A “Tacky” Sail to La Belle Province…

Thursday announced itself as one of those summer-privileged days perfect for a leisurely sail in Lac Deschènes: sunny, with day temperatures from 20º C to 26º C, with light albeit fairly sustained NW winds at around five Kts.

The crossing started at 10:15am EDT.  At the KN8 junction marker the sail was hoisted and sheeted with the end of the boom levelled with the toe-rail (close-reaching with the mainsail at midship is not recommended for cat-rigged boats). Then the chase (for the wind) started… The first two tacks, were done in good wind for the first 1.5 NM where speed was sustained above 2.5 Kts. From there on, frequent lulls significantly reduced the average speed. Also, at the end of the fourth tack the wind veered more to the NNE forcing the close-hauled course to be adjusted accordingly. After a couple of more short tacks, the fairway buoy at the entrance of the channel was already abeam. The sail was dropped and the Tohatsu took over.

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The chart piece on the left shows the entire track recorded by the Garmin GPSMAP 78 in a MacENC display of CHS raster chart 1550, and the one on the right is courtesy of program GPXSee (https://www.gpxsee.org), showing the speed over distance graph for the upriver journey. The colour arrows indicate the “helm’s a lee” moments. The brief drops in boat speed were due to sudden wind lulls.  On sail, the distance covered was of 4.3 NM, in 2:50 Hrs, at the “zooming” average speed of 1.5 Kts.

In the Aylmer marina the floating docks for visitors are superb and docking on idle was even easier than it usually is when approaching Sassy’s dock at Nepean.

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After performing the required salute to the captain overseeing the river from the upper floor of the club house of le Club de Voile Grande Rivière

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… two hours were spend visiting, first the Resto Bar for a long glass of Cheval Blanc (a white brew from Montreal, QC), and then a nice stroll along the beach and woods of “Les Cèdres”.

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Sassy reluctantly bid “au revoir” undocking exactly at 16:00 hrs. In almost no wind, she surrendered herself to the muscle of the Tohatsu and the gently steering of Steve-Theodore, her ST-1000 first mate, supported by the flexible UniSolar 11W solar pannel charging her dual 48 AHr batteries. Sassy was also more than happy to share the ride with the lonely bumblebee that insisted in trying to extract nectar from the colour threads in the rope of the mainsheet.

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The entrance to the marina was perfectly timed just before the able racers of the club lined up in the channel to exit for their regatta of the day.  After a perfect single-handed docking  at Sassy’s narrow slip in the Nepean Sailing Club marina (something that Sassy’s skipper is not always able to achieve), he had the rare opportunity of sharing a table and an inspiring chat about sailing and literature with Dr. Nigel G., a formidable sailor and colleague sailing-instructor at the CYA (now Sailing Canada), with whom he once had the pleasure of sharing the decks of “Constance”, a Bavarian 37 that once set sail off Granville Island in the Port of Vancouver.


Underway in a Junk-Rigged Woodpecker…

On Monday morning, more precisely at 7:00 am EDT, the skipper of Sassy Gaffer met with Kirill Liskovskyi and Natalia Belaya at the Nepean Marina for a matinal day-sail in “Woodpecker”, their exceptionally well maintained Paceship 23, and the one and only sporting a custom-made junk rig and sail.

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Since the launching of Woodpecker in the marina many sailors have been puzzled by the unique features in her rigging and the chinese-junk, ancient and yet extremely modern design of the mainsail. The spars were designed by Kirill and the sail design was executed by Natalia. It is an amazing piece of work: the battens are aluminium pipes and the sail is composed of separate cloth panels, each attached to the contiguous ones only via the corresponding battens. It is literally a “modular” sail.

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The sailing was short but long enough to see Woopecker’s unique sail in action: although the sail area looks small for such a boat, this morning, in light winds averaging 3 to 5 knots, Woodpecker moved smartly, pointing well into the wind at an average speed of 2.4 knots (maximum speed registered at 3.6 Kts.).  This design was never intended for speed and, given the relatively rigid battens, the overall shape of the sail cannot rival in camber and surface smoothness those in more commonly used sails. However, this may be partially circumvented by the shape adopted in the wind by each individual pannel and still provide, while reaching, for faster air flows to leeward than to windward. Also, the sail was hoisted and doused without the need to point into the wind and it was easy to appreciate the advantages that this would have in adjusting the sail area (i.e., “reefing”) such a sail while singlehanded.

Here is the track of the short outing:

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And this is what the wind indicator at the Nepean Sailing Club had to say about the wind during the hour-and-a-half sail in the Lac Deschênes.

