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.

$#!? rolls down hill

The bathroom is never big enough, right? Because our hull bottom is so skinny, the head compartment is cramped and every inch of space needs to be used efficiently. So what goes under the toilet – well, the holding tank makes sense. Thank you Mike L for insisting on that one :). One wants the “black water” tank as large as possible for lazy cruising days, so as to minimize trips to the dreaded pump out station. Rather than buy a expensive, too small tank, we made one that fills the space available. First the blank canvass …

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Now line it with plastic, but NOT like this. Using the loose bag produced nasty ripples along the bottom. Had to cut those out and redo with form-fitting plastic tape instead applied to the hull shape.

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The L shape means the tank is both under your feet and under the toilet base.

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That whole unit lifted out after some prying, and the top pieces were made on the vacuum table. Along with some heavier laminations for the floor and shelf that will sit just above the tank.

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Rather ugly for my first ever tank build, but it held water under testing.
The outlet to the sea is at the bottom, while the inlet / dock pump out, the breather vent, and a spare clean out port sit on top. Rather than installing an expensive and wire-consuming monitor system, there’s a visual level gauge on top – a window we won’t inspect too closely!

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After sealing it all up, the tank slides in place. The hull-facing wall is inset 3/4″ to allow for a bonded-on high density bolting flange (on the wall, not the tank) that will take the weight of the toilet and user, as opposed to actually pushing down on the tank.

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The black pen circle is where the toilet will sit on the shelf just above this tank, but the toilet is not connected to the tank. An exit hose runs from the back of the toilet, up through a pump and a loop up above the waterline, then down in to the tank. The good news is this design means no waste stays in the pipes, which is usually the cause of nasty smells. We’ll see the head installed and the shower floor come together in the next post, and maybe some cardboard mockups of vanity counter / cabinets.

Back on deck, we hung the near finished boom in place and set up the Delta Vee main sheet. Well… The long-tiller steering isn’t going to clear so it makes sense to build a linkage steering system. Messed about with the geometry today until getting the right pivots and control arm lengths.

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The steering action is fast and the tiller throw much shorter; this is a much better solution than the first, including a nice way to attach an electronic tiller pilot independent / redundant from the wind vane system. Farrier’s plans call for all this gear to be inside the aft cabin, but I saw that on a completed F39 and it really interferes with the cabin living space. Other owners would not like the steering gear exposed on deck, but I like the simplicity and obvious inspection ability of the gear in plain sight. Thinking of using a flanged rudder bearing to anchor the tiller pivot, and some combination of carbon bars and stainless steel rods & ball joints for the linkage. Type 304 SS ball joints are easily found – thinking we’ll use those and carry extras vs. hunting for rare type 316 SS ones. Any comments back about that?

Steering complete

The 9′ long steering tiller fit in to the rudder cassette head to complete this project. There is still cosmetic work to do, but it’s nice to know we could pilot the boat now if all this rain keeps flooding the county.

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The tiller makes a full sweeping path across the whole cockpit to get the desired 50 degrees of swing from extreme port to extreme starboard. I think we’ll assume this is comfortable and take it out sailing. But if we find either we want less tiller movement in the cockpit or that the rudder is too limited by the tiller hitting the tower legs, then we will retrofit a linkage system, something like this one on F25c Mojo:

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There are two more primary carbon fiber parts to build, the float-hulls chainplates and the 8′ long bowsprit pole. We’ll start on the plates once the shroud end Terminators get here from Colligo. And this box arrived today for the pole – 20′ of 50″ wide carbon uni to be done in a wrapping fashion and add up to the target wall thickness shown in the F39 plans.

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We’re pretty excited about that little bit of blue plastic; it’s 10′ of shrink wrap sized to fit over the laminated pole and get heated for a nice even squeeze to hold all that carbon in shape. This $240 shipment, plus a pint or so of epoxy, should yield a pole as good as the +$1k cost pre-built blank tubes. Hopefully this shrink wrap idea works as well as the company’s snazzy how-to website.