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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
11/01/2006, New River, Fort Lauderdale, FL

One of the best things about cruising is meeting new people. One of the worst things about cruising is seeing them sail off in another direction.

We made some great friends here on the dock at Lauderdale Marine Center. Fred and Cindy are both dive masters bound for the British Virgin Islands. They are soon to be working at the Leverick Bay, Dive BVI shop. They just traded their 35' cruiser for a beautiful Amel 53 SuperMaramu. Mike, another new friend, sailed the boat up to Florida from Venezuela and is crewing for Fred and Cindy on the 8-10 day trip down to the BVI. We miss them already.

Little Star
10/31/2006, New River, FL

We just had dinner with Cindy, Fred and Mike from Kelp Fiction II at a nice place on the water about a mile up the river. The Kelp Fiction II team depart for the BVI tomorrow and we wanted to grab dinner to celebrate their last night in the US. I though this would be an opportune time to test out our Walker Bay dinghy, Little Star, with its newly fitted outboard.

All five of us piled into our 4 adult max dink and fired up the 8 hp Yamaha two stroke (2 hp over the suggested max). Things were fine until we got to the train bridge which is too low for even a dinghy to pass. Normally the operator raises the bridge right away but we had to circle for a bit this time, which was curious until we saw the commuter train fly by. It was at this point that Cindy inquired as to the ever increasing water level in the bottom of the dink. Hmmm; rigid hull, check; drain plug installed, check. How could this boat possibly be taking on water, I thought? Then I noticed that even at a beamy 10' and with the Hypalon kit, the little Walker Bay was seriously down on its lines. So down that the waterline had risen above the slot top for the dagger board. I had forgotten that the sail kit required you to cut the top of the dagger board well open. Well, at least this made it interesting. I had a bailer and a sponge onboard so all was well. We had a great dinner and will sorely miss the company of Kelp Fiction II as we scramble through our last few projects at the ship yard.

In retrospect, we continue to love, love, love, our Walker Bay. That said, it is not up to the task of ferrying the full complement of crew and guests viable on Swingin on a Star. With 5 adults on board we felt secure but certainly needed the Hypalon flotation and couldn't dream of planeing. Keeping the speed down was important to directional stability. If you didn't have the sail kit installed I'd say, with calm seas, that 5 is fine on the WB, but don't get squirrelly or folks are going to get wet. The 8 hp also seems like a good fit excepting that with only one on board the stern gets pretty low in the water. As soon as you get one person on the bow seat, she trims out nicely. The seats are great because there's room for two on the stern seat, two on the midships seat and one on the bow seat. The seats and the false floor work nicely at keeping your rump dry (a rare thing in a RIB). The Walker Bay rows great but we replaced the sequoia tree trunks they provide as oars with some lighter, easier to stow, break in half aluminum units. The best thing about the WB though is the sail kit. We bought the simple kit and are really in love with the whole, "being able to sail around the anchorage" thing.

For the two of us, this is the perfect dinghy. It is light and easy to lift and it has a wheel in the heal of the keel allowing you to lift the bow, and roll it up the beach. When we have friends on the boat it is great as a little sail boat, complementing the inflatable kayak and other water toys. However, when we have to take everyone to shore for exploration we will likely be making multiple trips. All boats are compromises and we happily make the necessary concessions for Little Star.

We gave Little Star all of the respects a large boat gets with a proper naming ceremony. Roqs dog bed fit perfectly in the stern well on the maiden voyage.

Hydraulic Thoughts
10/28/2006, The Helm

When we bought this boat the hydraulic steering system was one of the things in the negative column for me. Hydraulic auto pilots fail at the same time that you lose the helm if there's a hydraulic system failure. If your hydraulic system blows a hose off of a fitting you are not going to fix it anytime soon. Once the fluid is in the bilge, you are on the emergency tiller. Finding hoses, the right hydraulic oil, pumps, etceteras is going to be a bit more difficult than locating cable in remote places in my estimation. My favorite mechanisms are direct with no fluids or cables. You don't have the same feel at the helm with indirect systems that you get with a direct system but then again cats don't have that much helm feel anyway.

