Archive for April 2nd, 2010

How This All Works, Part III “Food for the Ages”

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Much has been written about food storage on boats, some of it by people who sail in arctic waters or among the angels, where you can leave a zucchini lying around the cabin for weeks on end and it will suffer no corruption. Following is our warm weather fruit and veg preservation process. But first a note about our refrigeration system. It’s basically an expansion plate chilled by the Waeco “Coolmatic” air-cooled compressor that came with the boat. The section of the refrigerator box closest to the cold plate we call the “freezer” though it’s a term that can be applied only loosely. It won’t keep ice cream but if we cram a piece of meat against the cold plate, it’ll freeze within a day.

In general the key is keep things dry and cool. Cool is actually easier than dry. We individually wrap some things in newspaper and keep them in the fridge. We change the wrappings every third day or as they get damp (take a stack of newspaper!). The key is to examine the stuff in the fridge every other day at least. K can often be found in a pile of food disgorged from the bowels of the fridge, palming the fresh dry vegetables from hand to hand whispering “Yes, my precious!” We individually wrap the following in newspaper and keep them in open ziplocks in the fridge:

Avocados (buy green and get them out of the fridge a couple at a time to ripen in the air)
Tomatoes (buy green and get them out of the fridge a couple at a time to ripen in the air)
Green peppers

The following go in the fridge without wrapping:
Limes (buy green and get them out of the fridge a couple at a time to ripen in the air)
Mangoes (buy green and get them out of the fridge a couple at a time to ripen in the air)
Apples (in the warm part of the freezer side)
Pears (in the warm part of the freezer side)

These float around in the cabin hanging here and there:
Limes (a 3-day supply)
Cabbage in newspaper
Cucumbers (these seem to do about as well outside the fridge as inside)
Onions (white ones seem to rot much faster than yellow ones)
Chaote squash/chistophene (a nuclear grade vegetable that last forever without rotting, they will eventually start to grow though.)

The consumption process for all this ticking time-bomb food is to select the saddest looking specimens for dinner, so although you’ve provisioned with the finest looking fruit and veg in the land you are still eating the most corrupt and barely salvageable every night. At 15 days out we are actually running out of fruit and veg before it has rotted on us (the definition of “under provisioning”). Bananas are always the first to go, zucchini is next, and we had a load of avocados outside the fridge that all ripened on the same day.

Cheese gets wrapped in vinegar-soaked cloth, zip locked and sent to the coldest parts of the freezer. Eggs stay out in the cabin and get turned every day to prevent the yolks from ever resting too long and getting bed sores (I don’t know, something like that). We left with 3 gallons of fresh milk and so far we’ve drunk 2.5 gallons of that (always dig around for the latest dated jugs at the back of the dairy cooler, they are usually several weeks ahead of the sell-by date when they first stock them).

We have some type of meat every other night and leftovers in between. We carry enough fresh and frozen meat to go at least three weeks this way. After that its sausage, canned fish, canned chicken, canned ham and caught fish. Most everything gets done in the pressure cooker to save fuel, heat and time.

We had a bet on the duration of our fresh provisions. S predicted that we will be hallucinating about food by 21 days, looking at each other and seeing steaming drumsticks in the place of our beloved. Running out of material for a nice luncheon is one of her most deep seated fears. K is convinced that the gendarmes will have us heaving fresh vegetables and meats overboard when we clear customs.

02°59.57’N 128°32.78’W 02-Apr-10 03:36 UTC

How This All Works, Part II “Sailing in Clover”

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“Clover” is the Don Anderson term for a downwind trade wind passage and we have had our share of this sweet, sweet sailing. We started off with about 24 hours of upwind in 20 knots though. Then we had alternating days of motoring and spinnaker runs. When we got to the NE trades proper we ran wing and wing for days with a poled out 130 genoa. Winds were typically 15 to 24 kts and this arrangement was quite reliable and fairly quiet from slapping and rig noise, even in rolly swells. When dead downwind did not suit the course we ran off the wind with a heavily reefed main before the poled out jib. The staysail went up and down a couple of times in preparation for squally weather at night but was never needed. We’ve changed sails several times; from our working 110 jib to a light 140 (a home-altered dumpster sail from a HR 45), then back to the heavier 130. We have hove-to several times to work on stuff and change sails.

Both the main and the headsails run on the Selden roller reefing systems that came with the boat. The in-mast roller main has worked wonderfully and is a big aid to the singlehanded watch. S has been known to reef and un-reef a couple of times an hour just because she can.

02°59.57’N 128°32.78’W 02-Apr-10 03:36 UTC

How This All Works, Part I

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Boatfolk among you have requested that we provide an accounting of our gear, sailing tactics and provisioning on this passage. We’ve deliberately avoided long posts about boat stuff and daily logs because it is frequently boring, but the home fleet deserves a report. And so in three parts.

Part I, Gear Performance and Selection:
In short, our gear has performed marvelously. Some of you are aware of our “unique” boat systems. The rest of you brace yourselves for a view of Bint al Khamseen’s tricks and hacks. As a disclaimer, some of these things are probably just a bad ideas and the prudent mariner will break out a credit card, pay the man and wait for UPS to deliver the top shelf goods. Following is a summary of the critical aftermarket systems we installed for long-distance voyaging.

