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2017-08-14

Calling a SPADE an anchor

Now, this one has been some time coming. I started to review and consider anchors a decade ago.

One hook to rule them all, One hook to mind them; 
One anchor to make them fast and to the bottom bind them.--with apologies to JRR Tolkien


So, I have been anticipating this arrival of my latest precious for some time, mainly because some bolloxed paperwork held it up a week somewhere in a Pennsylvania depot. Meet the new main anchor, although not at present the best bower, of the sailing vessel Alchemy. It's a SPADE S 140, the 30 kilo/66 pound galvanized steel and lead anchor that is about one and a half sizes oversized for the boat, which is a good margin in my mind. Should we have to, we can bring it up and in through use of a manual windlass, or even by hand, although that, I can attest, having tried it at dock this afternoon, while possible but not fun.

Ground tackle by FedEx: the delivery man was a touch flushed bringing it to the door
The unboxing supplied a lot of packing material: in fact, the 66 pound anchor's packaging came to 76 pounds, which I found unlikely, but it certainly arrived intact. The reason I ordered a couple of weeks ago was because SPADE Anchors USA were having a decent sale and because I had had some strong recommendations for the SPADE (which is, apparently, always shouted) via both John Harries of Attainable Adventure Cruising, whose opinion I value, and from the convincing and thorough videos of "S/V Panope", which have compared a variety of anchors with an eye to short-scope holding. While I do not prefer to anchor that way, if an anchor has problems, or problems in certain bottom types, or in terms of resetting, that's where they'll be most likely revealed.
The anchor's two-piece: the plow part and a forged shaft that slots in a keeper and is secured with a 3/4" bolt.
The breakdown into two pieces facilitated transport by bike trailer down to Alchemy. Transport mostly downhill, thank goodness.
Very well cushioned!
 I made some room by removing the old main anchor, a 45-pound original CQR.
It's in good condition. It should be: we've never used it.
Yes, the real thing. The best 1930s ground tackle designers could devise, but things have changed since then.
Even a boat with as bluff bows as Alchemy is not insensitive to weight in the ends. So I took out another anchor, a CQR knock-off in excellent condition called a Kingston (made in Kingston, Ontario) K 27. It's (unsurprisingly) 27 pounds and would make a decent main anchor for a boat up to around 33 feet. It's going on Kijiji or people around Toronto can make me an offer.
Hard to see, but it says the anchor make.
As in "make me an offer".

That the shiniest damn galvanizing I can recall.
The SPADE anchors are built like many other plow styles, but in a "boxed" format with weight concentrated in one end. The tip, which has cast lead in it to guide the anchor through the substrate, was sharp enough to leave a mark on the deck.
I may change this for a split pin.
The shank sets into a welded box base and is kept by a heavy bolt which is in turn kept in place by a Nylok nut and a cotter pin.
The SPADE doesn't look as massive as I had thought it would vis-a-vis the anchor roller and bowsprit fittings. In fact, it looks a good fit.
The installation went smoothly: two beefy Winchard shackles, properly moused, now link the SPADE shank to 150 feet of 3/8" chain. That's only enough to anchor with a conservative rode scope ratio of 7:1  to 22 feet, but it's not hard to find less than that around the lake and in anticipated light weather, a scope of 5:1, or around 30 feet, would be fine. I truly believe getting the correct ground tackle is one of the more important decisions one can make. Another is using it correctly, and part of that is found in putting out enough rode. We have two: rope and chain for the Fortress and all chain for the main.
The shank is secured by a 3/8th inch line and the chain by a chain hook. In addition, the shank is wedged under the end of the pipe rail. I may devise a "keeper" (even just a piece of metal plate) to secure the anchor more firrmly on its roller.
So the anchor inventory is now as follows: a 30 kilo SPADE as main anchor; a 15 kilo Bruce as secondary; a 10 kilo Fortress FX-37 as lunch hook/kedge/storm anchor, and a six kilo FX-21 as a stern anchor. The 45 lb CQR many or may not come along with us...we'll see. You'll note that I have a very mixed bag in terms of the way these anchors work: unlike some anchor manufacturers, I believe that while we can approach a "one anchor for all bottoms" state of grace, it's better to err on the side of caution and some bottoms favour even older designs, like the Bruce, while others favour less obvious designs for heavy weather, like the Fortress, which shares the bow with the SPADE now, as it is a great hook for fair-weather, short duration anchoring, but also has an excellent record as a storm anchor thanks to its large area and tendency to dig itself deeply.

