July 28, 2014

A better anchor snubber

If your anchor rode is all chain, or a lot of chain, you should (must?) use an anchor snubber. For sailors that anchor mostly with rope, an anchor snubber is a short length of rope which you attach to your chain. It is used to take the direct anchor load off the windlass and to add a bit of elasticity to your rode and reduce shock loads.

It's the "attach to your chain" part of things that gets tricky. We've always used a simple galvanized metal chain hook. It has a few drawbacks - after a while it gets to look like the picture. Because we have a catamaran, our snubber is a bridle arrangement that goes to both bows and meets in the middle at the chain.  The legs of each bridle section are about 25' long.  I'd dutifully hook my chain hook to the chain, let out more chain until the bridle snubber took the load and call it good. If  we were anchored in less than 25' of water, and the weather was calm, the hook would end up on the bottom, and more often than not, it would detach from the chain. This was a headache to put it mildly.

So I've started using a Better soft shackle made from 1/4" spectra rope (fits inside 5/16" chain). It's easy to open and close, and never lets go of the chain. You can do it up on deck and the snubber won't pop off the chain as it goes over the bow roller. People test these shackles at well over the breaking strength of 1/4" spectra - about 7500 lbs. So it will be strong enough for a snubber. And it's cheap, never rusts, and is easy to replace if I drop the shackle in the water!

Two closing thoughts - I'm using dynamic climbing rope for the snubber. Fantastic stuff and you can easily watch it stretch 20% of more in a blow. Much stretchier than 3 strand nylon.  It really absorbs the force of a wind gust at anchor and reduces that dynamic loading on the anchor rode. This type of rope can't be easily spliced so the eye in the middle is just a seizing.

2nd thought - If you're a monohull, without a bridle, you can ignore this part. Our anchor rode is a mixture of about 160' of chain and about 160' of rope spliced to it. We don't really need a snubber when we get to the rope portion but we do use one; the bridle keeps our boat pointing straight into a strong wind when the monohulls nearby are shearing back and forth. To attach a snubber to the anchor rope, I use a 3/8" prussik loop and then attach the snubber soft shackle to the prussik. The prussik doesn't slide up the anchor rode when tightened a bit.

- Evan

July 27, 2014

Cattle Crossing to Starboard

Charlie checks out the view

As we wove past freighters and work boats, and inhaled the dust of heavy industry on our way into Gladstone Harbour I was reminded of a town review I’d once read. It was in Lonely Planet, Mexico and the sole entry for the place was, “X has a bus station and a train station. Use them to get out.”

Gladstone: not even a little bit scenic
Happily a cheap mooring buoy, even cheaper laundry and the chance to see my first wild red-tailed black cockatoo soon redeemed Gladstone. But in all honesty we didn’t really hit the area’s highlight until we had motored out past the coal heaps, refineries and LNG plants and on into Curtis Narrows.

We could have left Gladstone the way we came in and carried on up the coast in the deep water. But who turns down a chance to meander through a mangrove wetland. The chance of bugs and salt water crocs aside—it was cool to make our way through narrows that can only be traversed at high tide.

winding through the narrows

We hit the shallowest patch at the highest tide. Normally dry at low tide we wound our way past markers and squeezed past the few boats that came from the opposite direction. At one point we passed a fence—when we called Maia to see it she was surprised to realise we were sailing over a cattle crossing.

Monte Christo Cattle Station, was established on Curtis Island in the 1860s (once upon a time they even bred horses there for the British India Army). But time, and a huge amount of development on Curtis Island, means the station may have seen its last round up two years ago.

By mid-morning we back out at sea—Great Keppel Island chosen as our next stop.

July 26, 2014

Home Schooling Fail

Sail on sailor: Maia learns to fly the spinnaker

When we were crossing the Pacific Maia had a homeschooling segment on explorers and navigators. I was really into it. While we had modern navigation tools at our disposal, Cook had a sextant, chronometer and lead line. While we had paper and electronic charts, he was making the charts. I found it fascinating to anchor where Cook anchored and explore the route he explored. To say I was impressed at his skills doesn’t begin to cover it.

