Leela Year Six - Across the Pacific

Well.... to our own surprise here we are

17 May 2022 | Vuda Marina, Lautoka, Fiji
26 January 2022 | Australia
08 November 2021 | Viti Levu, Fiji
02 September 2021 | Paradise Resort, Taveuni
29 August 2021 | Paradise Resort, Taveuni, Fiji
10 August 2021 | Western S Pacific
19 June 2021 | New Jersey
14 March 2021 | At sea
05 March 2021 | Raroia, Tuamotus
05 February 2021 | Raivavae, The Australs Group, French Polynesia
04 February 2021 | Raivavae, The Australs Group, French Polynesia
17 January 2021 | Tahiti
13 December 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti
14 November 2020 | Pape’ete, Tahiti
14 November 2020 | Tahiti
01 October 2020 | Fakarava
24 September 2020 | Fakarava South Pass
19 August 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti
02 August 2020 | Pape’ete, French Polynesia
09 July 2020 | Papeete, Tahiti

Always room for Improvement

17 January 2021 | Tahiti
After nine years of ownership and two years of living aboard we have tweaked most of the boat but it is surprisingly still evolving. Having settled into 'normal' life on the Tahiti waterfront, waiting for deliveries, we needed some projects to get our teeth into and the fridge offered it's services.

The fridge has always worked well but been a horror to use. Following the line of the hull, it tapers towards the bottom and also towards the back. This created multiple wedge shaped slots that everything slides into when you move something.

We decided that custom shaped bins would make life easier so we set off. It seemed like a pretty easy job. We decided to go with plexiglass as it is readily available and you can see what is inside. We made rough cardboard mockups then I measured up the angles and drew plans to scale in Powerpoint. We have found this to be a remarkably useful 2D technical drawing tool and have completed a number of projects this way.

Unfortunately this was a complex 3D problem and extracting the sloping face dimensions from the plan proved troublesome so we assembled the other four sides and traced those panels.

Assembly was a slow process of one edge at a time. We had to use the end of the sofa as our perpendicular former.

The clear epoxy seems to be holding fine. We did not use plexi glues because they are not readily available here and require tighter joint tolerances than we can achieve. Anyway, it all took several days but we are very happy with the results. Time will tell if it is robust enough.

On the subject of boat improvements, I have put together a slide pack outlining all the major improvements and most of the small tweaks that we have done to make Leela more suitable as a world traveler. The file can be downloaded here.

We are now ready to start adventuring again so we are watching the weather for an opportunity to head about 400 miles south of here to Ravavai, in the very remote Australs archipelago. Satellite comms only down there so no pics for a while.

Stay safe

Battery Upgrade Notes (updated)

14 November 2020 | Tahiti
UPDATE: The system continues to perform amazingly but some of the components have evolved.

NOTE: It may not be clear from the text below (because I assumed it was obvious....) but the charging system philosophy is to have every possible charging source connected directly to the large and ever-hungry house Li bank then let that bank keep the smaller and more finicky starter battery topped up using a DC-DC charger. doing the reverse, as I have seen some do, VERY severely limits the ability to make use of charging sources to fill the house bank and, IMHO, completely negates the primary benefit of Li batteries which is their ability to take full charge rate until almost fully charged.

We recently bit the (financial) bullet and switched to Lithium batteries or, more precisely, Lithium Phosphate batteries, LiFePO4. This technology has been around for the skilled home builders and techies for a while but it has only recently matured sufficiently for the 'average' cruiser. I will go through the whole process below but first. "Why did we do it?" and "did it work?"

Why we did it:
Lead acid batteries have a couple of significant problems that, in combination, can make life miserable on a blue water cruising boat. The first is the need to get them to 100% charged pretty much every use cycle to prevent sulphation. The second is that their ability to take charge tapers off significantly as they become charged. This is not a problem if you are plugged into shore power and popping out for the weekend or the odd longer trip but when you are at anchor for months at a time, relying on solar power or the engine it is a real challenge. There are simply not enough charging hours in the day for the solar to get the batteries to 100% at a low rate of charge. It is particularly infuriating to have solar panels that can push 30A into the batteries only able to provide 10A or less due to charge tapering. Running a 59hp engine with a 120A alternator to provide 10A is even more annoying. The other issue is that you should only discharge them to 50% capacity and even that is not ideal. The end result of this is that a lot of time is spent managing a limited power budget and trying to keep the batteries 'happy'.

The key benefits of LiFePO4 batteries are that they can be discharged to less than 20% capacity without damage, they don't need to be charged to 100% and they take all the charge you can give them until they are almost fully charged. In theory we could hit the new batteries with 150A continuously until they are charged. This means the solar will be maxed out until the batteries are full and likewise the engine if required. No throwing needed power away due to charge tapering.

Did it work?
Amazing. Power management has gone from being a major preoccupation to almost forgotten. We can run the watermaker whenever we want. We can defrost the refrigerator whenever we want. It is pretty much a non-issue. Slight disclaimer, we did increase the solar capacity from 400w to 600w as well but without the battery change this would have been a largely worthless exercise.

Other benefits were shedding 170lb. We went from 425ah of AGM batteries (4 x 6v in series/parallel) to 375ah of LiFePO4 batteries (3 x 12v in series), more than enough given the increased ability to discharge. This weight loss was actually a mixed blessing as I'm still trying to get some weight migrated to the Stbd side to re-trim the boat.... The stable voltage (the batteries are theoretically capable of sustaining an astonishing 240A continuous discharge rate so there is negligible voltage drop) improves watermaker efficiency a little.

The planning:
This is not a trivial exercise. Every component in the power system has to be checked for compatibility with the particular requirements of LiFePO4 batteries. A few will need to be replaced. This is not my particular area of expertise and the consequences of getting it wrong are serious so I enlisted the help of Rod from Compass Marine . Over the years Rod has been helpful on a number of challenges, particularly when we were newbies. I would not hesitate in recommending him. We discussed various battery options and went for the Lithionics 12v 125A G31. They have a built in BMS (Battery Management System) with bluetooth communications that allow monitoring by app. They are not the cheapest batteries but they have a good reputation and the support was stellar. Importantly, the dimensions worked for our battery box. No regrets there.

