He Didn’t Get The Memo

April 27, 2014


The Lonely Ranger

There’s a dam in Washington State with a 65-foot crack in it.  That’s bad.  They’re estimating it will cost $60 million to repair, which means it will really cost $900 million and take five years or more.  In the meantime, engineers have drawn the Columbia River down about 30 feet to take pressure off the crack.  I took this pic in Vantage, WA, where I-90 crosses the Columbia.  The little marina on the West side of the river was empty, except for this boat.  She’s a Ranger 26, and in pretty decent shape.  I walked out on the riverbed to take a closer look.  It looks like someone has been aboard, which probably wasn’t a good idea considering that it’s pretty precariously perched, but nothing appears to be damaged or stolen.  It actually looks like a pretty sturdy boat; I’m sure when they raise the water level it will float off the mud with no trouble.  I want to know why this is the only boat that didn’t get moved before they drained the basin.  I hope it gets some love before it goes to seed.


This new battery monitor is cool.  I’d always just kept the previous battery on a trickle charger at the dock, and then wondered about it while were out and about on the water.  I remember only one occasion when the battery died, and I had a spare aboard.  Not a very scientific way to manage your batteries, is it?


Pulling about three amps with everything on the boat–except the tiller pilot–cranked.

The Victron BMV-600s is easy to install and simple to navigate.  It provides all the information about your batteries and charging systems that you’ll probably ever need.  It measures power coming in from chargers, solar panels, and the alternator on my outboard.  You can actually see the numbers go up and down in real time as you add or remove loads.  Sweet!  I was disappointed, though, to discover that my little 25 watt solar trickle charger was only contributing .75 amps, but then it is April in Port Townsend.  Oh well.  I have a 100 watt panel ready to install.

I had prepared an electrical budget for the SHTP.  It’s good to know that all my estimates were relatively close to reality.  My goal was to have enough juice aboard to go for three days with no contribution from the solar panels before I’d need to break out my portable generator.  That’s about what I have–a little more if I’m careful with the power.  Woohoo!  Those long winter nights looking up currents draws paid off.

On another note, I’m staying on the boat.  We just stepped the mast and rerigged it, so my halyards are all tied off nicely.  Last night it was blowing like hell.  I read mid-thirties on my wind instrument.  My rigging was nice and quiet, but the rest of the marina sounded like a posse of street drummers playing garbage cans.  Today will definitely be a nap day.

Fire Safety!

April 18, 2014

The rewiring project used a lot of heat shrink tubing.  Whenever I try to shrink it with a lighter I seem to burn it, so I bought a mini torch.   I’m sure this is a good product, but mine exploded on me, burning the shit out of my hand and damaging our kitchen floor.


The Inflamous Mini Torch

The torch ships without fuel, which is a good idea, so I took it to the kitchen to fill it with butane.  It’s pretty simple.  You press the butane nozzle onto the filler stem until it’s full, just like a lighter.  There were some drips, so I wiped them off with a towel, waited a minute or two, and fired it up.

Maybe “exploded” is the wrong word.  A flame the size of a yoga ball shot out the ass end of this thing, igniting the towel I had used to wipe away the drips, and my left hand with it.  Holy Crap!  No matter how cool you think you’d be in a situation like this, your first reaction will probably be to wave your hand around like a crazy person.  That’s what I did, and of course this does no good at all.


I don’t know what failed here, but it failed big.

The flaming towel dropped to the floor.  Now the flames were licking all the way up the cabinet fronts, and my hand still looked like the Olympic torch.  I yelled for help.  Julie came running around the corner from the bathroom, losing a shoe as she hopped over the dog gate.  All of a sudden I remembered the “Stop, Drop & Roll” thing from grade school.  Within the space of a second or so I realized that stop, drop and roll wouldn’t really work in my situation, and I stuck my left hand  in my right armpit.  The flame went out, and Julie and I stamped out the burning towel.


I have the best wife in the world, and I probably owe her a new kitchen floor. Just outside the frame are black footprints where we stamped out the fire. I guess the floor melted, and all the jumping around pressed the pattern of our soles into the material.

I applied the appropriate first aid, and my hand is mostly healed, but I learned a few important lessons.  First, this whole episode probably took fifteen seconds or so.  You cannot believe how fast fire spreads!  Second, if fire doesn’t freak you out, it’s probably because we usually start it and control it ourselves.  An unexpected, uncontrolled fire will most likely challenge your illusions about how you would react to one.  Third, we have a good fire extinguisher in our house, but it’s in the basement.  By the time I’d gone down to get it, the whole kitchen might have been on fire.  Time to get some more fire extinguishers for the house.


