A Storm-Tossed Night

Idle Queen Onset harbor rainbow
Rainbow the morning after

Well, we are still afloat and Idle Queen is still in one piece after last night’s storm, which was a record-breaker for an October storm on this area. I saw a low air pressure of just under 28.9 inches before the barometer began to rise again. Winds measured ashore in the area were up to 90 mph. I saw 70 knots at deck level before I had to start dealing with a rapidly deteriorating anchor situation.

The wind began to pick up a bit after dark, and was really howling by 9 pm. IQ was riding well, and the worst wasn’t expected until after midnight, so I tried to nap. I got up a few times when flashlights played through my ports. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, a 46-foot catamaran. They were playing their lights on IQ to better see where I was in relation to them, so I assume that they were already beginning to drag at that point. The wind was gusting into the high 50’s, but IQ hadn’t budged and the catamaran was not directly upwind. I checked everything and then lay down again.

What seemed like a minute later, I awoke to the sound of revving engines nearby. I jumped up and headed for the hatch when there was a ban from forward. I could hear yelling over the wind. By the time I slid the hatch and got out to see, the catamaran was passing just feet from my bowsprit, already moving off to windward. I could see from their trajectory that I had missed observing the closest point of approach. It was a close one. We fell back on the heavy backup snubber that I had rigged. The moment of slack between the first snubber breaking and the emergency one taking up may have saved the boats from contact, but it brought its own complication.

I turned on the deck light so the catamaran could see me better, and had a look around. The scene on deck was wild, with the surface of the water whipped white and blowing over IQ’s deck in the gusts. IQ heeled 30 degrees and more in the gusts as we tacked back and forth behind the anchor. The chop was a couple of feet high even in tiny Onset harbor, with some waves clearly much higher. I had my kayak tied up vertically on IQ’s side, and it was alternately six feet above the waves or floating up along the shrouds depending on which way we were getting blown over.

Then, the anchor alarm sounded. The backup snubber had been rigged with some slack to keep it from chafing. It is rigged to the deck, instead of the waterline where the primary snubber was secured. When the primary snubber broke, IQ quickly gained momentum as she blew backwards taking up that bit of slack. She hit the backup snubber hard, stretching it about 6 feet until the chain finally straightened. Everything held, and I didn’t feel any shock, but a huge strain was put on the anchor at that moment. From then on, we began slowly dragging in the gusts.

GPS track showing how close we were to being on the beach or rocks.

Even though we were now dragging, it was slow and stable and there were a few hundred clear feet of room to leeward. I kept waiting for the anchor to find some firm ground and hold fast, but it didn’t. It was high tide, plus the extra 4 feet of angle to the new snubber conspired to drop the effective scope of the rode down to under 7:1. Maybe less than 6:1. The harbor was too agitated for the depth sounder to read, but I am sure the water was up even more than normal due to the storm.

The wind continued to strengthen. Now when we were caught sideways to the waves the chain was beginning to snatch as it stretched the snubber to the limit. I grabbed my dive mask and foul weather gear and went out to veer more line and chain. There was still a comfortable amount of room left to leeward to where the waves were breaking on the rocky beach. Suddenly, as I was just pulling my hood over my head, the anchor alarm sounded again. This time the anchor had finally been snatched free and IQ was now dragging quickly. I started the engine and glanced once more at the GPS. We were past the 5-foot sounding and still closing on the beach. There were also rocks in the water to each side of my position. The only thing I could do was gun the engine and bring the bow into the wind and try to take strain off the anchor.

Okay, that worked. IQ’s slide towards the shallows halted. But now what? We were too close to the beach to lie to the anchor even if it held. I motored off to starboard, as the rocks in that direction were a little farther away. With the engine running flat out I was able to keep IQ from tacking in the wind, and keep her from getting closer to the beach and rocks, but I now needed to re-anchor, and that meant hauling up the anchor before having a chance to get back out to a safe spot. I couldn’t get the spare anchor out to windward from my position in those conditions. I couldn’t leave the helm in any case.

I was stuck for the moment. To do anything but drive the boat meant the chance of being driven ashore. Once, I tried tying the helm down so I could go forward to try hauling in the anchor. The wind got IQ tacked over and heading for the rocks under power before I could get any chain in. I dove back into the cockpit and revved the engine to its limit in reverse. IQ slowly moved back against the wind towards the right side of the anchor with waves exploding against the quarter and showering the cockpit with spray every few seconds. A lull let me make a hard turn to get the bow into the wind again, but it was clear that I needed to drive the boat to keep her situation from worsening. So, I settled at the helm to keep things stable and wait for the wind to ease.

