October 22, 2014

sailing in the Straights of Juan de Fuca


most of the time, the wind is either too heavy or too light to sail up or down the Straights on your way to the Pacific - but at this moment the winds were just where we wanted them

October 15, 2014

Sperry Top Sider Boat Shoes

my Sperrys holding down a cleat
Sperry Boat Shoes

       Sperry Top-Sider Boat Shoes have long been the quintessential shoe for the boating class.

     This shoe has achieved iconic status – first among sailors, next among the ‘preppy class’ of Americans and now for all folks who appreciate durable shoes, boats and the maritime existence.

     I know very little about fashion and less about foot-ware, but mine have certainly worked out for me. My girlfriend gave me these about 4 years ago, and I have rode them hard and put them away salty and sopping wet - and not a stitch has popped and the sole still looks good.

          The shoe first came about in 1935, when Paul Sperry, a sailor and inventor, almost fell overboard on a slippery deck. This near mishap inspired Sperry to invest years perfecting Sea-worthy, non-skid boat shoes. Inspiration came to Sperry while watching his dog effortlessly maneuver across a frozen pond. In an attempt to emulate the grooves on dogs’ leathery paws, Sperry dug similar grooves into the rubber soles of his experimental top-siders. Thus began the world’s first boat shoe …
     Fortunately, there is now a Sperry store on Amazon that allows you to pick up a pair of these classic boat shoes at the best possible price. Go nuts. Get one for the wife!

Light Autumn Air in San Diego

sailing in light air with Gregg

San Diego is many things to many people. For sailors, it is also many things for many people. 
Pleasant is one of those things. Warm and comfortable are other things. 

Lately, I have been looking for a bit more thrill in my afternoon sails. 
I haven't been getting much thrill. 
But I have been getting lots of pleasant. 

I don't want to sound un-grateful, but - enough with the sunshine and light air.

Cloud cover and 10-20 knots would be very much appreciated.
Whenever you're ready SD, I don't want to rush you...

October 6, 2014

DIY: How to install solar panels on a boat.

        Installing solar panels was the most sound decision I've made in my boating life. Here, I'm providing simple instructions for you to install solar panels on your boat for under 300$. This is a relatively cheap price for solar on a boat and I have not skimped on quality components. If you do it right, you can bang this out in one weekend.

     I am writing these instructions for boat people, however, this is a similar set-up you would use for an RV or small cabin. It should be noted that this is a basic set up that provides a 'trickle-charge' onto your battery bank. This is perfect for keeping your batteries topped off while you are disconnected from shore power. So, while you're out fishing, sailing or anchored out - you can run your low intensity electronics (cell-phone/laptop charger, navigation/anchor lights, stereo, cabin lights, depth-finder, GPS ext...) and still have enough power on your batteries to turn over the engine and get you home. If you want to run heavy appliances (large freezers, dishwashers, hot water heater) off of a solar set-up, then you need a  bigger solar system.

20-watt solar panel on the stern rail of my 30 foot sailboat
    I had many incidents of being stranded at Sea with low batteries until I rigged this panel up. It's been 4 years since the install and I have never had an issue starting up the engine. Plus, there has been zero maintenance (as there are no moving parts). You let the sun do all the heavy lifting.

   So, I put quite a bit of thought into getting these components before proceeding. I talked to some engineers at my marina, re-read the solar chapter from Nigel Calder's updated classic, Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual. I chatted with the electronics guys at my boat stores. The consensus opinion was that all that's needed for the above mentioned application, is a 20 watt panel. I was pointed to this 20-Watt Mono-Crystalline Solar Panel. This recommended panel is the most recent version of what I installed 4 years ago, and it's only about 60$ from that link. This panel is mono-crystalline, which is preferred over poly-crystalline for this type of application. Size-wise, it's only about 16 inches x 18 inches, which is nice, since it doesn't take up much space on the stern rail.

In regards to the power it supplies...

