Chesapeake morning

Autumn was in the air, a magical time on Chesapeake Bay. The breezes were back after the stultifying heat and calms of summer, the trees were starting to acquire what would become a mantel of gold, red and brown, and delta-flights of honking Canada geese were arriving for the winter. Early that morning I stepped onto a dew-covered deck and watched the mist rising like steam; all was quiet except for the occasional slap and roil of a fish taking its prey. The first hint of the sun showed itself through the trees on the eastern shore, a promise of another fine day for sailing. But sailing would come later, when the wind arrived. For now, I finished my coffee and slipped below for another hour in the snugness of a still-warm sleeping bag.

Easy-fit cable kits

Some people just don’t do soldering. If you’ve never soldered, don’t own a soldering iron and don’t want to learn a skill you might use twice in your life then soldering PL259 connectors is not for you.

When Salty John supplies an RG58 coaxial cable kit, it comes with a PL259 fitted at one end and another supplied loose for fitting by the boat owner once the cable has been run to its destination. This is the standard screw-in earth, solder, PL259.

But now, to make things much simpler for the non-soldering sailor, they’ve introduced the Easy-fit PL259. Just screw it onto the end fitting once you’ve run the cable. The Easy-fit cable kit has one fitted and soldered PL259, but the other end terminates in a small-diameter threaded connector onto which you screw the supplied threaded PL259. Couldn’t be simpler.

The main drawback is that you can’t shorten the cable without losing the threaded end, obviously, so you’ll need to coil any excess cable and secure it out of the way. Another slight disadvantage is that the tip of the cable is slightly wider (8mm) than the bare cable and is rigid for the end couple of centimetres – really tight radius corners are out. But for ease of installation you can’t beat the Easy-fit cable kits from:

Easy-fit cable kit RG58 10m

It’s Later Than You Think

Here’s a recently discovered photo of Adriana at the start of my three year adventure, cruising to the Caribbean. That’s Henry watching me take my morning swim around the boat.

About this time I wrote a poem about the inspiration for setting off into the wide blue yonder. Here are the first two verses, I don’t remember the rest. Still valid today, probably:

On a restroom wall in Baltimore,
Above the broken sink,
Someone scrawled this message:
It's later than you think.

I took this simple line to heart,
I saw that it was true,
I found myself a little boat, 
And sailed the ocean blue


It’s getting to that time of the year when we can look forward to swimming, and time to review what we know about the process of drowning and how to recognize it:

Drowning is not a noisy, dramatic event. Our body’s response to suffocation by water is quite different to the commonly held view that it involves waving arms and shouting for help. That comes before you are drowning. At that point you are in a state known as “aquatic distress” and can still assist in your own rescue by grabbing at floatation devices. If you aren’t saved at this point you quickly pass to drowning. Then, instinct takes over.

In an article in the US Coastguards ‘On Scene’ magazine Dr Francesco Pia, Phd, describes what he terms ‘the instinctive drowning response’ as follows:

1.         Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

2.         Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

3.         Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4.         Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

5.         From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick.

Drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water for from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

So, if someone dives, jumps or falls overboard and appears to be calm, don’t assume they are not in trouble. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. Talk to them. Ask them: Are you OK? If they reply immediately, they’re probably fine. If they just look blank there’s a chance that they are drowning and you must act quickly to assist them.

Keep a watch on people playing in the water, look for these other signs of drowning:

Head tilted back with mouth open.

Head low in the water, mouth at water level

Eyes closed, or glassy and empty, unfocussed.

Vertical in the water, not using legs

Hyperventilating or gasping

Attempting to swim but not making headway

Attempting to roll over on the back

So, if the kids are screaming and splashing, be thankful, they’re not drowning. If they go unnaturally quiet, that’s the time to worry. One day this knowledge may save someone’s life.

Waves, the wind’s assassin

There’s a discussion underway on the YBW forum about rogue waves, wave height and frequency. Here’s my take on the subject from a few years ago…..

It’s been pretty windy around here for the past couple of weeks. We’ve had Force 10 and 11 a couple of times. Off Donegal they measured a wave at 67’ (20.4m), the highest wave recorded in Ireland. The Irish Met Office says the buoy that measured it is 11km off the coast, so it was generated in deep water by the persistently high winds.

I was once in very heavy weather off the east coast of the USA and there was a point at which I didn’t think the boat was going to make it up the face of a particularly steep wave. An illusion, of course, but pretty scary nonetheless.

The probable maximum height of wind waves is around 80% of the wind speed in feet. So, a 50-knot wind blowing over an area of ocean with unlimited fetch would produce a maximum wave height of about 40 feet. This height is achieved after it has been blowing for a day, having doubled in height since the first four or five hours of the storm. Further maximum wave height increase is more subdued, it takes two days to get that wave up to 50 feet in height.

All pretty scary in a small boat.

Check your mast spreaders

Time to remind you to make sure your spreaders are set up properly before embarking on a new season at sea.

Drooping is not usually a good thing. You don’t want drooping bits. You especially don’t want drooping spreaders. Drooping spreaders are a symptom of a rig in distress, a rig on the road to catastrophic failure.

Perky upward pointing spreaders are what you want. Perky spreaders have tips that bisect the angle of the shrouds that pass over them. In this way, the load on the spreader is even and the spreader is disinclined to be pushed up or down and thereby slackening the shroud, threatening the integrity of the whole rig.

Spreaders come in lots of shapes and configurations: The racier boats have spreaders with aerofoil sections, like little aircraft wings, to reduce wind resistance. Cruising boats tend to have longer spreaders to give a broader based rig, sacrificing sheeting angle for better mast support. Old fashioned cruising boats under about 45’ tend to have single spreader rigs, for the sake of simplicity, whilst more modern boats with relatively taller masts adopt multiple spreaders for even relatively small boats. Spreaders can be fixed at the mast or fully articulating and they come with a variety of methods of attaching the shroud to the spreader tip so it doesn’t jump out. But whatever the spreader’s design, drooping must be avoided at all costs – check your spreaders now!

A word of caution: Once you become an aficionado of the perky spreader your marina dock strolls will take on new meaning, your eye will be inexorably drawn aloft in search of droopers with the attendant risk of an early bath or a broken toe.



Smelly heads

You know that stench you get below decks when you return to your boat after a few days away? It is, more often than not, down to the sea toilet.

Most marine toilets are flushed with raw water from sea, lake or river. This flushing water contains living organisms and it’s the demise of these little devils in the pipe work that begins the downward spiral; the resultant bacteria generate that awful sulphurous gas smell which you suck into the boat when you pump. The pipework itself can become contaminated so that no amount of flushing will get rid of the smell.

At one time I handled maintenance for a fleet of charter boats and keeping the heads sweet was a big headache. I was persuaded that a major contributor to the odour was the fact that the translucent sanitation hoses let in sunlight which hastened the demise of the bugs and, thereby, the creation of the bacteria which caused the smell. I wrapped all my pipes in silver foil as a defence but found no real improvement and ended up changing all the pipes at the beginning of each season, and still had to deploy an array of disinfectants on a regular basis.

When I moved onto my boat full time and set off on my three-year modest odyssey the problem was greatly alleviated by frequent and regular flushing. Unless you live aboard you simply can’t keep up the necessary flow.

The only boat of the seven I’ve owned not to suffer the odours was my GB32 trawler which had a fresh water flushing system and in-line deodorizer. But on a long-distance cruising boat you simply can’t afford to flush freshwater down the bog, it’s way too precious for that.