Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aft cabin berth "V"?

The berth in the after cabin on Eolian was kind of in a strange state when we moved aboard.  It was set up like a forward V-berth would be, with 2 sleeping areas along the cabin sides and a cut-out in the center.  That center cutout had been originally set up as a bench or step for getting up onto the berth.  But with the compass for the radar mounted (not centered, of course) where the cushion was supposed to go, that function had been abandoned.

But the mattress had no cutout.  To prevent severe sag in the center, a piece of plywood had been placed over the cut-out.  With a couple of screws to hold it in place.  Sort of.

It was obviously a hack, and it was noisy - it creaked and groaned whenever you moved on the mattress.  A better arrangement was needed.

Bordering on the upper size limit* for what I like to cover as a "small" boat project, we rectified this.

I cut and painted a piece of (heavier) plywood, and then fashioned a teak fiddle for the exposed forward edge.

Then I made up some teak cleats and attached them to the sides of the opening with screws, in order to support the plywood.  Finally, I screwed the plywood to the cleats, making a solid foundation for the mattress.

Now the mattress looks like it belongs there.  And we can sleep in peaceful quiet.  (The space below is now Jane's shoe storage.)


*For larger projects, see Windborne In Puget Sound

Monday, August 30, 2010

How to: Salt varnish

Unless you are an Olde Salt, you may not have heard of salt varnish.

On a cabin sole finished bright, with beautiful gloss varnish, how do you provide essential non-skid areas where they are needed? For example, on the edge of the raised area under the dinette on Eolian facing you, where people want to firmly place their feet while sliding out from under the table?

I had tried various alternatives, including a clear non-skid tape made by 3M (the adhesive failed wherever sun hit it). And then, like in most cases, I discovered that someone had solved this problem a long, long time ago, in a very elegant way: salt varnish.

Here's what you do:
  • Mask off the area to be "non-skidded"
  • Apply a wet coat of varnish
  • Immediately sprinkle it with a liberal layer of regular table salt
  • When the varnish is cured, sponge away the salt with a moist sponge
What is left behind, once the salt is dissolved away, is a layer of rough varnish. Perfect non-skid. And easily sanded for re-treatment when it is needed, since it is just that: varnish. I tried to show it in this picture, but it is not easy to capture, which is one of its virtues, after all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to: Seal deck penetrations

There is a treasure house of fantastically well-done articles on how to properly accomplish various boat-related tasks at Compass Marine. The one Erick referenced* shows how to properly seal deck penetrations with epoxy, and addresses many of the details left out of common explanations.  For example: using a bent nail chucked in a drill to route out the core really doesn't work all that well, unless:
  • You have a cored deck
  • Your hole happens to be located between the webs formed by resin filling the scores in the core material
  • Your hole is not located where plywood reinforcement was used - where most load-bearing fastenings will be made
In fact, using a bent nail sounds like one of those processes worked out in a hurry in a boat yard by someone who lacked the proper tool for the job.  Not something you'd want to set out to do on purpose.  Read the article - you'll see what I mean.

More over, there are several rainy afternoon's-worth of excellent reading there on the right/best/easiest way to do things.  (When pulling a cutlass bearing, does it really matter where you make the saw kerf?  Yes!)

Check it out - you won't be disappointed.


* Thanks to  Erik at Erick's Wanderlust Blog for finding this great site, and to Scott at Downeaster Yachts for pointing it out to me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Safety underfoot

Footing aboard m/v Beach House is more secure now that Chuck and Susan have completed this project.
Safety when moving around the deck under way has always been important to us. We have had to deal with sails and rigging in gale conditions and anchors during late night storms. A trawler with a flybridge is a new experience for us, and running up and down from the flybridge was a concern. The steps are teak with stainless hand rails and we like our teak finished. If they are wet, they can be slippery, and a fall could be serious. A simple and logical solution is good old-fashioned vinyl or rubber stair treads. But boy are they hard to find anymore. We first tried to apply them with outdoor carpet tape which is sticky on both sides, but as soon as the sun warmed them up, they slid off the step. Our solution was to use aluminum strips like those used at the edge of carpet or vinyl flooring to secure the treads. This worked out better than we expected, as it made the steps even more slip proof. It also does not look too bad.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fake wood grain, or real?

