Smash that epoxy in there

We’ll get on the soap box for a moment to fellow carbon fiber amateur builders… if you haven’t heard this already, you may not be getting a proper epoxy wet-out through your carbon fabric. This is really a manual-force thing. But wait, let’s go back a step and tell you that the nice little autopilot bracket didn’t work. The windsurf-mast-origin stick was good but I didn’t think the physics through. Feeling kind of dumb for doing all that fairing and paint on the part before testing functionality – duh! There is a lot more lateral force coming from the tiller through the pilot ram, and immediately upon use the base was deflecting just enough to prove this wasn’t a good idea to use a vertical pole bolted to the swim step box. Plus, at the tiller end, the little steel pin wasn’t fitting into the tiller properly due to the horizontal autopilot vs the angled -up tiller. So we need a new design to handle much stronger forces.

At the tiller, we’re making this very strong but little part to carry the steel pin of the autopilot. That’s a fiberglass tube bedded in to an offcut scrap of an earlier project. In those photos the inside of the tube has no reinforcements yet holding it in place.

Now back to the soap box. This is a tiny little carbon job. We chose three layers of lightweight 6oz uni carbon. Here it is being wet out on the table, just before placement on the part. there’s a temporary piece of plastic above and below this fabric, and I’m literally mashing the resin down into the three layers of fabric. Load up your spatula and gloves, and really press the resin through the carbon. On bigger projects we put it in a bag, place on the ground and walk on it. If you don’t ensure this extreme of resin penetration in your wet layups, you’ll likely find disappointingly dry fibers when you cut in to a sample job. That’s not a strong composite.

Soap box over for today.

After laying down the wet fabric, the peel ply and breather got tightly wrapped to press the fabric in place.

Now for the autopilot base end, the new idea is to transfer the lateral loading directly to the boat hull. This shape, mocked up in cardboard Sunday after a great solo sail, will make a platform for the autopilot ram base. Here we go making the wood form, applying four layers of 16oz uni fabric wrapped all the way around and 2″ overlap tabbed. Took it to the boat this afternoon and it fits well. Tomorrow it’ll get a stiffening panel to fill the interior of the triangle.

Big thanks to Charlie, Anton and Don for following orders of no toilet usage today until we sea-tested the new gravity-drain holding tank. The toilet has passed only sea water through since the reinstall, so there was no law broken by Alcatraz today, up at about 7knots of hull speed, opening the valves. The tank emptied just as planned. Success, finally, on the sewage front! The head was open for business shortly thereafter. We found a little breeze a couple miles out past the Golden Gate, and ignored the clock enough to be putting on sail covers in the dark. Got to show off the deck lights to the boys.

For the folks with boats laid up for the winter, here’s a taste of F- boating on a cool Feb afternoon.

The sea state was mellow today. Two days ago I went out solo for the first time outside the Gate, and without autopilot (see above :). Got my money’s worth that day with ocean chop and apparent wind in to the mid 20s. Ravenswing was charging upwind in seas that used to hobble F27 Origami. The F36 is an order of magnitude bigger, so that in ‘medium’ conditions outside SF the 9k lbs, 40′ boat maintains a steady speed, vs the slowed by waves feel of the 3.5k, 27′ model. It’s almost time for Ravenswing to take a Farrallones trip and really test this out.

Shrink wrap the boat?!

Just when we asked you guys for preferred sailing days, it actually got a little icy over here. We awoke yesterday to a hint of snow on the Novato hills.

And by mid morning this little accumulation was still in the Ravenswing cockpit.

Hardly a blizzard, but the many days of cold rain have delayed the autopilot install. Tonight the bolted-to-hull base is ready to go.

If it’s not pouring rain on Friday, it’ll be the day to final-install and test the autopilot under motor and sail. Let me know if you’d like to join. If it rains, we’ll try for Sat and then Sun. Forecast is wet.

The toilet system came together as planned. But it did skin some knuckles and was a general pain in the &@$$ due to awkward angles / access.

