Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rigging Modern Anchors

If you have read this blog for any length of time, the name Drew Frye will be familiar to you.  If not, then I will tell you that Drew is an individual that takes nothing for granted.  For Drew, rules of thumb are fine, being derived from long experience handed down over the centuries, but  conclusions and rules derived from hard data are better. And Drew goes out and collects that data.

Bearing this in mind, know that Drew has written a book, based on hard data, about anchors and anchoring techniques.  Here is what he says about it:
"Working with a bricks and mortar publisher to get this in print has been a lengthy process for me, but well worth it. It encouraged me to dive far more deeply into the technical side than I might have for my own needs, and the result is the most technically detailed book on yacht anchoring written. And I don't feel I'm bragging unfairly. I simply did the work. [...] I spent years with a load cell, digging around in the mud. Hardly glamorous, but science is mostly about diligent work."

Rigging Modern Anchors

First print edition, 2018, by Seaworthy Press. About 156 pages.
I've been setting and trusting anchors with my life (climbing) and my boat (sailing) for 35 years. I've been testing and documenting anchor testing for 5 years, and I've spent the last two sifting, collating, and analyzing all that I have learned. The result, I believe, is a complete description of what is actually going on below the waves, not just descriptively or as oral history from an old salt, but with numerical back-up everywhere I could provided it. I hope it helps. I know I sleep better. From the back cover of the book:
“Rigging Modern Anchors” demystifies anchoring with today’s modern anchors. Through years of systematic testing, Drew Frye has produced a new benchmark of understanding based on empirical data instead of anecdotal wisdom, passed down from one sailor to the next without proof or deep understanding. In “Rigging Modern Anchors” we dig deeply into the how and why of anchoring, using hard numbers as our foundation.

Included are in-depth discussions of anchoring basics, loads, scope, and the effects of cyclical loading, soil consolidation and bottom characteristics on holding power. Special attention is given to problem bottoms such as very soft mud and rock. There are anchor-specific observations, discussions of tandem anchors and rigging methods, plus an extensive appendix containing test data, open source designs for bridle plates and anchor turners, strength and toughness for various chain types, anchor connector recommendations, anchor sizing guides and more.

Proper anchoring technique, rigging, and gear selection is vital to the safety of ship and crew. Instead of hoping your anchor and rigging scheme will hold, read “Rigging Modern Anchors” and be sure.

This book would fit nicely on any yacht's bookshelf, and would provide good reading evenings when the wind is howling outside...

If you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited, the book is available for free for a limited time!  Here's the link.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How To: Shuck Oysters 

It has come to my attention that not everyone knows how to shuck oysters.  Like many things, it is not hard, but it does require the right tools.  I like this Oxo oyster knife - it is sturdy and has a slight curve up toward the flat side, which you probably can't see in the picture.  Sorry.  The back side has a reinforcing rib which makes it quite stiff and sturdy.

Oxo Oyster Knife

So grab an oyster.  Hold it with the hinge end (the thick, usually pointy end) towards you, and with the flat, or flatter side up.

Your snack awaits

Now, where to insert the knife?  Examine the edge of the oyster and you will see a zone, approximately half way between top and bottom, where the layers of the shell are very close together.  If you are lucky, you may see a dark band near the center. This is the junction between the lower and upper shells, and is not actually sealed. Instead the oyster is mightily holding the two shells together with its big muscle.

Where does the knife go in?

Nolw here's where you could get hurt.  Professional oyster shuckers (at an oyster bar, for example), frequently wear a chain mail glove on their left hand - you probably won't have that, so be *very careful*!

The moment of truth
Touch the knife, flat side up, to the junction between the lower and upper shells, about halfway between the tip of the shell and the hinge. Apply some pressure and twist the knife a little to help it penetrate the joint. Don't worry if you don't get exactly on the junction... the twisting motion will guide the knife tip to the junction. DON'T POKE YOURSELF IN THE LEFT HAND! If you're pushing really hard, you're doing it wrong. Twist more; push less.

Once you get the tip between the shells, swing the knife side to side while slowly pushing it in further, keeping the tip against the inside of the upper shell.  What you are trying to do is to cut the muscle that is holding the shells together.   It will be about midway across the oyster.  You'll know when you cut the muscle - suddenly there will be nothing holding the shells clamped shut.  Open carefully by twisting the knife, being careful not to spill the liquor inside, and be sure to scrape any meat off the under side of the upper shell.

Enjoy in your favorite way!

*No oysters were harmed in making this post - this was a re-enaction.  We ate them last nite...


Wednesday, August 22, 2018


It was a bucket list item.

Some of you may know that in my land-side life, I am kind of a gear head. So when my son, on the occasion of my still being alive after completing 70 trips around our local star, presented me with a trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week, I was ecstatic!

Just in case you're not up on this stuff, Bonneville is where the world's land speed records are set.

Sunrise on the salt

The place is surreal. It is a salt desert - a dried up sea. It is dead flat, for miles and miles, and yes it is salt...  just like on your table.  Clean white salt.

Now here's a weird thing... Tho it is hot (100°+ most days), there are patches of water showing here and there... water that is so saturated with salt that it is syrupy.  And there are patches of moist salt too.  So not all of the flats are suitable for automotive travel, let alone high speed runs.  Each year the course must be carefully surveyed to ensure that it is safe.

Later in the day, the umbrella was unfurled
For Speed Week, the salt flats are invaded and a city is created.  And aside from the vehicles that will be competing, there is another whole host of vehicles, many not street legal, running back and forth driven by some real characters.  Adam described it as "Burning Man, but with nitromethane."

The event is BIG.  The pit area was perhaps 3 miles long and 5 rows deep.  The course itself is 10 miles long.  In fact, it is so long that it is not possible to see from one end to the other because of the curvature of the Earth.  There are timing traps on the first 5 miles of the course; the second five miles are for deceleration.

Six courses

Actually, there are six courses.  Why so many?  Well, first of all, this is one of very few venues of this type worldwide, so there is a lot of demand.  Second, there are classes for any type of vehicle you can imagine, and not all of them need 10 miles to reach their top speed.  For example, on one of the short courses a competitor on a 50cc Honda step-thru motorcycle turned in a blistering run at 58 mph.

