Friday, October 29, 2010

Witch Birds (Which Birds?)

Each year, at about this time, the witch birds return to Shilshole.  You can see them standing on the breakwater, some with their wings spread in a position to dry.

Jane calls them witch birds because of the season, because of their sinister appearance, but mostly because their cry sounds disturbingly like a cackling witch.

Cormorants are unusual sea birds.  They would seem to be poorly adapted to life in the water on the one hand, because they apparently lack sufficient oil to keep their feathers dry like ducks or sea gulls.  When they swim, they float perilously low in the water (but always with the arrogant head tilt...).  Yet on the other hand, they are superb underwater swimmers, and are very accomplished fish catchers.

Comorants hold a special place in my heart.  When we first brought Eolian down to Seattle, a comorant welcomed us to the area.  He attempted to land on our wind vane at the top of the mast, but finding it to be too tippy a perch, he left.  But not without unloading before takeoff.

Thankfully I was wearing a hat.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hair styling emergency!

Do I have crypt head?  Yeah, I think I do.  Do you think so?  Is there a stylist in the house?

Today, being the closest day to Halloween that I will work, I let my tresses flow all day.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Reprise

Well, we got a good test - 45 hours of hard wind-driven rain, and no leaks.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

36 hours...

...and counting, of winds 25 - 30 kt

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cruising and self-sufficiency

A recent post over in Boat Bits set me to thinking.

There are those boat owners who proclaim "the only tool I need is my Visa card."   I am not one of those (as you readers of this blog will likely have guessed).  There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach.  But it does mean that these folks are dependent on others, and that boating for them is more expensive.  And home ownership. And automobile ownership.  But, really, that's OK.

But if the boat owner is a cruiser, then maybe this isn't such a good fit.  When you are cruising, you are gone from your home dock for extended periods of time.  You are self-sufficient...
  • You have your own fuel supply 
  • You have your own water supply 
  • You have your own electrical supply 
  • You presumably have enough food and clothing aboard for an extended period
In this circumstance, the boat owner whose only tool is the Visa card will feel  a vague disquiet.  Consciously or unconsciously, he will be thinking, "I sure hope everything keeps working..."  And for him, being at the mercy of  a host of complicated, poorly understood systems will be a fear which will keep him from ever being really comfortable away from the dock.

Now please don't get me wrong.   Those of us who not rely on the Visa card as our primary tool are also hoping that everything keeps working.  In fact, the second question most of us face when we return to the dock after an extended absence is, "How'd it go?", a poorly disguised version of, "What broke?"  And it is a rare trip for which the answer is, "Nothing broke - everything went well!" (everyone turns away, knowing that there are no stories to be told here).  For those of us with tools, spares and skills aboard, the occasional equipment failure does not spell disaster - we really are, after all, self sufficient.  If there were failures, we either repaired them, or MacGyver'ed around them.  They did not spoil the trip for us. 

I would encourage every boat owner to get to know his vessel, intimately.  He should know where every thru hull is (and should exercise them periodically).  He should be familiar with all the wiring.  He should know where all the hoses are and what the purpose of each is.  There should be no place on his vessel that he has not, at least once, personally inspected.  He really should know how all the systems work.

So, where does one get the skills and confidence to be self-sufficient in this way?  It doesn't happen over night.  Mike has a post on Zero To Cruising that perfectly describes the process.  Confidence, and skills, come from experience.  So, get that experience.  The next time you have some kind of failure onboard, resist the temptation to whip out that Visa card, especially if it is a zero cost situation.  Tackle it yourself - consider it to be an education.  Do not be afraid to ask for advice, and even help (although it is pride rather than fear that usually inhibits this).  It has been my experience that those with the skills are more than willing to share them with someone who truly wants to learn.  Each time that you tackle a problem and succeed at it (even if you do it with help), your experience and confidence will grow.

You will become self-sufficient.  And should you experience a failure 1000 miles out of Los Angeles enroute to Hawai'i, you will know the best use for that Visa card:  as a small, thin, plastic shim.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Safety warning: Sealed lead-acid batteries

Scott over at has posted a graphic warning concerning sealed lead-acid batteries.  Because we feel that safety information should be broadcast as widely as possible, we will repeat it in full here on Windborne.  Please do not take this as a condemnation of this type of battery.  Instead, this is a reminder that there is no ideal type of battery - all choices are compromises.

Here's Scott:
David Gill, new owner of Tondelayo and new member here ran into an interesting situation that is relevant to us here.  As a matter of fact I have 6 AGM batterys on Valkyr.  I like them because you can’t spill acid out of them.  I have had bad problems on a prior boat with that.  However the description here and the photos David provided are very sobering.  I have had 3 AGM batteries in the past that have swollen in a very limited way and went bad.  We had them replaced.  I have had this happen to a couple of west marines SeaVolt AGM group 27 and 31 batteries as well as one of the optima blue top spiral AGM batteries just in the last month.  So this is a very reasonable heads up.  Thank you David for writing this up, and submitting it with the pictures.
Hi Scott.
Here’s a bit of information that may be relevant to anyone using Sealed 12v batteries.  I don’t use them on Tondelayo but anyone who does wouldn’t want this to happen while at sea.

