Sunday, January 14, 2018

Urban Seashore

One aspect of cruising in a big-city Bay is that a lot of the seashore is urban and not very appealing. But sometimes both Nature and the urban city front can resolve into something special, like the seashore of the Albany Bulb.

20 nautical miles from San Quentin Bay to Berkeley and back

On a cold and rainy winter's day, we set off on a 10 mile reach across the Bay to the Berkeley Marina, and then back along the shoreline to explore the Berkeley lagoon (behind Cesar Chavez Park), the ruins at Fleming Point, and the urban/natural wonderland of the Albany Bulb.

So my photo is not that inspiring - but it was wet and overcast.

This is shallow water cruising, but probably not as bad as many folks might think. It was dead low tide and their was still 3 feet of water all of the way around the shoreline and at the Bulb (see below).

It was nice and sheltered from the South in the little Bay on the North corner of the bulb (picture at top) where I anchored for lunch, and I plan on enjoying this spot again. Right behind the Bulb (to the East) was very sheltered, but we might be on the bottom close to the shoreline across the low tide.

Pic: Ed Puskas

The Bulb is entirely artificial and was part of past efforts to reclaim usable land from the Bay. For a period it was a place of self-expression by local artists, and there are still striking works to enjoy. The piece above is on the shoreline to the left in my photo at top. Today, it is a favorite place for dog walkers and people escaping to decompress from the big city.

An actual photographer's take on the Bulb (pic: Michael Layefsky)

A really nice day's sail, despite the rain, and Little Cat and I will be back soon. 21 nautical miles this trip.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Tohatsu 6hp Outboard 125 Hour Service

The specified service frequency is actually 100 hours, but I'm not perfect, right? I installed the outboard in December 2014, so that is 3 years to accumulate 125 hours, or around 42 hours per year. On the other hand, the last three years have been low mileage as I have been fixing a house at the same time, so that makes those hours on the low-use side of the spectrum.

Flushing the outboard with a mix of Heinz white vinegar. Note the hand cart outboard stand.

First up was getting the outboard off the boat, into the dinghy, out of the dinghy and mounted on the custom hand cart (phew!). One of the mounting clamps was seized and I broke the plastic handle getting it off. First repair: clean and grease the mounting bolt threads.

Then I ran the outboard in a mix of vinegar and water on the hand cart to clean out the water ways. A fresh rinse after made sure that no vinegar was left in the engine. Nothing much in the way of gunk came out.

Two thou feeler gauge on the inlet valve.

The first maintenance job was resetting the tappets. The plug was pulled to make it easier to find Top Dead Center. The plug had good color after 125 hours, and the gap was still in the specified range (of 0.031 - 0.034). I put in a new NGK plug nevertheless.

The book says 0.0024 thousandths for the tappet clearance on the inlet valve and 0.0043 thousandths for the exhaust valve. The top end is noisy on these engines and I had expected that the valve clearances were loose, but they were almost spot on (so I guess they are just noisy engines!).

Original plug still looking good

With the tappets out of the way, the next job was replacing the water pump with a new kit. This was fairly straightforward, but would have been difficult without the great how-to video that I found on youtube at Thank you German Locomotion guy! The old impeller was still in good condition, but the old gasket had welded itself to the housing. I had to scrape it off with a scraper, and it was very stubborn. It had clearly not been assembled with any gasket goo, which really surprised me. I had the whole Tohatsu pump kit, so changed the pump body, bolts and gaskets.

Disassembled water pump. Old parts left, new parts in the box. Note old gasket stuck to housing.

Reassembled and ready to go. Also removed and greased the prop and splined shaft, replaced the prop cotter pin, and replaced the sacrificial anode.

When disassembling the lower unit, I noticed some wear marks half-way up the drive shaft. I did some internet research and discovered that there is a maintenance issue peculiar to extra long-shaft outboards. It turns out that the extra long drive shaft needs a self-lubricating bearing half way up the shaft to stop the drive shaft whipping around (see picture below). Unfortunately, the "self lubricating" bearings tend to dry out after 100 hours or so and can start to become noisy. The solution is to amply lubricate the bearing and shaft - which I did.