Oh, and by the way, this event is all about breaking records.  There are no second place finishes.  If you don't break the previous record for your class, you fail to qualify for a second timed run (two runs are averaged to make the official speed).  The 50cc Honda failed to qualify - the previous record was 62 mph.

I have been to a lot of car shows and swap meets.  One of the joys of these events is the sound of a guy firing up a big V8 - something you hear fairly frequently.  But here it was an entirely different vibe.  Here when an engine was fired up (and there were lots of them!), it wasn't for show - it was for tuning or to warm it up.  In other words, it was serious business.  And something else - a lot of these engines were running on fuel, not gasoline.  An entirely different, sharper, exhaust note.

Some might want to make a comparison to drag racing.  Well, we talked to a drag racer who was there; he was just as awed as we were.  The fastest he’d ever driven was 180 mph...  there were cars here going more than twice that fast. More, a drag racer's engine only has to run for a few seconds, and then typically gets completely rebuilt after each run.  Most drag racing engines don't even have cooling systems.  The requirements here are far different.

An observation:  all the really serious cars here had rudders.  When your speed is above 200 mph, aerodynamics are extremely important.  When you are above 400 mph, they are everything.

Even the Jag gets fitted with a rudder

The Carbiliner - we called it the spaceship

A Lakester

A streamliner being transported to the starting line


Those are drag chutes in the tubes under the rudder


Finally, a video of a 300+ mph run. I'm sorry that it is so zoomed out - because of the bright sun on the salt, I couldn't see the screen on my phone so I left it zoomed all the way out and just tried to keep it pointed in the general direction of the car. Even this was difficult... remember that curvature of the Earth thing. You'd be looking back toward the starting line, trying to see something moving. Mirages made this difficult. and then you'd see, maybe, a dot. And then it would be past you in a flash if it was a 450+ mph run, turning back into a dot. I had a better chance at capturing a slower run...


Monday, July 30, 2018

A Tale Of Two Tread Plates

A year later

Some of you out there may recall an experiment I started a year ago - using benzalconium chloride (BAC) as a teak treatment.  Well, here are the two tread plates after a year of exposure and neglect.

Clearly, the BAC made a huge difference - the untreated plate on the left still has algae and lichen growing in the low spots and pores in the wood.  The treated tread plate on the right is free of these pests, except at the very top, where I probably didn't get a full dose of BAC applied.


This was so successful that I just completed spraying our teak rub rails with BAC - these are being fully colonized by the same characters, especially where the rain water from the deck scuppers drains on them - in those places, the lichen has completely covered the wood.  In fact, the coverage is so complete there that I will probably have to reapply BAC, since most of what I applied probably never made it thru to the wood.

Where you can easily obtain BAC?  See my first post on this handy material.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Adam’s First Law

Adam’s First Law:
All tools are hammers.
Except screwdrivers - screwdrivers are chisels. 

(See also: Salnick’s First Law
                Salnick’s Second Law
                Salnick’s Third Law)


Monday, July 16, 2018

Salnick’s Third Law

Salnick’s Third Law:

There is no better way to say “I’m retired “
“Morning beer.“

(See also: Salnick’s First Law
                Salnick’s Second Law
                Adam’s First Law)


Monday, July 9, 2018

Salnick’s Second Law

Salnick’s Second Law:

Nobody ever slept poorly because their anchor was too big.

(See also: Salnick’s First Law
                Salnick’s Third Law
                Adam’s First Law)


Monday, July 2, 2018

Dickenson Heater Maintenance

Dickenson Diesel-fired Heater
Have one of these?

Is the flame getting smaller and smaller over the years?

If so, eventually it will need to be cleaned - estimated MTB cleanings is about 15 years.  Diesel fuel is not quite free of ash - so ash will accumulate in the pot.  But more importantly, the diesel cokes out from the heat of the burner, leaving behind deposits of carbon.  These accumulate in the bottom of the pot.

But even more importantly than that, the carbon also accumulates in the fuel entrance to the pot, at its center bottom.  The feed from the float tank to the pot is strictly by gravity, with the head driving the flow only a couple of inches...  it doesn't take much to significantly decrease the flow when there is only this tiny pressure to drive it.
Thankfully, Dickenson anticipated this, and provided an easy port for cleaning.

If you look at the fitting where the diesel enters the pot (look from the bottom of the heater), you will see that instead of an elbow (which would have sufficed), Dickenson used a tee.  If you remove the plug from the bottom of the tee (watch out, some diesel will escape - have a container under the fitting when you remove the plug), you will find that you can push a typical Phillips screwdriver up thru the tee and into the pot.  This will clear out any coked out diesel or ash that has accumulated in the feed and entrance to the pot.

Next, you should also remove the copper pipe which leads from the float tank to the tee and clean it - some carbon may either have accumulated in it where it attaches to the tee, or may have been pushed into the pipe when the screwdriver was used to clean out the tee.

(Yeah, I know I am talking about heater maintenance in July, but: PNW)


Monday, June 25, 2018

Dodger? Why Not?

If you take a walk down any given dock here in the PNW, you will notice that virtually all the sailboats over about 30 feet long will have dodgers (except racing boats of course, but they are a different breed).  And except for a few obviously home-made ones, they are constructed of stainless tubing and canvas.

Have you asked yourself, "Why is this?"  I have.

They are made from stainless tubing and canvas because that is what the aftermarket can most easily produce to custom fit the broad variety of boats.  But these dodgers are not particularly sturdy and the canvas ages out over a decade or so.  And they are all add-ons, and they look it.

Why are these apparently universally desirable items left to the aftermarket to produce?  Why don't the boat manufacturers produce boats with designed-in, molded-in fiberglass dodgers?  If sailboats were cars, the auto manufacturers would be selling them without windshields.  And the aftermarket would be producing vinyl windshields that slowly decayed in the weather.

Question to my readers:  I have been in other parts of the coastal US but wasn't paying attention to the dodger issue.  Is this a universal trend in both temperate and tropical climates?  (I am virtually certain that all ocean-going cruising sailboats have dodgers.)

So. here's the challenge that I issue to Catalina, Hunter, Beneteau, Jeanneau, Morris, Hinkley, etc:
Design and produce sailboat decks with graceful, proportional, integral, fiberglass dodgers.  Dodgers that don't look like clumsy add-ons.
If not on all the boats you sell, then at least offer dodgers as an option.  If you don't try to price gouge on the dodger option, I think you will see that almost all the boats you sell will be ordered with the dodger option.

