Monday, August 31, 2015

NauticEd - First impressions

I'm always looking for ways to increase my boating/sailing knowledge. I've enjoyed doing instructor led courses through the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron but they don't always have the course selection that I want and the timing isn't always convenient.

I happily stumbled upon NauticEd the other day. They have a variety of interesting looking courses available online. Some of the interesting looking modules include: Storm Tactics, Coastal Navigation and Weather.

They also have a certification program that will get you on your way to an RYA certification or a qualification cert for bareboat chartering. I'm not sold on the certification usefulness at this point but regardless I think there are some useful looking courses.

To try it out I did the free Navigation Rules Clinic. I was pleased with the course layout. It was easy to follow, the content was quality and it made a dry topic more palatable. They promised that everyone would take away something new from the course, even if you are experienced. I did!

The test at the end of the course was 30 questions of multiple choice. My only critique is that some of the questions are set up so that a couple of the possible answers are jokes so you only really have to consider 2 possible answers. This make the test a bit more fun to read but doesn't really challenge you to consider the possibilities.

I really like the graphics that they use on their course and test. They are clear and easy to interpret the situation. They have some video content but I wasn't as impressed by that. They preface each of their videos with canned marketing material that takes time and doesn't add value. The videos are also animated a little to fast so it isn't easy to follow what is happening without replaying them several times.

The cost for the payed courses is in line with an instructor led course and I think if they are the same quality then they are worth while.

I'm considering doing the Captains Rank course that provides most of the content for under $400. Not a bad price for a winter's worth of content. I'll post on my decision and results.

If you are looking at doing one of their courses, below is a promo code that gives $15 off. (FYI. They offer the promo code referral feature to anyone!)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Maritime VHF radio licensing in Canada

I recently went through the process of getting a new radio license and MMSI number for the new handheld radio I got for my boat. The process isn't really straight forward. So, for reference, here is the basic process.

Everyone needs a VHF license - Get your Maritime Radio license

It is law that everyone operating a VHF must have a Maritime Radio license. I've never been asked for my card but I truly think that it's a good idea anyways. How many times have we heard idiots on the VHF that don't know the protocol (or don't care?). Since VHF is an open/public medium, maintaining proper protocol is important.

Power and Sail Squadron - Maritime Radio Course

If you want to use DSC - Apply for an MMSI ID

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is a mechanism for calling specific boats or groups of boats instead of using the standard Channel 16 calling. It also allows for nice features like automated distress signals. While it doesn't seem to be widely used yet, I imagine it will be once more people upgrade their radios and get used to using the system.

In order to use DSC your radio needs an MI or MMSI number (MI is for mobile VHF handsets).

The applications for a number are available here:

Be aware that once you program an MMSI number into a device it CANNOT be easily changed. It usually involves sending the radio back to the manufacturer. For this reason, make sure that you are assigning the ID to the right radio. You only have one shot at this or you will be applying for another ID.

If you are traveling to the US - Apply for a Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence (ship license)

Here is my understanding from the nice people at Industry Canada...

You do not need a Ship license if you are from Canada and staying in Canada.

You do not need a Ship License if you are from the US and staying in the US.

However, you DO need a Ship License if you are going between the Canada and the US. Dumb...yes.

"Basic" over view of the application process:

Other info

If any of this is confusing or if you have any questions, the people at the Industry Canada regional offices are very friendly and helpful. This is also where you can find the email address to submit your forms

If you want to search for an existing MMSI number you can here:$search.formquery?Z_CHK=0

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Imperial March or ....the Game of Thrones

Keep the Star Wars Imperial March playing in your head...

It was at the end of a fibrous-food filled day, a groan escapes from the bowels of the boat. From below comes the shaky voice of our comrade, "Ummm....I think there's something wrong with the toilet." The dark force has awaken and it has stolen away my happiness. For, I know the implications.
Howdy Ho!