Mid shaft bearing and housing inside the outboard leg.

In order to access the mid-shaft bearing, I had to take off the housing extension just above the lower unit (again peculiar to the extra long-shaft model). I found that one of the housing bolts was completely corroded and frozen in place. I tried every trick in the book to get it undone including hitting it with a big hammer and a piece of wood. In the end it took heat judiciously applied to free the bolt from the housing. This confirmed a pattern in which the outboard appeared to have been assembled without lubricating the fasteners. I was very surprised at this because I have consistently found that Japanese built engines are of high quality and well put together. I wonder if the engines are imported in bits and locally assembled?

Next up was stripping and cleaning the carburettor. I viewed this video to demistify the process - thank you "sumogurinet"! Unlike the water pump, I did not purchase a Tohatsu kit, so was unable to replace the needle valve and float. However, all of the gaskets were in good condition and the carb was very clean inside. I have used "Seafoam" fuel stabilizer in every tank of gas, and have always run the float bowl dry after using the outboard. This appears to have paid off and there was no gunk of any kind in the internals of the carb - the float bowl looked as new.

Carburettor refitted. Note the new fuel filter and refurbished fuel line clips.

One problem did arise in that all of the snap clips that hold the fuel lines in place were rusted. It amazes me that a company will go to all of the trouble to design and manufacture a complex machine with good materials so it can live in a saltwater environment, and then put cheap metal clips on the fuel lines! It makes me wonder, again, if the motors are assembled by a third party that has cut costs with hardware. I went to West Marine for replacement clips, but they didn't have any. So, I carefully wire brushed them clean, lubricated them with grease, and put them back on again.

Alternator wires come out the bottom of the outboard.

The last repair was the output wires from the alternator. They had soaked up water, corroded, and broken off. I stripped the wires back to clean copper, and fitted new marine connectors, and finished them off with heat shrink. The wires are fitted standard coming out the bottom the outboard, where they get blasted with water. After the repair, I have fitted them inside the outboard housing so that they will be sheltered from the elements.

The alternator wire connection will now be inside the housing.

The last job was firing up the outboard to make sure that it was all good. I managed to completely flood the engine and had to take the spark plug out to dry out the cylinder. Then a couple of pulls and it was running sweetly again. I boxed up the outboard in old boxes and cardboard to protect it and the boat, and then she was ready to go.

Wrapped and packed on Little Cat Too ready to take back to the boat

In summary: the outboard and all of the replaced and cleaned components were all still in good condition at 125 hours, and would have continued to work fine without replacement for probably quite a while. On the other hand, it was already tricky getting some of the parts apart after 3 years, and this alone is a good reason to service the outboard at the correct time intervals. If fastenings holding the housings or any of the components together completely seize up, then the whole outboard could end up being a throw away, or parts only. For the Ultra Long-Shaft Sail Pro model in particular, there is the issue of the mid-shaft bearing which needs to be periodically lubricated to keep things healthy.

Things that actually needed fixing:
- seized bolt in mid-section housing
- stuck gasket under the waterpump
- seized mounting clamp
- lubricating the mid-shaft bearing and drive shaft
- rusty gas line clamps
- corroded alternator wires

Total Costs: $117.50
- 2 bottles of white vinegar $10
- NGK DCPR6E Spark plug $5
- Carburettor cleaner spray can $9
- Tohatsu water pump kit $44
- Tohatsu fuel filter $11
- Tohatsu anode $5
- Quicksilver outboard grease $13
- West Marine 80/90 lower unit oil $11
- Quicksilver 25/40 motor oil $9.50
- O/board shaft cotter pin

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Refurbishing the Tillers

In addition to the rudder redo, I refurbished and lightened the tillers and tiller bar. The tillers on the Tiki 21 are HEAVY as designed. If you take a look at the tillers on a Tiki 26 or 30, it looks like the same scantlings are used for all three, which is overkill for the little Tiki 21 IMHO.

The weight of the tillers has always bothered me, particularly as they hang off the tops of the rudders, and the rudder hinge points are carrying the weight of the cantilevered tiller arms.

