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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
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...

10/17/2006, Fort Lauderdale

Why go to the fuel when the fuel can come to you?

Fort Lauderdale has to be the most developed boating environment in the world. Need diesel? Make a call and they show up same day with a barge, drop two posts into the mud and hand you a hose. Need:

Yanmar stuff: Complete Yacht Services
Westerbeke stuff: Marine Gear
Canvas: Beaver Brand
Dive Gear: Brownies
Rope/Chain: Rope Inc.
Rigging: Nance & Underwood Rigging and Sails
Tools: Mac Donald's Hardware
General Stuff: Largest West Marine in the World
Fluids: Napa

and the list goes on, all within walking distance.

Just Catamarans
10/16/2006, Florida

The Just Catamarans guys, Kent the owner and Johan, joined us for a couple of drinks. I can't say enough about these guys. I am a picky bastard by any measure and Just Catamarans always met or exceeded my expectations. I don't know what we would have done without these guys and their fantastic work. If you need work on your cat, I can't imagine a better crew to call.


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