Some considerations to come include the installation (at last!) of the Lofrans Tigres windlass, which will necessitate a rather daunting rethink of the forepeak workshop, plus the drilling through of a hawse-pipe through the deck for the chain fall; the making up of a better chain hook, a snubber for the plate at the waterline below the bobstay seen in the photo above, the making up of a suitable anchor bridle, and even the creation of a cheap anchor buoy. Finally, a use for a Clorox bottle!

2017-07-29

The portlight fantastic

Fixed plasticky fixed portlight: Not wanted on the voyage
The recent installation of the new stainless steel companionway hatch deviated from the original design in that both the fabricator and Mrs. Alchemy suggested that a fixed port light in the upper hinged flap of the door was unnecessary and would weaken a properly vault-door-like presentation.

I came to agree with this sentiment. After all, at sea, the "cat flap" will be down in fair weather, even boisterous fair weather, and plenty of air will come in. So the new hatch is flat and fearsome and hard to dent. Then, as my last post indicated, we tidied up the AC power inlets and did a spot of painting. All this made the 5 x 12 inch plastic fixed Beckson-type portlight, which came with the boat and merely shed a bit of light down the aft cabin companionway, look a little sad.

After some thought, I decided to replace it with an opening portlight, both for ventilation and for communication with the afterdeck should the main companionway be closed off. Ventilation, even once the pilothouse roof insulation is restored, is a big deal on a steel boat and will be even more so in the tropics. I had had a good experience (and indeed, am still having it) with Newfound Metals' line of reasonably priced and sturdily built products, and the circular portlights put in during 2011 are still looking great.

A call to Newfound Metals got the owner, Richard, on the phone and, as is often the case with smaller marine-trade manufacturers, I had an entertaining and insightful chat with him about his business. He recommended the self-sealing Trimatrix port and I ordered a teak spacer ring (as the metal sides of the pilothouse are thinner than the typical fibreglass boat's cabin house, plus a chromed bug screen. They arrived from the Seattle area in about four days and cost about $180 U.S. Newfound Metals, realizing their customers have, uh, variable skill sets, provide very good online instructions and even videos, meaning only the truly ham-handed can screw things up. As for build quality, I consider Richard's firm the equivalent of Garhauer for quality and strength. From me, that's high praise.

The original 5 x 12 inch void with the 12 new and enlarged bolt holes and space for the "spigots" cut in

When I removed the old fixed portlight, while the basic 5 x 12 hole was good (it was actually 5.5 x 12.5 inches with radiused corners), I had to carefully grind out little divots for the "spigots" that drain water from the glass of the portlight and keep it from pooling on the frame. Then I had to drill 12 (!) new holes for the carriage bolts (gasketed and mated to metal strips on the outside) to mate with the 6 mm SS bolts. Despite being told by Richard that I needn't use butyl, I did use it in thin strips to position and temporarily stick the outer ring and the inner teak spacer ring on either side of the pilothouse bulkhead.
The unboxing: I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of design, materials or execution of Newfound Metals' products.

