Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Pelagic Autopilot

When we go racing, we usually have a full crew. But I spend a lot of time by myself either cruising, delivering the boat to/from a race or occasionally racing a single handed race. That is why I really like an autopilot on my boats. Recently on a sailing forum a discussions was started where a guy was installing a autopilot on his new boat. Many commenters said "how can you ever let go of such a beautiful tiller and let an autopilot steer?". The truth is that if you spend a lot of time on a boat alone, you really have to get away from the helm at times. On my last eight hour delivery that started early in the morning in the dark with a driving rain, I would have to go down below for food, dry clothing and to check the AIS for traffic. I kept my time away from the helm short and tried to keep a good lookout. When I sailed alone to the Queen Charlotte Islands, the overnight passages were too long to stay awake the whole time. I would take short catnaps while the autopilot steered a course. Yes, there was always a danger of hitting debris in the water, but I did the best I could.

My boat is outfitted with a Raymarine autopilot system. This consists of a computer, compass, control unit in the cockpit and a actuator (motor) to drive the tiller. This is the second autopilot system, but the original actuator that was installed when I bought this boat. The Raymarine actuator has been showing its age. It makes ominous sounds. The mounting pin broke off and I jury rigged a repair. I had been thinking about sending it back to Raymarine to be rebuilt.

But on the sailing forum, the guy installing the autopilot had bought a system I was not familiar with. It was called a Pelagic Autopilot. I searched their website ( ). This is a small business. Brian the owner sells actuators that are a direct replacement for my Raymarine actuators. And the price is less than half of what his actuators cost. His actuators are commercial linear actuators that he fits adapters to use on a boat. They are built of corrosion resistant materials and repair parts can also be purchased. The actuators will work with many autopilot electronic packages. Brian also has developed a autopilot electronics package that is compact and rugged. Many boats racing shorthanded or singlehanded to Hawaii this summer are using either his complete autopilot package or just the actuator.

Today I built a new bracket to connect the actuator to the tiller. This needed to be done anyway. The old bracket was too low and both the old and new actuators tipped down. I installed the bracket and took the boat out for seatrials. Everything went well: the helm would center and the actuator stayed level.

After sailing for thousands of miles alone with an autopilot, I now have a new one to test.

 This is the mew Pelagic Autopilot actuator. It arrived from San Francisco in three days and I had it operating the day after it arrived.

This is my Raymarine autopilot actuator. It has some plastic parts, and I think everyone has broken at some time. It has steered the boat for thousands of miles.
This is the tiller bracket I built today. It is all stainless steel and really tough to shape. I went crazy and built a retainer to hold the actuator shaft onto the pin.

The tiller bracket installed with the actuator shaft connected.

The actuator installed between the cockpit edge and the tiller. It is steering the boat.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Duwammish Head Race- The Race That Almost Was

Saturday was the Duwamish Head Race sponsored by Three Tree Point Yacht Club at Des Moines. This is the second race of the four race Southern Sound Series.

My race started on Friday with the delivery to Des Moines. It was very calm and was sunny by the time I got to Des Moines. Later in the evening it got cool and the fog rolled in. The weather forecast for the next day was for very light winds. By morning the fog cleared with a light breeze from the SE. I started thinking that maybe we would actually get a race off. The previous two years, this race was not started last year because of no wind (and Seahawks playoffs) and two years ago because of strong winds, lightning and hail.

We started in a light wind and started a nice reach up the shore. We jibed a lot and sailed hot angles to try to keep the boat moving. One boat disappeared ahead and we had a running battle with two others. Since the current was flooding, near Fauntleroy, we worked close to the shore with some success. Between Lincoln Park and Alki Point, the wind built some from the SW. We had good boat speed and with only a few miles to go to Duwamish Head, we were confident that we would finish a shortened course.

But then a lot of chatter started coming through the radio. The subject was that the race was being abandoned! What? How could this be? A shortened course had a 10 hour time limit and we still had five hours to go. We could not hear anything from the race committee and neither could most of the other competitors. Then boats started coming back through the fleet and confirmed that the abandonment signals were sounded and the proper flag displayed. This was really disappointing. We never quit until the time limit is impossible to accomplish. It was a nice sunny day and the wind had built some.

We motored back to Brownsville and I drove back to Des Moines.

Sunday, the discussions started on the forums started. One boat who was close to the finish line had this report:

"Kahuna rounded Alki point leading the PHRF fleet with Nefarious next boat behind. Kahuna chose the great circle route and Nefarious went up the beach. The committee boat was anchored next to Duwamish Head and it was obvious the course would be shortened. We had some of the best wind of day (7 knots) reaching up Alki beach and it was looking like a close finish with Kahuna...but saw the whole IRC fleet drifting ahead and knew what was coming.

