Travel 2016-2017

Helm Station

This was our old helm arrangement. 

The white box on the left is the “chart plotter”. GPS receiver with charts that shows exactly where we are. It’s integrated with the radio and receives AIS positions from other ships and shows them relative to us. It’s on a big, black arm that you can climb on. We covered 3,000 miles of ICW, Oceans and Bays using it. It worked great.

However.  There are issues. Big Issues.

This unit could — in a limited way — control the autopilot system. It would require some serious hackery. But it could be done on the cheap. It could also accept some radar inputs, which would be nice if we ever added radar.

In the picture, there’s a wooden hatch cover. Behind it is a line of blue tape. That’s where the other instruments went. They showed wind speed and direction, as well as depth. A third instrument could sometimes show miles covered or speed through water if it was cleaned properly (See Cleaning the Sensor, below.) The LED displays had faded to be almost invisible.

Also. CA noted that the difference in focal length between close-up instrument and compass and far-away depth sounder makes the ICW a huge headache. Literally. The squinting for distance to see depth followed by squinting for close-up reading of position was awful.

Most important? The depth instrument’s sensor had stopped doing anything useful. That’s a show-stopper right there. Especially in the Bay where the median depth seems to be less than 12′. The average is 21′, but that includes a deep spot that’s 174′, bringing the mean up.


  1. New Depth Sensor. DMI still has some parts for these 1980’s-vintage devices. That means keeping the annoying wind sensor (It whines.) Also. The night-lights suck majorly. 
  2. New Depth Instrument. After all, the depth indicator and sensor is a stand-alone unit: all it requires is DC power. We could buy just a display and sensor and do that. Here’s the iBoats list. Many sensors fit more-or-less the same hole. In some cases, new sensors can be glued to the hull, limiting the amount of hole-cutting.
  3. New Instruments. Yay! New digital instruments with displays that use less power, don’t whine, and can be configured to show different useful things. That would be nice. Also. A better “night mode” than what we have now. New sensors. In particular, a new depth/speed sensor that can be cleaned safely from inside the boat. Check out this site for B&G.

Okay. That was sort-of easy. It’s a pile of money. But we have day jobs that require pants. That’s the reason for working: to buy better boat stuff.

Cleaning the Sensor. The sensor has a little paddle-wheel. With too much algae, it stops spinning. To clean it, you have to pull the large, metal fitting out of the hull, leaving a 1½″ hole through which a fountain of water will erupt. There’s a plug you jam in that hole to stop the fountain. It’s not hard. But. It’s scarifying.  

Everyone says that it’s easy, just be prepared and remain calm. Right.

New sensors have a flapper that slows the fountain to a trickle. It’s not water-tight. But it makes it easier to jam the plug in place. Indeed, the best practice is to keep the sensor sitting inside the boat, near the hole. Only put it in the water as part of departure preparation. Take it out and clean it when you arrive.

Decisions Have Consequences

The next issue is how to lay out the new instruments. Here’s the old arrangement.

From left-to-right, it’s depth, wind, useless speed/distance. The third one on the bottom? Empty. Don’t know what used to be there, but it’s a big old nothing-burger. We kept a little one-armed Lego man we found there as our mascot. 

Here’s the mock-up panel that they’re working with to show how a piece of teak that will fit over the four holes. 

This will provide a nice place to mount the new instruments and cover the old holes. And it will (more-or-less) match the other wood in the cockpit. And it would not require a ton of fiberglass and gelcoat and paint to match the previous surface.

Which leads to further issues. How to arrange things.

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Option 1. Four items from B&G.


They don’t fit!

This is the benefit of working with skilled installers. I’d be stuck with stuff that I couldn’t easily return or reuse. I’d be trying to force-fit stuff into holes where they didn’t belong. 

IMG 2924

Option 2. Here’s an alternative Simrad AP-44 that has similar functionality, but is narrower than the B&G display and control side-by-side.

This looks workable to me.

The fancy chart plotter can mirror the information on these displays. They’re extras. 

I’m a software person. I don’t completely the value in having the redundant displays. The installer, however, considers these secondary displays as mandatory. They’re backup in case the super-complex main chart plotter fails. 

Also, the autopilot controller has a super-simple control with a knobby thing that guests can use to avoid hazards without having to learn the features of the main chart plotter display.