Come on.  I dare you.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Destination: Westcott/Garrison Bays, San Juan Island

So near, and yet so far. That's an apt description of Garrison and Westcott Bays.

Roche Harbor on the northwestern tip of San Juan Island is a busy place. Boats and huge yachts coming and going all the time, many holding position while they are assigned space at the docks, sea planes coming and going nearly continuously thru the day. Dinghies buzzing back and forth. And then there is that Retirement of the Colors Ceremony that is conducted every night at sunset.

Yet in the twin bays just the other side of a spit of land, there is peace and quiet.

Yes, the bays are shallow, but not too shallow.  In the chart above, the depth contours are the 1, 2, and 3 fathom lines...  there is plenty of depth for most boats to anchor, tho you should probably not try to go behind Guss Island.

(That's Roche Harbor at the top of the chart)

You will reach the twin bays thru a narrow passage that opens off of Mosquito Pass (Mosquito Pass leads from the south end of Roche Harbor to the Strait of Juan de Fuca).  Mosquito Pass is a little tricky - you will want to pay attention to your chartplootter and depth sounder while navigating it.  Turn left (east) after passing red Buoy '6' and enter the narrow channel, again watching your plotter and sounder.  Anchoring is good on a mud bottom, but the north shore of Garrison Bay near Bell Point is infested with kelp.  And do pay attention, there is a shoal extending from Bell Point a surprising distance to the northwest.  Because of the contours of the surrounding land, the bays are very well-protected from winds, even from the southwest, which you might not expect.

The formal garden at English Camp

On the northern shore of Garrison Bay is English Camp, a National Park containing the preserved buildings remaining from the English occupation of San Juan Island (1860 - 1872).  Well worth your time for a visit - let your imagination range back a century and a half and try to imagine how things were then, before Kaiser Wilhelm I arbitrated a settlement between Britain and the United States as to where the national boundary would run thru the archipelago.

BBQ'd oysters
Those are baby oysters he is showing me

In Westcott Bay there is the Westcott Bay Shellfish Company (dotted rectangle), a working oyster farm that supplies much of Puget Sound with these shellfish delights.  They also have a casual food service featuring their oysters, clams and mussels.  But if you want to partake, be sure that you arrive before 16:00, when they shut down the outdoor kitchen.  Take the time to talk to the folks running the operation - they take their work seriously, are very friendly, and will be happy to educate you on the process of shellfish farming.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018


It was a blustery morning in Blind Bay - winds gusting to 17 kt out of the SW, and Eolian yawing back and forth on her anchor.  Our destination for the day was either Roche Harbor or Westcott Bay, depending...

Wasp Passage was even more blustery, with the wind changing from nearly zero up to 20 kt in the space of just a few feet, as it tested and found narrow little passages between the islands, or as the rotors formed by it skimming over the tops of the trees brushed the water.  Despite this, we did manage to get the mizzen up in a prolonged (ha!) calm spell.

But when we exited into San Juan Channel, we got the full brunt of it.  Given that the wind was forecast to be from the SW, and that we had indeed seen it from the SW in Blind Bay, I anticipated that we would have a reach (of some kind) in San Juan Channel, and indeed we did - 18 kt gusting into the high 20s, and not warm - temps in the 50s.  We raised the staysail which gave us a balanced rig, but Eolian seemed to be struggling some in the lulls.  So we put up the mainsail.  With this, we were making 5.5-6.5 kt thru the water - a comfortable speed.  But the mainsail added too much sail aft of the center of drag, and in the gusts Eolian wanted to round up - no, demanded to round up.  There was too much wind to fly the yankee, so we just tolerated the weather helm and proceeded up and into Spieden Channel.  In retrospect we should have dropped the mizzen - that would have moved the center of effort forward and paradoxically would have speeded us up, since I wouldn't have had to hold the rudder so far over to keep us off the wind and on course.

In the weird way of the winds in the San Juan Islands, when we entered Spieden Channel the wind veered around until we were sailing close hauled, at least part of the time.  We had to constantly fiddle with the sails between a beam reach, close reach, and close hauled tho our course remained constant at 270°.

Finally we reached the point where we could make the left turn into Roche Harbor.  Taking the sails down in that kind of wind is never easy, but we got it done.

Motoring into Roche Harbor, we continued to see wind speeds continuously in the 20s.  We toyed with the idea of just anchoring there - it had been a long, tiring day, and the attraction of being at anchor was powerful.  But Roche was not protected.  Tho there were no waves, the water was black with the wind everywhere.  This is where the 'depends...' came in.

We had talked about going to Westcott Bay or Garrison Bay as a destination this morning, and really, could it be any worse than Roche Harbor?  There should have been some protection from the contour of the land, and perhaps the wind would be thwarted some.  These bays are fairly large, but are shallow, meaning that anchorage available to Eolian would be limited.  And they are popular.  We had visited here one other time and the bays were packed shore to shore with boats.  Today however, there were no AIS signatures appearing in either bay.

Motoring directly into the teeth of the 25-30 kt wind howling down narrow, winding Mosquito Pass was not encouraging by any stretch.  I decided to give Westcott/Garrison a chance, but that we would probably have to turn around in there and go back to Roche.  At least that would be a downwind jaunt.

Miracle of miracles!  Almost as soon as we entered the narrow little cut into the twin bays, the wind dropped down to single digits -  I even think I heard angels singing...

We put the anchor down in the narrow channel of deep enough water in Westcott Bay, and began to unwind.  For us, today, Westcott Bay was the very definition of the word 'refuge'.



Monday, June 11, 2018

How To Make: Clotted Cream

Clotted cream.

That has a vaguely unsavory sound about it.  If you are like me, you may have heard of it in some British novel or story - Downton Abbey perhaps.  And you may have imagined something like sour cream...  but how would that go with high tea?

Well, let me assure you, it is not sour cream.  Instead it is a buttery, nutty, caramelly substance that is wonderful when spread on biscuits, pound cake, etc.

I had never had it until I decided to make it just to see what it was.

It is trivially easy.  Here is the recipe:
  • Pour heavy cream in an oven safe dish.  It should be big enough so that the cream makes a layer 1-1.5" deep.
  • Put it in a 180° oven for 12 hours - over night works well.
  • Cool, and then refrigerate.
  • Scrape the clotted cream off of the milk-like layer below.  It will be a little like scraping ice cream off of a layer of milk.  There will be a golden brown crust - include it; it will soften when stored with the remainder and add flavor.

