Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Damage Control

Once upon a time I used to occasionally teach damage control at the Australian Maritime College, it was a fun course (except in winter, when it was cold...). We had an old ship set up with a series of rooms that could be slowly or quickly flooded through various cracks, splits and dodgy pipework, all under the control of a sadistic instructor such as myself... Like I said it was great fun, but I also learnt some bits and pieces from this, most of which I hope I will never have to use for real.

Picture this, a dark night, shall we add stormy? no that would be too dramatic... So a dark night, somewhere maybe a couple of hundred miles offshore, nice sailing, wind vane doing its thing, boat trucking along on a tight reach, and a cuppa hot chocolate keeping the hands toasty warm. You carefully scan the horizon, looking under the headsail, trying to use the edges of your vision, and to be methodical, nothing seen so back under the dodger to get warm again, before the next lookout in a few minutes... Suddenly without warning a loud bang and a shudder as the the vessel rides up something unseen, you curse.... !@#$%^ due to spilt hot chocolate scalding your hand...

Well I guess you know whats going to happen next don't you.. Yep, Sure enough water can be heard trickling from somewhere forward, on the leeward side  Quickly... the boat is sinking!!

Is everyone ok? well then wake up and put something warm on. This could be a long night...Turn on all the bilge pumps, and make sure they are working. Attend to any injury's - put burnt hand in cold water, at least you have a plentiful supply in the bilges. Now start hunting for the leak and grab your damage control kit, we have one of these handy don't we?

Snow Petrel's DC kit (with $1 tipshop bag)
Fortunately we do, our DC kit is conveniently stowed up forward and for our metal boat it includes :
  • Instruction sheet with layout of seacocks and reminders and prompts to suit our boat
  • Torches- A head torch is good, and a floating torch... well floats.
  • Small axe to smash out joinery, and shape wedges then hammer wedges home.
  • Softwood wedges and plugs of various shapes and sizes
  • A block of soft closed cell foam to initially stem the flow
  • Underwater epoxy putty, in small and big sizes, and other suitable goop's
  • Quicksetting underwater cement, Ideally in a bag (can be stuffed unto whole to stem water)
  • Hoseclamps and screw driver.
  • Bicycle Innertube to wrap around leaky pipe
  • If hull is foamed, a way to remove foam, like an old chisel.
  • A pair of gloves (winter grip gloves are ideal)
  • Mask and snorkel 
All these handy items are in a bag that can be carried to where it is needed.
    After you have narrowed the leak down to the locker under the forward double berth you quickly clear all the crap out from it - it's amazing how fast you can clear out a locker (but you try to keep it out of the water). You ask for a check on the bilge level... we're losing ! Maybe you should think about a Mayday or Pan Pan - and get those buckets working faster...

    The leak is a split on a weld line near a frame, the plating dented, but the frame didn't, tearing the plate in this area, it's not big, but boy the water is spraying in, it's a good job you have that diving mask to put on... Maybe we can heave to on the other tack to lift it abit higher and reduce the outside water pressure, the slower speed will also help and it will be more comfortable...

    Quickly you grab a wedge and split it into three smaller wedges with the axe to better fit the curved split. The first two wedges go in quickly and the last is slightly trimmed down to better fit the remaining part of the crack. With the last wedge tapped in the leak is considerably slowed. Phew.... But this no time to rest easy, while that adrenaline is still pumping lets check the rest of the boat, there may be another leak. We notice the pumps start gaining on the water..

    It is now under the floorboards and after unlocking them you inspect the bilge and check the strum boxes are clear. We had kept them locked down to stop them floating away, and to reduce the amount of debris reaching the bilge.

    After a few minutes you mix some underwater putty and press it around the edges of the swelling wedges, it reduces the flow to a trickle... well done, lets downgrade that mayday and get another cup of hot chocolate and try to calm down those shattered nerves. And a Securitie to alert other vessels of the submerged hazard might be in order..

    At no time did the water get near our abandon ship point (with the water somewhere around my knees on Snow Petrel) at this point our efforts would have shifted into getting ready to abandon the vessel.

    This situation is hypothetical, and I hope it stays this way. But having a damage control kit gives you plan to deal with a leak, part of it's function is obvious - to put all the gear you might need in a handy place, the other part is not at first so clear. This DC kit and the thought that went into compiling it has given you a plan, and having a plan has prevented panic (or at least controlled it)... Suddenly you know exactly what to do, having the DC kit and a plan gives you a focus that helps to prevent running around in circles shouting and screaming hysterically...

    Now I note you can buy some pretty good kits but if you buy one please make sure you have also put the thought into how to use it. Non metal boats need different DC kits to metal boats (you can work out the details), and the old fothering trick with stout tarp has actually worked perfectly for me in flat water, try it on a seacock or when you clean your speed/log paddlewheel if you have one (I don't). I think they are just one more spot to get a leak from.

    By the way, The only two times I have had water over the floorboards it turned out to be freshwater from the watertanks. Taste the water before you pump it out.