Sleepy but sweet: 1770
Maia, however, was less than enthralled. By about Tahiti she was ready to move on. By Australia her reaction to Cook was similar to that of the Aboriginal people who encountered him in Botany Bay; they ignored him and told him, “Warra warra wai” (go away).

Visiting 1770 in Queensland (Cook’s first landing point in Queensland) didn’t change Maia’s disinterest. While she chuckled (halfheartedly) at the recollections of the local aboriginal people who found Cook & co a bit daft for getting themselves stung by ants and poisonous caterpillars, and for collecting up useless plants, I’m pretty sure she would have liked to have banned all talk of Cook on our ‘let’s hike where Cook hiked’ hike. Actually, she suggested we ban him.

Happily for Maia, as I was trying to rouse her interest in speculating about which 33 plants Banks may have collected on his walk, she noticed butterflies.

And then more butterflies.

Within a few minutes it was pretty clear that as cool as Cook was—thousands and thousands of blue fluttering insects beats history.

It turns out the Blue Tiger butterfly breeds up here. Come spring they’ll migrate south to Brisbane and as far as Victoria. For one enchanted walk though, they were all ours. Their wing beats sounded like a breeze blowing through the canopy—and in places it was impossible to see the tree trunks
for all the butterflies that clung to it.

I mentioned to Maia that it would have been cool if Cook had arrived during butterfly season and asked her what she thought his journals would have said.
She ignored me.

July 23, 2014

Sailing Into Year Six

Today we’re celebrating our 5th cruisiversay by hiking where Captain Cook hiked. He arrived here, in the town of 1770, in you guessed it; 1770. After exploring the shore and hiking up Round hill he wrote, “In this place there is a room for a few ships to lie in great security, and a small stream of fresh water.

So here we are anchored in great security savouring where the five years have taken us, how we’ve grown and changed, and what we hope for the next few years.
Year one: BC to Mexico
A year into cruising
life was blissful
Our Second Cruisiversary was in the South Pacific
Arahoho Blowhole-Tahiti

School was the adventure of our fourth year

And our Fourth Cruisiversay was spent out on the water in Oz.

And now we sail into year six.

July 18, 2014

Cruising Time

I woke up feeling like I should be doing something. I wasn’t sure what, but it seemed urgent. I double checked my deadlines, looked at the weather, checked my email and calendar, and came up with nothing. It takes a while for the restrictions of a nine to five life to fade away. By the time we reached Australia two and a half years ago we operated on a schedule that focused on sunrise and sunset, weather reports and tourist visas. It reorders your day when you don’t have to be somewhere specific by a certain hour.

crossing the Wide Bay bar
Beaches and more beaches
We’re rediscovering that.

It sounds idyllic, like an endless vacation, and in truth the only way to let go of the urban anxiety most of us carry is to start off treating this like a holiday.  But then it’s time to find our own rhythms and decide what we want to accomplish in the short, near and long term.

Yesterday felt like my first day of ‘real’ cruising. I finished off a story in the morning and then watched the dolphins frolic while we sailed through the Great Sandy Strait. When the tide changed we chose an anchorage on a whim. Then Maia and I baked and practiced our ukuleles and we watched the sun set and the stars grow bright. The day felt just full enough; like I had time for everything.

gooey cinnamon buns
But then that nagging sense that there’s more to do, and not enough time, crept back in this morning. I've always said we are sailing to something, not away from anything. But when I counted the hours that stretch before me today, I realized there are enough of them. If we’re sailing away from anything it’s that; short days that are filled with too much.

following the markers in the Sandy Strait
Sailing is a very deliberate way to travel the world—and by moving unhurriedly, you live slowly. And when you live slowly there is so much more time.

July 11, 2014

On Our Way

Charlie the cat has come out of hiding. He tends to tuck himself away when the engine starts or the sails come out. Usually he’ll stay hidden until we drop anchor—but now that we’re sailing full days I guess he’s resolved to be brave and face the open ocean.

We haven’t made it very far yet. When you consider a sailboat moves at the speed of a novice runner, and because of a heavy whale migration we are only doing day passages, we can, um, still see Brisbane. But the city is behind us.

