Monday, July 28, 2008

Bobcat sail #6 - the rest of the family

Today I got the chance to get the rest of the family in to the boat. Reid was at a day camp that went to Fort Worden. There's a boat launch there, and a lot of beach, so we decided to go sail & play.

Picked up a cheap $7 life vest for Julie, so we'd be legal. Eventually she'll probably get a more comfortable vest, but having a spare adult PFD is always a good idea.

Even though I have an annual launch pass from the Port of Port Townsend, I still had to pay $7 to launch at Fort Worden, because it's a state park. *sigh*. The ramps was also covered in thick sand, and there weren't any fresh water hoses to rinse the salt off afterwards. Well, at least there were two ramps, so no waiting (especially no waiting for the folks behind me).

While the twins played at the beach, I rigged and launched. Then Julie + twins came over & hopped in the boat. We motored out and put up the sail. Dylan was scared for the first 10 minutes, but then got in to it. Both twins had a blast. Julie found a little niche where she could sit without being in the way. A 12' boat with 4 people in it is tight!

We pointed for the open channel trying to get a little more wind. There wasn't any, but there was a little more wave action, which was interesting. Especially on the way back, as each wave zoomed us forward toward the beach. Weee!

I sailed as close to the beach as I dared, showing off the boat the the beach-goers. When we got to a good spot, I put up the centerboard, ran up on the beach, and hopped out. I think it was a big surprise for the folks on the sand! I dropped off my passengers and pushed the boat out in to the water.

While the twins continued to play on the beach, I played in the boat. Sailed around until I found Reid (he was too into his play to talk to me). Headed away from the beach a little and then figured out how to pee in to the water (kneel at the transom). The wind was dying as I was heading back. Then after 15 minutes or so, I saw a broad stretch of dark water along the beach: wind! It had stopped while changing direction. The new wind was strong & smooth, and carried me quickly back to the boat launch area.

I set up a perfect approach to the dock: got a little upwind of the entrance, headed for the end of the breakwater, dropped down at the last second, rounded up at the dock, and had to bail out: there were kids jumping off the dock to swim. I ended up "walking" the boat up the dock, hand-over-hand. Got 3 splinters. One was long & thick, and broke off when I tried to pull it out.

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Backed the trailer down, picked up the boat, and down-rigged. There was a lot of sand in the boat, thanks to our shenanigans, so I decided to try to wash in salt water. There's a drain plug in the stern, so I pulled it out, and backed the trailer down in to the water to flood the boat. Well, it put a few inches of water in, but the boat was floating still, and lifting the trailer! I guess that's good for safety.

Then, with the extra weight of the water in the boat, I couldn't get up the ramp. The drive wheels kept spinning in the sand. I was able to clear sand from the tires' paths and get out. Ran the bilge pump while I helped Reid de-sand him self & get in dry clothes (he was so cold!), and then we came home.

At home, the routine looked like this: back the trailer up the driveway (wee!). Remove the spars and hang them from the garage rafters. Hose down with fresh water to remove salt: every bit of metal on the trailer I can reach + some parts of the van. Then hose down the inside of the boat, too. Pump out the bilge again. Take the battery to the bench by the charger. Drive the 20' to park on the street. Unhook the trailer, and unload most things from the boat. Lift the tongue up as high as I can, and hold it there while water drains out the stern. Say "I am He-Man!". Put trailer back down.

There, now I'm caught up blogging about the sailing trips.

Bobcat sail #5

Even though my friend wanted me to build a new rudder before going out again, I wanted to sail more. We found a day of nice weather, and Reid & went down to the marina.

Reid says he doesn't want to sail, but he does want to motor. Once we exited the marina, I let him motor until we had some sea room, and then had him point the boat in to the wind while I put up sail.

As an experiment, I didn't raise the sail up quite so high (you can pick where it sits on the mast). I saw two significant effects: the boom keeps hitting me on the head (duh), and the peak doesn't sag, since the peak halyard has a better angle on the gaff. That means better sail shape (yay).