    What do you have in your DC kit, and have you ever needed to use one?



    PS - check your memory, what tack was the boat sailing on (on that dark night) before the impact, no cheating by re-reading above... thought about it yet.. well actually I didn't specify a tack but I did have one in my minds eye, I am curious to see if we are port or starboard brained. as part of a world first and highly scientific survey click below on:

    (A) for "in my minds eye the boat was on port tack"
    (B) for "in my minds eye the boat was on starboard tack"
    (C) for "we were running under twin headsails wern't we?"
    (D) for "what does port and starboard tack mean?"

    And as always you can click on liked to give me a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment (and to poke a stick in the eye of all those nasty english teachers who were most unimpressed with my writing)

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    Fatigue... of the human variety

    Watch Bill- 2 on 4 off
    I have spent quite a large portion of my life on watch systems of one sort or another, and in general I dislike them all... No matter how clever the watch system is someone still has to be up and alert at 0300, and the human body (at least mine anyway) is just not designed for this kind of abuse... I struggle to keep my eyes open and mind alert, and I know I am along way from my peak efficiency (and it's pretty low even on the rare occasion that it reaches peak..)

    I suppose there is one system I do quite like, It's a watch system where someone else always gets the graveyard shift, and I get to sleep. But that's not really very fair is it...

    Those graveyard shifts are just bearable if I have had plenty of sleep, and are into the swing of a watchkeeping routine. If I am already sleep deprived and fatigued it is a dangerous combination that I do my best to avoid. I have already talked about Rolf and Deborah's excellent  Sleep bank concept where you make sure you have enough sleep stored up to keep you safe. Go to far into debt and the debt collectors will soon be calling. and then you will pay the price - with interest...

    I always remember my father in a sleep deprived state when I was very young. We were sailing up the east coast of NZ and for whatever reason he had been awake to far to long. He couldn't correlate the chart to what he was seeing outside and so took the always reasonable approach and decided the chart was wrong and he had found some new islands... Fortunately Mum still had her marbles, and could navigate us home.

    After a decent sleep my old man couldn't believe how stupid he had been (and still denies it..) but the scary thing is, abit like being very drunk, you don't know how impaired you are at the time, and to you your decisions seem rational and smart. Hallucinations are the extreme symptom of sleep deprivation. I have never got to that point, and intend never to (touch wood). But some stories of hallucinations by singlehanded sailors who have mismanaged their sleep are downright scary... Sleep deprivation is probably the root cause of a significant proportion of serious accidents at sea.

    If you are alone you need to be particularly careful, to the extent that managing sleep becomes your number one priority. During my singlehanded Tasman crossing in Reiger I was lucky that the cheap alarm clock I had bought from a two dollar store (predictably) died on the second night. So I ended up sleeping at night with no alarms set. and I found that I woke up naturally every time I needed to, if the wind shifted slightly I woke up, If it dropped I woke up, and once I even woke up to see a ship 5 miles away (not on a collision course...) I think the sound of the engine and propeller woke me... It worked for me because I was well rested. If I was sleep deprived my body would not wake up for the slightest sound. I don't think I would recommend this anywhere with more traffic than the Tasman? Around the coast I kept a 20 minute look out with micro sleeps, a punishing routine - that I could only keep up for one night (anybody got any tips on this?). I guess the point here is that I made a decision that mid ocean my biggest risk factor was fatigue due to lack of sleep, rather than being run down...

    With crew it is more about making sure everybody is getting enough rest. If crew decide to skip a sleep period because the weather is nice or they are reading a good book it can cause problems latter when they fall asleep on the graveyard shift. This often happens when you first leave port for a big voyage or race, most crew want to be up for the excitement or because they want to be hero's, I normally go for an afternoon nap and they think I am soft. But at 3oclock in the morning I am capable of making sensible decisions and they are struggling to keep awake... Even if I don't actually sleep in my afternoon nap, just lying down and relaxing does alot of good.

    I keep away from caffeine when I am on watches. For me It can really effect my sleep patterns, but it is good to have as a backup if I really need to stay awake for 6 hours or so.

    I hate the 4 on 8 off watch system, If prefer 2 on 4 off or 3 on 6 off. With only two I quite like 3on three off at night and 6 on 6 off during the day. But it is hard to get much agreement on this... watch systems deserve their own post later.

    When sailing through heavy ice getting enough sleep as skipper is a huge problem, on Snow Petrel I should have stepped out of the watch system when we were in the pack ice, and been on call. I got very tired and it could have been dangerous if we had any problems. I drew too heavily from the sleep bank...

    As a Skipper you need to look after your own sleep, don't be a hero, It's easy to overwork and overworry and micromanage everything and before you know it you are the one making stupid decisions, or crew take things into their own hands and "let you sleep" for a while, instead of calling you if and when they should. There is alotwatch and give crew a break as a treat... As a skipper it is good to be able to Nana nap, even just for 15 minutes can be refreshing.

