"Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk." - Sir Francis Chichester when asked why he carried so much alcohol on his solo sail around the world.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

How to Tie a Bowline Knot in the Dark on a Sailboat – Three Ways

Faster and Safer Ways to Tie a Bowline Knot

You probably already know how to tie a bowline, but do you know how to do it fast and reliably, and in the dark?
Check out these foolproof ways to tie a bowline in the dark for three different needs on a sailboat.  Once you practice and learn these methods, muscle memory will take over when you need it to. You will be able to concentrate on the situation at hand, and not on unseen “rabbits, trees and holes.”

I've also put this video in "INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEOS" (found under "PAGES" on the right) for future reference.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Windvane steering: why it makes sense for coastal cruising

Below is an excellent article on windvane steering. The original article can be found in Yachting Monthly ( ). If you don't subscribe or read Yachting Monthly, you should.

I use a Aries Windvane on Bootlegger and have grown very fond of it. The windier it gets the more powerful the vane gets, and it doesn't use any electricity. Big seas and big wind work an electric autopilot pretty hard causing it to use a lot of electricity at a time that you can't run your engine to recharge the batteries ( Excessive heal can cause the water intake to come out of the water and/or your oil pick-up to stop pumping oil)

Of course, having a alternative source to generate electricity helps. I also carry two electric autopilots ( A Pelagic Autopilot, that I would definitely recommend, and a Raymarine 2000 ) on Bootlegger that I use in the right conditions; motoring, spinnaker, downwind with quartering seas, etc.

Go to "INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEOS," (you'll find it on the right under "PAGES.") for a good video featuring Don McIntrye, the Race Director of the Golden Globe Race, explaining the different types of windvanes.

No electricity needed, built for gale-force conditions and currently experiencing 
something of a renaissance amongst 
cruisers; windvane self-steering makes sense for coastal cruisers as much as 
offshore voyagers. Will Bruton took 
an in depth look at the options 
and how they work.

‘The distance run was 2,700 miles as the crow flies. During those 23 days I had not spent more than three hours at the helm. I just lashed the helm and let her go; whether the wind was abeam or dead aft, it was all the same: she always stayed on her course,’ wrote Joshua Slocum in 1895.
The ability of his long-keeled Spray to hold course without input from the helm was instrumental 
in making her the first yacht to circumnavigate single-handed.
Few modern boats bear these inherently balanced characteristics, so some form of autopilot is necessary to allow the skipper to rest.
Even for crewed passages, it can take an enormous strain off the crew without draining the battery. Some insurance companies even count windvane steering as an additional crew member, such is its contribution to life on board.

Self steering gear on the back of a Golden Globe Race yacht

Unlike an electronic autopilot, self-steering needs no power
One solution experiencing something of a renaissance, is windvane self-steering.
Requiring no electricity, mechanical self-steering gear was first designed in an age when autopilots were the preserve of large ships and heavy motor cruisers. The principle is relatively simple and pure physics.
What mechanical self-steering cannot do is hold your yacht on a compass course. However, as anyone that’s experienced a sudden wind shift or squall whilst away from the helm knows, steering to a wind angle is preferable most of the time as you are far less likely to crash gybe, and the sails remain correctly set.
Self-steering gear achieves this by presenting a vane directly into the wind. When the wind acts on either side of this vane, it tips, transferring this action through the mechanism below to either a rudder or a servo pendulum which acts on the main rudder, altering the boat’s course.

The two main systems


A derivative of the servo-trim tab principle invented by Blondie Hasler, servo-pendulum self steering gear uses the speed of the yacht going through the water to push against the servo-paddle, creating a substantial force, which is then transferred to the yacht’s own tiller or wheel by control lines.
The wind itself does not provide the power for the steering; rather it adjusts the angle of the paddle, relying on the hydro-mechanical energy of the boat going through the water to do the work of steering the boat.
Popular before the advent of the small craft electronic autopilot, it’s particularly well suited to yachts under 40ft in length, and can be swung out of the water when not in use.
There are now several derivatives, including some available as a self-build kit. Amongst the Golden Globe Race entrants, models included Aries, Monitor, Windpilot and Beaufort systems.
One disadvantage of the servo-pendulum gear is that it uses the yacht’s rudder, meaning it does not double up as an emergency rudder should the yacht’s steering be disabled, although some servo-pendulums can be adapted.

