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Wood Finishing - Tip #1

Organize projects according to the weather, and you’re guaranteed to finish them within your lifetime.

In the hierarchy of organizing projects around the weather, start first with seasonal organization:

SPRING – when it’s frequently raining . . . is the best time for exterior bleaching, because the air is cool and moist. Sometimes you get lucky and can get started on other exteriror projects like painting and varnishing (depending on your latitude). It’s a lovely time to varnish interiors, especially cabin soles.

SUMMER – when it’s often sunny . . . is when it’s easiest to bank on completion of exterior work of all kinds, which is why so many people set aside entire blocks of vacation time in July to work on their boats. This accounts for the high vacancy rate in the cruising marinas during that month.

FALL – when mother nature is still fooling herself . . . is a good time to wrap up, as quickly as possible, any uncompleted exterior finishing business, and focus on projects belowdecks that require strong ventilation and open hatches (wholesale varnishing and oiling, for example).

WINTER – when the mercury dips below 45° F . . . is the time to take projects to the shop or confine interior projects to light oiling, or the perfect time to just curl up with a nice book.

For more information and advice on the products and methods to use to create stunning brightwork, purchase Rebecca Wittman’s The Brightwork Companion today!

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 you’re 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 they’ve 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 Roth’s 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 broker’s 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 you’re 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 you’re going into the dock so that you can pull yourself off when you’re ready to leave?  If you’re 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 it’s 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.  It’s challenging and great fun to sail in and out of tight corners.  Half the time it’s 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 you’re 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 you’re going to do, have every bit of your gear ready, and have an alternate plan if possible, and carefully explain what’s 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 they’re 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 Roth’s 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, there’s 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

-         what’s 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 I’ve also ruined new lines in a few hours because I got sloppy and inattentive.  

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

Winterizing Your Sailboat - Tip #5

For many, it’s time to think about winterizing. It is far better to perform most routine maintenance at the end of the season when laying up rather than when recommissioning for the next season.

Spars and Standing Rigging.  

Wooden spars and spreaders: Wash and inspect closely for any signs of rot (e.g. softening or discoloration), especially on spreaders and around fasteners and exit holes. Seal bare spots even if you are not varnishing or painting at this time.

Aluminum spars: Wash and inspect for signs of corrosion, distortion of mast walls (especially around spreader sockets), crazing of anodizing, and hairline cracks (especially around welds and cutouts). Remove and grease any fasteners that must be prevented from freezing up. Wax the spar before storing.

Carbon fiber spars: Clean and inspect all attachment points for signs of delamination or other damage.

All spars: Withdraw mast tang bolts and check for crevice corrosion. Remove boots or covers from spreader tips. Remove head box sheaves and inspect shafts and sheaves. Lubricate and replace. Remove turnbuckle boots, tape, etc. Undo all turnbuckles, clean, inspect, and grease. Pay close attention to clevis pins; when replacing, tape over the ends of cotter pins (split pins). Inspect swages for hairline cracks. Wash all rigging. Do not store stainless against aluminum spars. If stored outside, do not rest on water absorbent materials.

For more winterizing procedures, as well as thousands of other repair and maintenance tips, purchase Nigel Calder’s Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual today!

Winterizing Your Sailboat - Tip #4

In the colder climates, it’s time to start thinking about hauling out and winterizing your boat. While a haul out gives you opportunity for some repair, maintenance and upgrade work, it’s important to follow some winterizing procedures to avoid problems in the spring. Today’s tip focuses on your mast and should be performed after your haul out.

Mast Storage  

Spray sails with fresh water to remove salt crystals. Lubricate the turnbuckles, even the mast remains in the boat this is a good idea. Inspect halyards and standing rigging. Do not wrap a mast tightly in plastic to keep it dry. It will promote corrosion. Draping plastic over the mast is OK if air can get under it. Do not lay mast on carpeting, or any material that will absorb water.

For more than 1,000 tips, suggestions, evaluations, and nuggets of hard-won advice from more than 300 seasoned veterans, purchase Sailors' Secrets: Advice from the Masters today!

Winterizing Your Sailboat - Tip #1

While a haul out gives you opportunity for some repair, maintenance and upgrade work, it's important to follow some winterizing procedures to avoid problems in the spring. Today's tip focuses on your inboard engine and should be performed after your haul out.

Inboard Engines:  

All salt water must be flushed from the engine. An easy method is to open the sea water strainer, remove the basket and put a garden hose into the bowl. Start the engine, and adjust the flow of fresh water. The seacock to the strainer must be closed to create suction. After operating temperature has been reached, run for an additional ten minutes.

With the engine running, remove the hose and pour antifreeze into the water strainer. When the exhaust becomes a consistent color, all the water has been displaced. Shut the engine down and top-up the strainer with antifreeze. Put the top back on the strainer and open the seacock.