I obviously have a blockage somewhere in the system. Two things have conspired against me:
  1. Over zealous use of toilet paper - It is easy to forget that marine toilets don't like a lot of (any??) toilet paper. In the heat of the moment, the user just wants to get things done...using as many sheets as they feel required. The intricacies of toilet mechanics rarely come into people's minds. 
  2. Ultra plush toilet paper - Anyone who has repaired a marine head knows that it is imperative that only the worst toilet paper should be used in one of these things. The engineers apparently do not have access to 2-ply paper when they develop their models and plans for marine heads. The rule of thumb is that you should only use TP that is guaranteed to tear on first contact. We made the ultimate sin by attempting to use "ultra" TP. 
So, I tear reluctantly into the system. My preliminary research has shown me that the choker valve is a likely candidate. I start by disassembling the main cylinder...hunting for the valve. Eventually I work my way backwards through the system until I figure out that the problem is actually further up the line in the discharge hose. 

Luckily I was at our club pump-out station, so I used the pump-out to slurp out the clog from the discharge hose. Phew! Problem solved...right? Well, not so fast. 

When I removed the main cylinder I noticed that the gasket was missing or had rotted away. Now I had a new problem...a leaky toilet. This is at least as bad as a non-functional head since the leak on the cylinder is ...vigorous. Maybe I should just replace this damn thing with a new toilet, I think to myself. Research time...

Apparently my boat has been blessed with a Wilcox-Crittenden Imperial 51 head. According to the inter-webs, this throne is a "pearl beyond price, the pinnacle of the nautical plumber's art". I had no idea. 

From what I have read, I would be (at a minimum) ridiculed if I even think of getting rid of this head and replacing it with a $200 plastic atrocity. So, here I am, I need to fix it. 

Thanks again to the inter-webs, I have found a copy of the manual. The best thing about this manual is that the scanned copy actually has proof of its use stained on the cover. This brings a certain authenticity to the document. I feel the pain of the poor soul who put this poop laden paper into his scanner. 

From the manual I find out that there is a service kit available for the head and that a mere $169.95 will solve all of my woes. As per the recommendation of some helpful person on a forum somewhere, I removed the head and took it home for a revamp. A quick two day turnaround from Binnacle got me my parts. 


I started by disassembling the head and removing as many of the serviceable pieces as possible. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to replace as many parts as I can. 

As I was disassembling it I did my best to keep it straight which direction parts were oriented. The manual isn't really clear in this respect.

Putting the toilet back together was relatively straight forward. No major surprises.

The toilet now works [mostly] normally. I am fighting with an overly strong "Waste Valve Flap Spring" that is doing its job a little too well. More on that later....


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

BoatLogger - Android log app woes

Magical flying boat track

There's not too much positive to say about my experience so far with the BoatLogger app on Android. Buggy is an understatement. I'm not giving up hope yet but I sure hope they fix some of the persistent issues before my renewal time comes up.

On a positive note, as demonstrated in the picture above, BoatLogger has empowered my boat to fly. Awesome.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Landfall 38 Resource Page

Old Landfall 38 Page

I had toyed around with a dedicated Landfall 38 website with resources for owners. In the end, it wasn't getting much traffic and I wasn't spending much time updating it. So, I've decided to simply move that content to my main blog site.

All of the content has been moved here for future reference.

General Landfall 38 Information

Landfall 38 Technical Information

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pram overhaul - Part 2

Front seat top installed and bow reinforced 

To see the first post for this rebuild, see here.

I installed a new seat top because the old one was kind of beat up. It was just easier to cut out a new one rather than fix the old one.

Almost ready for paint
I screwed it in and glued it to the seat from and around the edges with thickened epoxy. I then glassed, with epoxy, the whole way around the seat. My goal was that the seat would become a structural component and take some of the pull from the front ring.

I also added extra reinforcement to the top rail of the bow and I glassed this in to the front and side panels to, again, make it stronger and tie everything together.
Finished side with no stringer

Finished bow and lift straps
Since my new boat has davits on the back I also wanted to add lifting points on the dinghy. I bought some 1" galvanized rings at the local hardware store. I put hardwood mounting plates on the inside of the hull and used 1/8" aluminum plates on the outside for backing. I thru bolted these.