Direct drive systems

Wind vane steering linked to a secondary rudder is the most inherently simple of the mechanical self-steering systems, but relies on a much more powerful transmission of force between a large-surface-area wind vane and the system’s own independent rudder.

Direct drive self steering gear

Direct drive systems feature a large fully independent auxiliary rudder
This has the advantage of ensuring 
a back up steering method is already on board but also requires a heavy-duty installation to bear the load and strain that will be exerted.

One of the most popular models is the Hydrovane, which is now available in several different sizes and shapes depending on 
the boat it is being installed on.

The size 
and shape of the fabric-covered windvane is directly proportional to the size of yacht, and has been installed successfully on yachts in excess of 50ft in length, including multihulls.
When the boat veers off course, the 
wind hits the vane on one side or the other, deflecting it away from the vertical.

This then acts on a gear that converts 
this sideways movement into rotation to directly steer a relatively large rudder suspended from the boat’s transom via 
the installation framework.

Setting up windvane steering

Balancing the boat

‘Before doing anything, you have to get the boat sailing well. It demands you take the time to get your boat properly balanced, correctly reefed and with no weather helms; so it actually makes you a better sailor!’ explains Nick Nottingham, who recently fitted a Hydrovane to his Hallberg-Rassy 42, Spellbinder. Nick is about to use the system on an Atlantic circuit.

Self steering needs a balanced boat

Self-steering relies on a well balanced boat. As the wind shifts, the mechanism corrects
Self-steering gear works by adjusting the yacht’s course in relation to the apparent wind. The first step to making this work as efficiently as possible is to balance the boat and reduce the amount of input required.

Sailing conventionally, the yacht should be easy on the helm and not overpowered.

Setting the system for the conditions

Whether servo-pendulum or direct drive, most self-steering systems have one or more methods of adjustment for the conditions. In light airs, the wind vane will be exposed as much as possible to the wind, to exert the maximum force on the system, whereas in heavier weather, the vane’s height can be lowered, reducing the force acting on the system.

Some systems, like the Hydrovane, Monitor and Beaufort have different sized vanes that can be swapped, while the Windpilot and Aries allow the vane to be raked aft, presenting a shorter level.

Engaging self steering

With the wind vane attached, you are ready to remove the locking pin and engage the steering mechanism

On some set ups, the power exerted on the steering system can also be adjusted at the point where the wind vane meets its pivot, just like changing sensitivity on an electronic autopilot. By controlling the rotation of the rudder or paddle created by the windvane, you control how aggressively the system corrects the boat’s course.

Changing the gearing at the point where the wind input creates the steering output achieve an increase or decrease of ratio.

Engaging the system

To engage the system, set the yacht on course and adjust the wind vane so that the wind is flowing over it with the least resistance, like a blade.

If you a using a system with its own rudder, centralise and lock the yacht’s main rudder, simultaneously engaging the self-steering mechanism.

Self steering gear

Once engaged, monitor how the system adjusts and double check your sails are trimmed correctly.
As the vane moves it will adjust the steering accordingly.

In heavy weather, reduce the system’s power to ensure the least amount of strain.
Self-steering systems work efficiently in strong winds but most will steer comfortably in light airs as well.

Course adjustments

When the wind vane is vertical, you are on course. When the vane is deflected, the system is adjusting course.

Changing the direction you want to go in is simply a matter of altering the self-steering system’s vane angle relative to the wind.

A man wearing a blue top pulls on line attached to a yacht's self steering system
On most systems this is achieved by a steering line that can be run into the safety of the cockpit, meaning you do not necessarily need to adjust the vane itself directly.

Make small adjustments until the yacht comes onto the desired course, trimming the sails appropriately.

A standalone system?

Whilst self-steering systems offer a much more resilient option than an electronic autopilot for heavy weather, when there is no sailing wind, they cease to be useful.
Self steering gear with an electronic tilletpilot
Here an electronic tillerpilot has been plugged directly into the Hydrovane auxiliary rudder
For this reason, most cruisers also have a conventional electronic autopilot on board to steer under engine.