At 0848 hrs on 12 July 2010, pumper 402 Nelson Bay attended a caravan park in Nelson Bay.  On arrival they found a 12V sealed caravan battery (also called Valve Regulated Lead Acid or VRLA battery) with its sides and top markedly bulging.

Park staff had removed the battery from inside a caravan to a grassed area.

The BA team was to cool the battery with spray from a line of 38 mm hose from behind substantial cover. However, the battery slowly continued to expand. Temperature readings taken with a TIC registered 49 ºC.

As it appeared the battery could explode, a hot zone of 30 m and a 50 m exclusion zone were established. A second pumper and hazmat were called to assist.

Accessing the internet from 260 Hazmat’s laptop, a VRLA battery distributor was contacted. They advised to cool with water for the next 24 hours and then disposed of at a regular council battery collection point.

Sustained cooling from substantial cover eventually reduced the battery’s temperature to 26 ºC. After being deemed safe, it was immersed in water and placed in an isolated area of the council waste disposal facility at Port Stephens. The battery’s condition was monitored by council staff and the NSWFB was contacted when the casing broke open two weeks later.

Concerned about the impact that a battery explosion would have in the confined living area of a caravan, SO Kwan submitted an observation to the Lessons Learned Centre. We found that:
  • VRLA batteries are used in a variety of applications. Different types can deliver short duration – high energy output (for starting combustion engines) or release energy more slowly (as power supply backup for telecommunications equipment, etc).
  • They do not need topping up with water. Oxygen evolved at the positive plates recombines with the hydrogen ready to evolve on the negative plates, creating water and preventing water loss.
  • Several conditions can cause the battery to heat up, such as high ambient temperature, poor ventilation, incompatible charging equipment, charger malfunction and battery cell failure.
  • Generally, gas is not produced during charging. However, if a battery is overcharged due to charger malfunction or battery failure, gas pressure can build within the battery. A pressure relief valve is designed to release the excess hydrogen and oxygen.
At the Nelson Bay caravan park, it appears that either the relief valve failed or the heat and gas generated during charging exceeded the valve's capacity. The plastic case softened with the increased temperature and the higher pressure inside caused it to expand. As it cooled, the plastic case became hard and brittle, and eventually broke.

Firefighters are asked to contact FIRU if they encounter expanded VRLA batteries. This will help to research the frequency of this and whether there is a problem with charging units or the batteries themselves.

Dave Gill
Mobile: 0488 285 286

PDF Download
Sobering.  I wonder if our Australian readers can shed any additional light on this incident?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last of the year?

Everything's ready!
When I got home tonite, Jane had everything all ready to go for a quick BBQ on the back deck.  It wasn't all that warm, but it was still fun.  And it is a *new* grill, after all!

Soon (*very* soon) the weather will turn disagreeable, with rain and cold.  But I like to cook on the grill, and it is only a few steps from inside, so the weather won't stop me.

It won't be long before I'm doing it under the mizzen spreader lites - cooking tonight was still under way when the sun went down...

But that won't stop me either. There's something primeval that calls a man to burn meat over a flame.

Even if it is a propane flame.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Something wonderful is happening!

Adam and Kaci are getting married!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Phase IV, final

Why the starboard middle window
was the first to be installed
Installation is finiky, but mostly tedious.  The hardest part of the job is getting the sun-baked white duct tape (held the shower curtains over the windows) off of the deckhouse. 

Done.  Finally.
And we finished before the rains begin in earnest.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


It's called "paddle boarding".  It just appeared here in the Pacific Northwest in the last year or two.  Basically, you stand on a surf board, and propel yourself along with a long paddle.  Given that it involves surfboards, it obviously arose in some other part of the world...  "Surf Ballard!" is not exactly a rallying cry you're likely to hear.   Oh wait.

Curtis from s/v Wind Dancer gave it a try on a whim last summer and spent two hours trying to get up to a standing position on the board.  It ain't easy.

These folks are obviously very expert at it - see the life jackets being carried on the boards?

I'd think that this has some of the same feel as kayaking, but it looks like it'd be a lot more stressful.  Me? I think I'd prefer to be in a seated position.

I must be getting old practical.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Project: Window renewal (#2) - Phase III

The new window glazing arrived last week, but today is the first opportunity I have had to begin the work.

As usual, Bomon did a masterful job of packaging. Inside a large cardboard box was a protective layer of Celotex (think of it as soft, uncompressed masonite), a double layer of bubble wrap, and individual cardboard sleeves on each pane. Everything survived the several thousand mile trip from Quebec in perfect condition. The panes were apparently CNC cut from the same data as the original panes, and came with the neoprene gasket cut to length, bonded and fitted. Nice!

So the first step is the removal of the old glazing. Alain provided detailed instructions on how to do it. The best trick in those instructions was to remove the old neoprene gasket before disassembling the window frame. A couple of short, deft cuts with an Exacto knife (I have a blade that cuts on the end instead of the side - this proved perfect for the job), and it was possible to zip it right out! This is a huge bonus, because one of my greatest fears was destroying the frames trying to separate them from the rubber.