The drilling was two-stage, first with a 3/ 16th inch cobalt bit and secondly with a 3/8th inch titanium bit, both on my monster Makita. Knowing that this was a tough job to do solo, I waited for the next day Mrs. Alchemy was free. She painted the bare metal and drill holes and we cleaned up the debris of metal shavings and then she pressed down the outer ring from the outside and put in the first carriage bolt head. This was tricky, but once four were loosely in, things got easier. We realized a couple of my drill holes were fractionally off and would not let the bolt head nestle in their spots, so out came the Dremel with a grinding stone attachment and I can live with a couple of slightly egg-shaped bolt holes that will never again see the sun, I sincerely hope.

We are rather pleased with the results:
Light, air and bug stopping. All I ask for, really.
The hatch dogs required some adjustment for a) the thickness of bulkhead plus spacer and b) the same plus the thickness of the inset bug screen. It's simple to adjust and the box contained the needed tools.
Closed for business.
 Dunno if I'll bother oiling this teak. I think it's nice as is and will take years to "silver".
Open for the airing out.
 And that's the aft part of the pilothouse, improved.

2017-07-26

Back of 'house changes

In the midst of things...the plywood had been removed, revealing some rust requiring remediation
Reliable readers will recall that the pilothouse recently got a new companionway hatch; we are quite pleased with it to date and only a few tweaks (like a way to secure it fully open with some sort of chock in the deck or via a light chain) remain to be done. But a lot of old and suspect plywood was removed in the process: essentially, the outer "skin" of the aft part of the steel pilothouse frame, and while there was a reasonably intact paint job beneath, there were also plenty of small holes used for mounting said plywood which will need to be dealt with. There was also the matter of the AC shore power connections.

As can be seen, there are two of them. The boat can accept a combined 60 amps of power, which was probably what the house in which I grew up drew. I never use two shore power cords in daily use, although I occasionally run a second 15 amp line if I'm using a high-draw power tool so I can continue fully charging while I work. Nonetheless, the removal of the plywood sheathing on the pilothouse would leave these sockets literally dangling, so I had to improvise.
Mrs. Alchemy did the paining, of which there's more to come. We need more paint.
I took an offcut of UHMWPE plastic, the same type I used for the traveller stand-offs last fall, and measured either side of the plug assemblies plus their respective width. I then bored with a hole saw two holes 1/8" larger than needed with the club's workshop drill press. This plastic heats up easily and I had to take it slowly. The dry fit was promising, so I disassembled the two plug assemblies, tidied up the wire ends (which looked remarkably clean after who knows how many seasons) and reinstalled it with the "backing plate" where the plywood once was. I think it looks fine.
If I weld and run the A/C, I'll need 30 more amps.
The plugs are protected from the elements both by the overhang of the trailing edge of the pilothouse roof and by a vertical sheet of metal as seen to the right in the above photo. The plastic block should resist UV and weathering well thanks to this.
I had to lengthen the wires a touch, so self-amalgamating tape to the rescue.
Six small wood screws set into undersized drilled holes made the lot of it secure and (one hopes) dry and the power was restored with no errant lightning bolts. The next step in the rehab of this end of the pilothouse will feature shortly.

2017-07-21

Filter search


Supposedly rare, these bright little twerps seem to dislike my head
Before we get to today's rant, it must be said that spending a lot of time aboard a boat does expose one to a more varied palette of nature. These are barn swallows on our rail; Mrs. Alchemy, an expert in such matters, says they are "threatened". Perhaps by those humans they imprudently dive-bomb, perhaps. I counted six when I came aboard the other day and peevish they were, too. And keen on low passes over my head. I had the wife check the anchor well for a nest (it wouldn't be the first time: we've had ducks), but she called out the all-clear and besides, they prefer the boom, which is why she's stuck a Scotch-Brite pad in there. Seamanlike prudence comes in many forms.

To make? Small change. To buy? Oy.
The humble object pictured above is the transmission fluid filter for a Hurth ZF25A hydraulic transmission, such as is usefully bolted on the back end of Alchemy's Beta 60 diesel. The manual I treat like holy script, for lo! we wish to power our ark for many thousands of hours before rebuild! suggests an initial filter change at 25 hours of run-time. Well, it was more like 35, and there hangs a tale.