Sensors (a/k/a Transducers)

The astute student of all things boaty will be bothered by the glib avoidance of the sensor issue. This is the benefit of paying skilled technicians. 

There’s a depth/speed/temperature sensor that must be installed. This will (generally) fit through the existing speed transducer’s through-hull fitting. If it doesn’t fit, they’ll have to tap out a new hole (or fill in around the sensor). A nasty bit of fiberglass work because the Whitby hull is so thick.

And. There’s the mast-head transducer.

Here’s a picture of the top of Red Ranger’s mainmast. Normally, this is 56′ in the air, and rather difficult to get to. The wires run down inside the mast. This means that someone has to climb up there and drop a wire down through the mast to their partner who’s waiting down in the main saloon for the wire to appear near a small hole that’s hidden behind a panel in the forward head. 

The wires have to be free from tangling with any of the four halyards that run up through the mast. Plus there are wires for the masthead light and running light inside there, too. 

More new to come on the new electronics. For now, the work seems to be proceeding nicely.


Details will trickle into the blog from the electronics refit. I’m not doing it myself, so I’ll have to report on the status of the folks from MTS. When we get out sailing (in the spring and summer), I’ll provide details. For now, overviews.

Here’s an important new feature. It’s small, but you can sort of make out the a little pink dot labeled “RED RANGER”. 

That’s our new Class B AIS Transceiver. 

A few years back we got a Standard Horizon chart plotter and the associated radio that can decode the AIS data. With a little extra wiring, the radio provides AIS position information to the chart plotter.

We could see all AIS-equipped vessels. It was wonderful.

At sea, at night, the chart-plotter drew little triangles for the vessels. We could look at the PCA (Point of Closest Approach) and TPCA (Time to the Point of Closest Approach) and judge our course to pass just behind the commercial behemoths that range over the watery parts of the world. A little turn, a little throttle change, and we were past Savannah (or Jacksonville) without any real drama.

Now, we’ll also be visible to them. And, from web sites like you can see exactly where we are.

And so can the commercial behemoths. 


IMG 5864

In the southern bay, (below the Potomac) winterizing is a good idea. It hasn't frozen hard there in years. The recent polar vortices may change that.

In the northern bay, however, the creeks do freeze. 

This year, we did the following.

Six gallons of anti-freeze went into the sea-chest. We have a special hose fitting and a bucket just of this job. This was used to pump water to the head, the deck-washdown, and the galley sink on the raw-water side.

We ran the engine to force antifreeze throughout the raw-water cooling.

We pumped most of the water out of the fresh-water tanks and opened the filter so it wouldn’t get cracked by ice. We did not drain everything in the freshwater system. We suspect that we can get by because (a) the plumbing is PEX tubing, which is forgiving and (b) we don’t have months of sustained freezing. Just February. And it warms up during the days.

We didn’t carefully drain each sink’s supply line. And I didn’t carefully drain the freshwater deck sprayer. Maybe next weekend. Or the weekend after.

The bottom paint is a mess. Photos to follow.

A good deal of the shaft zinc, however, was present! This means that the zinc fish being used to drain excess current is working to preserve the shaft zinc. That’s great news.

CA has a large list of tasks for next year. I’ve got a shorter list. New zinc. Botton Paint. Deck Drain Hoses. Leaking Hatch. Electronics.

The “Boat on Weekends” leaves too many jobs undone or partially done. 

We Should Be Heading South

The boat show is down. The hurricane season is starting to wind down. Here’s Red Ranger without any sails.

We’re almost ready for winter haul-out. We have a dozen important jobs to do, including rearranging drains, replacing hoses, upgrading the electronics.

Still. Sniff. We’re happy to be working. We’re not happy to be missing the trip south.

Whitby-Brewer Rendezvous 2016

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CA does it again. A wonderful meet up. Useful information. Fun parties. Good boat visiting. Generally great weather. 

IMG 1847

From left to right: Allegria, Red Ranger, Shooting Star, and Alembic. Two of the boats (Red Ranger and Shooting Star) are local to the Chesapeake. The other two are long-distance cruisers getting ready to head south for the winter.

The venue we’ve used for a bunch of years is the West River Sailing Club. It’s just the right size for the 40+ people that come together. It has a good projector and screen and a good PA system. The caterers that work in the kitchen are top-shelf. 

CA and I motored up from Herrington Harbour North for a little over three hours. Wind from the N meant that sailing would take all day as we beat back and forth across the bay to make just 8 miles to West River.

