August 2013 – Salty John : The Blog

This week we’ve launched our new VHF antenna, the AlphaOne. Cue drum roll, trumpets, fanfare!

It’s a 1m (3’) whip antenna for the marine VHF radio and AIS frequencies and built for us in the USA by a company that’s been making antennas for over 50 years.

The AlphaOne’s heavy gauge tuning coil, housed in a stainless steel pot at the base of the antenna, is precision wound to ensure consistent performance during long periods of transmission – it doesn’t distort when it heats up. The coil is sealed within the pot to exclude moisture. It’s no surprise, then, that it carries a lifetime warranty.

These construction features are shared with the AlphaOne’s stable mate, the well-known Metz antenna which we’ve been offering to the European boating market and to professional search and rescue organisations for more than eight years now. We’ll continue to do that, of course.

What’s different about the AlphaOne, then? 

Well, it’s slimmer and a fair bit lighter – just 125 grams. Lower price, too. Mainly, though, it’s versatile: We’re offering the AlphaOne with mounting options that will allow it to be fitted easily and elegantly on a whole range of vessels from RIBs to yachts. 

By using the ADAPT2 adapter, (clever name, I thought), the AlphaOne can be mounted on standard threaded folding brackets and extension poles. This means RIBs and small power boats can get the improved performance that comes from the broader radiation pattern of a whip antenna whilst retaining the benefit of height and fold-away capability. 

So, the Metz has a mate, and our customers have choices. Check it out in the shop.

Last weekend was a little weird – we received a visit from a wallaby! No, we don’t live in Australia, we live in Lancashire. It turns out it had escaped from a farm a few miles away and, having been injured by a car, it fetched up on our lawn to recuperate. 

I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to persuade the police, the RSPCA and a couple of vets that I wasn’t winding them up and the poor creature needed help. Eventually some people pitched up with a big net and carted the wallaby off.

Even without wallaby wrangling it’s been a bit hectic around here this past week; we’re preparing for the launch of our new vhf antenna, the AlphaOne. I’ll blog about it next week after we get it on the website, but I can report that it’s a worthy stable mate for our hugely popular Metz antenna. It’s smaller, lighter and a bit lower priced than the Metz and it has a clever adapter that allows it to be mounted on an extension pole to get really good performance on low level mount applications – RIBs, sports boats and so on. Watch this space.

The Atlantic hurricane season is hotting up. During August, September and October we’ll see the greatest concentration of named storms in a season that officially runs from June to November. 

Here in the UK we aren’t directly bothered by hurricanes but those of us with friends and family over the pond watch in trepidation as these monsters set off on their destructive journey westward.

Hurricanes are atmospheric disturbances unequaled in nature for their size, lifespan and destructive force. They dominate the weather over thousands of square miles, they live for days, sometimes weeks, and they can generate wind speeds of over 200 knots. When they arrive off the coast of the landmasses at the western side of the Atlantic they create storm surges of more than 15 feet above the normal tide. 

Atlantic hurricanes typically start life along the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) where the water is warm and the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. The ITCZ stretches from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean – it’s a nasty place of low pressure, tropical disturbances, rain and thunderstorms – essential ingredients for hurricane formation. In the winter the ITCZ is located close to the equator and one of the elements required for the birth of a cyclonic storm is missing – the vorticity or spinning force of the earth’s rotation. But in the summer the ITCZ moves north of the equator where this final ingredient is added to the brew. 

If there’s one thing that’s predictable about hurricanes it’s that they’re unpredictable.
Some storms grow stronger on their journey across the Atlantic, some dissipate; most re-curve to the north as they approach the American landmass and then slither up the eastern seaboard but some carry on straight as an arrow, some even dip south.

So, hang on to your hats friends and relatives in the firing line, we have our fingers crossed for you.

Loos, (that’s the company name, by the way, not a misspelling of loose), makes two different classes of gauge for wire rigging – Standard and Professional. They also make two sizes of gauge for rod rigging. We stock them all.

The standard range comprises two models, type A (91M) covering wire sizes 2.5mm, 3mm and 4mm and type B (90M) for wire sizes 5mm, 6mm and 7mm. These gauges are simple to use and accurate to 5% at mid-range. 

For more accuracy and convenience choose the Pro models: PT1M for 2.5mm, 3mm and 4mm, the PT2M for 5mm, 6mm and the lower tension end of 7mm and the PT3m for 7mm, 8mm, 9mm and 10mm wire. These gauges are a little more accurate, 3% at mid-range. 