Unlike catching a flight, leaving by sailboat follows a looser schedule. It’s kind of like the final weeks of pregnancy—you know the baby will arrive at some point, but it’s better not to get too attached to a specific day. We had an EDD, but went overdue enough that I think our friends and neighbours started to pretend we weren’t actually still there. But then everything aligned and we slipped the lines and headed away.

Our first day saw us tucked behind Peel Island, sipping hot rum toddies as the sun set. Years ago we were given the advice to leave in stages; get away from the hubbub and then regroup somewhere quiet before really leaving. So that’s what we did. The wind was coming from the wrong way to head north so we hunkered down and visited friends on Straddie. The 3-mile dinghy ride in 25 knot winds may have been ill advised but the visit was worth it. And starting our way north well-rested and well-organized feels right.

Now we’re en route to Mooloolaba. Whales are spouting in the distance, Charlie is curled up against me, and it’s gradually sinking in that we’re on our slow way. Behind us are wonderful memories and precious friendships that we hope will follow us into the future. Ahead of us? I guess we'll see.

July 8, 2014

Bye-bye Brissie

We've been so lucky to call this beautiful little city home for the past two and a half years. Our time here has been a happy one. We'll miss this place and the people we've met so very much.

July 4, 2014

Nearly there...

Getting very close to leaving.  All major jobs are ticked off.

New rudder is built and in the water:

cockpit and stern aft deck area is repainted, and daggerboard is faired and antifouled.  Yay us.


June 27, 2014

Composites Aboard - Technical Post

I built a good portion of Ceilydh, using about 100 gallons of epoxy. So it would be fair to say I know a bit about composite boatbuilding and repairs.  Here is a sampling of what we carry aboard, and why we may use some specific items.


1 & 2 - Epoxy resin and hardener. Unless you have a very low budget or are building a new good size part, skip polyester resin. It's weaker, less waterproof, stinks, and has a limited shelf life.  I get very fidgety unless I have 4L or more aboard.  That's enough for a good sized repair job.

Brand preferences: 
  • West System is expensive so I avoid it. 
  • Epiglass is very sensitive to mix ratio errors so I don't like it either. 
  • System 3 is nice. 2:1 mix ratio.
  • www.bateau2.com sells an economical house brand called e-poxy I've used with good success. 
  • Currently I'm using Ampreg 22 with slow hardener.  Like it a lot. Dyed resin and hardener helps to make sure you mix it well. Hardener is nice and slow, even in summer temperatures (yes I know it's winter here). 

    Whatever type of epoxy you use, get the SLOW hardener if you're cruising tropical areas.
3 & 4 - G/flex - a wonderful thickened epoxy glue made by West System. Only epoxy that I know that will reliably stick to most plastics. We have a water tank fitting held in a polyethylene tank with the stuff. 1:1 mix ratio which is very forgiving, and it's often what I reach for when doing a very small batch. 

5 - Marinetex - inherited from other cruisers. Works fine, is quite hard but mix ratio is tricky with the small bottle

Not shown - little tubes of JB Weld. Useful for engine repairs because it is heat tolerant.

 6 & 7 - epoxy fairing putty. Useful for big fairing jobs (I'm building a new rudder right now). Usually I mix my own fairing compounds but the pre-prepared stuff is nicer, if more expensive.

8 - colloidal silica. Used as a thickening agent and to make a gluing compound. About 2:1 silica/epoxy resin ratio by volume with make a very stiff mixture.  You can buy a huge sack for about $80 from commercial fiberglass suppliers (about the size of 3 x 20L buckets). Compare that to the price that West charges for little carboard tubes of the same stuff...

9 - microballons. Lightweight balloons that are easy to sand. You still need to add some colloidal silica to stop the fairing mixture from slumping.

10 - milled fibers. Highest strength structural filler but use with discretion as the resulting mixture will be very lumpy. I only use this on items that have to take really big loads like a sloping winch base mount.

