Travel 2017-2018

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Anchor Locker, Ground Tackle, and Silt

The bottom of the Chesapeake involves silt. A lot of it. Anchoring in silt is kind of fun. You barely have to think about it. Except, of course, for the silt that stays with your anchor chain.

When we first started sailing down here, we heard an old salt explain anchoring in the Chesapeake.

“Y’all are doin' it wrong: you cain’t back down under pow’r: you’ll just dig a furrow in the silt. To anchor in the Bay, you drop the hook. Then you take your first beer. Then you may back down under pow'r to test the set.”

“Take your first beer” he said.

The other end of this operation is hauling the chain back in. In most cases, the chain links themselves are holding the boat in place. The 25 kg chunk of steel is just insurance.

Our locker has about 100′ of ⅜ HT chain, another 150′ of rope that’s the primary rode. On the other side is another 150′ of rope with maybe 20′ of chain that is our first backup.

We have a second backup. Really.

The red ball is a float that use us to help understand exactly where the anchor is.

If we’ve been anywhere for more than a few hours, the chain will be caked with silt. A tube of mud. We have a nice wash-down system, and CA can hose the chain clean as it comes in. 

But, of course, it’s not clean. It’s mostly in a “reduced mud” state. After being hosed off, it has somewhat less mud than it come up with. But it’s not zero mud. The mud accumulates in the anchor locker because the locker has one drain, and we don’t keep the chain near that drain.

It’s hard to see, but through the little door is a white patch of hull with a brown, wood divider. The port side of the locker has a drain. The starboard side? 

No drain.

So mud tends to accumulate. How much mud?

This weekend we took out all the chain to give it a good fresh-water rinse.

You can see About ⅝” of mud in this picture. There’s a metal probe on the end of the calipers for measuring depths. 

Yes. That’s a pretty big pile of mud. It never dries out. And. The chain sits in it. Rusting.

We drilled drain holes so that the muddy water could run down into the hull and — eventually — wind up in the deep bilge. It does mean that once a year we have to take a hose and run water into the anchor locker, under the floors, chasing the mud and silt back to the deep bilge. 

We pump as much of it out with a hand pump as we can. Then wait for the sand to dry out, and shop-vac up the left-overs.

Okay. So the fun of anchoring in silt ends when it’s time to hose out the hull. But until the annual hull and ground-tackle washing, it's a lot of worry-free fun.

Happy Birthday Sail

Overnight in the Rhode River. 

Here’s where we anchored. 

There’s a big open creek with a bunch of low islands. Very salt-marsh. Many other boats because it’s very pretty and accessible.

It’s a few hours south of Annapolis. A few hours north of Herrington Harbour.

Here’s something we saw in the bay.

That’s some classic schooner. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s maybe 47′ or 50′ in length. 

Often, schooners that are still working are 80′ or over. The Spirit of Virginia in Norfolk is big.

This was small enough that it didn’t require a big professional crew to raise and lower the heavy gaff-rigged sails.

Interestingly (to me) she was slow. We blasted by her wondering why she wasn’t moving. That’s an odd thing to feel in Red Ranger. We have a ploddingly slow boat. We know that and actually kind of like it. 

When it was blowing 12 to 15, we made 6 knots and were happy. We might have been able to squeeze 7 knots of out her, but that means a steeper angle of heel and pulling out the mainsail. I don’t like to spill the olives from my martini, so we try to avoid heeling. 

As the wind died, so did our speed. When we crossed paths with the schooner, we were barely doing 4 knots. We really should have shaken out the mains'l. But. We were on our final tack into Herring Bay and there was no reason for any more speed.

Dog-Stopping

The West River Sailing Club labor day cruise involved an parade of rain showers on Saturday, leaving a lot boats on the dock. We ventured out Friday and learned a new word: “dog-stopping.” 

The cruise had two destinations. We’d been told about La Trappe creek. “Lovely,” “Quiet.” Those sorts of things. But we’d never been there before. This was our plan, lead a cruise to a place we’ve never seen. 

We lived aboard Red Ranger for two years. We visited a lot of spots with no more preparation than a recommendation in an out-of-date ICW guide book. We ran aground in a few places. I blame the tides in North Florida for most — but not all — of my groundings.

