Different paths to death

A month or so back we had the great fortune of meeting Chinese pro sailor Guo Chuan as he scrambled to prepare the massive ocean race tri QingdaoChina for a solo record attempt SF to China. The big orange boat was guest docked at our marina, so Vanessa, Joe and I got to step aboard and look about. Guo and crew needed some the next day with sail handling help, so Drew and his son were able to spend part of the day getting to know this brave, bold and humble man and the amazing boat he pilots.

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The weather window opened, he left the Golden Gate with a head of steam, passed Hawaii on a better pace than the fully crewed Volvo 70 Maserati, and then went silent. You can read the full story online, but it seems there was trouble with a huge headsail and he was thrown from the boat. They found the severed end of his lifejacket tether attached to the boat. A tragic death and our hearts ache for his lovely wife we met briefly on the dock. Guo was the same age as me, and dies a hero and inspiration for achieving his dreams.

Or, you live your life to its full chronological measure. This is Jeanne’s pop, Dan, during his brief tenure in his new home (moved in to our house) this month:img_3778

Dan is the most stoic and strong-willed man in my life. As his eyesight diminished, he reluctantly moved from his San Jose house of 40+ years to a retirement center apartment near us. He kept up the morning hour long walks, with a white tip cane, to the amazement of the staff. We brought him over the boat shop a few times, and the scope of that ‘big whale in the room’ entertained him. We regret he wasn’t quite well enough for a boat ride after the launch, and now it will be left undone. 89 years of Bay Area living, military tours in the Pacific and Europe, 36 years at PG&E, one of 8 siblings in a strong family of Spanish immigrants (three OLDER siblings live on!), husband to Mary for 50+ years, and most thankfully father to two amazing kids. Dan died here at home last Sunday, and our hearts are broken. A tribute to his stubbornness – Jeanne, Leslie, Griffin and I took Ravenswing out Wednesday afternoon for a head-clearing short sail. Bah-humbug, as we cleared the breakwater the wind shut down and we drifted around in the sunshine. At least the boat proved to move very well in the tiniest of breeze – that was a nice first proof point. Had to laugh; it wasn’t time yet in Dan’s eyes for an enjoyable sail. But it was just right anyway. We miss you Pop!!!

Bottom line, these gentlemen remind me we should all live the lives we aspire to. Let’s not waste our moments together, nor squander our intriguing solo pursuits. There are infinite “ways to go”, but let’s depart at peace with what we’ve accomplished or experienced.

Doing hospice nursing work at home was challenging. For mental relief during those two weeks I would step out to the attached garage (often with the baby-monitor to Dan’s room) and tackle making the sail covers. The main’s is 17′ long, and we quickly learned why sail and canvas makers have huge clean floors or massive worktables. The project became a dance of rolling trailing edges of patterns and fabric. We bought the instruction book from Sailrite, and it proved a very good step-by-step. We were quoted about a thousand bucks for the main cover and a 12′ deck-bag for the jib. Spent about $200 instead on the book, fabric, thread and fasteners. We won’t write out the details here, just some photos. But email or comment if you have questions.

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The mainsail cover fit as-advertised. Although Keith with appreciate that this still-new Hydranet sail is so stiff that it’s rather unforgiving for being folded down tight under the cover. Time should make that easier.  img_3817

(yea, we still haven’t bonded the dodger windows in… too much else going on!)

The jib bag is a trial-and-error job. It proved difficult as a beginner to measure the unwieldy lump gathered at the forestay, and of course it was raining when Charlie and I did the trial fit. img_3811Got the overall length right, but the girth around the first yard is tricky. Let’s just say there will be another extension panel added this weekend. Notice the netting along the bottom. We closed the underside 10″ width of the bag with leftovers from the main nets; the idea is to let the sail breathe while in the bag. Also, we’ll use the halyard to keep it up off the deck. img_3813

With the sewing machine set up, we’re hitting the odds and ends too. Thanks to RickWS for this idea – the boom and main are so much bigger on these boats, and we can’t get arms around them. So your sail ties need weight on the end to throw them over and catch underneath. Sewed some rings on, just like what I saw on Rick’s Round Midnight. Works great!img_3814

OK, I said there wasn’t wind to test the new rudder angle, but we did experience how light and responsive the direct-tiller approach is. At first it was startling how easily the rudder turns, but I think it’s all in keeping with the “it sails like a big dinghy” sport-boat thing. The tiller ended up at 8′ long, and although the sweep for tight turns goes across the whole aft cabin, it’s quite manageable and feels just like the aggressive tiller throw needed to tack the F27. Here’s the finish of the Frankenstein ‘grafting’ of old to new:img_3801img_3802img_3816The tabs sticking up are a catchment for the Forespar steering extension handle that Jim gifted to the boat. It swings around and stows very securely back here. The tiller shape and length turned out just right, but it had a bit too much vertical flex. So today it’s getting a bit of reinforcement, especially where it makes the turn down from the cassette angle. img_3818

Good rainy day work.