    On the ships we always write up night orders, with specific instructions for the officer of the watch (OOW), they must be read and signed  (and then followed..). I have used this system on yachts as well. It has many benefits, not in the least being that instructions aren't subject to chinese whispers, and are less likely to be  modified or forgotten at 3am. The night orders apply to that night only and can go in the logbook. The masters standing orders are more generic and can go at the front of the logbook, to be read and signed on joining. Masters standing orders and night orders deserve their own exciting post. But if done properly can help the skipper sleep soundly, knowing his instructions should be understood and that he will be woken when needed.

    Finally another Shipping thing from the STCW these are some of the exciting Anti-fatigue rules we must abide by and they are worth considering as a minimum for yachts...
    1. All persons who are assigned duty as officer in charge of a watch or as a rating forming part of a watch shall be provided a minimum of 10 hours rest in any 24-hour period.
    2. The hours of rest may be divided into no more than two periods, one of which shall be at least 6 hours in length.
    3. The requirements for rest periods laid down in paragraph 1 and 2 need not be maintained in the case of an emergency or drill or in other overriding operational conditions.
    4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2, the minimum period of ten hours may be reduced to not less than 6 consecutive hours provided that any such reduction shall not extend beyond two days and not less than 70 (77 under IMO?) hours of rest are provided each seven day period.
    If you have any fatigue induced error stories put them below, or any other comments.



    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Fatigue... of the metal variety

    This was the chainplate from an old aluminium open 60 I skippered. This happened before I joined on the voyage back from South Georgia to the Falklands. The boat got badly knocked down and the cap shroud hole in the chainplate pulled out, resulting in the mast getting a rather nasty bend just above the 1st spreader (it was amazing that they didn't loose it!). It took the resourceful Falkland islanders 10 days or so to pull the mast out, straighten it, sleeve the distorted area and re-install it (an amazing job...) While they were at it they welded in a set of massive new chainplates. All done with very basic facilitys. As you can imagine we had our hands full cleaning up the boat and fixing the million and one other broken things from the knockdown.

    Also broken was the staysail stay chainplate, you can clearly see another crack underneath the point of failure. This thing was just waiting for an excuse to let go, and it failed before the knockdown... 

    A full inspection revealed a crack starting in the stainless steel solent stay fitting (right side, at the top of the weld), This is a common place for failure, right near the heat affected zone, just outside a weld. Once the crack starts it concentrates loads at this point creating a stress riser and accelerating failure, also nasty things like crevice corrosion can start inside the crack, eating further into the metal....

    The forestay chainplate wasn't too crash hot either... lets not push her too hard...

    The point of all this is not to bag out the boat, just to say that on older boats don't assume that just because things have not broken, doesn't mean to say they won't. Metal fatigue and corrosion can invisibly weaken parts that otherwise look solid. The Open 60 had a complete new rig 7 years before this, but the chainplates were over 20 years old, and possibly slightly underspecified to start with. She had had a hard life, alot of it in Antarctica, (cold may accelerate fatigue - any engineers out there?). Nobody had thought the solid looking welded in chainplates could give any problems....

    The most highly loaded parts of any boat are normally the rigging and what they are attached to (and maybe the keel bolts...). Sailors are well aware of the need to replace stainless steel shrouds every 7-10 years or so, but many fail to realise that the rest of the load path is also highly stressed and subject to fatigue. Quite commonly people replace the wire religiously (to keep insurance company's happy..) but never change the highly loaded through mast tang bolts, or the tangs themselves... The tang bolts particularly seem to fail quite often, then dropping both port and starboard shrouds, meaning you can't even tack to stabilise the mast.... Turnbuckles also need replacing every so often, as can the chainplates.

    To be really safe I think it makes sense to consider replacing all the components every 2nd rigging change (20 years or so) and very carefully inspect all components at every rigging change. Chainplates should either be massively oversize, or easily replaceable. Be very wary of any stainless that passes through a damp deck, stainless can corrode very quickly in a damp low oxygen environment.

    I replaced some U Bolt chainplates as a precaution before a delivery, and was horrified to find two of the ones I removed had lost 90% of the metal due to corrosion, they had looked perfect.... Lucky I had been told to watch out for this by a friend who had one fail on his boat. Stainless is treacherous stuff....

    My chainplates are mild steel (with SS edging and inserts) to reduce the problems with fatigue. Mild steel has some pretty forgiving properties, one being that if you keep the stress below a certain point (the endurance limit) it doesn't really fatigue, unlike most other materials which will always get slowly weaker with each load cycle (that year of mechanical engineering was useful after all!). My bottlescrews are also galvanised steel, as is my rigging wire - both come with industrial test certificates and a SWL (unavailable for yachting stuff...). When I next re-rig my boat I will replace my stainless tangs with galvanised mild steel mast fittings as well.

    There are some non destructive ways to test for cracks, but they are not 100% and could give you a false sense of security. I normally use a magnifying glass and look carefully, but I really should invest in some dye penetrant and developer, this supposedly highlights any cracks, has anyone used it?

