Upgrading the Cruising Mainsail

March 25, 2014 - The old main was constructed of Dacron, and polyester continued to offer the best balance of cost, longevity, and performance for our particular situation. We decided to go with a premium-grade polyester (Dimension 360AP-MTO 8.4 ounce). Premium polyester is tightly woven and has a high yarn count that provides good shape retention and good performance over a wide range of wind speeds.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:17PM Comments (1)

The Pro's Guide to Restoring Gelcoat

March 18, 2014 - This week's blog on restoring old hulls includes tips like this one on wet-sanding: If you’re using an electric sander, mist the hull surface with a spray bottle. Mix a few drops of dish detergent in the water to keep the hull evenly wet and keep it wetter longer. Rinse the surface often to look for potential burn-through areas, and look at it from several angles. You can use a window squeegee to quick dry the surface after a rinse to get a low-glare look at the gelcoat. Do not use circular movements. Wet-sand until the hull has an even dullness, a matte finish; then rinse with fresh water.
Posted by Ann Key at 10:42AM Comments (4)

PS Gear Tests Reap Awards

March 7, 2014 - As I edge toward my 200th blog post and my 10th year as the editor of Practical Sailor, I’m going to detour briefly from the usual fare to say thanks, to you our readers, and to the loyal group of testers who have brought this publication to where it is today—the top of the heap in its field. This fact was recognized last month at the annual meeting of Boating Writers International, a professional organization of writers, editors, publishers, photographers, broadcasters, public relations specialists, and others in the communications profession associated with the boating industry.
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 06:16PM Comments (4)

Digging into Bottom Paint Removal

March 4, 2014 - Paint removal using a paint stripper is a little like dental work in that there’s no one perfect tool, and getting the job done usually requires a tray full of devices. The arsenal of hand-scraping weapons used during our test of paint strippers ranged in caliber from a lightweight, extra-thin and narrow scraper sharpened to a knife’s edge to what old shipwrights referred to as a “slick.” This heavyweight king of the chisel family was kept sharpened with a whetstone and had the mass to plow into thick paint buildup and peel the substrate evenly.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:03AM Comments (6)

Gel vs. AGM Batteries for Boats

February 24, 2014 - As spring fast approaches (it's coming, I promise), a few of our less fortunate sailing brethren discover their house bank batteries can no longer hold a charge. One of the most common questions we get regarding deep-discharge batteries—those batteries designed to power our lights and electronics—is whether to go with a gel-cell, AGM, or flooded lead-acid “wet-cell” battery.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:02PM Comments (10)

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)

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 (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)