Quick Links: Cabin Heat

25 06 2011 Posted by Daniel

I’m completely enchanted by this lovely little cast iron stove. Talk about perfect for off-grid living, no propane or diesel required! And best of all its designed for shipboard living - being an old northern fishing boat design it’s quite capable of being tossed about while in operation.

Courtesy Navigator Stove Works: http://www.marinestove.com
Andrew is the chap’s name, and he’s very knowledgable.

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Whichever way the wind blows [On wind vanes and self steering]

24 06 2011 Posted by Daniel

One of the enduring questions regarding long distance passages is how to keep the boat going in the proper direction without exhausting the crew or exposing them to undue lengths of time at the helm. Race crews solve this with a series of teams of athletic men helming the boat in shifts. Some cruisers use electronic autopilots to steer the boat, with the extra power usage and added complexity and expense that they entail.

And some cruisers go “low tech”, using clever arrangements of lines, gears, vanes, and paddles to steer the boat using a whirlygig-like apparatus called a self-steering system, or wind vane autopilot. These range from the extremely low tech, homebuilt units costing relatively little but often required a significant amount of fine-tuning and time investment to make them work well, all the way up to the legendary wind vanes with names such as “Monitor”, “Cape Horn”, “Aries”, and “Hydrovane”.

Naturally, since I’m trying to reduce my power consumption and seek to harness the power of the wind as much as possible, I am opting for the wind vane autopilot solution.

While each of the major vanes have their pros and cons, and each of them have a fanatical group of hardcore supporters, one setup in particular stood out to me as superior for a few key reasons, which I will discuss in a moment. However, this solution does NOT come inexpensively. But when I weighed the pros and cons of the options, my skill and construction resources, and the time I have available, the value of the system became very clear. So I placed a call to Hydrovane International, and boy let me tell you: these people know how to please their customers.

From the beginning I felt like this was the kind of company I was glad to be supporting with my hard earned money. They didn’t immediately try to sell me the product, but instead I got a sense of comfortable confidence in their own gear - they knew that I had all the data I already needed to make the decision, and they were there to make the process as straightforward as possible. Getting engineering plans and validation, customized assistance with each part, and even individual consideration on whether or not my solar panel arch would be an issue was something they did quickly, happily, and most importantly, accurately. They aren’t sales people who pretend to be engineers, they are engineers who also enjoy ethical sales. So a big shout to John, Will, and Valerie, who each gave valuable and thoughtful consideration to my situation in a cheerful and accurate manner. This is how a company should be run.

Then there was the issue of the product itself. After making it nearly dead simple to order the right parts, I had a lead time commitment - which they honored - and the parts came in excellent packing. All in all, hauling the 5 boxes out to my boat was a simple task. But if I had been pleased with their company to this point, I was still positively surprised when I opened the box and hefted the first components. This is a solid product where no corners were cut, and the quality is evident immediately.

The installation instructions are not only thorough, but they supply a host of anecdotal tips and warnings acquired from a few decades of past installs to help you avoid common pitfalls and ensure a smooth install. And as for the installation - it’s dead simple, once you figure out where you are going to put the thing.

One trick I found very useful was when fabricating the mounting blocks that match the curve of the hull to the straight edge of the cast aluminum bracket. Hydrovane recommended that I tape a sheet of 60 grit sandpaper to the hull and effectively sand the block against the hull to get the right curvature. It works PERFECTLY, and with a little sweat (did I mention it was 105F outside and 80% humidity while I was doing this?) I got some fantastic mounting pads. I’d ordered up some heavy 1/8” stainless steel backing plate stock as well, and the next step was to “machine” those heavy squares into satisfactory backing plates. A few hours with a Dremel cutting wheel (ok, several cutting wheels) and I’d cut the plates into a sort of elongated octagon roughly matching the shape of the mounting brackets. I did this mostly to spread the load out across multiple points, preventing high stress locations along the hull fiberglass. The rounded octagon doesn’t have the sharp square edges to leave a sudden stress riser at the edge of the plate. I borrowed a drill press from a local high-volume home improvement warehouse in order to drill the holes in the backing plates.

