September 24, 2016

Weighty matters

I thought I'd write a little essay on boat weights. There is a lot of misinformation I hear from my fellow sailors, so this is an attempt to educate. I'll try not to get too technical.

How much does your boat weigh?

Do you know how much your boat weighs? Probably not. "Wait!" I hear you cry - "I asked the Travelift guy how much it weighed when we last hauled out". Unfortunately the scales on a Travelift are usually just a pressure gauge which is measuring the pressure in the hydraulic system that is lifting the boat. And there is a scale reading in pounds but it's just a scaled pressure value. And they are never calibrated on a regular basis.

They are notoriously inaccurate for a variety of reasons:

- the manufacturer probably sets them to read high to reduce the chance of overloading the lift
- there is friction in the pulleys/wire ropes etc. which can vary from lift to lift
- straps and shackles are changed and they weigh less or more
- sometimes a lift will use 2 straps, sometimes 4 or more on the same lift. Sometimes big heavy spreader bars will be used so that 4 straps can be used. The gauge doesn't know that.

Every time we haul out, I ask the operator the weight. It's never close to the same amount twice. I'm talking thousands of pounds difference here. At one haulout in Australia, we got about 2500 lbs heavier in the four days we were hauled out. I don't think the new antifouling paint was that heavy...

What's the best way to find out how much she weighs at a given time? Lift it with a crane that has a recently calibrated load cell or put it on a trailer and take it to a truck weigh station, knowing the weight of the empty trailer.


Displacement of a boat is simply how much she weighs. When a boat is floating in water, she will displace (push aside), an amount of water that weighs the same as the boat (see Archimedes for further details). The weight or displacement of a boat will vary depending on how much fuel, water, food, and bottles of wine she has aboard at any given time.

"Brochure Displacement" This number you will see printed in boat sales literature. It used to almost always be simply "Displacement   XXX lbs". If you're going to quote one number for displacement of the boat, traditionally it was "1/2 load displacement". The naval architect would assume that fuel and water tanks were 1/2 full, some crew was aboard, some food, some gear, etc. It's an awfully fuzzy figure, because of the assumptions that about how much the food, gear, crew all weighed. They never assume that the boat is going long distance cruising with thousands of pounds of extra gear or food aboard. It's more of a "weekend displacement".

In reality sailboats are always heavier than brochure weights. Manufacturers want to keep weights down because a lighter boat is known to sail better than a heavier boat. Perhaps they don't lie as such, but they can be very optimistic in their numbers and justify it by saying they never weigh the finished boat. O.K. they lie. I would guesstimate that often sailboat brochure displacements were 20% lower than actual weights with minimal gear aboard.

Catamaran builders are even worse. Generally they would quote "Displacement" - but wouldn't tell you they were quoting Lightship Displacement. Lightship is N.A. talk for "Boat is empty of fuel, water, food, crew, and gear". So you get a nice low figure but it's not realistic for how much the boat weighs in service.

Recently the European Union decided that enough was enough, and cracked down. So now in CE marked boats you will see lightship displacement clearly indicated. I think they are supposed to actually weigh a few representative samples of vessels and not just guess at the weights.

A new Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40 catamaran has an "displacement unloaded" of 9800 kgs (21,560 lbs). She is actually 38' overall so that is a very heavy catamaran.

Compare that to a much earlier 1998 F-P Athena 38. Her displacement found in various reviews is between 11,000 and 12,230 lbs. Yes, catamarans have gotten much heavier in the past decades - but I bet that the Athena is probably a bit heavier than the brochure ever said.

The Lagoon 38 was a porker at 15,962 lbs. Empty.

The new Catana 42 Carbon (actually 41'). 8900 kg (19,580 lbs).

Ceilydh's Weight?
Haulout in South Africa

"How much does she weigh Frank?" I asked as we were finally hauled out by a single point crane. Frank said he didn't know because he doesn't have a load cell on his crane. Sigh! But he did say it's a 10T crane. He knows if somebody is pushing the limits of the crane at 10T and we were nowhere near the limit. He said probably 6 or 7T based on how hard the winch was working. Close enough for me.