None of this was made any easier by the fact that I had to wear a dive mask to have any hope of opening my eyes against the wind-driven spray. The mask kept fogging and getting covered in spray, so I had to lick the lenses every minute or two to see anything at all.

After about an hour the wind began to ease. The moon was shining through breaks in the clouds that moved so fast I first thought it was flashes of lightning. Maybe there was some lightning as well. I could only see a foggy, fuzzy view of things half the time.

Lights shone on me from shore. I didn’t know at that time that some boats had broken free from their moorings and been driven onto the beach. There were lights flashing from emergency vehicles at the far end of the harbor. I still don’t know what happened there, but trees had been blown down ashore. There were fewer lights than normal as some power was out.

Another half hour and I felt like I could try again for the anchor. The wind was now gusting no more than into the high 40’s. I gunned the engine straight at the anchor, then put it in neutral and ran forward and quickly pulled in 25 feet of chain hand over hand, dropping it past the windlass 10 times faster than the machine could manage. Repeating this process we soon had a comfortable distance from shore, and the anchor was holding against the diminishing wind. Sometimes I could get ten feet of chain in, others only one or two before the bow was blown off again, driving the loads too high to make progress even with the windlass. It took a few minutes to unwrap the parted snubber from the chain, then I kept hauling. Suddenly, the wind dropped to only about 20 knots, a lull that was exactly what I needed at that moment. I immediately finished hauling the anchor and motored back out to a safe spot in the harbor. Whew!

With the anchor just going down again, the first strong gusts of a new southerly wind began to hit. The storm was passing, and I knew that the wind would veer around to the west. I set the anchor on 230 feet of chain (in 15’ of water at high tide) for the new wind direction, rigged two new snubbers with lots of slack in the chain, and retreated to the cabin. It was now almost 4 am.

There was no damage to IQ beyond the broken snubber and a slight tweak to the bow roller. The kayak was just fine riding on fenders where it was. A few things had slid around in the cabin, but IQ had been generally secure for sea, so no disasters there. I had a second anchor ready to go, but didn’t have time to drop it once we really started dragging. With some more room, I would have tried that, but I still think we would have been fine with just more scope on the first anchor, as we were holding fast before the primary snubber parted. As it was, I am glad I didn’t try to put the second anchor out once IQ really started to drag. If the second anchor didn’t catch, it would have been a nightmare to try to recover the extra gear when trying to get away from the beach. I’m also glad it wasn’t out when that catamaran dragged down, since the nylon rode is often clear of the water past the bow for 50 feet or more when it is stretched tight in strong wind. Again, two tangled boats would have been a disaster. My takeaway just reinforces something I already knew well: the fewer neighbors in a storm, the better!

Boat on beach. Bomb cyclone 2019, Onset Harbor
A few boats on the beach this morning. Lucky for this one to have found a sandy place to go ashore!

Sailing Tranquility

Idle Queen. Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.
Sailing on the Neuse River near Oriental.

Everything that was changed during the refit seems to be working as it should. There hasn’t been much wind to get out for a spirited sail yet, but I also enjoy floating peacefully on calm waters and working Idle Queen into places under sail. It’s like a meditation for me. I have time to watch the jellyfish, the birds, and the reflections in the water. Dolphins surfacing or pelicans diving are loud enough to be startling. Such quiet moments are precious. There will be plenty of wind on other days.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen. Calm sailing
Not much wind, but moving faster than the jellyfish.
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen New Town dock, Oriental, NC
New town dock, Oriental, NC
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Town dock Oriental, NC
At town dock in Oriental
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Whittaker Creek
Sailing in Whittaker Creek
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen ICW day marker
ICW day marker
Idle Queen sailing
First sail after the refit. Not much wind…

The Importance of Access

Broken Through-hull
Okay, that’s bad… Now, how tough is it going to be to work on?

Many do-it-yourself boat owners joke about “boat yoga”, which is the act of contorting oneself to try to work on otherwise inaccessible parts of the boat, but good access to everything is vital. It’s not the sort of feature that attracts crowds at a boat show, but there are few things more important on a serious cruising boat than easy access to every corner, every fastener, and every component of all the systems. The more a boat gets used, and the older it becomes, the more this holds true. The ideal would be some sort of access for every square inch of the inside of hull. Planning for access when designing and building something as complex as a cruising sailboat is is not always easy to do, but every hour spent ensuring that an actual human being can reach and work on everything inside that boat is time well spent.