The hardest part is planning, measuring, and marking the mounting pad locations. There is no stable “level” reference on a boat - nothing is a straight line! So I had to give it my best guess, factor for a little bit of wind and offset weight causing the boat to lean, jig it up with a friend eyeballing it at a distance, and ultimately just hold my breath and drill the holes. I found their advice to use a PVC pipe very helpful - even if I couldn’t find a 2” O.D. pipe section to clamp in place (2” PVC is the I.D., and 1.5” has slightly less than 2” O.D.). I ended up using some heavy duct tape on the outside of 1.5” pipe to make up the difference. A test fit of the whole “sandwich” validated the alignment, so I called it a day and grabbed a well-deserved beer as the light faded.

The next day I ground away the paint and surface gelcoat inside the stern area. This created a good surface to bed the backing plates against, using epoxy thickened with high density filler to fair the pad against the hull curvature. I also sanded the faded and worn gelcoat off the transom to ensure good epoxy adhesion between the mounting pad and the transom. 3M 4200 served as the adhesive between the aluminum bracket and the outer surface of the pad, and I used Tef-Gel between the aluminum casting and the stainless bolts and washers.

The whole gooey sandwich had to go together pretty fast, even with slow hardener, as it was a scorchingly hot day, so I planned it all out carefully before mixing up the batches. Once I had the top bracket assembled and curing, I quickly assembled the lower bracket, and then fit the actual shaft in place to pull everything into final alignment as it cured.


After the final cure, I re-torqued the shaft bolts and the mounting pad bolts, and assembled the steering gear according to the easy-to-follow instructions. There wasn’t much of a trick to this, except that to help align the unit fore-and-aft I again reached for the 1.5” PVC pipe to extend the tiller arm to get a longer reference line. I did all of this in about an hour on a Monday afternoon after work and popped the vane and the rudder on for a quick functional test.

All that’s left is to find a suitable place to run the course adjustment line, but that can wait for the test sail and some more experimentation!

In brief, the main reasons I chose the Hydrovane were:
1. It doesn’t require lines in the cockpit running back to the wheel or tiller.
2. It’s a completely standalone system that does not depend on the main rudder functioning.
3. It’s a spare rudder as well. This was a big factor for me.
4. It has a stellar reputation and I’ve heard of many users of other vanes moving to the Hydrovane and wondering why they didn’t do it sooner. I haven’t heard a single story of someone that went the other way.
5. It has the most straightforward install for my boat as well, and involved the least amount of holes in the boat.

Generally speaking I’ve heard great wailing, swearing, and gnashing of teeth over most of the other brands, and have heard nothing but praise for the Hydrovane. And having installed mine and seen how it’s constructed, I have to say I can see why. Though nothing short of a test sail and then some nice long passages will put the proof to the question.

Overall, I absolutely recommend both this piece of gear and the company themselves, and will let you know how well the new ‘vane sails the boat before too long!

** [Update] Note that I am not being compensated in any way for reviewing or recommending any product or service. If I do receive sponsorship or special consideration I will mention that fact explicitly. **

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T minus 6 months...

10 06 2011 Posted by Daniel

Here is a quick update for those of you keeping up with my boat preparation project.

Six months to go. Its NOT a very long time. I’m got that hopeful skepticism that seems to come with most sailing related projects: I’m hoping I’ve got a reasonable handle on what needs to be done, but I’m skeptical that things will go as planned. I’m moving forward steadily, but I’m not holding my breath just yet.

As of right now, the engines of major change are starting again. The weather has turned hot, my slate of course work and heavy writing at the beginning of the year has subsided somewhat, and I can shift my focus away from the frenetic weekend racing schedule back towards getting Aletheia ready for blue water. Yes, I’d like to be out sailing more, but what I want more than anything is to be out sailing Aletheia, not someone else’s boat, even if it means I won’t be winning any races for the time being. And getting her ready to sail is going to take some serious physical work this summer.