A note on choosing antifreeze: Although eco-friendly propylene glycol (PG) is usually recommended because of its low toxicity, this chemical can harm neoprene, a material commonly used in valves, seals, and impellers. Ethylene glycol (EG), which PG was meant to replace, is kinder to these components, but users need to take care to handle and dispose of it properly. In any case, never use EG in potable water systems.

Change the engine oil and filter. Change the fuel filter if required. Inspect the gear box and replace oil if required. (Note: ALWAYS remove the foil seal on engine oil bottles COMPLETELY. Pushing it in like a flap increases the odds it will break loose and get poured into the valve cover.)

If the stuffing box is a dripless PYI type, loosen the collar and let the bellows expand, as per the instructions. Otherwise, inspect the traditional stuffing box packing for signs of wear on the shaft. Test the antifreeze in freshwater cooled engines. Inspect the water pump impeller, anti-siphon vents, and engine control cables - particularly the swivel ends. Inspect the cables, chains, and pulleys on pedestal steering systems, or else check the fluid in hydraulic steering systems. Inspect the packing gland on the rudder. Make certain all seacocks are sound.

For more important tips on the maintenance of your engine, purchase Beth Leonard's The Voyager's Handbook, 2nd edition today!

Winterizing Your Sailboat - Tip #2

In the colder climates, it’s time to start thinking about hauling out and winterizing your boat. While a haul out gives you opportunity for some repair, maintenance and upgrade work, it’s important to follow some winterizing procedures to avoid problems in the spring. Today’s tip focuses on your outboard motor and should be performed after your haul out.

Outboard motors:  

Flush with fresh water for 15 minutes. To be on the safe side, run a half gallon of non-toxic antifreeze through the system. Four stroke outboards will need an oil and filter change. For all engine types, remove the spark plugs and spray a “fogging” oil into the cylinders. Replace the plugs and turn the engine over but do not run it. Drain the lower unit and replace lube oil. Even when dirty, the oil should be translucent. If it looks like dirty mayonnaise, water is leaking through the shaft seals. Have them replaced.

For more important tips on the maintenance of your engine, purchase Beth Leonard's The Voyager's Handbook, 2nd edition today!

Winterizing Your Sailboat - Tip #3

In the colder climates, it’s time to start thinking about hauling out and winterizing your boat. While a haul out gives you opportunity for some repair, maintenance and upgrade work, it’s important to follow some winterizing procedures to avoid problems in the spring. Today’s tip focuses on your fresh water systems and should be performed after your haul out.

Fresh water systems:  

Drain water tanks
Add a few gallons of non-toxic antifreeze to the empty tanks and pump the fluid through each faucet until the color is pink. Don’t forget the deck wash down pump, cockpit shower, shower sump, and electric head. Salt water deck washes will have a dedicated pump which some electric heads share. On stand alone pumps like these, remove the intake hose and suck non-toxic antifreeze through system. ALWAYS properly reconnect hoses when finished.

Toilets: Fill the bowl with a gallon of non-toxic antifreeze and pump dry. If the system has a direct discharge valve, pump a half gallon overboard, then a half gallon into the holding tank.

Holding tanks: Pour a gallon of non-toxic antifreeze into the tank from deck. Operate the overboard discharge pump until non-toxic antifreeze is present.

Pour non-toxic antifreeze into the bilge and operate all pumps.

For more than 1,000 tips, suggestions, evaluations, and nuggets of hard-won advice from more than 300 seasoned veterans, purchase Sailors' Secrets: Advice from the Masters today!

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.  I’ve 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. 

I’ve 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, there’s 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 that’s 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. 

Whisper’s 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 Roth’s How to Sail Around the World from Practical Sailor.

Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook tip #1

In his book, Nigel Calder’s Cruising Handbook, Calder takes a detailed look at both the necessary and desirable features of deck hardware.  Here’s 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 Calder’s Cruising Handbook from Practical Sailor.

Riggers Apprentice tip #3

Excerpted from The Complete Rigger’s 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 bosun’s 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 you’re tied to the mast before you do this, so there’s no danger of pitching out of your chair.

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

Inspecting the Aging Sailboat tip #2

Excerpted from Don Casey’s Inspecting the Aging Sailboat

SIGNS OF STRESS OR TRAUMA

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.

Don’t 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.

IMPACT DAMAGE

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 bull’s-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

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 Casey’s book, Inspecting the Aging Sailboat. To buy a copy of Inspecting the Aging Sailboat from Practical Sailor, click here.

Inspecting the Aging Sailboat tip #3

Excerpted from Don Casey's Inspecting the Aging Sailboat

DELAMINATION
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.

PERCUSSION TESTING
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.

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 surveyor’s 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 boat’s 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 Calder’s How to Read a Nautical Chart from Practical Sailor.