Monday, July 29, 2013

App you need: WindAlert

What's the one thing a sailor absolutely needs (well besides a boat, of course)?


So we've got NOAA providing both forecasts and current conditions, but at widely separated points.  And here in Puget Sound, wind conditions can vary mightily over short distances because of our terrain.

We also have wind reports from our ferries, which I mentioned earlier.

And now there is an iPhone (and other iDevices) and Android app that gives yet another window onto the wind...  WindAlert.  That link takes you to a web version of WindAlert, which is also available.  For the mobile app, search iTunes or aTunes (or whatever the Android users app store is) for WindAlert. 

I need to tell you that tho I will be showing pictures from the Puget Sound area, WindAlert is a world-wide system.  You can just as easily get wind reports for Boston, Beijing, or Grenada.

The first of the two primary functions that we use aboard Eolian is the 'Reports' function.  There are a lot more weather stations  shown here than for any other system we've looked at.  And if you want even more, you can subscribe to WindAlert's 'FreePlus' or 'Pro' services.  But we are parasites - we're using the completely free version (yes, there are ads, so I guess its not completely free).  There is also a RADAR overlay being shown in the picture, but you don't see anything because there is nothing on the RADAR right now.  If you click on any of the stations, you get a chart that shows the past readings in graphical form, and forecasts for wind, temp, waves, etc. for this station.

The second and perhaps more interesting function that we use is the 'Forecast' function.  Here I've moved our point of view up to Point Wilson so that I can show how the wind makes the corner from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and down into Admiralty Inlet.  Wind speeds are color-coded, here showing predicted wind speeds of 5-10 knots.  Predictions are made for every three hours out at least to the next 90 hours (I got tired of hitting the right arrow key.  Forecasts out this far are of dwindling value anyway...).  Now this is a lot more information that you get by listening to the weather channel on the VHF (but you should do that too).

Should you have this app?  Can you ever have too much weather information?


Monday, July 22, 2013

That annual task

It's that time of year again - when the days of warmth and sun stretch out forever in front of us.  Days when you can absolutely depend on not having rain for two or three days in a row.  So that means lots of wonderful sailing, right?

Well, no.  It means that you can depend on not getting rained out in the annual varnish task.  It goes something like this:

  1. Mask everything with 3M 2080 tape - the kind that has an adhesive that tolerates sunshine and moisture (rain, or dew).  The regular 2090 tape becomes impossible to remove after a couple of days of sunshine... 

    Make sure that your masking does not actually cover the joint between the wood and the substrate.  Hold the masking 0.5 mm back, thus allowing the varnish to provide a seal between the wood and the substrate.  There is every reason to expect that the back side of the wood was never varnished.  If moisture gets behind the wood, it will soak into the wood and will lift the varnish.

  2. Sand everything.  I use 150 grit open coat aluminum oxide sandpaper from Norton.  I've tried a lot of others, but this is the best stuff I've discovered.  It doesn't load up with the dust. 

    I do all my sanding by hand, using hand-sized quarter sheets cut from the standard 9x11 sheets.  Each of these hand sheets gets folded in half each way, and then one of the creases is torn to the center of the sheet.  This allows me to fold the paper into a 2.75x2.25 inch pack which is perfect for hand work.  By making the tear, the pack can be folded in such a way that the grit sides of the unexposed paper do not touch each other, which would dull the grit.

    The objective of the sanding is two-fold - to provide a good 'tooth' on the surface so that subsequent coats of varnish can mechanically bond to the surface, and to remove the surface imperfections from last year's coats.  Yeah, there always are some.

  3. Wait for the perfect weather.  For me, this means a calm, cool morning.  If it is windy, I find that the varnish is drying too quickly and I get visible joints between the sections because I cannot keep a wet edge.  If the sun has been shining on the surface for long, it also causes the varnish to dry too quickly (see  item 2).

  4. Apply the first coat of varnish.  Pay attention to the consistency of the varnish.  You may have to add some thinner to allow you to keep a wet edge.  Also, if the varnish is too thick, it will go on too thick, and will result in wrinkly areas where the surface cured before the bulk underneath.  These of course can be sanded out next year... (see item 2)

  5. Wait 24  hours.  This allows the varnish to cure sufficiently that the brush won't drag when applying the next coat.  But not so much that the next coat won't chemically bond.  If you wait more than 24 hours, then you will need to sand again to promote a solid bond.  But this time you should use 220 grit.  The sanding scratches from 150 grit will disappear after two coats; the sanding scratches from 220 disappear after a single coat, presuming that it hasn't been thinned too much.  Having dependable weather is sooo important because it allows you to avoid having to sand between coats. 