Mold wax - used to wax irregular shaped molds. A little can of it will go a long way. A hard car wax can be used but make sure it has no silicones (they stop stuff from sticking)


1 - Biaxial stitched cloth is my normal choice of fiberglass for all purpose repairs and construction. It's about 40% stronger than woven cloth of the same weight and drapes better if you use the +/- 45° style. 
  • I almost never use roving because stitched cloth is so much better for most applications
  • I almost never use mat unless it's for a very small part with tight contours. It sucks up resin like a sponge and is very weak.
  • I do use light woven cloth as the final layer on parts where I want a nice cosmetic appearance
 2 - I usually have some 4" wide x 6 oz (100mm x 200 gram/m2) woven tape on hand. Used for tabbing parts and joints. It's tidy to use. I wouldn't use it to rebond a main structural bulkhead but for everything else 1 - 3 layers will provide a strong bond

3 - woven braided sock - this is pretty esoteric stuff. I used it to build some new glass/carbon tillers. You slide it over a form like a sock and it will stretch to suit the diameter and take gentle bends. Not really required for most cruisers!

4 - carbon twill about 7.5 oz/250 gram/m2. This is a woven weave and it always looks nice. If I'm building a carbon part with an exposed weave I'll use this as the top layer for looks. Drapes very easily. Very costly.

5 - carbon unidirectional fiber - 9 oz/300 gm/m2. Left over of a 500' roll from when I was building the boat. I use this when I want a part to resist bending in one direction primarily. Not usually found on most cruising boats

6 - Coremat. This thin (about 2-3mm) stuff acts like a sponge and absorbs resin to form a thin core for small parts. Useful when stiffness is the main governing requirement for a part. I used this to make Dorade boxes when I wanted to keep the wall thickness thinner than a typical 6mm core would provide.

7 - Stirring sticks. Get your kids to save their popsicle sticks. Rinse them first. Then stir for 2 minutes, timed with a watch. It's longer than you think and boring too. Scrape the sides of your mixing container well.  Nothing sucks more than having your epoxy not cure. Do not use your wife's wooden spoon and try to wipe off afterward. She will notice.

8 - Mixing containers. Save those yogurt containers too. Rinse well. Nothing stops a nice epoxy from curing than a lump of fermented milk product. When the resin has hardened, pop out carefully and re-use a few more times if you are lucky

9 - protect your hands. Epoxy is a skin sensitiser and you will get allergic reactions if you keep letting it get it on your hands. Or thigh. Or in your hair. 

(White vinegar will get uncured epoxy off your skin and is much nicer than using acetone. Wash with soap and water afterward. Epoxy in hair? Let cure and reach for the scissors)

10 - Digital Scale, accurate to +/- 1 gram. Many epoxy mixing errors are caused by measurement errors in measuring volume.  Almost all epoxy suppliers will provide mix ratios by weight and volume.  The ampreg 22 resin I use is a 100:28 ratio.  For every 100 grams of resin you add 28 grams of hardener.  If you pour in 172 grams of resin you need 172 x 0.28 grams of hardener. The math is not hard!  I can reliably measure down to about 30 grams of mixed epoxy. That's about the weight of a small chocolate bar. 

I really should cover the scale with some cellophane wrap too but I pour carefully instead.  I also weigh my cloth before starting so I know about how much resin to mix.

If you're using those little mini pumps watch out for when they 'burp' and give you a little air bubble as you're mixing. Or the pump gets partly clogged at the end of its travel by the plunger mechanism. It's all too easy to get it wrong. Some people even forget to keep count of how many pumps they did.

11 - A Calculator dedicated to my sticky fingers.

12 - I almost always use plastic squeegees for spreading resin onto cloth. The only place it won't work well is on vertical surfaces. I will wet out the cloth on a horizontal piece of plastic drop cloth and then stick it the to the vertical surface. If you want a good cloth / resin ratio, squeegee hard until the cloth looks almost dry.  Brushes soak up more resin and are expensive.

You can more easily pop off dried resin from squeegees by leaving a thick layer of resin on it. Sand the working edge with fine sandpaper to you don't catch fiberglass cloth with little burrs when re-using squeegees

13 - Very well used Olfa rotary fabric cutter. Much nicer than scissors for cutting large quantities of cloth. Use on a hard backing surface.

