Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Right Light
By Michael

Outdoor vapor lights provide a nice
glow. This is the true light, no flash.
Lighting a boat isn’t like lighting a home, the needs are different.

Do you regularly look under your couch or bed for a can of refried beans? Is your dining room table also a game table, workbench, countertop, and desk? Do you spend whole nights awake in your house, reading and going about your business, but with only red lights on? Do you have an electrical meter on your wall that you check regularly to see how many amps you’re consuming? Is your ceiling less than a foot above your head?

On a boat, lighting deficiencies are magnified. Since the day we bought Del Viento, I’ve pursued more light, less light, better quality light, red light, improved light efficiency, and attractive fixtures in our cabin.

General Lighting Fixtures

When we bought our boat, general lighting came from four overhead, circular, plastic fixtures. These were mounted throughout and each had a single on/off switch and delivered plenty of cold, harsh light. Two were inoperable. The 9-inch fluorescent bulbs of the remaining two sucked almost 2 amps from our house bank, models of efficiency in 1978. But that was then.

As of this week, general lighting aboard Del Viento comes from five Alpenglow 9W LED fixtures. Their white light color is warm and pleasant and can be delivered at a low or high setting. The lights feature a second switch that controls a red light, also at a low or high setting. Each light consumes three-quarters of an amp at its highest setting. They cost $139 each—a real value.

The girls discovered this weighted plate tied off
to a dock piling. They pull it up often to see
what's living on it. Here their friend from Riki
Tiki Tavi replaces a crab. We get precious few
days with clear skys and light like this. This
means it is usually pretty dark down below.
Even during the day, we use our lights a lot.
Reading Light Fixtures

Del Viento came with six reading lights; we wish there were more. Four of these lights are traditional metal lights with the bell-shaped shade, two were nice looking lights with a teak base and teak shades. All of these consumed a lot of power—and for hours at a time as we read by them or used them for ambient lighting. Because they were incandescents, their shades got hot, really hot. On the teak lights, the shades were very small and the bulbs protruded a bit, resulting in several cases of burnt fingers.

We started by replacing the incandescent bulbs in the traditional metal fixtures with LED bulbs. For these four lights, this has been an acceptable fix, eliminating the power consumption and heat issues. (But not a complete fix, as it introduced other issues—I’ll explain this in a future post).

But for the two teak lights, this fix wasn’t possible as the shades were not large enough to accommodate an LED bulb. And because these two lights were also falling apart, we replaced them, again going with Alpenglow.* This time we bought two of their dimmable (a unique feature in this kind of light), LED reading lights. The light is a very warm white, they use little power, and the dimming feature isn’t something we sought, but is now something we appreciate. These things are awesome and if money were no object, we’d replace all of our reading lights with these.

Task and Ambient Lighting

I bought inexpensive LED strip lights at IKEA. Their profile is about 1/8 inch and they are extensible. I’m considering attaching several in series and mounting them behind trim in the galley to illuminate the counter spaces. If that works well, I may do the same in the main cabin, but with a rheostat to dim them. We’ll see.

I knew that improving our lighting down below would be a welcome improvement. Celebrating Christmas in our cozy cabin this year, I remembered that for years I worked in offices with cold, unflattering light and that I appreciated evenings at home with my incandescently illuminated wife, kids, and surroundings. It’s good to be home.


* We’ve been very happy with this company and its products, but our praise is unsolicited, we do not receive anything from Alpenglow. And while I’m disclosing, please note that this blog is not supported by advertising. Our only compensation is twofold: the knowledge that folks are interested in what we write, and a monthly pittance from Cruising World that gives them the right to reproduce this on their site—with no editorial influence.

This is one of the five new lights. If it weren't for the mark left
from the old teak pad, it would look like these lights were built
for the boat. Fortunately, in removing the teak pads, we learned
that we may be able to remove this popcorn finish on the cabin
top as easily as wallpaper--we just need to have it tested first to
be sure it isn't asbestos.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can Your Dinghy Fly?
By Michael

Our former dinghy hogged the foredeck underway,
the Pudgy is more than 3 feet shorter--both a bonus
and a trade off.
We like our Portland Pudgy and accept the fact that she’s slow. Her displacement hull is, well…pudgy.  She isn’t rated for an outboard larger than our 4-hp-equivalent Torqeedo, but that’s okay, she moves well under oars and so we row most of the time. But maybe there’s another way.

A guy named Jonathan Trappe bought the same dinghy we have, same color, same options. That is to say he bought a canary-yellow Pudgy with the sailing kit and inflatable exposure canopy. Then he registered it with the FAA as an experimental aircraft: N878UP (we didn’t do this).

Last month, in Mexico, Jonathan attached some balloons to his Pudgy and soared to 20,000 feet. He raced along for seven-and-a-half hours and covered 118 miles before landing in a lake. That is to say, Jonathan’s Pudgy averaged 13.65 knots during this trip.

Jonathan plans to take his dinghy across the Atlantic the same way: as a gondola suspended beneath a bunch of balloons.
Interestingly, of the 231 posts on this blog, by far the most popular is from November 2010: Life Raft Or Lifeboat? I wrote it as we prepared to head out cruising, thinking about whether we’d adopt the Pardey model (and cruise ship model) of repurposing our tender as a lifeboat. We committed to this approach the day we ordered the Pudgy and haven’t had any regrets. I never wonder whether my lifeboat will inflate if needed. I never think about getting it repacked. Except when we’re in a marina, we use our lifeboat day-in and day-out. 