Remember this equation:

Watt = Volts x Amps.

So... for this panel, you get:
Volts (VMP) = 18
Amps (IMP) = 1.11
therefore... 18  X 1.1 = 20 watts

    I have used this panel in Seattle and San Diego, so the whole range of sun/cloud conditions and the 20 watt output has provided plenty of electrons to keep my battery bank happy. (I've got two 12 Volt batteries, a deep cycle and a starter).

   Okay, so now, you've got your solar panel. But, before talking about the install, the only other solar component you need to get is a solar controller. This is necessary for controlling the charge coming off the panel. It enables the charge to be fed to the batteries at the right levels. It is a simple device, but it's critical and you want a good quality controller. My research pointed me to the Morningstar SunSaver-10, Charge Controller, 12V. It has worked flawlessly for me, so I wholeheartedly recommend it. That's another 60$ from that link.
the SunSaver-10 controller mounted in my cabin

Ok, here's the quick and dirty on how to put this together. The basic set-up is this:

 1.   You mount the panel on your stern rail (or where ever the panel gets sun and is out of the way).
 2.   You attach marine grade copper wires to the panel. These are DC wires for a 12 Volt system, so   one black (negative) and one red (positive).
3.   Run the wires into the main cabin.
4.   Attach the wires to the controller.
5.   Attach another set of the same marine grade wires from the controller to your battery.
6.   The red (positive) goes on the Pos. terminal, the black (negative) goes on the Neg. terminal
7.   Crack a beer and relax while the sun tops off your batteries!

Now for some more detail.

     For mounting the panel. Your panel will have an aluminum rail on the perimeter. Drill holes in this and attach 2 aluminum flats to serve as a center mounting rail. Attach these strips of aluminum with stainless bolts and nuts. To prevent galvanic corrosion (aluminum touching steel) use plastic washers. Then, attach these white plastic rail mounts to the new aluminum flats (or something similar). The beauty of these plastic rail mounts is you can adjust their tightness on your boat's stern rail. Therefore, you can push the panel around it's axis so that the panel is facing the sun throughout the day.

    Okay, let's assume your panel is now mounted somewhere on the top of your boat. Next thing is, connect the panel to the controller. First thing, get yourself some Marine Grade copper wire. Get at least 30 feet of black and 30 feet of red. Check your specs. to determine wire gauge.

marine grade copper wire for 12 volt DC electronics

    Decide which terminals are best to use and attach wires to the bottom of the solar unit. There should be a contact box with a waterproof lid surrounding it on the panel.

Then I use plastic zip ties to snug up the wires to the rail and down to the cockpit. Then find a small hole in your cockpit, or drill a small hole and run the wires into the interior of your boat.


   Okay - the rest is simple. Attach the incoming wires to the 'Solar + and -' screws, then attach a new set of wires on the 'Battery + and -' screws. Run the battery wires to the battery terminals.

And of course, use marine grade ring terminals to fit over the battery posts.

Also, remember to measure out the wire length needed for each leg of this journey, so you don't need to splice wires or throw away your first attempt!

Well, that should get you there.

Morningstar SunSaver-10, Charge Controller, 12V
 about 60-70$
20-Watt Mono-Crystalline Solar Panel
about 60-70$
aluminum rails/plastic mounts/bolts/washers/zip-ties
about 70$
marine grade wire/terminals
If you want to be book educated on the topic, before you jump in...get the boat electronics bible
Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual

Price-wise, you should be just under 300$ and you have not skimped on quality products.

This is a small price to pay for an eco-friendly system for keeping your batteries topped off.

It sure beats getting towed back to port.

Good luck!

October 5, 2014

When the wind just dies...


     Often when the wind report calls for 5-10 knots, you head out with some expectations.

Then when you find yourself a mile offshore and floating in a dead calm, you remember the problem with having expectations.