Our boat is quoted by the designer as "3.5 T empty" i.e. 3500 kg (7700 lbs) and 6T loaded (13,200 lbs). Certainly she was very light compared to any other 40' catamaran.

But we added the bridgedeck cabin structure (~1000 lbs, even when built in a pretty high-tech way), a diesel engine instead of outboards (say 400 lbs weight gain), scuba compressor (100 lbs), scuba gear for 3 (200 lbs?), my tools (shudder), two sewing machines, a big RIB with a 15HP engine, canning jars, spares for so much, boxes of stainless steel fasteners, sometimes 100's of cans of food when crossing oceans, cat litter, shoes... She is down on her lines about 4000 lbs from her empty weight. I'd bet she is probably 14,000 lbs in typical cruising conditions. So when full of gear, she is lighter than similar size production cats that are totally empty!


We'll close with a quick discussion of a number found on boat registration certificates. You might find Tonnage, Gross Tonnage, and Net Tonnage depending on your country.

These have nothing, repeat, nothing to do with your boat's weight.

Tonnage is a measure of the volume of a ship. Historically cargo ships was taxed on how many tuns or casks of wine they could carry. It simply refers to the volume of the ship. Gross Tonnage is the overall volume of the ship, Net tonnage is the volume of the cargo hold and is the value big ships are taxed on by various authorities because it's the measure of the earning power of the ship.

So if the harbour master asks you for your yacht tonnage, give him or her the net tonnage, because it's the lower number, and there is probably some sort of harbour dues based on tonnage!

Wikipedia has a good little article on tonnage here: Tonnage

Further reading: A good article by Phil Berman, a long time multihull sailor and boat broker. It's remarkably honest about the real weights of production catamarans

- Evan

September 22, 2016

Exploring Curacao

Admiring the sea--which we do a lot...

If ever we needed a hurricane hole, Spanish Waters in Curacao would be it. The large bay is entered through a narrow channel, and once inside there are heaps of nooks and crannies. Compared to Grenada (which was chock-a-block), the place is half empty—and honestly, as a hurricane season destination, we can’t figure out why.

Pretty Punda--a more colourful Amsterdam
So far we rather like the place. It’s very arid—almost Arizona or Baja like: so evenings are cool (ish) and days are only mostly stinking hot. But it’s a dry heat. The anchorage may be the most comfortable we’ve been in, ever. Really. I’m trying to recall a calmer anchorage with a more regular breeze… The only downside is the ride to the dinghy dock is a bit far and if the trades are up, it can be wet.

At anchor entertainment consists of watching all sorts of small sailboats and windsurfers out for lessons and races—with nary a jet ski in sight (or within hearing). There’s good public transit, as well as a free shopping bus plus THREE big marine stores, a half dozen huge well-stocked grocery stores (many which offer shuttle service back to the dinghy dock), a great veggie market and, our latest find, The Wine Factory.

the floating bridge swings open for boat traffic
Even though we were after some of the most affordable wines Wine Factory manager Martin Jansen offered us tastes of everything, plus a great bonus—for every twelve bottles we bought he gave us one free. All the freebees were really special wines that he thought we’d enjoy. On top of the lovely service they also offer free delivery.

definitely NOT the jungle
So with our boat stocked back up for Latin America we were free to explore. New friends gave us a couple of tips while Evan was away in Baltimore (to reassure those who asked—he was working for a Vancouver company in Baltimore—we’re not looking at a return to the East Coast). The first tip was to save an hour or more on his airport entry he should fill out an online ED card before flying back here:
The second tip was taxis are bloody expensive and it’s actually cheaper to rent a car in advance then to take a cab from the airport back to the boat. So we had a car.

and caves
The island has a lot to offer: There are a few national parks, lots of museums, some great beaches and even a mall. We chose one park rather randomly—we had a picnic, we were hungry and Shete Boka National Park was next up along the road.

The stunning landscape was enough to keep us happy—though the heat took its toll. We look forward to more exploring before we set off again.
and beaches

September 11, 2016

Out with the Old, In with the New

No, this isn't about replacing my spouse or child or cat.