As with many places on the Chesapeake, the understatements on the charts are hilarious. Our favorite understatement is the Reedville stack. The chart says “Stack.” It should say “STACK!!!” The Reedville stack is an immense, hard-to-believe thing.

The entrance to La Trappe creek has a prosaic little 'Fl G 4s 21ft 4M “1”’ As of it’s just a simple red day board. The only hint of the insanity is the little “21 ft”. 

This turned into one of those “No you give me the binocular” situations. 

There’s a bend in the Choptank around a shoal that’s charted at 15 feet; irrelevant for our boat. But. Of course, you never really know. Other boats are cutting inside red “18” and red “18A”. When we spotted the La Trappe green “1”, the concern about the exact depth inside the reds evaporated into a fight over what we’re really seeing there.

There are two huge boilers standing on rock piles with day boards to mark the entrance. The cartographers really need something other than a little magenta splash or a little circle with a dot.

We have detailed bathymetric views on our chart plotter, so we could find the 10’ deep channel without any difficulty. It’s surprisingly close to the red, but otherwise easy to follow.

Saturday was knitting day. CA and Diane had brought their knitting. We had Cokie Roberts' Ladies of Liberty on the audio book reader, and plenty of coffee. The creek is beautiful. But it was cold and rainy. And someone forgot their wooly socks.

Sunday, the weather was a delight. The wind was out of the NW falling from 10-ish to 5-ish through the afternoon. We moved Red Ranger to Plaindealing creek, across the Tred Avon from Oxford. This is quiet and secure. We’ve been here before, and we like anchoring close to the mouth of the creek. 

We launched the dinghy and darted across the river to visit Oxford. This was our first visit, and we oohed and aahed over everything.

In the afternoon, Hot Chocolate checked in when they started across the bay. Later we heard they were dog-stopping in Oxford. When we met Dupree — wearing his collar of shame — it became clear what Dog Stopping meant: tie Hot Chocolate off at the T-head by the ferry terminal, take Dupree around the park for his stop, and then back out to anchor.

Monday, the winds started at a pleasant 10 knots, blowing from the west. Since we had guests to meet, we left Plaindealing creek at 8:00 AM. With wind on the nose, we motored down the Choptank. Out in the Bay, the wind had backed into the SW, and was fair for sailing back to Herring Bay. Since the wind was dropping and we had a schedule, we motored.

We learned a number of useful lessons. First, we need to watch out for double-booking our weekends. We missed sailing Monday morning because we had a schedule. Second, we need to be sure our hors d’oeuvres are scalable from one boat to many boats. Cindy Ann has an idea for multi-part hors d’oeuvres. I’m hoping for some test-flights. Third, I realized that while it’s still technically summer, the nights can be chilly and my fleece socks need to be kept on the boat.

Finally, we learned what “dog stopping” is. We enjoyed Oxford, and we’ll need to do more dog stopping there on future cruises.

Pictures of Cousins and Cousin’s Pictures

Yay! After posting my story, Cheryl sent pictures of Rob. 

And her feet.

We might post a picture the painting Cheryl gave us.  Here’s the real deal, though. Her online portfolio: http://cherylwilsonart.com/index.html  Enjoy.

Family and the USCG Cutter Eagle

Finally got cousin Robert and his wife Cheryl out on Red Ranger. We tried last summer, but there were complicated family issues, and our schedules never aligned.

This weekend was perfect. Light breezes. Not too hot.

And this

The US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. On it’s way to Portsmouth, VA, to take on a new crew of officer candidates. 

I look a lot of pictures. The point of closest approach was about a mile away, so these are zoomed way in and still don’t show much.

This picture offers some on-board context.

Did I take a picture of my cousins? Nope. 

Sunday was catch up on some maintenance. Specifically the exhaust riser. 

It’s wrapped in layers of insulation. Somehow, the outer layer of wrapping — a woven asbestos tape of some kind — had started to come apart. This left little bits of asbestos dust everywhere in the engine room.

I researched for a while and bought 50’ of DEI exhaust system wrap.