One final step will be making a curtain to cover up the tank. The black Y valve switches the tank drain between the uphill feed to the deck pump out fitting, or the down tube to the seacock & underwater through-hull. We’ll leave it pointing up to the deck for the standard setting. The hoses are the premium $11/ft stuff – this is not an item for go-cheap – we want maximum odor resistance in here. For anyone that’s read the old pre-launch posts about this toilet, recall the grey water catch tank that was feeding the toilet flushing. That all proved too complicated and troublesome, so now we’re flushing with seawater. I’ll report back on whether or not the smell from tiny rotting sea creatures becomes an issue. I understand we’re supposed to flush vinegar through the system now, to help break down the mineral deposits.

And to Jeanne’s relief, I finally filled and connected the propane tank. Tried the stove for the first time (it moved in to the unfinished boat at least ten years ago), but got nothing. Pulled out the 2016 install instructions from the propane feed on/off solenoid; it said ‘preferable but not necessary’ to mount the little electric valve between the tank and the pressure regulator. I vaguely remember deciding that the install was cleaner with the valve after the regulator. So with 20 minutes of fussing down in the propane locker, we switched the electric remote valve ahead of the regulator, and just a few moments later… HOT LUNCH!Time to go get coffee and cocoa fixings to beat back the weather!

Be a better blogger

I know, I know, you subscribed to this thing and you expect frequent Ravenswing updates. Well the Carters wish you a happy 2019, belatedly.

We left off two months ago showing a box of Pelagic Autopilot parts. Installation is now underway. The drive unit has to hang out in space, given our cassette-style rudder. Here’s mocking up the placement…

That’s going to need a stiff arm, 16″ tall off the swim-step deck. There was about 2′ leftover from that old Craigslist-find windsurfer mast that is now the pickup’s SUP rack. the base bracket is an offcut scrap from the first (didn’t like the feel) steering iteration. Repurposing these quality carbon pieces saved a bunch of time, and was free! The bracket will mount in these four holes, and the power cable gets an outlet plug in the transom.

The controller easily went in to the companionway dashboard, and the brain box will be bulkhead mounted in the equipment room once we buy a bit more wire. We should be testing this unit in just a few more boat work days.

In November we started thinking about everything that needs to be trialed / pushed hard here in the bay before 2019 ocean voyages. A big nagging item has been filling the toilet holding tank to capacity and testing the at-sea emptying. Well let’s just say that we never got to the “take it out 3 miles and pull the plug” part. In retrospect, I should NOT have chosen a complicated shape, under floor sewage keeper as my first-ever composite tank build. The idea was it would drain like a water ballast tank on powerboats (or our old Macgregor 26x). Get up above 8kts and suction will empty the tank. So we pumped 15 gallons through the toilet, filled the tank, and things didn’t smell so good. A bit of sewage was now outside the tank, under the bolted-in bathroom floor. Uh-oh. That hideous photo is after hand pumping three buckets and trudging them up to the Marina toilet, then ripping out the tank that we had spent days building a few years ago. GROSS! (If you really want to see the old tank, search on the Plumbing link at the home page, back in late 2015 I think)

Once cleaned up, it’s time to lower down, then bond in, the previously bolted (removable) sole. Upper level is the toilet deck. The old tank had used all the non-white space here as it’s form.

Yes those are inspection hatches in the sole; the sea drain for the new tank runs under this floor and the shower, over to a proper 1.5″ seacock.

The new tank will be bulkhead mount, behind the toilet. It sits way above the waterline, so this should be a foolproof simple gravity drain. Also the dock-based pump out will be only a 3′ lift, which is light duty for most Marina pumpout stations. And yes, I forked over $200 for a factory built Ronco plastic tank with our specific fittings pre-installed. It will sit on this little shelf, made yesterday to bolt to the bulkhead at the forward end of the head compartment (bathroom).

I probably deserve all your poop jokes at this point, but just remember, my mother still reads these comments.

A week after throwing our old tank in to this dumpster, somebody else apparently got even more pissed off than me…I doubt it will plane.

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.