanks, fins, masks, wetsuits, spears, beach chairs, a barbeque, windsurfer sails, oars, and awnings. It was the adventure of a lifetime and, well, we’d overpacked. Occasionally the beam of the flashlight met the spooked eyes of a shipmate, and around us were only blackness and a cold winter westerly. We avoided eye contact as we moved the life preservers, the ditch bag, and the EPIRB.

The automatic bilge pump ran nonstop.

We emptied the aft lazarette, which gave us access to the rudder stock. In the aft lazarette we could also see the bilge pump’s thru-hull. Next to the thru-hull, unattached, lay the bilge pump hose, with water spewing out of it, into the lazarette.

“We’re saved!”

We slid the hose back on the fitting with a new hose clamp, and the bilge pump pumped the same load of bilge water for the last time.

Bug-eyed with the adrenaline of our first mid-ocean crisis, the voyage began in earnest, and our little ship seemed more plucky and devious. At our bon voyage party a friend had given us a bottle of single malt scotch that was much too good for a couple of twenty-one year olds. We took slugs out of the bottle and talked about near misses, what ifs, what-to-dos, and all the adventures we were about to have in Mexico.

Brian and Tim drifted off as I started the 3 a.m. watch, with my first sunrise of the voyage to follow.
Break’n Wind under sail

Car *Almost* Falls Off Ferry

Clark June 30th, 2015

Things are usually pretty tranquil at our 100-year-old family business, the Balboa Island Ferry. Despite our best efforts, every once in a while this happens:
Sigh. Full story here.

Life Is Too Short to Use Cheap Paint

Clark April 16th, 2015

A wise man once told me this, and I took it to heart.

While traditional enamels are still around, most modern boat paint is linear polyurethane (LP). Among LPs there are one-part products and two-part products. Two-part products cost a little more, but last longer. When you consider that 80-90% of any painting job is prepping, sanding, fairing, and masking, and this is all fairly onerous work, why use paint that won’t last as long?
AwlGrip_Paint - 400perfection

Probably the best known two-part products are Awlgrip and Interlux’s Perfection. If you paint the topsides of your boat with one of these products it will look good for about ten years, give or take, depending on environmental conditions and crashing into things. One-part products, such as Interlux’s Brightside or Petit’s EasyPoxy, will apply like a dream and look great, but the gloss will fade after 3-5 years. Again, for the relatively minor price difference and the relatively easy step of measuring two liquids accurately and mixing them together, why not use the good stuff?

The rub is that you can’t put the good stuff over the cheap stuff. If you have ever painted your boat with a traditional enamel or a one-part LP product, then paint over it with a two-part product, the solvent in the two-part product will dissolve the previous coatings and make a disaster. Or will it?

From the the Interlux Perfection label:

“Can be applied directly over two-part catalyzed coatings, that are in good condition.” and “Do not apply over conventional paints or flexible constructions.”

The paint companies will tell you that you absolutely, positively cannot put a two-part product over a one-part product without first removing the former coating, down to the gelcoat. There is definitely some truth to this, and the paint companies should keep advising this, but you can get away with it.

I might add at this point that if your boat has never been painted – it’s still got its original gelcoat – DO NOT EVEN THINK about painting it with a one-part product. Slap yourself across the face, recalibrate your plans, and use a two-part product. Your boat will then be on its way to an lifetime of easily re-coating with additional two-part products, without ever having to worry about the substrate.

In my case my boat had been painted with one-part paint, all over, decks and hull. For the topsides I went to all the trouble of completely removing all the prior coatings, right down to the gelcoat. With advanced modern technology, the old coatings can be removed using a…two-inch paint scraper. That’s right, a paint scraper. There are some chemical removers, but most boat yards still go with a motivated worker with a scraper. This only takes like a thousand years. For the decks and superstructure it was just too much: all those curves and corners were not meant for a paint scraper.

I put two-part over one-part. There, I said it.

It’s like this: If you’ve got old one-part paint on your boat that’s been there a while, and it’s not peeling up, it can be considered a solid substrate. Sand and feather where it’s peeling, but everywhere it’s consistent and smooth, even if old and chalky, this can be considered a good enough for our purposes.

The two-part product, say Awlgrip, Perfection, or Petit EZ Poxy two-part, will have a two-part primer, usually an epoxy-based system that uses the same solvent as the top coat:


Once you’ve sanded, faired, and prepped your substrate, put on (brush, roll, or spray) your first coat of primer. Contrary to what they say, it will not peel up all the substrate. The substrate will peel up or crinkle here and there. If you are spraying an 85-foot hull in a high end boat yard, peeling and crinkling here and there is totally unacceptable, but if you’re painting the decks on your own boat and saving yourself hundreds of hours of heinous manual labor to remove the old coatings, you can live with a little peeling and crinkling.

Once dry, sand and fair the peeling and crinkling parts, which will usually be around the edges of the old coating, where the solvent can creep under it. Spot prep and re-coat the peeled and crinkled areas with the primer. Do this as many times as you need to, until you’ve got an even coat of primer with no peeling or crinkling, then put on additional coats of primer, per the manufacturers recommendations. Once you’ve achieved this, eureka, you’ve broken the rules and gotten away with it. You can consider your older, one-part coatings to be entombed forever. Go on with the process, sanding and fairing the the primer, and apply the two-part top coat.

It probably goes without saying that if you defy the advice of the manufacturers like this – it says not to do this, very clearly, right on the can – you can forget about any kind of warranty or support from the manufacturer. You’re on your own.

I painted the decks and superstructure on my boat, in this manner, about five years ago. Does it look as good as a professional, sprayed-on job, done in a boatyard? No, it doesn’t. I did it all with rollers and brushes and the results aren’t perfect, but pretty darn good. Where I went to extra effort, like around the cockpit, it’s pretty much perfect. Also, I used a flattening agent, to make the paint a little less glossy, and this is somewhat more forgiving:

For deck and superstructure a gloss finish can be blinding. Also, for the same reason, I went with an off-white. The topsides are full-on glossy white.

After five years a one-part product would already be showing its age and need to be recoated. My decks and superstructure have at least another five years of looking good, and when it comes time to repaint them, I can recoat with two-part products without starting from square one again.

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.

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:

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.

Next »