    Anyway I guess I have just given you yet another thing to worry about... Thats good if it means you might be less likely to loose your mast. If anyone has had a rigging failure I would be very interested to hear all about it....



    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Welding stuff for your boat

    Chainplates with SS inserts and edging
    The of the best boat refitting skills I have is welding, It took me an adult education course and two years at night school classes to get really confident, (I have dreams of building my own metal boat one day..) So far all the pieces I have welded onto Snow Petrel have stayed put... (touch wood - metal?). And some of them are important like the tabernacle, and chainplates. My metalwork is not like the classy shiny stuff that you see coming from a fancy workshop with their TIG welders and polishers, it is more industrial, without the mirror polish and delicate weld beads but still does it's job just fine.

    In fact I ended up replacing all Snow Petrel's deck fittings with (much better) welded on homemade stainless steel fittings. Now the only holes in the boat are the windows, hatches and winch bolts. I now have no deck leaks! (an incredible luxury), less rust traps and better designed gear.

    My complete kit fits into a small suitcase, (except for the helmet), and can easily live onboard. At the moment I am welding up a little wood heater to replace my smelly diesel heater. I get alot of satisfaction from welding and I really think that If you plan to go to high latitudes a metal boat is a pretty good idea, and if you have a steel boat learning some basic welding skills makes sense. Welding aluminium as a different ball game, much harder, and expensive bigger welders are needed.
    My incomplete fireplace door, Special fire glass is needed
    It always surprises me that most budget sailors are happy to do their own woodwork, canvas work and rigging but bulk at even the most basic metalwork... If an uncoordinated numpty like me can do it, then most of the budget sailor population should be capable of learning and with some pretty basic skills, and a small amount of equipment some useful gear can be knocked up quickly and permanently from stainless steel. Even If you aren't happy welding you can always save alot of money by cutting out the parts and getting them welded up professionally (or by that mate for a 6 pack or two of beers....). If you take a few pieces of metal into any shop and ask them hust to weld them together it is normally pretty cheap, and they can often do it while you wait. Much of the cost is in designing, cutting and polishing the job.

    Some basic tools needed -

    A small DC inverter stick welder,  much better than the my old AC welder because it is way smaller lighter and has a much better duty cycle (It can run at 100 amps for 25% of the time, enough for most welding on a yacht), and it will happily run off any crappy power source, even what you might get at the end of an old wharf, or up a mast (I have chucked it over my shoulder and welded at the masthead). Get one that can run off a generator. Or alternately an onboard alternator welder can be used if desperate.

    A welding helmet with an auto darkening lens is much easier to use.. also good quality respirator that fits under the helmet is essential to keep the worst of the nasty welding fumes away from your delicate lungs.

    Welding Rods: I use 316L for welding SS to SS, 309L for welding SS to mild steel, and 6013 or 6012 rods for mild steel. Keep them very dry, humidity can effect the flux coating. 

    A 5 inch angle grinder, I went though a few cheapies until I bought an expensive one. Make sure its a 5 inch with the big stud, taking discs with a 22.2 mm centre hole, not the toy 4 inch ones. I normally don't bother with a 9 inch grinder (even though I have one..) the 5 inch can do almost everything much better and is safer.

    A heap of skinny 1mm cutting disks for the 5 inch grinder. (sorry about the mixed units, blame the french or the yanks... ) These things are magic, They cut through SS like its butter and leave a nice clean cut. I also assume they cut though fingers and other body parts just as well so be very careful to secure the work well (Like in a vice), always use the guards, and wear leather gloves and really good quality eye and ear protection... If you can't work out what the fuss about safety gear is, please never go to sea and preferably don't go very far from a well equipped hospital...
    The most Important gear.. + Add Earmuffs and suitable clothes.
    You will also want a flap disk or two for smoothing off edges, and those ugly lumps of weld, Its really just sandpaper for stainless steel, but it's the easiest way to clean it all up. SS grinding disks are also available, and remove metal faster, but flap disks still needed to finish the job. you can use a polishing wheel if you want, but I normaly use fine flap disks.

    Add chipping hammers, wire brushes (SS wire brush For SS only), centre punch, cutting fluid for drilling holes and you are set. Drilling SS is a prick, sharp drill bits, lots of cutting fluid and a slow drill speed with lots of pressure are needed. Ideally a drill press for big holes... It is usually cheaper to take it in to a workshop and get them to drill any large holes rather than trash all your drill bits. A workshop can also cut out stainless steel quickly and easily into complex shapes with a plasma cutter - this can be very useful.

    You can use pickling paste to clean up the welds an make them look shiny but it is seriously nasty stuff so I normally don't bother. They can just go very slightly rusty, no big drama if the peice is properly oversized (see here for more info on surface cleaning)

    I used to get most of my material from scrap metal yards, but these days it is harder to find it this way, so I am forced to buy it. 304 is fine but get 316 if you can afford it. I have some dodgy stainless on my bow roller. It has a rusted to nice patina that I quite like, and the rust doesn't seem to be to getting any worse. Old rod rigging is awesome as SS edging for any non load bearing application. I collect old stainless steel fittings for parts that can be cut up or modified to make new fittings. 

