Monday, April 20, 2015

Sewing Station for the Dodger

Having watched the Sailrite video on dodger construction 4 times through (completely, twice, various sections as many as 4 times), I grow envious each time they pan across a sewing table (a loft floor, really) that exceeds the size of some bowling alleys of my youth.  I've put together a sewing table that I hope will suffice to build my dodger.

The pieces for the dodger are as long as 9 feet, and in order to sew them without skipped stitches and wavy stitch lines, it is necessary that they move serenely through the sharp bits of the sewing machine. My feed table is a mere 6 feet in length.

I should get the materials by tomorrow and get busy cutting and basting and seaming.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fresh Bread

I'm starting to wonder about provisioning... 2 people x 90 days x 3 meals plus per day.  Interesting challenges, especially if culinary interest is one of the objectives.  I did my first experiment with bread making aboard today, and the result was surprisingly close to the mark.  In fact, I slathered some butter on the product and ate the whole thing.  What a treat -- fresh bread amidst the canned stews and freeze dried and prepackaged fare I expect to have going.

The set up:

Dutch oven atop a two-burner camp stove
Cake tin inside to keep the loaf off the bottom of the pan
Small loaves, one at a time.

The fuel consumption for 20 minutes of baking was about 70g, which is about 1/6 of the capacity of the fuel canister.  Half a buck to a dollar for a small loaf, including ingredients:

The recipe:

1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup water
1/2 - 3/4 tsp yeast
a bit of sugar in warm water to proof the yeast.
salt to taste, some in the recipe and some sprinkled on top the loaf

Mix all the ingredients together when the yeast is frothy, knead a bit, set aside to rise. Put the kneaded blob from the first rise in the oiled loaf pan, let rise till morning, cook for about 20 minutes, serve with coffee, bacon, and eggs.  The only downside is you'll want two of them - one for each person.

Of course, this is on our lanai, not on the boat.  Wind and humidity will probably have an impact. I'll fool around to see if I can raise the cake tin a bit higher from the bottom to reduce scorching of the loaf, and perhaps even try a double loaf in the cake tin itself.  Seriously luxurious

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Dodger Begins to Take Shape

My brother's picture of yours truly beavering away on the patterning.  (those of you who know him may recognize his thumb in the upper left corner)

In a scant four weeks I expect to pass through the Ballard Locks heading to Sitka.  I've carefully organized my task list so as to maximize the drama of these last few weeks.  Spring varnishing is underway,  and it looks like the weather for that will cooperate.  Why settle for the unvarnished truth when you can have sparkle plenty, as my Mom is wont to say?

But the real drama is all about the dodger.

I've known I needed to make one since a day two years ago in early August in the Broughton Islands with Terry.  The warming summer sun was obscured by a weeping marine layer.  I was wearing every stitch of clothing I had with me -- five layers -- and I was still cold. In August. Protection against wind and spray will be pretty important (which is why I left it to the last possible moment). Knowing you're going to be hanged in the morning wonderfully concentrates the mind.

So, I ordered the Sailrite video on building dodgers, and arranged for a local company, King Marine Canvas,  to fabricate a two-bow, 1" stainless steel dodger frame.  Sailrite offers kits with all the materials, including sectional frames, but I really did not want to go the sectional route.  I want the frame as strong as it can be.  King Marine worked with me to get the frame right, coming to the boat to measure, and they got the job done quickly, in spite of being very busy.  I am grateful!

The prospect of adding a bunch of stainless steel hardware to Ripple's traditional aesthetics is offputting, to say the least, and the dodger further demands the addition of combing boards to the house top to carry the fasteners that will allow the canvas to be fixed along its lower margins.  Ideally the frame would be on the boat to help define the shape of these combing boards, but there is a chicken-and-egg conundrum here, as the dodger pivot fasteners bear on the combing boards as well.

These boards will help distribute the stresses on the dodger as well as providing a substrate for the fasteners.  As my house top is a traditional Irish felt and canvas, this is particularly important, as fastening any hardware directly to the cabin top would almost certainly induce premature failure of the cabin top surface.  I am hopeful that the boards I've fabricated will distribute stress sufficiently to avert this.  I guess we'll find out.

