Back to writing ‘Never the Same Mistake Twice’

I am finally done with Revisiting Scripture and can resume the book about sailing experiences on Prince Edward Island. Rather than waiting to get it all done, I thought I’d share sections as they are finished.

Mistake #___ Missing the Harbour Mouth (2005)

Back in the early days of sailing… when every trip was a novelty… on a beautiful, sunny day, we took some good friends out from the harbour in Wood Islands. There were five of us… myself and my wife, our pastor and his wife, and their teenaged daughter. There was a comfortable wind out of the west… probably in the 10-knot (~10 mph / 17 kph) range although we had no wind speed indicator back then. We sailed out from shore more or less south… sailing at 90° to the wind… called a broad reach. As became my usual Sunday afternoon custom, we sailed out for about an hour, which put us perhaps three miles out when we turned about to head back to the harbour.

There is nothing to compare with a sail in warm weather with a moderate wind, moderate waves, a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and congenial companions. Everything is so quiet compared to a powerboat! The Pastor and I sat on the foredeck and chatted while the wives sat in the cockpit and their daughter managed the tiller. “Just keep it pointed toward the harbour mouth,” were my instructions. We must have gone somewhat downwind on the way out, because the return trip entailed heading… pointing… more into the wind.

Let me digress to explain how wind moves a sailboat. If you have ever stood outside in a strong wind and felt the pressure, that same force is what moves a sailboat. In ancient times, sails were mostly side-to-side and boats blew along mostly in the direction of the wind. However, technology changed with the addition of a keel… a long, flat blade-thing sticking down in the water below the hull… and by fastening a sail diagonally instead of side-to-side. The wind can only push perpendicular to the sail… sideways to the sail it just slides on by. With a sail fastened diagonally to the orientation of the boat the wind produces a diagonal pressure. The keel resists the sideways portion of this diagonal pressure, which is why sailboats lean over to one side so much. The rest of the pressure… the forward pressure… moves the boat forward. Sideways wind producing forward motion! A simple analogy is to imagine squeezing a grapefruit seed between your fingers and having it pop out… a forward motion from two opposing sideways pressures! While my simple description has the boat moving at 90° to the wind, the best sailboats these days can go as close as 25° off the wind. Straight into the wind requires a motor or oars!

Back to our trip… we seemed to be heading for the harbour just fine. However, the closer we got, the more we were ending up east of our destination. To stay aimed at the harbour meant pointing more and more into the wind. I now know we were experiencing the combined effect of the slight sideways slippage of the keel and the whole ocean under us moving to the east… a falling tide, which at its peak near the harbour mouth at Wood Islands moves east at up to 3 knots!

I made two mistakes that day. Mistake #1: the instructions from the time we turned should instead have been to aim for a point more to the west of the destination. Mistake #2: as captain of the vessel, I should have been paying closer attention. By the time the problem became obvious, we would have had to sail directly into the wind to make the harbour mouth.

“No problem,” I said, “I’ll just start the motor and lower the sails, and we can motor directly into the wind and into the harbour.” Usually that is the way I would enter the harbour anyhow, since coming all the way in under sail is difficult to get just right… especially turning at just the precise moment to come alongside the wharf, dropping the sails at that last moment, and having the boat coast to a stop at the wall. My mentor liked to prove he was a ‘real sailor’ in that way, but a beginner can really mess up unless they do it perfectly… and if the wind is wrong there is no second chance.

Now mistakes #1 and #2 revealed ‘mistake’ #3, which came about long before I bought the boat. That day the floor of the cockpit was not just occasionally getting wet… it began to have water ponding on the floor! A ‘self-bailing’ cockpit is really just a flat floor that sits a little above the water level with holes on the sides or back so any water that should happen to get in will run right back out the holes. Water flooding in indicated the level of the floor had dropped and the drain holes were working backwards! By hindsight whoever built this particular boat modified it to have an engine well in the back to hold an outboard motor (probably not in the original design). It was a rectangular ‘box’ with an open bottom… and open top… so the motor could clamp onto the front side of the box just as it would clamp to the transom of any small boat. That day I learned that, given the right wave conditions and weight distribution of passengers, water could come over the top of that ‘box’ and start filling the stern area. As that area started to fill, the overall buoyancy decreased, making the boat ride lower and allowing even more water to surge in with each wave. “Oh, yeah, we did have that trouble once or twice,” the previous captain later told me.