Here’s the 25% done picture

On the right is bare pipe covered with wrap. The fluffy stuff on the left is the old fiberglass insulation that wasn’t totally falling apart. I wrapped the old fiberglass because it’s a good extra layer of insulation.

The DEI folks sell these exhaust wrap locking ties. I couldn’t get them to work. I’ve used good old hose clamps.

Tested the engine. It’s warm to the touch, but seems to be working. Now that the fiberglass is all wrapped tightly in the new state-of-the-art wrap, there’s going to be less dust deposited all over the engine.

Just another day on Red Ranger.

Unsporty Conditions

This weekend, we went to West River Sailing Club for a party. The actual location was about 0.5 nm away from the club as the crow flies. Google said it would be five miles driving around the creeks of West River. 

What’s important is that unlike our last big outing, conditions were not sporty.

The party is called a “land-sea cruise.” It’s at someone’s house. So you can drive there or boat there. We went by boat. Two boats, really. Red Ranger took us to the WRSC. Then Scout took us the last half mile to the party location.

On Saturday, the breeze was a good direction for us to beat to weather. 

I had heard a rumor of folks who reef their headsail when beating to weather because it can be sheeted in at a narrower angle. I think there’s something to this. The question now is “how much?” 

I didn’t even take a full reef, and I think we pointed at 55° instead of our more common 60° off the wind. This is a good thing. And we went fast, which is important.

Sunday conditions were even lighter. We had a peak of perhaps 7 kn of wind; it fell and fell and fell. The wind was from more-or-less directly astern.

This means easing the main sheet out so far that it chafes on the bimini sun-shade. This is bad. Really bad.

We need a better arrangement for down-wind running: one that doesn’t involve chafe. Or the possibility of pulling apart the bimini. The more we looked at it — we had plenty of time for this — the more we thought about putting a secondary main sheet on the toe-rail.

Our idea is to have an off-the-wind mainsheet from toe rail to boom end. For this kind of run, unclip the mid-ship main sheet and use the off-the-wind mainsheet. This would be a kind of poor-sailor’s traveler. It has two positions: centered and all the way out to the toe-rail. To do this, we need more loops on the toe rail. Perhaps we should try it on for size to see how well it works. 

Here’s the Chesapeake Calms video. It was pretty calm. We had to give up sailing when speed dropped below 2 kn; we can’t really steer and are only drifting at that speed.

Here’s sunset on the creek looking up toward the commercial barges


Sporty Conditions

We invited our neighbors, Dan and Jen, to the boat. The weather was deep into the realm we call “sporty” — wind was about 15 kn, gusting into the low 20’s. It was supposed to slack down to 10 kn later in the day. Summary: 15g20>10. 

Sporty conditions aren’t for newbie boaters. Dan and Jen have some boating experience. Since it includes whitewater kayak, SUPaddleboard, they’re unlikely to be put off by some waves and splashing around.

Sporty conditions aren’t really our thing, either. That’s why we took so few pictures.

We dawdled: a lengthy tour of the boat; a tour of our end of the marina. 

We anchored sort of near the Calvert Cliffs. The chart shows a sudden shoaling from 10’ to 3’. We stayed well out in the 10’ area. The bottom there seems to be harder than other places in the bay. Perhaps it's scoured by the current from Tracey’s creek and Rockhold creek. On short (5:1) scope, we dragged a bit. 

At first, I was thinking of trying single-reefed main. But. At the last minute, I decided that might be too much, and went for mizzen and stays’l. We poked our way along for an hour or so, a little under-canvassed, but happy to be sailing relatively flat.

We tried to tack. I thought we might be able to swing from a beam reach all the way around to the other reach. I’m now sure that Red Ranger can’t make that big a change in direction. The right thing to do is to grind the mizzen all the way in to get as close-hauled as we can. 

It might even be possible to push the mizzen to windward to force the bow around. If I had two more people comfortable pulling ropes, I may try that some day.

After stalling out entirely, we gybed around. It’s easy to do under “jib and jigger” because the mizzen is so (relatively) small. I can pass it from side to side while standing on the after deck. 

Later in the afternoon — 15:00 ish — the wind finally started to slack off. We pulled out the Yankee.