The dodger DIY video arrived Monday, Tuesday I got a call that the frame was ready, and I had it adjusted and installed that day.  Today my brother Randy helped me pattern the canvas, and as soon as I can gather the requisite materials, I'll be sewing.  Maybe not so much drama as I had planned for.

Given that Ripple will spend most of her hours dodger-less, making these additions as unobtrusive as possible and aesthetically consistent with the look of the boat is important to me.  I have done the best I can.  Shelter from a rainy Spring wind will be my consolation for whatever aesthetic indignities I have visited upon my boat.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Wages of Zin(c)

The Yanmar 1GM10 is the simplest of diesel engines, and mostly it just works.  Its natural reliability can lead one down the path of negligence, however, and so it has been for me with regard to the zinc that is embedded in the cooling channels of the engine block.

The engine block has a zinc anode because it is raw-sea-water cooled, and because this water is frequently salt water, the potential for electrolysis within the engine block is substantial.  The problem is that this zinc is hard to get to, requiring moving the alternator out of the way so as to get a wrench or a socket near the bolts that hold the zinc-bearing plate in the block.

Having done so, the plate comes off easily enough, and I had the zinc and necessary gaskets on hand. My intentions were good, you see... I've had these parts for two years, knowing that it had almost certainly been too long since the zinc was last renewed.

The evidence:

Nothing left.  Not the smallest remnant of zinc to be found.  Cold comfort, having been right.  Bad form, my procrastination, and that of others before me.  Below is what the new zinc looks like, installed on the plate, which was then re-installed on the engine block:

The actual renewal of the zinc anode took just minutes.  Getting to it took 2 hours, and putting it all back together took 40 minutes or an hour.  I'm resigned to going through this once every other year or so.  Maybe again at the end of the trip north, as that should be about 500 hours, the interval the manual recommends for zinc renewal.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

There Be Dragons (but they aren't where they used to be)

Maps (and their maritime versions, charts) are abstractions of the places we travel.    They project geography, history, technology, politics, commerce, and even art.

The very definition of explorer rounds to traveler without maps.   We celebrate those who traveled the uncharted world and secured it with soundings, but dismiss as imprudent those who would travel without a chart today. The term itself -- uncharted territory -- remains a primary abstraction for the dangerous unknown, though few regions of our world have remained uncharted in the lifetime of any living person.

Today's recreational boater may have few paper charts.  Traveling close to home, especially in the Pacific Northwest, you're seldom far from visible landmarks, and the shoal waters are the exception rather than the rule.  The electronic surrogates for charts are rich in functionality and reduce the complexity of navigation, telling you your heading, orienting you on a chart that moves with you, and zoom easily to frame your perspective at a suitable scale.  Any smartphone or tablet can be equipped with free chart plotting software and extensive chart sets can be had for a few dollars.  And they work wonderfully well.  Until they don't.

To travel without paper charts is to hang your security and your life itself on the performance of your alternator, belts, batteries, myriad connectors and brackets and electronic devices that all serve in a hostile environment of vibration, corrosion, electrolysis, and yes, lets admit it... sub-optimal maintenance.  Stuff breaks, and boat stuff breaks more often.  The dragons no longer haunt the uncharted reaches of the map, they lurk behind bulkheads, in bilges, and in the dark regions of engine compartments.   They hide behind the placard "NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE". 

I have recently installed several species of dragons on Ripple in preparation for a trip up the Inside Passage.  But I have also set about acquiring as complete a set of paper charts as I can manage for the waters I will travel.  To buy these charts new from authorized purveyors of US or Canadian charts would cost several thousands of dollars. If X is the number of charts you need, multiply by $20. That's a lot of money for insurance, which is largely the purpose served by these charts for most recreational mariners.  

Many feel that multiple devices with electronic charts are sufficient protection.  A chart plotter, a tablet, a smartphone, and a laptop with PDF versions of the appropriate charts affords four levels of redundancy.  Governmental agencies that maintain these charts do not at this time agree, requiring up-to-date paper charts of the highest resolution available for commercial vessels.  

If you are old-school and decide to have the paper, you have to procure, organize, store, and access them at appropriate times, so they have to fit into your budget and your storage plans, they have to have a secure home in your boat, and they must be cross-referenced to your daily travel plans.