1) Four 135 watt solar panels. This array keeps us topped up by 1100 hrs on a sunny day and provides all our power aside from a 175 amp alternator on the Yanmar. The charge controller is a cheap Xantrex no-frills 30 amp controller. In keeping with K’s philosophy of remote logistics, we have two cheap controllers rather than one super-groovy one. K added a Tahmazo “Watts Happening” volt/amperage monitor (really! we didn’t make that up!) to the Xantrex housing. These little beauties come from the model RC airplane industry and they run about $50. We have a second one by a different manufacturer (the “Watts Up” model) totalizing the house load. Between the two we know how much we are putting into the batteries and how much we are taking out.

The main power consumers are refrigeration, watermaking, and night sailing electronics and lights. In overcast areas we can run off the 600 amp battery bank for 3 or 4 days without inconvenience. This usually provides time for some solar charging or motor usage in the natural course of events to see us through to sunnier times. It is very rare that we’ve ever run the engine for battery charging since May 2009 when the panels were installed. Both times were tied to watermaking.

2) Village Marine LW160 watermaker. This thing has been foolproof so far, cranking out 8.25 gallons/hr in clean ocean water, both warm and cool. We have run it in harbors on flood tides and it worked fine but fouled a pre-filter. Our usage at anchor is ~ 16 gallons a day. Oddly enough we use more underway on long hauls, due to a longing for convenience and a sense of entitlement stemming from other comfort deprivations. We’ve started collecting drinking water directly into jugs. S does not enjoy the “green” flavor our tanks and plumbing impart. We’ve bombed the tanks with clorox and they still taste either like clorox or “green.” Water directly from the watermaker is tasty in a good way.

3) Self-steering. For self-steering options we have a Cape Horn wind vane (“Twitchy”) and a Raymarine ST 1000 tiller pilot (“Fritz”). We picked the Cape Horn for its off-center mounting capability (so we can use our swim step), the below-deck control lines option (no spider web in the cockpit), and of course, its price (several thousand $ less than others with similar features). The vane has several thousand miles on it and although its lines can be finicky and require occasional contortionist trips into the hades of the cockpit locker, once it’s running it will steer day in and day out, seemingly forever (even after its mola encounter). Recently we did explode one little control line block that had to be replaced, and we switched out one control line that was showing signs of wear at its cam cleat in the cockpit. Another selling point for the Cape Horn is that it can be controlled using a small tiller pilot. So for steering when there’s no wind we bought an inexpensive tiller pilot off eBay to direct the cape horn while it steers the boat instead of buying a full-sized autopilot. Though we had to have its motor replaced when we got to San Francisco, it’s worked fine since. It does have its quirks and it tends to take unplanned leaves of absence every dozen hours or so. The pilot itself is mounted below decks near the Cape Horn, but it has a wireless remote that we keep an eye on. Still, it has hundreds of miles on it and continues to push and pull as needed, keeping us on a very tight course.

4) AIS. Our AIS system is a PC software based program taking soundcard data from a hacked VHF radio. K cracked open our Icom M-502 and soldered a capacitor onto the discriminator signal board and added a tap for 3.5mm mono jack. The radio gets tuned to channel 87 or 88, the audio cable plugged into the laptop, then ShipPlotter decodes the data and plots it along with our vessel GPS data to provide a lovely radar display of traffic. We routinely pick up boats 300 nm distant with the mast-top antenna when VHF propagation is channelized. Typical range is more like 50 nm. The only drawback to this arrangement is that it monopolizes the main VHF radio. We only run the AIS at night and we keep a handheld radio on to cover Ch 16.

5) PC Repeater Monitor. Because many of our nav tools are PC based we wanted a little secondary weather-proof monitor in the cockpit to display laptop programs like the AIS ShipPlotter program. These animals are on the market but they are crazy expensive. So we got a 7 inch Samsung U70 USB monitor, spliced on a long USB cable and mounted it in a Seahorse waterproof box with a packing gland, plexiglass face plate and a big O-ring. We threw away the lid. It looks like a lunchbox with a built in TV. We Velcro this thing in different spots around the cockpit depending on what’s going on. The cable runs through a packing gland in a hatch over the nav station. A wireless mouse lets us operate programs from the cockpit as we squint into the mini-monitor. It’s not great in strong sun so we try to keep it in the shade.

6) Radio Scanner. We have a Beartracker BT700 receiver scanning 121.5 kHz at all times. This is the frequency of the small locator beacons we wear while on singlehand watches. The scanner feeds into the boat’s stereo speakers with volume set high. In the event of a 121.5 kHz signal (e.g., the watch person falls overboard and activates the beacon) a loud alarm signal sounds through the speakers to wake up the off watch. The only drawback is that some airline pilots use 121.5 kHz for radio checks near US flight paths and this too can wake up the off watch. The BT700 has also been hacked for AIS signals and functions as a backup AIS receiver. In theory it will circle-scan for AIS and beacon signals, although in high traffic areas AIS will monopolize the scan. It has a dedicated VHF antenna mounted on the dodger which also serves as a spare for the ship’s main VHF.