I weighed my tillers and they were around 5.5 lbs each. They needed to be stripped and repainted, so I decided to also judiciously attack them with power tools to take off some of the non-essential bulk.

After paint stripping a sanding

After stripping them of hardware and the reinforcing bindings, I rounded off all of the edges, and cut off anything that wasn't doing much - like several inches of extension at the stern end of the rudders (see top picture). This was a lot of man-hours of work.

Had to work really hard to get all of the old paint and epoxy out of the webs. Also to sand between new coats. This was my method.

I also stripped off the old Brightsides paint using paint strippers, and sanded down to clean wood (this was also many hours of work).

First, three coats of West 207 epoxy (for clear coating)

Against my better judgment, I decided that they would look nice varnished - a ridiculous amount of work commitment, including having to re-coat them every year henceforth. l looked up the Gougeon Brother's Bible and followed their advice that three coats of 207 epoxy, followed by three coats of varnish was the go for a clear varnished finish.

With three coats of 207, and three coats of Epifanes varnish - nice!

That is six coats, allowing each coat to harden, then sanding before the next coat goes on. That is six days - even if you lived in a magic world where you don't have to go to work! In reality, it represents a couple of weeks. Still, they look really nice after the three coats of Epifanes traditional gloss varnish. I used foam brushes for the first time to tip the varnish on, and they worked really well.

Autopilot line attachment point

I included a few custom tweaks during the refurbish. The picture above shows a saddle to attach the auto pilot steering lines to (instead of just tying them around the tiller). The screws for the saddle go right through into a G10 web that was glued into the space behind. I did this so that the loads from the steering lines would be spread to both sides of the tiller arms. It is totally overkill because the loads are low, but I will never have to worry about them coming out.

Tiller bar reinforced holes for articulating with the tillers

Any articulating holes were drilled oversize and filled with hardened epoxy. they were then re-drilled to form a bearing surface and to prevent water from penetrating the surface of the tiller and crossbar.

Rather than wind on all of the binding reinforcements as in the plans, I made an epoxy-sealed hole at the stern-end of the tillers and fitted a through-bolt. In the highly unlikely case of a glue join failure in a tiller, the through bolt will stop the tiller from "unzipping" in half. Thus, I can do without all of the bindings, and it will be much easier to maintain the tillers in the future.

The above picture shows a reinforced hole through the front end of the tillers to accommodate some bungy cord. I use this cord in a loop around the tiller bar to stop it coming apart in a sea way.

Steering gear back on the boat. Still haven't properly reattached the steering lines to their new fittings.

So, after a great deal of work, the steering gear is back on the boat and looks really nice. I am surprised by how a bit of varnish work makes the boat look more attractive. By the time I was finished, the weight of each tiller had been reduced by around 40% (from 5.5 lbs, down to 3.5lbs). The effect seems much more as the tillers "feel" much lighter and don't seem to weigh on the rudders so much. I am really pleased with how this project turned out.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

In The Weeds

Literally in this case, on the edge of the marsh north of Buckeye Pt, China Camp, and looking along the coast towards Jakes Island, Gallinas. Little Cat is among the reeds, but there is still a foot or two of water under the keel at high tide.

Looking North to Jakes Island

This is one of the things that I love about Wharram cats: that you can push into shallow water that excludes most other craft other than dinghies. It is so much fun to gunk hole in shallow water that it would be hard to give up. I am sometimes tempted by the comforts of a displacement monohull (especially pretty and old wooden keel boats), but I would really miss being able to pull up to the shore and and enjoy a coffee with the local wild life.

Towards Buckeye Pt, China Camp State Park.

I usually avoid running the outboard as much as possible, but this was one of those days when the wind was right on the nose heading out with the tide, and right on the nost heading back with the tide. So it was a rare trip where we motor-sailed both ways for some hours (15 nautical miles this trip).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Big Purchases That Were Worth It

The big items that we can no longer do without:

Auto Pilot

Emulating Rory McDougal's "Harry" (the Belcher wind vane for his epic ocean voyages), I have "Frank" the Raymarine ST1000 for my harbor and coastal micro adventures. In terms of the value of having an auto pilot, there is life before Frank, and life after Frank. Frank has changed my life.

