A Quick Sail Up-River

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For several reasons, for as many weeks, Sassy had not left port. I had been to the boat a couple of times, but she had not undocked: too hot, too wet, too windy, the Soccer World Cup, family businesses, or just lazy enough to yield to the hazy days of Summer…  But yesterday, I decided that enough was enough. Besides I wanted to check the mooring lines and also, to get rid of spiders…

Spiders love boats and marinas! Their diversity is astounding: wolf spiders, orb weavers, funnel weavers, cobweb weavers, long-jawed spiders able to spread two pairs of legs forward and two backwards to fit in any edge or linear crevasse found in the boat. All of them getting larger as the season progresses: cross orb-weavers with the abdomen the size of a quarter, long-jawed orb-weavers stretched several inches long… When their hiding place is threatened they don’t hesitate to jump to the water… on which surface they can walk, usually, back to the boat… Luckily, as long as the cabin remains bug-free, they prefer the outside of the boat. If I had been anchoring overnight (i.e., with the anchor-light lit all night through) it is not uncommon to find in the morning a web at the top of the mast, which on occasions fixes the wind-vane, rendering it useless for its designed purpose. This is when the hinged mast of Sassy comes very handy… just to free the wind-wave from its arachnid hindrance… They seem to particularly like the stern, and more particularly the outboard engine (a “motor” can only be electric, according to my mechanic son…), where their webs have been known to occasionally clog the air intake of the carburetor. But what I hate most is that twice a year the Tohatsu has to ride in the back of the Jeep, and it would not be the first time I see spider webs inside, or even an odd creepy crawler descending on my lap, in front of my eyes, from behind the sun visor… in mid traffic…

So, yesterday was the day. I awoke around 6:30am. Left home at 7:10am. Got a coffee at the local Tim Horton (medium, two milks). Drove twenty kilometers to the marina (morning rush hour, construction, accidents). Arrived at the marina around 8:00am. Cleaned all webs, several critters jumped overboard. Good NW wind, steady at 5-10 knots, sunny with some clouds, good forecast for the next few hours. Let’s get the boat ready! Unlock and open the hatch door to get sailing gear (gloves, hat, sunshades). Remove the six-foot dinghy from the cockpit. Launch it astern of Sassy and fasten its painter to Sassy’s stern-cleat. A couple of orb-weavers jumped overboard ­—never mind, we’ll see them again—. Remove the sail cover and the cover of the Bimini. Lower the motor in the water. Lower the Idasailor rudder and lock it under the boat —more spiders leaving the boat—. Clean and dry the gelcoat of the cockpit from biological evidence of duck visits at night. Free the lines going up the mast (in Sassy they remain fasten to the mast via a large pin). Start the engine. Get the inflatable life jacket and the GPS. Free the two mainsheets, never mind the topping lift (we will not use it today as I do not plan to deploy the Bimini: a bit of sun on the skin is good for some vitamin D). Unfasten the lines going to the base of the mast (mainsail halyard, gaff halyard, boom-vang) and those coming from the base of the mast (boom gooseneck-downhaul and gaff gooseneck-downhaul). Never mind also the cockpit cushions: too much work for just a short day-sail, leave them inside the cabin. Undo the mooring lines. Jump on board and put the engine in reverse. We are underway! It is around 8:30am. Maneuver around the docks with “no wake”, motor for 5-10 minutes in the subsidiary channel. Get the fenders onboard, check that there are no lines trailing in the water. Past the KN8 junction marker, head into the wind at lower speed. Set the ST-1000 autopilot (I call it Steve-Theodore, ST for short…) and hoist the sail. Big long-legged long-jaw orb-weaver walks down the gooseneck. The gaff is hoisting nicely but the halyard gets stuck… why? both the downhaul and the boom-vang are released. Have to walk to the mast. The wind seems steady enough and Steve-Theodore is firmly at the helm. I step forward. Found it! (a snag between the two downhauls). Saw the long-jawed orb-weaver. It was out of reach. Back to the cockpit, up goes the sail all the way. Set ST to idle, bring the sail in and bear away. Everything ok? engine on idle. Set ST to auto to keep course. Switch off the engine and lift it off the water. ST to idle again. We are sailing! Drop the centerboard. Adjust the gaff halyard and the gooseneck downhaul. Sail on port-tack, close-hauled, towards the K4 red marker, the Blueberry reef and the Québec shore. Ready about! Helm’s a-lee! Sail on starboard-tack to the Nortel Tower in the Ontario shore. New tack and again sail on port-tack towards the Aylmer Marina and back to the Québec shore. The wind has picked up to about 15 knots. Almost 10:30am, already… Gybe back to the marina. Ready to gybe! Gybe Ho! Sail on a starboard-tack broad-reach for 15 minutes. Set ST to auto, lower the engine. Start the engine. Head into the wind.Bring the sail down. Roll and fasten it over the boom and gaff. Set ST to idle. Head to the KN8 marker and enter the subsidiary channel. Drop fenders on the sides. Get the bow, stern and mid-ship lines ready. The entire Laser fleet is leaving port… dodge each and every one. Done, turning into port. Quick the iPod for a picture: a Great Egret is waiting to e-greet (ha-ha) Sassy from shore. Watch the fishermen in the dinghy, and the motorboat leaving the ramp. Turn into the slip. Cut off the engine. Steer the boat. Get the dock-wand (a long loop inside a PVC rigid pipe that acts as an aft-spring-line). Get the boat hook ready. Steer, always steer. Catch the last cleat of the dock with the dock-wand. Catch cleat mid-dock with the boat hook. Step onto the dock. Level the boat. Fasten the dock-lines. Shut off the engine. Snug the boat: everything done to prepare her has now to be reversed…