In the case of systems incorporating a rudder, many also make it possible to easily engage a tiller pilot onto the system’s auxiliary rudder for use under engine.

Self-steering on the Golden Globe Race

If there’s one place that mechanical 
self-steering fandom bordered on the evangelical this year, it was at the start of 
the Golden Globe Race. 50 years previously, Robin Knox-Johnston’s world first single-handed circumnavigation was steered by his own self-steering gear system until it failed 
near Australia.

Restored to her former glory, 
Knox-Johnston’s Suhaili joined the parade; along with Indian competitor Abhilash Tommy’s replica yacht Thuriya, which sports a commercially made Windpilot servo-pendulum system.

self steering gear and the tiller of Suhaili

Self-steering gear on Suhaili. Credit: Nic Compton/Alamy Stock Photo
With this year’s revival competition using 1960’s technology and electronic wizardry strictly prohibited, mechanical self-steering systems are effectively the only option for competitors. Each has chosen carefully.

Competitors in the race are using a variety of systems including Hydrovane, Aries, Monitor, Windpilot and Beaufort.

Due to the nature of the boats competing being long keeled, they are ideally suited to mechanical self-steering, naturally holding course better than a modern hull. However, should systems fail and prove unrepairable, it will be hard 
for them to remain competitive in the race.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What Do You Eat?

Another Mike Hennessy article. I've inserted my comments in red. If you don't see a comment then that means that we're in agreement.

American Michael Hennessy is competing in the 2018 Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe on his Owen Clarke designed Class40 Dragon. There were 53 Class40s when the race got underway on November 4, but hard times has reduced the field to 38 skippers in the class.

Hennessy stands 12th in the solo transatlantic race, and after 15 days of sailing, he discusses a popular topic this week… food:

A question I get a lot is “what do you eat”? The short answer is as many calories as I can in the easiest possible way.

It’s hugely important because every action out here takes energy. Changing sails, steering, stacking gear, trimming sails, fixing things. Just standing around takes energy given how much the boat is constantly moving.

But the solution is actually a more complicated answer because there are a few challenges.

1) Equipment. I don’t have a stove, oven, pots or pans, or a refrigerator. Not enough room and too much weight. All I have is a single burner camping stove that is good for boiling water, a Jet Boil. I have a two burner stove so I have a few more options.

2) Weight. Everything is about weight out here. I suppose I could haul around cans of soup and jars of spam but those are heavy calories with heavy packaging and we don’t litter out here. If I bring it out there, I bring it back in. If I'm doing a long race, without crew, I usually have a few cans of vegetables or pasta. With crew I'll carry more "heavy" food.

3) Appetite. I lose my appetite out here. It’s not that things don’t taste good, it’s just that I’m not hungry. Ever. I almost always lose weight during the long races, I forget to eat or I just don't feel like eating. I find all those lost pounds during the off season.

For the latter issue, frankly the only answer is to make sure I have variety and that it tastes good. Then it is just a matter of forcing the food into me. For the former, I bring a lot of dried food, either freeze dried or dehydrated, and then add water. I carry both the food and the water (If it's a short race, say 150 miles or less, AND I'm expecting a lot of port tack I put water in my water tank, located on the port side, to offset the weight of my diesel tank located on the starboard side. I also carry bottle water because I can crush the bottles after use and recycle them at the finish), and can stack both for weight advantages.

Breakfast is usually either instant oatmeal or granola with powdered milk and water.(Same)
Lunch is often a Ramen noodle, with my favorite Mama Ramen. (I leans towards PB&J sandwiches, but if it's Ramen I go with  Maruchan Noodles) I add these packets of dehydrated vegetables from Packit Gourmet to add to the noodle mix and amp up the flavor and the calories.
Dinner is usually a package of freeze dried that turns into a meal when you add boiling water and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. The package is powder and small chopped up pieces of food to make it easier to reconstitute, and the result is something like a softly chunky mush. (Same)

There are lots of different brands and everyone has their favorites. I tend to carry meals from Packit Gourmet (chili, gumbo, chicken and dumplings, Tuscan beef stew) and Mountain House (chili mac, beef stew, lasagna). (In addition to the above I also use Wise Food)

When it is really rough with lots of boat motion, I try to avoid boiling water because there is risk of burning yourself when transferring it from camp stove to food bag. So for the first 10 or 11 days I ate a lot of meals from O Meals. These are fully cooked meals in pouches, and all you do is add a bit of water with a catalyst pack that when they get together produce heat that warms the food pouch. It’s heavier so I don’t use it for all meals, but it is safer.

