Monday, January 18, 2016

Mason 43 Mast Step Replacement Ensenada 2004 (January 2016)

This evening I stumbled across a few photos of our mast step replacement project in Ensenada back in 2004, a pleasant surprise because I thought we had lost them all.

Original mast step, looking forward from and into the bilge.

The mast step on the Mason 43 (at least on ours) was very poorly made. I refrain from saying poorly "designed," for the drawings by the naval architect show something quite different. But the actual construction was remarkably inept, consisting of a pad made of few layers of plywood supported and raised above a drainage channel (and drainage pipe) by thin supports on either side, all encased in fiberglass. Evidently, the idea was to give the boat all the weaknesses of deck-stepped mast and none of the advantages.

Water had found its way from the mast into the mast step, leading to the delamination of the plywood. We discovered the problem in Ensenada, Mexico when we noticed our slack rigging. Needless to say, we were quite distressed, all the more so because the boat was new to us.

Moreover, Ensenada lacked any good options for pulling the mast. Fortunately we had become friends with crew on Infinity, a 120' ferro-cement ketch whose skipper/owner was busy gutting and rebuilding his boat while at anchor in the Ensenada harbor. He not only offered us space on his boat to build a new mast step but also convinced us that we could lift the mast using his mizzen. He also had all the materials I needed for the job (if I recall correctly, in exchange I built an instrument panel for his engine). The lifting operation seemed a little dicey to me, but we decided to give it go. Over the next while, I built our new and much improved mast step. Then, after choosing a proper weather window, we rafted up to Infinity and raised the mast just enough so that we could set it on the cabin sole. We moved our little family (me,  two-year-old Lola, and pregnant Michelle) aboard Infinity. Then after we sealed off all the cupboards and lockers, I ground out the old mast step and epoxied the new mast step into place. For us it was a major victory over a potentially major problem. And it was fun, demonstrating what one could accomplish with a few friends.

Original mast step, looking aft.

Original mast step, looking forward. That's a water tank on the right.
Colin (where the hell are you? Why don't you write) showing off the new mast step.
Momo rafted alongside Infinity (that's a teepee on Infinity's foredeck)
That's me setting Momo's spinnaker pole for the lifting operation.

Raising the mast -- Skipper Clemens at the winch on the mizzen mast, Colin guiding the mast on Momo's cabin top.

Resting the mast on the cabin sole.

After the grinding.

Ready for the new mast step (looking aft).

New mast step installed (looking aft). Jonas did the nice job on the stainless & aluminum.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Madagascar: Big Skies -- and a Waterspout in Sumatra (November 2015)

We are in our last days in Madagascar, and we have a lot more to say about it, much more beyond those first impressions from our other posts -- but in this post we're just going to share the big sky that we wake up and go to sleep to every day.

When we arrived in late August, the sky was big and blue. As the season has worn on, it is weighted some days with graphite grey, and rain threatens to loose itself on the anchorages and shorelines. Sometimes the clouds open up and drop a barrage of large droplets -- once with what sounded like hail on our cabintop. But often they hover, low and hulking over the mainland, threatening to come our way but staying just beyond our northwestern island anchorages.

And then evenings bring soft pinks and golds.

The best morning skies we've seen have been in the early dawn hours as the sun starting to show, before the heat presses in. I usually don't have my camera if I'm out on deck at that time of day. And on two of those occasions we were outside chasing down a stolen dinghy -- stealthily cut from our stern in the night and recovered in the peaceful pre-dawn of an almost-perfect anchorage. But that's another story and part of the next post. For now, nothing but sky...

Blue Skies -- a lot of days in September and October looked like this:
Afternoon on Nosy Be

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wind-Vane Self-Steering on Momo: Balancing the Machine

I began writing this description of how we set up the wind-vane self-steering gear on our boat primarily as a response to somebody from the Mason Sailboat Owners group. But I figure it might be worth sharing more broadly. In the perennial debate regarding the virtues of autopilots versus those of wind-vane self-steering units (ours is a servo-pendulum device), we find ourselves firmly on the side of wind-vanes, at least for boats more or less like ours – not too fast, moderate size, aft cockpit, tiller or cable steering, etc.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bernard's First Log Entry on Momo, 28 February 2004

On 28 February 2004, after having spent around two months getting our new-to-us boat ready for offshore sailing, we left Redondo Beach and sailed to Catalina Island, some 20 nautical miles away. Here's my (Bernie's) first log entry (I recognize the handwriting):

"Took us while to get control of things. Tried to raise our main with a reef in it but got something (??) hung. Sheeted the jib sheets wrong. Wrestled with the main sheet because the way it’s set up really sucks. The dodger also gets in the way of the jib winch. Dragged a dockline through the water all the way to Catalina. The prop freewheeled the whole way even though it supposedly feathers. 

We made good time -- 7 to 8 knots. The thin 'safety' lines holding the blocks to the Sailomat [windvane self-steering gear] chafed through right away. 

White Cove we found plugged with mooring balls. Tried anchoring in 40’ of water. First time we did not set. The bow roller -- the axle came apart while pulling the chain back up. The second time the anchor did not set. Bow roller malfunctioned again. And we pulled up a huge piece of sheet metal -- remnant of some Japanese submarine no doubt. So we picked up a mooring. To keep us from bouncing on the mooring ball we tried to set a stern anchor. Pointless. We need a stern roller. Our present arrangement sucks. But things are good. Things are beautiful."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Madagascar Early Impressions: Harnessing the Wind (October 2015)

So we settled into our early weeks in Madagascar, and the second thing we noticed -- along with the cacophony from the music festival blaring off our bow and the gyrating rhythms of Nosy Be -- was that this is a sailing place.

