Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tiny little new feature

Just in case you didn't notice it... over there on the right...   you'll now see the current wind/gust/pressure plot from the NOAA weather service station on West Point.

I hope you'll find it useful... or at least interesting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Water-based varnish?

At nearly $50/quart, marine paints and varnishes are expensive.

And they are worth every penny.

In my dim and barely remembered past, I have used any number of products of lesser cost.  But after using the top tier paints and varnishes, I have learned that using the cheap stuff is a mistake.  The good stuff goes on like thick cream (paint) or honey (varnish).  And it self-levels to a mirror finish.  If you want to get a wonderful look, don't use the cheap stuff.

Recently, in a move motivated perhaps by ease of consumer clean-up, there have appeared in the marine market a collection of water-based products.  These are made by withholding the normal volatile solvents carefully calibrated to give good flow properties on brush application, followed by self-leveling that stops short of sags and runs, and instead emulsifying the neat varnish resin in water.  (For a familiar example, milk is an emulsion of milk fat in water.)

In the interests of science, I tried some water-based varnish.  I can report that the product indeed looks like milk, and goes on just as if you were painting with milk.  It is thin and runny, meaning that it would have taken perhaps three coats to be the equal of one coat of its oil-based cousin.  It was difficult to control on a vertical surface (painting with milk...).  And no surprise here, it raised the grain of the wood, badly.

But my biggest complaint occurred with use on a previously-varnished surface.  After fighting the poor application characteristics, the final cured film was not adhered to the underlying surface.  At all.  I was able to use a fingernail to puncture the film and then lift it off in large sheets.  I ended up removing the whole job and re-doing in oil-based material.

I cannot in good conscience recommend water-based varnish.  In fact, my feelings are stronger than this - I strongly recommend against its use.

Perhaps one of you readers out there has had better luck with water-based materials?  If so, I look forward to hearing about it in the comments.  But fair warning:  if you have never used the $50/quart oil-based materials, your experience does not count for much.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On giving thanks

In many cultures there is a harvest festival or feast, celebrating the end of the toil in the fields, growing and harvesting the food for the winter, and before the start of the rationing to make that harvest last until the first crops of the spring are available.

Americans have set aside the forth Thursday in November as such a holiday.  I have no familiarity with the harvest feast customs elsewhere, but in the United States, while there is typically a feast (turkey-based, traditionally), this also is a time of reflection, of recognition of the bounty which we receive on a daily basis (would you rather be King of England in 1263, or you, today?  Yeah, exactly). 

It doesn't seem too much to spend one day in an attitude of thankfulness for our bounty.  Please join us aboard Eolian in giving thanks for:
  • Our friends and families who are there for us, giving support in our times of need, and are there also on a daily basis to fulfill that most basic human need: companionship. We are all in this together.
  • The most amazing assortment of food available to mankind, ever, and all year round to boot (do any of you still remember receiving an orange for Christmas, and why that was so special?) 
  • Energy and technology that would make us all, every one, to be taken as Class 5 Wizards to those living but 100 years ago.
  • Peace, and the freedom to live our lives according to our desires (for the most part)
  • Those who gave up their time, their health, or their very lives in the service of this country that we might enjoy these things.
  • [Please add 5 items of your own here]
So, from the crew aboard Eolian, happy Thanksgiving.  But more importantly, may you have a thoughtful, contemplative, thankful Thanksgiving!

Bob & Jane

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Old mechanic's trick*

Say you have to drive a screw in a location where you only have room to get the screw and screwdriver in there.  Or that you are working at full arm's length, with only one hand.

How would you do it?

Here's an old mechanic's trick:

Start with a piece of tape perhaps an inch long,
held sticky side up
Push the screw thru the tape,
so that the sticky side is against the
underside of the screw head
Insert the screwdriver into it's recess on the screw
head, and fold the two flaps of tape up over the
head onto the blade of the screwdriver

Voila!  Now you can start the screw with just one hand because it is held to the screwdriver.  Just before tightening the screw fully, withdraw the screwdriver - the tape will come with it.  Then finish tightening the screw.

