10 September 2016

Sailboat Project: Adjustable Clewboard

For sailing geeks of all kinds:  An innovative way to maximize jib trim while underway with a self-tacking jib

Bob Damiano


Argon has a self-tacking jib

We had always considered a self-tacking jib to be a bit of a sissy feature as we've always had "real" rigs with jib tracks that required lots of winch grinding when tacking.

While we have since come to really appreciate the simplicity and ease of a self-tacking jib, it does have a few disadvantages:
  1. Sail Shape: When sailing very far off the wind, the shape of the jib is really not so great.  This is normally not that big of a deal because this is when we would deploy the "reacher" (our 150% genoa) which is sheeted from good old fashioned tracks and cars.
  2. Heaving To: It is a bit tricky to "heave to".  Since you want the jib on the "wrong side", and with this rig, it always goes to the "right side".  We mitigate this by having pinned stops on the traveler so we can pin the sail to one side of the boat or the other.  But, it does mean going up on deck to do this and generally when needing to heave to, the conditions are not exactly safe for deck work.
  3. Sheeting Angle: In a traditional setup, you can move a fairlead forward or aft to adjust the angle at which the sail is sheeted,  This critical adjustment tweaks the twist of the sail - the idea of which is to keep an optimal angle to the wind at all elevations of the sail (wind speed is usually higher aloft and so the apparent wind angle is different).  In those setups, if you move the car forward, you're pulling more "down" which tightens the leech and spills less aloft.  Move the car back and you're pulling more "back" along the foot and letting more wind spill aloft.  In our self-tacking setup, the only adjustment for this is a series of holes on the clewboard which offer different attachment points for the sheet.  Choosing a lower hole is like moving your jib car aft, while choosing an upper hole is like moving it forward.
As for #3 above, the trick with this rig is to guess ahead of time which hole to attach the sheet to based on the conditions. This is of course fraught with error, and we often find ourselves sailing with way too much or way too little twist and are either way under or over powered.

Argon's self-tacking jib traveler with car pins.

Can you adjust it while sailing?  

Well, yes but it's a pain.  I've manged to do it in light air while sailing by attaching a "temporary sheet" (our boom preventor) while I un- and re-attach the clew. In higher wind conditions, the only way is to furl in the sail to completely unload, and do it then.  In either case, it's only a matter of time before we drop a critical pin or shackle overboard in the process.

What does google say?

Well, not much.  I've searched quite a bit to see if anyone makes any sort of contraption to make adjusting the sheeting angle underway easier. I thought for sure that like most boat problems, solving this would mean just typing in a credit card number. In this case, I really could not find anything. (I look forward to the comments to this post that will surely include about 17 off-the-shelf solutions).

A couple times over the summer, I tried to design some sort of continuous adjustment scheme using various blocks, lines and cleats.  I even bought a $92 block/cleat combo to experiment with. I was careful not to remove it from the shelf card so I could return it if if didn't work.  I ended up returning it.  The main thing I didn't like was that I just ended up with lots of dangling hardware flinging around behind the sail.

Then, last week I was looking at this again and it occurred to me that there was lots of room on this  big fat strong aluminum clewboard to mount a cam cleat directly to it.  I started fooling around with some soft shackles and other pieces of dyneema I had laying around and came up with something much simpler.

The Prototype (V 1.0)

So, here it is.  The main attachment point is made with a soft shackle (the gray one) between the block shackle and the main shackle on the clewboard.  It is attached to the lowest (max twist/max spillage) position.  Another soft shackle (green) goes through the block and a  dyneema line with a Brummel Splice attached to that up through the highest hole and is cleated by a cam cleat mounted right on the clewboard.  The cam cleat is through-bolted with some 10-24 screws with nylock nuts.  I used tef-gel all over everything since it would be stainless and aluminum sandwiched together.

The prototype adjusted about half way.  Two soft shackles, a Brummel Splice and the cleat.
By pulling down on that adjustment line, the block is raised which give the same sheeting angle as if we moved the main attachment to the upper holes.

Now, time to test out the contraption under sail.