    I am always careful not to rely on stainless unless it is massively overbuilt, It is tricky stuff and can fatigue or fail without much warning. Also when welding and grinding beware of heat build up and sparks. Be very careful about fire risks, I have seen a quite a few burnt out steel hulls, and nearly had a nasty fire inside Snow Petrel, Some ports require a hotwork permit. And it is not allowed on most of the better class marinas or slipways... find somewhere abit more industrial. Oh and also grind well away from anything shiny, white or expensive. grinding dust blows along way and then rusts....

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Icing and escape hatches

                         Winch starting to ice up, I leave the winch handles in to stop socket icing up - Ideally a hard cover would be good, to enable instant use. Also in extreme conditions tiller may ice up as happened to Totorore.

    The other day I was thinking about Berserk, and it got me thinking about hatches and icing and getting stuck inside a boat.... What got me thinking was that Jarle has finally spoken out
    and it makes interesting reading...

    So what I was thinking (all this thinking was starting to hurt..) was that in a severe icing condition at sea it seems quite possible that the hatches could get badly iced up. I have always been abit claustrophobic, and the thought of being trapped below decks with a stuck hatch is terrifying.. So I guess it would be smart to have some means of forcing them open and also another escape option, hopefully not also iced up badly and frozen shut...

    Sprirt of Sydneys main hatch. Note my boots
     Spirit of Sydney had a main companionway door that opened inwards (into the cabin). This is very unusual in my experience. I have never seen one that opens inwards before on any vessel, and it can be abit of a menace. It is heavy and if it gets loose could do damage to fingers and such. From an engineering perspective it is kind of backwards as well, with the major loads from a wave going entirely onto the closing dogs and hinges and trying to open the door, forcing it off the rubber seal rather than pushing it tighter onto the rubber seal with the loads evenly spread into the rim. But the door is strong enough, it has been well proven over many years and in the worst conditions at sea on this vessel.

    Thinking about this strange door in relation to severe icing conditions - It would be much easier to open even if heavy snow and ice had filled the cockpit and blocked the doors. It would also be easy to open with a cockpit full of water, or after any event that meant the cockpit was obstructed (ie a dismasting with a broken piece of boom in the cockpit) - Infact I find it hard to imagine a scenario that would trap a person below with this door. I suppose the whole door frame being distorted might jamb it, but this would jamb any door.

    Actually for any offshore sailing getting stuck below decks, or maybe even worse stuck on deck would be pretty dangerous. Rolf and Deborah From Northern Light told me about a main hatch securing rope getting caught in it's V cleat inside the boat locking the hatch shut. They were both on deck and quite a few days away from land - stuck outside with no food, water, shelter or tools (all below decks). Eventually (after long enough for the seriousness of the situation to sink in) the boat rolled heavily and the line freed itself.....Whew!!

    Snow Petrel has a backup escape/entry hatches - My lazarette hatch only opens and closes from outside and my main-saloon skylight is always free to be opened from inside even when the dingy is ondeck and covering the forward hatch. But both could still be blocked by severe icing.... Maybe I should add an inwards opening hatch somewhere?
    Ice melting fast, and wind dropping.

    The only moderate icing I have had was whist at anchor and then the main hatch was protected by the dodger. We had to make sure our ventilators remained somewhat free of ice, but that was all, I think we probably had about a ton of ice onboard at it's peak.... Gerry Clark had some very bad icing on the little 32 foot "Totorore", while heading towards Boyvetoya, deep in the south Atlantic (55 south) in late September. It sounded horrible... It's well worth reading his book, probably the most epic small yacht voyage ever, and it was a voyage that did some very useful scientific work, by getting the first accurate data on seabird populations in the southern ocean and it's islands.

    I am interested to know if anybody has experienced severe icing at sea on a yacht, what problems it caused, and how best to minimise it's dangers?



    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Sailing podcasts and Furled Sails

    "This is www dot furledsails dot com..." thus begins another excellent podcast by Noel and Christy. Together they have interviewed in their relaxed and informal way many interesting sailors from gunkholers and kayakers, through to world voyagers like the Pardys and yacht designers like Phil Bolger and Ted Brewer. Definately well worth a listen too. On the far right side of their page is an index to their podcasts, and after two years of sporadic listening I still haven't even got close to listening to all of them.

    They are about 20-30 megabytes each and run for about an hour or so, just long enough to while away a boring flight or Bus trip. I download them free from the iphone itunes store, just search for "Furledsails" and you should be sorted for that next flight... Only problem is I don't have any space left on my crappy old iphone, so I have to delete the old ones before I load any new ones...

    I'm sure it's just as easy from any other type of smartphone (which I may well get when my old dinosaur 3G  finally dies) but I don't know how its done. If anybody has an opinion on the best type of phone to replace my old 8 meg 3g iphone you can put something in the comments or email me.