About half way into Elliott Bay the wind shut down for both of us and we went to a head sail in 1-2 knots breeze. We were making decent progress up the beach and were about 1,000 yards from the finish behind Crossfire when we heard the 3 gun shots followed by a radio announcement that the race had been abandoned. The committee reasoned the majority of the fleet would not have finished and called it before the first boat (probably Crossfire) crossed the line.

It was frustrating for us, and I understand that the committee wanted to be fair to all the boats, but I'm not sure how the committee knew only 4 hours into the race that the wind would not fill before the 10 hour limit for the short course was reached. Regardless I respect and support the committee's decision."

This sure seems strange that with five hours of racing before the time limit expired that the race would have been abandoned. Would some boats not have been able to finish before time expired? Absolutely! That happens all the time. But to abandon a race so early in the day and not allow anyone to finish is highly frustrating.

 Five awesome J boats moored together at the Des Moines Marina.
 Great White moored at Des Moines Marina.
 Michelle, Walter and Jim enjoying the weather.
Nice view of Seattle during the motor home.

Catching Up On New Years Day Activities

Finally catching up on my News Year day activities. The last few years, this seems to be a recurring theme.

It was a quiet night before, so I got up at the regular time and after breakfast, I drove the Mustang to the cruise at the K mart parking lot. With the temperature at 25 degrees, I did not think there would be much of a turnout. But by 1000, the parking lot was filling up nicely. There was a lot of the "usual suspects" and it was fun to see several friends.

Either a replica or an original, this is an early Shelby race car.
 A guy showed up with a 93 Mustang LX. It had all the engine and suspension options that made it close to the same car as my 90 GT. The main difference was the trim and the LX had an automatic transmission. It was in really great condition. Mine is on the right and the LX on the left.
 There was a great turnout and a clear day that did not feel too cold.
 A rat rod truck that has been to the summer Tuesday versions of this cruise.
 This is a fairly rare 86 Mustang SVO. It has a turbo charged four cylinder engine that puts out about as much horsepower as my V8. This is a nicely restored one.

Following the cruise I went to the Brownsville Marina to watch the Polar Plunge.

 Everyone lined up getting instructions.
 Ready at the waters edge.
 Some actually stayed in the water for awhile.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Winter Vashon 2015 Did I Tell You That It Was Raining?

Saturday was the traditional first Saturday of December race around Vashon Island. Although it is not actually Winter, this gives it a great name. This race sponsored by Tacoma Yacht Club, is sort of the beginning of our racing season that will end on about the end of November 2016. This race is the first race of the four race Southern Sound Series.

My race starts on Friday morning when I was underway at 0700 for the four hour delivery to Tacoma Yacht Club. I arrived early enough to get a prime spot in the moorage. Later, the club sponsored a dinner. The class breaks were posted, and our class was composed of six J35s, two that I did not know.

Saturday morning, the rain started. We rigged the boat and got to the starting area. After predictions of south winds in the lower to middle teens, the winds were about five knots from the SW. we lined up for our 1005 start and approached the line to start only to not get a starting signal. Thinking I was off by a minute, we circled around and then a postponement was called. Don't know what that was about. The second time, we got a great apinnaker start and reached out into Colvos Pass. 

We did not get far until the wind shifted to the north at about five knots. We tacked up Colvos Pass chasing shifts and trying to avoid various dead spots. The winds stayed at 0-5 knots. We had a running battle with "Melange". We open up a lead only to have them catch up. Near the north end of Vashon Island, they opened up a good lead on us and then went close to the Vashon Island shore. We stayed farther from shore and with favorable current, we passed them again. We could see that the race was being finished on Allen Bank. With only a few hundred yards to go, the very light winds shifted to the south. "Melange" set a spinnaker, passed us and crossed the finish line 50 yards ahead of us. But wait! There is more! As "Melange" approached the finish line, they tried to sail between the mark boat and a larger boat from another class. After a heated discussion between the two boats, they ran out of room, the two boats touched each other and the current pushed "Melange" into the mark boat. Later the results showed Melange" as 'retired' and us in first place.

From the finish, we motored to Brownsville, off loaded the crew to my truck and drove them back to Tacoma Yacht Club.

Did I tell you that it rained? Well it did! And hard all day. But with good foulweather gear and warmer temperatures, it did not bother us much.

Thanks to my crew of Jim, Walter and Rainer.