The first major hurdle that I have to overcome right now is one familiar to all liveaboards. Lee Winters calls it “floating condo syndrome” and I have to agree, its a pretty apt description. Its the situation that happens when you have Too Much Stuff (™) and not enough places to put it. Some people want a bigger boat. I’d prefer to simplify my life. But, much like concise writing, reducing the stuff you own to what you really will make use of requires a large amount of time to do the sorting and stowing. I simply need to start going through what I own and getting rid of a lot of it, all over again. Clutter belowdecks is dangerous and irresponsible underway.

The next major hurdle is that of basic repairs and maintenance. The engine fuel cutoff cable was siezing, making it difficult to shut the engine down. That cable has been pulled out and is waiting for a trip to a local diesel shop who will make up a new one for me. Aletheia also needs a new bottom paint job, and I’m busy scheduling that as well.

This doesn’t even touch on all the projects that are still in progress: wind vane steering (many thanks to Hydrovane, about whom I will write much more shortly), wind turbine power generation, new chainplates to make, and of course the ongoing fridge saga. Speaking of which, here’s a quick photo update on the fridge compartment:

(Thanks to my friend Judith for taking the photos in a hot, sweaty, noisy, itchy environment and not running off to the nearest ice cream parlor or something)

Once these projects are done, there are two more major projects and a massive host of minor ones to complete before I’ll be comfortable taking her offshore. She needs new rigging, and I need to replace the deadlights along the coachroof with solid through-bolted acrylic. After I’ve completed those tasks, the essential frame of the ship will be restored to blue water readiness. Then its all about features, and those I can take or leave as I have time. In fact, many of these features I can install or obtain along the way as I cruise.

But one feature definitely needs to be considered before I leave: I still need to choose and obtain a dinghy… I’d LOVE to build a plywood/glass one, but I have nowhere practical to do that construction right now. If I end up staying over the winter, I might try my hand at building one in the spare room they have at the boatyard.

But right now, I’m off to make a start on that whole cleaning thing…

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June Featured Sailing Site - Bobbie Rounds the World

03 06 2011 Posted by Daniel

Every month I try to feature a sailing website that I think you’ll really enjoy. As with Lee Winters and Sailing for SOS, this month’s site celebrates a theme very near to my heart: a young adventurer defying the conventional American lifestyle and living radically, buying a sailboat, fixing it up, and charging off into the deep blue, heart aflame and vision high. So here’s a warm welcome to Emily Richmond and her blog, Bobbie Rounds the World!

This young lady is challenging so many conventions at once its hard to figure out where to start; even most other vagabonding, wayfaring would-be explorers don’t set off solo on a tradewind circumnavigation. Add to that the challenges of maintaining a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, strict eco-consciousness, and a whole lot of boat work to be done, and you have one determined soul with a passion. In fact, she’s so determined that not even a broken rig has stopped her, nor even dampened her enthusiasm for the journey. And she’s doing all of this while sending not only blog posts but videos, polaroid photos, and handmade origami sailboats back to her supporters at home. Let me tell you, that’s a challenge in and of itself while on the high seas.

And lest you think this endeavour is borne of privilege, think again. For funding Emily again took the innovative route, raising an initial $8000 through Kickstarter.com: a website that lets individuals contribute as much as they wish to a certain goal or project whilst ensuring that their money is completely refunded if the project doesn’t get off the ground. But she didn’t stop there; recognizing from the beginning that the $8000 raised represented far more than money alone, she took the groundswell of interest in her project to potential sponsors who were suitably impressed with her derring-do.

Her creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication to doing something worthwhile should be something that each of us looks to for inspiration in our own lives. So with that in mind, I strongly encourage you to visit her blog, drop her a note, and get involved in one of the worldchanging projects she’s representing on her journey.

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