* I meant that to be parsed as an old trick that mechanics know, but I suppose it could also be a trick that old mechanics know...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mustang Survival Issues Voluntary Recall Notice

As it is a safety item, I feel it is important to get the word out as widely as possible.  I'm sure Chuck and Susan would agree.  Here is their posting  (thanks to Chuck and Susan on s/v Sea Trek for this information)

We have been users of the Mustang Inflatable vests for many years and have been very satisfied with them. But we recently have been made aware of a recall due to a problem that might keep them from fully inflating. Here is the official recall notice...

MUSTANG SURVIVAL ISSUES VOLUNTARY RECALL NOTICE ON MD2010 & MD2012 model 22LB Inflatable Personal Flotation Devices

In keeping with Mustang Survival’s commitment to the highest levels of product quality and safety, we are voluntarily recalling all model number MD2010 and MD2012 inflatable Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s) sold in the United States during 2011. To determine if you are impacted by this recall please reference the images below:
Image 1: Any inflatable product with multiple white sewn on safety labels on the back is OK and is not affected by this recall.

Image 2 If your inflatable does not have white sewn on safety labels, please check for model number MD2010 or MD2012 on the back of the PFD, then refer to Image 3.

Image 3 MD2010/MD2012 models with an “MIT” (Membrane Inflatable Technology) stamp (in black or color) above the CO2 cylinder are OK. Any MD2010 or MD2012 missing the “MIT” stamp should be returned to Mustang!
This recall is being issued for the inspection and repair of an inflator installation inconsistency that may prevent some units from fully inflating.  Mustang Survival has developed a solution that corrects any affected product and prevents re-occurrence of this issue.  The inspection and repair can only be performed at a Mustang Survival factory.
This recall notification is for only the MD2010 and MD2012 22LB buoyancy inflatable PFDs.  No other Mustang Survival products are affected as they utilize different inflator mechanisms. 
All MD2010 and MD2012 PFD’s without the stamped MIT logo as shown in Image 3 (above) should be returned to Mustang Survival for inspection.  All other Mustang PFD’s are okay for use.
Distributors and consumers are urged to contact Mustang Survival’s Customer Service department at 1-800-526-0532 between 7:30am and 4:30pm PST, Monday through Friday for specific shipping instructions.  If you have questions, please first refer to the Frequently Asked Questions below:

Q: Why do I have to return the product?
A: Our QA team has discovered an installation inconsistency with the inflator system that needs to be tested and corrected if necessary.
Q: How do I know if my inflatable is one of the affected products?
A: The model number is screen printed onto the back panel above the UL mark and will begin with the characters MD followed by four numbers. Affected products are MD2010 and MD2012
Q: When will I get my product back?
A: We are striving to have all products returned to dealers and consumers within 3-4 weeks (including shipping time to and from Mustang).
Q: What are you doing with my returned product?
A: All units will be tested and if necessary, repaired, before being returned. We will stamp the inside of the product above the CO2 cylinder with “MIT” to indicate that it has been tested and is OK.
Q: Are the re-arm kits affected by this recall?
A: Re-arm kits are not affected by this recall. The problem is isolated to the inflator assembly on the inflatable PFD.
Q: Is this a problem caused by the M.I.T. (Membrane) technology?
A: No, the problem is with the inflator installation on < the affected units.
Q: Does this recall impact any other Mustang inflatable PFDs?
A: No, the recall is limited to only the MD2010 and MD2012 models due to its unique inflator components and installation method.
Q: How do I return my product?
A: Contact Mustang Survival’s Customer Service department at 1-800-526-0532 between 7:30am and 4:30pm PST, Monday through Friday with any questions or concerns regarding this voluntary recall notice.
Q: What are the shipping and repair costs?
A: Mustang Survival will pay for all testing, repair and shipping costs.
Q: How are you notifying the public about this issue?
A: A detailed communications plan is being executed to notify all affected dealers, distributors, consumers and industry partners.


Get the point?

Our old thermostat died.

It was a great little thing - it kept the temperature right where we wanted it, and was 7-day programmable, so that we could set it up to match our lifestyle.  But unfortunately, the touch screen became more and more recalcitrant, eventually ignoring our ever more frantic finger taps altogether.  And then it started doing very weird things, like reporting -50° as the temperature.