Aside from the peace-of-mind she brings as a lifeboat, the thing we like most about the Pudgy is simply that she’s a hard dinghy. Unlike an inflatable, we can row her. We like rowing and it gives us exercise. Leaving the outboard at home is convenient (not having to ship the outboard), eliminates the risk of outboard theft, and lightens the load. Our Pudgy has sheer, tumblehome, and she’s tough as nails. Sailing her is fun (especially when the air and water are warm) and an excellent diversion for the girls. Sure there are trade-offs (not being able to cover large distances quickly), but I am now starting to like the idea that she can fly.


The following video of Trappe's trans-Atlantic trial run is pretty cool:


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Reel
By Michael

Most of the reels use either floating polypropylene
(pictured) or flat webbing, few use nylon three-
strand. Seems to me that polypropylene would
comparitively little strength or chaffe resistance.
In 1995, I saw Alvah and Diana Simon give a presentation in Ventura, CA. Their riveting talk and slide show focused on their trip around Cape Horn in their steel-hulled Roger Henry. What stuck with me all the years since is their description of anchoring in the Beagle Channel. Alvah said he observed the trees on the cliffs around the anchorage, wickedly malformed by the fierce prevailing winds, the williwaws that can blow at hurricane strength. Understanding they faced the prospect of gale force (and higher) katabatic winds that would drive them from shore, Alvah and Diana tucked Roger Henry in close and tied off ashore. The long length of three-strand that they used to do this, they kept on a reel astern.
Since then, I’ve noticed time and again, in the pictures that accompany adventurous articles in the sailing magazines—articles sent from crews at the extreme latitudes—the reels. To me, these reels evidence serious sailors, extreme cruisers.

But now I’m floating in a sea of boats with reels. A twenty-two-foot day sailor behind me sports a reel. Every other boat I’ve seen in B.C. has a reel—even small powerboats. I’ve learned why.
British Columbia (and the Inside Passage north) is filled with more nooks and crannies to explore than could possibly be done in a lifetime (our knowledgeable friend, Warren, pointed out to us that some of it is still uncharted!). These anchorages are often narrow, deep, crowded in the summer, and subject to huge tides (up to 15 feet). All of these factors combine to limit the amount of area available for a boat to swing on the hook. Accordingly, many folks up here stern tie to immobilize their boats. Apparently  summer season wind is not such a factor.

So, we’re looking into our own stern tie reel solution for Del Viento. At first glance, I like the space efficiency of the narrow reels of polyester webbing. We’ll see. I want to make sure this is indeed a must-have, even for just our planned single season. Because if we return to Mexico with a reel I know there will be a lot of eye rolling, “Oh look, the Robertsons spent a year up north and now they think they’re Alvah Simon.”

Our friend Warren hosted us for dinner and gave us a
run-down on the Gulf Islands, the easternand western shores of
Vancouver Island, and the mainland inlets of the
Strait of Georgia. He is a captain with
years of experience and an intense affinity for
the area. We covered a lot, but according to
Warren, we barely scratched the surface. Here
Windy is notating our iPad Navionics chart
app for reference. We attached a "Don't Miss!"
label to far more places than one season will
allow us to explore.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

O Canada!
By Michael

Reading this blog here, you likely missed the vitriol that erupted on the Cruising World site when I last wrote about Canada. Of course, the post was tongue-in-cheek, but that escaped some. Check out the comments
The girls hanging with our resident swan.
There is also a resident harbor seal.
A single, simple holiday card: standard size, less than an ounce. Do you know what it costs to send that thing from Canada to the U.S.? C$1.05! Do you know what it costs for someone in the U.S. to send the same holiday card to a friend in the Great White North? $.85. That’s quite a discrepancy; now you know why you’ve never received a holiday card from a Canadian.
But forget international rates. In Canada, sending a letter domestically costs C$.61—and next year it’ll be C$.63. Yikes! You gotta love our U.S. first class domestic postage rate of $.44. These poor Canadians have it rough.   
But consider that the U.S. the postal service lost over five billion dollars ($5,000,000,000) last year (and they'd have lost more than $10 billion had Congress not allowed them to postpone an annual payment to a health benefits fund) and that they’re begging Congress to increase the postal rate and cancel Saturday delivery. (And as Rueters reported in August: “Lawmakers, who have said they are committed to helping the Postal Service become profitable, left last week for a month-long recess without reaching an agreement on postal legislation.”) In Canada, taxpayers are not going to have to bail out Canada Post because it earned a net income of over C$281 million in 2009 and it’s closed Saturdays. (And it’s not as though Canada Post has it easy. It delivers to a larger area than the postal service of any other nation, including Russia, where service in Siberia is limited largely to communities along the railway).
Sure, U.S. fiscal responsibility is waning nowhere to be found, but what’s a cruiser to do? Well, I stood out in the cold rain yesterday, soliciting passengers boarding the Coho for their ninety-minute trip to Port Angeles, WA. I clutched a Ziplock freezer bag stuffed with over a hundred Robertson holiday cards, each displaying the 44-cent forever stamp. After a few passengers made me feel like a terrorist or drug smuggler asking them to do something illegal, I finally found a sympathetic crewmember in the terminal to agree to drop them in a mailbox Stateside for me. That’s practically money in the bank—that someone’s going to have to pay back someday.
The girls went to watch the salmon run at a nearby creek.
Of course, the salmon die after spawning and there are
carcasses everywhere. Here a naturalist shows Eleanor
and Frances (between them are the Riki Tiki Tavi kids)
a salmon heart. She dissected the thing for them. 
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