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Of course, these are not the only special features in this boat, one other being its electric batteries and motor, only used to swiftly and quietly maneuver inside the marina, but able to operate several hours if the need were to arise.

My appreciation goes to Kirill and Natalia together with my admiration for their naval engineering skills! It was a uniquely different and very enjoyable experience…


…except for Sassy who was less than amused by the ungallant behaviour of her skipper…

Maybe Next Time…

On Saturday I had planned a return to Chenail Island at Hawksbury, ON. The idea was to operate QRP/P from there for two hours (2:00-4:00pm EDT) in the NAQP CW, which I was almost sure to let me log the 25 QSO’s in at least two DXCC’s required for a successful qualification of the island for the Canadian Island Activators Program.

I did arrive on the island as planned, around 10:00am EDT (14:00z). Here is proof courtesy of the Kenwood TH-D72A:


However, here is a picture taken mid-morning from the underpath under the Pearly Bridge in Chenail Island:


The column of water on the right is from a drainage pipe of the bridge, and the different aspect of the surface of the water under and away from the bridge is caused by the drenching rain. The rain was massive and electric discharges were flashing everywhere with weather cells blowing East one after the other. I even had the impression that they were forming right above us.  Here is a radar picture (Hawksbury is close to the tip of the “t” in “Lachute”):


By the time of the onset of the NAQP CW, the forecast in the Radar app in my iPhone was not getting any better, and I decided against raising any antenna in those conditions. Hence, I crossed to La Belle Province and drove into Montréal.

Maybe next time…







A “QRP” Rowing Tour of the Marina

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Early this morning I went to meet Sassy. There was no wind, so I cleaned the cockpit and chased some big spiders… (it wasn’t too bad: just found a big funnel down the anchor chain locker and another below the anchor. Two large long-jaws that inhabited the ladder at the stern took off on the water and headed to shore —a smart move!). I removed “QRP” (aka, the Sportyak II dinghy) from the cockpit, checked the fuel level at the tank, lowered the engine into the water and started it for a few minutes to refresh the fuel in the carburator.

Then I launched QRP (I had left it lying on the dock beside Sassy), rigged its seat (a Försiktig children stool from IKEA) and its oars, brought onboard the required safety equipment and went for a leisure row around the marina. Like green sequins, the round leaves of the water lilies (and few flowers) coloured the edge of the bay, while several purple-martin families used the branches of a tall dead tree as a launching pads to teach their fledglings the art of flight (a much needed skill for their upcoming migration all the way to South America). A big turtle dove from a rock close to shore in front of QRP (I was rowing forward) and a flock of Canadian geese and a family of mallards kept preening their feathers, even as QRP approached them quite close.

Before leaving, I brought the mast down and threaded one long and thin line through one of the  blocks at the top: hopefully, in coming weeks, this will help to deploy either the PAR EndFedZ tribander or the mini-W3EDP from tje rigging for some portable-afloat radio activity.


The Island the “CIA” Missed… and What Really Was At “Stake”…

NAQP RTTY July 2018

This weekend, I had long planned to qualify a new Ontario island for the Canadian Island Activators (CIA) program: http://veislandactivators.blogspot.com.

The new island I had in mind was l’Île du Chenaîl (FN25QO77) located under the South end of the Perley Bridge that joins Hawksbury, ON to Grenville, QC, across the Ottawa River.

The novelty for this qualifying was to be the mode, as I planned to log the required QSOs, while participating in the NAQP RTTY, scheduled to be on the air from Saturday July 21 18:00z to Sunday July 22 06:00z. The idea was to operate from the island on Saturday afternoon using the same RTTY portable setup I had successfully used in 2016, while operating as CX7RT from CX-land in the CQ WW RTTY contest: Elecraft KX3 @ 5W interfaced with the MacBook Pro via the USB Sygnalink, while running Fldigi both as the interpreting and logging software.

However, the family had alternative ideas… and on Saturday I was summoned to the yard of the QTH to operate the Napoleon BBQ…

While this cancelled any hope of reaching l’Île du Chenaîl, it still allowed for the KX3, the MacBook Pro and the Signalink to set camp under the maple tree in the yard (the same one that holds up the long-wire antenna). In the end, 28 QSOs were logged: 27 in W-land and one in OZ-land. Twenty-five QSO in two DXCC’s is what the CIA minimally requires for qualifying a new island. Had I been operating from one, it would have been mission accomplished…

…which in a way it was: the STAKES were superb…


A Quick Sail Up-River


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…?



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:




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):



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…