Terry (of Island Time) and I sailed back. The wind was also out of the N. It was fluky. It dropped to 7-8 for a while, and then built back up to 15. Using jib-and-jigger, we had a pleasant broad reach run down the bay for about 3½ hours. I leveraged some of the presentation material to (finally) figure out how to take the twist out of the mizzen and create a more efficient sail shape.

Ideal Conditions for Visitors

There were issues with Red Ranger. Kind of awkward when you have guests. But sailing conditions were ideal. Ideal.


Meet Fatjon and Blerta. From the 14th floor. Fatjon was a captain in the Albanian Navy. And an ordinance diver. He knows ships and the sea. Blerta is a biologist.

Tropical Depression Hermine had just blown past, veering south of the Bay and taking the storm offshore. This leaves the air clear, cool, and dry. With the predominant low-pressure is off the coast, wind is out of the N and steady at 10-15, gusting higher.

This is right at the edge of mains’l territory. We opted for double heads’l and mizzen instead of the main. The main might have been appropriate at the end off the day as the wind died down. But right after lunch, it seemed more prudent to reduce sail area.


Issues? We’ll get to those. First, here’s two of the annual jobs:

CA is checking all the through-deck screws. This means someone else is below deck with a wrench.

Who took the picture?

Yes, this was posed.

Normally, I’m below decks trying to find the nut that’s spinning.


Nuts below deck.


Here’s another annual job. 

Restitching the blown seams on the sail cover.

The zipper on the top of the sail cover is 18′ long. Yes. That’s feet. Not your ordinary trouser zipper of a few inches. Or your hoodie zipper of about two feet. This is an 18′ zipper. A monster.

Most of the stitching had rotted and pulled apart. The sail cover was no longer a “cover” but more of a “wrap” or a “shrug.”  At best, it accented the sail rather than actually keeping the sun off.

Did I mention issues?

The pan under Mr. Lehman had two gallons of fluid. What kind of fluid?

Hm. ✔ Nearly clear. ✔ No floating oil or diesel. ✔ No greenish hue from the anti-freeze. 

Stick a finger in. Tastes like sweat.

Okay. It’s raw water. From the creek (or the Bay.) So. Diagnosis time: where did the raw water come from?

There’s an immense, multi-part cooling system surrounding Mr. Lehman. That’s the source in a broad, vague, and useless observation. Which specific part has failed?

✔ Check all the hoses. Look good. ✔ Check the pump. Dry. 



Okay. Remain calm. Start the engine. Look for water.

It turns out that it’s this thingy. ☞

(Thank you Fatjon for spotting this. I was looking at pumps an hoses.)

The offending thingy is the anti-siphon valve in the exhaust system. It has a flapper valve that lets air in through the top, breaking a siphon. Stopping the boat from sinking.

If the flapper valve has a tiny bit of crud that keeps it open, then, water comes out the top. The top where air is supposed to come in. Raw water runs down the hoses.  It drips on the block. It fills be pan. It leads to corrosion. It’s all bad. 

We have guests. And as have an engine room full of water.

Mystery Water.

Mystery water that I’m tasting to see what it is. And CA tasted it too, just to be sure it tastes like sweat. 

(What are they thinking?)

We have a manual pump. It didn't work.  Sigh.

So I bail the pan under Mr. Lehman. I clean the gook out of the flapper valve.  Things are good. We’re off to sail the Bay!

Family Visit


That’s my sister, Elizabeth. One of many sisters. This was her first chance to actually go sailing. We showed her many — but not all -- of the boaty things on Red Ranger: we hoisted most of the sails, we had a pleasant drift, we dropped the anchor, had some lunch, and raised the anchor. We held a few things back.

IMG 5559

Since the marina is a little over an hour from Reagan National Airport, we could go sailing in the morning and get her onto her flight the same evening.



Which Elizabeth did not have to participate in.

About 5 years ago, CA made our striking red sail covers. The stitching on the long mains’l zipper has been failing in places. 

Before attempting to sew anything, we brought the cover to the apartment, and — as you can see — gave it a relaxing soak in the tub.

Once we got the mildew and bird doo out of it, we can look at the alternatives for repair.

