Friday, December 31, 2010


"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind?" So asked Robert Burns. Perhaps, but, NOAA has a great video looking back at the past years Hurricane season. It's kind of neat to see what the weather was like visually from June through November:

I was particularly interested in the September 2nd through September 4th time frame when Hurricane EARL was heading up the coast. As that was when I was getting Bianka ready for the approaching storm. Here is a screen shot of  of where BIANKA was on September 2, 2010:

Then here is another shot the next day which has Capt. Mike and BIANKA somewhere in that white swirling mess of a cloud:

Riding out Earl and the ill fated attempt to join the Reid Stowe welcoming flotilla where two the "exciting" points of the season. Though somewhat in a negative direction. Still, it turned out ok. The rest of the year was just excellent. I hope 2011 turns out to be just as good or even better. With the new year to look forward to let me say:


Thursday, December 30, 2010


Those of us who own a boat know that just repairing, modifying and maintaining it can certainly add to the economy. Here is the money quote on how much:

"Information from the Recreational Marine Research Center at Michigan State University indicates that in 2008 nearly 700,000 jobs in America were directly and indirectly related to recreational boating. Sales related to boating exceeded $81 billion and the total impact on labor income exceeded $26 billion." 

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Space on a 30 foot sailboat has it's limitations. Because of this a sailor needs to really limit items that are carried on board. That also goes for things like books. So from time to time I'll post about what books I find valuable enough to keep taking up space on board BIANKA. My first selection is THE SAILMAKERS APPRENTICE by Emiliano Marino. While I do not plan on fabricating new sails for BIANKA I find the book to be a most useful and interesting reference book full of all kinds of very useful information. From repairing sails to the tools and procedures needed to make ones own sail. It's in this book. It also comes in handy for use as a quick reference source to answer ones curiosity about the identity of various sailboat rigs. For example say you are enjoying a cold beer one afternoon at anchor on the eastern end of the Isle of Long and you spot a sailboat that looks like this in the distance:

You say to yourself: Now what kind of rig is that? A quick perusal of the SAILMAKER'S APPRENTICE and you will find a number of pages and descriptions of various types of sailboat rigs:

Pretty soon you have the answer: Why that's a Leg-o'-Mutton Ketch!

So if you are looking for a book that covers just about anything regarding the sails on your boat from repairing them to making your own I recommend THE SAILMAKER'S APPRENTICE by Emiliano Marino as one book to have on your boat.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another gift for sailors this SEAson.

SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered Light (Clear)Another gift that I think that sailors will find useful is the SolLight LightShip Solar-Powered Light. I've had two on board for several years and they are still working fine. They solar charge during the day and turn on at dusk and turn off at dawn. I would not say you can read by the light they provide but, they do work well in the head to illuminate the area just enough without startling you awake in the middle of the night. They also provide enough light in the main cabin so you won't be stumbling around in the dark.  Best of all they won't drain the house batteries when they are operating.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gifts for Sailors this holiday SEAson.

It's that time of year were neighborhoods on the Isle of Long begin to look like the Vegas strip. Luckily, these light displays are mostly inland and therefore won't confuse a sailor trying to enter a harbor. But, it also means that Christmas is near at hand. Even if you are in a generous mood the AIS/GPS/RADAR/VHF radio/CD player/coffee maker device is probably not a good idea to buy as a gift.  Not all sailors will think that is really useful (or they may already have one). But, something in the way of a "stocking stuffer" may be more useful and appreciated. So here are a few of Capt. Mike's gift giving ideas for the Holidays:

1) Survival Whistle like the ACR WW-3  This simple, cheap device could save a life. In fact if you are feeling very generous you might want to buy several so that every life jacket on board has one attached. 
WW-3 Survival Whistle

2) The Smith and Wesson 44 Mag Tool knife. I was first tipped off to this baby by a post by Bob at  BOAT BITS. While I still do prefer my Gerber MP400. But, I recently found myself working in a location where I needed a multi tool and had left my Gerber several hundred miles away. So I ordered one. The blades and tools do not lock like the Gerber but, it does have some things to recommend it. Instead of one knife blade it has two. One is a straight edge and the other serrated which is good for a sailor who needs to cut through lines with minimal hassle. It also has a smaller Phillips head screw driver than the Gerber which can be very useful. There is also a saw blade which cut through butcher block impressively in my test. Along with scissors, file and the needle nose pliers it is good to have on board even as a backup. For less than ten dollars why not put one in the ditch bag too! In short it makes a great useful gift for a sailor even if it is a spare.