After removal of the gasket, disassembly of the frame and removal of the old glazing was easy.

You can see how far gone the Lexan was
by comparing it to the unexposed portion
Assembling the new glazing into the frame with the neoprene gasket in place was not so easy. The things that make these windows stout, heavy extrusions and tight clearances, don't make it easy to assemble them. Alain recommended the use of soapy water - I used soap rubbed on the rubber and water sponged onto the surfaces. And still it was real work to get things to go together. Multiple pipe clamps were required.

At about an hour and a half per window, it is clear that I'm not going to get them all done today...

Friday, October 8, 2010

What if you are born at sea?

I'm just askin' ...

Tom's Sailing Blog points to an article that describes just such an event.

I think "sea/air occurrence" is what happens when reality meets bureacracy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I learned about sailing from that: Backing up while anchoring

Anchor:  It connotes solidity, security, safety, strength.  When it fails, something fundamental goes out of you.

Being blown off your anchor is frightening.  It seems that babies and bad storms all come at 3 AM, so if your anchor drags, you'll be drifting towards shore, while trying to get the sleep out of your brain at 3 AM, in the dark, in a storm.

Having been blown off our anchor twice in our previous boat (the anchor was appropriately sized for the boat, but it was too light to really bite into the bottom), I have a healthy fear of this prospect.  And when we hauled our anchor up in Port Madison after a calm night and found that it was embedded in a tangled ball of chain, that fear arose again.  Since it had been a quiet nite, there was no problem... but we had been anchored to a pile of chain - not an anchor.

One way to make sure that it doesn't happen is to be moving backward when the anchor kisses the bottom.  You see, if you are stationary, then the anchor hits the bottom and immediately gets a pile of chain deposited on it.  Generally this will foul it in some way, and you'll have one of those situations where you depend on something to be trustworthy, but when push comes to shove (or pull), it lets go, at the worst possible moment.

And it took quite a while, hanging off the bowsprit with the boathook, to untangle things.  Thankfully, that was the worst of the problems.

  • Always have the boat moving astern when the anchor touches down.  We now have a system - Jane waves to me from the bow when we have veered enough chain to reach the bottom.  I need to have the boat moving astern by then.
  • Always be sure that the anchor is well and truly hooked.  The rode should come taut with the sternward motion.
  • Do not leave the boat unless you are certain that the anchor is hooked.  This seems like a silly, obvious thing to say, but we have seen more than one captain drop the hook, jump in the dinghy and head for shore before the boat had hardly stopped moving.  On at least two such occasions, the boat was not hooked, and ended up drifting down the anchorage, collecting insurance claims, like seaweed on a drift log.

Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound at gmail dot com)


Monday, October 4, 2010

Weather awareness

Modern man has moved a long way from living the way our distant (and maybe not so very distant) ancestors did.  Living in our houses, apartments and condos, we have effectively isolated ourselves from weather.  We move from our conditioned houses to our conditioned cars and then to our conditioned offices.  Only briefly are we exposed to the weather.

But there is nothing more real, more natural than the weather.  It is the condition of the Earth, it is our environment.

Living on a boat, you are much more aware of it.

Here in Puget Sound, when the wind is from the North, fair weather is in the offing.  Typical for summer weather, it is calm in the morning.  As the land heats up under the sun, the air over the land rises.  Cool air from the Sound moves onto the land (the "sea breeze") to replace that rising air.  On the Sound itself, a building river of air flows in, building thru the day as  the land continues to heat.  By evening, the North wind can reach 20 kt.  But with the sunset, the heat source is gone, and the engine driving this process shuts down.

But when the wind is from the South, typically it brings the foul weather - storms, rain, snow.

Winds from the East or West are abberations, and rarely occur.

And on the dock, Eolian faces North.  We only get to tie her on one side, which means that wind out of the North, East, or South will have her squeezing her fenders against the dock, typically in a rhythmic fashion, since the wind always brings waves too.  When the wind is strong the mast, tho bare, comes into play, tossing back and forth, rocking the boat, and adding its own sounds.

You are always aware of the wind; you know when it is blowing, how strongly it is blowing, and from which direction it is blowing.

If it brings rain, you know that too - that deck above your head is a drum - anything above a fine mist makes enough noise to be heard.  (And even mist collects on the rigging, making fat drops that fall intermittently to the deck.)

Surprisingly, even snow can be heard - it sounds kind of like sizzling. 

It comes down to a preposition.  Tho we are just as comfortable as our land-locked neighbors, living on a boat is living in the weather, while living in a house is living away from the weather. 

Just like there is something indescribable that calls people to the seashore, that provides comfort and solace when sitting before a fire, being in the weather (but protected from it) just feels inexplicably right.

I like it.  


Friday, October 1, 2010

Human ingenuity

It starts early.   Almost as soon as we can, we begin manipulating our environment.  Here Ellie, at 7 years of age, has "repurposed" a life ring which was discarded here at the marina as a swing.

I think it's perfect.

It's a real joy watching Zack and Ellie grow up.
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