It's about our boat batteries. We use 4 x 6V old fashioned lead acid golf cart batteries. They are not fancy. They are not super lightweight. But they are:

- relatively cheap to buy and replace when required
- have a decent lifespan (this is set #3, each set lasting about 3.5-4 years of heavy daily cycling)
- each one can be lifted without back strain (~64 lbs each)
- can be found in a lot of parts of the world, unlike AGM, Gel, or Li-Ion.

Old bad batteries - heading for recycling ashore
We thought the batteries were maybe starting to get tired in South Africa. But that was January, and we were spending money there like semi-sober sailors on boat gear. And in a Monty Python way, they weren't quite dead yet. So we decided to see if we could keep them going for a few months more. Which turned into 8 more months.

In St. Helena, where we spent 40 days in the lee of a big cliff, the sun didn't shine directly on the boat until late morning, so we had to run the engine an hour every other day. This was unheard of on our boat, which normally relies only on solar power. There, we also found one solar panel had died. So it now became time to replace the batteries. St. Helena and Ascension offer very limited shopping, though we probably could have found something in Suriname. But we were close to the boat gear shopping paradise that is the Caribbean (seriously, we haven't seen such well stocked chandleries since the west coast of the US in 2009)

(Easy way to test your solar panels:  one person throws a towel over each panel in turn, and one person inside reads the amps coming in. A dead panel doesn't change the power coming in)

Budget Marine in Grenada offered reasonable pricing on batteries ($177 each) and a replacement 105W solar panel (~$200). This is about what I paid in Australia for the last set of batteries, and a bit more than 8 years ago for the first set.

New Solar Panel beside old one. The one on the right is the new 105 Watt one, the one on the left that is the same overall size is a 75 Watt one, donated by our friends Cindy and Doug, when they were upgrading their solar panels. It was about 10 years in service with us, and who knows how many on their boat with the previous owner. Look how the cells are cut from a much bigger silicon wafer and so are much efficient in terms of space compared to the older one.

 Our solar panel farm keeps growing. The biggest panel in the middle is 200W, and we have a total of 550 W. Today, in bright sun, our peak power was running at about 33 Amps. That's like having an alternator running all the time. We love having a lot of solar panels.

- Evan

September 8, 2016

Birthday Waterspout

Peaceful easy sailing to Curacao for the first 300 miles-hoping it continues to hold. Celebrated Maia's birthday with cake and a Waterspout on the horizon.

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September 4, 2016

Grenada: Boat parts and Zika

Our friend Mark wishes us and Crystal Blues goodbye as we leave Tobago

Originally we were headed to Trinidad after Tobago. We needed new batteries, a new solar panel, and a variety of smaller parts and Trinidad is known for its great shopping options. Unfortunately it’s also become known for its high duty—and after a bit of comparison shopping Evan and Neil discovered we’d save about 30% if we detoured up to Grenada for our shopping.

Mohamed and Eva in the customs office also spent time with us on the beach--Mohamed and his wife Wendy became good friends
After a month in Charlotteville, where the anchorage contained 10-15 boats and we got to know the locals by name, Grenada has been culture shock. From the sea we spotted multiple anchorages—and any one of them contained more boats than the number that crossed the South Atlantic or Indian Ocean last year. When we pulled in after our overnight sail from Tobago, both us and Crystal Blues anchored on the outer edges and wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.

A tiny portion of one anchorage in Grenada
It turns out we’ve arrived in a type of cruiser’s heaven (or not heaven, depending on what you like). The morning net detailed a dizzying number of activities from volleyball and jam sessions, to hikes and Mexican train dominos (it’s like adult summer camp here). There are also shopping busses—although the local transit is cheap and fantastic so we didn’t entirely understand the point—and various marine services which deliver to your boat.

The yards here are popular for hurricane season haulout--we counted some boats packed in eight deep
Then there are the marine chandleries. Over the past seven years we’ve been thrilled if a hardware store had a part that could double as a marine part. Occasionally we’ve come across a poorly stocked, uber expensive marine store. But here there are TWO marine super stores which have all the things we’ve been looking for at more-or-less affordable prices, as well as stuff we always thought should exist but had never seen proof of.

