Saturday, October 31, 2009

How can you tell your sails are set correctly without looking at the tell-tails or mast head fly?

If your course is set, pay attention to the motion of the boat, through your butt if you’re sitting or your feet if you’re standing:
* If the boat moves through wind waves without motion and over swells without bobbing, your sails are set well and giving you good thrust in the direction you are going.
* If the boat is heeling and bobbing, your sails are trimmed too hard or you are pointing too far downwind for the set of your sails.
* If the boat is standing up and bobbing, your sails are trimmed too loosely or you are pointing too high for the set of your sails.
* If you have significant weather helm, your jib is relatively looser than your main. (1)
* If you have lee helm, your main is relatively looser than your jib. (1)
Remember the saying “When in doubt, let it out!” and take a look at your jib. Let your jib out until it barely luffs and pull it back until it doesn’t – It’s perfectly set! Match your main to the jib, initially by matching the boom in parallel with an imaginary line between the tack and clew of the jib. Then taking into consideration twist , horizontal curve at midpoint of sail and vertical curve and outhaul, match the shape of the main to the shape of the jib, paying attention to feedback from the helm, optimizing it for a very light weather helm. The main clue will be inboard more than the jib clue more as you point higher and outboard as you run, unless you have a whisker pole. The fundamental test is the motion of the boat – Does it feel like you’re on rails, sailing powerfully through wind waves and the boat’s not rocking or bobbing? You’re doing a great job, then! I love that feeling!
Ultimately, you will feel the boat through your butt or feet, steer by looking at the horizon and get feedback from your course through your peripheral vision, picking up wave direction, wind shifts, puffs, etc., glancing occasionally at compass and telltales. You’ll get to know your boat so that you feel when the jib and main are pulling well.
(1) These assume the boat is balanced: Many are not. A balanced boat has ballast, rig, sail and rudder trimmed. There’s a lot that goes into balancing a boat, before and while sailing and that is a good bit of what I do as a rigger – Tune the boat and rig so she sails comfortably, naturally, as she was designed to.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Is Gelcoat and How Is It Applied?

Gelcoat is the generic name for marine exterior epoxy-based boat paint. Boat exteriors are usually completely painted with a thick layer of gel coat and bottom paint is then painted on top of that, for protection against marine growth. Gelcoat is very durable, usually lasting around thirty years but also very expensive, currently around $150 – $300/gallon, with additives.
Painting with gelcoat is straight-forward but there are lots of ways to make a mess of it and it requires a week for testing and various drying times. It’s a completely more scientific process than regular painting but one that can be mastered by a beginner with patience, the first time. Always use the same brand and type of gelcoat and ALL chemicals, as the chemicals from one are only weakly compatible with those of another. Measurements must be precise. If they are not, the gel coat will not be even and won’t match or be repeatable. Once the formulations are proven, write them in the back of the owners manual or somewhere they can be found and gratefully used next time!
This is a very brief overview of the process.
(1) Make, fair and clean the underlying, rigid surface with a tack cloth.
(2) Wipe it with an evaporative degreaser (such as acetone) on a lint-free cloth.
(3) If the surface is subject to immersion, appropriate barrier chemicals must be applied at this stage.
(4) Paint the area with surface prep liquid.
(5) Mix the epoxy primer. For relatively small jobs, I use disposable syringes and cut the tips very short, allowing me to transfer the liquids quickly. I lay them aside neatly in order, allowing for reuse.
(6) Apply the epoxy primer. If spraying, add up to 40% thinner.
(7) Mix epoxy paint in the following order: Resin, hardener, thinner, pigment, flattening agent.
(8) When barely dry to touch but tacky when pressed, apply paint, again mixing thinner – 10% for brush and up to 40% for spray.
(9) Apply UV-protective layer, as specified by paint manufacturer – This is an important step for the life of the repair and will deter UV deterioration, which otherwise will be noticeable.
(10) Wax.
Build up color first and then add flattening agent on the last pass – It’s clear, so it’s almost impossible to build the color with the flattening agent in every coat. it’s vital to use a large spare board and make and apply a number of mixes because the curing process changes color significantly, only gaining its lasting color about five days after application. Generally, use much less pigment than you would imagine. When matching old gelcoat, the last coat will be permeated with flattening agent – Read the instructions for the proper mix. Wet sand between coats, with 600 grit paper and final coat with 2,000 grit paper on a board: Do not use a palm when sanding the final coats because you want the surface to be flat with the surrounding paint. Another tricky issue is the thickness of the gelcoat and you have to guess about the amount of thinner, flattening agent and pigments to build the right thickness. Chipping a bit of loose, existing gelcoat off is a handy tool for comparison.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Join The Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade! - Sat. Dec. 12

The Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade is a great, social way to start off the holiday season and here’s a glimpse of what it is and how to prepare and participate. It is on Saturday, December 12, from 6-8pm, after the fireworks, in the main channel of Marina del Rey Harbor. Like any large event, the earlier you come here the better, so tell your friends and plan ahead!
The official parade website is and you’ll find everything you need there, from great pictures to the entry form and instructions based on many years’ experience. It is non-profit, entirely volunteer-run and you’ll be very welcome however you want to participate – From watching to sponsoring and, of course, the best part is entering your boat! The staff is amazingly supportive to everyone and I have increased my business and had a blast creating much community goodwill in helping this parade. Please join me and sponsor!
The parade is in the early evening and the boats are decorated with holiday lights; many have elaborate, themed sets like a float in a regular parade. Entries range from kayaks to small ships and the majority are decorated with just strings of holiday lights: It’s amazing how beautiful your boat looks lit up! Decorating usually takes one or more people a day or two to put up and a few hours to remove. Entering the parade is easy, with very little paperwork and just one mandatory skipper’s meeting, where you pick up your boat parade display number, get the parade route and instructions and get to know the other skippers. It’s a fun, welcoming and highly supportive group.
I have enjoyed seeing the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade for years and have driven my boat in it for the last three. It’s a ton of fun either way and if you’ve got kids, you’ll see them as happy and excited as they can get! It’s great seeing friends I don’t often come across, too. I was stunned at how many fans came to see the parade my first time and it’s a rush getting cheers! The best way to get a lot of cheers is to make the fans happy – Get your whole boat singing carols, waving and calling out – The good cheer is returned literally a thousand times over! Boats tend to clump together and I’ve found that looking for a place in the parade far from other boats and puttering along slowly not only gets me much more attention but more importantly entertains the crowd during an otherwise dull spot and that keeps them from drifting away, thinking the parade’s over.
Here’s what is needed to basically decorate a 30′ boat:
* 10 boxes of dangly icicle lights: Eight for lifelines and two along the boom or cabin (They come in very short lengths of just nine feet!): 10 x $10 = $100
* 6 boxes of regular colored lights (62′) for rigging or shapes and 2 for toerail and the boom or cabin: 8 x $25 = $200
* 1 – 3000-watt gasoline generator. I rent mine at Home Depot for $52 for a day
* 2 – 25′ 20-amp extension cords and 3 power strips: If you don’t have them, borrow them – Everyone’s got a spare!
* 200′ of rope or very strong cord for lighting sailboat rigging or 80 wire hangers and 50′ of strong cord and a 1,000 count bag of small zip ties ($3/100 at Culver City Hardware (310) 398-1251 & Home Depot)
My budget for the parade is $450 for my Catalina 30. For every ten feet of boat, add or subtract 50% in supplies you’ll need for a typical entry. Larger, more sophisticated and much more attractive displays cost more but can often be easily reused every year, with modifications and improvements. Holiday lighting and decorations are drastically reduced in price after New Year’s and that’s a great time to buy masses of lights!
Lights are fragile, so they need to be tied to something strong to take any forces, like someone grabbing them for support when they stumble on the boat. Fasten the strands firmly with white zip ties (that won’t show up), every three feet and before the end of each connection. Leave a little slack in the strand and enough slack (1/2″ per foot of lifeline or rail and 4″ per three feet of rope) so forces are taken up by the rail or rope, instead of the lights. I also bundle all lines, electrical cords, power strips, etc. and tie them neatly out of the way, leaving a clear path and an entirely clear port side.
Powerboats have great spaces to create scenes, with reindeers, shapes, lit flags and more. There is a lot of usable space on the side of the cabin and don’t forget to be creative with your freeboard and bow! Making and wrapping wire frames with light strings is a lot of fun and making them is an excellent excuse for a party.
Here are some ideas to get you started for lighting a sailboat’s rigging: Lay lines (rope) along your dock, tied together to look like an octopus, tie lights on and raise that, for an easy way to light rigging. You can tie the ends to lifelines for the best look. Wrapping lights around your jib, initially using the roller furler and halfway down, wrapping the strands by hand gives a huge and beautiful candy cane look!
If you have a sign, it needs to be well-lit: A border of white strand lights gives great illumination and is easiest to rig. Winds and sometimes rain can come up unexpectedly, so don’t put up anything that can turn into a sail, such as a large sheet or plywood. The harbor will be crammed with everything from large boats to a host of rowers and many can barely operate their boats, so please be extra polite and give everyone the benefit of the doubt – They may well need it!
There are two things I must warn you about, with generators: Rentals are first-come, first-served, so if at all possible, pick up your generator near your home, early in the morning and away from Marina del Rey in case they’re out. Also, generators must be securely lashed to your deck in a place where no exhaust fumes can collect (Don’t open a hatch behind them!).
Any questions? I give free professional advice here and am available to help, too!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nothing Beats Shared Wonder of Nature

