Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of sailing on the Salish Sea: close of the 2013 season

When we first entered the boat market, it was a relatively small step from not owning a boat to owning a boat.  We bought a new Cal 21 for around $4000 in 1973.  That doesn't sound like a lot of money, and really, it was not.  Using an inflation calculator, that turns out to be about $21,000 in today's anemic dollars.  For an engineer just entering the job market, the loan was not out of reach.

And it was a good time to enter the sailboat market.  There were lots of manufacturers of boats in this size range, all over the country.  Where we kept that new boat on Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois, we might have seen on any given day, any of the following boats in the same size range:
  • Cal 20
  • Cal 21
  • San Juan 21
  • South Coast 22
  • Venture 21
  • Catalina 22
  • Kitiwake 23
  • Clipper 21
  • Ranger 23
  • O'Day 23
  • Pearson 23
  • Cheoy Lee 27
Now these are just the ones that I can pull from my memory - I'm sure that I am leaving out some.

And when we went to the boat shows, most of these manufacturers were there, competing for the chance to sell you one of their creations.

Fast forward 40 years.

We attended the Seattle Boat Show this last Sunday, which bills itself as the largest boat show on the west coast.  Sadly, each year the fraction of the dock space devoted to sail in the in-the-water portion of the show shrinks.  This year it was just the small floating dock section off of Chandler's Crab House - 15 out of 111 boats.  Now my memory may be failing me again, but I think the smallest boat on display there was an Island Packet 36.

OK, I get it.  Dock space at the show has gotten so expensive that I guess dealers can no longer afford to bring their used or small boats to the in-the-water show.

I can report a small improvement at the indoors portion of the show.  Tho there was only one sail exhibitor (other than Hobie and the Macgregor "sail" boats):  Beneteau, there were more sailboats in the show than last year.  But sadly, the smallest boat they had on display was a First 25, for the oh-so-affordable price of only $89,500.

So I asked the Beneteau sales rep:  "How are you going to sell someone a $400,000 yacht unless you first sell them a $20,000 boat?"  After all, very, very few people jump into the market at that level.  His answer?  They had a 20 footer on a truck heading to Seattle.  But this last weekend was their best shot, because next weekend, well, the boat show is going to be a ghost town.  After all, this is Seattle, home of the Seahawks.

Catalina was not represented at the show at all.

Finally, we surveyed the charter agencies who were represented at the show.  Amazingly, apparently the smallest sail boat that you can charter in Puget Sound is now 30 feet.

It appears that the sub-30 foot market has been effectively abandoned.  As I stated last year, this is a very bad strategic mistake on the part of the boat manufacturers.  With no realistic entry to the market, the customer base will age and eventually disappear.  Sure, you may sell them that $300,000 - $500,000 boat, but it will be their last boat and your last sale.  What is your plan for the future?

I had first-hand experience with this problem before I retired.  At work there were several folks who were potential sail devotees.  But the high entry price was a show stopper for all of them.  They were unwilling to invest nearly $100,000 to see if this was something that worked for them and their families.

As things currently stand, the used boat market is the only real entry point to the sailing sport.  But when I suggested that my interested co-workers might consider a used boat, they balked.  These are people of means, folks well into their careers, and of course, folks who don't know anything about sailboats.  Despite the factor of 20 reduction in cost, they were deterred by their uncertainty of whether they would be able to handle, or even identify the expected deficiencies to be found in a used boat.  Last year, I offered some suggestions to the business community that would serve to make the used boat market more appealing to the potential sailor.  But I am not a business man.  Some of you reading this are - what are your ideas?  Don't tell me - implement them!  As far as I can see from here, nothing has happened. 

So my take on the state of sailing on the Salish Sea at the close of the 2013 season:   

continuing to decline.


Monday, January 27, 2014


We're sailors, right?  Wind is our means of movement, our propulsion.  We know how our boats respond to it in all of its vagaries.  We need it; we want it; we crave it.

And yet.

Saturday here in Seattle was wonderfully calm.  And I confess that I felt guilty pleasure in floating around in the marina in the dinghy, unmolested by wind.  Yesterday I joined the ranks of power boaters, for whom smooth water is the ideal, for just while.

I don't think I am alone in this...  We sailors are a difficult to please lot; we want wind when we are off the dock or anchor, but once we tie up or drop the hook, that wind that we so ardently sought is now an uninvited guest, causing the boat to yaw about or squeeze her fenders against the dock.  It's noisy and it disturbs our peace.

We're conflicted people.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A very special place

Seattle is a very special place. While the rest of the nation is shivering under sub-zero temps and inches of frozen global warming, here in Seattle in the middle January, we have flowers. 

I rode my bike around the UW campus for a little while this morning and found these rhododendrons. 

I also found these tiny white ones that had filled the nearby air with a heady perfume:

I feel so blessed to be able to live here!

Sailing season can't be far away...


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oooo... Shiny...

Dull.  Boring.

Three posts ago I talked about refinishing Eolian's wheel.  And one post ago I bemoaned the passing of the "good" Brasso.  These two posts were not unrelated, because Eolian's wheel has a bronze hub.  And that hub periodically gets treated to a polishing with Brasso.

But in the last post I referred in passing to the use of a buffing wheel as the tool of choice when polishing metal, and I realized that some of the readers of this blog might not know what a simple, basic and effective tool it is for polishing metal.

The tools
If you have a grinder, then you could have a buffing wheel.  Get thee to a Harbor Freight or whatever your local cheap tool emporium is, and buy yourself a couple buffing wheels - these are made by stacking multiple canvas disks together until you have a combined thickness of about ½", and then sewing them together.  Here I have removed one grinding wheel from my grinder and replaced it with a buffing wheel.