CA pushed the boat speed to 7.1 kn on a regular basis and 7.2 kn when the residual 20+ kn gust hit us.

This is about the fastest we’ve ever sailed. It’s getting close to hull speed (~8.2 kn) Since high tide was 3:30, I don’t think we had much current added in to our speed. 

Trimming the yankee under those conditions is difficult. It’s almost impossible to turn the winch. I found an on-line sail power calculator. I plugged in the P, E, I, and J measurements for a Whitby (13m, 4.5m, 15m, 5.6m). LP for our yankee is 90%. This nets out to 1100 pounds of force (510 Kg). Half a ton. That seems to model what I was observing.

I think it’s CA’s skill at the wheel made it possible. She says the new B&G instruments are a huge help. Specifically, the rudder position indicator. Previously, she’d fight the wheel, presuming that it was somehow her fault Red Ranger kept pointing up into the wind. Now she can see how much rudder she’s got: this means she can have me adjust sail trim to better balance the helm. Less fighting means more forward motion. It’s like getting a new boat. Seriously.

Sun Shades and Awnings

After a great afternoon with friends, sailing. CA made the sunshade-windscoop for the bow.

The idea is to keep direct sun off the V-berth as well as catch the breeze when we’re at anchor. It rigs quickly and wraps up into a tiny bundle of fabric when not in use. We think this will be very handy when the conditions are too sporty to sail.

Stowage

We used to carry two spare anchors on deck. We have two on the bowsprit, ready for use.

Yes, that’s four anchors. If we need to stay put, we can.

On the left is a CQR. (“Secure”, get it?) 

We kind of like it, but other people curse it out roundly. So we replaced it with a Rocna. 

On the right is a Danforth. We’ve used these on other boats. They weigh nothing, and are kind of fun in that respect. But… There are places where Danforths are supposed to be ideal. As it is, it’s just spare. We’d use it if nothing else seemed to grab. 

There’s CA, stowing them

Yes, she’s standing in the lazarette. It’s that deep.

Clearing the anchors off the deck reduces the visual clutter on deck. It’s probably safer to have them below. It certainly makes it easier to move the mizzen running backstays without anchors underfoot.

Also. 

There were things at the bottom of the lazarette that needed to come out and see the light of day for a moment. Perhaps get washed off. And also, discussed. “Do we really need this?” And “When would we ever need this?” Most things in there passed the test, and went back in.

A Million Things to Do

She’s a boat — there are always things to do. We have enumerated the jobs using Trello. There are 51 things on the backlog. Okay. It’s not a million. Some are really complex. Others are a trip to Home Depot to find the right gasket for the faucets.

Instead of work, we practiced our boat handling skills. Which is code for “took a trip.” Specifically, we went up to West River Sail Club to eat crabs and visit with the folks there. And dodged weather.

There will be other weekends to tackle the jobs.

Winds were light when we started. When. We. Started

Below 4 kn, we don’t really move. But a 5 kn breeze will push us along, slowly. It’s a 16 nm trip. Anything better than 3 kn and we’ll get there in time to eat crabs.

Here’s the autopilot display when sailing. The “W” means we’re sailing by the wind. The 109 is the current angle to the wind. the 106 is the desired angle.

Yes. The display says “Simrad”. The B&G unit that performs essentially the same function didn’t look right. (The existing holes were evenly spaced. The narrower-than-everything-else B&G Autopilot control didn’t look right.)

It’s summer on the Chesapeake. The clouds were big and getting bigger. 

Then. The dreaded VHF WX alert. Severe thunderstorms in central Maryland, headed east at 40 miles per hour. Gusts to 60. Seek shelter.

It’s central Maryland. Storms tend to drift northeast. Why worry?

On the other hand. We’ve been through this on the Bay. And it’s not a lot of fun. We got hit at the mouth of the Patuxent River by one of these “seek shelter immediately, small-craft advisory, you’re all going to die” storms. Red Ranger can handle it. 

We got hit by a waterspout in the Neuse River. It was an amazing amount of wind and rain. It was not anything we care to repeat.

Mr. Lehman to the rescue. We brought in the sails, aimed the new B&G chart plotter to West River Green “1” (38° 51.84′N, 076°27′W.) After that, it’s a little hand-steering for about five more miles to the WRSC. And a chain of WX alerts on the VHF radio. Different locations. But the same devastating wind and rain.