Took a friend (Alex) of my sailing buddy, John, out for an idyllic afternoon – The Gennaker set beautifully every time, the sea was flat to calm and we had a refreshing breeze – Genevieve swam powerfully, gracefully and we didn’t stop grinning ’till the BBQ at the dock with our neighbors ended. Genevieve likes her foredeck washed with spray and I spent some of those magical moments standing on the pulpit, leaning on the forestay, just feeling her smooth movement, the wind, the shafts of sunlight dancing deep in the water broken by our passage and the freedom of it all. I looked back to John and Alex’s silly grins and we just laughed with the joy of it all. Alex kept telling us how it couldn’t get any better than this and John and I didn’t have to respond – We all knew it to be so.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How does prop walk effect the handling of my boat?

Thanks for your question! Here’s the short answer:
(1) Get steerageway
(2) Throttle down, shifting into neutral if it’s bad
(3) Coast through your turn and make it a little (not much!) tighter than you normally would
(4) Bursts of speed where needed and then coast backwards, in neutral

When prop walk is really strong, the boat doesn’t back up at all, turning in place in one direction, regardless of how much you accelerate. You have an implicit question as well: “How do I back up my boat when it has strong prop walk?” Please note that I am assuming a single-screw (propeller) boat. Twin-screw powerboats have opposite engine rotations and are properly driven at slow speed by the engines, with only occasional wheel, so this doesn’t apply to them.

Boat propellers, with a couple exceptions, are designed to go forward efficiently and provide some reverse functionality but not much. As a result, they push water behind them (in forward gear) very well, with only a little being thrown out along the axis of the blades – You can see this with the wake in calm conditions when the prop’s not going too fast or slow – Sharp lines of water on the surface perpendicular to the thrust, if your prop is behind the boat.

In reverse, the prop throws most of the water aside with only a little forward. Due to the shape of the propeller blade, the water is thrown in one direction, so it hits, for instance, the port side of your boat but not the starboard and the water being diverted along the hull affects the direction your boat’s going in reverse in two ways: It pushes the boat to one side and creates a flow of water that’s not in the direction the boat’s going in. The same problems exist for the rudder, if mounted ahead of the prop, as in an outboard mounted on a transom and while the uneven deflection of the water on the rudder’s surface is not so much of a problem here, the force of the water can uncontrollably slam the rudder to one side or the other, causing serious damage, injury and an out of control boat. Things are made worse by the position of the rudder in relation to the prop and on tiller boats, it’s often almost impossible to keep the tiller from slamming to one side or the other, completely losing control in reverse! With this uneven force of heavily swirling water, there’s not much control and what control there is, is very lopsided.

There are propellers that are reversing and they have greatly reduced prop walk but are also much less efficient going forward, which is almost all the time. Once you’ve learned what I’m showing you here, prop walk is an annoying but relatively small price to pay. There are fancy outdrives that have two propellers spinning in opposite directions on the same shaft and they don’t have appreciable prop walk and are really, really cool! But we’re helping out the average Joe powerboater and the sailor, here.

There are two techniques and one principle that will get you past the worst of prop walk. Here’s the principle: Steerageway. You’ve got to go a minimum speed for your rudder and keel to be able to steer. Usually that’s about 1.5 knots. If you don’t go that fast, no amount of steering will have any effect. The first thing to do is get up to speed, so you can turn. once you’ve got steerageway, your boat will glide for a good fifty yards if there’s no wind, so you’ll be fine.

