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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Saint Barts Abort
Randy
06/11/2007, Tintamarre

It had to happen sooner or later. For the first time ever Swingin' on a Star did not end up where we planned at the beginning of the voyage.

We left Marigot Bay, Saint Martin with Kelp Fiction II at around noon. As both boats were coming around the north tip of Saint Martin some nasty clouds started moving in. Before you know it, wham, 35 knots on the nose and 4 knots SOG. Ugly.

As we approached the clouds I put a reef in the main. Once things heated up to full blast we decided that lass sail was called for. It was getting pretty bumpy as we rolled the jib up to the reef two mark. Next, to my great pleasure, I got to go forward to put the second reef in the main. Ug. Wet? Very. Windy? Like really windy.

I jacked in and went forward to battle with the big sail. I asked Hideko to to head up, which was a challenge over all of the wind noise. She couldn't point too high though or the jib would flog to shreds. Not high enough and I would have to drag the main into the sail bag. I let off on the halyard and was happy to only have to climb up on the boom once to pull the main neatly to reef two.

My next prayer was that the reef ring would be within reach of the clip. It wasn't of course. That only happens in fair weather. I muscled it over by hand though without using a come along on the winch so I got things clipped in pretty quick. The reefing winch we added in Saint Martin came in very handy as I cranked the leech line in tight and threw the jammer.

I am now on a mission. All controls in the cockpit or bust. Perhaps Trinidad...

Meanwhile KFII was unhappy. Fred came on the VHF and told me that their bimini had started to rip. After some though they decided to turn around and head for Grand Case. Likely excuse, Grand Case is known as the culinary center of the Caribbean.

Anyway we weren't going anywhere without our friends so we decided to let the boom out and head back downwind to Tintamarre which was just aft of the beam a couple miles off. The water near shore was almost flat and the wind was knocked down to the high 20s so we decided to set up shop.

What a beautiful island. We anchored in a little harbor on the western beach. The place reminded me of Big Sand Cay in Turks and Caicos. Not as remote and not as much sand but still a very beautiful place.

I snorkeled a bit to check out the anchor in case any whoppers like the squall that had just blown by came in the night. All was well and the water was a wonderful clear blue. We had just bought an Olympus Stylus 770SW, which in many ways is just a normal digital camera. The exception is that it is water proof down to 30 feet! It is very cool. I brought it with me and took a picture of our anchor so Hideko could sleep well too.

Saint Martin
Sailing to Marigot
Randy
06/10/2007, French Saint Martin

We left the FKG dock at 7:45 this morning so that we could make it to the French side of the lagoon in time for the 9AM bridge opening. Crossing the lagoon was dicey. There are some very shallow spots over on the French side near the channel markers that lead to the bridge. When we got close Fred met us in his dinghy.

The bad news was the bridge just looked too skinny for my comfort and they didn't seem to be opening anyway. So much for the short cut. We told Fred we were just going to go out the Dutch side so he headed back to Marigot Bay.

We made it back in time for the 9:30 Simpson Bay Bridge opening. There was quite a procession of boats waiting to exit.

We had a nice sail part of the way around the island and motored the rest of the way in. Marigot Bay is a beautiful anchorage. The french town looks as charming as any you might find in Europe and the bay is well protected, looking out onto Anguilla a few miles away.

We anchored up and dinghied over to visit with Kelp Fiction and go swimming (finally!). Later on we went to a really neat Vietnamese restaurant in Marigot. Great food, wonderful ambiance and fantastic hostess!

Saint Martin
Last Day in the Swamp
Randy
06/09/2007, Saint Martin Lagoon

Well it has been great getting stuff done on the boat. A short walk to Island Water World one way and Budget Marine the other, FKG and Electec right at the end of the dock and virtually everything else a short dinghy ride away in a protected lagoon.

It is time to head south however. There's dense vegetation growing on my waterline (and I'm not diving in here to work on it), beautiful anchorages are calling, I want to play with the new toys and most of all the canes are a brewin'.

Also the crime rate seems to be fairly high here. We have a dog aboard which, knock on wood, pretty much makes us immune to theft. Unfortunately we have logged many boat break ins in the last 2 weeks and one dinghy theft. No worse than Marina Del Rey I suppose but as the boat density decreases the percentage exposure of the remaining targets seems to be getting uncomfortable. Comes with the developed territory I guess.

We freaked out at the last minute and had the local mattress factory build us a custom mattress for our cabin. I was on the fence about our cushion mattress. It is not bad but it is not a mattress. These days you can get a crazy comfortable pillow top monster mattress in the US if you are willing to shell out for it. This place was making what seemed like good mattresses but I don't think they had access to the materials you find back in the states. I got the top of the line and custom sized it only ran $625 delivered! We're likin' it so far but time will tell it it holds up in a marine environment.

