August 18, 2014 - The worst squalls we encountered struck near Papua New Guinea, where vicious, but short-lived storms always seemed to arrive on the blackest nights and brought torrential rain. We usually tried to reduce sail early, but if we were caught off guard, our usual tactic was for Theresa to take the tiller and run before first gust, blanketing the jib with our gaff main while I shimmied out on the bowsprit and dropped the yankee. Of course, modern boats with a roller-furling jib make dealing with squalls much easier, but as I found last week, that ease can breed complacency.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:27PM Comments (4)
August 9, 2014 - While the high-frequency (HF) marine radio landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years, amateur radio guru Gordon West’s advice for those who are trying to choose between a marine SSB or a ham radio has remained relatively steady. When we contacted Gordon for our upcoming update on marine SSBs, he pointed out that there remains a lot of confusion regarding the differences between ham and marine SSB, and the pros and cons of each. He also explained that in many cases, while there are practical differences, the decision often comes down to personal preference.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson with Gordon West at 01:04AM Comments (7)
August 4, 2014 - My previous blog post on rig inspection prompted a question about how to splice old ropes that are too stiff to splice. It wasn’t long before the ice-climber in our group of contributors, Drew Frye, decided to grab this rope by its braided cover, so to speak, and see where it leads. Here is a brief description of the method that Frye found worked best, perimeter round-stitching. Perimeter round-stitching will take place over a length of rope that is the equivalent of six to eight times the diameter of the rope. For example, stitching 3/8-inch line requires about 2.5 inches of available line, not counting the tail of the line (about 3.8 inches in length) that will not be stitched.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson with Drew Frye at 05:46PM Comments (4)
July 29, 2014 - When going aloft, you can save yourself a lot of worry and hassle by taking a few simple steps:
• Harnesses: Although not as comfortable as traditional chairs, harnesses bring you closer to the top of the mast and are more secure. Wear long pants and good shoes.
• Halyards: Use two halyards—one primary, one safety. One should be an external halyard on a ratchet block leading from your harness back to you, so that you can have control over your own safety and ascent/descent.
• Shackles and winches: Don’t rely on snap shackles or self-tailing jaws on winches. To attach the halyard to the harness, use locking screw-pin shackles or a buntline knot, which brings you closer to the masthead sheave than a bowline.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:34PM Comments (5)
July 23, 2014 - While the polar vortex was pummeling the northern states last winter (ahhh, remember those days?), Practical Sailor contributor Drew Frye was knee deep in glycol antifreeze and engine coolants. One of the test's most important findings was that how you use antifreeze is as important as what product you use. The only sure way to know how effective your antifreeze will be this winter is to measure the glycol as it comes out the other end of the plumbing. There are a couple ways to do this.
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson with Drew Frye at 10:30AM Comments (3)
July 15, 2014 - If you find a surprisingly cheap, well-equipped, used cruising boat these days, chances are it has a teak deck in dire need of attention. The owner of a boat like this has a few options. Fix the deck in piece-meal fashion, sealing bungs, replacing rotted subdeck, and recaulking. Or, more expensive options include removing the teak and either installing new teak or laminating a fiberglass deck.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:08PM Comments (2)
July 9, 2014 - Instead of fixing or replacing tired mechanical equipment with new gear, we can often find a less-expensive substitute on the used-gear market. In many cases, this is equipment that is just as good as new gear, if not better than new. The trick is separating the gems from the junk. A poster child for this sort of refit quandary is the old Simpson Lawrence manual windlass, a British-engineered oddity that has long been a source of cruising sailor ire. Commonly found on cruising boats made in the 1980s, these windlasses use a troublesome chain drive rather than a gear drive. This, along with the dissimilar metals used in its various components (cast-steel gypsy, aluminum case, etc.), make these windlasses a poor candidate for rebuilding.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 08:19AM Comments (2)
June 30, 2014 - Probably one of the most frustrating projects when restoring an old boat is dealing with gelcoat cracks and chips. It would seem that these minor blemishes would be an easy matter to fix, but they’re not. Achieving the same level of gelcoat gloss, adhesion, and color of the original hull or deck is a kind of black art, and it is a field full of pretenders. You could run a weekend movie marathon with all of the YouTube DIY channels offering bad advice on gelcoat repairs.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:09PM Comments (6)
June 24, 2014 - Does a wireless masthead wind indicator make sense? This is the question with wind instruments, and there are certainly some pros and cons to consider. For sailors with wiring-unfriendly masts, the wireless approach is a good one. These include wooden spars, ones with conduits that are full with other wiring, and masts that are regularly unstepped. The downside of going wireless is that the batteries will need to be changed on occasion, and in some cases, signal interference is possible.
Posted by Bill Bishop at 03:18PM Comments (6)
June 17, 2014 - In this post, I’ll revisit one solution that comes up again and again anytime we talk about chafe protection: the leather chafe guard. We hand-stitched the leather in place, tucking locking stitches into the rope at each end. Holes were made with a pliers-like hole punch, and we fashioned our chafe strips to be long enough to cover the hard points, adding an additional 25 percent to the length to handle stretch and any minor slippage.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:54AM Comments (3)
June 11, 2014 - Over the past 10 years or so, we’ve highlighted the many advantages and disadvantages of the NMEA 2000 (N2K) marine electronics standard. From a consumer’s perspective, one of the most obvious advantages of installing N2K electronics is the ability to mix and match components from different manufacturers. While this sounds terrific on paper, we've often run into installation hurdles when trying to get sensors and displays from different manufacturers to play nicely—even those that advertise being N2K-compliant. Our foray into the world of wind systems has yielded a much more positive NMEA 2000 experience.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson with Bill Bishop at 01:16AM Comments (2)
June 2, 2014 - As satellite communication equipment becomes more reasonably priced, more reliable, and more compact, we often hear sailors raise the question, “Are single-sideband radios even relevant anymore?” As contributing writer Capt. Frank Lanier points out, the question is easy to answer. Here is an excerpt from his forthcoming report on single-sideband radios, which also will look at some of the latest products for simplifying SSB installation.
Posted by at 06:34AM Comments (12)
May 27, 2014 - If you’ve been following the tragic story of Cheeki Rafiki, the Beneteau First 40.7 that lost its keel with fatal consequences while crossing the Atlantic last week, and you’re sailing a production boat with a similar high-aspect, deep-ballast keel, you might be asking yourself, “Should I be concerned?”
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:14PM Comments (3)
May 20, 2014 - I spent last weekend tuning the rig aboard boatbuilder Robert Helmick’s Endeavour 42, Lost Boys, and got a first-hand look at the problems reader Scott Rimmer encountered with his vertical windlass back in 2009. When Helmick's son, Kameron, went to work deploying the anchor, he soon ran into trouble; the chain was jammed in the naval pipe, kinked with hockles. Helmick started plying me with questions about anchor swivels—questions we often get at the magazine.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 06:00PM Comments (6)
May 13, 2014 - While I’m sure that some of these “all natural” products are exploiting a vaguely defined marketing niche, I do worry about some of the chemicals found in skin-care products. One of the reasons we're seeing more “natural” sunscreens is that groups like the Environmental Working Group are taking a fairly strong stand against certain sunscreen ingredients. It recently released a list of sunscreen ingredients and formulas “not to bring on vacation,” which includes spray sunscreens and sunscreens with oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:36PM Comments (5)