Eventually, the hatch door got locked again and I was able to exit the marina at 11:30am. I drove the Jeep again through heavy traffic, accidents and construction, and was able to arrive at home way past noon… Got to love it…!!

A large long-jawed orb-weaver is leisurely climbing up one of the columns at the entrance of the house… Nah… it couldn’t be, could it…?

 

 

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A Hot Canada Day…

The “Humidex Index” is derived via an empirical formula concocted by Canadian meteorologist to reflect the temperature (in Celsius degrees) as felt by the human body. It combines the actual air temperature with the air humidity. Humidex values above 30 are related to “some discomfort” and values above 40, to “great discomfort”, while values above 45 are considered outright “dangerous”.

With Humidex Index reaching well above 40, Canada Day 2018 was to be enjoyed best indoors. Also, given the vagaries of propagation and the use of a “challenged antenna” (the vertical wire up the maple tree in the backyard), a 50W output by the ICOM 706MKIIG was definitely going to provide a more rewarding participation than the 5W output of the ICOM 703 or even the Elecraft KX3. Hence, 706 it was…

Logging was via the T-60 Thinkpad (yes, still running Windows XP…) with RCKLog v.3.2 – a superb, albeit old, piece of Windows Freeware developed by Walter Dallmeier, DL4RCK. The 706 was connected to the computer via the ICOM CI-V Level Converter CT-17 and the Keyspan USA-19HS Serial to USB converter (the CT-17 has a serial RS-232 port and the T-60, a USB port). The only change to be made for using the 706 instead of the 703 was to change the ICOM address in RCKLog from 68H (for the 703) to 58H (for the 706). As soon as this was done RCKLog was able to display the band, the frequency and the mode in use in the TRX.

Although RCKLog does have keying functions, as usual, I preferred all CW exchanges to be sent manually via the Bencher BY-2 paddle (itself directly connected to the back of the 706). Needless to say, right or wrong, all CW interpretation was via human hardware…

Operating in and out (since the long weekend brings family to the table…) VA3PCJ was nevertheless able to log 42 QSOs, 41 in Canada, several RAC stations and 19 Multi’s, but fell short of a Canada-sweep: this year I missed VY2, VE4 and VE8, but did get eight provinces and two territories. Here is the map. The only DX was F5IN, Michel from Yèvre La Ville, with a very strong signal in 40m and the readily recognizable CW rhythm of its callsign…  32 contacts were CW, 6 in 80m, 6 in 40m and 20 in 20, 10 contacts were SSB, all in 20m. Not a record breaking performance, but better than VA3PCJ’s first Canada Day thirteen years ago, when with similar TRX and antenna (but only in SSB) he managed to log 35 QSOs, but only in six Canadian provinces…

Here is a OK2PBQ map of the Grid Loc’s contacted:

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A “Regional” Field Day…

Propagation conditions for HF radio waves have been rather poor, as the sun continues to inch towards the bottom of its 24th cycle… With just traces on the solar disk of sunspot AR2715, there were no large expectations of breaking any record in the ARRL Field Day, last weekend. Also, around the Ottawa area, the forecast was for some rain and it was easy to decide not to bring back the “1C ONE” QRP/Portable/Afloat station that VA3PCJ operated last year from the deck of “Sassy Gaffer” from Pinhey Point in the Ottawa River (https://thewakesileave.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/va3pcj-field-day-1c-one-qrp-afloat-from-the-ottawa-river/).