Eolian was originally sold with wood-grain Formica on the nav station tabletop. When we took possession of her, one corner was coming loose. So I was faced with a decision.

Looking at the bottom of the tabletop, it appeared that the entire tabletop was made of teak. Why then would the manufacturer choose to cover the teak with Formica? One wonders.

Prying up that loose corner, it indeed looked like teak under there. So I decided to go for broke. I broke out the heat gun and used it to heat up the Formica enough to loosen the contact cement holding it down.

I was successful in getting it off in a single piece without doing damage to the underlying teak, except for one small area where a small piece about 1/4" x 1" tore out. After dutching a piece of teak into the tear, I sanded and varnished it. Sure looks a lot nicer, I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Keepin' it closed

In this excerpt from a post, Chuck and Susan aboard m/v Beach House solved the problem of cabinet contents escaping in a seaway.
It is amazing how a small item like door latches can make a big improvement. We learned long ago that the standard latches most builders put on a boat will not keep the contents in the lockers once the boat gets rolling or if you find yourself in some heavy seas. One particular cruise off the coast of South Carolina found the entire contents of most of the cabinets in our main salon on the cabin sole. These cabinets also had finger holes that needed a single finger inserted to open the locker. This begged for a broken finger in a seaway. That is when we discovered that a simple hook type latch takes minutes to install throughout the entire boat and kept all of the doors securely closed no matter what the motion of the boat is.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Boom Brake Bucks (not!)

There is a nice bit on inexpensive boom brakes over at Boat Bits.  I have been wanting to pursue a boom brake on Eolian, but the cost of the Wichard et al solutions was too off-putting.  This is the answer - we will be going forward with it on Eolian.

Originally posted on Windborne In Puget Sound

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cutting down those amp hours

Chuck and Susan aboard m/v Beach House are another happy Bebi Electronics customer.
Considering lights for anchoring, our anchor light is an important item we had to replace on this boat. The old Perko anchor light had corroded and pretty much fell apart. One item we had looked into quite a bit was a photocell to turn the anchor light on and off at dusk and dawn. Too often, we came back to the boat after dark when socializing lasted longer than expected and had no anchor light on or, if we knew we would be back late, had to turn the light on in the afternoon and have it use up precious power during the day. Doing some research brought us to the Web site for Bebi Electronics. They make an anchor light called the Owl which fit the bill perfectly. It has a built in photocell that is just what we wanted and as a matter of fact, once we installed it, we turned on the breaker for the light and forgot to use the breaker again to turn it on and off. Two other benefits we found was that when we turned the light on, our battery monitor showed almost no amps being used, and it proved to be considerably brighter than any of the traditional anchor lights we have used in the past. It is made of PVC and encased in epoxy, so there is little to corrode other than the connections we made to the wiring.
I can add that Bebi is very responsive. In 2008 I asked whether they had a version of this light that was in two segments, such that segment 1, when powered alone would serve as a steaming light, and when segment 2 was added it would serve as an all-around anchor light. They quickly responded that they were ready to make one for me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stretch that belt


Eolian's original alternator was equipped with a non-standard pulley - larger than the regular automotive one. The adjustable bracket that holds the alternator was designed to fit using this pulley. That is, standard belts worked with it. When that original alternator failed, I replaced it with a standard 80 amp automotive alternator, with a standard pulley*. But now the belts available were either too short or too long.

The fix? Remanufacture the alternator bracket. I took several pictures of the front of the engine, with the alternator in various positions. I enlarged these until they were life-sized, and then laid out a new bracket on them. The end product used portions of the original bracket (to avoid machining), with a segment spliced in. Welded up and painted, it looks pretty good,and it works great.