I got to practice my tacking, and felt like I learned to do it a bit better. Learned another trick: when stuck (or almost stuck) in irons, ease the sheet. Sheeting in will make the boat weather-cock, so sheet out stops the wind from spinning the boat. For a little more help, push the boom out far, which will make the wind actually spin the boat the right way, helping to complete the tack.

Reid complained of boredom eventually, so we dropped the sail and I let him motor back to the marina. This boat is a little quirky under motor power, because the rudder hits the prop if you push the tiller one way, and the prop hits the rudder if you turn the motor the other way. The most effective steering is to operate boat the rudder and the motor together, but it's tricky. Reid is getting the hang of it through, and safely got us back in to the marina. I decided to have him motor up the channel to the launch, which meant that I could go forward to handle the bow line. It worked pretty well, and Reid loved it.

Bobcat sail #4 - seek professional help

Having had trouble tacking the boat in small quarters, I went looking for help. An aquaintance here in Port Townsend has been boating here and elsewhere, on a variety of boats, for many years. He has a boat in the marina. 4 boats parked next to his house. A couple in the workshop. And an inflatable in the garage. Sheesh.

He offered to come out sailing with me and see how the boat did. We loaded up, headed down to the marina, and got in line for the boat launch. Normally I rig the boat first, and then get in line, because it takes me 35 minutes to put everything in place. Plus, I usually go on weekdays when there's no line. But we figured we could rig the boat quickly together.

So, we got in line, unhooked the bungees that held the spars in place on the road, and then the line moved. I started the van up to move forward, but it wouldn't shift out of park. Weird. I had never seen this before, and wasn't sure what to do. We waved the next people in line on by, and started trying random things. Fuses seemed like a good bet, so I checked each one in turn. In my tow vehicle (the family minivan), there are some fuses by the engine, under the hood, and others in the cabin under the steering wheel. After checking the first set, I found myself in the awkward position of putting my head where my feet normally go to look at the inside fuse box. Lucky me, I was also sitting on dog shit that was deposited in the road. I figured that since the shifter won't go out of park without the brakes on, maybe I should look at brake-related fuses. Sure enough, that one labeled "STOP" was blown. Replaced it, shifted in to D, and pulled forward.

I later figured out the problem: one of the wires to the trailer lights had pulled out of a butt connector, and I had twisted the wires together in a hurry to get going. The bare wire had hit a ground, shorted out, and blown the fuse.

Anyway, we rigged, launched, and parked the van. Then we noticed that the motor wasn't doing nothing, as the battery was dead. Still don't know why - it has been holding a good charge otherwise. Oh well, we can sail on and off the dock, right?

Headed out of the marina, and played for a while, taking turns at the tiller. We studied the way this boat tacks, shifting our weight around for different effect, and getting stuck in irons. Wow, getting out of irons in this boat is a pain. After I had trouble with it, my friend took his turns, and was also frustrated with it. Well, glad to know that I'm not the only one.

Figured out 2 important rules for tacking this boat, especially when going slowly: don't steer too much, or the rudder will stall and just be a brake, and make sure you turn far enough that you can start sailing again, or you'll just get stuck.

What I later figured out, after much pondering, is this: the rudder in this boat is small and oddly shaped, which makes it work well when going fast, but it does nothing while going slowly. Also, when the wind pushes on the sail, it wants to turn the boat in to the wind (presumably because the sail is out to one side, off-center). When the boat is moving very slowly, the turning force of the wind is still there, but the rudder is doing nothing, so the boat turns in to the wind. So, if I tack badly & lose all my speed, the boat then tries to turn upwind and tack again. If I try to steer to counter the effect, the rudder stalls, brakes the boat, and makes the situation worse.

So: turn far enough that I can get speed up before the boat weather-cocks and tacks again, and steer gently until I have that speed.