Beta Testing

We did not get a chance to test this out until Day 1 of the cruise. It worked great as far as adjusting the sail, but I did learn a few things to inform the next version.
  1. It is still not possible to adjust the angle higher when the sail is really loaded up.  But it was very easy to do during tacking or by just turning the boat up into the wind enough to let it luff a little.  No big deal.
  2. I actually got way more adjustment than I needed.  When the sail is sheeted in tight, the distance to the traveler is very short (like 1 foot) so very tiny changes in this make a big difference in angle.
  3. Because of that, the soft shackle between the block and the main attachment point at the bottom is not even needed.


Part of the design of this is that should the adjuster fail, I wanted the sail to revert to it's lowest (max twist) position so that the sail would be de-powered.  Well, we got to test that pretty soon.

The adjustment line is 5/16" dyneema and while that is certainly strong enough, it is not quite fat enough to stay securely in the cleat. With the winds at about 11kts, the cleat suddenly let loose of the adjustment line. It made quite a racket, but unlike many unexpected sailboat noises, we both knew exactly what it was immediately.  This was also a great test of the fail-safe design which let the sail resolve to it's lowest attachment angle and de-power. The other thing that became very apparent, is that when adjusted up say to 50%, this adjustment line is carrying half of the sheet tension.

Back to the drawing board

On Day 2, we were running mostly on a broad reach down Buzzards Bay (thanks to remnants of Hermine) using the genoa, so I pulled the whole rig back into the cockpit to rework.


The main changes I made were to lose both soft shackles.  The block would now attach directly to the sail like it always did.  And the adjustment line would now be 1/2" dyneema line Brummel Spliced directly to the block.  I buried the tail of the splice almost to the end of the adjuster so it is a nice big fat line now that goes through the cleat.

The adjustment line also tucks back through another hole in the clew so it comes out on the port side.  This helps sink the line into the cleat better.

Working on the revised version while under sail in the uncharacteristically flat Buzzards Bay. Making the splice for the upgraded version.

Now with the new, thicker adjustment line spliced into the block.

Real world test

On Day 3, we found ourselves sailing high down buzzards bay (wind direction more back to the normal W/SW).  The air was light, so this was exactly the conditions to try it on.

Close-up of the clew with V1.5 sailing close-reaching in about 9kts with the sheeting angle adjusted up.

The bigger picture of the adjuster in action.

The only thing left is to use my hot knife on the cut end of the adjuster.  I will do that next time we can plug into shore power! And to test again in light, mid and high winds.

08 September 2016

Argon on the Big Screen

Argon and crew were completely ready to depart on our long awaited one year sailing adventure. But wait, the bright lights call... Argon was asked to be in a movie!

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Isaac Alongi is a photographer, cinematographer and Emmy award winning director based in Kansas City, New York City and Chicago. Isaac partnered with his wife, Sandra Martin, to release their first independent full length film, Trust Fund earlier this year. Their newest project, a romantic comedy entitled How to Pick Your Second Husband First, was also written by Sandra and will be filming at many Boston locations throughout September.

Isaac desired a classic looking sailboat for a brief scene in the movie out in Boston Harbor and found our company, All Hands Sailing Charters, via Google search as most of our charter clients do.  However, he was not looking for our standard Boston Harbor or Island Loop package. After a couple of conversations, Argon and Isaac seemed like a good match for his movie.

Argon was spotted from our charter website, All Hands Sailing Charters. We started this company in 2013 hosting private charters in and around Boston Harbor.

We settled on Tuesday 6 September for the date of the filming adjusting the initiation of our one year cruise by a few days to accommodate. This worked out just fine given that we had tropical storm Hermine meandering up the east coast confounding the conditions for the final holiday weekend of the summer. Hermine also interfered with the plans for the shoot as conditions were still poor on the scheduled date with intermittent rain and brisk winds in the harbor. Isaac and Sandra skillfully shifted gears by adjusting some of the dialogue to situate the scene as if the crew had just arrived on the docks to escape impending bad weather.

In addition to Isaac and Sandra (director/producer/writer) there were three actors as well as a Film Crew consisting of Camera, Sound, Lighting and Makeup people.  There was also a lot of really cool gear.

Some of the crew. Notice the cool harness with the floating camera

Isaac adjusting the camera preparing for the shoot to begin.