Next up you’ll be reading about electricity storage. We’ve chosen the source for the Lithium Iron Phosphate cells, tested a cardboard shape mockup to make sure the 16 cells will fit as intended, and we’re reaching for the credit card…  stay tuned.

Steering redo

Last time we saw the wooden tiller mockup strapped to the boat. This weekend was time to make the tiller stub attachment for the rudder cassette. It’s 2.5″ thick, so first up was five layers of 1/2″ foam. 

It’s all carbon; an inner wrap of 12oz double bias, then four layers of 15oz unit on the sides, and last a other wrap of the db. The skinny end gets a 3rd db wrap – that’s where the actually tiller bears on it. Anton and Charlie saw how the previous one cracked on the little “strap” at the bottom end, so for this we added a U of 30ozs uni 1.5″ wide where the tiller will apply its downforce if someone falls on it (or just presses down too damn hard)



Quick side note – we bought some of the red strip Dacron peel ply that I see other builders using. It held up much better than the Econoply J nylon; took a lot more pulling to get it off but it didn’t tear apart into aggravating little pieces. Should have tried this stuff four years ago!

Next was making a paper pattern around the cassette for the big scoop cut, then trimming for the tiller and removing the foam core where the tiller bolts in. 


That hole in the top becomes obvious on the next photos 


On Sunday afternoon the cassette went back on the boat and a proper wood mockup was made up. Tonight in between Trick-or-Treaters we transferred that wood plan to foam core, and tomorrow night we’ll vac bag a layer of leftover 12ozDB from the tiller stub. 

Since the original tiller got a bunch of work to get the hand-feel  just right, and the extension stick mounted, we chopped off the good 18″ end to graft that to the new tiller. The shapes are different but a little creative glue gunning and foam shaping should make for a decent looking transition. 

So far, so good on this project. Should be done and ready for sailing this weekend. 

Humbled by the wind

For twenty one years this boat build has been sustained in part by daydreams of sailing anywhere the dreamer wants, confident in a strong, capable vessel. So of course on the day of the maiden sail when things should be tested in light zephyrs, we pull off the dock into 20+ knots on the nose and a big flood tide coming up the river we need to charge down many miles past Vallejo and in to the Bay. Damn, this is not going to be an easy day…

The 20hp motor and 10″ propeller are relatively small for the windage size of the boat. The motor is in the break-in first ten hours where you can’t run it beyond 2/3 speed. The apparent wind was up over 25, plus that north bay chop was starting. The builder who thought himself so clever with a motor mount ‘sled’ made that motor leg protection shield extend about 3″ below the water surface now paid the price of diverting water flow around the propeller area oddly enough to create major cavitation problems. So after a half hour of degrading conditions (that afternoon wind was building), motoring upwind, we had to admit this was a bad way to test new sailing systems. That was an ego blow, but some great learnings. The first: wow does Ravenswing sail well under ‘bare poles’. This shot is a few miles later, back in protected waters, but still sailing over 5kts with the head sail strapped to the deck and the main down at the boom. After a night of reflection, it’s pretty funny that her first sail didn’t involve sails. We learned to use the rotating semi-wing mast as a tall skinny sail, and actually tacked the boat with just the mast rotation when motoring back to the dock hours later. 

For those who visited the assembly / launch site, you can picture Charlie, Dean, Anton and I sailing back and forth doing two mile upwind/downwind legs in front of the people fishing from that dock. The main was double-reefed and we never did hoist the jib in that very narrow waterway. You sailors will be disgusted re: sail shape / trim, here with the main tortured up against a lazyjack I didn’t quite finish in time to make it easily adjustable. 

Yes, these photos make it all look mellow and the author here suspect :)


We sailed and motor-sailed enough to get a feel for key things. The revamped steering is much better. The daggerboard is humming once up near 10kts, which I think can be fixed by shimming the head tighter in the trunk. The clew-end reefing with the clutches and winch on the mast-end of the boom work well. The Vee Mainsheet worked just as advertised, including the ability to easily travel the boom upwind and down by yanking on the crossover line. (Still anxious to confirm that under full sail). The mast base and rotation setup work very well. We learned where on deck to place line holding cleats for sailing activities like holding the leeward (unused) back stay out of the way. Etc etc.