Saint Martin
AIS
Randy
06/08/2007, FKG Dock

AIS rules. AIS is the Automated Information System required on most commercial vessels and large pleasure boats. Cruising boats can get a receiver and easily pick up this information for display or chart plotter integration.

An AIS transmitter broadcasts a vessel's name, position, heading, speed, destination, ETA, mode of propulsion, length, beam, draft, MMSI and more over VHF. A well placed antenna will pick up shipping traffic 15 to 20 miles off. Because the system provides location, course over ground and speed over ground you can very accurately predict a collision danger.

I wanted to install this in Fort Lauderdale but the unit I ordered (Sitex) didn't arrive in time. It has been in my project box for a while now. Our friends on Rosario have AIS running and I was so jealous when we discussed it with them in the Bahamas. David said that one of his favorite things about AIS was that he could hail the other vessel by name. Getting on 16 and hailing "shipping traffic at lat/long" is likely to turn up dead air. Hailing "Andrea Star", gets their attention (perhaps wondering who is close enough to read the name on the bow).

I order the Sitex unit because that was what Raymarine used in their demo booth at the '06 Miami boat show (they now have their own unit). You can do a quick and dirty install but if you go by the book it is a fair amount of work. The AIS receiver needs its own antenna. If you hook it up to your VHF every time you transmit you blast the AIS, possibly loosing data, possibly damaging the AIS box. I decided to put the antenna on the port side of the traveler arch rather than opening the can of worms that installing it at the top of the mast (the optimal place) would have been.

I had my SSB and VHF hooked up to the E120 chart plotter NEMA port for position data and DSC info. They run at 19,200 though and the AIS can output a lot of data in a busy port and prefers 384,000. This means you need to get a NEMA to SeaTalk bridge to support the radios so that you can crank up the port speed on the NEMA to 384,000. Check. Once everything is installed you need to make sure that you have a newish version of the E120 software running.

Our setup is running and it is fantastic. I wish we had it crossing the Gulf Stream and the windward passage. The E120 has a bug causing it to alarm every time you get into a situation where there are no targets. This is annoying but hopefully a fix is on the way.

Saint Martin
07/16/2007 | Pablo Ramos
Hey this image reminds of a riddle. "You can see nothing else
When you look in my face,
I will look you in the eye
And I will never lie. "

I have not read your latest blogs but I will I like to look at the pictures first. On a lighter note, massive brush fires in A.D. along the 14 in Vasquez Rocks caught on fire, no structual damages happened which was good.
Welding
Randy
06/07/2007, FKG

Two things used to require a bit to much exertion on our boat. Raising the main (check) and bringing the dink aboard.

Getting our Walker Bay onto the aft deck used to require manually lifting the 8 HP off of the dinghy transom and loading it into the lazarette or stowing it on the rail of the big boat. Not easy on the joints for us old folks.

We had originally tried to hoist the dink with the retractable davits. It worked fine but our davit retraction line doesn't run too fair through the arch and makes it pretty impossible to lift much more than the Walker Bay empty. Putting the dink away turned into quite a chore. Take the motor off and put it away, clip in the dink, raise it up, and strap it down. My strap down system involved looping some nylon strapping around the swim platform pipe and other mumbo jump that took a fair amount of time to adjust.

We have revolutionized this whole mess. FKG set us up with a nice Lewmar 4 part block and tackle and we have welded eyes onto the swim platform pipe and the davit verticals near the bottom.

We can now tilt up the outboard on Little Star, haul it up on the block and tackle rig, bring the davit in, and drop it on the chocks. To strap it down I just clip two come alongs to the four hard points and ratchet them down. Awesome.

The only thing I'd do different is that I would get blocks with jammers (I still may). FKG welded some nice cleats on the davit so we cleat off the lines once the dink is in the air. This is trickier than it sounds on the heavy end. Jammers would let you just heave and go.

P.S. Easy dingy stowage has been a snap for us since the upgrade. We are in Saint Lucia now and even in anchorages where we get in at sunset and leave a dawn we have no second thoughts about dropping the dinghy for a quick ashore. I also don't have to stow the gas tank or unlock the outboard security setup. We drop it in the water and it's ready to go.

Saint Martin
Cupholder
Randy
06/06/2007, FKG Dock

How can you make the ultimate device of leisure, a sailboat, with no cup holders? I need a place for coffee before noon and beer after noon. Our boat has beautifully clean decks and a great cockpit, but no cup holders!

You don't need a cup holder, it's is a cat, I hear you say. This is true 59 minutes out of every hour. It's the one minute that dumps your Joe on the non skid that concerns me.

There's a wood working shop right next to FKG and in a last minute fit I asked them to make me a set of cup holders for the helm (the mug set) and the port cockpit (suitable for beer, Coke, Perrier or whatever turns you on).

After a little discussion of size location and materials they went to work. Two days later we have two perfect teak (hey now I have teak on the boat too!) cup holders.