Snacks include nut/fruit trail mix, dried beef, Clif Bars, chocolate (Almond Snickers and/or Hershey Mini's), and I usually bring fresh fruit.
That’s it, Dragon’s cafeteria plan. What I crave when I get to shore is a steak, big salad with lots of tomatoes and ice cream. (Same, along with butter pecan or chocolate brownie ice cream)

Background: The 11th edition and 40th anniversary staging of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race got underway on November 4. Held ever four years, this iconic 3,542-nautical mile course takes the record entry of 123 skippers in six divisions – Ultime, Multi 50, Imoca 60, Class 40, Rhum Multi, and Rhum Mono – from the start off the Brittany port of Saint Malo (France) to Guadeloupe.

Source: Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe

Monday, November 19, 2018

One Of My Favorite Pictures (It's the background if you haven't noticed)

I took this while racing single-handed on Lake Michigan. Look at the winch farm that I had on the cabin top. Now I have only two halyard winches instead of six. I didn't use roller furling then either. I'm probably going to ditch the furler, the boat was definitely faster with sails that were designed for the different wind strengths. I've also added a dodger which allows me to keep the main hatch open with spray and gives me a place to hide.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Late Night Adventure

Another Mike Hennessy post. I love his style of writing and I think that most anyone that races single-handed can relate to what he's going through. ( )

 November 14, 2018


"It's 30 minutes into the new day, according to Universal,  or Zulu, time.  You use Zulu because it makes as much sense as anything.  All
you know is that it has been dark for several hours, and will be dark for several more.

You just woke up from a nap, and are worried. Earlier in the day you fetched fresh weather files from an electronic bird way up in space and loaded them into the navigation software running on your computer. They told you that your location was going to get rolled by the bottom of yet another low over the course of the night.  You check both the euro and the USA files, and yep, they agree.  Or at least they mostly agree about the next 48 hours.

The wind is going be from the southwest, they say. Coming from where you want to go, but they tell you that you can and should go west or
just north of west, beating into the bottom of the low. Then, as you head towards the low and it heads towards you, at some point the winds
will shift.  They will swing from the south west to the west, then they will swing to the north west.  And that is when you want to tack the boat, turn left and start sailing out of the low.

The French even have a term for it, translating as the "sea gull's wing".  Of course it sounds sexier when said in French, because the French can make any thing sound sexy.  But they call it that because the shape of your track as you curve into the low, punctuated by the point where you tack, followed the shape of the curve of reciprocal track as you leave the bottom of the low.  It looks like the outline of the gull and their wings.

So that's just a bunch of exposition so I can avoid reliving the bad bits of this story.  Where was I?  

Oh yeah...worried. I had done my part, followed the instructions and sailed into the low.  And let's face it, as lows in this race go it was an under achiever.  Maybe steady 25 knots and gusts to 35.  Except (insert pregnant pause) the sea state.  It was filthy, wretched and vile.

Dragon was being man handled like a shopper at Best Buy on Black Friday.  Bullied like a school boy.  A particularly unpopular one at that. Some waves would roll under you and reach your center axis at which point the bow would pivot down to slap into the water with a dull percussive BOOM.  Others the boat would be moving fast enough that the whole wave gets past the boat, leaving it hanging in air until gravity takes over and drops her about 4 feet with a SLAM. Those are teeth rattlers.  But the worst are when you feel the boat's bow go down and your body rises off of what ever you are perched on as the boat goes into free fall off of a wave.  6 feet down, and the hull is stopped
by the water 's surface while everything else on or in the boat tries to continue to fall. Those are the ones where you can feel the after
shock as the mast and keel waggle in opposition to one another, as you bang around like a ping pong ball and wonder if the boat is going to
come apart and sink 13,000 feet to the closest dirt.