My friend sailed us back in to the marina, around it a few times for practice, and then headed for the launch dock. He got caught in irons a few times, the situation being worse because of the squirly wind in the marina. But he did figure out another trick for dealing with the situation: get out the paddle and do a sideways stroke over the transom. This will kick the stern out, completing the tack, and let you get going again.

I'm very grateful to him for coming out and helping me learn to sail this boat better.

He has suggested that I build a new, larger, deeper rudder to replace this one. A taller one that lets the tiller come over the transom, instead of through it, so the tiller can be hinged up to get it out of the way. I'd really like to master the boat as-is, but I also want it to sail well. I'm going to build the new rudder as an exercise in boat building, and to hopefully make the boat handle well, but I don't know which rudder I'll keep using. We'll see.

I was amazed by how many people recognized him & said hello. Guess he's spent a lot of time at the marina.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bobcat sail #3

It was time to take Reid out & actually let him control the boat. The whole family drove down to the marina, and Julie helped rig. Launch went smoothly, and then Reid & I motored away from the dock. Once we were out of the marina, I let Reid take over. He was really interested in motoring, so I let him drive under power the whole way around the marina to the beach. We were going pretty much directly in to the wind, and we kept getting blown off course, which was challenging for Reid to handle.

When we got close to the beach, I sent Reid out on the bow with the painter. He threw it ashore to Julie, and we hopped out. The painter wasn't long enough to tie up anywhere, but I always keep a couple long lines on board, just in case. With a sheet bend in place, I tied up to a large piece of driftwood.

After 10 minutes talking to passers-by and using the shore head, I noticed that the boat wasn't rolling back and forth. The water level had dropped a little, and the boat was on the sand. A firm shove got it afloat, and I started to make plans to head out. Reid decided to stay behind and play, so it was just me for the trip back.

It was amazingly cool to walk down the beach with just my feet wet, with the boat by my side. Empty, with the centerboard up, it only draws a few inches. The rudder doesn't even have to come up, because it has an unusual design that keeps it very shallow.

With the sails raised, I shoved off the beach, and sailed away. The trip back was very fast... until I missed the marina entrance, and had to beat back up to it.

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If you've been following my story so far, you know that tacking this boat has sometimes been tricky. Well, now it was time to tack a lot. It took *forever*. A gaff catboat doesn't point nearly as high as a Marconi sloop with a big genoa, so you're making a lot less progress to windward on each tack. Also, when going slowly, the boat loses nearly all its forward momentum when tacking. And finally, sometimes things go all to hell mid-tack I the boat stops working and I get all stuck and confused. So, it took me like 20 minutes to go 50 yards. Sheesh.

I had considered trying to sail up the dock to the launch ramp, but after that ordeal, I knew I wanted to put the motor back in. I am proud of how that went, though. I made a plan ahead of time of what I was going to do. I tested the motor to make sure it was read, and sure enough, it was not. The leads had come off the battery. Good thing I checked! I reconnected and headed in to the marina. At a certain point I had planned, I took up the topping lift, scandalized the sail, put out fenders, dropped the motor, and headed up the channel. Arrived gently at the dock and tied up.

When loading on to the trailer, I finally got the trailer depth in the water just right. It needs to be deep enough that you can pull that boat on without superhuman strength. It needs to be shallow enough that trailer actually holds the boat, or the boat will just drift away. Bigger boats typically are pulled up with a winch, but I don't have one. Smaller boats are easy to pull on to a trailer, or even lift right out of the water by hand. I'm just in between.

It was about 5 hours from when we left home until we got back. I hope I can find ways to speed this up, since I enjoy sailing much more than rigging!

I need to figure out how to tack this boat well.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bobcat sail #2

My 6-year-old had heard my promises of making him "first mate", and was disappointed that he didn't get to come along on the maiden voyage. The next day we were free, we drove the boat down the hill to go out again. This time I was going to take him along.

