Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Are life rafts really a rational expense?

Every time you guys ask me how many people can fit on my sailboat, I reply: "Well, let me put it this way, I have a 4-person life raft."   I mean it as a joke but sometimes I can see you guys mentally calculating who will be first to cannibalize whom if 4 of us are stuck on a life raft together in the middle of the ocean.

So let me explain it:
I can fit 20+ people on-board if I have to, but 4 people is really the max for reasons of both comfort and safety. How many people fit in the life raft is pretty much irrelevant because there's virtual certainty it will never be used anyway. It is just there to make you feel better. There is no real danger involved, and the  dangers that do exist, won't be cured with a life raft.

Trying to right a life raft in STCW course. 
But why do people get nervous? For the same reason I have to smile whenever  someone tells me they're worried about the safety of sailing, or of being attacked by sharks at the beach, while they don't even think twice about the dangers of driving 80-mph to get to the beach.

People naturally have a well-documented tendency to under-estimate the bigger, more likely risks, and  over-estimate the smaller, less likely risks (or as my Dad, an engineer who wrote his PhD thesis on road safety, used to say: "People tend to worry most about things they least control.") For example, worrying about nuclear bombs, while also smoking cigarettes or having a poor diet.

Fact: according to data accumulated over many years by the US Coat Guard of accidents and injuries related to boating in the US, on average every year 4 people die on a boat the size of mine, and only 2 of those are from drownings. (Note also the greatest danger -- accounting for more than half of all deaths and injuries -- is consuming alcohol and being inattentive.)

In comparison, 2 people a day drown in a bathtub or hot-tub in the US.  

So why don't bathers have to get a large, heavy, expensive life raft for the bathroom!?

Just kidding. 

Of course there are many more people taking baths than going sailing. (Note also, in real life, getting into a life raft should be your absolute last option and is usually more dangerous than staying aboard a damaged vessel as long as it still floats. Many sailors deployed life rafts during the 1998 Sydney-Hobart race, but were never found while their abandoned boats were found still afloat.)

But still, is this a rational expenditure, considering the infinitesimally small chance of ever resorting to using a life raft for an actual emergency, and that the money/space/weight could be used for other safety gear that is far more likely to provide an incrementally greater improvement in security (like an automatic fire suppression system.)

Well, now we're talking about perceptions of danger rather than realities, and so psychology kicks in rather than just number-crunching. After all, how do you value a life for example, and judge when a risk to life is worth it? If we follow the "even if it can save just one life, you should take whatever precautions are possible" standard of care, then should we be sailing at all? I mean, if we were really to follow that standard then every bathroom should have its own life raft, in real  life, because it can potentially save two people every day. Of course we don't go to that extreme either. No, we judge risks and outcomes and then make what we hope are informed decisions, or at least good bets. But we never judge right because we're human.

For example we have the Fear Premium: the amount you're willing to pay beyond what is strictly justified by the actual risk itself,  to avoid a particular outcome which you consider so awful as to be intolerable and to be avoided no matter how unlikely, and even at much greater cost.

Fear is by definition an irrational response, driven primarily by emotions; arguing facts and statistics will not change that because it just isn't about rationality in the first place. And we all are very predictably subject to fear. There are entire industries built on irrational emotions and fear is the main one, followed by guilt. Look at any, say, baby magazine for expectant parents and just see show page after page, it evokes and appeals to fear and guilt: You're going to kill your baby and you're a bad mother for not buying this or that. Of course we all would like to think that we exclusively are somehow immune to such appeals because we are uniquely more intelligent than the next guy -- which is what the next guy also thinks... and which is itself also proof of our irrationality. 

So anyway after I argued the statistics, the raft salesman right away invoked the Fear Premium: "What if you have guests on board and you're sinking? Will you tell them there's no life raft ... as the sharks surround you?"

Oh you sob!, I thought, because we both knew the answer, statistics be damned. (Not sure which was supposed to kill me first in such a scenario btw, the sharks or the guilt of not having a raft for my friends.) So, I  got a raft: a 4-person Viking RescYou Pro offshore, self-righting one too. I plopped the valise into my lazarette locker;  a piece of expensive gear that in all likelihood will never be actually used.

Hope you lot feel better now.

All the while, I was thinking of Cass Sunstein's book, "The Laws of Fear; Beyond the Precautionary Principle" on how and when paying the Fear Premium may be justified.

So in short, Yes friends, you can relax: I do have a life raft on-board and know how to use it, in case we're ever sinking.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Random photos

Checking out the new Outremer catamarans at the Miami Boat Show last year

Laminating fiddles for the chart table

Box full of folding mast steps, to be installed.
Yet another pending project.

Another day in the yard

They call it a torture board for good reason

Cruisers are a different breed, working late on their boat

Bow water tank conversion to storage space

The Pearson 35 comes with a fiberglass water tank in the bow, about 40 gallons or so I've been told. The inside of the water tank on my boat was quite pitted and ugly, and certainly not where I would store drinking water. More importantly, I didn't want all that weight up front at the bow, and will be installing flexible water tanks under the settees in the cabin instead. I cut open the v-berth and the water tank under it, and will be using it for storage space. My v-berth cushion is a single piece job though, making access to the tank top difficult, so I'll use the space to store things that I don't need often, like winter clothes, tools, and other less popular items.