I can’t count how many times a small task–one that should have been simple and easy to accomplish, like replacing a hose or a fastener–became a difficult slog simply because the components were difficult or impossible to access. I have spent many hours squeezing into cramped engine compartments, reaching into bilges or behind cabinetry, cursing glassed-in fasteners or hoses, and trying to pull wires through spaces that were never designed to be accessed once the factory had closed them up. As a boat ages, eventually every system and most every fastener will need to be serviced if one wants to keep that boat in good working order. If that boat sees a lot of ocean miles, all of the mechanical systems will need regular service, possibly under conditions that are less than ideal. For example, if a fuel filter can’t be accessed quickly enough it could easily mean serious damage, or even loss of the boat. That’s no exaggeration. It has happened many times.

Most of the time I spend on boat projects is spent dreaming up ways to actually be able to get to the part that I need to work on. The task might be simple–replace a y-valve, for instance, but the space too small to even allow me to see the mounting screws, let alone give me room to try to wrestle the stuck, old hoses off the piece before trying to get in there with a new one. What might take less than an hour with easy access to the part can easily turn into a long, frustrating battle.

Contessa 26 Cockpit engine access
Engine access on a Contessa 26 is mostly gained by taking up the cockpit floor. This can be a problem in rough weather!

Considerable time is spent maintaining a cruising boat if one wants to keep things in top condition, and occasionally major repairs to systems and structure are necessary. Easy access can make this work, if not a pleasure, then at least straightforward. Even simple maintenance tasks are complicated when access is poor. How many boat owners are ignoring things that they know need service simply because poor access make working on those things a burdensome task? Many seacocks, for instance, die prematurely because they are difficult to reach, so they don’t get opened and closed regularly. It used to take me more than an hour to change the impeller in the raw water pump of the engine on my old Contessa 26 because I had to take the entire water pump off in order to have enough room to pull the impeller. I had to remove the cockpit floor to change the oil. Needless to say, I didn’t check those things as often as I would have if the access had not been so demanding.

Engine fuel is filtered through oversized dual Racor system for dependability

The primary fuel filter for this engine can be reached through a cockpit locker. 

Good access is about more than making a job easy–there is a safety factor as well. I have already mentioned the importance of being able to quickly get to a primary fuel filter, but there are many other things that need at least reasonably good access even if they aren’t frequently serviced, such as the shaft packing. It doesn’t happen often, but neglected shaft packing has caused boats to sink. Through-hull fittings–even ones above the waterline–should be placed where they can be reached because hoses can crack, and through-hulls can fail. That easily-forgotten little drain fitting near the waterline might become a real problem if the hose breaks. Many chainplates–those very important parts of a sailboat that transfer all the rigging loads to the hull–are neglected until they fail, simply because they are located where they are difficult to inspect or replace.

If the hull is breached for whatever reason, the chances of being able to effect some sort of repair are greatly enhanced by simply being able to get to where the leak is. Even finding a leak can be troublesome on some boats. I once sailed on a boat that began taking on water from an unidentified source when we were almost 100 miles from the nearest all-weather inlet. By the time we made it into the harbor I was pumping every 30 minutes to keep the water below the floorboards. The boat had a structural grid fiberglassed into the hull. Water could flow under this, but there was no access to the space between the grid and the hull except through a small hole where the bilge pump was placed. Though I had spent hours searching, I couldn’t find the source of the leak until after we docked and a strong wind blew up a chop from astern. A locker drain in the swim platform had cracked between the locker and the hull, and I could only see it squirting water into the boat when the short waves from the harbor slammed forcefully under the counter. The clearance was too tight between the bottom of the locker and the inside of the hull to even reach my hand in from inside the boat, so I had to put some waterproof epoxy over the crack as a temporary measure and then wait to repair it from the outside after the boat was pulled out of the water.

Engine access. Alternator replacement
Repairing the systems is a fact of life on a cruising boat. It’s best if they’re easy to get to!