The whole family came along, including the in-laws. It was getting late in the day, and the weather was cooling and the wind was picking up. The ringing of halyards against aluminum masts filled the marina. It was pretty gusty, so we put a reef in. The plan was for the 5 landlubbers to go play on the beach while Reid and I sailed. Secretly, I wanted to sail over to the beach and meet them there.

The launch went fine, with the quirkyness I mentioned before: no rudder control at low speed coming off the dock.

The gusts still had me uncomfortable, so I decided not to let Reid take the helm, and not to sail out of the marina. He was disappointed again, but coping. We sailed around inside the marina, and then headed back to the dock to call it quits. A couple times I had trouble tacking, like before, but not too bad. Coming up the narrow channel to the launch, I got stuck again, and had to fend off and bail out. Damn. Then I turned on the motor, hoping it would help me not stall through the tacks, but it didn't help.

Eventually I dropped the sail and motored back to the dock. I asked Reid to step ashore with the bowline and tie up. He was pleased as punch to finally have a job. You should have seen the super-secure cleat hitch he invented.

We pulled the boat out of the water, put her to bed, and went home to eat supper.

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Bobcat sail #1

My in-laws came to visit just after I bought the boat. I spent a couple days sorting out the lines, deciding how I wanted to bend on the sail, etc. I probably put the mast up half a dozen times, getting things worked out.

I had never driving with a trailer before the day I bought the boat. Launching requires backing up, so my father-in-law and I went to the high school parking lot to practice backing up. (It's summer, so the lot is empty). I got the basic feel of it, enough to try the real deal.

I tried to find a used life vest, because I really don't like buying new things if I don't have to, but I didn't see any at the "Marine Exchange". However, they did have cheap, ugly galvanized cleats, so I bought a couple to put where there were some matching holes. I ended up getting a new vest at West Marine (and I hate buying at chains, too), but I wanted to get on the water. $30 got me an annual launch pass (but it's only for the next 6 months).

The missing cleats would have been a good spot to tie fenders. One fender ended up on a halyard cleat. One on the pin that holds the centerboard up. One on the mainsheet cleat. Also, no cleats aft for dock lines, so I put one on the CB pin. Make do with what you've got, right? Unfortunately this allows the boat to spin around its center. Oh, well.

My father-in-law helped me rig the boat & launch. As I sailed away from the dock, I discovered the first quirk of sailing this boat: if you are trying to turn downwind from a broad reach, at low speed, well, you can't. The long sail, sitting way out, creates a lot of weather helm. The rudder, being pretty small, doesn't do much at low speed. So, instead of turn downwind to head out of the channel, the boat just sailed straight towards a hard thing. With a few feet to go, it picked up enough speed to make the rudder work, and turned.

I sailed around inside Boat Haven, and then, with a little confidence, headed out of the marina. A couple small loops, and then made my way back in to the marina.

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Now, I'm not an old salt, but I've sailed a number of boats in close quarters, and almost every time I docked under sail. I've done it in boats from 8' to 35'. But today was apparently not my day. I was trying to tack up the channel, and suddenly everything went wrong. The boat didn't move the way I thought it would. It wanted to run in to hard things. I was totally confused. I decided to fall off, head out, and try again, and had to fend off hard things because of the quirck I mentioned before.

The second approach, things started to go haywire again, so I fired up the little electric motor. It's mounted oddly, well outboard, and causes the boat to turn to port. It also blocks the rudder's full range, which makes compensating difficult.

Finally the boat was moving under power, things seemed to be going smoothly, and I was headed back to the boat launch. I decided to add a little more power, turned the motor up to full, and wham! the motor jumped off the mount! It fell in, completely submerged, hanging by the wire, and continued to run, spinning every which way. I reached in and turned it off, coasted to the dock, and tied up.

The remainer of the trip was without incident, which is surprising, since I had never retrieved a boat on to a trailer before.

30 minutes of sailing across a 5 1/2 hour trip.