I placed the lifting points as close to the seat frames as possible so that they would take some of the squeeze that I expect will happen in the lifting.

I haven't quite perfected the lifting straps to work on the davits but I'll add an article later once I've gotten those figured out. The lifting straps did make it convenient for painting since I could do both top and bottom in the same session!

I finished her up with four coats of Rustoleum and she seems to be working out well.

Diesel tank cleanout

Replacement filter


It started innocently enough. Actually, to be accurate, it didn't start.

It was a peculiar thing. Shackleton performed brilliantly on my delivery cruise up the river two weeks ago. Eight hours of cruising with several stops and starts and it worked flawlessly.

Two days later, I crank her up and she runs for 20 seconds and dies. Odd.

My first diagnosis was that there was probably something (either water or dirt) clogging the fuel filter. It had been a particularly rough day on Grand Lake when we came in to the harbour and I figured that it had probably just soiled the filter when the sediment in the tank sloshed around.

I drained and cleaned the primary filter. No luck.

I replaced the secondary luck.

I bled the system. I bled the system. I bled the system. No luck.

Since I am new to the wonderful world of diesels (previous engine was an Atomic 4) I figured that I was doing something wrong in the bleeding process (even though the manual on the Vetus M4.15 says that it is "self bleeding".

After many hours of unsuccessful bleeding attempts I decided to actually think through the problem...

Lesson #1 - Stop and think. (sure, it seems obvious now!)

A bit of experimentation finally lead me to figure out that I wasn't getting any fuel from the tank. (another sailor had actually mentioned this as a possibility early on...and I had quickly forgotten about it).

Lesson #2 - Really pay attention to what the experienced sailors say!

I removed the access hatch for the tank and quickly realized the root of the problem.

Goo filled bucket
Lesson #3 - Make sure that whatever you use for a gasket on your fuel tank is actually compatible with diesel fuel. The previous owner had not. He had used some sort of a rubbery material that had since partially dissolved. This partially dissolved goo was now all through my tank. Little black jelly bean sized goo pieces had lodged themselves into my intake hose.

The fix

  1.  I removed all 40 gallons of fuel into jerrycans. The last 2 cm at the bottom (where the sludge was mostly), and the sludge, was removed into a separate container for disposal. I used a borrowed diesel lift pump hooked to my battery to pump out the fuel. This was a slow process. I used cheesecloth over the end of the suction tube to keep it from getting clogged. 
  2. I cleaned the tank. I scrubbed it with rags and used a porous sponge to sock up the grime and sludge. I rinsed the tank with more diesel using the lift pump in reverse. 
  3. I disconnected and blew out the intake hose. Not to self...bring an air pig for this. Diesel tastes terrible!
  4. Tested the engine...and it worked!
  5. I made a gasket out of 2mm cork.
  6. Using a Sue Grafton novel of my wife's (haven't told her this yet) as a drilling backer I pre-drilled the gasket holes.
  7. Re-installed access plate
  8. Sue Grafton brand drilling backer
  9. Cleaned up all of that diesel that I had carefully tried not to spill.

Hopefully my cork gasket will last for a few years without turning into another mess. The inter-webs assure me that it will be ok.

The positive outcome from this ordeal is that I now have a much better understanding of my fuel system. 

Completed access plate with gasket
Asian strainer with cheese cloth for removing chunks

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pram overhaul - Part 1

After 4 years of abuse my pram has begun to show some wear. The primary problem, and the one that has forced this overhaul, is that the bow has begun to pull apart. This is mostly due to me towing her, in rather rough seas, to Digby last year. Basically, the smashing on the waves began to pull the bow right off! Although, my new boat has davits, I expect I will still tow her a fair amount, so I wanted to reinforce the bow so that it would survive another few years of beatings.

Note: The pics below are all taken after demolition, an initial overall sanding and some general filling repair. It isn't actually as f-ugly as it looks.