DIY: How to build new companionway doors for your old sailboat

       Here is my new, collapsible companion way door for a 1976, 30 foot Newport sailboat. Alright, this is a piece of cake - nothing to it. I am not much of a carpenter - but I was able to piece this together for about 50$ and a few hours of mucking about with saws and varnish. Guidance and inspiration for this project came from Don Casey's classic sailboat maintenance bible, This Old Boat.

So, here are the pieces of the old door. They are withered, on their last legs. I went to Home Depot, and bought a 8 foot by 4 foot sheet of 1/4 inch weather resistant Birch plywood. This is about 40$. You can try other weather resistant woods (teak ext..)

You just pencil out the dimensions and get cracking with a circular line saw.

You just replicate the dimensions and angle of cut from the old set of doors. It is pretty intuitive. But you have to put in this staggered cut in each - so as to keep rain from entering through the cracks between each piece. So, I cut in half the depth of the Birch at about 1/2 inch in distance into each board. So each piece slide together like puzzle pieces. Check the arrows, the complimentary cuts.

Trim the height to get it just right. So the hatch slides over properly. You can power sand the bottom piece to get it right. Or re-cut if the correction is large.

Then give it a light sand and she's ready for varnish.

       I know there are a lot of varnish afficionados out there- I am not one of them. But I was advised to go with Sikkens Cetol Natural Teak. The prep work is minimal. I lay 2 heavy coats of this stuff down and I am good for a few years. When it is time to re-coat, it just requires a light sand, then apply the Cetol.

       And here she is all finished - the new doors give a cool, two-tone effect of Birch with Teak trim on the door.

September 27, 2014

How to sail your sailboat: coming to terms with your slowly, sinking ship.

  Here's the bad news. Your bilge is not dry, in fact, it is wet. And not just wet, there are many inches of stagnant water sloshing around your bilge. Now here is the good news. You are not alone. Many Sailors, if not most Sailors, are going about the business of their lives, puttering their vessels in and out of harbors while all the while, their boats are slowly drowning in the Sea.
   Tragedy? Not really. This is common practice. All that's required to deal with this problem is a healthy sense of detachment from the undeniable fact that your beloved sailboat is persistently taking on water.
      You want a dry and crisp, water-tight boat, but, in fact, you own a sinking ship.

bilge always taking on water
My bilge: always damp, and by damp I mean flooding with Sea water.
  Don't get me wrong. There are things you should do. And you should do these things. But, you will sleep much better at night once you accept your boat's mortality.

Until that acceptance comes I recommend the following:

Make sure your electric bilge pump is in good working order.
Is the float installed at a height that maximizes the drainage.?
Is the pump mounted at the best possible location in your bilge to maximize outflow.
Is the size/model of the bilge pump (electric rating/water volume outflow) appropriate for the size of both your boat and your battery bank?

Is your battery bank and /or shore power situation in good working order. i.e. If you were to leave your boat alone for many months, do you have confidence that there would be a reliable source of power for the bilge pump (in case, it is being called upon to drain often)?

Is your manual bilge pump in good working order?
Check the gaskets and build up of rust on the inside of this contraption. These are often neglected parts of a sailboat.
And where is that manual pump handle?

Look for leaks in all the likely spots (the seacocks, the propeller shaft, depth-finder .... any place on the bottom of the boat where the hull has been opened up to install some hardware). This part can be done from the inside while the floating.
   However, most fixes will require hauling out the boat to properly reseal these breaches of dryness.

    In closing. Fight like hell to keep your bilge dry and your boat un-sunk. But do not beat yourself up, if despite your best efforts, your bilge remains un-dry and is always taking on a few inches of water.
In general, a few inches every month is fine. Don't panic.
A few inches every day is a crises. Panic.

Please follow the links below for the full 'How to Sail your Sailboat' series:

How to sail your sailboat: putting your boat on the rocks with style.
How to sail your sailboat: owning your cockpit.
How to sail your sailboat: climbing the mast.