Several people approached or called out and asked about the boat. It seems to get a lot of comments. I enjoyed the attention.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Deer & the esophagus

Deer come to our yard pretty often, which I really dig. Recently we've seen a fawn on occasion.

But check this out:

Boat update

Good news on the boating front.

First, I followed Jake's advice and talked to Rob at the Wooden Boat Foundation. He got me hooked up with an "intermediate" class, which goes beyond the basic tacking and jibing. We motored, docked, picked up moorings, anchored, navigated by charts, and the like. We did it in Townsend Bay, so I got experience with currents, waves, salt, and tides, which don't happen on Lake Union.

The class took place on a Thunderbird, and I just happened to notice one for sale on Craigslist.

Saturday I went down to the Center for Wooden Boats for a sharpie class, in preparation for the upcoming festival. Man, people at CWB are SO FRIENDLY. Wow. I guess I had forgotten just how nice everyone there is. I am now checked out on sharpies at CWB, which means I'm allowed to skipper Betsy D. and Colleen Wagner with a boatful of non-sailers.

To get to CWB, I ended up driving from PT to Bainbridge and taking the ferry. I wish I could have done buses, but they just don't work well on Saturdays.

After CWB, I drove up to Mukilteo to look at a boat for sale. A 12' Bolger/Payson Bobcat/Tiny Cat. I decided to buy it, but the buyer wanted cash, and the ATM wouldn't give me enough money. I gave him a $200 deposit, and caught the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry home. Drove up Whidbey to Keystone, and parked the car on the side of the road. This way I could walk on the ferry, which is much cheaper.

The next morning after breakfast, I saw that the ferry was about to leave, so I hopped on the bike, zoomed over to an ATM to get out another $1000 in $20s, and then got to the ferry just in time. Parked the bike at the terminal, and walked on. Then drove the van back to Clinton, ferry across, and back to the boat.

Handed over 92 $20 bills and a $10 bill. Then we talked about each of the bits and peices, and rigged the boat in the driveway. Downrigged and loaded the bits and peices in to the van.

We were about to hook up the trailer to my brand new hitch, and saw that my hitch ball was 2" but the trailer was 1 7/8". (Why are there 3 hitch ball sizes? Arggg.) The seller had agreed to give me his hitch, but we couldn't get the bolt loose. It had been on for 8 years. I thought about taking the ball and tongue together, but the receiver socket was a different size. (Why are there multiple sizes? Arggg.)

WD-40, rap with a wrench, then get a good pulling position on the ground and off it came. However, we couldn't get my ball to come off, either. It was brand new, but had a lock washer and had been torqued down tight. We tried WD-40. A vice. Different tools for leverage. Eventually we decided to seek professional help.

The seller gave me directions to a U-Haul place. The directions were good, but it turns out the SR-99 isn't marked as such in that area. Weird. Eventually I had to ask for help, and finally found the U-Haul. There was slow line, but eventually I got some help. The guy was really nice, and very helpful. He had enough leverage to take the ball off, no problem. But then the other ball's screw was too small for the hole. (Why are there multiple sizes? Arggg.) He gave me a shim, put things back together, and sent me on my way, no charge. Thanks, U-Haul!

Back to the boat. Put it on the hitch, plugged in the lights, and took off. Got to the Mukilteo ferry terminal about 30 seconds too late, and had to wait for the next boat. Ferried to Clinton, back up to Keystone, but missed the ferry. I was there in time, but they didn't have enough room on the little ferry, and I had to wait 90 minutes. It was a beautiful day, so I took a nap in the boat.

After driving off the ferry at Port Townsend, I stopped for the bicycle and threw it in the boat.

The kids spent the entire evening playing the my new boat. And much of the next day.

Last night I measured all the lines that came with it, and today I'll be rigging it in the driveway.

I still need to figure out where to attach dock lines & fenders (seems to be missing a few cleats), and get some PFDs, and learn to back up with a trailer, and the maybe I'll get to go sailing.

7 ferry rides in 2 days.
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