How to access the systems is always one of the first things on my mind when I inspect a boat. How easy is it to access the service points on the engine?  Is there somewhere, if not comfortable, then at least manageable to sit or lie when working on the engine? (This is something that needs to be doing regularly, so it’s worth taking the time to try it out rather than just looking in and thinking, “Well, it looks a little tight in there, but it’s probably not too bad…” I’ve thought that before, and then later found that I had to modify tools to fit those awkward places.) Can I easily reach all parts of the steering system? Are the important parts of the electrical system easy to reach for inspection and service? How difficult is it to inspect the bilge pumps? Tanks? Hoses? Can I follow the propane line from tank to stove and reach all the connections? If there is a cabin liner, can I still get to deck fasteners and backing plates? Can I get to the fasteners for the chainplates? Has provision been made for removing the engine? How about cleaning and repairing the tanks? Can the bulkhead tabbing and hull/deck joint be inspected? Centerboards and daggerboards can be difficult and expensive to service on any boat, though they are wonderful for reducing draft. The hinge pin and lifting mechanism on a centerboard will need attention eventually. There are many more things that could be put on this list, for sure.

Certain construction methods naturally leave better interior access than others. Fiberglass boats with individually glassed-in bulkheads, screwed or bolted cabinetry, and removable ceilings and overheads with no fixed liners are relatively easy to work on when it comes time to repair them, whereas boats that are built with full liners can be a nightmare when it comes time to service certain systems or fittings if the liner was not designed with adequate access points. A full fiberglass ceiling liner is easy to keep clean, but might mean cutting a lot of holes when the deck fittings begin to leak, for instance! Even a partial liner can be a problem. Here’s a common one I see:  showers built in such a way that the drain fittings and hose are not accessible.

Metal boats built with flat bar or plate stringers, rather than “T” shaped, allow one to reach all interior surfaces. Interior accommodations on steel boats are ideally demountable for interior inspection, painting and repair, as steel usually rusts from the inside out…

Wooden boats need good air circulation throughout their interiors to avoid rot, and should to be built so that all corners are accessible for cleaning and inspection.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen anchor locker
Idle Queen’s anchor locker access just didn’t cut it.

On my own boat, the Dreadnought 32 named Idle Queen, there is good access almost everywhere. This is something I was looking for specifically when I decided to buy her. Idle Queen was in need of a major refit when I found her, so I knew I would be inspecting and probably working in every nook and cranny. There were only a couple of square feet that I could not easily reach when I bought herjust the farthest forward part of the anchor locker. I can’t quite squeeze past the Sampson posts to reach the inside up there at the very point of the bow. Well, it came as no surprise to me that during her refit I had to get into that space in order to remove the fasteners that hold the gammon iron to the stem. After some reflection, (and some time spent trying to tape the nuts to my wrench, which was in turn taped to a boathook in an effort to start threading them onto their bolts without being able to get my hands in there), I ended up putting an inspection plate in the deck to replace the port chain pipe to solve the problem of how to access that small area. This change allows future access to the space as well as giving me a place to put an extra ventilator when in harbor. Whenever I work on something that didn’t have good access, I always try to allow for future service.

Idle Queen has a few unusual features that make her most-serviced systems easy to live with. She gives up a lot of interior space to her engine room, but that makes working on the engine a breeze. Changing the oil takes all of ten minutes, including cleanup. All of her tanks are placed far enough away from the hull that it is possible to get behind them, and every tank can be removed by unbolting the tie-downs. Pumps are placed where they are easily removed for service, and hoses and wiring run where they can be inspected and replaced if needed.  She has insulation throughout most of her hull, but holes have been cut to access fasteners. I can reach my hand into every corner of the bilge, even the deepest part, and I can physically climb into the lazarette. Hiding systems took a backseat to serviceability when they were installed. I actually appreciate Idle Queen’s utilitarian finish.

Easy access to most everything aboard Idle Queen has helped to keep the number of enjoyable hours spent aboard ahead of those spent contorted and frustrated at having to spend a lot of extra time doing something that is only difficult because it is problematic to reach. Of course, I still tend to underestimate how  many hours will go into my boat projects on Idle Queen, but at least it’s not often because I can’t figure out how to access what needs to be worked on…

Re-coring the Chainplate Areas–Refit Time, Part two…

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen
Mast off. Ready to remove chainplates.