Saint Martin
Halyard Tune Up
Randy
06/05/2007, Rigging Roundup

Every boat that we considered during our selection process had the option of bringing all of the sail controls back to the cockpit. Except the one we bought. Given that this safety feature was a very high priority for us you can guess how much we like everything else about the boat.

I had to go forward to put the second reef in during a squall with 35 knot sustained winds recently. No big deal to the old salts I'm sure. For my part, having to reef the main sail down with no luff line in big wind and seas from the fore deck is not my idea of fun. It is very hard to communicate with the helm in high winds from the fore deck and you are a lot more exposed which makes everything more difficult. If you're putting the second reef in you should probably be jacked in which complicates movement. It can also be difficult to make the reef point tack reach the clip if the sail doesn't come down flaked the way you want it. I have had to use a bit of line with a bolin on the reef tack to winch the ring down enough to clip in the tack.

Double handing means single handing much of the time and it would be great not to have to wake Hideko up every time I have to reef or shake one out. You just can't beat the comfort and safety of the cockpit for boat operations. Some say, "what if there's a problem at the mast, then you have to go forward anyway". True, but only then. The other 50 times you pull down the luff line while slipping the halyard, then bring in the leach line, tighten up the halyard and voila. All while staying nice and dry in the cockpit and having full control of the helm in case you get a big wave or whatever.

I had extensive discussions with the guys at FKG in Saint Martin about this matter and I believe that they are highly skilled riggers. Unfortunately their frank advice and my detailed examination of the options caused us to abandon the goal of bringing reefing capability to the cockpit at this juncture.

It would be complex to keep everything fair and I am guessing that the deck would need to be built up in areas where standing blocks, organizers and other hardware would end up. That said, the main set back was the rig itself. Our boat has three reef points with luff rings that clip in and leach lines that run through the boom to jammers at the mast end of the boom. Adding luff lines to bring to the cockpit was not something the current rig would accommodate easily. Switching to single line reefing would also require big changes. Defeated, temporarily, I fell back to an intermediate position.

To make reefing somewhat easier I had a reefing winch added to the back of the mast directly below the boom where the reef lines exit. Our boom originally had winches on port and starboard. The third winch has made the path for the leach lines much more fair than when running to the side mounted winches. It also allows me to leave the leach line on the winch which is nice because the boom jammers are hard to set under tension and not super reliable unless they have loaded up while set. The other benefit is that I can have the halyard on the starboard winch and I can use the port winch as a come-along to bring the reef cringle down to where I can clip it (another reason I'd prefer luff lines).

Our boat was designed to allow the windlass capstan to crank the halyard when raising the main. I'm not keen on the windlass solution for raising the main. The windlass is designed to haul rode and it burns the lines due to the capstan design and imperfect human tailing (perhaps I'm just not good at it). It is also hard to look down to keep the line from wrapping while also looking up to see that the battens are clear of the jacks and that none of the reef lines are tangled, etceteras. I don't like having the anchor locker hatch open if it is bumpy. Perhaps I'm biased but it just seems like another job that should be done from the cockpit.

After a short discussion with the riggers we came up with a simple solution. First we swapped the main halyard with the storm jib halyard. This put the main halyard on the helm side of the mast. Then we added an eye to the mast at a spot that would allow the halyard to lead fair back to the primary winch at the helm through a snatch block.

The main halyard is not living in the cockpit as I originally wanted but I now get 90% of the benefit. To raise the main I go forward and pull the sail up as far as possible by hand with the clutch closed (I can skip this bit if single handing in winds too tricky for the auto pilot). Then I clip the halyard into the snatch block on the new eye and bring the halyard back to the helm. I put the halyard on the self-tailing powered primary winch and press the button with my foot. This allows me to steer the boat with both hands, watch the sail with perfect visibility and let the winch do the work. When the sail is close to the top I bring the halyard tail forward, put it on the starboard mast winch and tighten it up leaving the halyard on the mast winch with the mast clutch closed. Perfect.

P.S. We've done 500 miles with this new rig setup and it is great. Previously if we were had an hour hop I would often motor even if the wind was good just because it was too much work to raise the main for such a short trip. I have used the windlass a few times but I think it is more hassel than it is worth, so I switched to the manual mast winch. This is hard work. Cats have heavy main sails with lots of roach, full battens and big square footage. The main is the power sail on most cats. Ours is 947 square feet. I never timed myself but it took quite a while to get the main all the way up the 73' above the water stick. If we just motored we'd be there.

Now we put the sails up every chance we get. Hideko can raise the main easily as well. Just go forward and grab the halyard, snap it in, bring it back, put it on the winch and press the button. You have great visibility and control of the boat so you don't typically get hung up when raising the main from the cockpit. The benefit has just emboldened me to continue to look for a way to bring all the lines back!

Saint Martin

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