I decided, that rather than putting the bow back together with the existing stringers, I would rather replace them with a stitch-and-glue style corner joint. I have successfully used this style of building previously and I know that it will be way stronger once I have a bunch of epoxy and fibreglass tape jammed into that seam.

I also decided that I would reinforce the sheer of the bow, and reinforce the seat to bow joint to give it more strength.

The overall goal here is to make the bow as bulletproof as possible.

Bow stringer removed and sanded
I removed the sheer, the front ribs and the top of the seat. Since the seat had been cut around the rib, I used the existing seat top as a template to make a new one without the holes left by the ribs.

To hold the bow and side panels in place, and keep the epoxy from dripping through, I used duct tape.

The wonders of duct tape
  Since I was doing the job, I figured I should also deal with a bit of rot that I had in the aft of the boat. The back starboard stringer had a middle section showing some rot. Rather than scarfing in a repair piece, I decided to stick with the stitch-and-glue idea and replace that whole length with epoxy and tape as well. I did both sides for symmetry.    

Rear stringers removed and sanded

I removed the two bow stringers from behind the rowing seat, to the back seat.  A chisel made quick work of it.

Filleted and taped

I sanded the areas to be epoxied, down to wood.

I used West System epoxy and silica filler to create the fillets. A bunch of plastic disposable spoons made the filleting easy. Once the fillet epoxy had kicked off I added 4" bi-axial tape and whetted it out thoroughly.

To be continued....

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Cat came back

Platinum Cat Heater - Model 6P12

The built in heater on our new-to-us boat, Shackleton II, was one of those nice-to-have features that we were excited about. So we were disappointed when we couldn't get it to work.

Since this was one of many systems on the boat that I was unfamiliar with, I initially thought that it was operator error. But, after some digging, and posting to SailNet forums, I was confident that I was doing it right. It apparently really is as easy as turning on the power and turning up the thermostat. But it still didn't work.

I dug around and figured out that the heater is from a company called A&L Enterprises. I reached out to their generic email address and received a quick response from Arnie. He explained that the model I have is an antique from the early 80's. I wasn't optimistic. Surely if it was that old it would be unserviceable.

Arnie proceeded to send me several manuals, service updates, and detailed troubleshooting instructions. After a bunch of back and forth I solved the problem. The fan blower was rubbing on the housing and causing it to fail. Happily I now have a great working heater!

The service from A&L Enterprises was exceptional. They could have easily told me that it has to be replaced, since it was so old, but they didn't. When I do need to replace the unit, I know where I'll be shopping.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Knots - Handcuff knot


Finished handcuff knot
Handcuff knot

As the name implies, the handcuff knot can be used to bind the hands or feet of your adversary. It is also known as a "hobble knot".  It isn't very practical but it is sure fun! It is a Slip Loop type of knot.

With my Scout group this knot is always the first one that I teach when I am introducing knots because it is easy to make a game of it. It gets them interested in the subject of knots (which can be a challenge). What kid doesn't want to capture a friend with handcuffs as part of a cops and robbers game?

Tying the knot

Animated handcuff knot

  1. First, make a butterfly shape with your hands, with the rope hanging across the middle of the thumbs
  2. Slide your hands apart a bit
  3. With your right hand fingers, pick up the rope on the left hand and pull it up and through. Keep the bight of rope between your fingers!
  4. With your left hand fingers, pick up the rope on the right hand and pull it up and through. Keep the bight of rope between your fingers!
  5. Now finally, pull the two bites apart and let the loops form in the rope.
  6. Hold the two working ends tight so that the handcuff stays tight. 
The knot can be locked by tying a half hitches around each of the loops using the working ends. This is also referred to as a "Fireman's chair knot".

The game

The game that we played with the handcuff knot is basically a modified version of freeze-tag. The object is to capture all of the "robbers" as quickly as they can. 

Pick a few kids to be the "police" and give them rope (approximately 1m long).  The police need to tag a robber and then the robber has to freeze for the count of 5 seconds. If the police can't tie the knot in 5 seconds the robber gets away and the police need to untie the rope and start again.If the robber is captured they are out until the end of the game.