Sailboat scuppers overkill

.In sailing-lingo, a scupper is a drain that prevents sea water from accumulating in a boat's cockpit, making the boat hard to control ("pooped") - like this. In a big storm, this can sink a boat. So, considering that in a normal open sea storm, the wave frequency can be less than 1 minute apart, it is pretty important for the cockpit to drain out, quickly.

Cutting holes in the hull makes me nervous every time

Now, the Pearson 35 has a particularly large cockpit (9 feet long) which is ideal for entertaining, eating, lounging, sleeping etc. but this also means the cockpit can ship (carry) a large amount of water.

Well, to the extent that this is a real problem  (I don't plan on sailing in places with waves that can swamp my boat!) there is a simple fix: more, larger cockpit scuppers.  

The Pearson 35 came with two 1.5" scuppers, located at the forward corners in the cockpit, on each side of the steering pedestal. I started by added two 2" scuppers on the aft corners of the cockpit. The process was quite easy, using lengths of 2" fiberglass tube. I also added another pair of scuppers, this time cut vertically into the foot well wall, in the mid-section of he cockpit. (The idea was to drain water while the boat is heeling.)
Thick solid fiberglass at the counter-stern. They don't build 'em like this anymore.

New scupper with scalloped edges. Ohh so fancy
  The ABYC code states,
"When filled with water to the fixed sill height, and with weathertight hatches sealed to the height of the sill, 75% of the cockpit water volume shall drain in 90 seconds." 
I didn't have enough patience to do all the necessary volume and drainage calculations, and frankly, if an 11" hole in the cockpit does not drain a swamped boat fast enough, well, I'm not cutting any more holes in my boat!

The seat scuppers were also too small and tended to clog due to the long, twisted route for the drain so I enlarged them, re-routed to drain right above the old scuppers.
The new seat scuppers, drain right above the existing 1.5" cockpit scuppers

Seat scupper hose. Clamps have to be tightened.  
The cubbyholes on the port and starboard side of the cockpit also have their own tiny drains, but apart from checking to make sure they were not blocked-up, I didn't see any need for improvements there. Not a lot of water gets in there, but bugs and leaves sometimes do (and mud wasps like to make nests in there) so I make a point of cleaning out the cubbyhole drains once in a while

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sanding a boat is so fun!

Who knew sailing involved so much sanding? Day after day after day....

Installing opening portholes, part 1

The old portholes on Whimsy did not open and were starting to leak, and were too small. So I'm replacing them with 8 opening Lewmars, providing plenty of ventilation hopefully.

The medium Lewmars compared to tiny old oval portholes

Too small for ventilation, what was the point?

Some of the new portholes were smaller than the original portholes by a couple of inches. So the old portholes had to first be removed, and the holes they left had to be filled-in before the new portholes could fit in.
Outside: glassed-over old portholes, to be filled and faired.

Inside: piece of foamboard to fill in the holes left by the old portholes. 

Cutting additional sheets of 1/4" foam to the shape of the old portholes...

The old portholes will be covered with vinyl headliner material.

Interior shoulder-level teak handrails
Used the chance presented by removal of portholes to access behind headliner, and install interior shoulder-level teak handrails that are bolted through cabin liner, with backing plates epoxied to the interior cabin sides

I love these stainless steel flush tee nuts. Combined with pieces of G10, they make great backing plates for fixtures in tight spaces. They also come with their own "washer".

Stainless steel tee-nuts and backing plate.

Once the interior painting is done and the vinyl is attached to the interior cabin sides, I'll cut out the new space for the portholes. It will be nice to see outside of the cabin again, and get some air circulation back!

Propane tank locker Part 2: Done!

I finished the propane tank locker project by gelcoating the interior and exterior of the propane locker, changed the hatch lift handle to a latching one, installed a wall-mounted tank bracket plus straps and padeyes to keep the propane tanks secure inside the locker, made a drop-in board to separate the two tanks, mounted the regulator, solenoid, hoses, pressure gauge etc. inside the locker and then ran the gas hose through a vapor-tight thru-fitting to the galley (using support clamps along the way) where I installed the new Dometic Moonlight 2 stove. (I didn't hook up power to the solenoid except for test purposes for now, will do that when I re-do the electrical wiring.)

Propane tank locker

So after doing all that, making sure everything worked, I hooked up the stove and the solenoid to a 12v battery and clearly heard the click sound as the solenoid opened  (and repeatedly testing to make sure that gas was coming out of the hose and reaching the stove) ... the stove does not work. I can't figure out why no gas comes out of the burners even though everything is connected and I made absolutely sure that gas was reaching the stove. The oven light and igniters work, the gimbals work, the gimbal lock works, and there's gas flow...but no gas comes out of the burners.