Anyway, here was our system analysis.

Solar charger - Morningstar Tristar MPPT45 - reprogram. This was a doddle. Lithionics not only provided all the setup parameters but also a configuration file that I just had to load into the solar controller.

UPDATE: I managed to blow up the solar regulator by the dumb practice of isolating the reg by switching both sides of the reg on a double poled breaker. Why? Because I had one and didn't think it through. Anyway I discovered that simultaneous off is fine but simultaneous on is definitely not. Hooking up the fairly substantial solar input before the regulator electronics are fully powered up is definitely NOT. Anyway the dead beast was replaced with a Victron MPPT 100/50. This has worked very well and the ability to monitor and configure it via a Bluetooth app is awesome.
MPPT Charger

Alternator regulator - Balmar MC612 - reprogram. Lithionics provided all the parameters but these things are a pain to reprogram using a magnet on a reed switch so I learned from the web that taking it out of the engine room, powering it up on the bench, reprogramming it and then reinstalling it was MUCH easier. We now have a custom loom set up in case we need to do this again in the future.

Alternator - AMP 125SE SER 125se2363 with serpentine belt - keep but derate. This alternator is theoretically rated for 120A continuous but lead acid batteries never really test it. LiFePO4 batteries WILL test it and, in a small and poorly ventilated sailboat engine room in the tropics it is not going to last. We derated the alternator to 50% via the Balmar regulator, or 60A max current. This reduced the risk of overheating and we replaced the defective regulator alternator temperature sensor as a backup. This sounds drastic but we rarely use the engine for charging and 60A continuous is still way better than the previous 10A or less.

UPDATE: The alternator eventually died. Possibly due to the additional load but it was a truck alternator with dreadful cooling and of uncertain vintage, probably more than 20yrs old. Anyway, that has recently been replaced by a Balmar XT170. EXPENSIVE but designed for the job with much improved cooling and less heat generation. This has been derated to about 100A to further improve it's longevity.


Starter battery charger - Xantrex Echo Charger - replace. The echo charger needs both battery sets to have the same charging profile and we chose to leave the starter battery as an AGM. We replaced the echo charger with a Victron energy Orion Tr Smart DC/DC charger that can be (Bluetooth) configured to support a wide range of charging profiles. This has been problem free.

Battery Monitor - Xantrex - reprogram. Lithionics provided all the parameters and it matches the battery charge state reasonably well but with Bluetooth access to the batteries and the reduced need to monitor charge state this is only used to monitor current flow. Newer models probably have Li settings.

UPDATE: This sort of works but we never look at it anyway. It is just too easy to monitor the batteries in the app and it has ceased to be an obsession in any event.

Shore Charger - Xantrex Truecharge2 - toss. This (fairly new) shore charger is just not configurable for LiFePO4 batteries. We cannot envisage needing a shore charger for the foreseeable future so we will replace it when required. Apparently Xantrex are coming out with an Li compatible shore charger but others are already available.

UPDATE: We still don't use it but perhaps in Tasmania it will be useful so we have installed a Victron Blue Smart IP22 Charger. Works fine and is app configurable - love it.

Victron Shore Charger

Alternator Protection Device - previously not required - install. One of the less pleasant characteristics of the LiFePO4 BMS is it's ability to instantaneously go open circuit if it sees something it doesn't like. If the alternator is cranking out current when this happens the back-EMF will fry the alternator. We installed a Sterling ProProtect APD to address this problem.

The installation:
We procured new battery leads and made sure we had all the breakers and fuses needed for the different components then wrote up a step by step procedure for the changeover while we were waiting for the stuff to get delivered. This proved to be invaluable. We had basically rehearsed and reviewed the whole process and we managed to complete the change out in two days, including the solar upgrade. It has been trouble free ever since. Not a small project but definitely one of the most impactful upgrades we have made to Leela.

Final thoughts:
1. If you spend most of your time at a dock this is not a good investment. For anyone spending a lot of time on passage or at anchor it has huge benefits.
2. Unless this is your area of expertise get good engineering support. There are lots of potential pitfalls.
3. Plan very carefully, particularly if you are doing this in a remote area. It only takes missing a tiny thing to stop you in your tracks.
4. These are not Lithium Ion batteries. They have an entirely different chemistry and can be shipped internationally without problems.

There is a lot of good information about this and many other topics on the Compass Marine website.

Using the Iridium GO - Update

03 November 2019 | Nuku Hiva
Graham Openshaw
WARNING: Unless you are a current or potential Iridium GO user you should probably ignore this post.

NOTE: All content is my opinion based on my limited experience and is not represented as definitive fact.

I wrote about this a few years ago but we use it differently now so our impressions need an update. We have a love/hate relationship with the GO. On the one hand it is remarkable that we can communicate relatively easily from anywhere on the planet. On the other hand it is partially crippled by some of the worst software I have come across since the 1980’s. More on that later. The following is a summary of how we use it and how we get round some of the limitations.

The GO tools that we use come in three parts:
1. The basic GO app that we use to configure the device, send and receive texts, make phone calls and set up tracking.
2. The Iridium mail and web app that we use to access our Iridium mail account and access the Internet. It has other tools that we have no need for.
3. Our add-on Xgate account that we use as an additional mail portal and to download weather from Weathertrack.
The Iridium mail and the Xgate mail are basically the same software, written by Global Marine Networks (GMN), with some puzzling differences. More on that later.

Initially we used the native email accounts but that resulted in chaos with people having to send to different addresses depending on where we were. Now we just auto-forward emails from our personal account to Xgate and from our business account to MyIridium. Both are configured with the appropriate reply-to address making this transparent to the senders. We set a bigmail filter limit of 50kb on the business account and 300kb on the personal account to catch egregiously large emails. As we know there is still a copy on our native email accounts we normally delete bigmails unless it is something we need to see quickly, in which case we start the download and go have a cup of tea (using the GO requires a LOT of tea....).

There is a good reason not to use the native MyIridium account. The Xgate account can be accessed over any network such as wifi. In their dubious wisdom Iridium have seen fit to have this capability removed in their version of the app, presumably to force more airtime use in the days before ‘unlimited’ plans. This means that if you have bigmail on the account and you are sitting in Starbucks using their wifi you can still only download the email over the satellite link. This limitation was why we got the Xgate account in the first place but using the forwarding strategy deals with this as well.

