“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


Running Rigging

So I tried to farm this research and work out to an expert rigger, but after going back and forth with him for over 4 months and still not having anything to show for it I gave up. I fired him a few weeks back and started doing my own research.

All of the running rigging with the exception of the furling line on Smitty is original.  That makes it 14 years old and it is showing it’s age.  There are numerous locations with noticeable dry rot and some chafing. Most of the white line now looks gray with the exception of the areas that are either always in the mast or in the organization bags in the cockpit.

We also will get a little bit of bagging in the base of the sail.  I had a sailmaker look over the sail last year and they said it was in near new shape (not a surprise, the previous owner only sailed the boat a couple of times a season and the sail still had creases when we bought the boat). Thier recommendation was that the halyard had too much stretch and that we should add a cunningham.

One of the good things about owning a Catalina is that they have very good owners manuals.  For the C310 they have a page in the manual that gives you all of the diameters and lengths of line you need for the running rigging.

Rigging Specs

So with that in mind I started looking at different types of lines.  I started with Catalina Direct.  They had various halyards and sheets for sale.  For the halyards they use a 3/8″ Dyneema core line with a polyester cover that is supposed to provide an extremely low stretch halyard for about $1.85 per foot. For sheets they use a 7/16″ polyester core with a dacron polyester cover that is supposed to provide a low stretch sheet for about $1.00 per foot.  After doing a little research I decided that the lines offered by Catalina Direct were good for day sailing with the occasional coastal cruising but that we should upgrade to something better for Caribbean cruise.

I next looked at Samson Ropes, they are sold by Defender and our friends Pam & Chris have used these lines on their Catalina 30.  The Sampson XLS Extra is a Dyneema core line with a polyester cover; in 3/8″ line it has a breaking strength of 5,100 pounds and an elastic elongation of 0.8% at 20% load at a cost of $1.39 per foot.  This would be a good upgrade for the halyards.  The Sampson XLS is a polyester core line with a polyester cover; in 7/16″ line it has a breaking strength of 5,800 pounds and an elastic elongation of 2.2% at 20% load at a cost of $0.99 per foot.

I also looked at New England Ropes, they are sold by West Marine, Defender and a couple of other local companies.  They were recommended by the rigger I tried to higher to do this work.  The New England Ropes Sta-Set X is a polyester core line with a polyester cover.  However they use a patented parallel fiber core that is supposed to provide superior strength and lower stretch than Dyneema.  In 3/8″ line it has a breaking strength of 5,300 pounds and an elastic elongation of 0.7% at 20% load at a cost of $1.65 per foot at West Marine.  Again, this would be a good upgrade for the halyards.  The New England Ropes Sta-Set is a polyester core line with a polyester cover; in 7/16″ line it has a breaking strength of 7,100 pounds and an elastic elongation of 2% at 20% load at a cost of $1.80 per foot at West Marine.

After weighing these options and reading some reviews on the typical boating forums, I decided to go with New England Ropes. I was able to get the lines much cheaper than West Marine from a shop called Rigging Only located down in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.  I ended up paying $0.88 per foot for the 3/8″ Sta-Set X and $1.08 per foot for the 7/16″ Sta-Set.

The next thing we had to figure out was how to connect the line to the shackles.  A common approach is to splice an eye in the end of the line.  This gives you close to 100% of the strength of the line.  But one downside is that splices can make the line thicker for about 6 inches at the splice.  This can get jammed in the sheaves at the masthead.  Another issue is that is more difficult to periodically end-for-end the line to prolong the life of the line.

Another option is to tie the shackles to the line.  Knots reduce the strength of the line but with the high breaking strength of the Sta-Set X I wasn’t really concerned.  I looked at 3 knots that seemed to be commonly used by cruisers as follows:

  • The bowline: commonly known knot, reduces the line strength by 40-60%, can be tied in about a 4″ length on the size lines for the halyards; can easily be untied; pulls straight on the headboard;
  • The figure 8: commonly known knot, reduces the line strength by only 20%, can be tied in about a 1.5″ length on the size lines for the halyards; can easily be untied; can pull off center on the headboard, and;
  • The buntline hitch: new knot for us to learn, reduces the line strength by 25-50%, can be tied in about a 2″ length on the size lines for the halyards; cannot easily be untied; pulls straight on the headboard.