    I am considering donating to Noel and Christy - Given the amont of enjoyment they have provided me over the last few years it would be nice to reciprocate. They are the only ones I know doing this, but if any of you know of any more good sailing podcasts please let me know... and thanks again Noel and Christy, you've done a great job.



    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Learn to sail in a dinghy first

    John Vigor has just written an excellent piece extolling the virtues of learning to sail in a dinghy rather than a keelboat. Like all his stuff it's well worth a look. John is an author of many fantastic sailing books, and if you haven't read any of John's excellent books... well... get reading.

    I can highly recommend his Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat as a brilliant place to start, and it has informed many of my better decisions, and the Boatowner's Handbook is a great resource with  lots of useful formulas and such for a boat nerd like me... Oh and John Vigor is also the inventor of the black box theory on safety, something I credit with helping to keep me alive at sea all these years...

    So my ears (eyes?) perked up when I saw John's post about faster learning in a dinghy. Since I learnt to sail in a dinghy naturally I  reckon it is the best way to start... And I think the good grounding in seamanship and the "feel" it has given me has helped me at sea on everything from the 290 meter (950ft) Tokyo bay, down to my 17 foot kayak.

    So a bit of background (or a chance for me to reminisce...), after sailing borrowed Optimists and Sabots for a few years we got a couple of cheap "P classes" when I was 8, they were beat up 7 foot 7 inch catboat style dinghys with an array of complex controls and a nasty streak such as a tendency to violently pitchpole (pigroot) given a moment's inattention, and they also carried some serious weather helm... But they were the best christmas and birthday presents ever, and over the years have taught many of the great NZ sailors such as Sir Peter Blake and Cris Dickson. We were very proud of our little boats.

    Built from plywood, we repainted them black and put Swallows and Amazons skulls on the sides and I called mine "Death 'n Glory"... Well I didn't get much glory, but neither did I die so I guess I can't complain.

    We first sailed them on a local lake, chasing each other around. The best trick we learnt was to sail through the underwater gate (in summer it was a paddock) and then close the gate behind us, trapping the pursuer until he could figure it out...

    I did a Sailing School weekend at our local yacht club and after approximately 1 million capsizes and careering out of control around the harbour for a day or so, due to being a such a skinny little runt, far too light for the boat (thats my excuse anyway). I was awarded my most prized certificate, (see below) I was more proud getting this at 9 than when I got my chief mates. I particularly liked the bit where it says I was Safe and Competent, because I certainly wasn't fast..

    "Death 'n Glory"

    Slowly I graduated into bigger dinghys after a 4 years racing P classes. I even got a newer faster "P" called "Privateer". But I had learnt many things the hard way as skipper of my little vessel... like:
    • Make sure the bungs are in before you go sailing... (sinking isn't fun..)
    • Don't lose the rudder, and then the centreboard.... (rescue is embarrassing)
    • Tie the forestay lanyard up properly (masts are impossible to put back up at sea)
    • Check the forecast, and respect 20 knots, (and cold fronts are untrustworthy)
    • Make your own decision on safety, and retire after 1 or 2 capsizes (a safety margin)
    • Don't be afraid to put in a reef (once won a race by reefing before I went out)
    • look under the sail occasionally (I hit a yacht, he wasn't looking either... and I was on starboard) 
    • learn to duck really quickly... (the boom is called the boom for a reason)
    Many these lessons are much better learnt on a little boat with help nearby, than far offshore on my own... Basically I learnt how to handle a boat in all conditions, on my own, and how to make my own decisions on tactics, weather and safety (as a sailing wimp I withdrew sometimes..) We sailed in an open bay outside of Napier, NZ, with strong 15-20 knot sea breezes, big swells and nasty southerly westerly cold fronts blowing us out to sea. I also learnt sail trim, how to surf down waves, and how to gybe the nasty wee boat without pitchpoling by getting her surfing first to reduce the apparent wind.

    Over the years I have often heard the saying " if you can sail a P Class, you can sail anything"  , and there is certainly a grain of truth in it. The "Feel" learnt from sailing a small boat with nasty habits like the P class has never left me (at least I hope not..), and sometimes sailing Snow Petrel I close my eyes and sit on the windward coaming with the tiller extension in my hand and I can almost feel the memories and sensations of that little P class, bobbing into the short steep chop from 20+ years ago. Even when helming the 100 foot brigantine "Soren Larsen" echos from that little boat remain, in the slight kick of the helm as she slides over a swell, or the subtle heel and surge as a puff comes though....

    So if you want to really learn to sail well, a good cheap way is to jump in a small overpowered dinghy for a season or two and start getting wet.... You will learn many fundamental skills much quicker than you will as crew on a larger boat.

    And thanks John for the chance to dredge up those old memories.



