Monday, April 30, 2012


Sometimes you have to do something totally for its symbolic value. Humans seem to have an in-built need for symbolism.

I don't know if it is a marine tradition (boy, there are a lot of these), but it certainly generated warm feelings when Scott torched his old bowsprit.

This came about like this.  s/v Ghost had a rotten bowsprit, and Scott decided (inspired by moi) to build a new one.  And like when I did ours, this was a long, drawn-out project.  At the end, there is a great feeling of relief.

And what better way to celebrate that then to invite some friends to the little sand beach on the outside of the breakwater - it only shows at high tide, so timing is important! - to a ceremonial burning of the bowsprit.  In case you are wondering, yes, that orange bucket is full of ice and beer...  necessary ingredients for a ceremony of this solemnity.

The ceremony continued until well after dark.  My only regret?  Eolian's old bowsprit is languishing away in a storage shed, waiting for the cleansing fire. But now I am inspired to dig it out.

I wonder if John Vigor has words useful for this ceremony?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Project ST5000: Initial Sea Trials

We took the boat out this weekend for the first time this year.  And the occasion served as the ideal time for the first trials of the ST5000 under actual operating conditions.

The installation instructions advise that the first task should be to swing the autopilot compass.  The is an easy task - after working yourself thru the menus to the right spot in the autopilot's software, you turn the boat 360° taking at least 3 minutes to do so.  Apparently all is well with the compass location if the maximum deviation discovered is less than 30° - ours was 8°.  At least from the effects of nearby iron (and magnets), the compass location is apparently good.  OK!

So, the Moment Of Truth. Get the boat on a steady heading and... (as Jean Luc Picard says) Engage!

That picture does not give an adequate description of the behavior.  The first time a course correction was needed, the autopilot turned the wheel a little.  And then, apparently not satisfied with the boat's progress in the new direction, it turned it again, a LOT.  The boat immediately overshot and the autopilot then turned the wheel in the other direction, all the way until the limit switches stopped it.  I disengaged it.

I used the rest of the trip to fool with the internal settings, trying to find a way to tone things down a bit.  No joy.

Then I said to myself, "Self, I wonder if the rudder transducer is really a required part of the system?"  So I plugged it in to the back of the ST5000 and, holding it in my hands, I tried to make it do what I thought it would be doing if it were properly installed and hooked up to the rudder.  What did I learn?  That the autopilot is exquisitely sensitive to the rudder position.  So much so in fact, that I believe that the autopilot is actually commanding a rudder angle directly.

Guess I'm going to have to swallow my impatience and go ahead and install the rudder transducer.

The necessary three-conductor shielded wire is now on order.


Sunday, April 22, 2012


The first time off the dock for the year is a milestone. The boat, which for months has been nothing but a small teak-lined apartment with funny-shaped rooms, finally comes alive, becomes a magic carpet that can carry us almost literally anywhere. Its a milestone for us too. We feel like the fetters have been removed; we are free again.

We are having a stretch of unseasonably warm weather here in Seattle - its even considerably above "normal" (a rare occurrence here in Woebegone). When we looked at the forecast, we dropped everything, changed our plans mid-stream and made ready to cast off. Freedom!

But there was a hitch. Jane knowingly suggested that we check to see if the anchor windlass still worked after 6 (?) months of neglect. Good thing she did.

It turned out that the relay inside the windlass had failed. It cost us two hours, and several cuts on my fingers, to install the spare relay.

Nevertheless, here we are, at anchor in Port Madison, free.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Project ST5000: Locating the compass

New autopilot => new compass. Now where to put it? The compass installation instructions advise that the compass should be mounted:
  1. At least 3 feet from major ferrous metal (eg, the engine)
  2. At least 3 feet from radios (because of the magnet in the speakers)
  3. At least 3 feet from other compasses (magnets, again)
  4. On the forward side of a bulkhead
  5. As close to the roll center of the boat as possible
  6. As close to the pitch center of the boat as possible
  7. As close to the yaw center of the boat as possible.
As it turns out, these are conflicting requirements aboard Eolian, given that the roll/pitch center is just about at the top of the engine.