That's it.

Could it be any simpler?  The only catch is that you cannot use ultra-pasteurized cream (it's already been cooked).

Try it - you're in for a really special treat!


Monday, June 4, 2018

Hypervent Alternative

Some boats have a problem with condensation accumulating under the mattress in their berths (for some reason, we don't see this on Eolian... I don't know why).  There are several products offered to address this problem, but they all seem to have the "marine tax" assessed on them.

I recently received this tip from a fellow boater that addresses this very issue and thought I'd pass it along:

As you know we are now living on our boat. The Vberth is our berth of choice but it suffered mightily from condensation under the mattress. We considered Hypervent , $9.69 a linear foot from Defender, 39 inch wide roll, and found it was sold here for $19.99 per square foot. Simple math says this is not a frugal choice. Then we found Keene's Driwall tm, a product used by the building trades to prevent rot and water penetration behind brick ( or similar) wall facing. $179 for 4 foot wide 45 foot roll, immediately a $90 saving even if you have 37 feet left over(it was only sold by the roll, no cutting). I managed to find an 8 foot piece from a builder friend of mine and we installed it. Success! No condensation and dry bedding. Total cost $0, even if I had to pay for it the total cost would have been under $30. Please pass this on to your more frugal readers.

SV In The Mood

(I suspect all my readers are frugal...)


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Crowd-Sourced Bathymetry Is A Reality!

I've written about this before here, and here.  But now...

It is a reality!

Today, NOAA announced the end of testing phase in the development of a new crowdsourced bathymetry database!

And some of the first application of data is of interest to PNW boaters - the Canadian Hydrographic Service used this dataset to update several charts of the Inside Passage!


Saturday, May 26, 2018


Blind Bay peace
It's later than many years, but we are, finally, off the dock.  I am typing this at anchor in Blind Bay, one of our favorite anchorages.  It is another wonderful, sunny, quiet day here.  In order to get here tho, this list had to be accomplished:

  • Change the oil in the main engine
  • Change the pencil zinc in the main engine heat exchanger
  • Change the oil in the genset
  • Top up the water in the batteries
  • Locate, acquire and install a replacement fitting for the main engine expansion tank.  It seems like most years there is a major winter project - this was this year's.
  • Dive on the prop and clean it; change the prop nut zinc
  • Clean up the dinghy from the winter
  • Clean up the boat from the winter
  • Remove and store the extra "winter" fenders and lines that we install to weather the winter storms
  • Fill the water tanks (300 gal)
  • Check the fuel (we're good - both are half full)
  • Test the anchor windlass
  • Check the dinghy motor fuel
  • Reinstall and test the dinghy motor
Oops... Tho we had all winter to do it...

Typically, we remove the dinghy outboard and store it in my shop over the winter.  And then getting ready for the season, I clean it up, paint the rusty spots and test run it.  But this season?  Well, I never seem to have gotten around to taking the motor home.

When I tried to start the dinghy outboard, it was dead.  A preliminary investigation showed that there was no spark.  Installing a new spark plug didn't fix it, leading to pretty much the only other likely conclusion: the points in the magneto are fouled.  To get at them, the flywheel must be removed.  Tho I have a lot of tools aboard, I don't have what it would take to do that.

So: decision time... do we go even tho we don't have a functioning motor on the dinghy?  Well of course!

So here we are, peacefully at anchor, with a rowing dinghy!  And tomorrow we will fulfill our annual tradition of listening to the Indy 500 at anchor.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Runaway Starter

Starter motors are not designed for continuous service - they are not provided with any cooling capabilities.  This is because the design expectation is that they will see only intermittent service.  They are high-current, high-power devices however, especially the ones that are expected to crank diesel high-compression engines.  Now hold that thought...

A recent discussion on The Retirement Project bears review here.  It seems that when TJ went to start his engine, the engine start push button stuck, leaving the starter motor running continuously after the diesel had started.  Because of the lack of cooling, a runaway starter motor is a serious problem - aside from destroying the starter, a fire could result.

I recall an incident where a young woman pulled into a gas station where I was refueling my car, and proceeded to fuel hers.  Her starter motor was running, after she shut down her engine (presumably it had been running since she started her car...).  Running, but running poorly - the heat buildup had caused the armature to swell and it was dragging on the field poles, creating more demand for electricity and even more heat.  I opened her hood and found the battery lead to be red hot, smoking, with all the insulation burned off.  Remember, this was at a gas station, where this car (and mine!) were actively taking on fuel.  I shut off the fuel feeds to both cars and then used a tire iron to break the red-hot wire (easy - copper is soft when it is red hot).  The cause?  Welded contacts in the starter solenoid.

One time when driving (I was 17 at the time) my father's 1959 Oldsmobile, the same thing happened to me.  Again, the tool of choice was a tire iron, and I used it to try to pry the battery connection off of the battery.  And failed.  Instead, the post and part of the battery plates came out of the top of the battery, complete with plenty of sparks and acid.  In retrospect, it is lucky I didn't get to experience a hydrogen explosion.  Again:  the cause was welded starter solenoid contacts.

I guess it is not surprising that this happens - these contacts carry prodigious current - 75 - 100 amps in a car engine and more for a diesel, and are connected to a very inductive load.  When they are asked to open, the magnetic field in the starter collapses, boosting the voltage at the contacts, keeping the current flowing for an instant even tho the contacts are open: an arc occurs.  Most of the time, the contacts continue to open, extinguishing the arc.  But if the contacts are already damaged from arcing, the arc gets a head start because the contacts are already hot...

In TJ's case above, the cause was not welded contacts in the starter solenoid, but rather a stuck starter button.  But in my experience, this is much rarer than welded contacts in the starter solenoid.  Regardless of the cause however, the remedy to a runaway starter is the same:  Disconnect the battery.

Easier said than done.

All cars, and almost all boats have a hard-wired connection between the battery and the starter.  In boats, the usual case is that that "Off-1-Both-2" battery switch is only carrying the house loads - the starter is hard-wired.

I believe that this is a pretty serious safety hazard.