    Ps I think I have broken the spell checker on this thing, overuse perhaps... so you can blame the dictionary for any errors

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Keeping extremities warm in cold weather

    Just cleaned out my car today, and found an old pair of mittens left over from my Antarctic trips. (don't ask what they were there for, maybe skiing last winter?). But it got me thinking about my two favorite pieces of gear, My mittens and my boots.
    Crappy boots and gloves gave us no end of problems in Antarctica
    When we took Snow Petrel down to Commonwealth Bay we had the good fortune to have lots of advice and help from Don and Margie McIntyre, an two amazing people who have spent more time at Commonwealth Bay than anyone else alive. They lent us a iridium phone, some survival suits, and lots of other very useful bits and pieces, but unfortunately we had no good wet weather boots or gloves.

    We tried heavy duty washing up gloves over woolen thermals, and took lots of socks and put foam liners in our sea boots. Neither worked particularly well. The insulated rubber gloves were initially great but got very smelly and were hard to dry inside. We ended up using hot water bottles and hand warmers alot, getting them set up before any big job like dealing with shorelines. Even so our hands and feet were often cold, and by the time we got back to Tassie we had numb feet for a few months due to a kind of trench foot? (any thoughts on the medical diagnosis would be interesting...)

    On the trip on Blizzard across to South America I thought I had learnt more - the boots would be OK, not as cold, but I was worried about my hands, Steering for 5 weeks from an exposed aft cockpit (no dodger to hide behind). So I wasted lots of money on the best gloves and mittens.... They proved next to useless (never buy skiing stuff for the ocean), and my fingertips suffered the same numbness that took weeks to go away.
    Expensive but... SO toastie and warm...

    When I got to the Falklands on good advice I bought some very expensive bright orange Dunlop Thermo+ boots. These boots a bulky but surprisingly comfortable, amazingly warm, and easy to keep clean and dry inside. They are lighter than they look and quickly became my standard outside wear, even on long walks ashore in Patagonia. They totally solve the cold feet problem. No wonder all the Antarctic charter yacht crew swear by them. How I wish I had had them on Snow petrel...
    Sexy boots hey... Me and Karen two hours walk up a ridge in the Beagle Channel. No blisters yet...

    So just the hands to sort out... Well Spirit of Sydney had a decent dodger, so my hands survived better, and the peninsular is much warmer than the Antarctic Mainland. But even then my fingers still got very cold handling shore lines and such.

    The final solution to the hands problem came from Siggy (Sigurður Jónsson) from Borea adventures in Iceland who was my excellent first mate (and a superb cook) on Spirit of Sydney. He kindly gave me his Icelandic fisherman's Mitts when he went back to Iceland. Apparently the are cheap and common over there (good luck trying to find any in Australia..).
    The ultimate mitts (so far..), reversible liners for drying and washing, and totally waterproof

    These have sorted out the hands.. Mittens are alot warmer than gloves and they are quick to remove for fiddly tasks, easy to dry by pulling out the liner, And totally waterproof. Spirit of Sydney had a tell tale of water from the main engine syphon break that filled a little bucket near the helm. These mitts were often dipped in the warm water to take the chill off. Thank you Siggy..

    Winter grip gloves are very comfortable, quick and easy to get on and off and although not waterproof they are great for any fiddly jobs. They are still quite warm even when wet, and dry quickly. they are much more comfortable to wear than neoprene.  Neoprene gloves are good for those really wet jobs like running shorelines, but are rather unpleasant to wear for any length of time, and not really all that warm for general use. 

    The problems with alot of the other boots and gloves is that they get progressively damper inside from sweat even if they keep the water out ok, so they are warm for 3 days then get colder and colder..(and smellier and smellier..) You need to be able to wash and dry the insides easily.

    I have seen some neoprene boots and they look pretty good (any feedback appreciated), but I like the way the Thermo+ stays open and loose, pumping air around the boot with each step, expelling any damp manky air.. My socks seem to stay dry right though a cold watch.

    I just need to find a great solution for my head (the Antarctic division DORK hat worked ok but looks abit stupid...) and I am interested if any of you have any thoughts on good cold weather gear for hands and feet at sea, after all Australia is pretty warm so my testing opportunity's are limited.



    PS   I have just found AAC has two great article's with lots of good comments on keeping hands and feet warm. Well worth a look... I am constantly impressed by the quantity and quality of articles and comments at AAC, many thanks to Phyllis, John, Colin, and all contributers.

    Questions, Comments or Contact

    If anybody has any questions, off topic comments or wants to contact me you can do so by leaving a comment here, I check this pretty frequently so will try to get back to you as soon as possible.

    Alternately try emailing me at bensnowpetrel(at)yahoo.com.au but I as I get lots of crap in the email this page is probably better.



    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Blogs, Ego's, and Nerdiness..

    I Have been writing this stuff  now for about a month, I can tell you it's alot harder than it seems. Especially for me, I have always hated writing and at school I had to do remedial english... (I was excellent at maths and science... think it's called being a nerd) so I often wonder why I am bothering (some of you may also be thinking the same thought...)

