Florida Anchoring Survey: Here Today, Gone—

November 25, 2014 - I don’t want to come down too hard on the good people at Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission; many of the underpaid, overworked officers seem genuinely interested in doing the right thing. But the most recent survey, and the accompanying “informational” video preceding it, lead me to believe that the FWC has been puffing swamp gas again. …
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:32PM Comments (17)

The Mystery Chain from China

November 17, 2014 - Surprisingly, one of the best chains in our most recent test was one of the generic Chinese chains. This chain showed good strength, and had a thick galvanized coating that showed a high resistance flaking and abrasion. However, the other generic Chinese chain in our test showed appalling performance, so bad, that we believe it is unconscionable for any marine chandler to sell it. And here is the quandary. We’ve identified a promising, economically-priced chain, but it is virtually impossible for the average boater to distinguish it from junk.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson with Jonathan Neeves at 04:53PM Comments (3)

Tackling Fuel Tank Replacement

November 11, 2014 - November is the time of year when the procrastinating catches up to us. The big projects we avoided all summer stare us in the face. Do nothing, and you risk a summer wasted pulling epoxy from your hair instead of sailing. If your boat is 20 years old or older, a fuel tank replacement—a bear of a project, even in ideal circumstances—might be that project you’re postponing. If it is, well, you’re in luck, because we’ve got a fair bit of information to help guide you through the process.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson with Steve D'Antonio at 12:26PM Comments (9)

Calling Mayday on an SSB

October 21, 2014 - Based on US Coast Guard statistics, surprisingly few boaters enable the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) function on their VHF radio, or have it operating correctly. From what we are hearing from some marine manufacturers like Icom, the numbers for marine single-sideband (SSB) marine radios—the topic of our ongoing series of tests—are just as discouraging. It doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple tools and maybe a trip to a Radio Shack, getting your radio (VHF or SSB) DSC-ready can be carried in a single weekend.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:18AM Comments (5)

Annapolis 2015 Photo Album

October 14, 2014 - PS Editor Darrell Nicholson offers his take of the Annapolis boat show in 100 words or less . . . and plenty of photos.
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Reflections on the Faux Teak Deck

October 7, 2014 - [IMGCAP(1)] Being afflicted by an affection for wooden boats, I’ve always been perplexed by the faux teak trend. In my book, you’re either in love with wood and you pay for your love in labor, or you bow to the apparent pragmatism of plastic. For me, a boatbuilder who is seduced by a synthetic wood deck or trim is akin to Ferdinand the Bull ecstatically romping through a field of plastic flowers—that is to say, more…
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Tuning In, Tuning Out

September 30, 2014 - Just as the incurable text-sender spends more time staring at his phone than noticing the people around him, sailors intoxicated by their display screens can lose the ability to recognize natural patterns in the weather, the waves, and wind. Nurturing environmental awareness is more than just a matter of safety. To hide behind a digital wall diminishes the art of sailing into something easily quantified, which it simply isn’t. To punch a few buttons and safely sail across a pixelated sea is truly amazing, but it isn’t sailing.
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Big News: A Little Girl and a Big Book

September 23, 2014 - Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo’s new book, “The Art of Seamanship,” is rolling off the presses at McGraw-Hill. Although it is being billed as a textbook (it will be used in many of the educational programs that Ralph teaches at the Annapolis School of Seamanship) Ralph and the editors at McGraw-Hill have done a terrific job of interspersing meaty instruction on everything from anchoring to riding out a gale with real life stories that Ralph has collected over the years.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 04:35PM Comments (0)

Florida's Anchoring Debate Heats Up

September 17, 2014 - The state of Florida is at it again. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission held a couple of poorly advertised “workshops” earlier this month to discuss the future of anchoring in the state. The public hearings made it clear that the state is once again trying to tighten anchoring restrictions in coastal areas, particularly in urban areas along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:14AM Comments (5)

The Boat Show Survival Guide

September 10, 2014 - Last weekend at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Washington I was reminded of the hidden dangers of boat shows. I was sitting in the cockpit of a custom Ed Monk design offered for sale and had forgotten that I had a mortgage and a job that required regular appearances at an office. I caressed the freshly varnished tiller. It seemed to fit my hand perfectly. “The previous owner sailed it all over the Pacific,” the owner said. I suddenly realized I’d violated the first rule for attending a boat show: Never go alone.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 08:40AM Comments (1)

A Preview of the inReach Explorer

September 2, 2014 - Last month, I had the chance to do some preliminary testing of Delorme’s InReach Explorer. The inReach Explorer is the third generation of the original inReach that we tested in March 2013. Later that year, Delorme added a display screen and some functions, calling it the inReach SE. The Explorer adds even more functions to the SE frame, including an internal digital magnetic compass, altimeter, and accelerometer that allows for rudimentary route planning. The device is not intended to be a full-fledged handheld GPS navigator; it’s a communication device with some navigation features.
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The Great Leak Hunt

August 26, 2014 - I peered into the bilge. A steady stream of water flowed from the aft cabin, under the engine and spilled into the sump. I dabbed my finger in it—salt. Definitely not the icebox. The electric bilge pump was keeping up with the flow, but the water was troubling. Maybe the stuffing box, I thought.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:00PM Comments (7)

Marine SSB, Ham Radio, or Both?

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)

Going Aloft Sans Butterflies

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)

Finding the Right Mix of AntiFreeze

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)