In Crater Bay, in Russian Bay, in Honey River, in Sakatia, we follow the rhythm of this watery life, as boats sail by our bow or our stern morning, noon and night. It's busy in Crater Bay, as this, along with Hell Ville, forms the hub of Nosy Be's trading center. Sailing dhows of all sizes glide in and out, leaving in the early dawn, transporting their cargoes using the reliable afternoon breeze and returning after dark. And they really do glide -- they hoist their sails and go, even in the lightest of breezes. Sometimes they ghost by at midnight, propelled by a single oar to get them into waters shallow enough to drop anchor. Sometimes they sail all the way in, inching along before stopping deep in the bay. And the helmsmen expertly manage their craft, which pass so close to Momo's bow that we can almost reach out and clasp hands.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Madagascar First Impressions: Music Festival of Nosy Be (and a Little about Sex) (September 2015)

Madagascar is a country that makes a big first impression. Just east of Mozambique, it's the fourth largest island in the world, and a convergence of Europe, Africa and the Middle East -- as evidenced by the gourmet French meals and baked goods, the combination of French and local Malagasy language, the melange of rum drinks and vibrant materials for both traditional and modern dress, and the fleet of sailing dhows that are scattered every day up and down the coastline, with their triangular sails set against the rising and setting sun, reminiscent of traditional Arab sailing vessels.

This is the land of lemurs and ylang ylang, distilled rum and vanilla, dancing and late-night revelry (the party starts at midnight, as far as we can tell), lazy mornings and lavish lunches.

We arrived in late August, just as a music festival was starting up in Nosy Be, the administrative check-in center for vessels arriving on the northwest side of Madagascar.

Below are some photos from our first days here in Hell-Ville and the music festival that filled the streets and even our cockpit day and night. We can't photograph the underlying cultural rhythms and tones -- poverty that begets petty crime and sometimes more dramatic instances of violence, or the clash of cultures that inevitably comes from the intersection of a thriving local culture and a strong expat community (which seem to exist, for the most part, in relative peace).

Nor can we capture the pervasive sensuality of Nosy Be, but we have the unavoidable sense that sex is neither a nasty three-letter word in the traditional Victorian Values sense, nor merely a means to procreate. We haven't been here long enough to understand the relationship between sex as pleasure and sex as business -- but they are both a deep part of this culture. Clearly, solicitation is a pervasive issue here and is at least at the official level discouraged (see t-shirt photo, below). Others have written on the topic of prostitution and the meaning of sex/life -- and how it differs from the well documented sex trade in Thailand and the dangerous and frightening child sex industry in places like Mombasa. Clearly, from our peripheral vantage point, we have little way of understanding exactly what's going on here. Even as it makes an impression.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

3000 Miles of Waves and Sky -- Indian Ocean Crossing 2015

Just before leaving Malaysia, I was put in touch with an artist working on a painting project in which he was trying to capture a sense of the ocean's waves. He was looking for offshore photos of the deep blue. I told him our own attempts at photographing the ocean -- many years of it -- are never very successful, as it's nearly impossible to capture the depth and breadth in a camera lens. We have no perspective other than our sea-level view, and there is no comparative element. We also can never capture the movement of the waves: how they come at you with great speed at times, lift you, push and pull you. The movement of the boat is what defines our existence at sea -- up and over waves, one moment after another. Patterns of holding on and letting go, of balancing on one foot or the other, become second nature to an offshore sailor. But those can't be captured either. The kinetic energy of life afloat is wholly elusive when it comes to a digital capture. I'm sure professional photographers do a much better job of it, with better equipment and a better sense of the how to of it.

But I liked thinking of this artist with his white and blue and grey canvas. Indeed, I thought of him all the way across the Indian Ocean, wishing I could contribute something of the variety of the ocean for his 'research'. So we tried with our own modest Nikon to capture the sea state, taking hundreds of photos of blue and more blue. We experienced real variety, too: at first a very calm sea, then building with increasing wind and then very steep seas as we made our way further south and got into the heavy tradewinds. But we don't venture outside with the camera when the seas are especially nasty; you'll not find any photos of those days when waves the size of two-storey houses were breaking over Momo.

Below are some samples from our 25 days between Sumatra and Madagascar -- some 3000+ miles (you can see our track here). Even if you can't get a sense of the height or depth or frequency of the waves from these views, you can at least see the infinite blue.

Departure day, August 1

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SE Asia Impressions: Wild Things -- 2013-2014 (July 2014)

You can't spend two years in SE Asia without encountering something of the wild side. We're not extreme adventurers; we are basically homebodies who like to travel with our kids. But here in SE Asia, we've come into contact with some pretty amazing critters, so I'm looking back on our time here and reminiscing a little about how easy it is to get close to nature here in Asia.


We begin with our newest passenger -- an uninvited guest who somehow stowed away in Phuket, Thailand, and hitched a ride to Langkawi, Malaysia. By all accounts he appears to be a pit viper -- based o his behavior and coloring/ markings. Not the kind of guest you want onboard. Because of him, we got in touch with a couple snake experts, first in Thailand but as we were sailing south they were out of reach and unable to help first-hand (though they did hold our hands metaphorically, and we were grateful for that), then with a local snake expert in Langkawi.