Modern boatbuilding plant
Over the millenia people have built boats out of all kinds of stuff. Bamboo, leather, paper, concrete. You name it, someone somehwere has tried it. But by far the most popular contemporary boatbuilding material is a strange substance known as fiberglass. Once derided by traditionalists as being nothing more than “frozen snot,” it now absolutely dominates recreational boatbuilding.

The term fiberglass is itself somewhat misleading, as it describes just one component of what is actually a composite material. The other component is a plastic resin, usually polyester, although vinylester and sometimes epoxy are increasingly used these days. Thus the more accurate term is fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) or glass-reinforced plastic (GRP).

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DASS: Next Generation SAR Technology

DASS SAR system at work

Ever since they start selling 406 MHz EPIRBs with built-in GPS units (the so-called G-PIRB) just a few years ago I've been thinking search-and-rescue (SAR) technology is just about as nifty as can be. Turns out I was wrong. NASA just announced this week it is developing and testing a new technology, called the Distress Alerting Satellite System (or DASS), that will greatly improve SAR response times in emergency situations.

Does this mean we'll have to all go out and purchase new EPIRBs (just like when they switched from 121.5 MHz distress signals to 406 signals several years ago)??? Apparently not. Indeed, it seems DASS provides a positive disincentive to upgrade to a G-PIRB.

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CELESTIAL REASONING: Quick & Dirty Noon Sights

Taking a noon sight

You may recall I threatened to abuse you with knowledge of celestial navigation back when they shut down the Loran system in February. I have long preached the wisdom of learning and practicing a bit of celestial nav, and once upon a time I actually practiced what I preached (as you can see in the photo up top, which is of me shooting the sun on Crazy Horse while en route from the Cape Verdes to Antigua in 1997). I still keep a sextant onboard, but I realized when I sat down to compose a celestial diatribe to share with you that it actually has been many years since I ever used it. Before lecturing you, therefore, I figured I best brush up a bit and so liberated my old Plath Navistar Pro from its tomb aboard Lunacy while sailing from Tortola to Bermuda last week.

I was amazed at how much I had forgotten. Fortunately, too, I was amazed at how much I remembered again after I pondered over my sextant, my old celestial nav workbook, and the Nautical Almanac for a while. In the end, it was reassuring to know I could still more or less figure out where I was without any help from satellites.

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IKAROS: Sailing Thru Space

IKAROS space yacht

Sorry to inflict more space news on you guys, but this is truly noteworthy. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) succeeded today in launching the first spacecraft to be propelled by solar sails. Described by the Japanese as a "space yacht," the craft, called IKAROS (for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun), will deploy a polymide membrane with a thickness of just 7.5 micrometers (or 0.0075 millimeters, about one-tenth the thickness of a human hair) that will both generate propulsive force as light photons bounce off it and electricity, thanks to the thin-film solar panels embedded on it. IKAROS both costs and weighs much less than conventional spacecraft and if successful promises to revolutionize deep-space exploration.

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RADAR LOVE: Random Tips for Singlehanders

Charlie Doane loves his radar

Lunacy is the first boat I've ever had that is equipped with radar. Initially I didn't use it much. I know some curmudgeons who still swear it's their first choice when it comes to navigation electronics, but in the age of GPS this just seems perverse to me. Interpreting glowing globular clusters for clues as to my whereabouts has never been one of my special talents. I'm also not much good at reading chicken entrails.

During solo offshore passages, however, I've come to worhsip my radar. It solves the biggest problem any singlehander must face, which is SLEEP. As in how to get some without just rolling the dice on whether some huge freighter is going to run you down like a bug.

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TORTOLA FAREWELL: It's Hard to Buy Fuel in Road Town

Stern of Lunacy as she departs Tortola

Only once before have I departed the W'Indies for Bermuda from the BVI. That was in '97, on Crazy Horse, out of Jost Van Dyke (or Just One Dike, as the famous Foxy Callwood sometimes refers to it). I remember Jost as being a perfect orifice from which to excrete oneself into the North Atlantic. It is very low key. Back then the one customs and immigration officer (who was also the police force) wore shorts and a T-shirt and was quite laid-back. It also offers immediate access to the Big Blue Yonder.

I thought briefly about leaving from there again this year. But this made little sense. Lunacy was already ensconced at Village Cay Marina in Road Town, ex post family cruise, waiting for me to take her away. Road Town not only has an immigration office, but also supermarkets and fuel docks (or so I thought). Logistically, if not aesthetically, it makes a better point of departure than Jost.

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Gusto: French & Webb 44 by Chuck Paine

Gusto under sail

Here’ s a fantastic opportunity for someone to pick up a very swell boat for a fraction of what it’s really worth. This custom one-off cruiser/racer was designed by Chuck Paine for a private client and was first launched back in 2002. I test-sailed it soon afterwards and persons involved in its creation advised me confidentially the build cost was over $800K. The boat has been listed for sale for years now, and the asking price is currently down to $399K. Even better, the original owner already has another boat.

Gusto, as she is now called, offers an excellent example of how traditional design concepts can be blended with more modern concepts and building materials to produce a very unique and appealing vessel.  She is one of several “modern traditional” cruising boats Chuck Paine helped to create in latter part of his career (he is now retired and is hard at work on a book about the boats he has designed).

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  • Boats & Gear

    Evaluations of both new and older sailboats (primarily cruising sailboats) and of boat gear.

  • The Lunacy Report

    Updates on what’s going on aboard my own sailboat Lunacy: breakdowns, maintenance jobs, upgrades, cruises and passages undertaken, etc.

  • News & Views

    Updates on what’s going on in the sport of sailing generally (most usually, but not always, relating to cruising under sail) and in the sailing industry, plus news nuggets and personal views on all manner of nautical subjects.

  • Lit Bits

    Longer articles by me that treat sailing and the sea in a more literary manner, short reviews of nautical books I think readers might enjoy reading, plus occasional excerpts from nautical books that I’d like to share with readers.

  • Techniques & Tactics

    Tips and diatribes regarding boathandling, sailhandling, seamanship, navigation, and other realms of nautical expertise.



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