What follows is a description of a repair that I did not want to get involved in… After removing the damaged parts of the hull and seeing how well-bonded everything still was, I am pretty sure that Idle Queen would have survived another circumnavigation without issues from this area if I had just replaced the chainplates and continued sailing her. But, even if I had stopped new water from getting into the hull, the water that was already inside would have continued to cause further damage by rotting the core, slowly prying the skins from the core with each freeze cycle, and causing hydraulic damage when impacts from waves against the outer skin pushed the water into new areas. Ignoring the problem would have eventually meant the end of the boat because the hull would have weakened and the required repair would have just continued to grow.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Chainplate area
Chainplates removed. Note water draining from hull…
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Core repair
Drilling holes to determine the extent of the saturated core- Note water draining out…

I received a lot of advice from passers-by as I was contemplating what needed to be done after I removed the chainplates and saw water draining from the resulting holes. Mostly, the suggestions were to try injecting products like epoxy, or Git-Rot into the problem area. That would have been little better than just leaving the whole thing alone, as there is no good way to remove the water without completely taking off one skin. Leaving moisture in the core leaves the original worries, and by talking to people who have made these sorts of repairs before, I learned that trying to inject anything into the area is very close to useless.

The first steps of the repair, as already mentioned in the last post, were to find the extent of the moisture penetration, and then remove the outer skin. It was tough to drill those first few holes, but once I got past that psychological hurdle, the work went quickly. I could immediately tell where the core was wet or not when the drill bit brought forth either a stream of water (from the plywood area), damp, but still solid balsa, or dry balsa dust. As an interesting aside, a moisture meter passed over the hull from the outside did not register the extent of the moisture hidden inside. The outer skin on this Dreadnought 32 is between 1/4″ and 3/8″ thick. Maybe a moisture meter works better on thinner-skinned laminates.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Attempting to keep some of the fiberglass dust off of me while cutting and prying. Note the shredded fiberglass due to a tenaciously bonded core…

I taped off the edges of the area that I intended to cut out and then picked up my oscillating multi-tool (a knock-off Fein multi-master) with a metal/fiberglass blade and began to cut the outline. Work slowed down a few minutes after getting started as the glass fibers dulled the metal teeth of the blade. Partway through this step of the project, a friend loaned me a Dremel high-speed circular saw with a diamond-tipped blade. I was able to set the depth of the cut to just more than the thickness of the outer skin and zip relatively quickly along each planned cut. At this point, I was thinking that this project was going pretty well and I was only taking about as long as I planned. Of course, that meant something unexpected had to come up soon!

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Removing the outer skin, port side. First section off!
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Once the skin was off I still had to chisel out all the wood.

That problem came in the form of a good bond between the balsa and the skins. I had built model airplanes when I was a teenager and was pretty familiar with the soft, easily-cut wood from hours of shaping it into wings and fuselages. I hadn’t expected that it would be difficult to get the outer skin off, and actually had visions of popping it off intact and re-using it. Ha! An hour after I began trying to pry the outer skin off one side of the hull it was totally obvious that the balsa core was going to force me not only to destroy the outer skin, but also spend a couple of days doing it. I began with a hammer and a very large screwdriver but only succeeded in tearing the outer laminations of the skin off. Lots of mat remained stubbornly glued to the balsa. After experiments that involved using every prying tool I had access to, including an air-powered chisel, the method I settled on was to cut the skin into two-inch square chunks and then pop each one of the little squares off. That meant a lot of lines to cut! I am amazed at how well the diamond-tipped blade held up, but towards the end it was more burning through the fiberglass instead of cutting…

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Removing old wood core from port side.
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen stitched plywood
Interesting stitching in the plywood reinforcement of the chainplate area. Lots of people tell me this was to hold it in place, but the stitches don’t go through all the laminations, as you can see in this picture. The plywood reinforcement in this part of this boat was simply pushed into a bed of thickened resin as the hull was laid up, and then glassed over.

Once the skin was removed, I had to chisel all the rest of the core material out. This was complicated, again, by the excellent bond between the fiberglass skin and the balsa wood, and also by the fact that the plywood part of the core extended beyond my cut-out area. It was very effective (and dusty) to take a high-speed grinder and 24-grit sanding discs to remove the balsa. A sharp chisel also did the job, but was slower and I had to be careful not to go into the inner skin. The plywood was a pain because I wanted to remove it from between the skins at the upper edge of the repair. I didn’t cut the outer skin all the way to the rubrail (which is un-cored) because that wouldn’t have left enough room to get a 12-1 taper for a strong repair of the outer skin. I slowly cut it out with the oscillating multi-tool.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Starboard side all cleaned out and ground down– almost ready for new core, but I still have to build up the depression in the top part of the repair area where there used to by plywood.