    I guess I wanted a place to put some of my ideas down, forums and comments make it hard to actually write as much as I need to explain myself... A chance remark "Ben, that was long enough to warrant it’s own blog!" by Nathan  got me to thinking...

    Hopefully I will get better and my posts will get more coherent with practise (although I think alot of my earlier posts were actually better..). I have found some posts turn out OK and others seem to never be right and I fiddle with them for ages before either ditching them in disgust or chucking them on here, and hoping no one actually reads them.

    What I end up writing is usually completely different to what I have in my minds eye when I start... It's all very hit and miss. I use spell checker constantly... And call on Karen in to have a look occasionally to make sure it is sort of OK (She finds my posts very boring and technical)

    I ask myself how much ego is involved in all of this, and honestly have to say it's probably more than I am comfortable admitting, I check the stats more frequently than is healthy, and stress if I haven't got a post out for a while due to work (like last week) or just me stuffing about trying (without success) to turn the mess I have just written into a masterpiece (like last week)...

    The highlight so far for me was John from Attainable Adventure Cruising recommending my blog, thank you John and I hope I won't cause you to regret the recommendation.

    Surprisingly some people have come for a look, (mostly poached from Attainable Adventure Cruising) and google has found my site, causing some funny visits. Like the Google France search for "Sailing + Tits" that somehow found my Sextant and Tits on Bulls post, Probably not what he was expecting... Stats to date are 872 hits from some many countries around the world, most commonly being USA, Aussie and Canada.

    My most popular (if you can call popular with a measly 88 views) is my Berserk... Lost in the Ross Sea? Post, goes to show bad news sells (we are pathetic creatures really...). 51 people were bored enough to look at Snow Petrel the boring details and 44 looked at the videos page.

    Where to from here? I don't know, I am sure my posting frequency will drop. I hope the quality will improve and hopefully more people will comment if they find anything useful, if they disagree with what I have written, or have something to add (thank you Chris at Periodically Peregrine)... I guess I am trying to stimulate some thought, myself included.

    I have just modified the layout to make it look cooler, let me know if you don't like it. And I put a followers thing on the page too, who knows - one day I may even get one! See John Vigor's always amusing writing about his followers...

    I must admit to being surprised (and abit scared) by the number of visits, hopefully some of you have found something interesting amongst my more coherent efforts, and thanks for coming over and looking.



    PS For the fellow nerds out there

    It is scary how much information gets tracked isn't it...

    Pageviews by Browsers

     290 (33%)
     256 (30%)
    Internet Explorer
     222 (26%)
    70 (8%)
    7 (<1%)
     6 (<1%)
     2 (<1%)

    Pageviews by Operating Systems

    509 (59%)
     211 (24%)
    67 (7%)
    Other Unix
     38 (4%)
     20 (2%)
     4 (<1%)

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Berserk and the "News"

    Mild Icing, Berserk faced severe Icing..
    Warning serious "RANT" follows... see Berserk...lost in the ross sea? for some background information.

    It is interesting how quickly the "News" jump on any accident involving adventurers and like to quickly apportion blame, all the I told you so's come out and say it was irresponsible, dangerous, etc even before any proper analysis of the accident has been done. This certainly seems to be the case in the loss of "Berserk".

    The "News" reports an experienced seafarer seeing the boat in Auckland and saying the boat was seaworthy but badly overloaded and the "News" then implies that this made her unsafe. But she successfully managed to sail down to the ice edge and then unloaded her unseaworthy cargo... when the accident happened she would not have been overloaded.

    The "News" also reports that it was too late in the season when infact it is the only time of the year a yacht can get in, A quick look at the  National Ice Centre Charts  for the Ross sea will confirm this...

    Apparently the weather was extreme, the worst in 20 years or so at the bases, and the worst ever seen by the Captain of the Ice class NZ warship HMNZS Wellington, which was damaged by the weather. Had it not been for this unusual extreme weather the vessel (in my opinion) most likely would have got home safely.

    I note that the crew of Berserk only triggered their EPIRB (or it may have automatically triggered?) when the situation was truly life threatening. Unlike other sailors that have triggered expensive rescues due to non-life threatening things like a broken mast...

    The problem with all this negativity is that underlying it is a push for more regulations, yet more ways to stop people being responsible for their own lives. It is a subtle yet pervasive, And effects an entire society's outlook on life.

    There are many vested interests that would like to see Antarctica locked away for science and tourism, No doubt these same vested interests will be the loudest critics of any small low budget expedition like Jarle's... And once they have stopped the more extreme trips like Jarle's the Bureaucrats may well start on the smaller stuff - like - is it really safe to sail across the Atlantic in that little boat? 

    These are some of my thoughts at the moment given the limited information I have. Hopefully in time a better picture of the voyage may come out so that we can all learn from it. Until then lets not jump to any conclusions... For futher reading look at the Sea shepherd news They were involved in the search, and have have accurate information about the conditions.

    I would be interested in your thoughts....