I have had a change of heart (if you can't change something about your boat you become a convert, right?). Seriously though, on a boat this big a hydraulic system has some substantial advantages and may be a necessity. First, and perhaps most important, a hydraulic system provides a physical advantage necessary when steering a 50' brute. The hydraulic system allows for a simple hydraulic auto pilot configuration as well. Auto pilots do a lot of work on a passage making boat and losing your AP means a very unpleasant passage. Direct drive auto pilots draw serious current and undergo substantial strains. Hydraulic auto pilots have a material advantage here, and tend to draw less current due to the advantages imparted by a hydraulic system. This not only benefits the battery conscious skipper but also increases the longevity of the unit. Hydraulic AP steering is more powerful and immediate as well.

It's kind of weird having the boat steer itself while the wheel just sits there but you get used to that. It's also nice to be able to point the boat somewhere and let go of the wheel without all hell breaking loose. The hydraulic system makes it possible for the builder to route the cables in a reasonable fashion, not so with a direct or cable system, things pretty much need to go in a straight line there. Perhaps the best of both worlds would be a hydraulic primary auto pilot and a backup direct drive. Maybe next refit…

I had to change out the hydraulic fluid on our boat today, did I say I liked hydraulic steering?

10/25/2006, The Swingin on a Star Galley

I'm sitting at the nav station of Swingin on a Star drinking a nice cup of coffee and trying not to spill it as the "Jungle Queen” (!?) powers by stirring our dock lines in its wake.

[Coffee Maker Rant]
We bought a little 4 cup Mister Coffee drip at Target for $29.99 and it's the best coffee maker I've ever owned. I've had Krups, Seco, Cuisinart and Delonghi, hands down this Mister Coffee is it. First of all it is rated at only 600 watts (low for a coffee maker, many are up around 1,000 watts) which is great when running on the inverter. There's a 12V perk out there but I prefer drip. It also finishes its cycle in less than 5 minutes so you don't have to wait so long for that first cup. The systems that let you attack the coffee before the pot is finished don't agree with me because the coffee at the start of the cycle is not blended and a bit too strong (which is fine with me but drinking this leaves the rest of the pot a bit weak). Hideko and I can enjoy a nice big mug of coffee each, quickly and with little mess. If we want another cup we just brew another pot; nice, fresh and ready before we are. Bigger rigs seem to take much longer even when set to brew a half pot and it is harder to get a consistent coffee water mix. This little guy will be a little more work when guests are on board but not much. The Mister coffee has a very small foot print which is greatly appreciated in our galley as well. Now when my Dad brings out the hand crank coffee grinder we'll really be set.

Lobster Time
10/22/2006, Aventura

The Dive compressor is in and the Brownies crew did a great job. We couldn't be happier with the install. We ran down the 95 to Divers Direct in Aventura to pick up some guest wet suits and regs as well as a full set of lobster hunting gear. There's nothing better than fresh lobster. If I have anything to do with it lobster will be a regular item on the menu at the Swingin on a Star dinner table.

Water Filters
10/20/2006, Lauderdale Marine Center

Reverse osmosis water is about as good as it gets. Our Spectra has a strainer, a 50 micron filter, a charcoal filter, a twenty micron filter, a five micron filter and then a sub micron reverse osmosis membrane. We typically see 22 ppm on the water tester. Unfortunately the water then sits in our new fiberglass tanks where it quickly gains a certain fiberglass funk which you can smell and taste.

I am glad we have fiberglass tanks and I think that good fiberglass tanks are better than any other possible solution. They don't corrode, they don't conduct, they don't leak, they can be formed to maximize internal volume, they are easy to repair and they last as long as the hull does if done right.

Now what about the skunky water? After doing some research I have come to believe that new fiberglass tanks typically impart a bit of a funkyness to your water but that this wears off over time. We shall see.

In the mean time I installed a charcoal filter under the sink (which required some exotic Euro to US hose splicing). I put it on the cold side only and it has really done the trick. We now drink water out of the cold kitchen tap only.

10/18/2006, LMC, FL

Getting the hang of this whole fiberglass thing is highly valuable. You can make just about anything out of fiberglass and once attached to your boat it looks like it was there all along. That is if you know what you're doing. Seeing as how we're planning to be away from the US for about 5 years I though I'd better pick this skill up. I have a whole new respect for the talented glass guys at P&S, good thing my first project is going deep in a locker...


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