Impossible Dream Finds a New Home

February 18, 2014

At about 9 p.m., the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to 56 degrees, Miami’s version of the polar vortex. Sailing conservatively under staysail and main, the 60-foot catamaran ripped southward toward the city lights. Tucked behind the 18-inch wheel on the leeward hull, helmsman Harry Horgan, a wheelchair-bound sailor who founded one of the nation’s finest community sailing programs, squinted into the wind. To the west, the nearly full moon rose above Cape Florida Lighthouse.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:54AM Comments (2)

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)

The (Cold) Case of the Frozen Antifreeze

February 3, 2014

There’s nothing like buying several $3 bottles of antifreeze to protect your $30,000 boat, then coming home to discover the unused bottles frozen solid in your garage.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:13AM Comments (4)

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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Double-check for Propane Leaks

December 30, 2013

After my recent post on portable marine heaters and insulation, a few people asked our opinion of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) heaters. Simply stated: We are not fans of portable LPG systems on boats. A boat fire in New England last month offered a pretty good example of the risks of this type of equipment. Even fixed propane heating (and cooking) systems that employ all the safety precautions recommended by the American Boat and Yacht Council or comparable advisory bodies can be dangerous, if they are neglected.
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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 (5)

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)

Reader Questionnaire

Which of the following best describes your approach to bottom paint?