September 24, 2014

How to sail your sailboat: mixing a cocktail while underway.

    There are a few, precious moments when a Captain can relinquish command, release the tiller and hand over the helm to a trusted crew member. In this rare moment of reprieve, it is not unheard of for the Captain to mix up a cocktail.
    But, this must be a quick endeavor because a good Captain should never fully trust his crew, especially when they are at the helm. You need to get in and get out of the galley in less than a minute. You like your crew, but you don't love your crew. Back to the cockpit!

The key to the Captain's cocktail is simplicity.

   Here are a few considerations. You may or may not have refrigeration. To be safe, assume not. I rarely do while out sailing. You may have ice at first, but ice melts eventually. Assume you are one week out to Sea and the ice has melted. Concerned? You should be.
   But, you are prepared. You have mixers that don't need refrigeration. Individual cans of mixers. Just pack the boat with these cans. Ginger ale, club soda, lemon soda...
   They never go bad. They are never flat. But they are often room temperature.
   Ginger ale and bourbon will not let you down.
   You have a jar, you add the bourbon, you add the ginger ale.
   No ice! (unless you have ice, then ice!)

         Back to the cockpit!

Please follow the links below for the full 'How to Sail your Sailboat' series:

How to sail your sailboat: putting your boat on the rocks with style.
How to sail your sailboat: owning your cockpit.
How to sail your sailboat: climbing the mast.
How to sail your sailboat: coming to terms with your slowly, sinking ship.

September 23, 2014

How to sail your sailboat: climbing the mast.

     This is no ones favorite aspect of sailing, but it is inevitable. Eventually, you will need to climb up your mast and address some pressing issue.

... a halyard is fouled, the weather vane has snapped, an anchor light has blown a bulb. Whatever the problem may be, there is only one solution. You must defy all logic and climb 40 feet straight up a relatively flimsy piece of aluminum tubing.

climbing the mast
If you fall from the mast, the key is to land in the water.

    You will need to be brave. . . nobody like a cowardly Captain. But at the same time, you need to be cautious. A wounded Captain is a useless Captain.

    Make sure you are well-fed and well-hydrated before going up top. Think through the project at hand. Do you have all the necessary tools attached to your bosun's chair? Bringing me to the next point. Get a great bosun's chair.
bosun chair for climbing mast
When you're up top, a stout and well-built bosun's chair will calm your nerves.
    Climb in and strap down. Attach the bosun's chair to a halyard and have a friend hoist you up as if you were a sail being raised.
    I heavily recommend you find a trusted friend to winch you up and tie off a good cleat once you're in place. This person needs to be someone who can tie a good cleat and knows how to take up tension on a winch. But he also needs to be the kind of guy who has a free 30 minutes. These two qualities do not always overlap.

Good luck and enjoy the view!

Please follow the links below for the full 'How to Sail your Sailboat' series:

How to sail your sailboat: putting your boat on the rocks with style.
How to sail your sailboat: owning your cockpit.
How to sail your sailboat: mixing a cocktail while underway. 
How to sail your sailboat: coming to terms with your slowly, sinking ship.

September 22, 2014

How to sail your sailboat: owning your cockpit.

       To feel confident while sailing, you really need to own your cockpit. Your cockpit is the control center of your pleasure craft. It's where all the action happens. The tiller is in the middle, the sail sheets are drawn back to the cockpit, the navigation instruments are all there. It's all happening in the cockpit.
   A good skipper will enter their cockpit like a rock star walking on a stage. You got to own it!
                  This is especially important when your confidence is shattered.
owning your cockpit
a big part of owning your cockpit is confident posture

    Sometimes, the highest expression of owning your cockpit is not being in your cockpit. You are standing on the bow looking back at the cockpit. The tiller is lashed down and the sails are full.
     You are alone at Sea. You have stepped out of your own skin, you're hovering just above your body. You feel good.
     This moment will last exactly ten seconds. Okay, another boat is approaching and its on a collision course. Hurry back to the cockpit! Don't drop your camera!

solo sailing to catalina
once you master owning the cockpit, you then step away from the cockpit

Please follow the links below for the full 'How to Sail your Sailboat' series:

How to sail your sailboat: putting your boat on the rocks with style.
How to sail your sailboat: climbing the mast.
How to sail your sailboat: mixing a cocktail while underway.  
How to sail your sailboat: coming to terms with your slowly, sinking ship.