The jib is hanked on, waiting for another day. 

Anton saw the boat and said that’s a lot of string in the sky


And I had a few moments of reflection to really enjoy the fruits of years in the shop. Ravenswing is actually sailing, phew!


The boat has another new punch list of work needed, but for the next few days it’s all about the shop – finishing projects, moving tools and raw materials home, and nasty cleaning. 

Jeanne instigated a push to build all the cabinet doors before losing the shop. Inch and a half wide mahogany frames, 1/4″ foam core panels, and some cherry vaneer will get vac bagged today. 

More interior comforts finished; this is a great seat for surveying the scene 

And don’t do this: I used locktite to keep these VHF radio side mounts tight. Within two days it ate the plastic away. 

Standard Horizon replaced these at no charge, so another item on the list. 

Enjoy the 4th! We won’t be sailing :)

We shouldn’t be fabricating on the last day!

Fish or cut bait, so they say. It’s time to go sailing, even if a few interior trim details aren’t done, or the plumbing isn’t 100% complete. But the last shop / building day began with making custom clevis pins for the steering system. 1/4″ SS rod here getting cotter pin holes then cuts to eight 2-3/4″ pins …

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So while Install Steering was intended as a one hour repeat of work done many months ago, final parts and tweaks took all the way to 3pm. All good now and the steering feels great – the water will be the real judge.

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During the daggerboard edge refinishing we also squared up the bottom to a nice knife edge. I am further incentivized to keep this thing from touching ANY underwater obstacles. No repair hours, please.

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And here it is yesterday, painted and heading up on deck. This is NOT a trailer boat :)

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We got in on deck and stood it up to drop in to its trunk, but after repeated tries / angles we couldn’t clear the roof. We’re not confident that the dagger shape is the same as the cutout in the hull bottom, and if we need to enlarge the slot we need to know NOW, with time to rebate and re-epoxy. So Jeanne and Griffin made patterns from the actual daggerboard and we messed about enlarging the slot a bit tonight.

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Epoxy seal went on tonight, primer in the morn and new bottom paint tomorrow and Sat before launch. That’s cutting it close.
Leslie took a whack at the motor controls and this all mounted nicely. Looks easy but the cables and wires passages through the boat were tough. Many more hours chewed up there.

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So that’s a wrap, and transport activity starts in the morn. The must-do punch list is short, and bigger bolt-on items can come later in June and July.

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If the logistics go as planned (boat hull fits on the trailer, for example) we’ll be floating by Sunday. Let’s hope all the wheels actually roll this boat to the water! Stay tuned.

4 more inches

Keith called today with a story of a friend’s boat build; things were done with a heavy hand and when it launched with the bottom paint done at the designed waterline, the boat settled in a few inches lower leaving unprotected topsides submerged a bit. What a drag to pull a fresh launch out of the water and redo the waterline paint job. So… Not that we think we’ll be fat and saggy, but it’s a lot easier now to add a few inches of barrier coat ‘just in case’

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Here’s coat #2 of 5, with the roller headed northbound by about 4″ :). One more coat tonight and hopefully two tomorrow to finish this step.

I pity you guys as this website is now literally watching paint dry! To keep busy in between bottom coats today we tackled final builds on the stern tower. First is the little crane off the back to lift the rudder out of the water when stationary. If you look at older photos the top edge was purposely lower than the top of the tower. But overall this thing seemed too flexible and potentially weak. So it grew an extra foam core top, then more carbon ‘strapping’ wrapping over the top of the tower. Much stiffer now!

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Next is the radar, to mount on the extra ‘ear’ of the tower to starboard. The mounting pattern of the Raymarine unit required some modification. And since we’re not interested in a metal bracket, we made a fiberglass foam pizza instead.

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Last up is a shelf for the tiller pilot. This location should allow us to attach the ram directly to the steering gear, or more intriguingly to a second set of cables to steer the trim tab on the rudder just as the windvane system will do. Much more on that story to come once we get to sea trials.

This little shelf add is perhaps 5 ounces of foam and carbon, but further stiffens the whole structure – so much better than a big metal structure on the back of the boat! (We hope anyway)

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Working the exterior punch list

A tough thing about the boat build is seeing the calendar slide by without getting to true completion on key stages. So many things need “just a little more sanding” or are dependent upon another part or supplier, etc. But it’s been helping to have milestone goals, such as Finish Exterior Fabrication before returning to cabin fit-out work. We’re checking items off the shop white-board every day on the drive to finish exterior parts and hardware fitting. The reward comes this weekend as we get back in the cabins for the home stretch to painting.