As I took the cover off the motor well to start the outboard, I saw all that water and panicked. The gas can was floating upside down and I feared water had gotten into the gas. By hindsight I think turning the can over would have worked because in an upside-down can the gas pickup is not down in the gas. I started the motor but it soon stopped. I now know the separate outer hulls on that trimaran will always keep it from sinking, but at the time, we seemed powerless and in danger, stranded just east of the harbour mouth within shouting distance of the lighthouse. The water was shallow, so I dropped the sails, threw out the anchor, and radioed for help! Fortunately, the Wood Islands Ferry was right in the harbour, picked up my signal, and dispatched one of their motorized lifeboats to come out and tow us in. They did not charge us anything, but they must have been laughing about it for days. It was certainly a memorable trip, but I could never talk our friends into coming out again.

Never the same mistake twice: First, for my short out-and-back trips I never start out going downwind. Whatever the initial direction of the wind and anticipated direction of the tidal current, I make sure the outward trip will position the boat so the return trip can go with the tide and 90° to the wind. Occasionally over the two-hour trips, the wind will shift or die down, so the motor does come into play.

Secondly, I never give over paying attention to what is happening even if I am not at the tiller.

Thirdly, I made a technical mistake in using the radio… having not yet taken a marine radio course, I called “Mayday” like you see in all the old movies, whereas I should have called “Pan, pan,” which are the internationally agreed upon (French?) words to use when there is no immediate danger to life or property. A half-day radio course in Charlottetown remedied this and provided a radio operator’s license, but there is so little traffic or radio traffic in my area, it was no problem.

engine well redesign

engine well redesign

It would have been contrary to my entire philosophy of sailing to allow the engine-well design flaw to remain! As shown in the diagram above, within a few weeks I sealed off the stern area at the top of the engine well with a carefully-fitted sheet of plywood so any water that might wash in through the well now runs right back out. I epoxy coated the plywood sheet like all the rest of the boat so the wood would not rot and sealed the edges with fibreglass tape. Before sealing off the new inside deck, I filled the hollow area with plastic milk bottles and expanding foam in case there might someday be a leak. By hindsight, I should not have used house-insulating foam because it is open-cell and can take on and retain water, but there has been no evidence of trouble. For a year or two, the 5-gallon gas can resided on the new platform until eventually a later modification replaced it with an 11-gallon polypropylene below-deck gas tank. Never again would an inverted gas can disable the motor!

In the water 2013

I apologise for the long lapse in posting…vacation, a wedding and a family visit took precedence. 

IMG_0964And then there was all the time spent fixing things. It turned out the trailer bearings were shot because I had not cleaned and re-greased them. Finding bearings and grease seal for what was a Dodge Caravan axle took most of an afternoon and then my friend Graham in Brooklyn (PEI) had to use his special tricks to get the outer race out of the hub.

And the outboard motor wouldn’t draw cooling water. With the “muffs” supplying water nothing came out of the telltale, even when revved up. After using up a day on that, I brought it to Graham and he replaced the impeller…a tiny bit of rubber that resides down near the bottom of the shaft and it terribly inaccessible. It was good to have my nephew, Nate, visiting to help with the lifting.

And he helped with the launching. I managed to find a no-traffic time on the road to the harbor, and all went well. We got the mast raised with difficulty…the wind was rising…and tied it up for the night, expecting to tighten turnbuckles and making adjustments on the new stays to the stern.

Unfortunately overnight the turnbuckles worked loose and the mast dropped forward onto the shore…the boat was in a corner. The mast did not snap but the radar reflector was shaken up and the anchor light was lost. I was able to unbolt the mast and, with help, get it on the shore. Yesterday I trailered it home for repair. Since the spindles for climbing are failing…I turned pin cherry and poplar brush for the dowels and they do not hold up despite bing dry and coated in epoxy. Now I will replace them with commercial oak dowels. And replace the antenna coax cable and make the top modular so it can be brought in in the winter…and not be a temptation to nesting birds in the spring.IMG_0963

Needless to say, this all takes time and is delaying my sail around PEI, but I still aim to complete it by Fall.

VHF radios have changed!

SH eclipse radio[I apologise for the long delay in posting…a month-long vacation and an incredible load of projects got in the way, but now it is time to seriously prepare the boat for launch]

I finally got my new Standard Horizon VHF radio installed and I am impressed. I gave up having the loud hailer feature, but the features relative to DSC (Digital Selective Calling…the emergency feature that broadcasts your distress and location with the push of a single button…are significantly increased. Now I can wire it up to the GPS and know the coordinates have gotten through to the radio…they are shown right on the display. Also, although I have not tried it, it is possible to do a DSC test to another DSC-equipped radio without having to call for a true emergency broadcast.