Blue Seas M-Series Mini Selector Battery Switch
Those big battery switches can easily carry the starter current load.  Even the smallest ones have tremendous current carrying capabilities. Here's a mini Blue Seas one:
  • Cranking Rating: 10 sec. 1,500 Amps
  • Intermittent Rating: 5 min. 500 Amps
  • Continuous Rating: 300 Amps
For comparison, cranking Eolian's starter (Perkins 4-236 diesel) draws 200 amps - I know this because everything on Eolian goes thru the shunt for our Link2000 monitor. And everything also goes thru the battery switch on the power panel. Including the starter.  I can't take credit for this - Downeast (Eolian's manufacturer) built her this way.

If the starter on your boat does not go thru a battery switch (or THE battery switch), I'd sure try to find a way to make it so...


Monday, May 7, 2018

Expansion & Bubbles

Everything gets bigger when you heat it.  Fact of the universe.
Water is one of "everything", so when your engine warms up, the cooling water in it gets bigger - it expands.

In older cars, space was left at the top of the radiator for the water to expand into.  In newer cars, the radiator is filled to the brim, and there is an external expansion tank.  There is always one somewhere in the system - there has to be.

Expansion tank on Eolian's engine
It is no different for boat engines.  But.  No radiator, no expansion space in the radiator.  But there has to be an expansion space somewhere in the system.  Right?

OK, now second thought:  air bubbles.  Where do they collect?  Yup, you got it in one - at the highest point in the system, eventually.  In a car, we're back to that space in the radiator.  It's easy to replace the air bubbles in the system with more coolant if they collect in the expansion tank.  It's a good combination of uses.  And in any modern car, the expansion tank or exit to the external reservoir is at the highest point in the system.

Ah, but in a boat.  In a boat, the "radiator" (there isn't one - it's a heat exchanger instead) is unlikely to be the highest point in the system...  Do you have a water heater that gets its heat from engine cooling water?  I'll bet it is mounted considerably higher than the engine.  How about a Red Dot heater (Eolian has both)?  Same question.  So where do the inevitable air bubbles accumulate?

Well, at the highest point in the system.  Always.  On Eolian, that was the water heater.  So, guess how effective the heater was, given that the hot water coils were filled mostly with air?  Yeah, not so much.

Expansion tank, above the water heater

It's been years now, but I installed an auxiliary expansion tank/reservoir at the inlet for the engine cooling water at the water heater.  And collected a lot of air in it.  The expansion tank on the engine simply got filled completely with water - an ineffective and irrelevant (and now removed) bulge in the system.  I put a 14 lb radiator cap on the engine expansion tank, and moved the original 7 lb cap to the auxiliary expansion tank by the water heater.  That way the cap on the engine would never release, and the one on the auxiliary tank would.

Big change in water heater efficiency!

So where do the air bubbles in your engine cooling system accumulate?


Monday, April 30, 2018

Fresh Homemade Pasta

You like pasta?

Well, you'll like fresh homemade pasta even more.

Is it hard?  NO!

Marcato Atlas pasta machine
You will need a pasta machine - if you're on a boat, a hand cranked one is ideal.

Then all you need is flour, water, eggs, and salt.

Makes approximately 1 lb of pasta:
  • 365 grams flour
  • 8 grams salt
  • 2 eggs + water to make 181 grams of liquid
Why am I weighing things instead of following the more usual (American) standard of volume measure?  Well, because flour packs considerably, so the actual amount of flour you dump into your mixing bowl depends dramatically on how you packed it into the measuring cup.  And this is a recipe that is very sensitive to moisture content:  Too much and the pasta sticks to the rollers and cannot be successfully slit.  Too little and you simply cannot roll it.  So, get a scale and weigh the ingredients.

Mix with a fork, then by hand, and finally kneading on the counter until all the flour is incorporated.

Roll out into a log of roughly uniform diameter and cut into 6 equal pieces.

The initial passes thru the pasta machine are simply a continuation of the mixing, but in a shear regime that you cannot reach by hand.  Roll at position 1, fold, roll again.  Do this until all the unevenness in texture is gone.

Fold and roll again at position 3 (yeah, you can skip 2)

Roll again at position 4 (do not fold)

Roll again at position 5 (do not fold)

Hang each of the resulting pasta sheets on a rack to dry slightly.

Move the crank to the slitter portion of the pasta machine.  Slit each pasta sheet and hang the resulting noodles back on the rack, using a long spoon handle to capture and transfer the noodles.

Take the time to separate the noodles on the rack so that they don't stick together.

You can cook the noodles immediately in boiling water, or let them dry over night, or split the batch and do both.  The dry noodles will keep more or less indefinitely, but take considerably longer to cook than the fresh ones.

Trust me, it is so easy and so tasty that you'll never go back to store-bought pasta!


Monday, April 23, 2018

Only One Expansion Tank Now

(Part one of this story is here.)

Like with so many things,the preparation for this task far outweighed its actual execution.

Corroding cast aluminum expansion tank

There are only 4 bolts that hold the expansion tank on the engine, and they do not protrude into the water passage.  This means that they were not rusted or corroded - they were easily removed.  Loosening the hose clamp attaching the tank to the heat exchanger, and the tank was easily lifted out of position.  Far less work than I anticipated.

It's out!

...and the corrosion is worse than I knew

It turns out that the worst of the corrosion was at the hose attachment spud.  It was so bad here that I fear that I could knock off that spud with a sharp blow.  Good to get this failure point off the boat.

In an earlier post, I detailed the time and effort spent in trying to find a replacement fitting that would serve as a thermostat housing and provide a connection to the heat exchanger.  That search satisfied, I thought I was out of the woods.

Not so much.

Since I was in there, I know that my son would chide me if I did not replace the 40-year old thermostat.  So I started a search for a thermostat for a Perkins 4-236, 160°F.  Well it turns out that none of the diesel supply houses in Anacortes could provide one corresponding to the part number in my engine manual.  Or even in a cross-reference manual.

I thought that the thermostat looked very familiar. The one oddball thing was this little device:

Jiggle pin

I told you I did deep research...  In typically British fashion, it is called a "Jiggle Pin."  Its function is to allow air bubbles trapped below the thermostat to pass thru it when the engine is not running.  When there is water flow, the jiggle pin moves up and blocks the hole, stopping water from bypassing the thermostat.  A nice feature, but not strictly necessary, since once the thermostat opens, there is free passage for bubbles, which will then accumulate in the highest point in the cooling system.