12 volt power and Everything That Goes With It

Making the autopilot work practically has been a philosophical journey into evolving complexity on a boat. You want one thing that is good and useful, but it doesn't work unless you have this, and this also.

A really simple boat without the complexity of wiring and batteries etc. etc. is a beautiful thing. But it is a beautiful thing without an autopilot. There is a book about this called Catch 22.

New Sails

If you like to sail, you need good sails. That means new sails from time to time. Some folks almost never get new sails. Old sails work really well most of the time - that is they work well sailing off the wind. Even your auntie's old bloomers will work off the wind. If you ever want to sail into the wind (however), you will need sails that have some shape - that means fresh sails.


The Tiki has a really short rig. That is really good when you get caught in open water with big winds. It is not so good when you are trying to make progress down wind in 5 knots of breeze. Tikis with just the white sails up are really slow off the wind in light air.

The funny thing is that you would think that a spin would be the sail that makes the Tiki go the fastest, but its not true (in my experience). Once the wind is in the 20 knot range, Little Cat will reach faster with the white sails up. BUT, the spin will make the boat go way faster in the mid-wind strengths - in 10-15 knots of true wind speed, Little Cat will sit on 8 - 10 knots or more, for ever, and that is a rate that will really eat up the miles, or power the boat at a good rate against an outgoing tide etc.

Extra Long Shaft

Want to go exploring 50 miles up the coast, but MUST get back within X amount of time?

Want to venture out into a dubious coastal environment with a reputation for permanently detaining the unwary and the unprepared?

Want to take the CEO and the kids for an afternoon on the harbor, and still be married at the end of the day?

YOU need an extra long shaft outboard.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rudder Redo

The rudders on Little Cat were having a hard time. They had performed for eight years without a problem, but were looking beat up. They were also flexing a lot at the head of the rudders where they articulate with the tillers. Although built to plan (unglassed 5/8 plywood), clearly some additional stiffness was required. So, after the hull refit in Summer 2016, the rudders came off for an overhaul. The job required a substantial clean up of the unglassed wood, application of an all-over layer of 6oz glass, and a repaint with plenty of coats.

Encapsulation with 6 oz glass cloth.

The wood cleanup took time. First paint strippers were used to expose the wood. Some water had got under the original epoxy barrier coat in places and the damaged wood had to be gouged out and filled with thickened epoxy. After further sanding and prep, 6 oz glass was laid up with West 205 epoxy, and then followed by two further fill coats.

Reinforcing the rudder bottoms with layers of glass.

Because Little Cat sits on a drying mooring, I wanted extra protection for the bottoms of the rudders, so two extra layers of 6 oz glass were added, and I made sure that there was plenty of glass and epoxy around the vulnerable "front" corner below the bottom hinge.

Finished bottom corner. Filling behind the hinges with epoxy.

The rudders on Little Cat each have three sturdy handmade stainless hinges. These are a departure from the Wharram plans which specify lashings, but I like them as it is easy to remove the rudders to keep up with maintenance. Like any metal in wood, though, they are a PITA to maintain and are inclined to bleed rust stains. I should have removed them for the refit, but ended up treating them with West 650 epoxy coatings in place, and also filled the cavities between hinge and rudder with epoxy.

Another view. Lots of sanding and filling to go.

After all of the epoxy had set, I painted the rudders with two coats of Interlux undercoat, and a single coat of Interlux Brightsides topcoat and put them back on the boat. I went for the sail described above to Half Moon Bay to check if the single layer of 6 oz glass gave the rudders sufficient stiffness, or whether a second layer was required. The rudders seem just right with a single layer - there is a little bit of flex remaining, but the head is now plenty stiff. Adding a second layer would add little but weight. The last job was to get in the water and mark up the water line on the rudders for the antifouling.

Three coats of Interlux Brightsides top coat. Yes, I am proud of my roll and tip technique.

So, the rudders came off again for a further two coats of Interlux Brightsides topcoat.

Three coats of hard antifouling paint.