The Sound guy carrying a bunch of wireless mic receivers, a mixer and a shotgun mic covered with a windscreen (known as a "dead rat")

Staying on the dock made the work for Bob and I much simpler compared with taking passengers (with lots of expensive filming equipment) out in to the windy harbor. We ensured the boat was clean and orderly, adjusted a few items on Argon to be out of the way, and showed the actors how to coil lines and otherwise move around.

Director and producer, Isaac and Sandra; and the three actors playing Jill, grandmother, and grandfather.

The main character in the film, Jill, is played by an Argentinian American actress Julie Gonzalo. The shoot opens with Jill returning from a sail with her grandparents. Jill is a marriage counselor going through a divorce and receiving some relationship advice from her grandmother for this particular scene. 

Main character, Jill (played by Julie Gonzalo), conversing with her grandfather on the bow of Argon to prepare for the scene.

Bob teaching the grandfather how to look sailor-like coiling lines on the bow. Linda trained the actress playing the grandmother on some basic line handling in the cockpit.

The three actors playing the grandmother, grandfather, and their granddaughter. The grandmother is getting her microphone attached.

Isaac and Sandra liked the look of the boats lined down the dock and decided to have most of the conversation with Jill and her grandmother walking down D Dock, hence many D dock boats will be spotted in the scene. There are some other shots from along C dock as they sought to have the mass of masts and city skyline in another view.

Adjusting and tweaking how the scene will proceed with main character, Jill, and grandmother conversing as they walk down D dock.
Bob and I mostly try to stay out of the way. After about six takes, it's a wrap.

Although more simple than originally planned since we stayed dockside, it was fascinating to see the planning and coordination. We enjoyed chatting with the crew and actors and Bob drooled over all of the gear.

After Isaac and crew left, we got Argon back in order and turned our attention to getting ready to depart on our big trip the next morning! Another post will be forthcoming soon to update all on the initial days of our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

A wonderful visit and dinner with my son, Christian, was a perfect way to end our last day at Constitution Marina and to mark the start of a new chapter.

Farewell dinner with my son, Christian, was a perfect way to not only end this day, but to emotionally prepare to truly cast off the lines.
And, I think we are ready to go now!

02 September 2016

No house, no job, no car - What's next? Sailing of course!

Captain Linda Perry Riera

No house, no car, no job... I should write me a country song

The lovely home was purged of most possessions and sold 18 months ago. We have focused on preparing Argon and ourselves for offshore and extended cruising. More recently I have stepped away from a career that was both exhilarating and consuming. The cars are sold. Virtually everything we own is within this 40 foot by 13 foot tub of fiberglass. And I have never been happier.

The Three Year Plan is coming to fruition.  It has involved:
  1. Bigger boat; and modifying her for off shore and extended cruising
  2. Smaller house; well, we decided on no house and instead moved on to the boat April 2015
  3. Take off sailing for a year; which is happening in just a few days!
Wow... it is really happening; I am giddy (and a bit nervous)!

Our neighborhood for the past 18 months - Constitution  Marina, Boston.

We could have taken a slightly different path and kept the home... renting it out or hiring someone to oversee while we were gone which seems to be the norm for others taking off for a only year or so. However, we decided that this was not going to be solely a one year sailing excursion, but rather a deliberate pivot in lifestyle... downsizing on many fronts including:
  • dramatic purging of stuff
  • releasing the job in order to truly exhale
  • examining the priorities for the next phase of our lives
Our former 3000+ square foot home was a lovely hiatus for the family for that period in our lives. The process of giving, donating, selling, discarding has been liberating. It is astonishing how little material possessions we now have yet are completely content. With fewer things, comes not only less expense but less baggage. Of course owning a boat always ensures a never ending to do list and outflow of money, but we are able to embrace boat burdens more enthusiastically without also having our house-related responsibility, projects, bills and maintenance. Our lives have focused on preparation these past couple of years, now it is time to cast off.

"What do you miss about living in a house?" is a question we have received frequently this past year. Bob replies "my studio" (see the retired RockScience.net) and "access to more extensive tools and place to work on stuff easily".

The spacious but retired Rock Science Studio.

The extremely scaled back studio on Argon. But Bob still makes music.

Instead of a spacious basement, workbench and garage, our living area sometimes looks like this when we are in the throws of a boat project.