I did find some Perkins thermostats.  In England.  For $50, not including shipping.

So I went to my local NAPA store.  I LOVE NAPA!!  No pimply-faced kid behind the counter that can't do anything without the computer (you should see their faces when I answer their question, "What kind of car is this from?" with "It's a Downeast 45 sailboat with a Perkins 4-236 diesel...  they are paralyzed) - experienced countermen who know engines.  I showed the thermostat to the counterman, and allowed as how it sure looked like one for a small block Chevy engine...  he went and got one off the shelf and with his calipers we compared the Perkins and Chevy thermostats.  Yup, the $8 Chevy thermostat is a drop-in replacement, tho without the (not strictly necessary) jiggle pin.

And then the second, and harder problem:  I needed a 1.5" hose that had one end expanded to 1.75" to fit over my new fitting.  And it had to have a right angle bend right past the expansion.  And a straight section at least 8" long to reach the heat exchanger.  Try searching for that on line!  The NAPA counterman took me into the hose room and gave me his calipers and left me to search.  It took me two minutes to find a suitable hose, a NAPA 8349.

What's left of the hose after I cut off the part I needed.  There are still a couple of useful bends there...

So, thanks to NAPA, in the space of 15 minutes I had solved both the thermostat and hose problems and was on my way back to the boat.  Can I say it again?  I LOVE NAPA!!


I ran the engine until it was hot, the thermostat opened, and the bubbles had accumulated in the expansion tank.  Job done!

Expansion tank, higher than the water heater


Monday, April 16, 2018

Ricotta, Again.

Milk is one of those strange products...  apparently they really, REALLY want you to buy it in gallon jugs.  Oh, they'll sell it to you in 1/2 gallon jugs, but for only a few cents less than the gallon jug.

So, being the frugal person that I am, I always buy the gallon jug,  even tho Jane and I frequently don't make it thru the gallon before it starts to get "strong".  Maybe "stubborn" is a better description for a person who refuses to buy the smaller container even tho it fits his purposes perfectly.

And then recently I had a thought, "I wonder if 'old' milk would make acceptable ricotta?"

And delightfully, the answer is a resounding YES!

So, now instead of it being a rare event, I make ricotta at the end of nearly every jug of milk, adding enough from the new jug to make up the difference, because usually there is not enough for a full batch left in the old jug.

And this frequency has led to some experimentation.  First, while ricotta can be made with just about any food acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc), we like the flavor and texture of that made using buttermilk best.

Second, always add some salt to the curds as you are scooping them out into the cheesecloth to drain.  A little salt really improves the flavor.

Third, try using garlic salt instead of plain salt - it is a delightful addition to the ricotta.

Or try adding finely chopped fresh herbs to the ricotta for another delightful variation.

And since Jane always seems to have a container of heavy cream in the refrigerator, I tried substituting cream for some of the milk.  And here's where I learned something else...  Jane usually buys the "Ultra Pasteurized" variety because it keeps so well.  But as it turns out, the ultra-pasteurization process heats the dairy product to a higher temperature than regular pasteurization, making it unsuitable for cheese making:  it will not form curds.  At all.

My first attempt at cream-enhanced ricotta, substituting a full cup of cream,  produced a cheese that was way too "moist".  In fact, you couldn't really spread it on a cracker - more like you needed to use a spoon.

But problems are often a boon in disguise.  I have found that the ultra-pasteurized cream can be used in making ricotta - as a moistening agent.  But just not so much.  At a level of 1/4 cup in a batch, it produces a ricotta that is delightfully moist and rich.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Easter Egg Hunt

Perkins 4-236 Expansion Tank

Eolian has a diesel engine, a Perkins 4-236.   Because this is a marine installation, there is no radiator (instead there is a heat exchanger), and therefore no expansion space in the radiator.  For the marine installation, Perkins created a cast aluminum tank to provide the expansion space.

Tho the engine is still in its prime, the tank is failing (galvanic corrosion because it is in contact with steel?  Probably.)

One more lead-in:  An expansion tank should be the high point in the system, so that bubbles and air trapped in the system accumulate there.  But Eolian has an engine-heated water heater which is mounted above the engine, making it the high point in the system.  Long ago I added an after market expansion tank at the water heater engine cooling water inlet, so that we would not accumulate a big air bubble in the water heater, drastically reducing its heating capacity.  Eolian does not need the expansion tank on the engine.

So the fix to the failing expansion tank is simple, right?  Just remove the tank.

Not so fast.  The expansion tank traps the engine thermostat against the casting it is mounted to.  With the tank removed, we will need something else to hold the thermostat in place, and provide a connection for the 1.5" hose that carries the water from the engine to the heat exchanger.

My first thought was to contact our local diesel engine supply house, looking for a Perkins part to bolt on in place of the tank to do just that.  No luck.  Apparently Perkins made that special water outlet casting (which bolts onto the front of the head making a right angle turn upward and providing a four-bolt mounting for the thermostat and the tank), just for use with the expansion tank.  It seems that all other non-marine installations have only a two-bolt mounting pad for a standard water neck/radiator hose connection.

I considered just making a flat plate that gets bolted onto the platform to trap the thermostat, and then drilling it to accept a standard small block Chevy water neck.  I am still considering this option.

But wait...  What do you mean non-marine Perkins installations?  Where else are Perkins 4-236 engines used?  Very little research revealed that the Perkins 4-236 may have been the almost-universal industrial small diesel:

  • Taxi cabs
  • Fork lifts (Hyster)
  • Towed air compressors
  • Towed welders (Lincoln)
  • Industrial tow vehicles, eg luggage tow trucks on runway ramps (Clark)
  • Farm tractors (Massey)
  • ... and more
Water outlet casting, thermostat, and water neck
For all these other installations, it turns out that Perkins made a whole host of water outlet casting and water neck combinations, with the resulting water flow directed to the left hand side of the engine, straight ahead, straight up, to the right, and several angles in between.

Wonderful!  A whole new universe of possibilities has opened up!