Dometic cooker. The red thing is a silicone baking mat for the oven. I also put an oven thermometer in there, all for naught!

Oh well, I'll deal with that later. For now I'll continue cooking using an electric range.

In the meantime I made a hinged countertop lid that closes over the stove when not in use, which has a sheet of aluminium screwed under it and two barrel bolts that keep the lid locked-down tight when the stove is not in use. This arrangement should help prevent the stove from jumping out in case the boat heels too much. I'll have to figure out a place to put a fan too, to blow the heat from the stove out the companionway.  Plus, a light so I can see what I'm cooking.

Trident Marine on/off gas control panel

I used the Trident Marine on/off propane control panel without a built-in alarm because based on my experience, the alarms often go off for no apparent reason and cut off cooking gas flow at the most inopportune times. Many boaters have simply disabled their alarms or circumvented the solenoid because of false alarms, which is of course quite dangerous. However I did install a propane leak alarm, just in case:  a SafeTAlert MTI 30-441-P 12V White Surface Mount LP (Propane) Gas Detector. I'm also going to make sure the tank  valve is closed when no one is using gas.

Of course I made sure that the supply hose was properly supported and protected from chafe and damage along the way by running it through conduit I made of PVC piping and support clamps, plus soft rubber grommets through bulkheads.

Rubber grommets protect the gas supply hose from chafe

Per ABYC code, I should have two warning labels installed in or near the LPG tank, one warning that propane is flammable etc, and another label that shows "Comprehensive printed instructions and a labeled diagram(s) covering details of proper installation, maintenance and operation" of the propane system..." Those will come later too.

As for the propane tanks, I went with two 10-lb aluminium tanks, which based on my calculations, each should last me about 2 months of my normal daily cooking. Aluminium is of course lighter than steel and much less prone to corrosion. These  tanks also fit into the locker while staying upright. I was considering going with a larger vertical tank but I was convinced that refills would be easier with two separate tanks.

Just wish I could actually cook with the stove now! Grr! All that work, and no working stove. Very frustrating.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Anchor locker Part 2 - done!

Today I sealed-up the hatch in the v-berth to the anchor locker with a 1/2" sheet of ply that was sheathed on both sides in fiberglass,  covered the entire bulkhead on the anchor locker side with 2 layers of 1708 biaxial, and then gelcoated the whole locker interior. I also cut two triangles from an old rubber door mat to line the bottom of the locker, to improve drainage and promote interior drying. The gaps at the top of the bulkhead where the power wires for the navigation  lights passed through were sealed up too, to be replaced with proper waterproof grommets fittings later.

The video shows the anchor locker drain holes too - I made them 1.5", bigger than what's conventional but I figured a larger hole drains faster.  The thickness of the hull was impressive here -- about 1" of solid fiberglass. 

The drain holes are located about 10" above the waterline at the bow, so I suspect the locker will flood -- and drain -- on a normal basis when there's a decent wake. A limberhole of the same size was cut in the center divider too, so water can drain out of the locker from either side of the bow. This arrangement of drain holes should keep the locker largely clear of mud, shells and other debris that doesn't get washed off the anchor and chain before being stowed below.

Making the template of the center divider in the anchor locker. Another template was made for the locker floor.

Trace around the template onto a sheet of marine plywood

I had to cut it into two overlapping glued pieces since it would not fit as a single piece

Sheathed the plywood: 1 layer of chopped-strand followed by 2 layers of 1708 biaxial
Locating the drain holes for the anchor locker, about 10 inches above the waterline

The edges of the divider were protected by glassed-in "bumpers" made of split sections of PVC pipe stuffed with fiberglass filler and placed over the edges to set.

Anchor locker finally done. 

I'm going to put a wash-down hose in here, and a stainless padeye where the anchor rode terminates. It doesn't have to be a super-strong connection since the weight of the anchor and line will be taken by a cleat on deck. It is suggested in fact that the end of the anchor line should have a float and 100" of floating line attached to it, so that if you ever have to cut the anchor line in a hurry (avoid another boat that is dragging anchor, for example) the float will deploy as the anchor rode sinks, so you'll hopefully be able to retrieve the anchor  and rode later. I'm not really bothering with all that, since having such a shallow draft means I won't need to anchor in deep anchorages anyway. But I'll put a cheap ceramic knife in the locker along with a flashlight so I can find things in there in the dark.  

Since I'm going to be keeping things other than ground tackle in the anchor locker, I'll need to figure out a way to suspend docklines etc from the locker ceiling too. Maybe some webbing with snaphooks...

I also made sure that the deck cleats and their backing plates will fit nicely near the sides of the hatch, close to the bulkhead  and hull underneath for additional strength. The backing plates were made with G10 board, and had beveled top edges so as to not create hard spots.

8" deck cleats, with G10 backing plates

Flush fitting the hatch lock

The holes on the deck for the chain pipe will be cut later when I install the windlass. The chain will fall down along the stem of the boat with what I think is sufficient angle to prevent it from castling (creating a big pile then falling over on itself.)