The Xgate email software is seriously buggy. There are some addresses that it refuses to reply to. The app crashes as soon as you try and send the response to the outbox or save an edited response. Once it takes a dislike to someone thats it. It will always crash. After losing many replies we have taken to composing responses in a text editor, in our case Google Keep, and pasting them into the response so that we don’t lose the whole effort. The only way to deal with these recalcitrant accounts is to cut and paste the received email into the text editor, compose your reply and paste the whole lot into a new email message. What fun.... I have a group email from the SSB net admin that I simply cannot respond to without resynthesizing the address list - yuk. This is an enormously frustrating bug that I have communicated to GMN with zero useful response.

More seriously It sometimes goes through the complete download process, apparently normally, only to find that there are no new messages in the inbox. There is no way to either recover the missing message or find out who it was from. This is very disturbing and a major no no in an e-mail app. Again, I am getting no useful response from GMN. This lack of responsiveness to significant failings that I know others are experiencing is very strange. I am beginning to wonder if the original software author has departed and they have no idea how to maintain it. It needs a rewrite from the ground up anyway.

Strangely, we seem to have less of these problems with the MyIridium version of the software but we probably use it less. I might try switching apps for some tasks to see if it is actually more stable.

We use email as follows:
1. As normal email
2. To retrieve GRIBs into WeatherTrack (we have a backup Predictwind account but we really do not like the PW philosophy or software. That needs to be a separate post)
3. To retrieve weather data such as synoptic charts from Saildocs
4. To post blog posts to Sailblogs (with image - subject to the limitations below).

The following is not a bug; it is a ‘feature’. When downloading a larger file/image there are occasional random timeouts. Most of the time the software recovers from them automatically but very occasionally you need to manually restart the process. Sending even a small image is a different challenge altogether. During send there are fake timeouts. The first occurs at (as I recollect) 90secs, it might be 30secs but it is always the same, the second after another 60secs and the third after another 60secs. At that point the transmission always shuts down and has to be manually restarted. These are not timeouts. They are programmed break points. This artificially limits the send to small chunks before a manual restart is required. The impact of this is that you might need to monitor the send and restart it dozens of times over several hours just to send one file. It is difficult to see a technical reason for this as it ends up using much more airtime with repeated restarts. Given this, in my opinion, it is hard to see this as anything other than a mechanism to make the process as difficult as possible to discourage use. It does this well but it is utterly infuriating. This definitely occurs in Xgate but I need to test more with the MyIridium account.

Unlike shore-based email accounts, Xgate email is POP3 so only received once, then it is no longer available on the server so it can only be downloaded to one device. in order to prevent Xgate emails being scattered across different devices we use the iPad as the primary email device. We have found the Android software even less stable than the IOS version and no longer use it. We keep a backup IPad configured for all our critical tasks.

The unlimited texting capability seems very attractive but we use it less than expected as there are caveats.

The problem is that we can send and receive texts at no additional cost to us but if the recipient texts back from a land service to the iridium phone it can be very expensive and it is difficult to find out the actual cost. If there is someone you particularly want to hold text conversations with then it might be worth them contacting their provider and determining the actual cost. They can send a text from an Iridium website. This is good for emergency communications but it does not allow the normal flow of texting because they cannot just reply to your response without incurring charges.

Text conversations with other boats are somewhat useful but Inreach users and those without an unlimited plan may incur significant costs. Text conversations are most useful between two iridium GO users with an unlimited account as both have free unlimited texting (you need to make that clear on your boat card).

We mainly get weather data via email but occasionally via the Predictwind Offshore App. If we want to use a Predictwind GRIB in a different app such as getting a European model into WeatherTrack we just request the file through the app but via email. It can then be used elsewhere. We used to do this a lot when the Euro model was more reliable than the GFS model but since the launch of the completely rewritten GFS model this year we think it now has the edge over the Euro model and use it exclusively. We have never had much luck with the PW models.

This has definitely exceeded expectations but is a little complex and may not always be possible. With the setup described below we can access and interact reasonably well with a surprising large number of websites including Facebook, the Bing search engine, Wikipedia (DONATE PLEASE), The Guardian, NYT. Sailblogs (including the console which works remarkably well) and many others. No Google sites seem to work.

Our setup is as follows:

We do not use the built in browser in the Mail and Web app. It is very clunky and works with very few sites. It does not work with Facebook.

We use the IOS Opera Mini browser configured for maximum savings, no images. A connection can be established in one of two ways:
1. Using the (very clunky) connection control in the Iridium Mail and Web app.
2. Using the menu options on the GO itself.

The latter seems to be more stable but you need to go into the wifi settings and set the proxy to automatic then restart the wifi.

We have images switched off normally but occasionally we need to download them, often because buttons cannot be identified due to poor HTML coding. In that case we just modify the browser settings to download low quality images and reload the page. This will need another cup of tea.....

Here are the catches:
1. There is no automatic proxy option in Android and I have not been able to find the actual proxy address.
2. Starting the connection from the Android Mail and Web app does not appear to allow access from the Opera Mini browser. I’ve not been able to make this work at all.
3. If you have a US Apple account the Opera Mini browser is no longer available in the App Store unless you have previously downloaded it.

TIP: If a page is loading correctly the screen will go blank before the green bar extends to 50%. If this does not happen restart the browser and start again (more tea.....).

I am still trying to find another browser to replace the capabilities of the Opera Mini browser but no luck so far. I have also written to them imploring them to restore it to the App Store with no response - surprise surprise.

We have 150 minutes a month of voice calls that we rarely seem to use. One inhibitor is that it is impossible to monitor usage from offshore and overages are expensive. This is frustrating because the phone knows how many minutes it has used but will not tell you. Another ploy to limit use or encourage overages?

IMPORTANT: Do NOT make voice calls from a device with the wifi proxy set to automatic as all the voice traffic will route through the proxy server. We use a phone for voice calls to avoid this issue.