Then the alerts to mariners started. Because CA suggested we get under cover when the first alert come over the radio, we were only 3 miles from the WRSC when the marine alerts started. 

We had about a half-hour to go. And the clouds were low, dark, and getting darker.

We passed boats heading out into the bay. Did they not have radios? Were they not looking at the clouds?

Skill #1 — Watching the Weather.  We read the forecast for late afternoon thundershowers. This wasn’t a surprise.

And more important than that.

Skill #0 — Cooperative Decision-Making. By which I mean, when someone says we’re seeking shelter, we went in.

We picked up the mooring ball on the first try. We got to be pretty good at it when we lived in Coconut Grove in the Dinner Key mooring field. We missed the ball a few times. Once we lost two boat hooks trying to get the ball when it was breezy.

It’s essential to approach the ball to windward. That sometimes means threading a path through the mooring field. For WRSC, there are only five balls and no one was using them. So the only tricky part is aligning with the wind. The B&G computer calculates the true wind by factoring boat speed and current into he apparent wind, making it easier to judge the approach in general.

From the helm, I can’t see the ball below the bowsprit. But, I can see Queequeg on the bow with the harpoon. She points the boathook at the ball, and I steer to keep it to starboard. When the hook goes down: hard reverse to stop at the ball. Then run forward to help. The boat’s massive. The balls often have a heavy pile of chain on them. 

Skill #2 — Steering.

Skill #3 — Mooring. Which has a long list of skills that coalesce around securing the boat.

Since we don’t have a good sail cover for the main, I tied it to the boom. This is one of those sailorly things. As with securing the boat to a mooring, all of the sails need to be secure. We tighten the furling drums on the headsails. Tie down the main and zip the cover on the mizzen.

We can see the tent were the crabs are cooking. We can see people. And the wind is starting to pick up. As we’re standing on the foredeck, getting ready to launch Scout (the dinghy,) the wind starts to shift. 

That’s enough of that. Tie Scout back down, grab everything loose and throw it into the cockpit. 

Here’s the strip-chart recorder.

Up until about 10 minutes before I took the picture, we had wind below 8 kn, from about 180°. Then the wind switch to about 350° and jumped to a peak of almost 30 kn. 

The 30 kn gust, BTW, almost knocked me down. I was scrambling across the foredeck. Pow! 

Skill #4 — One hand for yourself, one hand for the boat.

Skill #5 — Patience.

The blow lasted less than 30 minutes. The wind stayed about 350°, but dropped to a sensible speed. We deployed Scout, dinghied in, ate crab, drank beer, schmoozed with sailors, helped clean up, and went back to Red Ranger. Great sail. Great party.

The next morning was a glorious, calm, quiet creek. Coffee. Oatmeal. 

We took on 60 gallons of fuel, and worked our way back to Deale. The storm pattern was the same as Saturday. We pottered around in the light air. Then we started the engine and powered into Herring Bay watching the clouds build. We got into the slip without breaking anything. Tied up the sails, and hunkered down in the cockpit just as the first guts of the thunderstorm hit.

By 16:00 the skies and cleared, and we could pat ourselves on the back for escaping two nasty squalls in two days and eat plenty of crab at the Sail Club.

Sea Trials — Did Everything Work?

The bottom line on boat maintenance is the sea trial. It may look like things are working when you’re in the slip. Getting out into the open water is where — metaphors fail me. The rubber doesn’t hit the road. There’s no pudding to be proven.

There were several momentous things this weekend. I’ll enumerate them. There were two collisions, but so many things were perfect, that it’s a joy to review the good parts.

What’s at stake here?

First — a metric ton of new electronics. The electronics don’t way a ton. The containers of money weighed a ton. A metaphorical ton. ("a ton of dollar bills would be worth $908,000”) We spent a lot. Think of a small car.

It’s all new. The masthead wind instrument. Water speed. Depth. Temperature. GPS. A computer to integrate them. Remote displays to emphasize key data elements. A navigation computer to control the hydraulics. A class B AIS Transponder. 