So that is the story. It's dark, we've been headed this direction for while,  it's howling and entirely unpleasant and you are waiting for a shift that is overdue. And waiting. And waiting.

It wants to shift.  The wind has definitely turned and your first wing is starting to trace a bit of a curve.  But you've been do in this for hours. And it hurts. And you know you have lots of race left that you need a boat for.

So you make the call for the tack.  At this point it's a routine.  You move the gear below, and you have an order for it.  It's hard and hot
work,  and you build a sweat up inside the full kit you are wearing. You do it by the light your head lamp, dim because you need new batteries but you have not changed them out yet because this race is taking longer than expected and you don't want to run out of batteries

So the last thing you do when you leave cabin is set up the gate valves to transfer the two tanks of ballast water.  And up on deck you go.

It's a malestorm.  The wind's howl hits you full on, the deck is moving every which way under your feet and water is everywhere.  Wind driven
spray, waves, rain.  Water is everywhere, and you keep having to wipe it out of your eyes to see what you  need to do.

Run through your check list in your head and do it.  New runner on leave handle on winch, open clutch on old runner, load new sheet on
winch, move bagged A5 from old windward rail to cockpit.

Pause.  Got cotton mouth,  exertion, or fear that always creeps up when doing a move at night in a blow? Move forward.  Pull the two handles
that let the water ballast transfer.  Count 15.  Drop handles. Boat is on its ear with all the weight to leeward.  Turn off pilot. Swing tiller over. Release old sheet from winch, hold in hand. Leap across cockpit. Blow old runner. Release old sheet. Haul in new sheet.  IT WON'T MOVE.
Jib is flogging like mad and won't stop until you can figure out what is wrong and fix it.

Boat is over on the new tack but without a jib wants to go head to wind. Can't let that happen.  Push tiller over further to get to broad reach. Put on pilot.  Pull sheet.  IT WON'T MOVE.

Look forward with dim light. Curse battery frugality.  Let go sheet. Crab-walk up deck. Think about all the ways this trip up deck can go wrong. You have got your vest and tether on because you promised, but they feel like weak armour against the elements.  Get to mast. ....the sheets and one other line are tied into a knot around the mast winch.  Knots, actually.   Like a evil Boy Scout with bad skills had been to work.

Sail is flogging like mad, cracking the air around you,  sheets flailing like whips.  Every flog pulling the knots tighter.  Grab the twisted sheets several feet forward of winch to create slack to untie knot.  Immediately get pulled off feet.  Recalibrate.  Brace knee on mast. Grab sheet with left hand. Sheets loosen and tighten and yank and whip your hands arms head with every flog.  One head shot feels like  a hammer. Desperately yank, pull and plead with knot.  Gradually loosen. It's free.  Crab walk back to cockpit.   Grind on new sheet. Sail actually
starts to do its job.

Pause.  Pause. Pause.

Back forward to finish clean up, back aft and move A5 bag to new windward rail and decide another reef in the main.  Open halyard, drop main, grind on new leech reef line.  Open Cunningham clutch.  Crabwalk to mast.  Set Cunningham on new luff talk. Crab-walk back. Grind on Cunningham. Trim main.

Pause. Pause. Pause.

Boat is on the new tack, moving smoothly and a bit more calm.  Clean up the cockpit lines and go below to assess the damage.   I am soaked,
sweat from within, rain and waves from without. I am parched.  Every wound on my hands from the past week is reopened and some new ones added - I am bleeding.  I am grateful, because that could have ended much worse.

And smiling, because as I change the batteries in my head lamp, the shift comes.  Now I am pointing properly SW and reaching out of the
low.  Not even beating any longer - the first time since the start." 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Points Of Sail

Tacking and Gybing and Cursing

This was written by Mike Hennessy, a Class 40 racer currently racing single-handed in the Route du Rhum.  Anyone that has done any single-handed long distance racing knows exactly what he's talking about.