For me, I miss a kitchen suitable for cooking more variety and quantity as well as easy social gatherings and overnight guests with my landlubber friends.

Annual pierogi making event at Christmastime is certainly not conducive to a boat galley. A generous, tricked out kitchen is one of the few aspects of my former life that I miss.

Negotiating a tiny galley. With the limited space, every kitchen tool and utensil is carefully selected. "Is it worth the space?" is constantly asked about anything that may come on to the boat. (The keyboard and guitars were apparently deemed worthy of their space.)

Some items that were a normal part of life for oh so long but are no more include:
  • home owners insurance, property taxes
  • gas, electric, and water bills
  • auto insurance, car maintenance, bicycle maintenance (we use the fantastic Boston Hubway program instead of maintaining our own bikes)
  • mowing and raking the lawn, mulching, planting, weeding, trimming (we enjoy the lovely flowers that abound the marina)
  • vacuuming and generally spending a lot of time cleaning (sweeping/cleaning our tiny boat floor space is quick and easy, and of course the cockpit, which doubles as our open air family room, just gets hosed off)

As we release all of the above, the other side of sailing becomes our new normal. The generous time out sailing is cherished and the never-ending list of boat projects is approached with gusto (usually).

Logistics - Downsizing our lives and preparing to be away

Medical Care:  Routine appointments have been front loaded during the first part of this year and we will pause preventative care while away. Hopefully (fingers crossed) will have nothing substantial arise in the coming year. A driving factor in taking this trip well before standard retirement age is the physical stamina that will be needed and not knowing how long we will be healthy and active enough to tackle this type of adventure.

Courtesy of the wonderfully knowledgeable and efficient staff at MGH Travel Clinic we received counseling, vaccinations and medicine to minimize the risks associated with typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, zika, and general infections.

Stocking our enhanced medical kit with some medicines courtesy of MGH travel clinic. Hopefully most will not be needed.

Since medical insurance is tied to ones employment in our country (when not of retirement age) I ventured in to the confusing and expensive world of private health insurance spending hours culling through the options on the healthcare exchange. I have planned for the major non-boat related expense of this trip being health insurance and am opting for a minimal coverage plan with crazy high deductibles.And the insurance spend continues... Enhanced boat insurance to cover off shore transits and extended geographies; medivac for travelers. Ugh!

Address: What is one's address when sailing the open ocean and island hopping for a year? We have decided to maintain a Massachusetts residence using my son's home as our legal residence. I suspect Christian secretly fears that I may just move in with him one day stating that this is where I live after all. Christian has kindly agreed to also serve as our mail triage and forwarding service. We have endeavored to get all bills and other mail electronically although there remains some antiquated hold outs (mostly municipal and government related). We have also scanned important documents and filed in Drop Box (insurance policies, boat manuals, etc.) thus we are about 95% electronic regarding paperwork.

Our official address for the next year while out on the seas will be in North Reading MA. Thank you, Christian.

Phone and internet: Both of our cell phones have been unlocked to allow us to purchase local SIM cards to avoid exuberant roaming charges. The WiFi router/booster will allow us to tap in to open WiFi signals when lucky enough to sniff them out. We also have two unlocked WiFi hot-spots with accounts on two different global providers (3G only) in case we can't find a better local option. This is the last resort as data on these plans is $90/GB!

Laptops, phones, mobile hot-spots will all help us stay connected.
A modest storage locker will be maintained to store boat supplies not needed on board, personal effects such as photos, and Bob's studio equipment for when we (probably) have a house again someday.

And saying good bye...

Friends and Family:  These final weeks before departure have been filled with wonderful visits and social engagements. My schedule, now unencumbered by a job, has allowed me to relish these times with friends and family while also attending to the myriad of trip preparations and logistics.

Our marina gatherings in the cockpit will be missed.

Dinner with Christian.
Final Connecticut visit with many including my brother, Tom, and his family.
Our former Arlington land based neighbors gathered with us at the marina for a send off dinner.
Biogen friends on Argon.

Wonderfully fun D Dock send off at the marina.

Sailing with D Dock friends.

Stachyra crew from upstate NY.
Ya think these two will stay outa trouble while we are away??
Another farewell dinner; this one in Portsmouth with Ken, Ginny and Justin.
A recent family reunion at cousin Geof's vacation home in Hillsdale NY was perfectly timed a few weeks prior to our departure.