Despite the very common nature of ZF transmissions, both mechanical and hydraulic, and also despite the fact that this specific filter is used in a wide range of Hurth transmissions, including ones suitable for engines seven times more powerful than ours, it was a hard item to source and the prices quoted had no relationship to each other, or indeed, to reality.

Such is the process of spares acquisition, unfortunately. A filter is a simple thing: oil filters, being common, are cheap and plentiful. "Marine", however, infers a yachtie level of free cash sloshing around the bilges, and this is reflected in the price. My odyssey of bargain-hunting (which is very much a relative term in this case) involved about eight phone calls to various local suppliers. Few had the filters or knew how to get them. One took several calls and messages to get back to me and then couldn't quote a price ("...ah, maybe a hundred and a quarter?"). One very helpful woman, Peggy from Eastmar Marine, was able to find this filter, but the price varied from $135 to over $210 Canadian. Keep in mind that this is something I'm supposed to change every 300 hours. I could put 4,000 hours on in the next five years.

I did find one on eBay for $50 in American currency...but the "freight fee" for this 50 gram little box was an additional $45! I have, as has proven to be wise, a U.S.-dollar VISA card and some funds in that denomination tucked away for these sort of purchases, but the price galled me. I went to the ZF Parts distributor list and found the one place that had a toll-free number. I wasn't going to compound my wallet's reaming with mid-day long-distance charges. The laconic but efficient Georgian on the other end of the line said "yes, I have some at $50." I said "how many do you have?" "Five." "I'll take them all." They are a consumable, after all, and I care not to worry about this until I have 1,525 hours on the tach. They arrived in about four days and cost, all in with freight and customs, about $350 U.S., or $70 per. This was still cheaper, even with the exchange rate, than the cheapest, if vague, Canadian supplier's price, and while I'm not happy with it, I am more content than had I bought one and one alone around here.
I've often thought of marine mechanicals manuals as the Berlitz course of sailing
After further thumbing the already well-thumbed documentation, I removed the "old" 35-hour-runtime filter, which looked (of course) immaculate. It went into a box called "SPARE", because if my last one goes, I like to have a "get me home". Yes, I checked for bits of metal and other evidence of hard use...nothing. Looked minty. So a spare it becomes. Then I looked for the drain plug.

Hmm. The diagram in the manual suggested low (naturally) on the housing and on the starboard side. Feeling around didn't reveal much save for the cooling fins (or what I assume do that on a hot transmission). Fetch the extendable dental mirror. Nope. Get the inspection camera. Wow, needs a spot of paint, but no plug. Then...ah hah! I felt the port side of the housing. There you go.

The plug was a brass hex bolt with a straight thread, gasketed with an O-ring. It was a European piece of kit and so was presumably metric. I had only one socket, however, that fit: 7/8th inch. And it wasn't so snug. That suggested 22 or 23 mm...sockets I (of course) lack. I top out at 21 mm. Again, this is utterly typical of the refit experience.

The draining did not go well. I needed a third hand as I was doing this over the metre-deep aft bilge and I didn't want to drop the plug. I needed a bigger funnel, a bigger measuring cup or (ideally) a sort of pan I could hang off the transmission to capture the draining fluid. While I got the job done, somewhat messily, it led me to consider alternatives to a drain plug, which led to an interesting bit of crowd wisdom on a sailing forum.
The good part here is that two jugs of fluid are good for over five changes. If I don't spill it.
Topping up was easy, although the "not too much" band of filling the transmission is, to judge from the dipstick, fairly narrow. I used a Dexron III-type nothing special fluid as recommended in the manual. That's the cheap part of the operation: that the transmission takes nothing exotic or hard to source. Like the filters.
Some of the many jugs necessary for smooth operation.
Next comes the first oil change at 50 hours. I feel that will go more smoothly (the Beta has an oil change pump on one side) and certainly more cheaply. But the lesson here is it pays to shop and it pays to buy, where logical to do so, in bulk for those things you can anticipate using, like filters, gaskets and other "consumables". The freight for a dozen is often barely more than the freight for one.

