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 past 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

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).


On a later trip....

Jake's Island from Gallinas River entrance looking South towards Buckeye Pt.

In July 2018.....

Now that is really in the weeds.

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.