As the kids get better at tying the knot you can reduce the number of seconds they have. Believe me, they will get very quick at it!

Knots - Bowline


The bowline is one of the most basic sailing knots and is almost universally used for attaching sheets to sails. It is generally useful in situations where a loop is needed in the end of a rope. It can be tied by itself or around an object.

It is normally the 3rd knot that we teach our scouts (behind the handcuff and square). I have used it extensively camping and in many ways around the house. 

The bowline is highly reliable, except with slippery rope. Poor quality nylon rope tends to slip and come apart. 


The mnemonic for tying the bowline is:
"The rabbit comes up through the hole, around the tree and back down the hole." 

The basic steps are:
  1. Create a bight in the rope (around an object if desired)
  2. Create a loop in the standing end of the rope
  3. Put the working end through the loop
  4. Bring the working end around the standing end
  5. Bring the working end back through the loop
  6. Tighten

Knots - Figure-eight

Regular Figure-eight

The figure eight knot is a foundation knot that is useful in many situations. In its primary form it is simply a stopper knot. IE, a knot that creates a stopping point in the rope when it is travelling through a hole of some sort. 

In sailing, a figure-eight is often used at the end of a line (for example a jib sheet) to keep it from escaping through its block (pulley). It is used similarly in rock climbing.

While many knots are known to cause a degradation in the strength of the rope that it is tied in, the figure-eight fairs pretty well in this respect. It causes a reduction of 20% from the original breaking strength.

Tying the knot

Animated figure-eight
Animated Figure-Eight
  1. Make a "loop" by crossing the working end over the standing end
  2. Continue the working end around the standing end a full turn to make an "elbow"
  3. Bring the working end back up through the loop
  4. Tighten as needed

"Figure-eight on a bight"

The figure-eight on a bight is used any time that you need a strong loop tied in a rope and it doesn't need to be adjusted regularly. The figure-eight on a bight is strong and easy to tie.


Tying the knot

Use the exact same technique as above. However, before you start, double the rope back on itself to create a loop. Treat the loop as if it was a single rope and tie the figure-eight as you did before. You will be left with a loop in the end.

"Figure-eight follow through"

The "figure-eight follow through" is a form of the figure-eight that is often used in rock climbing as a way to tie into the the harness since it is:
  • Easy to tie
  • Easy to verify that it is tied correctly
  • Doesn't reduce the strength of the rope considerably
  • Doesn't slip
Once tied it is identical to a "figure-eight on a bight" (above) but is tied differently because it is often used around a closed object (like the anchor ring on a harness)

Tying the knot

  1. Start with a figure-eight tied at least 30cm up the working end of the rope
  2. Bring your working end around whatever object the rope needs to be fastened to
  3. Feed the working end back into the top of the figure-eight
  4. Follow the exact same path backwards through the knot. Make sure that you keep the working end tightly following the existing knot path. 
  5. Exit the knot through the standing end side of the knot
  6. Tighten
  7. Lock with half hitches, if required
Animated Figure-eight follow through
Animated Figure-eight follow through

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BoatLogger - iframe issue

Integration of BoatLogger into this site has been a goal of my BoatLogger experiment. Since I want to maintain a single online presence, it is one of the high value aspects of the service. 

Inserting a datapane into a website should be easy. You simply click on "Copy URI", select the code and paste it into your HTML of your blog/site. Easy, right? Unfortunately, from the start, I have had issues getting the data panes to display properly in Internet Explorer.

The basic symptom that I was experiencing was that the iframes would display correctly in Chrome or Firefox but not in Internet Explorer. 

There would be no error, they just wouldn't display. 

Chrome iframes
IE Not displaying iframes
After a LOT of digging into a variety of weird IE iframe eccentricities, I finally discovered the issue...and it wasn't specifically an IE or a BoatLogger problem!