This is three days after the fire. All the blisters had started to break. Yuck. Very painful.

All this got me thinking about fire on the boat.  I have two current fire extinguishers.  One is mounted on the compression post.  The other is mounted on a bulkhead next to my battery charger.  It occurred to me that if there’s an electrical fire back there, there’s no way I’m crawling into it to get that one.  I’m going to move it out of there.  The risk of fire on my boat is pretty low, but still.

Here’s a pic of my starboard bulkhead.  I put the charger on the cabin side because I usually keep spare gas for the outboard on the cockpit locker side.  It seemed like a good idea to separate the two.  I had put the extinguisher there because I have two, and this is the extra one.  All my wiring is fused, and I can’t imagine having an electrical fire on board, but you never know.  I’m going to figure out a place to put it where it’s more easily accessible.


The silver vented box above the baby wipes is the charger. The fire extinguisher is next to it. The two solar panel controllers are there now, too. Ignore the mess, please!

Rewiring The Boat

April 17, 2014

I was sailing at night once, in some nasty weather, and my running lights went out.  Turns out a chafed wire was the problem.  My son fixed it for me, but I committed then to rewire the whole boat, by myself, before the SHTP.  I wanted to know where every tinned strand is, and what it does.

Well, it’s almost finished.  My mast is down now because I’m having the sheaves replaced at the top and in the base.  When the mast goes back up next week it will be better than new, and it will have a new tricolor, strobe, anchor light, and VHF/AIS antenna.

Back to the wiring.  I’m not dumb, but 12 volt marine wiring was a pretty steep learning curve for me.  I travel between Spokane and Port Townsend, and I wanted time to get it right, so I took the whole panel out of the boat, brought it back to Spokane, and spent the winter figuring it out.  Nigel Calder’s writings were a huge help.  I also relied on the SHTP electrical seminar notes published by Michael Jefferson.  In fact, my wiring diagram is pretty much taken right out of his seminar.  Between those two guys, and hours of looking things up on the internet, and asking some patient people the same questions over and over, I finally got it.

I have two new 6 volt golf cart batteries wired in series for a 12 volt, 232 amp hour bank.  I have the original Optima group 31 battery, at 75 amp hours, wired to the battery selector to be used as a spare.  Each bank is fused at the positive terminal.  I have a 1.5 amp charger wired directly to the Optima, so that it’s always full when I leave the dock.  The main bank is supplied by a 55 amp three-phase charger.  I have 100 watt and 25 watt solar panels with charge controllers.  The outboard alternator is wired into the positive distribution post.  There is a 2000 watt portable inverter generator,which easily runs the 55 amp charger.  I’ve completed the SHTP electrical budget worksheet and figure that, with no sun at all, I can go about four days before I’ll have to break out the generator.


The final result. The sink will go back in. I don’t use it as a sink, but it’s a great place to store wet things.

Here’s my new panel.  The radio on the left is the new Standard Horizon VHF with GPS and AIS (receive only).  Its antenna is at the masthead.  It allows you to set up a perimeter alarm, which I plan to do.  My MMSI  number is programmed in, so that radio is good to go.  Right next to it is the receiver for the Madman autopilot remote, which I love.  The battery selector lets me switch to the Optima backup battery if I need to.  The switch in the lower center is the panel power switch.  Right next to it is a Victron battery monitor for the 232 AH bank.  Both switch panels are waterproof.  There are two 12V powerpoints on this panel.  The one on the front has two USB ports in it.  The Garmin GPS is wired into the spare VHF right next to it.  It can be removed in seconds for portable use.  The spare VHF has its own antenna on the stern rail.  It also is programmed with my MMSI number.  The stereo is above the spare VHF.  It can play and charge almost anything with a USB connection and MP3 files.

All the cabin lighting is now LED.  Four lights are wired into the main bank, and five are battery-powered.  The running lights are LED.  The masthead tricolor, strobe, and anchor lights are LED.  All the wiring runs through conduit.  Before, it was run behind trim pieces, which made it tough to get to.  Now it’s a breeze.

Terminal block

This is one of the terminal blocks, where the positive leads are collected and sent to the panel.  Everything is heat-shrunk and labeled.  There is not much room behind my panel, so the fit is pretty tight, but it’s all easily accessible.


This is the back of the panel about halfway through the fabrication process. There’s a lot more wire in there now, but I can tell you what every single one of them does.




