14 - syringes are used to squirt epoxy into holes in the deck or other tight crevices

15 - packing tape - one of the best mold releases known to mankind. Really effective on flat or mildly curved parts. Use the brown stuff so you can see it better on your mold surface. Forget wax paper or cellophane. Wax paper doesn't have enough wax to reliably release, and cellophane is too flimsy.

 oops - forgot to put a number on the item above 5.  Call it 16

16 - peel ply.  Peel ply is a fancy name for a lightweight nylon fabric you apply to a wet laminate top surface. Squeegee it down firmly onto the laminate. When the glass is hard, peel it off the laminate. You will get a much nicer surface with no stray glass shards or hairs and suitable for further bonding. Once you try it you will never stop using it.

Buy your peel ply at a fabric store. Look in the discount bins where nobody wanted that neon green ripstop nylon for some reason.

NOT SHOWN - a decent supply of biaxial fabric and Corecell foam core is stored in a locker for all those projects that are just itching to ... that reminds me of one other very important item: 

BABY POWDER.  If you have to grind or sand a lot of fiberglass, very liberally dust your exposed skin with the stuff. It seems reduce the itchies significantly. That, and a cold shower immediately afterward.

Here's a recent project. This is a bracket for a swing out seat at Maia's school desk. The old bracket was a piece of bent aluminum pipe with a bloody big bolt for the seat to pivot on. It eventually bent when 2 kids sat on the seat.  The new bracket is lighter and structurally cleverer using thin carbon tubes. It supports my weight.

How you make it: Used carbon fiber windsurfing mast tubes are the base material. The tubes are roughly notched to fit, joined with epoxy putty fillets, and allowed to harden.

Thin strips of wet out carbon uni fiber is wrapped around the joints. Peel ply is used to cover the laminate. Then electrical tape (used backwards i.e. sticky side out) is used to squeeze the joint and consolidate the laminate. The outboard end of the bracket has a s.s. pin in place for the seat and this technique is being used to tape the pin in place. Note the drips of excess epoxy onto the plywood scrap below.

- Evan

June 12, 2014

We Made Vanity Fair

I'm used to writing about other people and, at times, ourselves but being the person who is written about is a new experience. Several weeks ago I had a wonderful conversation with Greta Privitera a writer from Vanity Fair Italy. While writers and reporters in the US were up in arms over the rescue of Rebel Heart (I was interviewed for both radio and TV and felt like I needed to defend our lifestyle) Greta was simply curious about how we made our dream come true.
Six-year-old sailor

It was a lovely and refreshing conversation. I'm not sure if it was cultural--but her concern wasn't for Maia's safety, but for Maia's own dreams and happiness. How do we know boating is still the right thing for her as she grows and changes?
life aboard

I don't speak Italian and google translate is a very imperfect thing, but the parts of the story that I could read made this whole cruising thing sound incredibly cool. I sort of love Italian us:

"Quando Diane parla della sua scelta di vita, l’opinione pubblica si spacca in due: «Che famiglia fortunata» e «Ma siete pazzi?».
Diane Selkirk e suo marito, due canadesi di Vancouver, sono quel tipo di persone che come tutti avevano un sogno, ma che come quasi nessuno hanno scelto di seguirlo.
Sognavano di prendere una barca e girare il mondo, e l’hanno fatto: Messico, Costa Rica e Nicaragua, Salvador, Australia, Polinesia Francese, Stati Uniti.
Hanno solcato gli oceani in lungo e in largo, prima come coppia e poi come trio, con Maya, la loro bambina. Questa scelta di vita, e quella di altre 10 mila famiglie che in questo momento si trovano per mare, fa discutere l'opinione pubblica."

pin the sailboat on the voyage--dreams of a circumnavigation

Nineteen days without seeing land. "You would think" what a bore. " Not so. Every evening, on our catamaran, is a party. We cook special things, dance under the light of the stars and read together. In our travels we have seen thousands of whales, dolphins, sharks. We made all kinds of adventures and met people from every continent. We feel as if we are living in a 5 lives. It's a priceless feeling. "