Saturday, we backed out of the slip. Momentous.

Let me emphasize the extreme difficulty we’ve had with this simple-sounding maneuver. The fairway between the slips is barely 60’ wide. The boat is 42’ plus a bowsprit. It’s a tight fit. And mistakes are easy to make.

Each attempt last year involved a fair amount of random jockeying around to get Red Ranger pointed in a useful direction. She doesn’t operate in a very controlled manner in reverse. Think of throwing you car in reverse and telling someone else where to turn the wheel to back up.

One (of many) crucial features of the new electronics was a “Rudder Position Indicator.” The technicians installed a sensor near the rudder to collect the data. Integrated it with the computers. And — hey! presto! — we can now tell where the rudder is.

10°-15° of rudder is what it takes to turn Red Ranger in reverse. More doesn’t make her turn faster: at some point the rudder is so far sideways that it simply stops the boat. I now know where 10°-15° of rudder is because I can see a display of the rudder’s position.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Saturday had about 15kt of wind from the NW. The course to the West River and the Rhode river is NE, so we could beat at a comfortable angle under main and yankee. Speeds were over 6 kt at times. For Red Ranger, the theoretical top speed is 8.2 kt. We have our doubts about ever seeing this under sail. Seeing 6 kt was a delight.

It got better.

We went up past the Thomas Point lighthouse. Too enthralled with the sailing to lift up a phone and take a picture.

(This picture is from 2011. It hasn’t changed much. Except this weekend the sun was out, there were boats everywhere.)

The sailing was comparable to the British Virgin Islands. Seriously. The steady wind from a consistent direction meant that we could tack into the West River.

I’ll repeat that because it’s momentous.

We Tacked Into The River.

Yes. We actually beat to weather. All the fancy electronics in the world don’t change the inherent shabby performance of a Whitby. As sail boats go, Red Ranger is appalling. As vacation homes go, however, she rocks.

For non-sailors, the problem is that racing sail boats can point no closer than about 45° toward the wind. Big cruising boats can point no closer than 55° or 60° to the wind. When you need to get to a place that’s more-or-less upwind of where you are now, you go 60° one way, tack, and go 60° the other way, zig-zagging your way toward your goal. The secant of 60° is 2.0 (What?) In Red Ranger, we sail twice as far to use zero fuel.

As we were sailing around, CA spotted a tug pushing a barge. The rules of the road give us some precedence, but it’s kind of rude to use that privilege when we’re just out playing the tug captain is working. As she’s discussing falling off the wind to go behind it...

The tug hailed us by name on the VHF radio. 

That’s momentous. The tug captain asked for Red Ranger. On the radio.

How did that happen? AIS class B transceiver. The tug shows up as a triangle on our chart plotter. And we show up as a converging triangle on theirs. I grabbed the radio, answered the hail. Switched to channel 13 (the working channel for commercial traffic.) The tug captain informed me that we would pass “on the two”: the two-whistle side: starboard-to-starboard.

We dropped the anchor in the Rhode River. I’d picked a spot up Sellman Creek, near Camp Letts, but we were unfamiliar with the area. There are two unmarked shoals with misleading names like “Flat Island” and “High Island” in the river. They’re on the chart, but there’s no official aids to navigation. Locals have rigged some marks. We dropped the hook by Locust Point and called it a day.  24.0 nm, mostly under sail. 

https://www.findmespot.com/mylocation/?id=ke7br/38.88347N/76.52502W

https://www.google.com/maps/place/38°53'00.5%22N+76°31'30.1%22W/@38.8834742,-76.5425348,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d38.88347!4d-76.52502

The houses in Mayo are spectacular.

Sunday, winds were light. We motored out to the green “1A” mark and raised the yankee and mizzen. We intended to drift in the 5 kt of breeze, slowly working our way S. In gusts we might get to 3 kt down wind, which makes the 8 nm trip take close to 3 hrs. It’s not like we had anything else to do.

Then the wind more-or-less died.

Which meant we could now perform the Auto Tune for the new B&G+ Simrad autopilot. 

Stabilize the vessel on a heading and set the speed as close to cruising speed as possible, then activate the Autotune function. - The autopilot will now switch to AUTO mode and take control of the vessel.