September 21, 2014

How to sail your sailboat: putting your boat on the rocks with style.

    Sailing will set you free, it may change your life. But it's not all high highs. There are also the low lows. You are going to have to deal with the mishaps without losing your cool.

sailboat beached at low tide
Captain Curran trying to play it cool with a coffee mug.

     When choosing a place to anchor a boat. You are going to want to consult the tide table. And also consider how much anchor chain you have let out. As your swinging radius increases, the chances that you may swing over a shallow shelf at a low tide moment also increases. That's what happened to us here in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia.

sailboat lays on its side
The main cabin begins to lay on its side.

     At 4 am, we woke to the sound of the keel settling into the rocky Sea floor. As the tide dropped for the next 3 hours, the boat began its journey towards 'on its side.'

    So.. what does that mean to you, the Captain of the vessel. What’s the preparation for a boat that is going sideways. Shut off any plumbing that could introduce water into the boat: close the sea-cocks, secure the hatches, put your companionway door in place. This is key. If the boat takes on water when its laid on its side, then it may not right itself when the tide comes back in. The waters may rise but the boat will not, in which case you’ve lost your pleasure craft. 

     Throughout this process, there will be no comfort to be found inside the boat. One of the walls is about to become the floor and the other wall is about to become the ceiling. This means, things will start falling off the walls and breaking. Take anything off of a shelf that will shift during this transition.

    And then, make a big thermos of coffee – grab some food and walk off the boat. If you screw up bad enough, this should be done easily enough. Simply jump off the side of your boat into the dry mud. And then enjoy this moment that sailing has provided, this moment of reflection, of quiet. Of waiting for the next high tide.

sailboat beached in Canada
Strangers will gather around you as you wait for the tide to shift

     Be prepared for great interest from strangers as you stand beside your compromised vessel. They will want to be a part of the excitement. They will also want to get a read on you. 'Who would do something like this? Is he crazy? We should talk to him, he's probably embarrassed....'

Let them gather. You have made their morning interesting. Be proud of that!

 As the tide clambers back in, your boat will rise. This is a great thing to repeat in your head as the tide begins to shift. Sort of a mantra to encourage said action. 'As the tide come in, my boat will rise.'

And then just like that, the rising tide will lift your boat. And you will raise the sails and say goodbye to this particular bay. And you will never return to this particular bay. Ever.

Please follow the links below for the full 'How to Sail your Sailboat' series:
How to sail your sailboat: owning your cockpit.
How to sail your sailboat: climbing the mast
How to sail your sailboat: mixing a cocktail while underway. 
How to sail your sailboat: coming to terms with your slowly, sinking ship.

September 18, 2014

Sailing from Seattle to Puget Sound harbors: distance and time for common sailboat trips (Blake Island, Kingston, Edmonds, Bremerton, Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Everett, Oak Harbor, Victoria, Friday Harbor)

     Are you considering sailing your sailboat from Seattle into Puget Sound? This post provides the distance (nautical miles) and travel times for the most common harbors. 

plotting distance with nautical chart
plotting out distance with my Puget Sound nautical chart

    I learned to sail in the waters around Puget Sound. And in my opinion, of all the cities on the West Coast of the United States of America, Seattle has - far and away - the best cruising grounds for Sailors. There may not be many t-shirt and barefoot sail days. But - throw on a wool sweater and a windbreaker and you are in for a vast inland Sea full of beautiful anchorages and secluded bays.
Someday I will return to Puget Sound...