So I bought another one - a more modern version of the old one (yes, I'm in a rut).  But the newer one has provision for instlallation of two wifi radio modules behind the thermostat (one for you to use to control the thermostat from your computer, and one for the power company or the authorities to use).  Of course I didn't purchase the radios, but the thermostat still stands off the wall far enough to accommodate them, leaving an ugly, unfinished-looking gap between the thermostat and the bulkhead.

So I made a little bezel for the thermostat out of some old teak decking that I had squirreled away.  Which takes us, finally, to the point of this post.  Our sister site provides me with a never-ending series of inspirations and, sometimes, almost irrational wants.  But this one isn't irrational: painter's points.  The thermostat project provided the impetus for a trip to H*** D****, where I bought a set of 10 of the little yellow plastic pyramids for almost nothing. 

Here they are in simulated use, holding the bezel up so that the sides can be coated without gluing the bezel down to the sheet of newspaper which was actually underneath when I did the varnishing.

I also used them in the finishing of a new floorboard that I made - I painted the bottom side, and then inverted it immediately onto the points so that I could finish the top side. Yes the points made tiny dits in the finish, but they were small enough that they disappeared on successive coats. Very, very handy. And they take up essentially no space.

Yes, you do need a set.

And finally, here is the finished bezel, installed on the thermostat. Improved, but the old thermostat looked better. Oh, well, can't stand in the way of "progress".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The absolutely last, final bike ride home

Last nite I rode my bike home.

End of the road
Now, that in itself is not at all unusual - I do it all summer, and most of spring and fall.  In early spring and late fall, I don't make the entire ride - I ride from Shilshole to the Ballard Locks, and put my bike on the rack on the front of the bus - this is enough of a ride to be invigorating, and it keeps Jane from having to fire up The Beast just to deliver/pick me up at the end of the bus route.

But last nite, the bus didn't come.  I don't know what it is with the 46, but it seems to be the most unreliable bus in the system.  So there I stood at the bus stop last nite, with my bike, waiting for a bus that never came.  "No problem!" I thought, "I'll just hop on my bike and ride home!"  Having the bike does give you a great feeling of freedom.  So I coasted down The Av and turned right onto the Burke-Gillman trail.


Things are certainly different from the last time I rode the trail, earlier in the year.  There are leaves everywhere - slippery, wet leaves.  As a thin sheet covering everything, and in wet, sloppy drifts that try to grab your wheel and pull it out from under you.

And it is dark.  I mean really dark - the trail is not lit, and so the only light is what filters in from nearby street lighting.  And my little headlight?  Well, it is more of a "please don't hit me" light, warning oncoming traffic that I am there.  It does almost nothing to illuminate the route.

There is not much traffic - bikes or pedestrians.  But what there is, is a real problem.  Many of the oncoming bikes have headlights that are seemingly as bright as car headlights - they blind me...  to the trail, and more importantly, to the pedestrians.

The pedestrians and joggers are the real concern - they are very difficult to see (why do so many wear black coats?!) - literally impossible to see if there is an oncoming bike with one of those very bright lights.  But blessings be upon you pedestrians/joggers that have retro-reflective stripes on your outer clothing!  My flashing headlight makes those stripes flash back at me, as if they were internally illuminated.  Those stripes really work!

It is a good thing that I have ridden the trail so much in daylight - there are several places where the trail curves and where it is simultaneously very dark.  Without the daytime familiarity, and with only my weak "don't hit me" headlight, I am certain that I would have been off in the weeds (or worse, splash!) in one of these corners.

I have two criteria that I use to determine whether or not I'll leave the boat on my bicycle in the morning:
  • Can I get to the bus stop reasonably dry?  I don't want to start the day in wet clothing, and
  • Is there frost on the dock?  I don't want to start the day in clothing wet with saltwater either.
So, aside from the scary dark experience last nite, those two criteria are closing in.   I am hereby declaring that the biking season over, for me anyway.  The bike goes into storage this weekend.

And the skis come out.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Doubled lines: Good.

Last week we got the last of our secondary dock lines installed, and we had already added our "winter" fenders, all to be ready for the winter storms.

And as it turns out, not a moment too soon.

As I write this, Seattle is being lashed by one of the spiralling tails of the winter hurricane that just finished with Nome, Alaska.

