Monday, December 31, 2018

Gunkholing the Marin Coastal Seashore

Many times I have driven the Highway One coastal road to Muir and Stinson Beaches, and enjoyed the views of the rugged rocky seashore and the big Pacific swells crashing into it.

This part of the coast is usually closed to exploration by Little Cat because of the rough onshore conditions driven by the prevailing North Westerly winds.

Heading out. Note the morning shadow.
Very occasionally and usually in Winter, a period of contrary Easterlies will calm this coast, giving a temporary opportunity for gunkholing.

Pt Bonita North. Still some smoke from the Camp Fire.

Such was this occasion in late Fall, although still not without issues as the Easterlies were blowing 20 knots with gusts to 30 knots, and the only shelter was close up against the shore.

Directly under the Muir Beach Punta Vista.

So ironic to find calm shelter where it is usually a cauldron of angry water. Had lunch in this spot (above), and for the second time on Little Cat, could not get the anchor up. On the previous occasion, I buoyed the anchor line and came back days later with my snorkeling gear. That was not an option here, as it might not be calm again for weeks or months, so gave it full power with the outboard until the anchor shaft bent and it came up. Totaled the anchor, but luckily I have two.

Looking South past Slide Ranch

After lunch, Little Cat and I, explored north past Slide Ranch and got a close up look at the dozens of rocks and largely never-seen little rocky beaches along the shore line.

Looking North to Gull Rock.

I had to pay close attention, as we were constantly buffeted by 25 knot gusts if we got too far away from the shore. Little Cat was doing 5 knots downwind with no sails up!

No escape from the 25 knot gusts off the shore.

We circled around Gull Rock to head back to catch the tide through the Gate. Gull Rock was alive with seabirds, and is in a grand setting overlooked by a rocky point rising 1,000 feet (bisected by HWY 1).

Gull Rock up close (with gulls).

Sailed back on the first reef for the main and jib, and tacked through the Golden Gate Channel. Under the bridge the wind had veered allowing a close reach behind Angel Island.

Close up of shoreline route.

We stopped at this great spot under Bluff Point (Tiburon) to take a break and tidy up on the way back. In so doing, I spilled a bottle of Boat Soap that went all over the deck, starboard cabin, and into the bilge. Expletives followed. Note to self: don't carry around bottles of spillables.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Boat camping

is what my daughter calls it. What could be better than combining the fun of camping with the joy of sailing?

The boat tent is a large rectangle of Sunbrella that lies across the gaff plus the boat hook to get enough length. It provides a large usable area, with shelter from the sun or rain.

Ship to shore in Little Cat Too

The tent makes overnighting much more comfortable, keeping the decks dry and allowing free movement between the hulls during the night. The old man sleeps on the deck in complete comfort, while the little helpers have a cabin each.

The Little Helpers beach combing at China Camp.

This particular trip started at China Camp on Angel Island. The Little Helpers like to escape in the dinghy and explore the foreshore. At dusk we were lucky to see a deer and her doe appear and forage along the beach.

Dinner was noodles and soup, followed by a great deal of longing around and enjoyment of the sunset.


The next morning, the Little Helpers took Little Cat Too east around Pt Simpton to explore the beautiful sheltered beaches there, and to jump off rocks (of course).
Pt Simpton behind.

It is really deep along the shore here, and almost always very sheltered. I spend a lot of time anchored 10 feet off this shore. It is so deep I am surprised that other cruisers don't pull in and anchor here, instead I usually have it to myself.

Little Helper #1

Little Helper #2

A few months later, we did another overnight at Quarry Beach (East side of Angel Island). This trip was much colder and breezier, so had the boat tent cinched down closer to the deck to give more shelter and less windage.

 At some point I will sew up a zip-on section for the bow end of the boat tent. This will stop wind and rain from blowing through entirely and then we will have true boat camping luxury afloat.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Its the small things

Inexpensive indispensables (a living list):

Sea Foam $7

Added to the gas tank keeps the outboard fuel system copacetic and saves $$ in maintenance. My recent outboard overhaul revealed a pristine carburettor after 125 hours of use.

Pee bottle $10
Nearly drowned several times trying to pee over the side in rough weather. Now I sit in comfort safe in the cockpit. Also, don't have to go up on a wet cold deck in the middle of the night to go for a pee.

Gorilla Grip (or similar work gloves) $5.50

Work as well as any fancy sailing gloves. Tough nitrile palm and fast drying nylonish back.