When we are on passage we set up tracking for every four hours and send it to followingsea.net (previously cruisersat.net). They autoforward it to our Sailblogs tracking. This needed some help from both support services but works well.

At the moment Predictwind seems to have the most flexible account options. Most importantly the account can be suspended when not in use without either losing your number or incurring ridiculously high costs. They can also send a notification email when you have used up 80% of your allotted minutes.

Predictwind have a satellite portal allowing you to monitor usage but it cannot be accessed via the satphone - go figure......

Summary? A great device but much harder to use than it should be.

If I have missed the point anywhere or you have additional information please do let me know. I certainly don’t consider myself an authority on using this device and would like to know more.

The Passage Making Setup

23 August 2019 | Nuku Hiva
For the long downwind passage we used a modified Twizzle or Simbo rig

This consists of two genoas on the furler that can either be deployed 'wing on wing' or used as a single genoa with the sails laid on top of one another. Normally it requires twin poles that we do not have so we used the pole on the upwind side and the boom on the downwind side. This worked fine but prevented us using the main in conjunction with the genoas. If I did it again I might try not using a pole on the downwind side and incorporating the reefed main. It is well described in the attached article.

The setup worked very well. We went several days reaching with the sails laid on one another without problem then switched to the downwind setup. It was fast and could be reefed by one person from the cockpit very quickly. The boat was well balanced, despite the different sized genoas and showed no tendency to broach, even at the occasional 10kts, although we still needed warps to deal with the aft quartering seas (more on that later). Despite the benefits I remain somewhat ambivilant.

It put enormous strain on the furler and furling line, enough to destroy most of the furler line running blocks. We have an oversized furler system that seems none the worse for the trip but it felt like unnecessary risk at times. As we had configured it, the operating window was from Port 120deg to Starboard 160deg which happened to work OK for us but got tight. With the boom and the pole out it was not a trivial job to reconfigure for broad reaching.

The Hydrovane was remarkably effective, even downwind in difficult conditions. I was expecting to get it set up and tested then put it away for emergencies but we ended up using it most of the way. It was subtle but it actually seemed to provide a smoother ride than the very sophisticated autopilot. The only time it was insufficient was when we needed to sail close to the edge of the working envelope of the rig. The Hydrovane did not hold us to the angle tightly enough causing the sails to flog. Using both the autopilot and the Hydrovane together worked well in those circumstances although care was needed to make sure they worked together and did not fight one another.

In big following seas (most of the passage) we trailed warps to help keep the stern in line when surfing off wave faces. This consisted of 109' of 3/4" nylon anchor rode, 10' of chain and a fender. Above 18kts it had no apparent effect on boat speed and may have been faster because it helped prevent the boat slewing sideways then rolling on the waves. Apart from being very uncomfortable, this sideways slide unbalances the sails. This use of warps made the Hydrovane more effective and also make the ride much more comfortable and (so far) has prevented boarding seas. It is pretty much our go to solution for following seas in anything over about 18kts true now.

We had very few equipment failures on the passage. The whisker pole went from being a telescopic long pole to being a fixed length short pole when the extension line broke. This meant we had to stay quite heavily reefed to keep the sail shape. Fortunately there was enough wind to make this necessary anyway. The furler line blocks were easily bypassed or replaced. The masthead light has gone intermittent. It is probably an electronics problem in the LED light but I will check the masthead connection when we get to flat water (SOON I hope). The SSB radio worked as well as ever (not at all....).

All in all we were very happy with Leela's performance. We were much faster than we anticipated. We were reasonably comfortable in the robust conditions and we got here pretty much in one piece. What more could you ask for?

Scary Stuff

17 March 2019
Graham Openshaw
Even after six years there are a few parts of Leela that have not been closely inspected. After today's experience that ends now. We had never needed to remove the steering chain that goes over a sprocket on the wheel hub and connects to the steering cables.

Anyway, we decided to replace the steering cables as a precaution before going blue water. The photo is exactly as found. This is a critical center link in the steering chain. If it failed the two chain sections would fall down the pedestal and prevent wheel steering. In the worst case they could jam the cables and prevent the autopilot working.

So... neither split pin has been flared at all and one has almost fallen out. The way the chain was installed this opening link was not visible until the chain was removed from the pedestal. The previous owners were not DIY buffs so this was almost certainly yard work.

The lesson for us with this and the no-brand cutlass bearing that came unglued, is to trust no one and check everything. I'm pretty sure this is our last 'unexplored' territory but I'm going to lose some sleep thinking about it.

The good news today is we have reached the turning point. The steering is in pieces, the autopilot is disassembled, there are bits of Hydrovane scattered all over the boat, the prop shaft, stuffing box and cutlass bearing are all out, the boat is at maximum (and impressive) disruption. BUT, now we can start putting stuff back together having considerably de-risked our future travels. All good news - apart from needing some small and obscure parts that are almost certainly not available in Panama - it's a boat.....

Remote iPad Display - UPDATED

06 January 2019 | Cartegena
A number of people have asked me how to use a remote iPad as a cockpit screen for a PC that is safely down below. This is particularly useful for those using OpenCPN for either direct navigation or display of satellite imagery (more on that later).

UPDATE: Complements of Ted Owens, a fellow Suzie 2 rally member. If you do not need the extended functionality of OpenCPN such as selecting chart groups and switching between charts, the iPad app SEAiq provides a simple KAP charting tool. At first glance this works fine although there are no file management tools so I would add and remove charts as needed. It is definitely more electronically robust but the unpredictable switching between charts and satellite imagery does not work for me. I am talking to the author to see if there is any chart selection capability planned.

If you want to use OpenCPN I have finally managed to create a solution that seems to be reasonably robust using the Splashtop application. This is a free app pair. Splashtop server goes on the PC and the client app goes on the iPad. I change the PC screen resolution to something that has a similar ratio to the iPad screen in order to maximize real estate. In my case this is 1400:1050 but yours may be different. It takes a bit of getting used to but this app provides reasonable remote control of the PC including panning and zooming and selecting and deselecting charts.