The last job was three coats of Interlux Fiberglass Bottomkote antifouling below the waterline. The final tally was a layer of 6 oz glass cloth, three coats of epoxy, two coats of primer, and three coats of topcoat (above the water line). It was a lot of work, but now the rudders are stiff, fully protected from water intrusion, and should be looking good for several seasons of sailing.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Can Wharrams Go To Windward?

Of course I know that they can, but I keep coming across "informed" commentary stating as received wisdom that Wharram cats perform very poorly to windward.

This issue has interested me for a long time. When I was growing up sailing with my Dad, I was often told that multihulls, and Wharrams in particular, were death traps only good for off the wind sailing (also that fiberglass would never take on as a boat building material!).

After reading a new thread on this recurring topic on "Wharram Builders and Friends", I decided to record another gps track directly up wind the next time the opportunity presented itself.

Last October I was in the North Bay off San Quentin, and diverted from my journey for a run of several nautical miles directly into a NW breeze coming out of San Quentin Bay (see first image). The wind at the start of the run was about 10 knots true, and built to around 15 knots true by the end of the run next to the Corte Madera marsh (i.e. from right to left in the picture). The tide had just turned, and so we were heading directly into about a knot of outgoing tide, and there was a small chop.

Running the video of the run (above) recorded in GPSAR software there is a legend showing:

- V = speed in knots
- Angle = angle to the wind in real time
- Average Speed = average speed in knots measured over 1,000 meters (1 kilometer, or just over 1/2 of a nautical mile)
- Average VMG = average velocity made good in a direct line upwind over 1,000 meters
- Average Angle = average angle to windward measured over 1,000 meters

The streaming graph at the bottom of the window is a second measurement of average VMG, this time over the default GPSAR distance setting of 500m.

Over the run, speed ranges up to 8 knots and the angle to the wind in real time swings widely from the the mid 30s to high 60 degrees. The problem with using software for measurements like this is that it cannot account for windshifts in the real world - it records the numbers as if the wind was fixed at 290 degrees (in this case). So the boat is not really sailing at 35 degrees to the wind (or 69 degrees), instead the wind has veered in real time in the real world. To get around this problem I set the average angle and speed recordings over 1,000 meters - using a large distance will correct for the small swings in sailing angle caused by wind shifts.

This means that the last two numbers are the most useful: average angle to the wind and average VMG over 1,000 meters. The average angle of the (true) wind ranges from 48 to 58 degrees, and actual progress to windward (VMG) ranges from around 3 to over 4 knots.

Note that progress to windward is about a knot slower on the northerly tacks than it is on the westerly tacks. This reflects how much the boat is sailing into the outgoing tide - the northerly tacks are more directly into the tidal flow.

So what does it all mean? On this day, Little Cat was tacking through from a best of 96 degrees to a worst of 116 degrees, and maintaining an average 3 - 4 knots progress directly to windward. Is this any good or not?

Working in our favor was a breeze in the golden range of 10-15 knots true, and Little Cat had a freshly painted (smooth) bottom. Working against us was a one knot tidal current, a small short chop in San Quentin Bay, and a mainsail which no longer has such a great shape after a lot of use. In other words, conditions were a good approximation of real world conditions.

In my opinion, these tacking angles are pretty good, and compare favorably to most sailing company - even performance multis can be hard to tack though better than 50 degrees when conditions are less than ideal.

Ideal conditions for a Wharram cat are flat water, no tide, and wind in the golden range of 10-15 knots. In such conditions, I think a a Tiki should tack through 90 degrees. With all of the water movement in The Bay, such conditions don't occur often, so Little Cat doesn't get many opportunities to try. In fact, conditions in The Bay, are more often "anti-Wharram" with strong tide and currents, a shallow-water chop and very high winds, very light winds, or constantly changing between the extremes. In these more typical conditions, tacking performance on the Tiki can be disappointing - for example, on a recent trip to Drake's Bay we were tacking through 130 degrees.

However, most sailboats (except racing boats) find strong head currents, short chop, or very light winds, hard to tack through; so overall I think that the Tiki can hold its own to windward when conditions allow. One caveat is that the Tiki is not an easy boat to trim to windward, in my opinion. I have sailed other boats that sail as well or better to windward with a lot less attention to trim and tiller.