Since this was going to be an experiment no matter where I chose, I first (temporarily... no cutting of cable yet) chose the most convenient location: the bulkhead directly beneath the drive unit, right below the wheel in the cockpit.  This took care of numbers 2, 3, and 4, and wasn't bad for 5-7.

When testing tho, a strange thing happened.  As soon as I engaged the autopilot, it dove wildly to port.  This perplexed me for about a beer.  Then I questioned whether the electromagnetic clutch in the drive unit might be causing the problem.  So I pulled the clutch wire (blue) off of the back of the ST5000 and tested again...  it happily maintained our "course", sitting there in our slip.  so now I have another constraint to add:
  • Mount the compass at least 4 feet away from the drive unit
In fact, in studying this I noticed that the drive unit clutch was also causing a 2° change in the heading shown by the main navigational compass at the wheel!  Worse, I can see no reason that this has not been present since the drive unit was installed, decades ago.  Gonna have to remember to take that into account.

Things are getting more difficult now.  In the "engine room" space beneath the cockpit, I could not find any place for the compass where the drive unit did not interfere. 

So now I could either go forward, or aft of the engine room.  But going forward, I'd have to string wire all the way to forward of the mast to get the compass away from both the engine and the generator.  Going aft, there is a much closer convenient location beneath the berth, near the compass unit for the radar.  Actually, this is pretty close to where the compass for the old Benmar had been mounted (although that unit had been mounted quite a bit off the centerline of the boat, the source, I believe, of that autopilot's inability to track well in a seaway).

I mounted it in the aft location and cut the cable.   We'll do sea trials and try it there for a while.  If it is unsatisfactory, I'll relocate the compass forward of the mast as a second choice location.

Now all we need is some decent weather that coincides with when we have time to get off the dock...


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Resolved: Journey of discovery

On September 17, 2010 I started on a journey to understand, and ultimately fix a nagging problem with my alternator - the start of charging was delayed until the engine RPM's reached 1400 or so, and then it worked normally even at idle.

If you were with me on that journey, you might recall that it ended, unresolved, when I ran out of time and energy to continue.

Recently, I had occasion to remove the alternator for another reason, and this suited as an ideal opportunity to open it up and see if there was a problem inside.  As it turned out, everything inside was in perfect condition - the brushes were like new, all 6 diodes were working and all the connections were tight.

You might recall also from that 2010 journey that I cast suspicion on the connector that mates with the alternator, delivering the bootstrap voltage.  So I pulled the terminals out of the nylon connector, and found, yes you guessed it, that they were dirty and bent enough that a poor connection was being made.  Cleaning and restoring the terminals to their proper shape completely resolved the issue.

By the way, if they are not molded in, it is not difficult to pull terminals out of connectors. When they are assembled, the metal terminals are inserted into the nylon connector housing from the rear, that is, from the end where the wires will ultimately protrude.  Each terminal is equipped with one or two locking tangs that, when the terminal is fully inserted, snap out into recesses in the connector housing, keeping the terminal from being pushed back out the rear. 

To release a terminal from the housing, all you need to do is, working from the front of the connector, depress the tang with a knife, small screwdriver, stiff wire, or whatever fits into the space, and you can then withdraw the terminal out the back of the connector.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


The first hockey-puck hamburger of the year was grilled on Thursday evening.

And enjoyed in the cockpit, in the sunshine.

But I don't dare say too much for fear of bringing on six more weeks of winter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


We are all, whether we recognize it or not, members of several communities.

Our membership ranges from "Humanity" as the largest encomapssing community to, for most people, "Neighborhood" at the lowest geographic level.  We are also members of various interest-, religion-, or philosophy-based groups.

But these are not my primary focus here.  Today, I want to talk about a community that folks living ashore have little or no knowledge of:  the community of folks living aboard their boats on your dock.

This is a tightly-knit community.  First of all, it is literally tight - our joint slip is 36' wide - that means that within the space of 50' (the size of many homes), you will find three boats.  We are living in each other's pockets.  While this might seem uncomfortable, it is not.  It spawns a cultural conduct much like that found in crowded Japan - you ignore what you might see or hear on another boat if it is obviously private.

