Inspecting the Aging Sailboat tip #3

Excerpted from Don Casey's Inspecting the Aging Sailboat

Delamination in fiberglass is the functional equivalent of rot in a wooden boat. Well-constructed solid-fiberglass hulls (meaning not cored) almost never delaminate unless they have suffered impact damage or unless water has penetrated the gelcoat. This is because proper hull-construction technique - adding each layer before the previous one has cured - results in the resin linking chemically into a solid mass. Occasionally a manufacturer defeats this by leaving an uncompleted hull in the mold over a weekend; but most know - and do - better.

Introduce core into the formula and the likelihood of delamination increases dramatically. A core divides the hull in three distinct layers - the outer skin, the core, and the inner skin - with the bond between them strictly mechanical. Polyester resin adheres chemically to itself with amazing tenacity, but it has never been very good at adhering to other materials. At the slightest provocation it will release its grip on the core material, regardless of what it is.

Tapping a fiberglass hull is akin to spiking a wooden one. Use a plastic mallet or the handle of a screwdriver to give the hull a light rap. If the laminate is healthy, you will get a sharp report. If it is delaminated, the sound will be a dull thud. Your hull is sure to play more than two notes, but map all suspect returns; then check inside the hull to see if a bulkhead, tank, or bag of sails is responsible. If not, it is the laminate.

It is essential to do a thorough evaluation of a cored hull because core delamination is unfortunately common and robs the hull of much of its designed strength. Tap every 2 or 3 inches over the entire surface of the hull. Be especially suspicious of the area around through-hull fittings and near signs of skin damage or repair. Percussion testing can also reveal filler patches.
Don Casey's book, Inspecting the Aging Sailboat will show you, step by step, how to evaluate the condition of an older fiberglass sailboat - the one you own or the one you'd like to purchase. To buy a copy of Inspecting the Aging Sailboat from Practical Sailor, click here.

Inspecting the Aging Sailboat tip #2

Excerpted from Don Caseys Inspecting the Aging Sailboat


Fiberglass generally reveals stress problems with cracks in the gelcoat. The cracks can be very fine and hard to see; get close to the hull and lay your finger against the spot you are examining to ensure that your eyes focus properly. A dye penetrant such as Spot Check (available from auto-parts suppliers) can highlight hairline cracks.

Dont confuse stress cracks with surface crazing; crazing is a random pattern of cracks - something like the tapped shell of a boiled egg just before you peel it - that occurs over large areas of the boat. Stress cracks are localized and generally have an identifiable pattern to the discerning eye.


A collision serious enough to damage the hull usually leaves a scar, but sometimes the only visible record of the event is a pattern of concentric cracks in the gelcoat. Impact with a sharp object, like the corner of a dock, leaves a bulls-eye pattern. Impact with a flat object, like a piling or a seawall, tends to put the stressed area in parenthesis. Tap the hull with a plastic mallet or a screwdriver handle in the area of the impact and listen for any dull-sounding areas, which indicate delamination. Examine the hull inside for signs that the impact fractured the glass.


Panting occurs when poorly supported sections of the hull flex as the boat drives through the waves. This problem is also called oilcanning, taking its name from the domed bottom you push in and let spring back on a small oilcan. Panting usually occurs in relatively flat areas of the hull near the bow, but it may also occur in flat bilge areas and unreinforced quarters. The classic sign is a series of near-parallel cracks, sometimes crescent shaped, in the gelcoat. If you can move any portion of the hull by pushing on it, the hull lacks adequate stiffness. Left unchecked, panting can result in fatigue damage to the laminate and eventually a hinge crack all the way through the hull.

For more advice on ways to identify signs of stress or trauma in a sailboat, purchase Don Caseys book, Inspecting the Aging Sailboat. To buy a copy of Inspecting the Aging Sailboat from Practical Sailor, click here.

Riggers Apprentice tip #3

Excerpted from The Complete Riggers Apprentice

Mast Steps

Mast steps are a popular way to get aloft, as easy as climbing a ladder, as the sales literature says. But did you ever try to climb a wet, cold, awkwardly shaped ladder that was waving back and forth in the air? For all but flat-calm conditions, mast steps are no treat, and even in flat calm you need to have a safety line attached to you and tended on deck.

It makes much more sense to have an efficient bosuns chair routine set up, one that enables you to go up in any conditions and to stay up there without having to hand onto a ladder. And without the weight, windage, and expense.

But there is one place - about 4 feet down from the masthead - where mast steps are a really good idea. Just a pair of them at this height gives you a place to stand when you need to get at the very top of the mast, higher than a halyard can take you. Of course, you want to be sure youre tied to the mast before you do this, so theres no danger of pitching out of your chair.

To read all you need to know about modern and traditional rigging, purchase The Complete Riggers Apprentice from Practical Sailor.

How to read a nautical chart tip #1

Fundamental Chart-Making Concepts

Until recently, there has been little need for chart users to understand the technology of chart-making, particularly its limitations, because the tools used by navigators to determine the position of their vessels were inherently less accurate than those used to conduct and display the surveys on which charts are based. Realizing the limits of accuracy of their tools, navigators tended to be a cautious crowd, giving hazards a wide berth and typically taking proactive measures to build in an extra margin of safety for errors and unforeseen events.