Smith & Wesson G7118 Smith & Wesson 44 Mag Tool

3)A copy of the  NAVIGATION RULES As a Licensed Captain I'm required to have a copy of the Navigation Rules on board. Even if the sailor in your life is not a licensed Captain it's good to have a copy on board. They can check to make sure they or other boats are meeting the requirements in terms of signals, lights etc... Plus it could be fun and very educational to identify the various tug and barge combinations you might see on the waters. If they are new to boating may even make them a better boater.
Navigation Rules

Friday, December 03, 2010


The third season since I pulled out the old diesel engine and replaced it with an electric motor has ended. I've been reflecting on this. I think this was the season I became completely comfortable with the decision to go electric.
My first season with electric propulsion back in 2008 was full of fussing and watching every aspect of the propulsion system to make sure there it was always charged and ready and operating properly.  I would run the Honda 2000i generator more than necessary just to make sure the power would be available even when I was not really using any electric propulsion at all. For example when I was making my first 12 mile transit down the East River via Hell Gate  since converting to electric propulsion. I kept the Honda generator running on deck because I did not know how much I would be using the electric propulsion. In previous trips with my diesel I ALWAYS had to have it running for the entire trip. Just to make sure power was available and their were no starting problems.  I found out that with electric propulsion there really is no need to have the generator fired up at all. I let natures currents carry the boat along and just need a little thrust from time to time to straighten out the boat. It has become a quiet and pleasurable journey.

My second season was marred by the failure of the Xantrex XBM battery monitor display.

 Which meant I was flying blind in terms of being able to see how much current and amp hours I was drawing from the battery bank when under electric propulsion. It is akin to running a diesel engine with  with a broken fuel gauge. You just never know when you would run out for sure. So again I was very cautious when using electric propulsion.

This third season was very different. The XBM battery monitor display was repaired and working plus I installed a backup meter inside the cabin. This season I rarely fired up the generator while underway. Instead waiting until I anchored to charge up the bank after the days travel. I also did not hesitate to add a little electric propulsion and motor/sail quietly along when the current conspired to do it's best to make sure I would not be able to round a point of land or buoy.  I only used about seven gallons of gasoline the whole season. Since I traveled about 350 miles I made about 50 miles to the gallon. Though the actual amount is probably greater because at least a gallon of that consumption was for the noisy Honda BP-2 four stroke outboard I used on occasion to power the dingy.  I was amazed at how much gas the little 2 horsepower outboard consumed when compared the Honda 2000 generator. Another revelation I had this season is when this outboard finally dies I'll probably replace it with an electric outboard too!  Of course BIANKA is first and foremost a sailboat and there was help from the wind turbine and solar panels on board when charging the battery bank too.  All of which also helped to decrease the amount of time I need to run the generator. I even found uses for the excess energy from the 48 volt solar and wind turbine after the 48 volt battery bank was fully charged. I am looking forward to next season even more now that I am completely comfortable with how reliable, quiet and useful my electric propulsion system is. In short I am so glad I made the decision to go electric with every year that goes by. 

Monday, November 29, 2010


My 30 foot Nonsuch has a free standing mast and therefore no rigging like the metal stays you would see on most sailboats. I was on a charter vacation in the BVI back in the 1980's  with a Captain who was a nautical engineer and had delivered a number of Nonsuch boats. I remember him saying that the Nonsuch had simplicity of design and he liked that no stays were used for rigging it. That kind of appealed to me too from a maintenance point of view. I think of that conversation differently now after I read about this tragic incident that also reminded me of a Captain Courageous moment except that Kiplings story was fiction and this was all too real:

"I grabbed on, we both pulled. We couldn't get him free of the wires in the rigging that were left from the mast and he was pinned by the wires. "I believe the mast either hit him or damaged him in some way [because] he was almost moaning and begging us to please help him." He said he and Ms Thorn "tried and tried" to free her father — the need became more urgent once they learnt Mr Thorn couldn't breathe properly. Capt White said Ms Thorn told him to get a knife from the kitchen to cut the safety line. Their hope was that her father could climb out of the ropes. "I thought about it for a while. I thought if I cut this line I am going to lose him, but his face was [underwater] and the sea was washing over him. I said 'I am going to cut him loose because he is suffering too much. I have to let him have his peace'. "I cut it and it was a terrible thing I had to do. [Ms Thorn] kept shouting 'Daddy, daddy don't leave me' — and it was too much you know."

While I am glad that the Nonsuch has no wire stays that could entangle a person in a rollover. But, this incident seems to make the case for using modern Dyneema synthetic lines on conventional stayed sailboat rigging as an added safety feature.

At least you might be able to cut it away easier in a similar situation and not have to cut the safety tether as occurred in the above incident.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I was finally able to get some regenerated power under sail from BINAKA's electric propulsion system this past season. That is where the electric motor that propels BIANKA is also used to as a generator under sail to recharge the battery bank. I still need to tweak a a few things which I think will improve preformance. But, it does work. Those who still have a diesel engine on board can achieve the same effect using a towed prop and generator. 

A good  tutorial on the setup and real world experience is found here on the boat Whoosh.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I am very thankful this Thanksgiving as I look back on the sailing season. Earlier in the year I got several months work rebuilding a High Definition TV studio that ended in May right before a planned sailboat charter in the Bahamas. The trip to got my sailing juices flowing again. After returning from the Bahamas the revenue from that job also allowed me to sail BIANKA all summer into the fall without feeling the need to seek out employment in this troubled economy. As a freelancer there is no such thing as unemployment benefits. So one needs to keep their wants, needs and budget in check. But, the upside of being a "freelancer" is the emphasis on the word "free". As in freedom. Which is what I had during the sailing season. Most importantly freedom from schedules except those I imposed. I am also thankful for the things I learned. As I  found out schedules (even when of ones choice) can be dangerous things. Like my insistence on joining the Reid Stowe flotilla in June. But, I did learn from that experience that sometimes it is better to sit still rather than push things because of a self imposed schedule. I followed that advice while waiting for and riding out Hurricane Earl in East Hampton in September. I also learned that changing plans is a good thing too. Like when I made change of course and headed to Hamburg Cove up the Connecticut River. A truly nice spot on this earth to experience as a sailor which I visted the first time with BIANKA this year.  I am thankful I finally got there. So there was a lot to be thankful for as I look back and a lot to be hopeful for as I look forward to next season.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I was at a Chinese restaurant here in Washington D.C. last night enjoying a cup tea after a delicious Peking Duck dinner. I open up the fortune cookie provided by the waitress which reads:
I'd be a little more concerned if BIANKA was not already stored for the winter on land. But, word up to all the mariners out there!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1200 MILES

Well, the third season since BIANKA became the world's first Nonsuch with electric propulsion has come to an end. The travels BIANKA has taken this past season total almost three hundred and fifty nautical miles. Bringing the total miles since the conversion to 1200.  This was the season I thought less and less about the electric propulsion system on board and concentrated more on sailing. I became very confident I could rely on the electric propulsion system. I've also discovered it's usefulness when sailing to be able to help deal with the currents that sometimes keep one from rounding a buoy or other hazards. When I had a diesel engine there was always a reluctance to turn it on for the short time needed to deal with such issues because of the noise and the fact that such short term use is not healthy for diesel engines. With an electric propulsion systems that is not a concern but, even better is how quiet it's operation is when motoring . This makes for a much more enjoyable motoring experience than with the diesel and a better enjoyable boating experience over all. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010


As the sailing season ends here on the Isle of Long. It's time to look back at what worked and what did not. First up in the thumbs down column is this SPT ice maker:

These counter top sized units are available under several brand names. I bought this last year thinking this would be good for a cruising sailboat like BIANKA that had a Honda 2000i generator that could provide the 120 volts to run it. Here is what originally sold me on the idea from the product info:

1) It could make up to 25 lbs of ice per day
2) It makes it's first ice in about 12 minutes after turning it on.