Instead, a decision was made for operating a “1E ONE” station from the QTH, with the old Icom 706MKIIG at abt 50W, powered by a 12V, 48Ah, deep-cycle battery (borrowed from the boat), charged intermittently with a Honda 1000W generator. The antenna was the 50+ Ft. end-fed long wire with the single set of elevated counterpoise cables, tuned at feed-point by an LDG RT-100 allowing the wire to be tuned in five of the HF contest bands (80m, 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m). But there were two problems: I did not have a logging program for Field Day that could also interface with the ICOM 706MKIIG. Eventually, I resorted to old-faithful “Genlog” running in a Thinkpad T-60 with Windows XP. However, all entries had to be done manually, the only perk being the date and UTC captured directly from the computer. Also, all the exchanges had to be done using “human power”, since the ICOM 706MKIIG lacks a built-in keyer beyond its ability to produce dots and dashes with a paddle… never mind a CW decoder!

Operating in and out, some 48 contacts were logged in five bands. A few signals were heard mid-afternoon in the 10-meter band, and three QSO were completed in this band, which was a surprise, since the 10-meter band had been closed for my antenna since February 2017.

Nevertheless,  overall it really felt as if this was a “regional” radio event, with few QSOs surpassing the 2,000 Km (1,200 miles) distance. Here is proof:

VA3PCJ - FD 2018

Last… but First in the Americas!

Albeit finishing last as “Single-Op All QRP DX” in “His Majesty the King of Spain CW Contest 2018” and with no certificate awarded (URE only awards certificates to multiband logs if 100 or more valid QSOs have been logged), with only two QRP QSOs logged with EA stations (the Royal EF0F and EA4OR) VA3PCJ finished first (and only) in the American Continent:  https://concursos.ure.es/en/s-m-el-rey-de-espana-cw/resultados/#12.

KOS 2018 results

A Scandal up the Mast…

According to the forecast, yesterday the wind was to blow from the SW at 10-20 Kts. In good weather these can be perfect conditions for a daysail-dash in the Ottawa River from the Nepean marina to Pinhey Point (about eight nautical miles away). In years past, the SunCat had been able to cruise this distance in a single beam-reach: port-tack going upriver, starboard-tack returning.

Undocking was at 9:30AM. Writer Carlos A. Torres was First Mate and Helmsman for most of the sail. Winds were light (5 Kts or less) from the NE (so much for the forecast…) and the sail was hoisted before reaching the junction marker at the end of the subsidiary channel. With winds this light, and since the idea was to reach Pinhey Point around noon, the 4HP Tohatsu was called into action and the boat motor-sailed in a starboard tack, at 3-4 Kts, pretty-much to its own wind. A few minutes past noon the SunCat was swinging at anchor at the center of the cove in Pinhey Point.

After a visit to the grounds (for which the tender “QRP” did the honours) and a sandwich and fruit lunch in the boat, the anchor was weighed a few minutes after 3:00 PM. Here are a couple of pics taken with the iphone: the view of the cove from up-hill and a wild bouquet of wild “Dame’s Rocket” (Hesperis matronalis):

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With the wind finally blowing from the SW, the boat had to be motored to the center of the river to get enough room to face the wind and hoist sail. This done, she bore away to a starboard beam-reach/broad reach with the sail wide open and the boom-vang holding the boom down. The gusts were estimated at 15 knots, but soon some seemed to reach 20+ knots causing heavy weatherhelm. The centerboard was pulled up to reduce heeling. The waves kept building up to about two feet. The gusts could be easily predicted from the colour of the water and the crests on the waves. However, in one of the strongest gusts, with the double mainsheet sheeted all the way out, the boat was forced to head up in spite of the tiller being fully to windward. The boat was being overpowered. It was time to reef the sail, and, as it is usually the case, it was already a bit too late… This is the register of winds from the Nepean Sailing Club:

Winds on June 12 2018

In a Marconi two-sail rig this would have implied the furling or removal of the jib, or heaving-to to slab-reef the mainsail. But the SunCat, being a “cat”, has an extra trick up its rig, a trick well known to the fishermen who used to sail their cat-boats in the shallows of Chesapeake Bay two centuries ago: “scandalizing” the gaff: letting the gaff fall behind and ahead of the sail causing a fold in the sail to become the new leech of the sail. In the SunCat design this reduces the sail area to almost one half (the Sail Area in the SunCat is 150 sq. ft. and scandalizing the gaff reduces it to 86 sq. ft. or 57% of the full sail).

As performed yesterday, the manoeuvre immediately stabilized the boat even during the strongest gusts and once these past, the gaff was again lifted to return the sail to its full size. Also, in the Sun Cat, the gaff does not need to be hoisted to keep the boom above the level of the gallows and hence, while the gaff is scandalized, it is not critical to tighten the toping lift (actually, the SunCat design does not sport a topping lift – “Sassy” does, but this was a special request from her skipper). Hence, it should always be possible to readily tack or gybe the sail with the gaff scandalized provided that the gaff is lifted enough for it to pass ahead of the sail at each change of tack. However, at the onset of scandalizing the gaff, the top part of the sail luffs violently until it settles, and the fold of the sail that becomes the new leech puts a significant stress on the sail fabric. Hence, this is not a reefing technique to be indulged. However, it requires only one line to be adjusted (the gaff halyard) and can be a very effective “reefing” procedure when a sudden strong gust overpowers a cat-rigged boat while sailing full sail.