My approach has been to find used charts for as much of the trip as I can, and to buy new charts for essential charts I can't find.  I've amassed 75 SE Alaska charts, and 60 of the BC Coast.  I'm hoping to fill in the bare spots (especially the BC Coast, the Haida Gwais, and the western side of Vancouver Island) as time goes on.  No, they are not up to date, and no, I won't be annotating all 130 charts with official updates.   But with some notable exceptions, I'm banking on the changes in this area as minor, and that they will serve me well.  Again, they are not my sole navigational resource.

I store them in a chart safe sewn of Sunbrella and clear vinyl, constructed as an accordion file that will neatly manage a half dozen or a hundred charts, as well as a portable chart table that moves easily from cabin to bridgedeck.  The chart table also has a clear vinyl flap that protects the chart from rain or spray, and keeps the chart where I want it to be in a busy cockpit.

Navigation resources, old and new: Note that the clear vinyl extends an inch or so
beyond the chart, even with a spiral-bound chart folio instead of one or two free charts 

I have as much invested in my charts as I do in my chart plotter, but I've gotten most of them second-hand at good prices, and unlike most of my boating expenditures, I can probably recover their cost when I pass them on to another frugal navigator.  If not, their artistic virtues and shamanic spirit will decorate my dotage and remind me of exquisite passages and dumb-ass decisions that I survived when I could still button my shirt straight.
~ 0 ~

A note about chart purveyors:  The least expensive charts I have found are from The Frugal Navigator, a mail-order authorized dealer whose charts are available for a good deal less than other dealers I've encountered.  The charts are printed on substantial paper that looks and feels more durable and heavier than the charts once issued by the gub'mint. They are beautiful artifacts.  I have no connection with them except as a satisfied customer.

Chart Plotter: physical installation

There are many mounting options for chart plotters, some of which have fancy swiveling armatures which allow the device to be swung out of the way when not in use.  My diminutive cockpit is not well suited to such solutions, and in any case they are expensive options.

Two possibilities seem suitable.  One is to mount the device on a companionway board that slides into the companionway, but this makes access to the cabin problematic.  I also have a compass so mounted, and while I use it only rarely, a long trip in unfamiliar waters mitigates in favor of its use.

The second option is to take advantage of the port-light in the cabin bulkhead.  I fashioned a wooden plug, (4 7/8" diameter  x 1 5/8" depth) that is sandwiched between two discs slightly larger than plug and the rim of the portlight.  The plug is thus captured securely in the port-light housing (hanger-bolts and wingnuts), and the swivel base of the chart plotter attaches to the plug.  The cabling will pass through the plug as well, and the chart plotter will be easily removable to secure it inside when not in use.  My reservation about this configuration is that the chart plotter will be somewhat vulnerable to being stepped on, being in a relatively high traffic area for boarding.  The installation is fully reversible, however, so if it seems not to be working out, I can remove it without trace.

I used the same idea to make a foam water-proof pass through for the shore power cord that fits snugly into any of the portlights so that rain can be kept out with the power cord deployed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Un-race to Alaska

I'm sailing to Alaska this Spring/Summer.  That's the plan, anyway.  I have friends who will be rendezvousing [is that really how you spell that?] with me for various parts of the journey.  People who have spent cold, hard cash on plane tickets.  So... this is real.

But I am NOT racing.  I hate racing, and have, since the summer of '68 when my father and I campaigned an aging Star class sloop (sail # 1500, christened Surprise) through a summer of racing in the Kaneohe Yacht club.  Our racing confederates were state sailing champions in Hawaii, and raced Stars to keep their hands busy between TransPac seasons.  Dad and I were dwarfs, without the experience or the mass to keep Surprise on her sailing lines, and our single victory that summer was that we avoided finishing last in a single race, by a single second.  [insert pump fist here].

But others, of course, ARE racing to Alaska this summer, and it just may be that we will arrive in Ketchikan in the same calendar week.  If you haven't seen any of the hoopla, it is fun stuff.  First prize: $10 K.  Second prize: a set of steak knives.  But really, you need to read the team profiles.  If the race is as interesting as the team profiles are funny, it should be an interesting time.  I hope to see some of these characters on the water.