7) Radar/chart plotter. We have a baseline JRC 24-nm radar/gps/chart plotter that is sadly discontinued. It’s a fine little unit and feeds RS-232 data to all our PC based and Raymarine displays. The controls are culturally Japanese and were not initially intuitive for us. The radar hangs on a backstay gimbaled mount that K put together with some stainless rail tubing, stanchion fittings, stainless bearings, a 17-4PH bolt/shaft and several covert hours with a UW Oceanography Department tig machine (thanks TJ!).

8) SSB and HF Modem. All our gear was bought used. We operate an Icom 710 single sideband marine radio and a Pactor 3 modem for voice and email. The 710 has been hacked to transmit on ham frequencies. All the gear has worked flawlessly, except for some reason the 710 only puts out ~110 watts of its 150 watt rating on the lower frequencies. We also carry a spare Icom 706 MkII ham radio with pre-installed connectors as a backup . The 706 has not been hacked for marine channels.

Our tuner is an AT130. The ground plane is the aluminum toerail, cockpit stainless railwork and lifelines. Our primary antenna is a piece of coated 1/8 inch stainless wire hauled up between the backstays on a skinny topping lift. We carry two spare dipole antennas cut for key frequencies in the event of a tuner failure. We certainly don’t compete with our friends transmitting at 200 watts on Icom 802’s but we get fast data connections and chat with remote stations at will. Our favorite data connections are thru HAMs in Austin, TX (WD8DHF) and Atwater, CA (K6IXA). We love those guys.

The freeware Winlink email software is a truly incredible tool, all the more so as a non-profit effort from an extremely dedicated group of radio twigets. We get most of our weather data from the Winlink catalog and provide all our at-sea fixes and email with it. We also download weather faxes directly from the SSB using JVComm 32 demo software.

S calls into radio voice nets once a day to provide our location and weather and see who’s around. She is also a net controller for the Pacific Puddle Jump group.

9) Satphone. We carry an Inmarsat Mini-M NERA Worldphone mostly for phone calls to our parents. These old phones are available used for ~$100 on eBay. No contracts are required for service, but rates are ~$1.75/minute. It will provide data at 9600 baud with a dial-up account.

10) Inverter. We never planned to have big inverter but K found a Triplite 1000 watt unit on eBay for $40… part of an office computer backup system. It has been great as a way to run power tools, the sewing machine, and even our little ShopVac vacuum cleaner. The key is to run it while the engine is running or in the afternoon when the batteries are charged and the panels still have capacity.

11) Wi-Fi directional antenna. We use a “cantenna” that K built from a wi-fi USB bridge and a pirouette cookie can. He made a spare one from an aluminum fire extinguisher; it’s more robust but less efficient. This bad boy is the bomb for accessing wi-fi from a great distance. We lash it to a winch handle in the outhaul winch above the nav station. Then we spin the cantenna around on the winch to point at the nearest source. It will connect up to a couple of miles away. We use Network Stumbler to snoop around for signals. This system only really works when the wi-fi is unsecured or you have access codes, but it saves a ton of hassle dragging the laptop all around town and on dingy rides through the spray and rain.

12) Dingy and Outboard. The dingy is an 8-ft Mercury we bought from It’s been a fine little inflatable with high pressure floor that patches easily, even when punctured in 8 places by the dorsal spines of a panicked rockfish. For this trip we bought a pair of hard plastic dinghy wheels, which generally work well, but we admit there were times when we dragged rather than rolled our wheels up a beach and looked on our neighbors’ larger inflatable wheels with envy. That said, our wheels store handily in the anchor locker where there’s barely an inch to spare. The outboard is a Tohatsu 9.8 hp 4-stroke bought used (thru eBay) from a dinghy rental business on the Columbia River. It’s dependable and very economical, and is also nearly silent when running. The drawback is its 80-lb weight and physical size. In a wrestling match between it and S, bet on the motor. We keep it below on a bracket in the quarter berth while underway, and it is a cargo-worthy stevedoring operation to haul it inboard and get it stowed below. We use a handy second topping lift. This topping lift has been recently upgraded to potentially serve as our trysail or spare main halyard, should the need arise.

13) Ground Tackle. Our anchor inventory was documented in an earlier post “Bahia San Marte II”. Our primary rode is 200 ft of 5/16″ high tensile chain. We also carry a 100-ft length of 5/16″ chain, and several shorter lengths of 3/8″, and various lengths of 5/16″ and 3/8″ line. All these bits and pieces fit into a dreamy 3-point mooring design for tropical storms. Our windlass is the Lofrans Progress unit that came with the boat. So far, so good. The solenoid in the IMTRA SPA-10700 windlass controller occasionally sticks, requiring a sprint down below and a good whack or two with a special solenoid whacking mallet.

02°59.57’N 128°32.78’W 02-Apr-10 03:36 UTC