So - here is the wrinkle. both the PC and the iPad need to be on the same network and the following WiFi networks do not work:
1. The multi-function display (Raymarine anyway but probably all of them)
2. The Iridium GO
3. Smartphone hotspots

What does work is a cheap WiFi router. Many of them come with external power supplies that provide 12V so they can be hacked to connect to the boat 12V system. To my surprise there were no real issues with not being on the internet. Some devices ask if you want to create a local network but it works fine. You can also connect your MFD to this network if you want to.

For me this is no more than an additional navigational aid. I would not want to rely on anything as complex and unreliable as a networked Windows PC as my primary navigation source. Our navigation capability in order of approximate priority, depending on chart quality is as follows:

1. Raymarine MFD running Navionics+
2. iPad 1 running Navionics+
3. iPad 1 running Garmin Bluechart (at the moment......)
4. PC running OpenCPN with various charts and satellite imagery
5. iPad 2 running Navionics+
6. iPad 2 running Garmin Bluechart (at the moment......)
7. Smartphone providing Lat/Longs
8. Paper passagemaking charts
9. Multiple bluetooth GPS devices
10. A sextant (we need to be in REAL trouble for this to come out....)

If OpenCPN becomes more prominent in our navigation hierarchy we might get another minimal PC to provide redundancy but I am loath to add to the electronic clutter and have another thing to maintain.

Feel free to ask questions or proffer alternative solutions.

Streaming Warps

14 December 2018 | Off Cartegena
This technique is as old as sailing but seems rarely used these days. We were having a pretty boisterous time yesterday the wind was 25-30kts, sometimes more and dead astern. The seas were 12-14' on the Stern quarter. The motion was not pleasant. We we're yawing off the tops of the waves, sliding down them sideways, which induced considerable roll and then doing it all again. The autpilot was managing it remarkably well but working really hard.

After copping a couple of boarding waves over the stern quarter we decided we needed to do something about it so we used a technique we learned at a seminar held by Rene Teulering in Sint Maarten on crossing the Pacific.

We rigged ten feet of anchor chain to our Stern anchor rode then attached a fender to the connection point. We streamed 100' of rode from the stern in a loop attached to a Stern cleat. Then we tossed the chain / fender combo over the transom. The effect was immediate and dramatic. The fender submerged and the rode tension increased. When the boat started to yaw the rode grabbed it and damped the whole motion down. The yaw was dramatically reduced, the roll pretty much disappeared and the autopilot was much relieved. We also had no more boarding waves. There was little impact if any on boat speed. We may actually have gone faster without all the yawing. Rene's rule of thumb was:
25kt = 1 Fender
30kt = 2
35kt = 3

Below 20kts it was not really needed and the drag became more apparent. Anyway we will not head out into any more strong downwinders without this.

If you do decide to try it there are a couple of things worth noting;
1. Stream the whole rode before deploying the fender. The loads get high
2. Likewise, rig in a way that you can recover it onto a winch unless you want to stop.

Happy sailing!

No More Belt Dust!

11 February 2018
The previous owner of Leela installed a high power alternator but (like many things) did not finish the job. With only a single V belt on the larger alternator, the wear rate was ridiculous and the engine was often covered in belt dust. Unfortunately I did not know any better so it has taken me four years to fix...

We now have a serpentine belt and pullies that are more than capable of handling the 125A alternator. As important , we fitted a tension adjuster system so no more jamming a hammer down the side of the alternator to create tension while trying to tighten up the locking bolt. Now all I need to do is turn the adjuster bolt until the tension is correct and tighten up. I have no idea why this is not standard kit on these engines. The whole package was supplied by Electromax, in Canada. The component quality and service were impeccable.

As I had been cranking on the tension to try and prevent the (inevitable) slip we also had the alternator rebuilt with new bearings so that should be good for the trip.

Subscribing to the Blog

02 December 2017 | Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten
It is a drag to keep going back to a blog or website to see if anything has changed so, after a number of requests, I have been investigating various options to allow you to subscribe to the blog so that you get an email when there is a new post instead of having to keep checking in.

The easiest option would be for me to use a third-party email subscription service like MailChimp. Unfortunately these don't seem to protect subscriber privacy at all well and there is a risk of them harvesting and exploiting your email addresses which is not going to happen.

The best option I have found is IFTTT. This is a service that you subscribe to that can do a remarkable number of automation tasks - most of which are probably useless..... it will need your email address of course but you control the privacy settings and you may actually find it useful for checking in on other web pages that change infrequently. All you need to do when you have set it up is to login to your IFTTT account and manage your privacy settings so that it doesn't send you promotional emails, but this seems to be fairly straightforward. Happy to help if needed.

The link to the IFTTT setup page is here.


The RSS feed link you will need for the blog is:


memberdir directly follows the question mark with no space.

I hope this is useful. Please provide feedback in the comments.


A Lesson Learned

24 November 2017 | St Maarten
We have a hydraulic backstay adjuster that some see as an over-complication but I think it is an essential element of boat tuning, particularly for managing heavy weather. However, it comes with drawbacks. A seal failure can put the rig out of action and it suffers from creep over time. That is the one that got us. The backstay slackened off while in the hard in St Kitts. This put sufficient slack in the forstay and furler tubing that it flogged itself to death during the tropical storms the boat experienced. Hence the new furler system. We could have just replaced the tubing but the drum was old and tired so a complete new system made sense.

The emergency adjuster can be used to replace the hydraulic adjuster at sea if needed and it will always be used when the boat is stacked in future. The rigging shop made this up out of largely second hand bits that kept the price down a bit.

At Last......

14 November 2017 | St Kitts (still....)
We finally got the second new stuffing box yesterday, the first having been sent to Papua New Guinea (long story....) and it appeared to install OK so we are hoping to launch tomorrow morning. I am still a bit anxious because there appear to be lots of ways to mess up a prop shaft reinstall. We shall see how it goes. As long as it gets us to somewhere with technical services I will be happy to get it checked by a professional. We are both looking forward to getting back on the water after three weeks in a VERY buggy apartment. I will do a tech post on the stuffing box once it is tried and tested but first impressions are very good. It was certainly much easier to pack than the traditional large nut.