To effectively and quickly gain speed, I gradually increase engine revolutions so the prop is thrusting water and not bubbles. At the same time, counter the prop walk with the rudder only enough to get the boat going straight back – Don’t worry about turning. When the docklines are cast off, shift into reverse at idle and then accelerate to 1500 revolutions per minute (RPMs), glancing at the wash on one side or the other of the rear of the hull to make sure you’re not blowing bubbles but are pushing strongly. Increase to 2000 if possible, over a period of perhaps five seconds – You ought to now have steerageway and you’ll know it because the rudder will suddenly feel alive and direct the boat, pulling in the direction you’ve turned it. Congratulations – You’ve got steerageway!

At this time, you’ll need to ease your correction, throttle down and if the prop walk’s bad, shift into neutral, keeping the boat going straight out of the slip until the curve of the bow starts clearing the slip (On a powerboat, this is usually halfway between the windshield and the bow and on a sailboat it’s just forward of the mast.). If the propeller is behind the rudder, the propwalk will probably throw the rudder to one side if you try steering anything but straight back, so once you’ve got steerageway, throttle down to idle (It will help pull the boat just a little and that really helps!) and steer through the turn normally. When your boat’s through the turn and pointing straight, you can increase the throttle to just the bare minimum needed to maintain steerageway if your prop walk isn’t that bad or if it is, keep going in bursts and coasting in neutral. You’ll know if your prop walk is bad because you’ll have to correct a lot for it and your boat will be “crabbing” (traveling at an angle) as you back down the channel.

Finally, make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of room at the end of your turn if you’re reversing direction because as you stop the boat by engaging the engine in forward (ease the throttle into no more than the proper engine rpm’s!), you will force her to slower than her steerageway, both in reverse and in forward. This doesn’t stop her initial backwards movement, though and you’ll find yourself skidding sideways. You’ll therefore need more space on the outside of your turn, so you end up in the center of the lane and not banging against the boats on the next dock. Remember that the leading end (stern if you’re reversing and bow if you’re going forward) of a sailboat and to some extent, of a single-screw powerboat, cuts inside the turn, so you can cut your turn a little tight and you’ll end up drifting into your ideal center path.

To summarize:
(1) Get steerageway
(2) Throttle down, shifting into neutral if it’s bad
(3) Coast through your turn and make it a little (not much!) tighter than you normally would
(4) Bursts of speed where needed and then coast backwards, in neutral

That’s it! Happy sailing!
- Jerr

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Croaker's Back!

About sixteen years ago, water in my home port warmed due to several years’ El Niño warming. This changed the ecosystem of Marina Del Rey – The perch and bass died, there was a massive algae bloom (commonly known as “red tide,” the algae consume most of the dissolved oxygen in the water, suffocating all animals that breathe water.) and the marina was filled with moon jellyfish. One of the casualties was a favorite of mine: The croaker bass.
I first heard about this fish when I bought my cruising boat. A friend told me I’d be in trouble with the girls because of it and there was not a thing I could do about it. You see, at night, the croaker makes a sound like a muffled fart – A second and a half long, separated by about six seconds. You can’t hear it unless your head is in the water or you are in a boat in the water. It’s fun following the progress of the fish as it swims under the boat and you can tell exactly where it is, as it croaks. They are territorial fish and you can tell just where their home and favorite routes to swim are by listeing to them.
One night, at the end of dinner on my boat, the croaker let one rip, right under me. I was immediately blamed by my girl, of course. My explanation was ridiculous (And was interrupted several more times by the fish, adding indignity to my problems!), which esclated my problems from a social faux-pas to dishonesty and we eventually agreed to forget it. Several months later, she heard the croaker when I wasn’t aboard and was charmed and amazed with following the fish’s progress. And yes, she aplolgized, explaning that it was a completely ridiculous story, anyway. I had enjoyed telling my friends the story and still do!
Global warming devastated marine life in Southern California, those years – Kelp could barely grow and without the basics, much of the rich marine life died – I remember dives that were simply tragic: A few wimpy fish trying to hide around a sick, scrawny kelp plant, three feet long, instead of schools of fish in a thick forest of kelp up to sixty feet deep.
After several years, El Niño and La Niña returned to normal and the jellyfish in the marina died off (At their peak, they literally packed the water.). And a couple of weeks ago, I heard my friend the croaker fish! I heard him again last night and tonight, giving me hope that he’s made his home beneath my boat.
No, I didn’t fart: It was the fish that lives under my boat. Honest! So tell me, gals – You’d believe that, wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to Learn Sailing & Boating & Find Friends Without Going Broke