Knowing this, and knowing that navigation in inshore waters was by reference to landmasses and not astronomical fixes, surveyors were more concerned with depicting an accurate relationship of soundings and hydrographic features relative to the local landmass (coastline) than they were with absolute accuracy relative to latitude and longitude. The surveyors maxim was that it is much more important to determine an accurate least depth over a shoal or danger than to determine its geographical position with certainty. Similarly, the cartographer, when showing an area containing many dangers (such as a rocky outcrop), paid more attention to bringing the area to the attention of the navigator, so it could be avoided by a good margin, than to accurately showing every individual rock in its correct position.

All this changed with the advent of satellite-based navigation systems - notably the global positioning system (GPS). Now a boats position (latitude and longitude) can be fixed with near-pinpoint accuracy and, in the case of electronic navigation, accurately displayed on a chart in real time. This encourages many navigators (myself included) to cut corners more closely than they would have done in the past. With such an attitude, it is essential for the navigator to grasp both the accuracy with which a fix can be plotted (whether manually or electronically) and the limit of accuracy of the chart itself - together they determine the extent to which it is possible to cut corners in safety.

To help understand and use electronic and paper charts, purchase Nigel Calders How to Read a Nautical Chart from Practical Sailor.

How to Sail Around the World Tip #1

Excerpted from How to Sail Around the World

Cruising under sail is a hundredfold more complex than merely buying a suitable yacht. We know this because the marinas and harbors of the world are dotted with private pleasure craft, most of which go nowhere at all. There are tens of thousands of boat owners but very few sailors. Pay attention to this phrase: lots of boat owners but very few sailors. And a sailor you must be if youre going to try ocean voyaging. You need a modicum of sailing aptitude, some ability to fix things, and the willingness to pitch in and work.

Most veteran long-distance small-boat sailors are free spirits who fall into the classification of restless adventurer and who are always looking at distant horizons and trying new things. These spooky engineers usually lack fancy certificates, but theyve all served fairly intensive apprenticeships and have learned a good bit about the sea, the care of their vessels, and the management of themselves.

To learn the fundamentals of sailing, you need to go to a special school for a few weeks. You will be taken out in a dinghy or small vessel for instruction in sail handling, tacking, gybing, docking, maneuvering in restricted waters, and following safety procedures. Then you must practice as often as possible and serve as crew for friends on their yachts.

In the beginning, you will only be a grunt, but little by little it will come to you. Every time you sail on a different vessel, you learn a thing or two because each captain has his own way of doing things. You need to practice stitching sails, to find out about anchors and rigging, and to get some notion of sanding and painting and fixing things because life under sail is a never-ending round of maintenance, modifications, and large and small repairs.

For more cruising lessons, advice and stories, purchase Hal Roths How to Sail Around the World from Practical Sailor.

How to Sail Around the World Tip #2

Excerpted from How to Sail Around the World

When searching for a boat to buy, you need to answer a few questions. One is What size boat can you handle?

The larger the yacht, the more skill and muscle you need to deal with her. She may have bigger winches, but they will be harder to crank. Hoisting or furling a 500 to 600-square-foot mainsail on a 50-footer is easy to joke about in a yacht brokers office, but can be a surprising handful for you to deal with in a breeze at night. Just because a yacht has a powerful engine, doesn't mean she will be easy to manage in a windy docking station.

I think all experienced world cruisers will agree that learning how to enter and leave tight spots under sail is a skill you should have in your pocket. Unfortunately this is completely alien to present-day U.S. marina type sailing, in which a person motors out from a dock, puts up the sails, goes out for a few hours, and does the same routine in the opposite order when she returns.

You may scoff at this, but if youre in distant waters and there are problems (engine not working, a line around the propeller, dead batteries), you will be very glad to know how to work yourself in and out of restricted waters.

Suppose you want to take fuel and water from a dock against which a fresh breeze is blowing. Do you know how to drop an anchor when youre going into the dock so that you can pull yourself off when youre ready to leave? If youre anchored near a rocky shore and the wind shifts and begins to blow toward the land, do you know how to sail out the anchor without winding up on the rocks? These techniques are not hard to master, but its smart to practice them regularly. It may be useful to learn these maneuvers in a small sailboat and then work up in size because of the considerable weight and the restricted turning ability of a bigger boat. Mistakes are unthinkable and can cost thousands of dollars.

Don't consider close-order maneuvering under sail a troublesome thing to learn. Its challenging and great fun to sail in and out of tight corners. Half the time its just a matter of turning the yacht to head downwind, paying attention to any tidal stream or river current, carefully checking for traffic, and hoisting a jib. Then you let go off the stern lines or haul up a stern anchor, and youre away. Once you have a little sea room, you can hoist the mainsail.

The other half of the time, it requires more study, care, and practice. One person must be in absolute control. You need to figure out exactly what youre going to do, have every bit of your gear ready, and have an alternate plan if possible, and carefully explain whats in your head to each person involved. Often you need to use lines to warp the vessel around to another dock or turn her so that the wind is more suitable. Again, you must check the tidal stream and current if theyre factors.

