LPG Explosion Kills Sailor in Guatemala

February 11, 2014 - Three days after I blogged about the risks of having liquid petroleum gas (LPG) onboard boats, and shared frequent PS contributor and surveyor Capt. Frank Lanier’s tips on checking for leaks, an LPG explosion killed a Swedish sailor who was docked in Livingston, Guatemala. In the upcoming March 2013 issue of Practical Sailor, Lanier goes over LPG safety from top to bottom, and I hope everyone will read the article carefully. The article is an introduction to a series of tests comparing products found in the LPG system—ranging from tanks to valves, from aftermarket lockers to solenoid valves.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:55AM Comments (5)

Sailboat Rig Inspection Tips

January 27, 2014 - How frequently do you bother removing spreader boots and taping to check the condition of the spreaders and rigging? No matter how well the spreader ends are protected, and whether you use ready-made vinyl spreader boots or conventional rigging tape, water will get through to the fittings inside. On a boat used in salt water, the atmosphere's corrosive nature can cause rapid disintegration of aluminum fittings (nevermind the fact that the spreaders might be 25 feet or more off the water). The thorough taping job you did on the spreader ends may actually accelerate the problem by holding in water.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:13PM Comments (6)

The Short, Brutish Life of a Luxury Cat

January 21, 2014 - Last week, Charlie Doane, executive editor of Sail magazine, and Hank Schmitt, a delivery skipper and founder of the North American Rally for Cruisers, got caught in a very bad situation on a new-boat delivery in the Atlantic. The boat's new owners, a couple from Germany, were also on board. The boat was a brand-new Aeroyacht Alpha 42 catamaran with wave-piercing hulls. It was abandoned; the captain and crew were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. The boat was left to drift. Even those of us who are not in the market for a luxury catamaran can draw something from the incident.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:40AM Comments (12)

Making the Switch to an LED Mastlight

January 14, 2014 - If you have your mast down this season or are contemplating an annual inspection aloft, it is a good time to consider a switch to an LED tri-color mastlight, which can cut the light's energy consumption by 90 percent. Back in 2010, we looked at six bulbs and lanterns and compared light output and energy consumption. We also checked for interference with VHF radio reception—a common complaint among early versions of several LED lights.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:49PM Comments (9)

Quick and Dirty Anchor Shank Strength Test

January 7, 2014 - So you’re sitting around this winter with time on your numb-cold hands and a half-dozen old anchors cluttering up the basement. You’ve read our many reports on anchor shanks, and you’re thinking, “I wonder what kind of steel my anchor shank is made of?” You could go to the maker, but you might find, as we did, that some manufacturers consider this proprietary information—as if the strength of the steel is not worth sharing with the consumer. So you decide to find out for yourself.
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The DIY Spinnaker Sprit

December 23, 2013 - Our recent test of the latest generation of top-down furlers for cruising spinnakers brought up some questions from readers about the type of add-on sprit used for our test boat, an Ericson 41. For some insight into the selection and installation of an add-on sprit for a cruising sailboat, I pulled up excerpts and links from several related Practical Sailor reports for this week’s blog. …
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:49PM Comments (2)

Shaping the Cruising Spinnaker

December 17, 2013 - In designing an asymmetrical cruising spinnaker, most sailmakers begin with the boat’s fore-triangle rig dimensions (I and J), and combine those with information about the intended use of the sail (tight reaching, reaching, or running) and information regarding where the sail will be used.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:21AM Comments (2)

The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Clear Plastic

December 10, 2013 - Look at any boat more than five years old, and chances are the clear dodger windows aren’t so clear anymore. By comparison, the windows on one of our test boats remained crystal clear for 15 years. Is clear vinyl really that vulnerable, or are boat owners doing something wrong to shorten its life? The answer to both questions is, "Yes." Here are some tips on preserving a view from the helm without spending a fortune on new Isinglass.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:53PM Comments (4)

Boat Mooring Upgrade Primer

December 2, 2013 - Now is the time of year that many mooring owners start investing in new tackle. As we prepare for our final report on mooring chains, I dove into some of our archival material on moorings to help guide people through the upgrade process. There are plenty of variations in the details of permanent ground tackle, and PS has covered most, including mooring systems designed for sensitive seabeds. The standard rig is as follows: a mushroom anchor set well in the bottom (or a concrete block, but it had better be huge, or a screw-type anchor, which works well in hard bottoms), to which a length of heavy chain is shackled, then a swivel, then a length of somewhat lighter chain, a shackle, and a rope pendant that goes to the bow cleat.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:36PM Comments (6)

The Captain's Responsibility During a Haulout

November 25, 2013 - My previous blog posts on cruising rallies and how they affect decision-making raised a number of excellent comments from readers. I think every skipper realizes that, ultimately, he or she is the one responsible for the safety of the ship and crew. Their fate depends on his decisions. But how frequently do we examine how we come to those decisions?
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:13PM Comments (8)

Stay Warm, Stay Safe

November 18, 2013 - About this time of year, sailors creeping southward are either accelerating their migration or looking for inexpensive ways to warm the cabin. You don’t have to install an expensive, built-in heating system just to get you south of the Mason-Dixon line, but when opting for one of the less-expensive options, you do have to use commonsense.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 06:27PM Comments (7)

Storm Rakes Sailboat Rally . . . Again

November 11, 2013 - Every November, I hold my breath as cruising sailors gird for the push southward from New England or mid-Atlantic to the Caribbean in one of the annual rallies organized for cruising sailors. Many of the people who participate in these rallies are new sailors, with limited offshore experience under their belt. The rally concept appeals to cruisers for many reasons, but underlying all of these is the belief that there is safety in numbers.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:26PM Comments (9)

Confounding Mildew Wars Part II

November 4, 2013 - Given the growing concerns about mold allergies, super-bacteria, and public health, the anti-microbe business is a lucrative one. In recent years, a number of companies have been tweaking Dow Corning's 30-plus-year-old “miracle” antimicrobial, Aegis, to develop their own patents. We learned just how competitive and confusing this new landscape is as we began testing the mildew-fighting effectiveness of Goldshield, a powerful antimicrobial aimed at public facilities like hospitals and airports.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:12PM Comments (9)

Reader Recommended Do-it-Yourself Boatyards

October 29, 2013 - If you’re looking for a good do-it-yourself boatyard to take care of some below-the-waterline projects before heading south this fall, check out our expanding list of reader-recommended boatyards that happily allow owners to do most or all of their own work. We kicked off our do-it-yourself (DIY) database project in June 2009 with a report highlighting Galesville Harbor Yacht Yard in Maryland. In the upcoming December 2013 issue, we will look at boat upgrades and repairs from a different perspective, offering advice on choosing a full-service yard and hiring contractors to do the work.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:57PM Comments (5)

Painting Your Boat Like a Pro

October 22, 2013 - In a few months, we’ll be publishing what will likely be our final update on our ongoing test of marine topside finishes—a project now in its fifth year. It will be interesting to see which hull paints have stood the test of time. If you can’t wait until this spring to get your paint project rolling (and tipping), here is a rundown of free articles that will offer expert guidance on getting a good do-it-yourself finish for your sailboat.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:24PM Comments (2)