General: Go to a marina near you, look for an office building or hotel by the water and ask where the harbormaster/dockmaster’s, yacht clubs or sheriff’s office office is. These folks know what happens around the marina, as well as in others and are invariably helpful and kind.
Once you are invited on a boat and are aboard, your skipper should give you a safety talk, tell you where you are going, how long, what the weather and conditions are (If they don’t know, get off the boat – If they don’t check this, they will have many other safety problems they are not aware of.), where the lifejackets are and answer reasonable questions before leaving. If you really don’t feel comfortable, say so politely, firmly and leave – It could be either the skipper/boat or just sailing and there is no stigma to not going – Quite the reverse, in fact.
It’s normal for a sailboat to lean over – If the deck is under water it’s too much. Ask lots of questions – A good skipper will be able to quickly explain sailing theory and with one afternoon sail, you should have a good basic, working knowledge and be able to sail a boat yourself, under supervision. When you experience and like sailing, take a class. It’s a sport that is easy to pick up and the subtleties take a lifetime to master, so it’s never boring and activities range from family to adrenaline.
Etiquette: You must wear shoes with entirely white soles – Any colors mark the decks. Stay after the sail to help put things away, wash the boat and socialize. If you are going for a pleasure sail, ask what food/drinks to bring and bring twice the amount that you think you and your guests will consume (You don’t need to feed everyone but should provide a decent amount and everyone is going to work up an appetite.). It’s a potluck and this is the traditional thank you gift.
Casual: Go to the yacht clubs and ask how to get involved. Although most clubs are incredibly welcoming, there are clubs that are stuck up – Stay away from them. Also ask where the Coast Guard Classes are. They are free (except for materials), a great way to network and are taught by fascinating, lifelong (volunteer) sailors.
Racing: Ask when the races are held, which yacht clubs host them, where the yacht clubs are and when the clubs are open. You can either ask at the yacht club to go to the docks and ask for a ride in a race or go to the gas dock about 45 minutes before the race starts with a big cardboard sign (”Race crew needs boat” will do the trick) and hitch a ride – Be prepared to jump on the boat without it stopping! If you are asking on the dock, my favorite questions are: “Do you need a hand to haul lines?” (They almost always do.) “Do you yell at your crew?” Stay away from Captain Bligh and look for folks who have fun racing. Be honest about your skills – It’s perfectly ok not having any and they will be glad teaching you. Pay close attention – You are learning a highly skilled sport and will be given more advanced jobs as you master them.
Seasickness: It’s caused by your inner ear telling you what vertical is (Correct) and your eyes and touch telling you that the angled, pitching boat is actually stable and vertical (Lies!). You end up fighting yourself, getting tense and sick. Relax, let your body go limp and keep your focus on things that are still, irrespective of the boat (This works in roller coasters, cars, etc., as well – Look ahead to the most distant, steady objects.). A large comoponent of seasickness is focus and attitude – Don’t focus or talk about it – You can literally talk yourself into throwing up in less than two minutes! Similarly, people happily involved with sailing forget they are supposed to be sick and so usually aren’t. These reasons, as well as the confidence it gives, are why I stick the least experienced people on the wheel (drive the boat) and involve guests with actively sailing the boat.
If you are unsure, don’t drink alcohol the night before or during the sail, drink plenty of water, stay away from large, greasy meals and bring ginger ale and ginger snap cookies – They do wonders for calming the stomach. Keep on deck and keep your eyes on the horizon. Relax and find a place that’s comfortable. Most importantly, keep involved with the sail, learning and enjoying it. You can also ask your doctor for scopalomine patches, which work very well, although they do give you dry mouth. If you do throw up, don’t make a big deal of it, just go to the downwind, lower side of the boat (Nobody wants to smell your mess and if it’s overboard, you don’t have to clean it up.) with plenty of time to spare and do it over the side. Pinch your nose and hold your head up and you won’t get it up your nose. Quickly wash out your mouth, dose yourself with generous amounts of ginger ale and ginger snaps, find a comfy place, relax, get engrossed in happy conversation and look at the horizon!