Sounds good but, the reality is much different. First of all I try to minimize use of the Honda generator as much as possible. It is mostly used for charging the 48 and 12 volt battery banks. Even though I can run this ice maker at the same time usually the amount of ice produced is not that great with my usual generator run times. On the second point yes it does produce it's first ice cubes in about ten minutes or less. They are not that thick at first and melt quite rapidly. It takes a number of cycles before the ice cubes are really "boat drink" useful. I don't like to run the generator that long if I don't need too. But, if you are usually tied to a dock with grid power it might be practical but, for a cruising sailboat like mine that spends most of it's time at anchor or a mooring it is not that useful. That's why it no longer is on board BIANKA. A much more practical and efficient way to make ice on board is using my ENGEL refrigerator/freezer which I describe here.  I'll be using the ENGEL from now on for ice making on board because it works for my cruising needs while the counter top ice maker does not. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Back in September I was still cruising around the Isle of Long and missed the sad news about the passing of Chuck Husick.  Husick was an engineer, corporate executive, writer, teacher, advisor. But, most importantly in my mind a sailor.
Most people know Husick from his articles and advice column in publications like Ocean Navigator, Boat U.S. etc...But, my memories of him were from an Ocean Navigator  Diesel Maintenance course I took a number of years ago at Hansen Marine Engineering in Marblehead Massachusetts.  My diesel was still running good then and Chuck was an excellent teacher explaining the theory and maintenance of diesel engines.
      In the class Husick gave out his phone number in case we had any questions. A few months later I did. One evening I called it thinking I'd get his voice mail where I could leave a message. To my surprise Husick actually answered the phone. Saying that he was usually not in the office at that hour but, had come by to pick up something. We had a little chat and he gave me some advice on what to do. I was impressed that someone as busy as he was would take the time to explain and help someone calling out of the blue. 
Hussick also introduced me to something in that class that would become important these days now that I've converted my boat from diesel to electric propulsion. Toward the end of the seminar Husick showed us the then brand new technology from Honda which was the Honda 1000 gas generator. We all marveled at the quietness and light weight of the unit. Little did I know that few years later a Honda 2000 generator based on that technology would be powering my electric boat along at around three knots. I had recently been thinking I should send Husick a note about how well my Thoosa 9000 electric propulsion system has worked out on my Nonsuch sailboat. Unfortunately, it's too late for that. But, I know he would have been very curious about it.   

Sunday, November 07, 2010


There certainly is the potential for danger when you head out on the waters of the seas but, you can find it far inland too! In May of 2009 I found myself on the Zambezi River in Botswana just just a few miles up river from Victoria Falls. This sign says it all:

Thursday, November 04, 2010


 When I first was thinking about converting BIANKA to electric propulsion about four years ago. I called my boat's insurance company just to make sure I would be installing things to their requirements. The first response I got back then was an incredulous "You are going to do what?" After a conference call or two where I explained what I was going to do I was finally given the go ahead and the rest is history. BIANKA became the world's first Nonsuch with electric propulsion. Things have improved markedly since those days. More information and places on the Internet are now available for people interested in the concept of using electric propulsion. One of the latest sites is ELECTRIC SEAS a non profit organization helping to promote the use of electric propulsion. If you have or are interested in electric propulsion on the water you might want to check it out.

Sunday, October 31, 2010



As a Licensed Captain I'm required to have a copy of the Navigation Rules on board. Even if you are not required to carry them it's good to have a copy on board. You can make sure your boat meets the requirements in terms of signals, lights etc... Plus it could be fun and very educational to identify the various tug and barge combinations you might see on the waters. You might even win some bets with other sailors.  I was reminded yesterday in my local Home Depot store by the Christmas Trees on display that yes the SEAson will soon be upon us. An up to date copy of the Navigation Rules would make a good Christmas gift for the sailors young or old that you know.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I guess I was too long on land having spent almost two weeks away from the boat. We had a few days of nasty weather and I had a few things to take care of.  As I drove toward the harbor and checked the waters of Long Island Sound. Conditions looked just delightful for a nice fall afternoon sail. But it was not to be. The harbor at this time of year starts to empty out as many owners have their boats pulled in preparation of winter:

The problem is that means less and less boats for birds like the Cormorants to roost upon. BIANKA which has no spreaders does not normally make an inviting target to land upon except when there are few other options. So when I got on board I was greeted by this wonderful mess on deck:

At least my boat was not the only one singled out by the messy birds:

To make matters worse I found that the pennant line of the mooring next to me was wrapped around my rudder causing BIANKA to lay abnormally to the wind and current. 