2017-07-16

Fab results

Four years, four months later...
The process of boat refitting is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. The reward is in gaining skills and experience that will undoubtedly be required once the voyaging begins. The frustration is realizing that sufficient skills to do some jobs cannot be learned in a timely or effective fashion and that outside help will be required. Such was the case with our desire to replace Alchemy's flimsy and awkward dropboard-style companionway hatch.

That hatch, which mated with the oceanic-grade sliding hatch in the pilothouse roof, was flimsy because it was just a quarter-inch-thick sheet of smoked Lexan glued to a cherrywood lip, which slid into two grooved pieces of wood screwed into the steel sides of the pilothouse formed into a supporting flange. A single kick...or even a modest pooping wave, would have stove it in. Adding to this impression of insufficiency was that the dropboard, relying on mere gravity to keep it in place, was ungasketed: a driving rain or a snow-covered deck would cause water to seep down the companionway steps, ticking off the skipper. The dropboard was awkward because it was either all out or all in, a 16 x 26 inch flat wind-catching rectangle of bother that had no proper home when out and would constantly fall over if not secured strongly. The redesign came early, as did the frustration, because while I could draw what I wanted, as I did with the engine bay hatch (which turned out differently once I confabbed with the fabricator), I did not possess the skill nor the tools to do it myself.
Both frame and door hatch materials were made from stainless steel plate and bar stock bought locally
So Andrew Barlow, fellow NYC club member and welder/millwright/fabricator extraordinaire, was put on the job. He is approximately the fifth or the sixth person with his skill set to have seen and commented on my design, and it is the bane of my existence that I can't despite my best efforts persuade tradespeople to come to work on the boat. Part of that reason is that the work is on a boat: many fabricators are unfamiliar with them and prefer to stay in their fully equipped, predictably immobile workshops and I can understand that. Andrew, by contrast, lives on a vintage wooden power boat during the week, and goes to work in a 24-foot Shark. He gets boats and consequently, grasps (and can creatively critique) my ideas, such as they are. And, from my point of view, he actually executes the work, which is the hardest stage to overcome. I sent the above design to some professional marine fabrication places and was basically told "your job is too small for us to bother with."
SS hinges! The bar across the top was just for support and to keep the pre-welded-in frame from twisting.
As it turned out, there were a few onsite mods required, and the full-on custom approach paid off. Also, seeing a heavy chunk of stainless steel fabrication emerging from the small cabin of a Shark sailboat rafted off my starboard midship bollard proved amusingly nautical.

This piece was "dry-fitted" more than once to ensure as snug a pre-weld fit as could be managed. The only thing I really changed was to nix the fixed port in the upper hinged part of the door, which was dubbed "the cat flap".
The new door was meant to a) take a pooping (over the stern) sea, although that is pretty rare due to the height of the "stern castle" of Alchemy,  My job was to take off the painted plywood outer surface of the aft steel plate of the pilothouse; it was held on but simple galvanized studs and plastic battens and was construction-grade exterior plywood sheathing. It wasn't going to be missed. I also sourced after much searching the beefy "hatch dogs" that would act both as handles to the upper and lower parts of the companionway door, but would also secure it, thanks to the magic of compression, against seas and, with the addition of a locking mechanism, potential intruders. I am a big believer in deterrence in the sense that if you make your already clearly metallic and industrial boat more metallic-and industrial-looking, thieves will move on to the airy and bright Beneteau with the beautiful paint job three moorings over. Nobody wants to steal a dirty hammer.
This relatively minor sub-plywood rust has already been "Ospho'd" and painted. A decision about insulation and further covering this will come later when some other decisions, like where to put the propane supply, are made.
As is customary with jobs like these, I want the welder to do welding. Cleaning up the surfaces, removing the flammable stuff and making sure the beer is cold are my jobs, as was running a "clean" 15 amp 12 ga. line to the power post as the compact Miller welding machine kept tripping my onboard breaker.
Amazing to watch, if indirectly, Andrew was the perfect combo of fast and fastidious.