Once that was finished, it was simple to finish grinding a 12-1 bevel into the surrounding outer skin, and finish grinding all of the inner skin with 36-grit in preparation for bedding in new core material, which is 1/2″ end-grain balsa. Instead of putting plywood back where it had existed before, I built the area up with layers of “1708”, which is a biaxial, non-woven fiberglass material which consists of two layers of continuous fiberglass strands (weighing 17 ounces per square yard) running 45 degrees each side of vertical (biaxial) stitched to a layer of 8 ounce mat. Layers of this material were laminated until the surface was level with the surrounding area where balsa was to be placed. The balsa was cut to fit the repair area, and then bedded in a thick mash of resin, chopped strand, milled fibers, and fumed silica (Cabosil).

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Vacuum-bagging the new balsa core in place

Next order of business was to cut plastic to use as a “bag” to hold the balsa in place. I put an old through-hull mushroom in the middle of it. The through-hull was scored so it could suck air in even if flat against a surface. Once everything was cut to fit, and the filler mixed, I rolled resin onto the balsa to saturate it. It took a few heavy coats before it stopped sucking resin in like a sponge. I catalyzed the thickened mash mixture and spread it over the whole area with a heavily v-notched spreader, working quickly. The balsa was all pushed into place until mash squeezed out around all the edges. The ”bag” was taped over the area and a shop-vac used to apply pressure to the area. This does not apply the same pressure as a specialized high-vacuum pump, but it still applies a lot of force to hold the core tightly against the inner skin while the mash cures. It applied more pressure than I could by hand, as more mash squeezed out from behind the balsa.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen hull repair
Adding fiberglass to the re-cored area.

After the core had cured in place, all of the scores in the balsa were filled with thickened resin. This prevents water migration in case there is ever a break in one of the skins. The balsa was cut out where the chainplates mount so they mount over solid glass. Then, all of the new balsa core was sealed with resin until it stopped soaking it in. Additional ayers of 1708 cloth were built up to make up for the difference of thickness between the core and where plywood had been used originally. There are as many as 15 layers of 1708 in the area of the chainplates.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen hull repair
New skin lamination complete. Next step is fairing

I made templates of the repair area and used them to cut layers of 1708 biaxial mat for the new outer skin. Using a 3/8″ nap roller, I wet the area with resin and saturated the glass. Each layer was carefully laid in place and the extra resin squeezed out with a fiberglass laminating, or consolidating roller. It was hot work, with the sun making sure that I was soaked no more than 10 minutes after beginning work each day. After the final layer of 1708 was laminated, I covered the whole repair with a layer of “peel ply”, which is basically a fabric like nylon coat liner that doesn’t stick to the surface. When removed, it provides a fresh, textured surface that is perfect for adding more laminations, or fairing material. Saturated with resin, and then painted, it protected the repair areas while I went away for the summer to work.

To be continued…


Refit Time! Part One…

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen out of the water for maintenance
Idle Queen out of the water for maintenance


Idle Queen is currently hauled out of the water at Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental, NC, for a major refit that will include work on the rigging, hull, and many of the systems.

The major goal of this refit is to make sure that the hull and rigging are in good condition.  It has been a while since Idle Queen last had a major refit, so there are quite a few jobs to catch up on.

The thing that worried me the most during last year’s sailing was the rig.  The chainplates were showing plenty of signs of corrosion, leaving rust streaks down the hull.  They were leaking inside the boat, so water was definitely making its way past the fasteners. What I discovered after removing them was worse than I had expected. The hull’s core had not been sealed where the bolts fastened the chainplates to the sides of the boat, and over the years it had absorbed water leaking past the sealant. When I pulled the bolts out, water began draining from the open holes. I immediately knew that wasn’t a good sign, but when it was still leaking a couple of days later, I knew that I was going to be in for more than just making new chainplates.

I first had to find the extent of the saturation, so I started by scraping out around the holes as best I could. The scraping brought forth more foul-smelling water. At least the core wasn’t mushy. Rather, it still felt solid and fibrous even though it was saturated and dark-colored. I thought about trying to make a repair from inside, but there was no way I could stay on the boat while doing major interior fiberglass work, and I would have had to demolish the interior from the main bulkhead to the galley to access the problem area, so I decided to attack it from outside. If I’d had a place to stay and somewhere to offload all my gear from the boat, it might have been easier to have removed the inner skin to repair the core, even considering the demolition and reconstruction of all the shelves, etc.

So, I started drilling from the outside. Each new hole was made a few inches farther from the chainplate area until I hit dry core in all directions. Water poured out of some of the holes like I had drilled into the bottom of a bucket. In the end, I had a repair area of about 6 feet by 3 feet on each side of the boat.

