I Have Seen the Future of Cruising

October 1, 2013 - The spectacle of computer-molded carbon fiber screaming across San Francisco Bay in the America's Cup 34 has brought heaps of attention to the sport of sailing, and if one more kid signs up for Opti camp this summer because of it, I suppose it is worth it—even if he does infuriate the rules committee in his next Pinewood Derby. Just as importantly, I can see all sorts of ways the AC trend toward automation can trickle down and revolutionize cruising sailing. Here are just some of the Cup-inspired inventions I envision for our brave new future—when the virtual world is more real than we would ever want it to be.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:31AM Comments (12)

Florida Polls Boaters on Anchoring Rules

September 24, 2013 - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is conducting a two-week survey to collect public comment on its anchoring and mooring pilot programs in five municipalities: St. Augustine, Stuart/Martin County, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Monroe County/Marathon/Key West. As it stands, these pilot ordinances will expire on July 1, 2014, unless the Florida Legislature extends the program. I can't comment on how the pilot programs in other areas are going, but in our home city of Sarasota, the ordinance has been poorly executed—to say the least.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 08:14PM Comments (9)

Report Cites Problems with Spinlock Deckvests

September 10, 2013 - Within a day of US Sailing’s release of a report that concluded that four out of five Spinlock Deckvests failed to work properly in a fatal sailing accident earlier this year, PS testers were in the water with a Spinlock Deckvest (5D, 170N, Pro-Sensor inflator), trying to figure out what might have gone wrong. Our findings re-emphasize what we’ve said several times before—inflate and try a PFD out in the water as soon as you buy it. Learn how to service it and adjust it for ideal fit. If it doesn’t fit, send it back and try another.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:42PM Comments (6)

Go Now, or Forever Hold Your Peace

September 3, 2013 - By now, some who read this blog regularly may be wondering if Practical Sailor will be covering the America’s Cup. The answer is . . . sort of. I’m not going. The votes are in; the jury has spoken. Practical Sailor readers have made a persuasive argument that they don’t see much value—apart from the gee-whiz factor—in expending our limited resources on an event that is already over-hyped. Let Larry Ellison play with his toys. (Yes, I’m a closet fan of the Kiwis.)
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:07PM Comments (11)

Do We Even Need AC Inverters Anymore?

August 26, 2013 - A couple of our ongoing tests are (literally) spilling over into the world of products still dominated by home appliances, bringing up the subject of inverters that convert your boat’s 12-volt, direct-current (DC) system to an alternating-current (AC) system like those found in our homes. As the trend toward off-the-grid living grows (solar panels, wind generators, and fuel cells produce DC current), so does the list of appliances that run off of DC power. …
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:19PM Comments (5)

Lightning Protection: The Truth About Dissipators

August 19, 2013 - About this time of year, when lightning strikes become common, we receive a good deal of mail asking about static dissipators such as the Lightning Master. These are the downside-up, wire-brush-like devices you see sprouting from antennas and rooftops in cities and towns, and, more frequently, on sailboat masts. When these devices first appeared on the market, we did a fair amount of research to find out whether they realistically could be expected to spare a sailboat's mast from a lightning strike.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:16PM Comments (16)

Trouble-free Deck Hardware Installation

August 12, 2013 - On older boats, the complication factor is almost sure to multiply when you talk about installing deck hardware. Access to belowdecks bolts and backing plates is often tricky, and the condition of the deck itself can pose problems. Along with our genoa car and track test report in the September 2013 issue of Practical Sailor, we included a rundown of installation tips. The tips offer a general view of the scope of a genoa track upgrade, remedies for common problems, and techniques for preventing future damage to the deck core. Although the tips apply specifically to genoa tracks, much of the advice is relevant to any deck hardware installation.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:03PM Comments (3)

Combatting Onboard Toilet Odors

August 5, 2013 - We’ve had a lot of fun with toilets and sanitation systems in the last couple of years, and after last weekend, when I descended into the smelliest brokerage boat I’d ever set foot on, I thought I’d revisit some of our findings here.The good news is that a stinky head is curable. The better news is that it need not cost you an arm and a leg. That’s not to say a cure is cheap—this is a cruising boat we’re talking about—but in many cases, a change in maintenance habits and less than $20 can put you on the path to deep breathing again.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:01PM Comments (11)

Pondering Options for Varnishing a Mast

July 22, 2013 - One of the most common questions we get regarding marine varnish is what kind of finish is best for a mast. Even though aluminum has long since replaced Sitka spruce as the material of choice for a sailboat mast, there is no shortage of boats that still have wooden masts. Many of the Taiwanese-built boats of the ’70s and ’80s had wooden masts, and of course, a wide range of U.S.-built classics still have their original wooden masts.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:39AM Comments (3)

Towed Water Generators: Are They Worth It?

July 14, 2013 - The fact that two out of 10 cruising boats I saw docked here in Bergen, Norway, have towed water generators made me wonder whether the Scandinavians have had better luck with these devices than we have. My guess is that the units I saw on the sterns of two Swedish boats have had very little use over their lifetime. Most owners of towed water generators that I have spoken with, even those who take long passages when the devices would be most useful, seem unenthusiastic about the them.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 04:56PM Comments (8)

The Sailing Books that Inspire Us

July 8, 2013 - Although Thor Heyerdahl’s theory regarding human migration across the Pacific has been discounted, his 1948 book and 1951 Oscar-award winning documentary, “Kon-Tiki,” is responsible for inspiring more than a few dreams of cruising the Pacific. I find it interesting that when American sailors followed Heyerdahl’s path across the Pacific in the 1960s and 1970s, they often did so in Colin Archer-type boats, like John G. Hanna’s Tahiti ketch—and later, the Westsail 32, a variation on William Atkin’s Archer-esque Thistle. It is as if all roads to Tahiti first passed through Oslo, Norway, where I happen to find myself this week.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:40AM Comments (10)

Adventures in Onboard Coffee-making

July 1, 2013 - As far as I can tell, no one yet has designed the ideal way to make a cup of coffee underway aboard a sailboat. With the hopes of sparing other coffee lovers years of frustration, or possible injury, I’m sharing my experience with the several methods we’ve tried.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:13AM Comments (30)

What Dog Breed is Best Suited for Cruising?

June 24, 2013 - Our two boys are now 8 and 10, so their rhetorical skills have advanced to a point at which a simple “no” from Dad is no longer beyond inquiry, and their persuasive, well-reasoned arguments for their cause are becoming harder to oppose. As a result, the prospect of a family dog—something I’ve successfully resisted up to this point—looms large in our future. The question now before us is: What kind?
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:52PM Comments (17)

Antifreeze: ethylene glycol vs. propylene glycol

June 10, 2013 - In the upcoming July issue of Practical Sailor, contributor Drew Frye plunges into the the not-so-funny topic of joker valves (if you don’t know what this is yet, consider yourself lucky) and emerges with some valuable tips on keeping our marine heads healthy. One of his potentially controversial discoveries is that the “eco-friendly” anti-freeze propylene glycol isn’t really any kinder to the marine environment than the anti-freeze it was designed to replace, ethylene glycol—and it is definitely harder on plumbing components.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:27PM Comments (9)

Do-It-Yourself Water Filtration

June 4, 2013 - One of the first things that you realize after a few seasons of cruising is that approaches to life aboard vary between two wide extremes: cruisers who by choice or because of a limited budget live with minimal creature comforts, and those cruisers who sacrifice little more than living space when they move aboard. You’d think that when it came to basic essentials like food and water, there would be some overlap between these two groups, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Take water, for example.
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 12:33PM Comments (3)