I'm only part-way through educating myself about welding, so welding chat with Andrew was confusingly technical but illuminating, as was the combination of stick tack-welding, as in the above shot, and MIG welding with stainless steel wire to "fill in the gaps" later on. I was impressed by the quality of both Andrew's gear and his technique. I don't have the shop nor the experience to have made this job a reality.
An early fit: We learned that the massive dogs would interfere with the flap lying flat enough to open the whole hatch enough. They would themselves get ground down a bit.
A note on the design: As can be seen, Alchemy's pilothouse roof is not flat. Like its deck and its solar panel arch, it is curved to shed water more effectively. This means, however, that a single-plate  companionway hatch door hinged on one side cannot open beyond 90 degrees to the roof. To do so, a second hinge must allow a "flap" (dubbed "the cat flap") to fall forward so the whole door can nestle under the overhang of the pilothouse roof. Such a door is known as "a Dutch door" and was inspired by one used by long-time cruisers and writers Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard. Besides solving the opening issue, the cat flap allows a nice 25 cm. opening for ventilation and communication between sailing helm and pilothouse in all but severe conditions.
Some discussion about cutting down these handles was necessary.
That was the theory, anyway. Much of my refit journey has involved making virtues out of necessities.
More lining up revealed a gap in the plate that Andrew would fix.
A couple of fitting and modification sessions later (during which I had to take apart and reinstall the old crappy dropboard pieces so I didn't leave the boat wide open), we were largely done.
This flange on the cat flap comes just inside the overhang of the sliding hatch.
 In the photo above is the flange that mates with the underside of the sliding hatch when closed. Gasketing may be required here, but it will be hard to do permanently until I physically bolt the pilothouse back down later in the summer after installing several necessary wire runs and after using HDPE plastic, butyl stripping and Tef-Gel-isolated bolts to dog it in place.

The stainless steel part: Filling the gaps between frame and bulkhead with molten wire.

That visible rust is what happens when you grind SS with a non-SS wire wheel: residue.
After Andrew's part was finished, I had a door that would open, close and flap down, but nothing particularly tightly. That part was on me. I cut, fitted and glued rubber stripping and an HDPE strip of thin stuff (1/32nd of a inch thick) to make the door have a compression fitting to block water ingress, and then I fabricated out of UHMWPE triangular wedges against which the dogs could further compress the door at four points.

Needs a daub of paint and probably a layer of insulation, but I got what I wanted.

The wedges are secured by bolts drilled through the SS frame and the mild steel pilothouse plate

The remaining to-do jobs in this respect are mainly cosmetic.We can paint this or insulate it and paint it, and I need to pack the handles with some sort of grease to keep them limber in their nylon bushings. In addition, we have to decide if we want some sort of peephole or small fixed glass porthole to let in light when the boat is sealed up here. Also needed is some sort of means to hook or otherwise capture or restrain the entire door when it is fully open at sea ("fair-weather mode"). Still, it's been a big advance and clearly, a long time coming. Yay us!

2017-07-03

Flat, but out

A pleasure cruise in Hamilton Harbour was vetoed by the skipper due to inclement weather conditions.
As it was both a holiday weekend and a rare three days off in a row for the hard-labouring Mrs. Alchemy, we took the boat to Hamilton to visit friends. Hamilton's about 30 NM WSW from Toronto, which means "head to wind" most of the time. So about a five-hour motor.

The day was near dead calm, with occasional fog and mist, anyway, and I had a reason to want to motor. Alchemy has two keel tanks of about 50 gallons (200 litres) capacity. Both were filled to their respective brims in 2009 before I went into a cradle for a few years to replace the engine, the entire drive train and other needful things. The diesel at that point was primarily intended to keep the tanks of black iron from corroding. I got it from a marina that I knew didn't sell diesel with ethanol in it. I had yet to spec out the new engine, but I had already heard of the ethanol additive effect on deleterious gaskets and seals and its tendency to absorb moisture from the air.