I contacted my brother-in-law back in Indiana (thanks Tom!) who is an antique tractor collector, and he provided me with several contacts for Massey tractor salvage yards, many of which provided additional contacts...  you know how this goes.  Almost everyone I talked to was very friendly and curious about my problem ("Did you say the engine is mounted in a boat??").  Finally, I found that Massey (tractors) part no. 37762701 would provide me with a water outlet facing forward, and to which I could (hopefully...) bolt a Chevrolet small block water neck.  This part is available new for a cost ranging from £19, $57, to $295 depending on where you look.
Massey 37762701
But I continued the search, this time starting with Lincoln welders, which also used the Perkins 4-236 engine.  In the way of the Internet, that led me hither and yon, but surprisingly, I ended up on a forum where boat owners with 4-236 engines were discussing using JBWeld to repair failing expansion tanks.  And one of the posters mentioned Trans Atlantic Diesels, and that they sold a number of parts that addressed exactly the problem of failing expansion tanks on Perkins diesels.  One of the solutions they sell is a combination expansion tank, exhaust manifold and heat exchanger, made by Bowman.  This was more than I wanted or needed (I've already replaced the heat exchanger with a Monel one, and replaced the exhaust manifold with a stainless steel one), but that forum poster also mentioned that supplied with this kit was a part that bolted directly onto the existing water outlet, trapping the thermostat and providing a hose outlet going to the right side of the engine...

Oh. My. Gosh.  This is exactly what I started out looking for originally!  So I called them.  You'll want to talk to Sheri Alexander - she is by far the most knowledgeable about Perkins engines, and in particular the marine versions, of anyone that I have talked to in this long journey.  Yup, they have such a thing!  But the one they sell with the Bowman  unit is designed for 2" hose, and my setup uses 1.5" hose...  Sherrie said they'd fabricate one for me with the 1.5" outlet for no additional charge!  And when I called back to provide the Perkins part number for my thermostat, she was already downstairs talking to the fabrication shop!

The Easter egg hunt is over.  The second part of the story, the actual removal of the expansion tank and installation of the new water neck/thermostat housing, is here.


Monday, March 26, 2018

The Hidden, Never-resting Enemy

If your boat has an inboard engine, chances are that it has a shaft log - you know, that place where the prop shaft exits the hull.  This cannot be a mechanically rigid seal because it needs to accommodate movement of the engine on its mounts, and movement of the prop shaft in the cutlass bearing.  Typically then, regardless of the seal type, the shaft log includes a short length of rubber hose, one end of which is clamped onto the rigid hull fitting, and the other end onto the actual seal housing.

OK, so it's below the waterline and therefore needs to have two hose clamps on each end:  four hose clamps in total.  Also, typically, the shaft is slanted down, towards the aft end of the boat.  And it's in a typically hard-to-access location.

Add all this together and what do you have?  An opportunity for the bane of all boaters to work, silently, unobserved, trying to sink your boat.

No seal is perfect; this means that there will be the occasional drop of sea water exiting the seal.  Because the shaft is slanted aft, this lone drop will travel aft, along the bottom of the seal assembly and then the bottom of the hose.  In it's passage, it will travel over the bottom side of all four of those hose clamps. 

The bottom side of the hose clamps.

Where corrosion can work it's evil, undetected.

The NEW hose clamps

Last weekend I changed those four hose clamps on Eolian's shaft log.  All four of them showed corrosion; two were terrible.  And all four hose clamps looked almost new from the top, the only side that you can see.

If both hose clamps fail on one end of the hose (typically the aft end), there is a good chance that the torque applied to the hose via the seal assembly will cause the hose to rotate and eventually come off of the hull fitting.  When this happens, water starts coming into the boat.

How fast?  Well, that depends on your boat's construction.  On Eolian, the cutlass bearing is embedded in the hull, just aft of the hull fitting that the hose attaches to on the inside.  Therefore in our case, the water flow would be minimal - just that little bit that can squeeze past the clearances between the shaft and the cutlass bearing (and its lubrication grooves).

If, on the other hand, your boat has its shaft supported on a strut, then the flow area is huge - the difference between the shaft diameter and the hull fitting diameter - probably not less than a half inch.  There's gonna be a LOT of water coming in!

Due to the seriousness of a failure, and because visual inspection cannot disclose incipient failure, your shaft log hose clamps should be changed on a schedule, regardless of their appearance.

What frequency?  Well I can't tell you that.  If you haven't changed them in a while, go do so.  If they look bad, you waited too long. Cut your maintenance interval in half for the next time.  And if it's been more than 5 years since the last replacement, your should go change them now!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Yup, It Works!

Recently I was working with some West System epoxy (this was on a car project, not a boat project, but no matter).

Nobody who has worked with epoxy has ever, ever come out of the project with clean hands.  Come on, admit it.  Your hands were sticky when you were done.

In the past I've used a variety of solvents to clean off the mess.  Most worked, but most were also harsh. 

I had read in the past that vinegar (a 5% solution of acetic acid in water) was effective as an epoxy hand-cleaner.  But I never believed it.  Come on, a water-based solvent effective on an organic sticky mess?  Ha!

Well, the joke's on me. 

Universal goodness
I tried it, and it worked!  And by "worked", I mean that it literally washed away the black sticky, partially cured mess on my fingers and hands.  As effectively as if it had been maple syrup...  no!  More effectively!

(Of course, once the epoxy is fully cured, it is cross-linked.  That is, the entire bulk of the epoxy is essentially a single molecule of unimaginable molecular weight.  No solvent can dissolve it, tho some may infiltrate and swell it, weakening it.)

Monday, February 5, 2018

More Propeller Thoughts

Some time back I did a mind dump of some thinking about boat propellers.  And one of the comments on that post hit a nerve - one that I have been thinking about for years.

Tip vortices.  What are these?  They are the spiraling water that slips off the ends of the prop blades when it is turning.  They come from the fact that water on one side of the prop is at a higher pressure than water on the other side.  This arrangement holds just fine until you get to the end of the blade, and then the high pressure water just spills off the blade and joins the low pressure on the other side, making a vortex.  For visualization, the same thing happens at the ends of an airplane wing, causing sometimes beautiful effects.  And drag.

Wing Tip Vortices

Making vortices uses energy - energy that could have been used to propel water astern giving thrust.  So, how to stop this waste?  On an airplane wing (or a keel...), one way is to put up a fence to stop the spill-over, thus the development of winglets and winged keels.

So what would a fence on a propeller blade look like?
  • Start with a conventional propeller.  
  • Add a ring that goes all the way around the ends of the blades.  
  • Extend the blades profile to meet the ring.  