    Be very careful to not leave holidays or gaps between sections (see item 2).  This is much more difficult with the second coat than the first, because the matte finish from sanding gives a great background for the first coat.  It helps to pick out a series of landmarks, "OK, this section stops at the bung".
In the past, I applied 3 coats each year, the reasoning being that the sun gets one coat, I sand off one coat, and so I would be adding a net one coat each year.  This is good reasoning after recently taking things back to wood, when the varnish film is relatively thin.  But after years and years of this, the film gets so thick that it cannot move with, stretch and shrink with, the underlying wood.  And so it becomes prone to becoming detached.

I have also concluded that the hardness and stiffness of a urethane varnish film causes similar problems of not being able to move with the wood, thus resulting in premature failure and detachment of the film.  I am no longer using urethane exterior varnish.

It's a shame that it takes so many years to build up an experience base that allows you to get good brightwork.  I am still learning.  I will probably take everything back to wood next year so that I can erase all the accumulated mistakes made in the past 15 years and start over.  If, that is, I can find the ambition next year...


Monday, July 15, 2013

We're all liveaboards here

We love these guys.  They seem to tolerate us here at the marina.  Barely.  They are the curmudgeons of the avian world.

If one happens to be standing (they're not small - waist to chest high, depending on how much of that neck is extended) on the dock when you are coming, they will sloowly stalk out onto a finger pier, while giving you the evil eye for disturbing their royal presence.

And when they can tolerate you no more, they will produce a sound that can only be described as "Gronnk!", spread their gymongous wings, flap once, and glide in ground effect over to another dock.  When you hear that sound, you will have no doubt that dinosaurs are alive and well in our modern world.  But now with feathers.

And, if you are a thinking person, you are grateful that they are not Jurassic-sized, for surely then you would be dinner.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

End of an era

On October 1, 2013 I will be entering the third stage of life.

Stage one: Learning
Covers the period of life where you are acquiring knowledge and learning the skills that are required to make your way in our society.  Birth thru the end of schooling, whenever that is.
Stage two: Living
Covers the middle period of life where raising children and working to make that possible are the major foci of life.
Stage three: Leisure
Relaxing and enjoying the fruits of the first two stages. Retirement.

I announced my intention to retire at work this past Tuesday. And I have been pleasantly amazed by the number of folks who have called or stopped by to offer congratulations and best wishes.

The question they all universally asked: "What will you do?"

And then I remind them: I have a boat.


Monday, July 8, 2013

You never know when you'll need it...

You may already have ponied up the money for the Navionics iPhone app (if you haven't, I recommend you give that decision another thought...).  But if you haven't, you will still need tide information.  Now, at most locations you can find a little annual booklet with tide information for free or for a nominal cost.  But these are not easy to use if your destination is not one of the primaries documented in the book, requiring you to use the offset tables.

What's an iPhone owner to do?

Enter Shralp Tide - an app dedicated to just this purpose.  Based on the gold standard XTide software and ported to run in the IOS environment, Shralp Tide makes tidal predictions all over the world available right there on your iPhone/iPad.

Everything you need is right there on the screen -
  • Current tide height
  • Direction of movement (ebb/flood)
  • Times of next/prev high and low tides
  • Heights of next high and low tides

And two very key features:
  • It's free.
  • No internet connection is required.
And for the visually-oriented, if you turn your iDevice to landscape mode you get a graphical representation which will be vaguely familiar to XTide users. 

    Oh, and did I mention that it's free?

    But if you are willing to pay a paltry 99¢, you get an improved version that also includes tidal current predictions.  I've been using the free version for years, but because tidal currents are a big part of navigating Puget Sound, I recently went to the paid version.  They're both excellent.

    And you never know when you might need to have this app... last Saturday while working in the garage, I got a call from my son.  He and his wife were hiking Washington's wild Pacific coast and needed to know when the next high tide was coming in order to decide whether to round a headland with a minimal beach.  Shralp Tide provided me the information while standing there covered with grease and a long way from the boat and her GPS or a tide booklet, because it was right there in my hand, on my phone.

    Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    Take Warning?

    On Tuesday morning I awoke early.

    Normally, I have my alarm set for 05:15, but on this day I was out of bed at 04:50.  I just checked - dawn in Seattle was at 05:17, so this was about half an hour before sunrise.

    I was awake because of the most amazing phenomenon...  the entire sky was a brilliant red - brighter in the east but still bright enough in the west.  It was that bright red light that woke me.

    After going up on deck and standing there half asleep with my mouth hanging open, I rushed down below to find a camera to capture it, thinking, "How does one capture an entire sky?  How does one tell the camera automatic white balance to not balance out the brilliant color?"

    But sadly, by the time I got back above deck, the color had faded dramatically, and in another minute or two, it was gone.

    I can only suppose that this was the responsibility of our heat wave, and the stagnant, dusty air that results from it... somehow.

    I wish you could have seen it.

    Sometimes it pays to get up before dawn. 

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