I hated to do it, but the only way to get a good repair was to cut off the outer skin, remove all of the wet balsa and plywood, and then rebuild the area with new core and glass. So, I committed myself by cutting the outline of the repair area and beginning to pry off the outer skin. I thought this part would be pretty easy, but I was amazed at how tenaciously the balsa was bonded to the skins! I couldn’t remove the outer skin without destroying it; I had to resort to cutting it off in little pieces only a few inches square. Even using an air-powered chisel did little to make the job go faster–the balsa just absorbed almost all the energy imparted by the tool. This process made me feel a lot better about balsa-cored construction, that’s for sure. It was truly difficult take this part of the boat apart! Where there was plywood core I was able to remove the outer skin with relatively little effort.

More to come soon…

Thoughts on Dreadnought 32 Performance

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard's Bay
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard’s Bay

When trying to compare the speed of different boats objectively, I like to use PHRF ratings to give a good idea of the actual performance differences involved. PHRF ratings are used to handicap all sorts of different sailboats so they can race together on the same course. They give a number which equates to seconds per mile, that is applied to a boat’s finishing time to determine overall performance in the race. If a boat has a lower number, it “gives” seconds to a boat with a higher number. Thus, a boat with a rating of 200 is expected to finish a one mile course 50 seconds faster than a boat rated 250. The lower-rated boat has to “give” 50 seconds to the higher-rated, slower boat when computing corrected times at the finish. So, if the boat rating 200 finishes the course 51 seconds ahead of the boat rating 250, it has won the race, but if it finishes, say, 48 seconds ahead, then it has lost on “corrected time”. The ratings are frequently adjusted to keep different boats on par. Racers are a competitive bunch, and this is a widely accepted system used for many different types of sailboat races, so I think it is a pretty good way to compare the speeds of different boats.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s look at a Westsail 32, which rates 222, or 222 seconds per mile slower on average than a boat that rates 0. How do some other designs compare? The Crealock 34, which is a design that is held in quite high regard by many cruising sailors, rates 201. That’s only 21 seconds per mile faster, on average… How about a Contessa 32, another classic design that has a reputation for being weatherly and fast in a wide range of conditions? The Contessa 32 rates 180, or 42 seconds/mile faster than the Westsail 32. Over a 100 mile course, with both boats racing, the Contessa would be expected to finish 70 minutes faster. Over a 2,000 mile course–a huge distance: 23.3 hours. That’s a 1 day difference on a 2,000 mile crossing between a boat that has a reputation for being a slug and one that was designed as a racer/cruiser has a reputation for being quite fast in all sorts of conditions. The only PHRF rating I can find for the Dreadnought 32 is listed in San Francisco. There are not enough Dreadnought 32’s racing on the east coast to give the design a rating. The Dreadnought 32 PHRF rating is 222–same as the Westsail 32.

The PHRF ratings provide the most accurate speed comparison when there is a mix of different points of sail. If the above example citing the Westsail 32 and Contessa 32 were sailed all upwind, I would expect the Contessa to easily out-sail the Westsail every time. However, if the passage were mostly reaching or running (fair winds), the differences will be smaller. Cruising sailors prefer to plan passages that take advantage of fair winds so the actual differences may be smaller than the ratings suggest when that is taken into account.

In races, the finishing time differences normally stretch out to more than in the example above because of differences in decisions made by the crew. A poorly sailed Contessa 32 could easily finish a 2,000 mile course more than a day behind one that was sailed by a top crew. A similar time difference is possible due to poor sails. A difference in the duration of a passage is as likely to be caused by local weather, a meander in an ocean current, crew decisions, boat condition (how clean the bottom is, especially), sails, etc., as the actual speed potential of the boat being sailed.

The PHRF list I use is available at: http://www.phrfne.org/page/handicapping/base_handicaps Not every boat in the world will be there, as there has to be enough of them being raced to get accurate rating data. Still, you can get a pretty good idea of the relative speeds of a lot of different boats in real-world conditions. The system is not perfect, and each boat design has conditions where it will often out-sail it’s rating, but this data has been gathered over many years of racing in varied conditions and is frequently updated when it becomes apparent that a particular boat design (or even a particular boat) has an unfair advantage due to rating.

I hope the above gives enough information to at least keep the actual speed differences in perspective. It is impossible to consider take every factor into account when trying to compare boats, but some details will make a big difference. If you’re sailing in small, very protected waters in mostly light winds, the differences between a very heavy boat and a lighter one will be exaggerated, for instance.