* Most diesel engines (having no distributor) use pulses from the alternator to run the tachometer. When you change the alternator pulley (or switch to an alternator with a different number of poles), the tachometer will need to be recalibrated.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Push-button oil change

Chuck and Susan aboard m/v Beach House have made oil changes a white glove affair.
You may or may not consider this a small project, but after our first oil change on our Ford Lehman 120, we knew that our old practice of sucking the oil out through the dipstick tube was just not going to work for us. Once again, I relied on past experiences while servicing other boats, and we installed the X-change-R oil change system. It took some work, since first we had to get all of the oil out of the engine using the suction method. Then the drain plug in the bottom of the oil pan needs to be removed. A line is run from where the old plug is in the oil pan to the oil changer pump. Finally, power needs to be run from the breaker panel to the pump. It can take a day or a weekend to complete, but in the end, we found it has paid off big. The oil change now takes minutes, and the mess is minimal. The oil can be extracted from the engine and then the engine filled from the oil containers. No pouring and spilling.
Just a note - the oil change pump on Eolian that I removed had been destroyed because it's temperature limitations had been ignored. Warm oil: easy to pump. Hot oil: no pumping ever again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How to cut a mast boot

This project was originally published on Windborne In Puget Sound in March, 2010.
(Those of you with deck-stepped masts can skip this post. )

A keel-stepped mast must pass thru the deck. Where it does so, some kind of seal must be made to prevent a deluge of rain water from running down the mast into the cabin. Traditionally, this has been accomplished with a mast boot - a piece of flexible, waterproof material which covers the deck penetration. It is a simple, low-tech solution, one that has withstood the test of time. But: how to cut the fabric so that it drapes smoothly from the mast down to the deck?

It's not hard. Here's how:

To begin, you will need three dimensions:
  • The circumference of the mast. Let's call this 'm'.
  • The circumference of the raised deck ring onto which the bottom of the boot will be clamped. We'll call this 'd'.
  • The height up the mast, measured from the deck, that the boot is to extend. Note that what follows is based on geometry that assumes that the deck ring and the mast have circular cross-sections. If yours is not (and it probably isn't), then add an inch or so to the desired height to allow for some final trimming. We'll call this 'h'.
Make these measurements and write them down.

Now, we need to do a little math - get out your calculator. We need the diameters of the mast and the deck ring:
  • Dm = m / 3.1416
  • Dd = d / 3.1416
Make these calculations, and write the results down.

You will be cutting out a shape that looks like this. We already have 'h', so all that we need now is R1 and R2.

To get R1, we need to do a little more math, using the numbers we have prepared above. Use this formula:

R1 = (h * Dd) / (Dd - Dm)

That is, multiply h by the diameter of the deck ring, and then divide the resulting number by the difference between the diameter of the deck ring and the diameter of the mast.

R2 is much easier:

R2 = R1 - h

With R1 and R2, you are prepared to lay out the pattern on a piece of suitable material (we used white naugahyde purchased from a local fabric store). You will find that R1 and R2 will turn out to be pretty long - you will probably need to do the layout out on the dock. Mark the pivot point on the dock, and set some weights on the fabric (wrong side up) at the right distance. Then make a series of marks using a tape measure at distance R1 from the pivot. Similarly, make a second series of marks at R2.

Connect the marks with smooth curves, and cut it out! Cut a long enough portion of the arc so that there will be an overlap of a few inches (you have the circumferences...). Take it up to the mast and make a trial fit, arranging things so that the overlap is at the back of the mast.

If your mast is not a circular cross section, the top and bottom edges will be wavy instead of straight. Put on the hose clamps top and bottom, and adjust everything as necessary for a nice fit. Using a ballpoint pen, mark at the edges of the hose clamps to get a straight line. Pull off the boot and cut at the line you just marked. When you reinstall the boot, it will now have an even top and bottom.