PVC work gloves $7

They don't look stylish - the crew on "yachts" will look at you aghast, but these are as good or better than fancy "waterproof" sailing/helmsman's gloves that can cost big boat dollars. ALL OTHER gloves will get wet eventually. These are a bit clumsy, but you can tie knots with them on. They will get clammy after hours of use, but with a pair of the above Gorilla Grip or polypro gloves as liners, they will keep you hands dry and warm in the worst conditions.

Plastic basin $12

With one of these babies, you can do anything that you can do in a fancy galley: you can also wash the dishes and yourself when necessary.

Poop bags $12
Forget about fancy Heads, whether hand pump, electric, or composting. Don't even think about a sloshy portable toilet. These self-sealing bags are the creme de la creme of the camp toilet genre. All you need is a comfy bucket, and these bags self seal and can be disposed in the trash at your convenience. I believe that they are legal for disposal of human waste in California (but don't quote me).

Lanacote $13

Lanolin (sheep wool oil) anti-corrosion goop. Use it to assemble all hardware on the boat so it will come apart in the future, especially with stainless steel in aluminum fastenings. There are much more expensive products, but this stuff is so cheap you can have a tub of it on the boat and slap it on all of your projects. You can also use it for all electrical fittings to keep the water out. The only catch is that it is quite smelly (like sheep).

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The boat didn't notice

the beating from the confused sea state on the way out of San Francisco Bay, but my stomach was sure feeling it. We hit strong wind-over-tide conditions coming past Angel Island, and then ran into wind waves and sea swell clashing from different directions as we passed Pt Bonita on the way to Drakes Bay on our first coastal cruise for 2018. In a confused sea state, the ultralight Tiki bounces around like the proverbial, and things did not improve until we were well past Duxberry Pt (Bolinas).

The video below shows us encountering the start of the ocean swell as we pull away from Duxberry Reef. The swells are still bouncy from the wind waves, but things are starting to improve. We had a nice close reach/beat all of the way past Pt Reyes on a single tack in a steady 10 knot breeze.

Although this was my 4th trip to Drakes Bay in Little Cat, we had never rounded Pt Reyes itself. On this trip I decided to take a look around the corner in prep for a future trip to Bodega Bay and/or Tomales Bay, and so sailed the extra 5 NM to do so - what a spectacular setting for the Pt Reyes Lighthouse and how wonderful the views must be!

Leaving Pt Reyes astern

Then it was back to the calm shelter of Drakes Bay to put up our new Sunbrella deck tent and kick back with some food and a nip of bourbon after a good day's sail.

Looking East to the historic Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station (1927) at sunset

Snug under the deck tent, I had a big bacon, egg, tomato and onion cook-up, while the sun went down, then settled down to watch and listen as night settled in.

Looking West towards the old Pt Reyes fish docks

You can't have too many bacon and eggs, so after a redo in the morning it was time to pack up and move out. I only had to run the outboard for a minute to get us away from the shore, and then it was engine off and we ghosted out of the Bay wing and wing past the treacherous breakers beyond Chimney Rock - don't cut that corner, as I was tempted to on the way in (see video below)!

The breeze was a very light 5 knots from the West, so we hoisted the symmetric spinnaker to make the most of it. What followed was a great spin run all of the way back to the Shipping Channel, and then a series of gybes north until around Mile Rock.

Running home under spinnaker in the morning

The wind gradually built during the day until it reached around 15 knots, and gusting over 20 knots. The ocean swell continued to build until it reached the forecast 10+ feet as we crossed the top of the Four Fathom Bank into the Shipping Channel. There, to my surprise, we encountered the BAMA Double-handed Farallones fleet as they were running back to the Golden Gate under spinnaker. We got overtaken and passed by a succession of big, fast, boats including several F-31 trimarans.

By the time I dropped the spinnaker at Mile Rock, I was very tired after sheeting the spin for several hours in increasing winds. For the last hour or so, I had to pull the tack and sheets in tight to de-power the sail as the wind built. My little symmetric (240 square feet) is cut too flat to be stable dead down wind and requires a lot of trim.

We sailed the rest of the way home under the white sails. 90 nautical miles, this trip.


Sailing photographer Leslie Richter was out taking pics of the returning BAMA fleet and got some great shots of Little Cat coming down the shipping channel to the Golden Gate (below).

Farrier F-31 is bearing down on us at speed

Wing and wing

Homeward bound

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 demystify 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 fittings 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