In real life, I have found that my Dreadnought 32 is surprisingly easy to drive on most points of sail at speeds that keep me happy (4-6.5 knots) with very little strain on the rigging. My running average speed over the last 2,000 miles is about 4 knots (per GPS log), but I have sailed the boat overly conservatively due to suspect rigging (which I am in the process of changing). That average includes a mix of offshore and ICW miles, many miles of me being lazy and not hauling out bigger sails on light-wind days, sailing reefed down when being conservative at night, and the like. It also includes motoring, where I run my boat slower than many people partly because I only have 15 hp in a 20,000 lb boat, and partly because I actually enjoy just tooling along slowly when under power… My average speed under power is a relaxed 4-4.5 knots, even though Idle Queen will power at 6.5 knots when needed.

How to Build a Dreadnought 32

I have just added a new page to the site with the original instructions that the factory included with the Dreadnought 32 hull.    It runs to all of 11 pages, and is an interesting read, not only as far as the techniques involved, but also as an example of late 1970’s homegrown technical writing.

Idle Queen was finished by Harry Heckel, Jr. from a bare hull and deck, which he bought pre-joined from the factory.  It took Harry 9 months to go from a newly-delivered hull to launching.

The new page is here.


Video of Last Fall’s Trip South

From mid-November to mid-December of 2013, Idle Queen was underway traveling between Cape Cod and North Carolina.  Below is a video compilation from that trip.  I now have a waterproof housing for my camera after missing lots of good action due to bad weather on that trip.  I look forward to being able to film in all conditions this season.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube in a new window.

Familiar Waters

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen
Idle Queen in Oriental harbor

Idle Queen is back in Oriental, NC, for a visit and to get some maintenance done.  I will get a trip log up soon.  The last few days served up an interesting mix of weather, places, and people…

Thawing Out

Holiday-decorated lighthouse at Hampton, VA

I am writing from a coffee shop in Portsmouth, VA.  I can just see Idle Queen‘s mast from where I am sitting.  It is wonderful not to have 6 layers of clothing on for the moment.  Temperatures have moderated from the unseasonable cold that we experienced from the time we left Cape Cod until just a couple of days ago.  Today’s high approached 60, and the low stayed way above freezing.  It finally feels like we have made good progress south.  Of course, it can get down into the teens here this time of year, but that is unusual.  A week ago, we actually had temps that low.

The trip down the Chesapeake was slow, cold, and at times, rough.  From Annapolis, we motored to Solomons, MD, where we spent Thanksgiving waiting out a gale.  I decided to ride the tail end of that wind down to Little Creek, to visit with friends.  The forecast called for light NW winds, so I figured that we would have to motor part of the way.  We set out with 20 knots.  OK.  I thought it would taper off.  Actually, it ended up staying up there, and then some.  By the time we were nearing the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, it was blowing 25 knots and gusting higher.  The only sail up was a double-reefed main and the staysail, but we were cranking along at 6.5 knots and more.  It was obvious that we would arrive in Little Creek much earlier than I wanted to.  I was cold and tired, as the temps were in the high 20’s, so I decided to heave-to rather than enter the harbor at 0300.  I found enough room and hove-to under just a double-reefed main.  The next few hours were spent getting bounced around in a steep Chesapeake chop, but I could rest.  Michele kept a lookout for traffic while we waited for first light.

As soon as 0600 rolled around, I unlashed the tiller and pointed us for Little Creek.  With steep waves standing up in the entrance, the channel provided a bit of a challenge for the 35-foot sportfishing boat that I watched crashing out of the harbor in great white plumes of spray, but Idle Queen rode in on top of the waves without shipping even a few drops on deck.  I needn’t have worried about entering this port in the dark.  Little Creek has a huge, well-marked channel and I easily found a spot to anchor between the first two marinas.  Sleep came quickly once the boat was secure.

In Little Creek, we had a marvelous visit with friends who also own a Dreadnought 32.  They are a couple in their 30’s, which is a pretty small demographic among the cruising community.  They have done a beautiful job renovating their boat, and I enjoyed soaking in ideas for improvements to make on Idle Queen.

As tempted as I was to stay in Little Creek for the winter, it was decided that we should push a little farther south before hauling Idle Queen for some much-needed maintenance.  The current plan is to go at least as far as Oriental.  We will be taking the Dismal Swamp Canal route, and will be making an early start tomorrow morning to catch a fair current.  I am looking forward to a couple days on sheltered water…