Unfortunately Grenada (unlike Tobago) also has super high levels of Zika. The day before we planned to sail to Curacao, Maia was complaining of very sore joints and developed a strange rash on her face. Most people don’t get many symptoms from Zika—but Maia’s were so classic we decided to stay put until she was over the worst of it.

Our lovely boat kid has acquired a variety of traditions from her travels--her first high heels for her quincea├▒era
Sadly this means her 15th birthday won’t happen in Curacao, but at sea. We’d already celebrated a pre-birthday with Crystal Blues, when we thought we were going separate ways, weeks ago but we thought we’d do another celebration—complete with a pair of long-awaited high heeled shoes and a steel drum band.

Admittedly we’ve not seen as much of Grenada and we wish we could. We managed to meet blogging friends from Zero-to-Cruising and wandered around the main town of St Georges, but mostly our time has been spent installing batteries and having one last goodbye evening with Ley and Neil (I think we’re up to goodbye number 11 or 12…)

We've been lucky to have spent much of the past year with Ley and Neil and will miss them hugely when we part ways
The final goodbye is looming though. Maia is recovering, the weather looks agreeable and Evan has a flight booked out of Curacao which he can’t miss.

August 28, 2016

Chilling in Tobago

We've seen four green flashes here and counting
 You know that life has reached its mellow zenith when the biggest question of the day is, ‘what day is it, exactly?’  Followed by, ‘what day is tomorrow?’ Yes, this was a real conversation—I won’t out the person (Neil)  who had to have both today and tomorrow clarified within a one hour period because that would be mean. Normally we just ask about one or the other.

It’s easy here.
Lucille saw us walking past and called us in for breakfast of saltfish and local veggies
 We’ve spent more than a month in Tobago—but it only feels like a week. The clue it’s been longer is the fact the entire village of Charlotteville seems to know us now—and we know most of them. We know who to get fish from and who to ask for lobster, or limes, or avocado or bread. We’ve memorized the bus schedule and can recognize each fishing boat by its hull art.
local fishing boats go out in the morning to fish and transport tourists to remote beaches in the afternoon
 We have a gentle routine which includes paid work, boat chores, reading, napping and an afternoon swim and sun downers.  There’s a weekly beach BBQ (and Irwin is helpful in getting us a breadfruit to BBQ while Mark gifted us a gorgeous fish.) There are boats here from France, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, the US, Australia and South America. Beach time contains a range of accents, languages and ideas.
Joe and his nephew Mark are two of our favorite fishermen
 It’s easy to do nothing but plan what to cook with the abundant fresh food and watch the parrots cavort in the trees over the beach, the pelicans dive on schooling fish and the local kids play in the water. 
Maurice runs the sole tourist stand in Charlotteville
 It’s easy just to be in the moment and forget to record it. Our camera has been tucked away, I haven’t been writing.  We’re just living simply, simply living. Maybe catching our breath before we set off again. Maybe letting the last two years of experiences take root and take hold.
Maybe just taking it easy.

July 20, 2016

Landfall Tobago--we're in the Caribbean, man!

I saw the lights of Tobago when I came on watch last night, and as we rounded Marble Island and headed toward Charlottesville, we entered the Caribbean Sea. Heading to shore was like a cruising clich├ę: reggae drifting through the streets; the air heavy and warm; and colours that looked so bold and textured they bring to mind a black velvet painting. Formalities (once we assured them we hadn't arrived in Tobago outside of office hours) were easy and friendly. After a yummy lunch ashore the plan was to head back to the boats and swim and nap before celebratory sundowners. This is our 24th country and we've entered our 8th year of voyaging: 30,000 miles of new places, new friends and great adventures. Our afternoon plans changed when we were approached by a guy on the street who was looking for the 'Canadian family'. Evan had gone off separately and discovered the best wifi in town is at the Pearl, which is run by a Canadian woman. Timothy, her son, had befriended an Irish/Brazilian/Australian family and the girl on board was desperate for a friend--so he was playing match maker. The connection was convoluted, but as cruiserly as they come. Meeting new people based on the 3rd, 4th or 5th degree of separation is just part of the charm. So after a brief introduction at a new boat, 'here, we brought you a friend' Maia spent time with a new friend, I luxuriated in the pleasure of jumping off the boat in clear warm water and Evan found enough internet to get some work done.