The touchy part is the thread. We thought we had the top-of-the-line UV-resistant polyester thread. But. It seems to have rotted in places. CA thinks that some kind of rain/sun flap (or fly) that covers the zipper might be a helpful addition. 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Things happen. We wound up testing the bilge pumps heavily. And one of them wasn’t keeping up and needed to be replaced.

CA cleaned the nav station. This leads to something you don’t see every day.


The Nav station.

With no stuff.

The stuff was all on the bar, getting picked over with much tongue clucking and tsk-tsk-ing.

CA: “What’s this screw?” 

ME: “The bent one?”

CA: “No, the totally stripped one.”

ME: “Stripped? Phillips stripped or square drive stripped?” 

CA: “It used to be Phillips. Maybe ½″.”

ME: “Oh. Right. That screw. I’m saving that because —”

CA: “Yes…?”

ME: “Because…. I forgot. It’s to something.”

CA: “Clearly, it’s to something. If you can’t remember, and nothing’s falling apart, then it’s trash.”

I guess that’s a good rule. If you don’t know what it’s for and nothing’s falling apart, then, you don’t really need it.


My nemesis — the deep bilge pump — is on it’s fourth incarnation. Red Ranger had a a big old Jabsco PAR 36600-series pump. External motor. Drive belt. Box with the diaphragm and valves in it. Super high volume (8 gpm.) Super high price. ($450.)

The diaphragm itself was shot, as were the valves. And it’s big. So I replaced it with a lower volume, “simpler”, PAR-MAX pump. That lasted about a year.

The West Marine folks suggested that the one I had was only for fresh water. I replaced it with another, similar pump that’s described as a “wash down” pump. 

It started out great. But, starting with the trip North in the spring, it’s been working intermittently at best. The pump runs, but it doesn’t reliably develop enough suction to lift water from the bilge. When it does (finally) get primed, it seems to work nicely. But if it would pull from the bilge, what’s the point?


Let’s try the Shurflo Pro Blaster pump.  It’s 5 gpm. But it’s still the smaller form factor than the giant Jabsco 36600-series.

What’s important about the Shurflo incarnation are the fittings. The Jabsco had clips. Goofy clips. They’re easy to snap shut, but are you sure they’re tight? I suspect they can leak air. The Shurflo has screws. These seem to provide a better seal. And I can add a little Teflon tape if I have doubts. The new pump pulled water from the bilge spectacularly.


Money-wise, I could have replaced the original Jabsco with a new one. 

Why were we testing the bilge pumps?

Here’s the important safety tip.

This is the section of cabin sole between the saloon, the forward head, the V-berth and the hanging locker.

The finish is destroyed.

How did this happen?


Here’s your Red Ranger safety tip of the day.

Store Ammonia In The Bilge.

If you store it on a shelf — e.g., in a hanging locker that has shelves — you might knock it over; the plastic bottle will crack, and it will peel the finish off the cabin sole faster than you can throw buckets of water onto it.

We know. 

CA was as close as she gets to shrieking as I ran for buckets and a hose. The huge piece of floor on the starboard side of the main saloon came flying up from below in a heartbeat so I could hose it down on the dock. 

When it came time to put it back, it wasn’t clear exactly how she was able to pick it up and throw it into the cockpit. It’s huge, very heavy, and awkwardly large.

The good news is that it’s mostly this one piece of the floor. There are some splashes in the saloon, but they’re smallish. This looks like a job for Epifanes rubbed-effect varnish. And some 220-grit. And a good brush. 

The best part is, it can be removed and worked on under the aft deck awning. A little sanding, a few coats of finish, and that may be the best-looking piece of interior wood on the boat!

The pump ran, but did nothing. It’s been replaced. 

Cleaning, Cleaning, and more Cleaning


When we lived aboard, we kept Red Ranger clean. It was easy. We were there. And we were otherwise unemployed. Except for sight-seeing. And writing.

The amount of small mildewy areas is legion. It’s actually kind of insane. 

We’re starting from this ☞ 

The part is a vent fitting. It’s on the cabin “ceiling” (the headliner.) It’s the interior portion of a Dorade vent. 

It’s got this kind of haze of mildew.

That requires a toothbrush to get into all the little cracks and crevices.


☜ After. 

This picture looks like it’s just a slight change in lighting. No. There’s some minor discoloration of the white fitting (expected after 35 years). But the mildew is now gone.

CA’s doing each cabin. Carefully and thoroughly.


Which leads to this ☞ 

There’s only so much vinegar water you can splash about before you just can’t splash any more.