We decided to go with the tying a buntline hitch onto the shackles.  This knot is relatively easy, can be tied close to the shackles and doesn’t reduce the strength of the line too bad.  We might have to cut the knot off when we go end-for-end but that’s not a big deal since we would want to get rid of that portion of the line anyways.

To learn the knot I went to Animated Knots by Grog. After a couple of test knots I was good to go.

To run the new halyards I put them end-to-end with the old line.  I then used some waxed polyester whipping twine and a sailmaker’s needle to connect the two lines.  You don’t have to do much, just 4-6 loops through both lines will keep them together without adding much thickness so they can pull through the sheaves easily.  It took me about an hour to replace the 4 halyards on the boat.

Let’s talk about the 4 halyards for a minute.  Smitty has those nice, fancy labels on all of her clutches that label the lines.  According to those we have a boom topping lift, a main halyard, a jib halyard and a spinnaker halyard.  The boom topping lift and the main halyard run up to the two sheaves on the stern side of the mast and the jib and spinnaker halyards run up to the two sheaves on the bow side of the mast.  Technically the “spinnaker” halyard is just another jib halyard as spinnaker halyards on masthead sloops would go through a block that is outside of the mast to allow for the proper angle of approach from a spinnaker.  But we don’t have any plans to fly a spinnaker and the primary purpose of this line will be to lift the dingy so it’s not a big deal for us.

Also, we don’t technically need a topping lift.  We have a rigid boom vang that supports the mast without the topping lift.  The primary purpose of the topping lift on our boat is to hold the Dutchman system for the mainsail. An upgrade suggested by the rigger before I fired him was to replace the small diameter topping lift with the same line as the main halyard.  This would give us a backup halyard incase anything happened with the primary main halyard.

Once all of the halyards were replaced, we bent on the sails.  Smitty finally looks like a sailboat again!

We still have some of the other running rigging to replace.  Also, I want to give the mast a good tuning before our trip to Provincetown for July 4th.  But it’s nice to be a sailboat again.



Propane Problems

Propane is probably the most used fossil fuel on Smitty.  We use it to cook with and on occasion we use it for heat.  The Catalina 310 came with two propane lockers.  They are located on either side of the swim step and both are separated from the rest of the boat and have their own vent line located low in the locker.

The propane locker on the starboard side is for the stove and oven.  There is an electric solenoid valve that is activated from a breaker at the electric panel. The inside of this locker is shaped to fit a very specific propane tank, the ten-pound aluminum tank.  These tanks sell for around $200.


For the port propane locker we were able to fit a steel ten pound tank.  The actual shape of the locker is different.  This tank costs around $50. We use this tank for the propane Magma grill, aka Frankengrill.  This is much easier than using the small one-pound green cans.  Although we do carry some of the green cans as backup in a propane bag on the stern rail.

steel propane tankPropane bag

Side note on safety.  Some people don’t feel safe having propane on boats.  I think this comes mostly from not having a proper setup.  You can see from the description above that none of the propane is stored in the living cabin or other storage areas of the boat.  Propane should be in its own separate, dedicated locker with a vent at the bottom because propane is more dense than air and will sink.  Another good option for storing propane is to have it on the rail, like we do with the green cans.

The Propane Problem we had began last year when I went to the local U-Haul to get the propane tanks filled.  They refused to fill the aluminum tank because it had expired.  Almost all propane tanks are stamped with the date of manufacture and they are only valid for 12 years from that date.

Image from wikiHow

Image from wikiHow

Our aluminum propane tank was from May of 2000.  However it still looked to be in good shape.  There is a recertification process that generally costs around $50 that will recertify the tank for 5 years at a time.  The problem is that with the steel tanks like most people have for their grills the cost of the recertification is about the same as the cost for a new tank. As a result the propane tank recertification business is pretty much dead. I called over thirty (yes 3 – 0) differnet places.  No one wanted to recertify the tank.  I finally found one guy who was nice enough to explain why.  The short answer is lawyers!