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July 18, 2016

The Many Toyotas of Suriname

We spent a lot of time driving around the capital of Suriname. About half the population lives there - and the traffic is pretty bad. I started noticing how many different models of Toyotas were around us, most I had never heard of. They mostly drive on the left, and we figured a lot of these cars were used ones imported from Japan. For a interesting read about why used Japanese cars are exported all over the world, even to far away Suriname, read the Wikipedia entry about Japanese car safety inspections. They are frequent, costly, and stringent (no rusting allowed on springs for example). It gets very uneconomical to keep a used car more than 10 years, and so a heavily depreciated car will be exported to a third world, right hand drive country like Suriname. Or New Zealand. Just kidding New Zealand we love you. And if you're going to buy a used car from overseas, a Toyota is usually a safe bet. It became a game in the slow traffic to find models we hadn't seen yet. A good day would get us half a dozen, a slow one only two. Without further ado, the collected Toyotas of Suriname: Alphard Allex Aristo Avensis Auris Avalon Blade Belta Carina Caldina Carib Chaser Crown Corona Corolla Camry Corsa Demio Estima Fielder Funcargo Harrier Hilux HiAce Isis IST Ipsum (good looking compact wagon) Kluger Lumiere Land cruiser Light Ace Mark X (flashy RWD sedan) Mark II Noah Opa Passo Parade Premid Premio Precio Porte Prado Platz (one of our rental cars) Ractis Raum Rav4 RunX Starlet Soarer Spacio Sprinter Tercel Tundra Voltz Vitz Voxy Vic Vessona Wish Windo (like the Samuel L Jackson Star Wars Jedi charactwer Mace Windo)

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July 17, 2016

Who's on Watch-Tobago bound

Evan woke me with a whack. Finding me asleep beside him when all indications were that we were sailing (the banging, crashing and whooshing indicated we were going upwind at good speed) led him to question why I wasn't on watch. He had also been asleep but somewhere in his caveman brain he knew someone needed to keep an eye on the cave, err, boat. The answer, of course, was Maia was on watch. While I could empathize with the fear that woke him (I once woke during a storm; upset no one was keeping anchor watch. Evan sent me to look out our curtained window so I could reassure myself our apartment hadn't dragged) I resented the lost sleep. Passages under 1000 miles feel pretty routine these days. I still prep food for the first two nights, we check weather and carefully plot a route-but there's less anxiety. It's possible to just pick-up and go- timing our departure for a working-hours arrival in a whole new country. Even still, I got up and relieved Maia. Peering into the night for squalls and way ward fishing nets. The passages may have become routine- but the same deep instincts that woke Evan keep us prepared.

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July 14, 2016

Not Dead Yet--adventures in Suriname

It’s been pointed out that I left off with us in a squall, 100 miles from the Suriname River and then went quiet. Sorry about that.

Navigating up the river was straightforward—we came in on the flood and rode it 30 miles to the moorings at River Breeze in Domburg. There we met the marina owners and settled in to the welcoming space with its friendly restaurant, well-stocked book exchange, pretty pool, clean showers and washing machine: Pretty much a cruiser’s paradise.

Our first full day was spent taking the bus into Paramaribo (and learned that buses are cheap, crowded, irregular and slow—we opted to rent a car after our first effort to economize). In the city we checked in; a surprisingly quick and easy procedure for us which turned out to be the exception, rather than the more typical experience. Then we hit a clinic to have my ear infection taken care of. $45 US and a trip to the Apoteek and I had a fistful of new antibiotics. Then it was off to the grocery store.

