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)

When Splicing Isn't an Option

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)

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)

Sticking with Teak

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)

Masthead Wind Sensors: Wired vs. Wireless

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)

Do-it-Yourself Chafe Protection

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)

Matchmaking: First Date for Garmin and B&G

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)

Is the Single-sideband Radio Still Relevant?

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)

Cheeki Rafiki Loss Puts Spotlight on Keels—Again

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)

Chain Jams and Other Anchor Windlass Woes

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)

Sun Protection and Sunscreen for Sailors

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)

Hobie Alter, Cheryl Tiegs and a Yard Full of Hobie Cats

May 6, 2014 - Hobie asked: “Are you near Norfolk or New York?,” and I said no to both. He then paused and said: “I could sell you one, but if you buy three boats you can be our dealer in that area.” . . . My wife was not too pleased with 140 cardboard boxes (each box holding a hull) in our backyard. She had just given birth to our first child three months earlier!
Posted by Darrell Nicholson (with Rob Mairs) at 11:05AM Comments (6)

Simple Tips for Maintaining Stainless Steel

April 22, 2014 - When applying a paste cleaner, a toothbrush is useful for buffing tight spots and working into the pores of welds; follow by buffing with a cotton cloth. A green 3M scrubby pad helps for removing more aggressive stains. Continued rusting in welded areas might indicate a developing failure, requiring replacement. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water and mild soap when done buffing.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:43PM Comments (3)

Rebel Heart and Emergencies at Sea

April 8, 2014 - The story of the rescue of a sick 1-year-old girl, her parents, and toddler sister from aboard the boat Rebel Heart last week provoked a storm of controversy over whether ocean voyaging with young children is sensible. One of the reasons that Theresa and I chose not to have and raise children aboard our boat were our own dicey experiences with illness in the tropics. (Our threadbare, vagabond lifestyle at the time raised other salient concerns, as Theresa put it—“I’m not giving birth in the forepeak!”) But if we had decided to cruise with young children, we would have likely avoided long passages and kept pediatric care within close reach.
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 01:21PM Comments (14)