For those of you who are new to this sailing thing, one of the truths about physics and the wind is that you can’t sail straight into the wind, and you can’t sail with the wind coming straight from behind you.  Think about your hand when you stick it out of the window of your car.  If you tilt it up or down, the hand moves.  If you keep it perfectly flat, pointed into the air rushing down the side of the car, you hand stays put.  

For sailing, it’s the same deal.  We have to be at an angle to the wind to move forward.  If we are going upwind (wind in our face) we need to be at least 40 degrees or so away from the direction of the wind.  If we are going down wind (wind at our back), then we need to be about 25 degrees away from the direction of the wind.  

But if the wind is either blowing from or to exactly where we want to go, then we have to zig zag our way towards that destination, sailing for a while in a direction that is 25 to 40 degrees away from the real destination, then flopping over and sailing 25 to 40 degrees away from the real destination but on the other side of it.  Each time you flop over, you are still moving in the general direction of where you need to get to, but you have to keep flopping from one side to the other to avoid going too far out of your way.

If you are going upwind, that flopping is known as “tacking”. If you are going downwind, that flopping is known as “Gybing”.  I have no idea where those words came from or why they are different if you are going upwind versus downwind, so if you do have a clue please share. 
At the moment, we happen to be doing a bunch of tacking / gybing.  If you are checking us out on the tracker, you see a lot of zig zags in our course. What’s involved?  I am so glad you asked. 
  1. Decide you need to tack or gybe
  2. Check the horizon for traffic in the new direction you are going to be headed after the maneuver
  3. Clean up the sheets so the old ones will run free when you release them, and the new ones are loaded and ready to be hauled in
  4. Move the cabin stack, a total of 190.5 kg (419.1 lbs) of gear from one side of the boat to the other. Strap it down so it stays in place.  
  5. Take a drink of water and curse your fate
  6. Move 140.6 kg (309.3 lbs) of sails on deck from the high side to the cockpit. 
  7. Drink another slug of water and curse some more
  8. Open the outside gate valves on the water ballast system, both sides of the boat.  This won’t cause the water ballast to drain from one side of the boat to the other yet, but it sets the stage for it.
  9. Center up the traveler on the main sail.  The main sail centered up is going to make the boat twitchy and the pilot is going to be working harder to keep her sailing straight, so right about here is when you start to enter the danger zone.
  10. Bone on the new runner, the one on the side the wind is going to be coming from after you flop over so your mast stays upright.  This is an important one… losing your mast is very slow.
  11. Check the horizon for traffic. Don’t want to get run over.
  12. Tack the water ballast by pulling the last two handles up and counting to about 15.  Savor every second of rest.
  13. Now it is all going to happen really quickly. The boat is going to hate all that weight on the wrong side and you are firmly in the danger zone.  The higher the wind speed, the greater the danger.  Making a mistake in the next 8 steps could seriously damage the boat, or you. Run through it all again in your mind to make sure you did not miss something in  your exhaustion, take a deep breath and….
  14. Turn the boat to the new heading
  15. Quickly blow the old runner so it runs free and won’t keep the main from dropping down.  
  16. Without tripping all over the stacks of sails in the cockpit, tack the head sail from the old side to the new side
  17. Grind on the head sail to the new board.  
  18. Ask yourself if maybe you picked the wrong sport
  19. Grind on new runner
  20. You are panting now, with barely enough oxygen in your lungs to gasp out one last curse
  21. Drop the main sail down to a more forgiving angle and prevent the boat from catastrophically rounding up. You are finally leaving the danger zone.
  22. Adjust course to optimal angle
  23. Check the horizon for traffic. Getting run over is even slower than losing your mast.  Terminally so.
  24. Trim the head sail, little tweaks to get it set perfectly
  25. Trim the main sail for the same optimization.  Grimace because you know what is next.
  26. Move the 140.6 kg (309.3 lbs) of sails from the cockpit up to the new windward rail and tie down.  You are too tired to curse at this point.
  27. Close the water ballast gate valves.
  28. Top off the water ballast for any lost water.
  29. Take a nap
Easy peasy, lemon squeezey.  Hope you guys are having fun back home.