The Pro range is more convenient to use because, amongst other things, the gauge is left on the wire whilst the turnbuckle adjustment is made whereas the Standard range gauges must be removed whilst the wire is adjusted.

Rod rigging can be accurately tuned with the RT10 and RT11 gauges.

Having the correct rig tension is important because a loose rig can impart shock loads to shrouds and chain plates as the mast flops from side to side; a too tight rig can cause structural damage.

A properly tuned rig will have equally tensioned shrouds so that the boat will perform well on both tacks, the leeward shrouds won’t dangle flaccidly and the forestay won’t sag. She’ll feel right on all points of sail.

A tuned rig is a happy rig. 

I’ve blogged about this before, so if you don’t suffer from this nasty affliction you can go on smugly about your business. You don’t want drooping bits. You especially don’t want drooping spreaders. Drooping spreaders warn of a rig on the road to catastrophic failure. Perky upward pointing spreaders are what you want. Well set spreaders have tips that bisect the angle of the shrouds that pass over them. In this way the load on the spreader is even and the spreader is disinclined to be pushed up or down, slackening the shroud and threatening the integrity of the whole rig. Spreaders come in lots of shapes and configurations: Racier boats have spreaders with aerofoil sections, like little aircraft wings, to reduce wind resistance. Cruising boats tend to have longer spreaders to give a broader based rig, sacrificing sheeting angle for better mast support. Spreaders can be fixed at the mast or fully articulating and they come with a variety of methods of attaching the shroud to the spreader tip so it doesn’t jump out.

Whatever the spreaders design, droopiness must be avoided at all costs – check your spreaders now!

There’s a new sailing movie on the way – Robert Redford and an aging Cal 39 star in “All is Lost”. 

Maybe that should read “an aging Robert Redford and a Cal 39…” but never mind.

The trailer shows us a distressed Redford waking to find that his boat has collided with a container and is holed. Water is rushing in. He is in the middle of nowhere. He tries to call for help but realises his VHF radio system is not transmitting.  

We see him climbing the mast (rather efficiently for a 75 year old single hander) to repair the antenna, which we then see is bent (bird strike?) and the PL259 connector is loose. To affect a repair, Redford has brought with him an adjustable spanner. Now, of all the tools he was likely to need to fix his antenna, an adjustable spanner is at the bottom of the list. He might as well have dragged a lawnmower up there. A PL259 has a knurled body which you screw in by hand – and once in they don’t ever fall out on their own, especially if you’ve wrapped the connection with Bandit tape as you should. The bent whip could be straightened by hand.

He twiddles around a bit ineffectually and then gazes off into the middle distance where a thunderstorm is brewing. The storm arrives and renders his repair efforts pointless because the boat is dismasted, sinks and he abandons it for the liferaft. 

I’ve made a lot if assumptions about the plot from a two minute trailer but I’m sure I’m not too far wrong. I suspect all this faffing around with holes in the hull and bent antennas is providing the excuse to get him in the liferaft where the real meat of the story takes place. I suppose he could have just had a seacock disintegrate or a through hull transducer break off but where’s the drama in that?

Anyway, I’m sure it will be an excellent movie and I really hope Redford gets a best actor Oscar at last.

I’ve given my boat away. 

Minnie, the ComPac 19 on which I’ve explored Lake Windermere and then the Lancaster canal, has gone to a new home.

I felt she needed to get her wings back and go sailing. But I’ve been finding less and less time to devote to Minnie as I pursue sailing opportunities further afield. So she needed a new home and she’s found it in Melissa. I hope Melissa gets as much enjoyment out of Minnie as I have and that it sets her on the road to a future of sailing and adventuring.

Minnie was my seventh boat. I seem to have always owned one – Crescendo on the Vaal Dam in South Africa, Assegai for many wonderful years cruising Chesapeake Bay in America; Adriana, my favourite, on which we spent three fantastic years cruising down to the Virgin Islands; Annie the Grand Banks 32 providing my foray into power boating; Butterfly, the 41’ ketch on which we cruised the Bahamas for a couple of years. I suppose I should mention Shiwara, the Jeaneau Symphonie, but she brings back memories of an excruciatingly difficult journey from Galveston to Florida which I’d rather forget.

For the time being I’m going to enjoy sailing in a slightly different way – OPB’s. That’s Other Peoples Boats.