The interesting part came after I had installed the fuel filter system and had stopped (basically) using a siphon from a jerry can, which even in my mind was asking for it. The diesel from the aft tank looked good. It seemed to work. After cleaning the pickup tube (a tiny bit of gunk was found), all seemed to be well. The diesel purred. The boat moved. All was well. I regularly mixed in new diesel and kept that aft tank full.

But I didn't address the forward tank. That was filled with nearly nine-year-old, pure diesel. I topped up that vintage fuel with fresh diesel (if ultra low sulphur, which is another issue). Then I ran the fuel  from that tank for an hour at dock (at about 1,300 RPM; I'm not a monster) Again, no issues.

So it was with some trepidation that we departed circa 0800h yesterday. While I knew I had a "good tank", I was keen, frankly, to burn off as much old fuel as I could. As it turned out, the Burlington Bridge, a lift bridge that allows the only access to Hamilton's large harbour (and which we've seen before on our now-sold first boat), only opens on demand and every 30 minutes. My new plotter told me if I could steer tightly, we would get to the piers in front of the lift bridge at 1228h. Yikes. Apply throttle!

So, flat out through flat water it was. I like my hydraulic steering just fine, but under motor and plenty of it, the rudder tends to drift slightly and corrections applied are not subtle. While I don't think this is a problem, particularly, I will be inspecting the fluid levels and the state of the seal. And the purchase of an autopilot, because steering by hand in calm conditions is actually a bit of a drag.

The photo at the top indicates why I didn't take our hosts out for a boat ride. It poured and blowed a fair bit, but the evening and our dinner and convo were great. The next morning, we left the literally brand new and mightily impressive docks of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club with a lesson learned: the prop walk I use to slip Alchemy's stern to port side with a quickness isn't such a benefit when leaving from a starboard docking. I had to do some awkward spinning between rows of boats to get out. The solution(s) were: to have gone in stern first and docked to port; to have walked the boat back nearly to the bow of the boat in the next row, and then steered to port in forward; or to have done the previous move warping off against a line. Ultimately, no harm, no fouls, no buffer required, but I dislike giving a show before my coffee's settled, and the need to make a bridge opening (it's about a 30 minute motor from the YC to the bridge) by a specific minute (we did) makes for unseemly concern.
Mrs. Alchemy mulling over autopilot brands.

Sea state: Stateless
As can be seen, it was another windless day (although it improved at the last stretch and we motorsailed with a more or less effective jib adding a couple of knots).
How to Avoid Huge Ships: Lake Ontario Edition.
Both legs of this otherwise minor journey, I took an interest in the doings of the little AIS targets on my VHF. The CPA calculation is the one I find most useful in AIS monitoring. When we sailed yesterday in moderate fog, we of course noted that plenty of boats did not have AIS and therefore required careful watchstanding (we have as yet not installed a radar). But there were quite a few that had it going, and even the scant data delivered by our AIS-equipped radio gave us a heightened awareness. Not to mention notifying us when the large lake freighter had started to move off its pier at 90 degrees to our course. Handy, that. 
Water scene with duck.
We were just missed by another line of thunderstorms and made it home tired but happy. The Canada Day Weekend involved an enormous rubber duck (see photo). Patriotism continues to baffle me.
My god...the harbour...it's full of duck!

2017-06-30

Fitzstakes

Apparently, the interior of the Fitzgerrald skipper's stateroom is visible in this shot. Good grief.