Cooperatively we are also tightly knit.  When there is a problem (high wind, machinery failure, etc), we all pitch in to help our neighbors.  When a boat is coming in to the dock to tie up, there are almost always more hands than docklines.  And no one feels embarrassed to ask for help from their neighbors.

You will know everyone's first name, and their boat name, of course.  But you may never, even after years of interactions, know their last names.  When you introduce yourself, it goes something like this, "Hi, I'm Bob, from Eolian - the green and white ketch down at the end of the dock."  If there is a new boat on the dock, you always welcome the folks aboard her into the community.

And speaking of that, this is a community of change.  The membership is not static - new boats come and familiar ones leave.  A week ago Brent and Jill aboard s/v Ambition, our slip-mates, left.  Ambition is now berthed in Friday Harbor, which of course means we now have a destination for this summer's cruise.  It is ever like this, the constant change.  But there is a huge benefit:  wherever you go, there will probably be a boat there that used to be on your dock, so there is almost always someone to visit, to catch up with, to share a sundowner with.  So the circle widens geographically while it grows in membership.

It is a community that is honest with itself, by and large.  While sharing those sundowners on the dock, or on the deck of another boat, the community members discuss harrowing incidents, what they did wrong, and how they recovered so that others can have the privilege of learning at their expense - an expense they gladly share.  I confess that this is a part of the inspiration for the I learned about sailing from that series of posts on this site; I'm trying to spread the benefit widely.  (Shameless plug:  Read them, and if you are confident enough in yourself to share, please make a contribution of your own learning experiences.)

It is a community that I am proud to be a part of.  If living aboard a boat has ever appealed to you, rest assured that if you do move aboard you will be welcomed.  Just as Jane and I will welcome our new slip-mates when they arrive, as they surely will.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Project ST5000: Cockpit lash-up

I have the ST5000+ now running in the cockpit!  There it is, in front of the old Benmar controller it is going to replace.

By setting it up in the cockpit, I have discovered that I do not have the center of travel between the limit switches anywhere near where the wheel is amidships...  With the wheel centered, it is a turn and a half going in one direction till the limit switch stops the motion, but only a half a turn in the other direction.

I've got to figure out how to recenter things.  Well, I guess that is a full-blown philosophical question...

Got it.  Here's what I did:
  • Run the autopilot until the limit switch tripped on the side with only 1/2 turn away from center.  Turn off the autopilot.
  • Go down below and loosen the drive unit until I could move it far enough to disengage the chain
  • Back in the cockpit, turn the wheel another 1/2 turn
  • Re-position the drive unit and engage the chain.  Tighten in place.

But I'm still working on centering myself.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

True confessions

The weather is unarguably worse in the depths of winter.

Nevertheless, it is now, here in the season of Woebegone (when every day is 10° below normal) when I feel my personal lack of vitamin D most strongly.
Angela on s/v Ghost captured this on Monday

And yet.  And yet, this is also Rainbow Season - when rain showers and sunbreaks alternate quickly and frequently;  so much so that rainbows are common.  Rainbows are a symbol of promise, of hope.  

So my confession?  I am mightily affected by a powerful longing for real spring to arrive.  I try to keep a positive outlook.  Oh, I try. 

And I long for it to be warm enough to make leaving the dock and anchoring out not an ordeal.

Soon now, I think.

I hope.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Project ST5000: All buttoned up

Almost ready for the first sea trials. That picture shows the Benmar drive unit installed back in its place under the cockpit sole. The spare unit I used to do the prototype work is back under Jane's berth.

And I just received notice that a UPS package has been delivered - could it be the wire to hook up the compass?

Other than stringing this wire (never simple or easy on a boat), we are about ready for the first sea trials - without the rudder reference transducer. The autopilot will work without the rudder reference (see the St4000, which does not use a rudder reference), but it will work better with one.

Installing the rudder reference transducer will be nearly a project in its own right. Later.

Update:  For the initial sea trial, I will *not* permanently install the compass.  Instead, I will duct tape it to a suitably vertical surface in the cockpit.  That way I don't need to pull wire to do the initial testing.

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