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 (14)

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)

The Norwegian Approach to Teak Deck Care

July 29, 2013

Old teak decks can be a deal breaker for the used boat buyer. Unless the previous owner(s) have taken a white-glove approach to deck maintenance, about 30 years of use is all you can hope for in a modern 12-millimeter-thick teak deck. The wood's biggest foe is the scrub brush, which can chew through the soft grain and shave years off the deck’s life. So if you are looking at an old Taiwanese-built cruiser from the 1970s with a deeply grooved old teak deck, give it a close inspection, especially the subdeck; you might be biting off more than you can chew. Even if the core sub-deck deck is still good, re-caulking and refastening an existing deck is a time-consuming project.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 04:15PM Comments (3)

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 (9)

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)

Don't Let Refit Pitfalls Derail Your Cruising Plans

June 18, 2013

As a good friend finds himself in the middle of the often daunting process of equipping a full-size cruising boat for an extended cruise with his family, I found myself reflecting on some of the things I discovered over the years through my own experience and the experience of others. There seems to be no shortage of books that tell you what you need to do to go cruising, but very few seem to caution about what NOT to do or what to avoid. Here are a few things that I found get in the way of a long-term sailing escape. I’d love to hear more tips on how to avoid these and other pitfalls that can swallow the cruising dream.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:28PM Comments (5)

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)

Solar Panels vs. Wind Generators

May 28, 2013

As the world’s largest solar-powered boat heads toward Miami for its U.S. debut and the start of a 16-city world tour, I was reminded of one of the most frequent questions I hear from Practical Sailor readers: "Which is best, solar panels or a wind generator?" The answer, like many things regarding cruising equipment, depends on where you cruise and the type of boat you own.
Posted by at 08:31AM Comments (15)

Reader Questionnaire

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