Risk assessment is more than reading a forecast or watching a radar's guard zone. It's a holistic, ongoing appreciation of what all sorts of inputs are saying while one is in command (or crewing) on a boat, including the harder ones to quantify, like gut checks or the smell of the air. It's too early to speculate on the precise chain of events that led to the recent incident involving a container ship that killed seven sailors on the U.S. destroyer Fitzgerald, depicted above, but even the already-known facts are reminiscent of the way another U.S. Navy ship, Guardian, managed to ground itself in 2013 on a charted reef (even if the charts were known to be predictably inaccurate), which led to a total loss. Ironically, considering the ecological damage done, the last biggish vessel to ground on this reef belonged to Greenpeace in 2005. Incorrectly, in my view, they also blamed the chart.
Minesweepers are made of wood, so a few weeks on coral...
...precludes a buffing-out.
It's a poor seaman, I think, who blames his tools. Charts feature dates of surveys, after all, and if you are heading into a remote or poorly surveyed area, it's best to know the quality of the data on which the plotter or paper positions are based, and to not try to shave time and distance down when there is any kind of ambiguity.

Our tools, in this case, our navigational tools, are not ourselves, or, to put it another way, they are not extensions of ourselves. While it is not always possible (think of a submarine at depth) to lay physical eyes and ears on our surroundings, to put more emphasis on representations of said surroundings, rather than going outside of the glass bridge to have a look-see, would seem imprudent.

Despite the as-yet absence of a full investigation (which, like the one that dissected the USS Guardian incident, may be redacted or opaque with naval jargon), a lot of mariners have discussed this incident as it features some fairly clear-cut premises on which modern civilian and military ships operate. Particularly hard-to-turn, unhandy and comparatively slow cargo vessels and agile, fast naval ships bristling with detection gear. As this article sums up, avoiding collisions is a shared responsibility, but U.S. warships are not supposed to be crept up on by 750-foot container ships.
 
How agile? This agile. This is the same class of destroyer as USS Fitzgerald.

If, as is customary, both ships were on autopilot, that doesn't get anyone off the hook, of course, as this more in-depth article suggests. The consequences are real and are, of course, tragic. While we think of warships as intrinsically strong, they are merely strong enough; if you want speed, you can't build a ship with 30 cm. thick sides. Most modern naval warfare involves missiles at a distance and countermeasures to missiles at a distance, not ramming. I cannot imagine what went through the skipper's mind as he was (apparently) nearly ejected from his ship. What is known is that it was a new gig for him.
Physics has the final word, again.

Even in the seaways with the most heavy use and the arguably most closely monitored traffic separation schemes (TSSs), the scourge of under-crewing and lax watch standards can cause ships to collide.  Again, this is a recent (July 1, 2017) event, but I will wager that someone who should have been looking around wasn't, or was beguiled by a screen. Makes sense in such circumstances to avoid ships entirely if they exhibit zombie-like behaviour, doesn't it?
Yes, the struggle is real.

Back in the small-boat realm, I just read a rather good article (in which the writer, rarely in my experience, seemed to have sailed and knows what a sailor would care to know when reading about a bad day on the water) on a heavy squall that hit a post-race group on Mobile Bay, Alabama in the spring of 2015. The description in the article make it clear that a host of factors led to tragic outcomes, but a few people chose not to race that day. The technology didn't fail those who did choose to race, but perhaps their instincts faltered. I can't make that judgment, frankly, and it would be hubristic to try. But I have noticed that a) people rely a great deal on technological inputs while sailing (readers may recall we ourselves recently updated our plotter) and b) the traditional skill sets of the sailor are beginning, I would argue, to wilt. Who sails today with just a handheld VHF and maybe a bulkhead compass? Perhaps the lack of screens might sharpen some skills that may be shown, once again and sadly, to be absent on some of the largest and most-crewed vessels on the oceans.

UPDATE, 17.07.15: Receent shots from the drydocking of the USS Fitzgerald suggest why crew died and how it was very fortunate that this ship did not go to the bottom: https://news.usni.org/2017/07/12/new-dry-dock-photos-show-extent-hidden-uss-fitzgerald-damage