A Neat Trick to Remove a Flange

09 November 2017 | St Kitts
After spending several days trying to get hold of a flange puller that would fit my limited space. David of Indigo Yachts in Bassterre taught me a fine method as follows:
0. Liberally apply TD Blaster or your choice of penetrating oil and leave overnight
1. Get a socket that will fit over the gearbox shaft end but is smaller than the prop shaft
2. Get overlength bolts that can pull the two flanges together with the trapped socket between them. The bolts should be just long enough to load the nut. Too long will foul the gearbox case.
3. Apply some tefgel or other anti-siezing compound to the bolts, particularly if they are stainless
4. Gradually tighten the bolts to ease the flange off against the socket
5. When the bolts start to foul the gearbox case remove them and backfill with washers or oversized nuts to reduce the length
6. If the flanges close up before releasing get a second socket and align it with the first with a cardboard tube
7. Repeat this process until the flange comes free.

It took a while but this worked perfectly for me. Good enough that I will not carry a dedicated flange puller but I will secure the required bolts.

This has no Place on an Engine

14 January 2017
One of the least pleasant sounds when you turn the key on a cruiser engine is silence and we have had way too much of it recently. The primary issue seems to have been a loose spade connector on the wire from the key to the starter solenoid. Generally we have been very happy with our Yanmar engine but using a push-on connector for a critical connection on a vibrating engine seems like a crazy thing to do.

It is difficult to effect a real solution. The male spade on the starter is a bit too small to drill a hole and I am loath to solder on it in case the heat affects something inside the housing. For now I have replaced the female on the wire and tyrapped it in place. Not ideal but seems OK at the moment.

Weather - getting there - slowly....

28 March 2015
This has been a struggle. It is probably the most important information after navigation. There are a wealth of possibilities but not all of them have been completely thought through. On absolute requirement was the ability to access the weather by satphone. We have met too many people in remote locations with no way to update their weather data. This definitely reduces choices. We have refined it down to the following:
1. NOAA charts by Xgate email subscription from Saildocs.
2. GRIBS onto the iPad using the Weathertrack app and Xgate. These include wind, wave, precipitation, likelihood of convection etc. it is a good solid app that has not let us down. It also provides basic route analysis (not recommendation like Predictwind below). At this point I like iterating manually in this app more than automating the process. All images are of Weathertrack screens.
3. Listening to Chris Parker on SW using the Sony ICF-SW7600GR World Band Receiver. This can be tricky to tune but has been much better this season since Chris upgraded his antennae.
This combo gives us solid information that we can access and update any time, anywhere, a safety essential from our perspective.

We also have a subscription to Predictwind which promises a more sophisticated weather model and routing guidance but I'm afraid we are not really using it. I'm sure it makes sense for an ocean racer on multi-day legs but it's relevance to our approach of small hops is less clear. Added to this the software is not quite ready for prime time and, for now, the aggravation factor outweighs the added value. It definitely has potential so I plan to stick with it, aggravate the hell out of their tech support (they are actually pretty receptive to user input), and see if it makes more sense later in our travels.

Chris Parker

Mast Pulpits - Love em

28 March 2015
These (AKA Granny bars) are treated with disdain by 'real sailors' and I'm sure the Bristol esthetes who beat us up over sullying the lines with davits will have a cat but WE LOVE THEM!

Before: On a port tack, having left reefing later than you should (who doesn't?), you head down the high sde to throw in a reef but all the gear is on the low side so you duck round the front of the mast and clip yourself tightly to the mast but you still have to hang on with one hand and reefing is NOT a one handed job. You eventually get it done and drag yourself back to the cockpit wet and exhausted swearing that you will reef earlier next time - you won't....

After: You head down the high side, clipped in with a long leash and move into the upside pulpit. Move round to the low side pulpit, stick your rear firmly into the curve of the pulpit, still clipped in on the upside long leash. Use both hands to quickly throw in a reef. Head back to the cockpit the way you came, definitely less stressed if not less wet.

Apart from this enormous safety value we find they make a great grab bar when we are moving down the deck and ducking under the lower shrouds. We are very, very happy with them.

CAUTION: the geometry of fitting these between the staysail sheets, the boomvang and the spinnaker pole is complex. You can avoid a lot of pain by mocking them up with plumbers pipe first (we had the pain and were lucky they fitted as well as they did at the end of the day).

NOTE: A curved top rail makes for much greater security. The more the better.

Tricks - Paint your anodes to make them last

28 March 2015
I know - sure they will last but they won't work..... This is VERY selective painting. The Maxprop anode is a truly dreadful design. Anodes corrode from the outside so let's put the mounting holes as near the side as possible and sell more anodes..... We were losing them within a month so I decided to try painting the area round the mounting holes with liquid electrical tape. It worked perfectly. The anodes stayed on much longer and were more effectively consumed. The liquid tape seemed to hold fine given the somewhat hostile environment (painted onto a chemically reactive substrate being rotated rapidly in salt water was probably not on the list of applications tested). This would appear to be a Maxprop only tip but it may have other applications.

Communications - a VERY mixed bag

25 March 2015
This is a long one. Again, when we bought Leela, there was an SSB radio installed but it was a rusting antique hulk that did not appear to work and would not inspire confidence in any event. I was really unsure whether to go the SSB route or the satphone route. We went the satphone route for a number of reasons including, reduced complexity, reduced capital cost, more reliable communication, etc. but I am still not convinced that this was a good move as it has been a major pain and definitely not good value at this point.

Our first attempt was a Globalstar GSP 1700 phone with an Optimizer modem and OCENS services. This worked great, where it worked at all, which turned out to be anywhere north of Nassau, Bahamas. South of that NADA. Tech support was negligible and I was very disappointed by OCENS who, having advised us that this would be good for us with the full knowledge of our cruising area, essentially walked away from the problem. I eventually managed to terminate the Globalstar contract, sold the phone for a couple of hundred bucks and had to eat the annual fees from OCENS. I will not work with either company again.