It’s an important job, and there’s a lot to do.

When not cleaning, CA’s been rearranging the V-berth to optimize the space. When we lived aboard before, we jammed a lot of stuff in there that we “might” need. After two years, there are things in there that we never touched. They can go, now.

We also carried too many clothes. That’s something we won’t repeat. There’s a right-sized wardrobe for a (nearly) perpetually casual life. And it seems to be pretty small. When we went back to work, we bought a few things that we’ll drop off at a charity.


This is a view of two fenders and our rebuilt fender board. It’s a 2×4 jammed inside a rubbery cover. It’s pinned between boat and dock, and a little hard to make out in the picture. The previous 2×4 had rotted inside the rubber cover. Not useful for fending off a dock. 

Now the board is hanging properly and we have fenders to properly keep us off the piling. And a pressure-treated 2×4 should last a few years.

CA spent two days cleaning. I spent two hours rebuilding this.

Taking Philip to Oxford

How do you introduce someone to the sea?

CA’s Venerable Great Aunt Diane (vGAD) came to visit for a long weekend. She’s been on Red Ranger many times. She brought more of CA’s family: Maddy and Philip. Maddy has been to Red Ranger before, but Philip’s never been here before. Philip has never seen the ocean.


Red Ranger’s water tanks are still a little stinky. They need a thorough cleaning. But so does everything else. Where to focus? Clearly, the V-berth and galley. 

We’ll get to the tanks later. 

Until then. This ☞ ☞ ☞

Three gallons. Sturdy latches. Comfy handle.

We can bring along jugs of clean dock water for drinking.

We can run the tank water for washing and showering. And since we’re not living aboard, we can use LOTS of tank water. Wash everything. Connect the deck shower fitting. Use as much tank water as possible.


In the Northern Bay, we’re several days from the ocean. We could continue north, shoot through the C&D canal and then run down Delaware Bay. Two days. We could go back down the Bay. Day 1 would be Reedville. Day 2 would be Cape Charles. 

The ocean is right out. We’re not talking Philip that far.

It’s only the Bay, but it’s big and salty and has plenty wildlife, so it’s like the ocean. Right?

The breeze is from the ENE, so let’s head SE and see what we can see. From here, that’s Tilghman Island and the Choptank River. The wind eventually died, so we motor-sailed up the Choptank, up the Tred Avon, and into a randomly-selected creek.


It was sunny.

It was warm.

It was flat. Uncharacteristically flat. So it was misleading to smoothly power across the Bay and up the Choptank.

The Bay was not like the Ocean. Indeed, the Bay was not even like itself. The Bay was like a lake. This isn’t a very good introduction to the ocean.


CA was very excited about cooking for guests. She wanted to make pancakes. The whole “wake up in a  creek with hot coffee and pancakes” is a delightful thing. We love this about cruising around the Bay. A new creek. New sights. Yummy breakfast.


The pans didn’t make it from the apartment to the boat.

This lead to pressure-cooker cakes instead of pan cakes. 

They’re awkward to flip. But otherwise, it works out pretty well. We had hot coffee and pancakes in a random creek up the Tred Avon, up the Choptank. 

vGAD loves the ocean. She doesn’t mind a little jellyfish action. Or, perhaps more accurately, she’s inured to jellyfish and can put up with them for short periods of time. Maddy and Philip gave the bay a quick splash.

Maddy didn’t like jellyfish at all.

Philip said that it tasted like sweat.

Okay then. Mission accomplished. It appears that Philip may understand the sea pretty well.


2016-06-25T11:04, 38°46′16.6″N, 76°33′50.6″W, Herrington Harbor North. Engine on. Wind ENE 2g4.

Sails up near R “2” at the end of Long Bar. 

2016-06-25T13:30, 38°41.65′N, 76°28.85′W, Strike headsail and motorsail under main alone. ETA 16:20. Sailed perhaps 4 nm in 2 hrs.

2016-06-25T17:16, 38°42.67′N, 76°10.116′W, Anchor Down. 

Estimate 24 nm in about 6 hrs.

2016-06-26T07:41, 38°42.67′N, 76°10.116′W, Engine On. Wind E, light. Water glassy.

2016-06-25T13:38, 38°46′16.6″N, 76°33′50.6″W, Herrington Harbor North. 

Estimate 24 nm in about 6 hrs.

© Steven Lott 2021