I posted some other pics on the Boat Preparation page if you’re interested.  One thing I did that helped me a ton was to get two 6 volt lantern batteries and wire them in series.  That gave me enough 12 volt power to test every circuit before I even left my kitchen table.  If you know what you’re doing, this probably seems unnecessary.  I don’t, really, and I wanted to know that my new panel would work properly as soon as I turned the battery and panel switches.  It did.  Whew.

I made a few mistakes here and there installing everything, but nothing was critical and I learned a ton.  Everything works like it’s supposed to, and boat wiring is no longer a mystery to me, which was my goal.


April 17, 2014

Shameless plug for Ed Louchard at Zepherwerks in Port  Townsend, WA.  He custom makes all his sheaves on a lathe.  I think they’re reasonably priced, and when you have him rebuild something for you, he doesn’t just pop in new sheaves.  He gets out his calipers and adjusts everything so they spin like crazy.  He’s done four genoa cars, a traveler car, and a backstay adjuster for me.  Now he’s doing four sheaves in my masthead and six in the base.  If you want nice sheaves that don’t wobble or bind, check him out:  www.zephyrwerks.com.


Sheaves. Not the most exciting thing on a boat, but you really want them to work right. Ed’s do.  Check him out.

Grandkids Rock!

April 16, 2014

I know this has nothing to do with sailing, but it’s my blog so indulge me for a minute.

One of my sons has a canvas shop in the boatyard in Port Townsend.  Sometimes he brings his daughter to work with him.  One morning they stopped by with breakfast, and we all took a break.  I was bouncing her on my knee and forgot how little head room I have.  Whack!  I tossed her right into the ceiling.  She looked at me like she wondered whether she should cry.  I guess not.  She shook it off and kept climbing on everything.

Grandkids rock.

Breakfast on the boat

Rowan Jones, 16 months.

Emergency Rudder

April 16, 2014

The SHTP Race Committee requires an emergency rudder.  This is what I came up with.  I still need to fabricate a tiller head and make a tiller that I can use with my autopilot.

This weighs 30 pounds, but it will not fail, and it's really easy to mount.

This weighs 30 pounds, but it will not fail, and it’s really easy to mount.

A long, long time ago I used to sail dinghies that were kept on moorings.  We’d grab the sails and rudders from the boathouse, row out to the mooring, and rig the boats in the water.  In any wind at all, getting the rudder pintles mated to the transom gudgeons was a challenge.  Same with my Lightning.  I didn’t want to deal with this in a seaway during the SHTP, so I had a support welded to an old outboard mounting bracket.

The rudder is permanently mounted to all of this, so all I have to do is hook the jaws of the outboard mount over the edge of the transom bracket and clamp it down.  That’s a whole lot easier than trying to fight the torque on the rudder.  Also, the transom bracket has about a foot of vertical travel, which means that much less rudder area in the water while I’m securing the whole contraption.

Speaking of torque, anyone with a tiller can feel how much of it there is on the rudder and its fittings when you back a boat up.  There’s a lot.  I got curious, so I tried to work out how much side force would act on a rudder if it were locked down sideways and dragged through the water at six knots.  I’m terrible at math, and it appears there are a few different formulas, but the results I got were shocking.  The lowest number I got was 228 pounds of force.  The highest was nearly 600 pounds!  I went with the higher number, and beefed up my transom and outboard bracket with large, half-inch backing plates inside and out.  The rudder hardware is stout.  That half-inch aluminum plate on the rudder mount spreads the top and bottom rudder fittings pretty far apart, which should reduce torque loads on the fittings.

Through-bolted with 5/16 bolts and 1/2 inch backing plates inside and out.

Through-bolted with 5/16 bolts and 1/2 inch backing plates inside and out.

I’m no engineer, and this whole setup could probably have been made lighter, but I feel good about the design.  It works well at the dock.  I’ll test in on the water in some weather as soon as I get a tiller made.  I use the outboard to get out of my slip, so that will mean getting into the bay, then taking the motor off and stowing it, and then mounting the emergency rudder.  Seems like a PITA, but I need to know how quickly I can do it if the need arises.  For me, it’s one less thing to have in the back of my mind freaking me out.  I’ve done untested, and it has never worked out for me.

Well, that’s my emergency rudder design.  Any input is certainly appreciated.  If anyone knows the real, super-authoritative formula for calculating rudder loads, I’d really be curious to know how my numbers compare.  Let me know.

BackBeat out . . .