So, year two. This time we went Iridium with the new Iridium GO. What can I say? It sort of works. Coverage is good. Voice quality is excellent, if pricey. Email works (this is the sort of). Web browsing is a complete bust and has not delivered a web page in three months of increasingly sporadic efforts. The unlimited data plan is a cynical joke by Iridium given that it is almost impossible to use any data but it is the only plan that does not sell data by the minute whereby you cover the cost of timeouts and dreadful data rates. The most perfidious thing Iridium have done is cripple the email software (a branded copy of Xgate) so that, unlike Xgate, email cannot be downloaded over a network connection. This has serious implications. Every email sent to you, no matter how large, HAS to be downloaded over the satellite link - even if you are sitting in Starbucks with a WIFI connection. Even with the unlimited data plan this is almost impossible in practice as the data rates are normally well below the snail-like 2kb/min. Why is it that telecommunications companies seem to actually go out of their way to hack customers off??? It would appear to be an attempt to drive up usage / revenue but, if so, it is an astoundingly stupid one as it is a major hurdle to usefulness.

The solution? Get an Xgate account as well and essentially ignore the Iridium mail. The Xgate service can be accessed by the fastest available connection which is great if you have some huge attachments sitting in the bigmail folder. The Xgate software is far from perfect. The apps crash with some regularity and I suspect we have lost messages in the process, there are frequent time-outs with no auto-restart so you have to nurse it along with constant supervision, you cannot change the reply-to address so that when you are replying to a message forwarded from another account the recipient replies directly to the Xgate address (a bigger pain than you might think as you tend not to look at the xgate account when you have direct access to your email so messages get missed), it cannot handle PDF attachments at all. and on and on..... you can make it work but it is not really ready for prime time.

So, our communications model at the moment is as follows:
1. Multiple VHF radios for local boat to boat communication

2. An unlocked iPhone with a Bahamas Telecom SIM and tethering capability at $30 for 2gig and 83c/min voice. This is expensive but not dire. We also have a Wilson 3G amplifier that certainly seems to improve coverage incrementally.

3. The Iridium GO with a supplementary Xgate account which we use, when option 2 is not available, to:
a) Download and respond to forwarded copies of most of our emails
b) Pick up NOAA synoptic charts via a subscription call to Saildocs
c) Pick up GRIB files for the weathertrack app
d) download Predictwind routing data (I will talk about weather info in another post)
e) Send and receive text messages (send them to people's email address as direct SMS to Iridium is VERY expensive when they reply to your 'free' text)
f) Post to this blog direct from Xgate
g) Make voice calls (rarely) at $1.17/min

This is all very useful even if it can be a painful process but I have to remind myself that it is pretty remarkable to be able to do this at all so doing it easily might be too big an ask. Probably the single reason I do not begrudge the ridiculously named 'unlimited data' plan is the ability to reliably get high quality weather information at any time enroute. This single capability is worth a LOT.

The Iridium GO has some other capabilities which are potentially useful including:
1. The ability to toss it into a liferaft or take it downtown
2. An emergency call button that provides both information and position (this is not, in my view, a replacement for an epirb) with an optional emergency response service.
3. Social networking apps (not tried)
4. Weather (point forecasts are not really enticing when GRIBS are widely available)

So - bottom line. This stuff is hard with a satphone but I suspect it is harder with an SSB radio and all I have on the boat is a tiny black box and an antenna. That is worth a lot. I just wish the software was more mature.

Iridium GO
Wilson Amplifier

Seafrost Refrigeration - works great

23 March 2015
Our cavernous ice chest and antique cold plate system was clearly not going to work with our energy conservation plans so we lined the interior of the stainless steel ice chest with a minimum of 2" of new insulation and built a new fiberglass liner using pre-formed panels. We the installed a Seafrost 12V system with a freezer bin and ETT controller.
We had limited expectations based on all the refrigeration stories we had read but the result has been absolutely first class. The stuff in the freezer bin stays frozen, the stuff not in it does not freeze and we can make as much ice as we need. What more could you ask?
It is an air/water system and we generally run it on water cooling as the lazarette gets pretty hot. The water pump is a little obtrusive under the galley floor but I plan to move it into the engine compartment at some point.


Watermaker - Works well

22 March 2015
Again, when we purchased Leela, she came "with watermaker". This turned out to be an overweight and under-maintained lump of metal that produced 2gpm in its prime and, at this point, would have been good as a backup anchor - so, after a year of thinking about it, we started again. We ended up getting a Spectra Ventura 200T. The T model is a little more efficient but cannot be used in cold water - suites us... It consumes a manageable 10amps and produces 7-8gph.

The compact modular form makes it ideal for a small boat. We ended up putting it in the wardrobe (thanks Janaki!). There were a few irritations with poorly made plastic parts causing leaks initially but, having battled past that, it has worked flawlessly. The idea that watermakers are a bear to manage and will take up half your life is now a myth. The key to this is the ZIon system (the smaller white block at the upper center of the photo). This injects silver ions during the flush cycle effectively sterilizing the system. The result is we can go up to thirty days between uses without having to pickle the system. Effectively we have to turn it on, make water, flush for a couple of minutes (just a couple of valve changes) and turn it off. Totally simple. The ZIon system is fairly new and is not particularly well documented on the website.

The main reason we installed the watermaker was to prevent having to lug jerrycans of water with my bad back but the liberating effect of a watermaker cannot be underestimated. We hardly use any fuel if we time our journeys well and we carry plenty of food if we forgo fresh stuff so we can head for remote areas for weeks and even months at a time. It also removes the stress and hassle of contaminated tanks due to being supplied bad water - an all too common problem.


Navigation tools - a mixed bag

22 March 2015
We have several layers of navigation redundancy - always a good idea....
The Raymarine E7 with Navionics charts is theoretically our primary tool (the reality is different). We then have both Garmin Bluecharts and Navionics charts on an iPad and Garmin charts on an iPhone. We also have a handheld Garmin GPS. We can get GPS position from our AIS/radio and our satphone and we have waterproof large area charts for general plotting. We also have a plethora of cruising guides with small detail charts. The iPhone and iPad get accurate GPS position from a Bad Elf Bluetooth GPS.

We have Activecaptain data on all our Garmin charts. Navionics decided to go it alone with a social information layer that is proving to be completely useless. I suspect they will end up with Activecaptain before long as it definitely has the momentum. Activecaptain has proven to be remarkably useful for up to date information about anchorages and locations generally. It is constantly being added to and can be downloaded for offline access. The green anchor symbol in the Garmin chart above is an Activecaptain marker. Clicking on it provides both information and reviews. I make a point of contributing whenever I think I can add value.