When I think back to the radio and depth sounder that came with the boat almost 10 years ago (which both dated back far before that), I think buying new is a far better idea with most electronics. Yes, in an emergency a lead line could give depth and a sextant could give position, but I hope to never be out of sight of land in my sailing.


I have often said that the most enjoyable part of writing is not getting the material down the first time, but the editing, revising, and reorganizing after that.

Now that the sailing book is about half done, I am having second thoughts about the organization of all the information. My initial plan was to make each chapter be a year, subdivided into sections about the planned changes and repairs, the summer sailing activities, and the autumn review for the next year. As appropriate there were to be small call-outs on individual topics… instrumentation… painting… anchoring… rules of the road… heat…refrigeration… electric supply… running lights.

But now I’m leaning toward fully discussing each technical topic in its own chapter such as dinghies, navigation, epoxy work, mast building, trailering. Then all the discussion would be in one place as well as the wisdom gleaned over a decade grouped by topic. To satisfy the chronological record urge, I could include an outline-format listing of the modifications of each year, with links to the appropriate chapters.

A separate year-by-year section could include the descriptions of the sailing trips made, but that section would be free of the distraction of technical digressions. The result would be a technical part and a sailing part.

Then again, I could group things by mistakes, in keeping with the title of “Never The Same Mistake Twice”. Perhaps I could simply lead into each technical section with the ‘mistake’ that started the modification.

So after discussing this with myself for about 20 minutes, here is a general outline:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Sailing trips (by year)
  • 3. Modifications and Technical topics
    • Head/toilet
    • Water systems
    • Storage
    • Heat & ventilation
    • Hand grips
    • Lifelines
    • Navigation…compass, charts, dividers, magnetic vs true north
    • Depth Sounding…fishfinders… use of sounding lines
    • Knotmeter…timing of a float’s travel
    • GPS/ chart plotter
    • Radio/antenna
    • Navigation/ cabin lights
    • Refrigeration
    • Bunks & cushions
    • Bilge pump
    • outboard motor… remote controls… ventilation… fuel tank
    • dinghy… inflatable vs hard… davits… stitch & glue construction… seating
    • anchors and moorings
    • severe weather… steering to avoid broach… serial drogue
    • on-deck lighting
    • trailering
    • mast…lowering & raising…design…access to top
    • radar & radar reflector… design of reflector
  • 4. projects and mistakes listed by year

[Note: In mid June I sought input on the reorganization of the book and ALL the inputs from my writing group said they would prefer a mixed-together chronological organization where the topics are covered in inserted boxes rather than in a separate section. So I bow to the readership and retain the original organization.]



Formatting Pictures for Coming Book

Spinnaker Night in Charlottetown

Spinnaker Night in Charlottetown

Now that I have decided on the size and fact that the interior will allow colour, I am going through all the photos again… I had spent some time converting them to gray and sized them for a different layout. Since Lightning Source has made the inclusion of inside color much less costly, it seems like the thing to do… especially with a grant from the Southern Kings Arts Council!

Fishing boats at Wood Islands

Fishing boats at Wood Islands

Since 7.44″ x 9.69″ is the largest of the lower per-page cost sizes, I’ll go with that. To pack the most material in with easily-read text lines, I’ll go to two columns. That means I can put pictures in columns with a width of 2.9″ or across both columns with a 6.1″ width… that gives me the width numbers. The height will become whatever is necessary to save the aspect ratio. I expect vertically-oriented photos will go in columns while horizontally-oriented ones will go across the page. Since as soon as one interior page has color the entire thing might as well be so, I plan to use lots and lots of pictures.

The one thing I learned from doing Loman’s first children’s book is that it is possible to set the color too intense/saturated and risk rejection by the printer, I will set the darkness of the pictures up from full “black” along with dropping the “white” down if there are large areas of gradually changing sky…the transition from full white to slightly colored produces visible bands where the printing changes from no ink to a few dots of ink… just make sure there are at least a few dots everywhere… going from a few dots to a few more dots is not so noticeable.

Rainbow at Wood Islands

Rainbow at Wood Islands

Called my bluff!

I recently received a grant from the Southern Kings Arts Council partially underwriting the printing of my sailing book. Unfortunately not much has been happening on the sailing front…the boat sits in the yard covered in perhaps 12″ of snow, which puts a damper on projects. But the grant did inspire me to get out the chapter drafts and fill in the activities of 2012…they called my bluff!