A way of practicing these maneuvers without embarrassment is to go to a safe, shallow, deserted anchorage. Drop a fender on a light anchor for a mark and use it as a practice target for sailing out the anchor and other procedures.

For more cruising lessons, advice and stories, purchase Hal Roths How to Sail Around the World from Practical Sailor.

How to Sail Around the World Tip #3

Excerpted from How to Sail Around the World by Hal Roth.

A basic problem with sailing vessels is chafe - things rubbing against one another to destruction - and I refer to it again and again in this book. If a piece of line rubs against a sharp metal corner, theres a good chance that the line will be ruined or cut in two in a few hours. But if protected by a piece of hose or by better routing, perhaps by a way of a smooth block, a line will last for years. Veteran sailors are always looking at their rigs when under sail to check three things:

- the trim of each sail and the whole rig together

- whether the sails are suitable for the current wind strength

- whats rubbing on what

To suggest what can be done, I made two circumnavigations with the same main halyard on my 50-footer. (I end-for-ended the -inch diameter line after 30,000 miles to put a new section around the masthead sheave.) But Ive also ruined new lines in a few hours because I got sloppy and inattentive.

For more cruising lessons, advice and stories, purchase Hal Roths How to Sail Around the World from Practical Sailor.

How to Sail Around the World Tip #4

Excerpted from How to Sail Around the World

After trying many sails and lots of sail-handling schemes, I have learned which sails to buy and how to use them quickly and efficiently. Ive discovered nothing new or startling, but my wife and I have been able to make our sailing easier and keep the yacht going better by the use of slab reefs, roller furling, deck bags, and furling socks.

Ive tried to sort all this into a reasonable progression - a sort of master plan - so that in the normal wind range (say 0-30 knots), our transition from one sail to another is reasonable and orderly. We want to make the maximum use of each sail for its wind range and to avoid overlaps. We consider the weight of all the sails, their cost, and the room they take up when stored. We know that the seven sails in our inventory (plus two spares for a world-ranging yacht) include some compromises but ensure the following:

  • Good performance in strong and light airs, both in and off the wind.
  • Ease in dealing with and changing sails, with a minimum of hazardous foredeck work. In particular, theres no changing down from a large genoa rigged on a forestay furling system when it breezes up.
  • Reasonable spares in case of emergency.

We are learning all the time, and when we find something thats better, we switch to it. Our golden rule is the simpler the better.

Our yacht Whisper is a 35-foot masthead sloop. She has a sail area of 640 square feet, which includes a 100 percent foretriangle of 359 square feet. Like many International Offshore Rule (IOR) boats designed twenty years ago, the boat has a tall and skinny high-aspect mainsail (of 281 sq. ft. for us). The top of her mast is 53 feet above the water. Her designed displacement is 14,148 pounds. My guess is that with all her cruising gear on board (anchors, tools, fastenings, sails, clothing, charts, books, dingies, spare parts, food, liquids, etc.), she would hit the bathroom scales at a real-world weight of 18,000 pounds.

Whispers sail inventory consists of seven sails, plus two spares. The sails: mainsail, jib, staysail, storm jib, trysail, gennaker and spinnaker. The spares are an old mainsail and jib.

For more cruising lessons, advice and stories, purchase Hal Roths How to Sail Around the World from Practical Sailor.

Nigel Calders Cruising Handbook tip #1

In his book, Nigel Calders Cruising Handbook, Calder takes a detailed look at both the necessary and desirable features of deck hardware. Heres some of his advice:

Electrical cabling is sometimes run loosely inside masts. It rattles and bangs annoyingly, and may eventually chafe through (at which point it may cause severe stray current erosion). It should always be installed in a plastic conduit. Conduit can be retroactively installed on masts by laying the mast down horizontally, removing the existing cables, building up the necessary length of conduit outside the mast, putting a generous bead of silicone rubber or polyurethane adhesive on one side of the conduit, sliding the conduit into place with the silicone or polyurethane facing away from the mast wall (so that it does not get rubbed off), and then rolling the conduit over so that the silicon or polyurethane ends up between the mast wall and conduit, gluing the conduit in place. The conduit is then drilled for the necessary exit holes (e.g., spreader light), after which fishing wires are used to pull through fishing lines, which are then used to pull cables back into place.

For more information and advice on what to look for in and on a cruising boat, purchase Nigel Calders Cruising Handbook from Practical Sailor.

Calder’s Cruising Handbook Tip #2

In his book, Nigel Calders Cruising Handbook, Calder takes a detailed look at both the necessary and desirable features of deck hardware. Heres some of his advice:

All cleats on the mast (and many elsewhere) need to be large enough to take not only the two turns needed to cleat off a line, but also (at least on the top end of the cleat) to then comfortably hold another turn that is used to stow the line (as a general rule, the length of a cleat should be at least sixteen times the diameter of the line to be stowed on it). Too often, the horns are barely long enough; in rough weather, the stowed line comes loose and streams back down a side deck or overboard.

For more information and advice on what to look for in and on a boat for your cruising, purchase Nigel Calders Cruising Handbook from Practical Sailor.