In addition the Plexiglass glass top cover that was part of my new and improved solar Bimini was in pieces in the cockpit! LESSON LEARNED: I should have used Lexan.
So instead of the nice afternoon sail I spent it scrubbing the deck. Luckily, BIANKA has a wash down pump so I could wet down the deck and use some full strength Simple Green to help clean the sail cover and deck. But, I finished in time to sit back and enjoy the setting sun behind the western hill of the harbor:

and then the rising of the Harvest moon to the east as well:

Both of which made me glad to be on board and forget about the mess that greeted me when I first arrived..

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The waters here around the Isle of Long have gotten too cold for swimming. At least for most people including me. But, that has not stopped me from sailing but, that becomes more dangerous with each passing day as the water temperature drops. If I should happen to fall overboard the chances of survival start to diminish rapidly as time ticks away. Ex Coast Guard rescue swimmer Mario Vittone has some very good tips on cold water survival at his blog. Here for example are the three phases of what happens when you are suddenly immersed in cold water:
Phase 1: The cold shock response – accidentally falling into cold water (say, under 59° F) is an assault on the body’s senses. Characterized by uncontrollable gasping and disorientation, the first moments can be the most dangerous. So for that first minute (1), do nothing but keep your head above water, try and stay calm, and control your breathing. The gasping will stop and then you’ll be able to work on getting yourself safely out of the water.

Phase 2: Swim failure – or the loss of muscle control – happens to everyone who stays in cold water long enough. If you’re not wearing a life jacket – regardless of how strong a swimmer you are – you will drown long before you ever become clinically hypothermic. The longer you stay in, the weaker you become. So after that first minute of just staying calm, you have about ten (10) minutes to try and self rescue. If you haven’t gotten out of the water by then, you’re not going to. Conserve your energy to delay phase three.

Phase 3: Hypothermia – core body temperature of 95° or less – takes a surprisingly long time to happen. The point here is not to panic. Depending on variables like air and water temperature, no matter how uncomfortable you are (and trust me – you will be) you will have an hour (1) or more before you lose consciousness from hypothermia.

So for cold water survival just remember 1 – 10 – 1. That’s one minute, ten minutes, one hour – and always wear your life jacket when out in cold water.
There is more info on this at Vittones Blog  it's worth reading and may save your life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Even though the LORAN C signal in most areas was terminated back on February 8, 2010 I have yet to remove the Kings 8001 receiver and antenna off the boat. It is definitely on the to do list though.
I don't know why I have not done it. Nostalgia perhaps. It was on board when I bought the boat over 15 years ago. It was working right up to the end when the Coast Guard shutdown the Loran C stations. How do you shutdown a Loran station?:

And how do you make sure that it stays shutdown:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


 I use an eight foot Porta-Bote for a dingy and have since 2001. I find it a rugged lightweight dingy for my use. I can carry it on board folded up or as usually do on deck.

Porta-Bote has improved it's design over the years. From changing the original seats from wooden marine plywood to more lightweight Styrofoam filled plastic. On my boat they have gotten a little beat up but are still functional. The transom on my Porta-Bote is still plywood but, after nine years exposed to all kinds of weather and sitting in water on occassion it is showing signs that it really should be replaced.  Happily, the Porta-Bote people have once again improved their unique boats design as I saw at their booth at the Annapolis Boat Show.

They have streamlined the seats even more and made them more rugged and stiff than the molded plastic ones I have.  They have also replaced the wooden transom with a marine plastic one that will not have the problem of delaminating over the years like my wooden one is.

Like the Garhauer Blocks I reported about in an earlier post. It's good to see there are some companies like Porte-Bote that continue to refine and improve their products making for happier customers like me.