Here is our psychotic track for the day.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hanford And The "B" Reactor

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation was developed during World War II. It was chosen for several reasons, some of which was a good source of water, plenty of available electricity and a remote location. The Army confiscated the property, relocated the citizens of the town of White Bluffs. Soon a massive construction project was started. Reactors were built starting with the "B" Reactor. Other processing facilities were built to handle the products produced by the reactors. The whole purpose of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the reactors was to make Plutonium 238 for nuclear weapons. The "B" Reactor produced plutonium for the first atomic bomb exploded in New Mexico and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki Japan. Eventually plutonium production ended at Hanford and the reactors and processing plants were decommissioned. All the reactors except "B" were entombed in a structure and all the support buildings demolished. "B" was kept as a National Historic Site. The work being done at Hanford is now cleanup of the mess made during plutonium production.

A couple of months ago, I saw a television show where they mentioned the "B" Reactor tours. I knew about them a couple years ago, but circumstances got in the way of reserving a spot. But this time I got on the computer and reserved the last tour spot on September 29 th, the next to the last tour date of the season.

I decided I could make a day trip, so I was underway at 0445. With a breakfast stop at North Bend and a few Rest Stops, I was over Snoqualmie Pass and at the Richland reception center by 1000, well before the required checkin time. After a briefing and a short video, we loaded onto a tour bus and started north on Highway 240. Our guide talked continuously about the history of the area, the archaeological aspects of the area and a lot of other items. We entered the complex near the Columbia River and parked in front of the "B" Reactor. I was immediately shooting pictures without thinking that we had 2.5 hours there. 

The reactor was very interesting. It looked like it was shut down and the operators walked away. Equipment and furnishing were all in place. I was really amazed at the construction and the material schedule. I would have never thought that aluminum tubing would be used in a reactor! The "B" reactor is a graphite moderated reactor. The pressures and temperatures are quite low. Remember, this reactor was intended to make plutonium and was not intended to produce steam. Most of the plant was wide open. Some areas were still contaminated or radioactive. Barrier tape or physical boundaries kept everyone clear of hazards. Docents were there to give talks on the reactor operation. After 2.5 hours, we were back on the bus.

The bus took us back to the reception area, but this time we went through the length of the Hanford Site. We saw many of the entombed reactors and the remains of the old town of White Bluffs. We arrived at the Center at about 1530 and I was back on the road soon there after. This time I took a route that took me through Moxee, Yakima and home over Chinook Pass. It was a great drive home and I was home at about 2100.

Since I have been to Ground Zero in Nagasaki, this tour for me was like a "closing of the loop" in this historical event. Now I need to visit the Trinity site to complete my tours. The Trinity site and the "B" Reactor are scheduled to become National Parks in the future. Another reason for this trip was "Professional Curiosity". I just wanted to see how it was built and operated.

Here is a link for the B Reactor Tour Registration

 The reception center in Richland.

The "B" Reactor

 Hallway from the entrance to the reactor room.
 Warning board entering the reactor room.
 This is the front of the reactor. There are 2004 tubes. Each one has its own cooling water supply. The tubes are aluminum. The uranium fuel is encased in an aluminum tube and fits into the reactor tube with .080 radial clearance. There is only about 450 gallons of cooling water in the reactor at any time. Water is pumped from the Columbia River and after it leaves the reactor and goes through a settling pond and back to the river. Water temperature entering the reactor is about 55 degrees F and leaves the reactor at about boiling, 212 degrees F.
 This is the front of the reactor. Each tube is loaded with cylinders of uranium fuel and pushed toward the back. Sixteen spacer tubes were pushed in after the fuel. There was several feet of shielding material between the exterior and the graphite core. The fuel was in the center of the core for 60-90 days before the fission products made enough plutonium out of the uranium fuel. The areas around the edges might take a year before it was "done". When the fuel was ready for extraction, the reactor was brought to a low power level, the water secured, the tube cap removed and the fuel pushed out the back of the reactor where it drops into the water pit. One Docent (who was a reactor operator) said that exposure rates at the front of the reactor were not too high.
 Lets crank it up and make some plutonium!
 The control console.
 This clock in the control room is stopped at 1048, the time this reactor first went critical.
 The SCRAM (Safety Control Reactor Axe Man) button. There were two that needed to be pressed simultaneously.