I said the E7 was theoretically the primary tool but the reality is that the Navionics charts are so appallingly bad for the Bahamas that we barely look at them. The image above shows a typical chart detail for both the Garmin and the Navionics. The highly detailed Garmin data (Explorer charts) has proven to be astoundingly accurate. We anchored happily at this location. Would we have done so without the Garmin charts? I seriously doubt it.

Last year we did at least use the Raymarine for passages because we could create a route on the iPad Navionics app and sync it to the plotter (creating routes on the plotter is a real pain). Anyway, Navionics updated their app and that capability has been removed. Now we barely use the plotter at all. If I could start again I would not buy a Raymarine plotter for these reasons alone - there are others that will be documented later.

Garmin BlueChart
Bad Elf

Garhauer Hardware - Mainly good

22 March 2015
We have a bunch of Garhauer stuff and on the whole we are very happy with it but there are a few annoyances.
1. The rigid boomvang is great - no issues
2. The Davits and the solar panel supports are good although a few corroding set screws are annoying and could have been easily avoided
3. The 'sliding' Genoa cars are a disappointment. They do not move easily (or at all) under load. The reason is pretty obvious. Ball races need to be recirculating. A straight run of ball bearings does not work.
4. A bunch of blocks etc. seem to be well made and working fine so far.


Power System - works well

21 March 2015
When we bought Leela she was "cruise ready", with both wind and solar. Unfortunately both systems were a) ready for the museum and b) trashed by neglect as the last actual cruising owner was several years earlier. Anyway we started again with the desire to go solar only. I hate the noise wind generators make (all of them) and I did not want yet another machine to maintain.

The first thing we did was reduce consumption. The inverter was ejected and we became a totally 12V DC boat. This was less painful than anticipated and will be described in another post. All the lights except the running lights were replaced by LED's, the refrigerator was re-insulated and the old cold plate system replaced, again, more later on this. Energy hungry instruments like the CRT radar display (another museum piece) were replaced.

We then installed 4x100w Renogy solar panels, two on the Bimini and two on the Davits. These were controlled by a Morningstar MPPT controller feeding 450ah of Lifeline AGM batteries.

So far the result has been very gratifying. On a typical Caribbean day we can be running the refrigerator, making water, charging all our iToys and still charging the batteries. Our new shore power lead has never been used and we have never run the engine for power (although we have an oversized alternator with Balmar controller just in case). I don't recollect the batteries ever falling below 75% capacity. We shall see how things go if we head for less sunny climes but that is way off.

We are very happy with the Renogy panels. They were remarkably cheap and surprisingly well built. The Morningstar controller has done what it says on the box - no complaints.


Tricks - Avoiding broken fingers

21 March 2015
Do you have finger-breaker latches? Stick your finger in, feel around for the latch (they are all in different positions), the boat lurches and crack... Anyway, this is one possible solution:
1. Drill a small hole for a pull cord. This is done by holding the latch in the open position (against the wood) and drilling right through from the latch side.
2. Bevel the hole at the latch to prevent fraying.
3. Run some waxed sail line or similar through the hole with a sail repair needle from the latch side
4. Put some beads or similar on the line and run it back through the wood and the latch
5. Tie the two ends of the line round the latch

Don't use wire (we tried....) and don't make it too tight. Either will result in the latch not engaging. Plenty of scope for creative modifications here.

Doyle Sails - Works great

21 March 2015
Let's start with the good stuff, actually GREAT stuff.
When we purchased the boat we received a new Doyle stack pack main. Since then we have added a cruising Genoa and a removable furling staysail. All of them are superb. They set well, drive the boat well, are easy to manage (most of the time) and look superb.

The Doyle service (Salem loft) has been equally good. When we ordered the Genoa Chris asked us where we were going and what kind of sailing we were planning to do and correctly told us we were ordering the wrong sail, too big, too full and too low at the clew. We talked it through and the result was a sail that performs ideally in the environment we are in (windy...).
When we wanted to add a third reef to the fully battened main they could have cludged it on to the sail but instead they unpicked a considerable portion of the sail and added all the reinforcement so neatly that it would be impossible to tell the sail had not been built that way. This included going over a batten pocket.

The removable staysail was built without access to the boat and the care taken to get measurements from the yard and validate them against blueprints (they built the original sails in the 80's) was enormous. It fits perfectly and works very well.

I would not hesitate to recommend these guys.

Doyle Sails

Tech Intro

21 March 2015
After a number of years of picking others brains for ideas and receiving generous help from the cruising community I finally feel I have nearly enough miles under my belt to give something back, mainly in the form of gear reviews, I would not presume to give sailing advice yet. I thought about creating a bunch of posts on Sailnet but then why not the Cruisers & Sailing Forum. Both have been really helpful for us. In the end I decided this was the best place, largely because I can continue to post via satellite phone. I will put links on both sites listing topics and we shall see how it goes.

We underwent a major refit before heading out, with the usual mix of successes and failures. I will briefly document our experience/impressions. If you want more info please add a comment.

IMPORTANT (lawyers please read): these posts represent my lay OPINION and personal experiences. They are not intended to state facts about the worth or otherwise of any product or service.

Tech Stuff

21 March 2015
I am about to start posting a bunch of tech stuff that will probably not be very interesting to many of you (assuming there are even many of 'you' out there....). If you would like to stick to the cruising updates click on the 2015 Cruising link in the right hand column and bookmark the page that appears. Likewise if you just want the tech stuff.
If this process does not work please comment and I will try something else.
Vessel Name: Leela
Vessel Make/Model: Bristol 38.8
Hailing Port: Portsmouth, NH
Crew: Graham and Janaki
We are a Brit and an Australian now based in the wonderful community of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We have a delightful home there but a couple of years ago we began to feel a bit over-domesticated so we thought we would buy another boat and head south. [...]
Leela, a Bristol 38.8 has turned out to be a wonderful cruising boat for us. Some might find it a little cramped by modern standards but it feels like just the right balance of living space and storage to us. She sails like a dream. She is remarkably well balanced and is comfortable in pretty [...]
Leela's Photos - Main
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