Do not neglect the seam at the back where the two ends of the boot overlap - it needs to be sealed, or rain water will still find its way below. We used 3M 5200 - it works great!

Finally, seal the top edge to the mast with rigging tape.

Now you have a traditional and functional seal between the mast and the deck. Pour yourself a grog, and feel the fellowship of shipwrights who have done this very same task for centuries - you've earned it. Arrrr.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Solar showers don't work so well when it is cloudy

Please welcome new contributors Devon and Rowan of s/v 'Ima Loa! Now, you have to admit that they have here an interesting alternative to the ubiquitous solar shower - one which works whether or not there is "solar".

Our shower is a 1 gallon Hudson Bugwiser sprayer. It actually holds a bit over 1.5 gallons but is marked at 1 gallon to allow room for pressurizing. It is stainless steel so it can go right on the stove for heating (with the cap/pump removed of course). It heats up quickly and provides a nice pressurized shower. If we fill it a bit past the 1 gallon mark we are both able to get a nice shower, though it needs some additional pumping to repressurize. The nozzle is adjustable which is nice, especially if you’ve overheated the water. Adjusting the nozzle to deliver a mist helps cool the water. We plan to try one of those stick-on terrarium thermometers to help us heat the water to a consistent temperature.

One note: the manufacturer has updated the product a bit and it now comes with plastic trim on the bottom. This is easily removed for use on the stove. In the stock photo above the funnel looking part is black plastic, on the sprayer currently available the plastic extends as a cap of the entire top. I don’t think it will get too hot on the stove but I removed it anyway (for purely aesthetic reasons). It was more stubborn than the bottom trim but heating it up in a hot water bath made it fairly easy to remove. We also bent the brass tubing of the wand with a tubing bender into an “almost” candycane shape to make it easier to aim the spray. The wand also has more plastic than shown in the picture above, we may order an all brass wand but the plastic one is working fine so maybe not.

Our "bugwiser" shower on the stove.

It really works great, much better than the solar showers I’ve used when camping. I plan to sew a black neoprene jacket for it to use for solar heating in the future.

Our purchase price was ~$45 on amazon.com.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Replacing vinyl windows

This project was originally posted on Windborne In Puget Sound, in August, 2010.

Nothing outlasts Sunbrella.

But eventually, those vinyl windows in your hatch covers will die - turn yellow or brown and go opaque, long before the Sunbrella is finished. Hatch cover vinyl seem to be far worse at this than the vinyl in dodgers - perhaps because the sun strikes it more directly. Ours had gotten pretty bad. Here's a piece of old vinyl next to a piece of new:


So Jane went to Seattle Fabrics and got some new vinyl. Now the $64 question is how to actually do the job, without losing the shape of the fabric? Once the old vinyl is removed, there will be nothing to hold things in place. The standard technique is to sew the new vinyl in behind the old vinyl, and then cut the old vinyl back to the inside edge of the opening. We did not like this because:
  • Jane's machine would never sew thru two thicknesses of vinyl
  • Now the edge will twice as thick as it was before. Imagine doing this a third time, or even a forth.
So we needed a different process. We devised this one (we work as a team on this kind of thing):
  • On the back side, use a pair of scissors to cut the old vinyl between the two lines of stitching. Be careful to cut only the vinyl, and not the folded-under Sunbrella.
  • Pull the threads and remove the outer strip of old vinyl, leaving the inner seam in place to hold things in register. If the inner seam lets go because the thread is too rotten, use seam tape (basically just adhesive on a transfer back) to stick the seam in place.
  • Lay the new vinyl in place. Make a bunch of tape loops and stick the new vinyl to the inside surface of the old vinyl - to keep things lined up while sewing. (We tried a lot of things here - this was by far the easiest.)
  • Resew the outer seam, fastening the new vinyl in place
  • Now remove the inner stitching and remove the old piece of vinyl completely. The shape is retained because the new vinyl is already stitched in place
  • Sew the inner seam.