Each of the 2004 process tubes in the reactor had a pressure indicator in the control room. If even one tubes pressure varied by more that 3 psi, the reactor would SCRAM. And a sign said not to lean against this board or it could SCRAM the reactor. Someone ought to warn this lady!
 Below this wooded grating is a water pit where the irradiated fuel is stored during it's cooldown period. The workers moved and handled the fuel with 20 ft long tongs.
 Placard showing the layout of the reactor.
 The Valve Pit where cooling water is circulated.
 Model of the graphite moderator and process tubes.
The train and casks that hauled the irradiated fuel to the processing plant. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Foulweather Bluff Race 2015

October 3rd was the Foulweather Bluff Race sponsored by Edmonds Corinthian Yacht Club. For the second time, the course was reversed from the normal direction. It is a 26 mile race that starts  just north of Edmonds,rounds the bell buoy off Scatchet Head,  rounds the bell buoy off Foulweather Bluff, and back to the finish north of Edmonds. This year, the weather was forecast to be sunny and the winds were suppose to be northerly up to 15 knots.
I delivered the boat to Edmonds early on Friday and got a choice moorage spot at the visitors dock. I explored uptown and spent time kibitzing with old acquaintances and met a few new ones. Interesting how the sailors from outside my normal sailing area around Bremerton are so friendly.

Through friday night and into Saturday morning, it was clear that the wind forecast was not exactly accurate. The winds overnight built into northerly winds into the 20's. By morning, reports were coming in from the ferries that gusts to 30's were being observed. The sailors started getting nervous. As the race time approached, the Race Committee hoisted the AP postponement flag inside the harbor. They were concerned about trying to set and maintain a starting line as well as the safety of the participating yachts(a source of much discussion lately). 

As the postponement continued, some boats packed up and headed downwind for home. Other boat owners decided it would not be a good day for racing and found more substantial boats to sail on. Their crews also looked for good rides on other boats. We tried to pick some up to sail with us, but nobody was interested in sailing on my boat. Their loss.

After about an hour and a half, the wind abated some and the race committee lowered the postponement flag and the remaining boats headed to the starting area. Leaving the harbor, it really was not too bad. The wind had dropped to the 15-20 knot range and with the sun out, it looked like it would be a great day.

We put up the #3 jib and with a full main, we started the race. We had a poor start, but shortly after the start, we found our selves in a great position and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in solid second place. The beat to Schachet Head was pretty straight forward until we got close to the buoy where the current was flowing rapidly to the left. We were good about not overstanding, but still had to crack off a little to round the buoy.

From Scatchet Head to the the Foulweather Bluff buoy it was a sloppy, wet beat with the ebbing current against the northerly wind. We submarined the boat a couple of times taking solid water over the cabin top. We had a GPS waypoint to steer to the Foulweather Bluff  buoy and with the ebbing current, we thought we could make the buoy on one tack, but when we got to the Foulweather Bluff buoy, we were headed, ended up about 50 yards low and had to take two tacks before jibing around the buoy.

Rounding the buoy, we set the spinnaker for the run to the finish. We were efficient sailing low to Pt No Pt and escaping the adverse current. From Pt No Pt, we again used the GPS to judge the current and sail to a finish line waypoint. We pointed the boat low of the finish mark to account for the current. This allowed for the shortest distance to the finish. We cruised along at 8-9 knots passing some boats that started ahead of us and some faster boats that started behind us, passed us on the beat and somehow ran into trouble on the run. One boat in our class passed us on the run and we finished 3rd in our class.

It was a great day, very sunny and warm. At no time did the wind seem excessive. We sailed under great control the whole time. I was surprised at the number of boats that felt the need to reef. And I bet the skippers who bailed on racing are regretting their choice!

Thanks to my crew of Jim, Walter, Rainer and Kathleen for putting up with me.

Results can be found here: Foulweather Bluff Page

 My cozy spot at Edmonds on Friday. One of the perks of being retired, getting underway early to arrive and get the prime spots.
 The boats rafted up in the harbor.
 The boats rafted up in the harbor. 
Cruising past Pt No Pt.
Photo: S Nelsen
Our track for the day. We averaged 6.91 knots according to the nav computer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Pony Car Project-More Stuff!

I have not been accomplishing much on either of my project cars. But the last couple of weeks, I went crazy and placed a couple of order with Late Model Restoration. They were advertising a Labor Day Sale and later another coupon sale.

So, what did I buy? Here is a list:

Sub frame connectors

Rear control arms and urethane bushings

Urethane axle bushings and installation tool

Urethane spring isolators

Heater supply and return engine tubes and preformed tubes

Windshield wiper arm

Battery ground harness

Gas tank level sensor

The first order arrived a week ago and the second today. I installed the wiper arm and battery ground tonight. I do need to clean up the ground cable routing. The other items are a bit more involved. Probably do the tank level sender first, the heater tubes and hoses and later the rear control arms. The subframe connectors need to be welded to the frame. Lots of fun here!

Nice display of parts, but they should be out of sight installed on the Mustang.