It’s been five months since we’ve been in a store that boasts more than four or five types of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh milk or a selection of cheese, baked goods and chocolate.
Paramaribo street scene--all white wooden buildings with dark trim in the historic district

While most tourists probably hit a grocery store now and again for snacks or supplies—in our first four days we went to at least six different shops. We’d slowly wander up and down the aisles admiring options of things we’d long run out of, or never knew existed: real fruit concentrates from the Netherlands, tonic of a known name brand, corn tortillas, fair trade chocolate, sesame oil, bagels, fresh anything…

Who needs a museum?

The hardware stores, chandleries and supermarkets might seem like culture enough, but we did spend a day as tourists; visiting the main cathedral, the rum distillery and Fort Zeelandia, which was originally built by the English then taken over by the Dutch. Most of our time though has been spent trying to decipher Dutch names (why so many letters?), eating fresh tropical fruit (mmmm) and navigating the medical system.
the river at dawn
Just after I finally recovered from my ear infection and we were starting to plan an inland trip to the Amazon River basin-Evan developed symptoms of a heart attack: moderate squeezing pain in the chest, left arm was tingling/numb, he had some edema (swelling) in his feet and ankles and very high blood pressure. The marina owners provided me and Ev with a ride to the hospital and he was quickly admitted into an overwhelmed emergency room.

The experience was intense--the doctors train in the Netherlands, so that was good, but the vibe is developing world. It was the last day of Ramadan, and a holiday, so there were a number of well-dressed people in distress. At one point several ambulances from a car accident arrived--one of the young men died and there was a very public visitation/mourning in the small emergency room. He was a beautiful young guy and looked flawless (Ev saw the whole process of doctors working on him etc-it's a small emergency room) the disbelief in his death was raw and overpowering. At least 30 people were in to see him and were wailing.

Not long after this, the head doctor let us know that while Evan wasn't showing classic signs of a heart attack-he wanted to admit him for observation and to see how he did through the night. The initial EKG was negative (i.e. didn't show any heart irregularities or damage) and they did some initial blood tests which were also negative. But the next day one enzyme marker (CPK) went quite high, which can be a symptom of a heart attack. At this point the doctors admitted him to the cardiac unit for an angiogram-which they (English being a second language-and us not being versed on heart attacks) told us was surgery, not simply an exploratory procedure.

Communication was an issue for both Evan as the patient and me as the family. When I got home from the hospital I realized I had no idea *which* hospital I had left him in. The next day, when I called the hospital to track him down, I was told to come in and look for him-starting with where I'd last seen him. Payment had to be made in advance of the procedure-and my last contact with Ev and his doctors (before I lost them again…) was that based on the blood test he had definitely had a heart attack and needed immediate surgery and likely a stent-but first I had to pay.

Suriname is in a state of economic distress. Bank machines only give out <$200 at a time credit cards aren't accepted at any businesses (or the hospital) and the currency is devaluing on a daily basis. I was asked to pay a deposit. Initially I was asked for $4400 Suriname $$ or about $750 US, but when I returned with that amount I was told that because of the chance of Evan needing more intensive care in I'd need a deposit equalling 6 days in the hospital's Coronary Care Unit or $1200 US x 6 = $7200. And I'd need it by 7am the next day (it was now past bank closing) or they'd delay his surgery…

Eventually, the hospital accepted what I was able to pull together with the huge assistance of Ley and Neil (about $5200 US-we eventually were refunded $2200 so the total cost of care came to $3000). Ev had the angiogram and gleefully learned he has the arteries of a much younger man and that aside from the puzzle of the increasing CPK #'s and high cholesterol that needs treating, his symptoms were likely caused by some type of esophageal spasms-a very common source of misdiagnosed heart attacks.

He left the hospital as soon as he had recovered from the angiogram--something about noisy roommates, a 4 am bath time and the food at the place being a disappointment. Most meals consisted of four slices of bread and a condiment.

So we're back at home on the river-monkeys in the trees, birds overhead. We'll be leaving for Trinidad and Tobago in a few days: Our touring in Suriname limited to Paramaribo and the hospital. But we're all healthy and happy-which we were reminded is what really counts.