Then there is the emotional component to all of this; the preparations have been a huge part of our lives for about three years. Now that departure is imminent, a mixture of excitement and anxiety swirls. Being away from Christian will be the most difficult aspect for me although I greatly look forward to fairly regular visits from the boys along our journey (as soon as early November in Bermuda). When asked how he felt about my upcoming trip recently, Christian replied "you're never more than a day away, mom". I will try not to overdo the texting and FaceTiming between our island visits.

My relationship will morph with these fine young men over the next year. I look forward to family gatherings in perhaps non-traditional and exotic places.

Lots of "Probably's"
We will probably return fall of 2017, probably to the Boston area, and will probably find a (small!) house; I will probably return to biotech research. However, nothing is definite. A welcome uncertainty lies ahead. This will also probably (hopefully) be our first extended cruise, not the only one; and we will probably be changed individuals continuing on our new, pivoted direction in life.

24 August 2016

Pumps, Sensors, Windlass - Everything Breaks

Bob Damiano

The Windlass

During our return trip from Nova Scotia, our windlass control switch failed in a most inconvenient way. Our switches are these deck-mounted rubber covered things that are designed to be operated by foot or finger. Although they look pretty robust, underneath all that rubber is a cheesy little plastic microswitch. This seems to be a pattern in marine electrical controls and is not the first one that has failed for us.

Because of this failure, our "up" button consisted of shorting two wires together for the last couple weeks of the trip.

Frustrating Night in Maine doing surgery on the windlass switch

Normally, I go looking for replacement parts for things that break and order a few spares. In this case, I had no desire to replace this switch with the same crappy setup.

Instead, I found some heavy duty stainless momentary pushbuttons. I had no idea how I would mount them but I decided to figure that out as I went along.

The microswitch(right) and the new stainless pushbutton (left) that will replace it.

First, we filled the old switch holes with epoxy so they could be re-drilled out to whatever the new switch required.
Filling the switch holes with epoxy

Drilling out the holes for the new switches

Almost a hole

Deep in conentration

Done - and they work!

Temperature Transducer

Our first indication of a problem was that the water temperature was "70F"... In NOVA SCOTIA!  From then on, it just kept creeping up and up. Eventually by the end of our trip, we had 116F in Maine. Pre-cooked lobsters - this could catch on.

Argon's Temp Transducer is a multifunction device that also does water speed and depth. To be precise, it is an Airmar DST-800 (DST for Depth/Speed/Temp). The extra cool thing about this device is that it plugs directly into the network backbone - no external A/D interface needed. We ordered another one (cha ching!) and did the fairly simple installation. With a little fooling with setup on our MFD (multifunction display) we were getting good data from the D, the S AND the T.  It said the marina was 74.2F.  I could buy that.

Temporarily wire in the new DST to test it

74.2F. That's more temperate than 116F
Since doing this replacement, we've also noticed that the Speed is more accurate as well.  This is actually very important for us because this input is used to compute the True wind speed and direction on our fancy instruments.

Fridge on the Fritz

Also, toward the end of the trip, we noticed that the fridge was not keeping things as cold and we could not make any ice at all.  After getting back to Boston, we quickly realized that the cooling raw water pump for the fridge was not pumping anything.  We considered putting in a call to a marine HVAC guy. In the meantime, I decided to have a look.  It's a pump and it doesn't pump. Can't be too many things wrong here.

After taking the hoses off the pump, I learnt via a mouthful of saltwater that the intake hose is definitely not clogged.  I also noticed there was a pressure switch (not indicated in the manual) so I also verified that this was opening and closing properly with a meter. All good. So I started taking the pump apart and soon things became very clear.  The main shaft bearing was ceased up tight (this explains why the fridge has been drawing so much power lately too).  I got the bearing out and started applying generous amounts of Liquid Wrench. It was still ceased right up. But after enough fighting with it, it finally broke free and I could get it spinning very freely. We put it all back together and now I have ice in my margarita (and the solar panels keep the batteries charged up).


The ceased up bearing

Success - it spins again.

And so on..

Just when we thought we were done for the moment, the float switch on the sump pump failed. This was an easy repair and it also prompted us to buy a spare sump pump.