Hurricane?  Alaska?  I can hear you folks in the Caribbean and Mexico muttering, "Popycock!"  And other words, perhaps with fewer letters.

But consider this:  The central low is/was at 943 hPa, similar to a category three hurricane, according to Cliff Mass, one of our weather prognosticators here in Seattle.  And the winds were sustained at 60-70 kt, with gusts recorded at 85 kt.  This wind produced significant wave heights of nearly 40 feet.

Thankfully, here in Seattle we have not seen that kind of wind.  But it hasn't been exactly calm here either.  Here's the NOAA chart for West Point, just south of the Shilshole Bay marina:

I note that with this storm (unlike nearly all others) we had the most severe winds as the barometer was falling.  Usually, we experience the strongest winds as the barometer is rising, which to me is counter-intuitive.  Perhaps someone with innate weather knowledge can explain that to me.

And they are predicting the possibility of snow at sea level by the end of the week.

I am glad we are all snugged in for the winter.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Winged keels?

If you didn't read that title carefully, you saw "winged heels" and are probably visualizing Mercury's boots.

But that's not what I want to talk about.  Instead I want to discuss winged keels.  I mean what is the big deal, after all?  Sure, they're modern, sure they're cool, and "every boat must have one".  But why, exactly?

It's all about end effects.


OK, now I have to build something in your mind here.  Please give me some latitude and play along... Imagine an airplane wing.  Regardless of which theory you consider to describe how it holds the airplane up in the air, all the theories condense to the singular fact that there is lower pressure on top of the wing than on the bottom.  The airplane is held up by suction.  So what keeps the high pressure air under the wing from just flowing up into the low pressure area above the wing?  Well, on the leading and trailing edges of the wing, it is momentum - that wing is moving right along, and the air at the front and rear of the wing just doesn't have a chance to flow "upstream" to the low pressure area.

But what about at the ends of the wing?  Well, at the inboard end, there is the fuselage in the way.  Ah, but at the outboard end, there is... nothing.  And air does indeed flow up from under the wing around the end to the top.  This is the source of the "wingtip vortices" that cause the spacing out of flights at airports.

So, if you were an aeronautical engineer, how might you stop this flow around the end of the wing?  Well, you might put up a fence.  On the end of the wing.  In point of fact, this is exactly what is done on modern airliners.

OK.  So enough about airplanes... but hold that thought.  The keel of a sailboat is amazingly similar to an airplane wing.  It is "flying" thru the water, and is required to provide lift, to keep the boat from sliding downwind.  The analogy is really very good.  So then, what keeps the water from flowing over the bottom end of the keel, from the high pressure side to the low pressure side?  Nothing...

Thus enter the winged keel... put up a fence.  However, since each side of the keel is alternately the high pressure side and then the low pressure side as you tack, the keel has to have a fence on both sides,  explaining the now-familiar shape.

The design is so effective that significantly less ballast is required, the force being replaced with more effective lift.  Thus the weight of the keel can be reduced.  And the wings serve as a good place to stash lead, down there at the very bottom of the keel, so the draft of the keel can be reduced.  And then, since everything in nautical design is connected to everything else,  the wetted surface of the boat is decreased because less total weight is being carried.  And the boat goes faster.

It really is a good idea.

So then why then did winged keels take so long to appear?

See the First and Second Corollaries of Salnick's First Law.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fumble Fingers

If you are not a blogger, this will be new to you.  If you are, then it has probably already happened to you.

When writing a post, you are presented with two choices:
  • Save - as a draft for more work later, or
  • Publish - to the world
You know what I'm going to say, don't you?  If you hit the wrong button, your incomplete, inane, rambling post gets published in all its unprepared ugliness for the world to see.  Of course you immediately hit "Save", which makes it a draft again.

But the damage is done.  The damnable RSS Feed gets it immediately - I mean right now - so that even when you recast the post to draft status, the RSS feed and the Google cache have at least the first part of your post out there.


I did it again tonite.  So tomorrow morning's post about winged keels got out there in draft form before I could "unpost" it.  At least the first 200 characters or so, whatever it is my RSS feed publishes.  Check back tomorrow morning for the real thing.  I'd like to say the "polished" thing, but that would be an over-characterization.  But check back tomorrow morning anyway.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Traditional instruments?