Longer answer.  Most of the companies that still have the ability to recertify propane tanks only do this for their own tanks.  This particular company does tank swap outs for forklifts and other equipment.  They also do home propane tanks that are permanently installed for heating, cooking, generators, etc. In these situations they have some reasonable controller over the tanks. They either collect them on a regular basis or they have a service contract to fill the tank that allows their employees to inspect the tank on a regular basis. In the situation I was looking for they might never see the tank again.  I would take the tank away and could do any number of things to the tank.  If there was an accident and something happened to the tank, their name would be on the tank as having recertified it.  This would created an uncontrolled liability.

Thankful this guy was nice enough to take it a step further.  He called his corporate office and explained the situation.  They ok’d him to recertify my tank.  He was about a 45 minute drive from the boat.  I went down there and it was definitely not a business that is used to having customers on their lot.  It was really just an empty lot with a small office trailer, a very large propane tank and tons of small propane tanks ready to be swapped out for their customers.

The recertification took about 30 minutes.  They mainly just did a thorough visual inspection.  They didn’t do the hydrostatic testing I had read about online. Their main concern was the valve and they wanted to make sure that that look corrosion free and free of leaks.  Once they deemed it acceptable, they put a small gray sticker on the tank allows it to be refilled for another 5 years. They even topped off the tank for me.

When it was done I asked how much I owed and he wasn’t sure how to charge me.  They don’t take cash from their customers, most have ongoing accounts and get billed through the corporate office.  He could take a credit card but the person who does that already left for the day.  In the end he told me just to throw a couple of bucks to the guy that actually did the work. I gave him $20; he was happy for a free lunch and I was happy to have my tank for another 5 years.

On my way back to the marina I stopped at the U-Haul to get the tank for the grill filled.  I wasn’t going to press my luck and ask the other guy to fill that tank too. While the attendant was filling my tank he asked if it was for a sailboat. I told him it was.  He said another sailboat owner was in there that morning trying to get an aluminum tank filled but he had to turn them away because the tank was out of date.  Just then our friends Dave and Carol showed up and Dave had a brand new aluminum tank in his hands. He was the other sailboat owner from that morning.  Dave said he tried all of the local propane places to get his tank recertified but the best he could do was buy a new one for $200.


Boat Projects, Boat Projects, Boat Projects

This weekend we worked from sun up to sundown on Saturday and Sunday on boat projects.  Worked a little on Friday evening too.

On Friday, our friend Chris and I installed his Taylor Made bimini bows on his Catalina 30.


We then put on the bimini top on to measure where to add a zipper.


My Bride then took the bimini to her sewing work space (aka my office on the weekends when no one is there).  She added the zipper and a cone on top to allow for a mostly water tight seal around the backstay.

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With a couple hours of knowledgeable work an under $300 off the shelf bimin was turned into a custom fit for a sailboat bimini.  Its nice to have confidences in our skills that we can pull off projects like this and make them look close to professionally done.

While my Bride was working on the bimini.  Chris and I were working to wire the solar panels. Of course while drilling the hole for the wires I got negligent in tying off my tools and when the drill bucked…yup, right into the water.  That was a frustrating and expensive reminder of why you should always tie off tools when working on boats.

Eventually the hole got drilled, everything was wired and after a few quick minutes of troubleshoot it was all working. Our shore power charger hasn’t been on since Friday yet our batteries were at 100% state of charge as of 4 pm yesterday.


Several posts on the solar panel install are in the works and should be published soon.

Sunday we gave the boat a quick clean but the cockpit got the detailed treatment.  I also made a couple of upgrades and repairs to the dinghy. We put all the tools and supplies away and our home looks like a boat again, not a construction project.

Hopefully we should be in sailing shape after this coming weekend.


Starting to Look Less Like Liveaboards and More Like Cruisers

Lots of little projects or little parts to big projects going on the last couple of weeks.

For instance we finally installed the ubiquitous board to hold our Jerry Cans.



We used an 8′ section of PVC board and some U bolts.  The whole thing costs about $30 from the local box store.  Now we need to plan out how we want to secure the jugs to the board.

The kayak rack will go on the other side but we haven’t finalized that setup yet.

We also decided to do some plantings on the dock again for this year.  We used the same planting box as last year.  But this year I decided to use the trellis system to help the tomatoes.


Some peppers, tomatoes and mint.  Need to find some chives to fill out the box.

Some peppers, tomatoes and mint. Need to find some chives to fill out the box.