There was relatively little sailing done in 2012…my “crew” had mutinied and all the sailing was single-handed. It was a good time to make sure I had the autopilot technique down and that I could work out a sequence for sail raising and lowering.

The trailer was a major focus, since its rebuild the year before set it slightly too narrow, crushing parts of the outer hulls when the boat was pulled. I had to repair those spots as well as adding in new sensors for depth and boat speed to go with a new fish-finder. Also I got to break in a new GPS/chart-plotter…particularly useful for entering unknown harbors.

For several years I have been saying I will not release my book until I have a big accomplishment to report. More and more I think that must be an around-the-island trip. PEI should be easily circumnavigated in 10 days, assuming the wind cooperates. Since my (former) crew would be within easy reach of my cell phone and since any part of the Island can be reached by car in under 4 hours, she can serve as my emergency land support. I can use the time taking lots of pictures and should have a lengthy report ready for the book by the end of the trip.

Since there is a slight underwriting, and since Lightning Source now has a low-cost color option, I expect I will insert all the pictures into the book in color. Just thinking about it re-inspires me!

‘Chewing the fat’

What a folksy expression, but it probably fits what my friend Chris and I are doing on a quiet Saturday. Standing in the garage looking out on the 3-4″ of new snow in the driveway we reminisce about boating experiences.

He describes several times when his fishing boat… recommissioned as a pleasure craft…broke free of its mooring and was reported either by the coast guard or neighbors on far shores or tied up at a nearby wharf. So I counter with stories where the wind lifted my mooring block and carried my sailboat over in front of the ferry slip.

I talk about carefully timing the annual trips to the water in the spring and home in the fall to miss the ferry traffic. He counters with stories of quietly pulling his 28000-pound boat through the center of town on quiet early Sunday mornings pulled by a light pickup truck!

I talk about asking if the weigh station would weigh my boat, only to find it would also have to be inspected to be sure the trailer was road legal (virtually impossible with its 15′ width) and he talks about the challenge of picking up a new trailer in Massachusetts…a state that has no process to issue transit permits.

Sometimes these conversations can be one-upmanship, but I think yesterday it was discovering how much we have in common. Perhaps we can do some things together. After all, I point out to him, my annual fuel costs are about $20 while he can sink $500 in diesel for a one-day trip! But as my wife points out, such boats are able to travel quite independent of wind direction!

Standing rigging replacement

When the mast came down this fall I discovered that about half the strands of the rear stay had broken at the top! That starts to look dangerous. So just a few days ago I took the old rigging in for an estimate to replace it…up around $300 for two cables with swagged ends and turnbuckles. I’m going to two lines to the mast top from the rear instead of the inverted “Y” that was in place…I want redundancy on all four sides of the mast.

Pondering the price, since I had already bought stainless cable last year, I decided to do my own, using galvanized turnbuckles and wire clips instead of swagged fittings. The total cost is about $30 on top of whatever I spent for the wire. Aside from spending well under $100, I have the capability to adjust the length by changing the size of the loops on the ends when I undo the wire clips. I had been struggling with a wrong length since I rebuilt the mast…it must be a couple of inches shorter than it was.

Buehler’s Backyard Boatbuilding is the name of a book which promotes using just the sort of rigging I’m going to try. He argues that the galvanized wire shows rust long before it weakens while stainless can hide the hairline fractures until they let go. There is no hurry, however. It just snowed for the first noticeable daytime amount. I don’t think sailing is in vogue at the moment.

Boat-building Village

I’m forging ahead on the idea of a village…like Old Sturbridge Village or King’s Landing…to recreate shipbuilding in the mid 1800s. Tonight I ordered some books on traditional shipbuilding:

“American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction”
Chapelle, Howard I.

“Architectura Navalis Mercatoria: The Classic of Eighteenth-Century Naval Architecture (Dover Maritime)”
Chapman, Fredrik Henrik af

“A Practical Course in Wooden Boat and Ship Building”
Van Gaasbeek, Richard M

“Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction”
Chapelle, Howard I.

They are all going to my son’s place in the US to get cheaper…read free…shipping, so I can’t start reading them yet.

My current plan is to shift the focus from one large half-finished ship to perhaps constructing smaller work-boat-style vessels using traditional construction techniques and actually completing them…perhaps one a year. I suppose they will have to be finished with epoxy or other modern preservation coatings so they don’t rot out in 7 years like the original wooden ships of the 1800s! The advantage of smaller vessels would be both reduced cost and reduced labor…if the construction can still show the process as it was 150 years ago, it should suffice. I want to run it by the Lunenberg Shipyard Alliance for ideas.