The template that I currently use in Blogger is based on the "Simple" template. In the head of the source code of the template is this META tag:

And it is as simple as that... IE is being forced to think that it is an earlier version that isn't compatible with the iframe content. 

Removing that tag has fixed the problem and it hasn't seemed to have broken the site template. I assume it is there to resolve some specific issue that the template designer was facing. 

While I'm happy that I've resolved the issue, it has shown an issue with the BoatLogger service, their support forum doesn't receive any attention. After 2 weeks of the issue being outstanding, I received 5 views on the forum but no response. Even a "We're not sure but we'll think about it." response would have been more reassuring than nothing at all. 

They seem to think they have good support, judging by the dialog box shown above. I've just submitted a direct question about a problem I've had paying for the service. We'll see what the response is for that...I expect it will be quicker.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Winter fire starting

Starting a fire in deep snow can be an intimidating chore, but it doesn't need to be. This past weekend, at a scouting event, I kept myself busy while the scouts were doing activities by building this fire. 
First I put a layer of 4" wood on the bottom, tightly placed. This layer acts as as a retention layer for the heat and coals until the fire is going well. Eventually it will burn through but at that point you will have a good layer of coals and ash that will keep the fire lit. 

Second, I added a top border of 2" wood around the edge of the fire. This helps to keep the fire in place and retains the coals a little better. 

Last I built the fire using "old man's beard" as a tinder, followed by progressively bigger twigs and then branches. The twigs and branches were from a nice and dry standing dead spruce. 

The fire will continue to melt down until it his the ground, it took approximately 4 hours for the fire to make it's way to the ground in this case. There was approximately 1m of snow. 

Friday, March 6, 2015 - First Impressions

The simplest way to keep track of your boat activities is using a traditional paper log book. But, I'm a geek and using paper to track anything isn't appealing. Whether or not I actually look at it again, I like to have the ability to track, calculate, re-post or reference my data without flipping through a paper log.

So, I have been looking for a good electronic replacement for tracking boat information for a while. There are several phone apps, websites and thick client applications that have this goal but none have struck my fancy until BoatLogger.

Now, BoatLogger is definitely a beta product at this point. There is still a lot of glitchiness in the site but I see promise in the service and I'm betting that, if they can survive long enough and get enough users early on, this site is going to become the default platform for this type of tracking.

What are the killer features of BoatLogger?

  1. Easy of customization - Every aspect of a yacht site can be customized. For those who will be using the service as a primary boat site this is a great feature. For those of us (me included) that will be using it more as a utility service to back my own site, the customized look doesn't get in the way.  Adding data fields is easy and most data panes are customizable.
  2. Reasonable default functionality and look - Out of the box the system is fairly nice looking and functional. This will be important to the non-geek users that aren't interested in a customized experience. 
  3. Good map-enabled log book - I haven't spent much time yet with the logging feature (ice doesn't make for good sailing!) but I look forward to trying this extensively this summer and reporting back. The logging functionality appears to be flexible and functional. Time will tell. It does also give the ability to import GPS data from other sources. Nice feature.
  4. Mobile app (Android) - While I haven't spent a lot of time with it yet, it does seem to have all of the basic features needed for a log. More on this in a future post. 
  5. Support for GPS tracking devices - The ability to tie into a SPOT or inReach tracker is a great feature. These devices tend to be more reliable than a phone. 
  6. Ability to embed data in external sites - For me this feature is important. Since is my primary online location, it is important that any service I use integrates into the site. I like the idea that I can use BoatLogger as the data repository for my data and then integrate it directly into my Blogger site. There seem to be a few integration issues but I am confident that this will be a great feature once the bugs are ironed out. 
  7. A strong roadmap - If the developers at BoatLogger deliver on half of the features that they have planned it is going to be a killer site. Things like instrument integration really are the holy grail of boat management. 
The BoatLogger site also has features for race and flotilla tracking. I haven't explored those yet but they seem like interesting concepts. 

I look forward to seeing where BoatLogger goes. I'm sold on the concept and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. The more people start using the service the more likely it is that it will succeed. Give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised at what they have going on.