This is an interesting example - the ring here is being touted as a guard, which of course it is.  But it almost meets the purpose of a fence.  It falls short only in that the ring is not wide enough to fully cover the ends of the prop blades.

Stationary ring bolted to engine
Why doesn't this prop guard achieve the purpose?  In fact, this is probably worse than no ring at all.  The tips will still be forming vortices, which will then immediately impact the (stationary) ring, creating additional turbulence and drag.    It is important that the tips extend to and attach to the ring, and that the ring rotates with the propeller.

Ducted fans have been using (stationary, however) rings forever.  And the cross section of the rings is designed to minimize flow turbulence as the fluid enters the duct (look at the leading edge of a jet engine cowling for an example).  If the rotating ring had such a cross section, drag could be reduced even further.

Now, if only I had a bronze foundry and some propeller tooling to play with...

If someone out there wants  to do the experiment, I need a RH 20x14 prop to fit a 1.25" shaft...


Monday, January 15, 2018

AIS - Should you have it?

AIS - Automatic Identification System - is a system whereby ships (boats, yachts) broadcast information about their location, speed, course, and much more on marine VHF channel 87 and 88 as digital data.  (Tune your VHF there if you want to hear what digital data sounds like.)

There are two classes of AIS devices, Class A and Class B.  Class A devices are intended for commercial vessels, and transmit with more power and more frequently than the Class B devices, which are primarily intended for recreational craft.

For either class, there are two kinds of devices, transceivers (transmitter/receivers, also incorrectly called 'transponders' - a term meaning transmitter/responder, a device that provides data when interrogated by an incoming signal), and receivers.  As you might suppose, transceivers both broadcast their ship's data and also receive data from other transceivers.  The other type of device, the receiver, collects data but does not broadcast it.  In practical terms, vessels with transceivers can see each other, but tho vessels with receivers can see those with transceivers, they are invisible to other vessels.

In order to provide position, speed, heading, etc data, transceivers need GPS information.  Many have a built-in GPS receiver, a few can use an external GPS via NMEA sentences.  Receivers do not need access to a GPS.  Typically, both transmitters and receivers make the data they collect available via NMEA 0183 and/or NMEA 2000.  Some also provide the data via RS-232 or even USB.

How is the data made available to a human?  Typically, a chartplotter will be connected to the AIS device via a NMEA bus and will display detected ships as icons on the display in their correct position, usually with a speed/direction vector.  The chartplotter will also note Point of Closest Approach, and if that is within a settable danger radius, will sound an alarm.  Tho few computers (laptops, tablets) are equipped to receive NMEA signals, adapters are available.  And of course almost all computers have RS-232 and USB capabilities.  This means that if you are running a navigation application on your computer, and it is one which is capable of receiving and interpreting NMEA sentences, then your computer will display nearby ships just like a chartplotter.

But... there are web applications which show AIS ship data world-wide...  why would you buy an AIS unit yourself?  Why not just use one of these apps on your phone?

The problem with the web-based AIS apps is one of reliability and delay.  Imagine how many AIS receivers are needed to provide world-wide coverage.  Now imagine the internet network that is required to collect and process all this data.  It is a huge system.  And there are processing delays - significant delays.  And there are system and network failures.  Further, making use of the web app that results from all of this collection and processing requires that you are not in a cell phone dead spot (there are plenty of dead spots in the San Juan islands, for example).  All of this combines to mean that the web display will be at best a picture of the situation from some time back.  I used a web app on my iPhone before we got our AIS receiver.  There were times when the display showed a Washington State ferry more than five miles away, when in fact that ferry was right next to us.  Kind of funny in bright sunlight, but not so funny in dense fog.  If you have your own AIS receiver, you won't be depending on someone else's system with all of its inherent delays and dependability issues, or your local ability to connect to the Internet.  Complexity is the Enemy of Reliability.

Coming also is the use of synthetic AToN (Aids To Navigation - buoys, etc.).  For this, a VHF station on shore broadcasts AIS data as if it were an AToN at a particular spot.  There is at least one of tow in Puget Sound, and you can expect more, particularly for situations where a buoy has gone missing or has drifted out of place.  The synthetic AToN will show up on your chartplotter, even if you can't see it with your own eyes.

The case of the out-of-place bouy is an interesting one...  suppose that a buoy has drifted 100 yeards into shallow water.  Would you believe your eyes, or would you believe the display on the chartplotter?

If you never are out and about in less than good visibility, then you won't need RADAR or AIS.  But if you find that you need to navigate at night or in poor visibility, then you should have both RADAR and, at the least, an AIS receiver on board.

Are they expensive?  Receivers are much less expensive than transceivers.  As a personal example, I traded an old iPhone for a used AIS receiver.  Watch eBay and craigslist - many boats that originally had just a receiver are now upgrading to a transceiver.

A number of VHF radios now are available with built-in AIS receivers, seemingly a natural blending of capabilities.  However as a standalone AIS receiver their displays are so small as to be almost ludicrous, and they provide so little information that they do little more than raise the anxiety level on board.  But connected to a chartplotter, this is a viable solution.

How about the transceivers?  Well, I just checked eBay, and found a new one, with a built-in GPS for $400.  There are a lot more available in the $500 range.  You can also spend thousands for a completely self-contained unit that includes its own display capability.  I find these to be ill-conceived, since if you have a chartplotter aboard, you won't be using the display.  And if you're investing this kind of money, you almost certainly have a first class chartplotter on board.

As for us aboard Eolian, we have that AIS receiver I got in trade for the old iPhone, and it is hooked up to our chartplotter.  I will strongly consider getting a transceiver when the prices fall more, or when some start appearing on the used market at a lower price.  In the mean time, it is wonderful to be able to see a ferry approaching Thatcher pass from the inside when I am approaching from the outside with no sightline.

(A tip of the hat to Jason for prompting me to write this!)


Monday, January 8, 2018

What A Simple Answer!

Aroma Diffuser

Why didn't I think of this before?

It lasts nearly forever and works beautifully!  Just be careful not to use a lot of diffuser sticks - a boat is a small place, and too much evaporating surface area will make the fragrence overpowering instead of just barely above the threshold of perception.  If one stick is too much, break it in half - it is the portion sticking out of the bottle that is doing the bulk of the evaporation.

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