Some write-ups on bigger projects are on their way.

I also got my first “byline” in the Summer 2015 volume of Mainsheet Magazine.

IMG_3347We even got out for a sail this weekend.  Not on Smitty but on our friends’ boat, Windchaser.  After getting the sails on things started off a little rough.  We had to do an emergency lube job on the steering system.  But an hour later and a little spilt compass juice we were getting the sails up for a nice afternoon sail.


Under 130 days until we cut the lines!

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Marblehead Revisted…..Maddie’s Sail Loft gets the Best of Me, Again!

This past weekend we were hanging out with some friends at the dock and I was reminded of this post that I never finished.  So it’s a little late but thought it was worth sharing.

For Labor Day weekend of 2014 we headed back to Marblehead with our friends Pam and Chris for Friday Night prior to continuing onto to Gloucester for the 4th year in a row with a large group from our home dock.  Pam and Chris were in their Catalina 30, Windchaser, and we were of course on Smitty.  We had an uneventful trip up to Marblehead with light winds that were mostly on the our noses.  So motor sailing for us.  No biggie.  We made it up to Marblehead by early afternoon.

Our favorite spot in the very large mooring field is the Marblehead Harbormaster moorings right opposite the Landing Restaurant.  We were able to get two of these moorings near each other.  After securing the boats we spent some time walking around Marblehead and checking out some local spots.


Pam: “The sun is hot!”

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We headed back to the boat prior to having a great meal at the Landing.  After our meal we headed for Maddie’s Sail Loft to meet up with Pam’s sister-in-law.  After my epic hangover from drinking too much at Maddie’s last year, I put myself on a strict two drink limit.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  I quickly drank my two drinks.  Then two more.  Then some more.  Then we left and went back to the Landing where I decided it was a good idea to switch from vodka and soda water to Scotch.  I also felt the need to declare that “you don’t get hangovers from good Scotch!”  Yeah, that may be true if you only have one or two good glasses of Scotch, it is certainly not the case when you have 3 (or 4 I don’t really remember) after too many tall, stiff vodka and soda waters.

Needless to say I was hungover the next day. I got up and took the dinghy to shore.  I walked a couple of blocks to the nice coffee shop we had seen the previous day and got some coffees and egg sandwiches for the group.  I stumbled my way back to the dinghy and delivered the breakfast to Windchaser just before I passed out in the cockpit of Smitty.  Eventually we got underway but I was in no condition to handle the boat.  Once I got the boat past the mooring field I passed the helm over to my Bride.  She got to watch Pam and Chris have a great, single tack sail all the way into Gloucester Harbor.  I say watch because every time she asked if we should be sailing I said no because I was too hungover to move. (Jesse should have added here that The Bride has banned him from Marblehead trips – no stop over on the way to Gloucester this year!)

We made it into Gloucester where we met up with the rest of our group from our home dock.  This year there were about 18 boats that made the trip.  There are so many of us that now they have taken to rafting us up to make enough space.   After docking, I went up to the pool to have something to eat and a little hair-of-the-dog.  Feeling a little better but really tired I went back to the boat to sleep.  I was woken up around 8PM my our friends Jenn and Jeff (Jenn is from Gloucester and meets up with us whenever we stop here).  Everyone was pretty drunk and the parade of lights was about to start (boats all light up like Christmas Trees going down the canal and out into the harbor) and fireworks were to follow.


Smitty and Windchaser rafted up at Cape Ann Marina

We love this annual trip to Gloucester.  It is one of our favorite local harbors.  We will typically stay at Cape Ann Marina and enjoy their indoor pool with a bar.  They have a cool Caribbean vibe restaurant that has a $1 raw bar happy hour.  The highlight of the weekend is the dinghy trip up the Annisquam River.  We all hop in our dinghies and head up the Annisquam to Wingaersheek Beach.  Great spot with fine white sands that looks like a Caribbean beach (the water is a little colder but still really warm for Massachusetts). (The photos below are a mix of a couple of years.  I need to start taking more pictures. And not putting my thumb over the lens.)


On Monday we sailed back south.  We had a nice sail, not too much wind so we ended motor sailing part of the day.  But it was a great way to finish the weekend.


Don’t know what I am going to do about Summer. She just can’t seem to get comfortable on the boat. 😉