     I figured it would be handy to have the distances and travel times between Seattle and all the classic destinations - displayed in one place. I know Seattle sailors like to get out on the weekends, so I hope this is of use.

Distance in nautical miles:               (1 nm = 1.15 land miles)

Seattle to Eagle Harbor                                  5.5
Seattle to Elliot Bay (downtown harbor)       7 
Seattle to Kingston                                         7.5
Seattle to Edmonds                                         8.5
Seattle to Blake Island                                    9.5
Seattle to Bremerton                                      15.5
Seattle to Port Ludlow                                   23
Seattle to Gig Harbor                                     24.5
Seattle to Tacoma                                           26.5
Seattle to Quartermaster Harbor                    28.5
Seattle to Everett                                            29
Seattle to Port Townsend                                33
Seattle to Oak Harbor                                     41
Seattle to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)     61 (via Admiralty Inlet)
Seattle to Victoria (Vancouver Island)            65 (via Admiralty Inlet)
    I plotted out these distances based on a direct route, and took an approximate start point for each distance at the outside of each harbor. For the Seattle waypoint, I used the navigation markers just outside the Ballard locks, near the southern end of Shilshole Marina. This is where my boat was docked, so I am partial to Shilshole as a starting point. If you're starting from Elliot Bay, you can add or subtract 5 miles, depending on whether you're heading north or south.

      Each mariner will experience a slightly different distance, depending on their mooring location and line of sail, but consider these good approximations.

Alize' moored right next to the Parliamentary buildings in Victoria - very regal!
     I have made these routes in my 30 foot sailboat (a 1976 Newport), and I am calling my average speed at about 4.7 knots. This average speed accounts for some sailing in good to moderate winds and then the engine turned on at moderately high RPM when the wind goes light. For most folks with a sailboat near 30 feet, just under 5 knots is probably about the right average speed for mixed conditions. It must be mentioned that tides and currents play a large role in the navigation of these waters. The prudent mariner would be wise to consult the tide table and plan out each voyage so that the current is working in their favor as they traverse any narrow channel.

At that speed, the approximate time it would take to get from A to B is:

Time needed for each leg (if averaging 4.7 knots)
                                                           Hours (in decimal)

Seattle to Eagle Harbor                                   1.2
Seattle to Elliot Bay (downtown harbor)        1.5
Seattle to Kingston                                          1.6
Seattle to Edmonds                                          1.8
Seattle to Blake Island                                     2  
Seattle to Bremerton                                        3.3
Seattle to Port Ludlow                                     4.9
Seattle to Gig Harbor                                       5.2
Seattle to Tacoma                                             5.6
Seattle to Quartermaster Harbor                      6.1
Seattle to Everett                                              6.2
Seattle to Port Townsend                                 7
Seattle to Oak Harbor                                      8.7
Seattle to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)     13
Seattle to Victoria (Vancouver Island)            13.8

          Of course, sailors rarely use a completely direct path from one point to another (either due to some tacking or to unintentional meanderings) and so, it would be wise to plan 1 or 2 hours on top of these estimates.

- pulled these Dungeness out of Blind Bay on Shaw Island

 - crossing Puget Sound in a rare Seattle snow flurry

    And... before you untie the dock lines, make sure you have a cruising guide to Puget Sound. This seems to be the authoritative guidebook out there. It's certainly kept me out of trouble a few times...

Sail on Sailor!

I've also posted similar nautical information for other West Coast sailing regions, follow links below:

Sailing from Los Angeles to Catalina Island: distance and time for a sailboat trip (Avalon, Two Harbors, Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

Sailing from San Diego to Los Angeles: nautical miles and time required for a sailboat trip (Mission Bay, Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

Sailing distance (nautical miles) and time for a sailboat trip from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island (Mission Bay, Smuggler's Cove, Avalon, Two Harbors).