This worked flawlessly for us.










Oh, and by the way, if yours is not a "walking foot" machine, you will probably have a lot of trouble keeping things lined up and moving correctly under the presser foot. The feed dogs, pulling on only the bottom layer of fabric, want to move the bottom layer with respect to the upper layers, which are dragging on the under side of the presser foot. We'd recommend you get one of these inexpensive "walking foot" attachments. It is not actually a walking foot, more like a "dragged foot", but it works wonderfully. I paid $24 for ours from Gone Sewing on eBay. They were very helpful in making sure that I had the right attachment for Jane's machine (the attachments are available for most machines).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why didn't we...

This project was originally published on Windborne In Puget Sound in May, 2010.


I don't know why we didn't. You would think that we would have long ago.

Living aboard and dealing with the problems of humidity, especially in the winter when the boat is sealed up should have pointed us at this solution sooner.

In a dock gathering discussion last week, we realized that most of the other boats were keeping dehumidifiers running in the winter.

But my memories were of the huge clanking monster of a dehumidifier that my parents ran in the basement of our childhood home. It was a heavy, file cabinet-sized unit that needed its own circuit - it drew 15 amps. Not exactly appropriate for a boat.

But now we have the world's products at our fingertips - I did a quick Internet search and found this one - it draws only 1.6 amps, is small enough to live in the aft head, and yet is capable of pulling 25 pints of water/day out of the atmosphere inside the boat. It even has provision for a continuous drain (which I haven't set up yet), that would go right into the shower sump it is sitting above. Oh yeah... and that is distilled water it is producing too - ideal for the batteries. Finally, condensing water produces heat, so it functions as a small space heater too (you can almost think of it as a tiny heat pump).

One of the dangers of living with problems is that they cease to be viewed as problems after living with them long enough. If it hadn't been for that casual dock conversation, we'd still be living with the humidity.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bilge pump galactic control center; tool testimonial


Eolian has 3 bilge pumps, at different elevations in the bilge. I don't want to get into the philosophy of bilge pump placement and design here - I want to talk about monitoring and control. Two of the bilge pumps were wired direct to the batteries, without switches, lights or controls of any type. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. One was wired to a decrepit version of the more or less standard bilge pump switch.

I was uncomfortable with this, so I decided to make a bilge pump galactic control center. I wanted to be able to see which pumps were running, I wanted switches to control them, and I wanted easy access to their fuses. Most importantly, I wanted all three controls in the same place, so that there would be one place to look for bilge pump status.

Using a piece of 3/8" teak, I cut out three holes to accommodate three new bilge pump switches, making the subpanel you see above. But, "Wait!" you say, "How did you cut those holes?" (At least I hope you say this.)

The webs between adjacent switches are only about 1/2" wide - any normal cutting method would have broken them out during the cutting process.


Enter the Roto Zip, a tool I was introduced to by Brian on m/v Nawura. This is basically a 1/8" router. The magic is in the bits, which are spiral-fluted like a drill bit. Unlike a drill bit, however, the Roto Zip bits are designed to cut on the flutes. When I got my Roto Zip, it was an exotic tool. Now they are common, and every sheet rock guy has one for cutting out the holes for electrical outlets. Harbor Freight even sells their own version.

Unlike a full-sized router, the small diameter bits are very easy to control - it is not difficult to follow a line with the cut. Unlike a saber saw, the bit puts very little stress on the material during the cut - that's how I was able to leave those 1/2" webs. And unlike a jigsaw, this is a tool that you take to the work instead of vice versa. It fills a niche.

If you get one, also get the circle-cutting attachment. The next time you want to mount an instument and need to make a clean 4" diameter hole, you'll have just the tool for it. (Anticipating your question: yes, carbide bits for cutting fiberglass are available.)
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