You'll also need compound - the cloth alone is not enough.  That orangish pink bar on the work bench right below the buffing wheel is a bar of rouge.  Well, more accurately, it is a bar of rouge polishing compound. Rouge is a very fine iron oxide powder; the compound is a suspension of rouge in a wax base.  You hold it against the spinning wheel for a moment to charge the wheel, and then you apply the piece of metal to the wheel.  You'll have no difficulty in telling when more compound is needed, because the wheel will simply stop polishing.

(I should be using two hands, but then how would I take the picture?)
Rouge is not the only polishing compound - in fact it is the last and final step when starting with raw, heavily oxidized and rough metal.  But for lightly oxidized brass or bronze, it is ideal.  Oh, and you should not mix compounds on a wheel - get one wheel for each type of compound you buy.

When applying the metal piece to the wheel, you must think about what is happening.  You must be very careful to not let the rapidly spinning wheel catch on any edge - if it does, it will grab the piece right out of your hands and throw it against the wall, probably damaging the piece, the wall, and possibly your hands in the process.  Also, since the wheel is continuously shedding threads - you absolutely must wear safety goggles.  If you are working on a small piece, it will rapidly get too hot to hold.  Wearing a pair of heavy leather work gloves is a good idea.

Ten Minutes:  Ta DAA!
It is quick and easy to get a factory finish on a piece of metal using a buffing wheel - because this is how the factory polishes metal!

(I've seen attachments for an electric drill to hold a buffing wheel.  These are not effective because the drill does not turn fast enough.  But I have chucked a buffing wheel onto an angle grinder to work on pieces that I cannot take to the grinder - this  works well.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

The new Brasso

The old standby.
 Everybody knows Brasso, right?  That stinky stuff that you can use to almost magically return corroded copper, brass or bronze to a mirror finish...  you know.  The chemical engineer in me wants you to know that the stinky part is really an important part of the magic.  See, there is this thing called the copper-ammonium complex; it makes copper much, much more soluble in water than it would be without the presence of the ammonium ion.  It is this highly increased solubility which helps to remove the surface oxidation, in concert with the fine abrasives also present, and your elbow grease of course.

Well, recently the old can we had here on Eolian finally ran out, and I was forced to buy another. 
I wasn't really surprised when I found that it now comes in a plastic bottle instead of a steel can. 

But I was sorely disappointed with what is now inside the container.  It seems to be far less effective, and the abrasive is considerably coarser than it used to be.  It takes a lot more elbow grease, and due to the coarser abrasive the result is no longer a mirror finish.  Like so many things, the formula was changed - in 2008 - to make the product comply with the new U.S. volatile organic compounds law.  More, it turns out that the version of Brasso sold in other countries is completely different than the current USA version. 

So can any of you UK readers of this blog confirm that this is the good old regular, highly effective, formula? 

Does anybody have a can of the old stuff they would want to sell?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rockin' and rollin'

Eolian is a rockin' and rollin' in her slip... There's a major wind storm blowing thru Shilshole right now,  and a lot of last nite.  Sleeping was not something we did much of...  Kath would say that it's blowin' a hoolie...

For an updated view of what's happening, look over there on the right for "Current winds at Shilshole".

11:32 Update:  
The wind has not let up, and the heavy rain continues.  The rain is coming down so hard that it is not just melding with the surface of the ocean, the rain drops are sitting on top of the water!   (They're the white dots in the image below.)

Finally, for those of you on shore or elsewhere, here's a short video of Eolian's anemometer in the cockpit to bring this experience to you. That loud noise in the background is the rain hammering on the cockpit canvas...


Friday, January 10, 2014

I won't steer you wrong

So when your wooden wheel needs refinishing, and the weather is too inclement and cold to do the work in the cockpit, what do you do?

This is the solution we've developed here on Eolian:
  • Remove the bronze hub (and take it to the shop for a trip to the buffing wheel - much better than you can do by hand with Brasso, especially the new Brasso)
  • Sand.  I used 220 because I just wanted to rough up the original finish enough to give it "tooth" to hang on to the new finish.
  • Fit a spare piece of 1" stainless tubing to the hole in the center normally covered by the hub
  • String a piece of small line thru the tubing and make fast to the overhead handhold.
  • Put down a piece of polyethylene to catch any drips
  • Apply three coats on three successive days
This allows me to spin the wheel as I apply the varnish so that I can get at all sides.   Of course it does take up a lot of space in the interior, but there is just enough room that a svelte guy (like your correspondent) can slide by.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tie shooter

(I wonder how many folks ended up here because they were looking for some Star Wars © related toy)
  • Zip ties,
  • Tie-wraps, 
  • Wire ties,
  • Cable ties,
  • Nylon ties,
  • Panduits (if you work for the Boeing company)...
Whatever you call them - they're all the same thing.  And I know you have them on board - every boat does.  In fact you probably have a stash of them, ready to hand.  They are so handy that they get used for everything.  They're probably right there next to your duct tape.

That's where this tool comes in - it can pull the ties a lot tighter than you can by hand, and it cuts them off almost flush with the retainer/ratchet gizmo.  The little red knob is an adjustment for the tension that is applied - the tool is strong enough to break the smaller wire tires if the tension is all the way up.

It's not an expensive tool - I'm sure I paid less than $10 for mine, but it was an impulse buy (too many of my tool purchases are...) and I don't remember where I got it any more.  But here are some available today that I found on the Intertubes:
The bottom line is that these things are incredibly cheap, they allow you to pull and cut a wire tie in a restricted space using only one hand, and they do a better job than you can do by hand.  You need to have one on board.

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