We were going to make fiberglass backing plates or buy G10 sheet (yikes expensive), but decided hard woods would be a better fit. So, hardware mounted where the backing washers & nuts are hidden from sight get 3/4″ marine plywood and pieces in view inside the cabins get chunks from a hard mahogany stock. Here are some plates to back up winches, docking cleats and pad eyes.

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When the taller people come aboard, you’ll appreciate the counter-sunk holes for the bolt-ends, ie they shouldn’t be catching anyone’s scalp.

Fresh air will be ‘always on’ with this dorade vent. It has a clever catchment to leave splashed water out in deck, not dripping inside. This one is mounted just in front of the forecabin wardrobe.

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The final winches mounting has finished. We’ve had five beautiful Andersen stainless steel units patiently waiting at home for years, but the new running back stays and dual mainsheet setup mean a sixth winch is needed. Thankfully our 46 Self Tailer model was on a $600 off msrp deal last week at Annapolis Performance Sailing so we snatched that up. It clawed back quite a bit of the savings from not having a traveler system, but it makes sense. Here’s what you get when lifting the drum off an Andersen for installation or maintenance.

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Spin it around and it’s like watching a fancy old clock work. It’s so pretty we really MUST commit to the annual maintenance on these beasts.

Charlie was at the shop eagerly sanding away at some fairing work when he spoke up about “maybe not enough reinforcement around the steering bearing plate”. I’d had a similar thought a week earlier, so with two opinions it was time to beef it up. A bit of carbon to the rescue.

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All the steering gear worked out well. But I forgot to photo the final assembly. So that will have to wait until it’s painted and I’ll save the work in progress photos for you.

The shop went dark for 4 days in order for the builder to sail little trimarans. Huge thanks to Jared and Paul, owners of Pierpont Performance Sailing, for hosting a Weta spring break getaway at Lake Nacimiento in central Cal.

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The boat sharing worked well and I got at least 10 hours at the tiller – here in some light air:

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Got my hat handed to me in the match races by Bruce the Weta class prez with his yellow boat, but learned a bunch. Great weather, good camping, delicious campfire dinners and really swell folks to go with gusty air lake sailing. The Pierpont guys do charters of hot boats in Cal and Mexico, including single berth slots on events like the Newport to Ensenada and Baja HaHa. Good stuff – at PierpontPerformanceSailing.com

Adventures in cardboard & carbon

Since we’re saving time making the bow sprit from aluminum stock, that eliminated the anticipated fun of trying to make a carbon fiber tube. But we found an outlet – the six foot steering connection rod you’ll see soon between the new tiller pivot point and the rudder cassette.

I don’t have much success getting all-around-glassed parts off the mold or mandrel, So thought we tried the method where you start with a thin fiberglass layer and make a lengthwise slit to get the new tube off the mandrel.

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Once this thin tube was free, we rewaxed the mandrel (which was a piece of metal electrical conduit) and slid the tube back on with the idea that the finished carbon layers would not get stuck to the mandrel. Since we’re “free styling” on this project and it’s the primary steering linkage (a REALLY important part) it seemed that five wraps around with 9oz unidirectional carbon was prudent. Well that many layers of hot epoxy plus the vacuum bag smashing it in and no PVA mold release, etc meant no way was that finished piece sliding off the mandrel. So we made another slit and went back and resealed it afterwards. The result is a pretty thick tube that is comforting-ly stiff when you lean hard on it with no flexing.

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The only metal in the steering system will be stainless steel nuts and ball joints embedded in each end of this tube, plus the bolts to connect pieces. Everything is built now but the rudder bearing I bought isn’t right and needs to be replaced. So stay tuned for the completion soon on that project.

And now to cardboard… It’s not the most elegant way to dream up bathroom cabinets but it works for us. The trick here was designing around the hand pump for the Lavac head and the big mounting brackets where the port side forward beam bolts to the center hull.

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If you’re wondering, it takes six quarters of NFL championship games to cut, recut and generally fiddle with angles to get that mockup done. (poor Packers!) You’re seeing 14 panels that need to be made, adding up to roughly 4′ x 6′ of surface area. Large sheets of double sided laminations were curing on the vac bag table during the two football games.

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And today began the cutting and fitting, like solving a big jigsaw puzzle. One nice trick for cabinet face openings is lining up center points of 4.5″ hole-saw cuts and connecting the arcs.

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It’ll probably take a few days to get this all built out, as there are many intermediate curing steps on adjoining all the panels.