Past the K4 red marker and heading to the marina, the motor was again called into action to force the boat head-to-wind and douse the sail. The boat returned to her slip in the marina a few minutes before 5:00 PM. The entire 8 NM stretch was completed on sail in less than 2 hours, averaging over 4 Kts. (which includes the time for hoisting and dousing of the sail while upwind). Around 16:20 The GPS registered a maximum speed of 7.1 Knots (3 Kts, above the hull-speed of the SunCat).

Corolary: a “scandal” is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly when it happens up the mast in a gaff-rigged sailboat…

 

A First Daysail Up-River: Lilacs and Purple Martins, but no Bees

May 29: finally, a first sail upriver! Almost no wind, hence only a few maneuvers to test the rig and the rest of the equipment (including a pair of old knees and everything else around them): a pin was found to be getting loose in the IdaSail Rudder and the reefing lines were too short (will have to change them but I doubt I would ever need them). After a few tacks and gybes and different points of sail as wind permitted, I decided to motor to Aylmer Island just to give the Tohatsu a good workout. The motor stalled a couple of times, but this was before I realized that the fuel cock that selects between the internal and the external gas tank was in the wrong position: it was open (vertical) instead of close (horizontal), or was it the other way around? Oh well, one of those… either way, it was clearly in the wrong position because when I switched from one to the other, the stalling ceased. The river water level was still one meter above vertical datum; hence the island had a reduced beach and outline. Anchoring SE of it was flawless with the Belgian Bruce and 50 feet of its rode in a depth of 8 feet (a scope of 4.5:1, estimating a freeboard at the bow of 3 feet). Docking once back in port was less than perfect, but this is expected at the onset of the season…

The lilacs in the Club grounds are in full bloom with so many flowers that it is difficult to see their leaves and twigs, and the migratory purple martins are happily nesting in the two “apartment-buildings” hoisted up two masts within the Club premises. Here is one of them:

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But something was missing in these bucolic surroundings, something that one used to hear before seeing but that it was impossible to miss even if taken for granted: not a single bee was in the lilacs, not a single dragonfly flew over the water. Not even flies, or blackflies, or anything remotely “insect” in nature. Not in the air, not even in the large webs left between spars or docking lines by the hopeful orb-weavers that knitted them the previous night. Is it possibly still too early in the season? or have the insects finally succumbed to the many ways in which for so long we have tried to eliminate them from our proximity? In a long term this could be an immense tragedy of unfathomable proportions. In the short run this may breed trouble for the Purple Martins, strict insectivores as they are and in need of all the energy they can store for their long trans-equatorial journey back to the Atlantic shores of South America.

Hope for some bees, bumblebees and dragonflies at the next visit to the marina… (even some mosquitos may be welcome…).

 

Mid-Afternoon openings in the 20M Band

With Sunspot 2711 about to circle behind the sun, sunspot 2712 already on sight at the other end of the solar disk and 2710 not yet totally faded close to the center of the solar disk, the sunspot number raised recently to above 30. This may have contributed towards recent mid-afternoon openings in the 20M band:

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“QRP” rides the waves again…

In spite of very poor propagation conditions, due to the sun inching down in its 24th cycle towards a minimum, “QRP” is well and afloat… at the Nepean Sailing Club marina, as Sassy Gaffer’s tender…

 

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Launching was not totally uneventful, due to rain and to very wet and slippery ramp and docks, but QRP was eventually rowed to the Sassy’s stern and then rolled over on its cockpit to await further instructions before committing itself to the waves… the lake waves, that is…

Why “QRP”…? because “it does more with less”, of course…

 

Habemus velam…

et mastilis…!

Sunny and bright but windy, with winds from the South gusting at 30-40 kph. Not the best day for rigging a sail in a boat moored almost in a N-S line. Nevertheless, it had to be tried. The mast was open at the hinge and the sail was rigged by threding first the bolted rope to the slot in the gaff, then the slugs for the luff went into the track in the lower portion of the mast (after removing the gaff tack from the mast), and at the end the bolted rope of the foot was eased into the slot in the boom. To avoid entanglements with the many lines and stays, the sail was rigged from the port side leaving all lines to starboard except the port shrowd, which stayed to port. The sail downhaul was rigged on the port side of the luff and the bolts and nuts of the hinge placed back. The anchor light and the windex were reinstalled and the cables for the lights in the mast, connected at the mast hinge. The mast went up at first try and so did the sail. In the picture the sail was not completely hoisted, it still lacked battens and the reefing lines, and the boom was attached to the gallows to prevent accidental gybes: it was just to check for entanglements and for the pics…

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