Do you have "traditional" instruments?  You know, a depthsounder, a knotmeter, a wind speed/direction indicator?  Or do you have a large screen in the cockpit with all of that instrumentation and more in virtual form? 

As an "early adopter" and self-admitted gadget freak, I have a nearly unconscious tendency to lean to the new, the shiny, the integrated.  The "glass cockpit" draws me.

But then my engineering side steps in and says, "All your eggs in one basket?  Really?  What if it fails?"

That is a very valid question.

There are tremendous advantages to be had with integrated instrumentation, and not just in conserving display real estate.  Being able to overlay radar and depthsounder information on the chartplotter display provides very real advantages over the same information viewed separately.  But if that is your only way to see, for example your speed, and it goes dark, then what?

And does anyone really believe that the modern all-electronic systems are more reliable than the older electro-mechanical ones?  The best that one could say is that the new systems have different failure modes, but I personally think that is being overly generous.  In designing systems for reliability, simplicity is a virtue, and modular design partitions problems. 

Problems that occur with an older electro-mechanical instrument can frequently be fixed on board by the owner, rather than by calling a technician who will charge an arm and a leg to swap out expensive circuit boards until things are working again.  Most (but not all) problems with older systems will be due to corroded connections, which are an easy fix.  And did you know that even the most modern and sophisticated airliners out there (787 anyone?) are still required to have a plain old magnetic compass, a conventional mechanical altimeter and a turn-and-bank indicator (a steel ball in a curved glass tube full of liquid) on board in the cockpit?  (Scott will probably correct me on this.)  Just in case.

Finally, there is an intangible.  I have seen boats with such a large computer display above the compass and directly in the view that commanding the helm surely has become some kind of real-life video game.  One of the joys of sailing is the totality of the experience... of capturing the wind for propulsion, of the boat parting the water and moving thru it, of the sights and sounds and smells of the sea.  When you were a kid, didn't your mother tell you, "Get away from that TV and go outside!" - sure she did.  And she didn't mean for you to take the TV outside with you.  Like having a generator and a TV at a campsite out in the woods, sailing as a video game misses part of the point.  Perhaps the major part.

I am not saying that we should eschew the advantages of modern technology.  But keep it in perspective.  Hang on to your single-purpose instrumentation, and "Get away from that TV and go outside!"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dock life: Trick or treating

We are a little community out here on the dock, more so than on shore because we all share a common interest and experiences. This is manifested in many ways - trick or treating is one of them. Because of our environment (and thanks to Angela of Ghost for starting it), we do this traditional task in what I think is a very "civilized" manner.

Angela posts two sign-up sheets at the head of the dock. The first is for boats to sign up if they want to be extorted by goblins, and the second is for the goblins themselves (or rather their parents) to sign up. This way the kids know which boats to visit, and the boats know how many kids are coming. Isn't that great?

And then at the end of the extortion run, out at the end of G Dock, there is a party! (There are rumors that grog may be part of the run for the adult participants, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.)

The run starts at the far end of F Dock, goes back towards shore, across the connector (F and G Docks share a common gate), and then back out G Dock. Here, Jane sits with a glass of wine, awaiting the invasion.

Civilized indeed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Identity problem - living aboard in Puget Sound

This is a liveaboard blog.  At least I'd hoped for it to be one - "life aboard s/v Eolian" is what it says up there in the header.  In my posts I often try to give the liveaboard viewpoint, and try to accentuate how that differs from life ashore.

People frequently stumble across this site by doing a search for "living aboard a boat in Puget Sound", or "live aboard Puget Sound", or something similar.  That would seem to be a good thing - they are ending up here, after all.

Unfortunately, that search seems to always return them possibly the single worst example of the living aboard experience: the tongue-in-cheek liveaboard simulator post.  You can try it yourself!  There it is, at #3 (or, at least it was before this post went up).  Usually that is enough to scare them right off.  The blog, that is - I hope that post has not scared anyone off from considering living aboard a boat.  But I fear that it may very well have done so.

So - what might I do (short of sending money, of course) to get Google, Yahoo and Bing to return something other than that fateful post to someone looking for live aboard info?  Perhaps I could put up a post that includes the words "living", "aboard", "Puget", and "Sound" in the title?

Maybe that would work.
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