The first time we tried it we had the wheel’s hydraulics engaged. This appears to make the rudder unresponsive. Or anyway, it seems unresponsive the the computer. We suspect that the hydraulic fluid is split between wheel and rudder, making the rudder move half as far.

The second time we tried it, we turned the two valves to disengage the wheel. The autotune drove the boat in “lazy S” turns for three minutes and was happy ever after.

Seriously.

Here’s the momentous part.

I picked the Herrington Harbour Entrance Waypoint. Clicked “Nav” on the chart plotter. The Autopilot took over, turned Red Ranger, and took us home.

Mr. Benmar can now be operated with no guess work. 

Point at something, and away we go. We tried the No Drift steering mode and the Auto mode, too. We strongly suspect we’ll make the most use of the basic Auto mode because the knob on the AP44 controller turns the boat. It couldn’t be simpler to dodge a crab pot.

Previously, we had to squint at the sun-blasted, crazed Benmar dial and tweak it for a while to settle on a course that seemed appropriate. It meant checking chart plotter and dial until things looked close to right. Always fun at night, shining a flashlight on the damned thing trying to see what number was displayed.

Then the wind picked up from the ESE. At 7 kts of true wind, we killed the engine and sail some more. Mr. Lehman, BTW, behaved flawlessly, also.

I can now drop the phrase “True Wind Speed” with aplomb. Previously, we could only measure apparent wind speed. You’d have to do some vector math to compute the true wind speed from the combination of boat speed, boat direction, apparent wind speed and apparent wind direction.  

If you’re driving S at 6kt, and the wind seems to be blowing N at 5kt, the true wind is actually from N at 1kt. Don’t get me started on the angles and vector math. It’s not pretty. It involves cosines. And we now have a B&G chart plotter with “Sail Steer” that does the math for us. (The video shows an older look to the display.)

We Know True Wind Speed. And True Wind Direction. Momentous

It gets better. (How can it get better? Just wait.)

We decided to potter about in Herring Bay. It was early afternoon, sunny, warm. The weather was ideal. The wind was light, and we had (perhaps) too little sail up for the conditions, but we didn’t feel like pulling up the main. We weren’t going far, and the mizzen is slightly easier to work than the full main. Most of our power comes from the yankee, anyway.

Earlier, I put our tack angle information into the nav computer. The chart plotter shows red and green wedges for port tack and starboard tack. In addition to the wind speed and direction, the boat speed and direction, it also shows rudder angle. (I mentioned that above. It was momentous.)

CA figured out how to use the green and wedges during a tack to finish the tack below her intended course. I can trim in the yankee and she can then creep up the the new course maintaining a good bit of boat speed. 

While the racing ideal is to overtrim the main to force the boat around with minimal rudder. It’s hard with two people. But with wind vector wedges and the rudder angle information, she was able to bring us about in relatively light air really consistently. 

While Saturday had a few good tacks, Sunday had tacks that were intentionally good. CA could manage boat speed, rudder angle, rate of turn, and wind up on a new course smoothly and predictably.

The return trip didn’t involve quite so much sailing. I think I wrote down 16 nm in the log, perhaps half under sail.

Full Disclosure: I ran into a buoy and the dock. These weren't momentous. The buoy was a situation where CA asked if we could still steer at under 2 kts.  About the time I said “no”, we were too close to green “1A" to do more than brace for impact. It was a glancing blow, scuffing the gelcoat badly. 

She said it was profound because she’d just reasoned out the consequences of dying wind and low boat speed and how movement of water across the rudder was crucial for steering. She said it was an “Aha!” moment of understanding what’s really going on: deeper than the simplistic “turn the wheel and the boat turns” superficial level.

The dock collision was just a poorly-executed turn. Very embarrassing; little real damage, and no injuries. It was supremely embarrassing after exploring all the wonderful new equipment on Red Ranger.

She’s a new boat. Really. Rudder Position to make her much easier to control. Very detailed wind information to make tacking practical and reliable. Autopilot for the long runs. AIS Transceiver to make us visible. and the new chart plotter to integrate all of it into a tidy, usable package.


  © Steven Lott 2017