Earth, Wind & Water

Ramblings of an Earthling, Laserite and small boat sailor

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Never jury rig something so well that you forget it's broken

The other day, driving on an interstate, I realized I was driving on a flat tire, thanks to a good Samaritan who wound down her window despite the wintry mix of drizzle and snow, and told me. In these same nasty conditions, I replaced it with the spare, big rigs racing by, as I jacked and wrenched away on the driver's side. Once I was home, dry and warm, I figured out what must have happened.

Back in September or October I was about to head out to the lake when I noticed I had a flat tire. Just as I was about to start pumping it up with a bicycle pump (actually convenient way to do it, and vastly quicker than those dinky electric pumps you plug in the cigarette lighter) I noticed that I had a cracked and leaky valve stem. Pushing it towards the rim opened up the crack, as the centrifugal force on it would as the wheel turns. Grrr! I really wanted to go sailing. So, I thought about it for a minute or two, and then pumped up the tire and wedged a little stick in between the rim and the valve stem. I didn't have to use the pump again at the Lake, because much to my surprise, when I got there, the stick was still in place. It stayed that way for months.

I fixed a couple of things on my car a few months ago, even the engine thermostat which is buried quite deeply in the engine compartment, but the valve stem was written on a list I mislaid and slipped my mind... As I was leaving this recent trip, I hit a big pothole that must have dislodged that twig and allowed the air to leak out. Of course, this also illustrates the maxim that if you know something is broken, you should fix it asap, before it breaks something else.

Another improvised quick fix I was proud of was my makeshift repair of a broken traveler fairlead on my Laser. I had cut short a business trip to be at the lake to defend the Vicky Cup (which is in fact a shield, at the Clinton Lake Sailing Assoc.) when on the way out to the first race, without much drama, it gave way. After a few minutes of trying to sail on each tack, I determined it really was impossible to race in that condition, and there was a good chance I'd break the other fairlead. I felt like a softy - ocean racers deal with far worse breakdowns on the water.

Unusually, I hadn't brought my toolbox to the lake, and had only a lighter, a Philips screwdriver and a length of Spectra. I burnt through the spectra, to make a short piece, tied some figure-of-eight knots to strengthen the ends, and drove the fairlead screws through the twine, using the two broken pieces of the fairlead as washers to stop the screws from pulling through the twine. You've got to love Spectra: strong as steel, tough as Kevlar. I sailed my boat like this for a couple of months before a big regatta prompted me to fix it for real with a pair of aluminum fairleads. What say you, sticklers of the Laser class - if I hadn't made it kosher, would you have protested my jury rigged fix?

Lastly, a challenge for readers. Can you name the jury rigged boat boat pictured above, and what it was that broke which forced them to improvise so effectively?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What iconic object of industrial design are you?

Inspired by Tillerman's post on personality analysis based on blog entries, here's another personality test linked to a PBS documentary on industrial design. I liked it because I'm interested in the theme, liked the object it chose, and I think the assessment was pretty accurate. Plus, it's a quiz you can do without having to give a Facebook app access to all your information. Here's what it said about me:

You are a Volkswagen Beetle

You are an idealist. You believe that everyone has a fundamental right to opportunity, education, shelter, nutrition, and marijuana. You almost certainly consider yourself to be politically progressive, although you are usually off the grid around election time. It's cool; the rest of us here at the commune will do your composting chores for you while you go monitor the elections in Ulan Bator.
What icon of industrial design are you?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Best ever sailing innovation - sunscreen

A couple of days ago I mentioned yacht club fees as the worst ever sailing innovation. I don't want to dwell only on the negative, so I declare sunscreen as the best ever invention for sailing. As a red head who loves sailing and other outdoor pursuits, it makes my life a lot better, and I can't imagine living without it. Getting sunburned is painful, bad for your health, and ages your skin.

My favorite sunscreen is Coppertone Sport because it sticks to your skin so quickly. It says is does so instantly, but I find it does benefit from drying for a few minutes before you get wet. Most sunscreens tell apply the cream 20 minutes before perspiring or getting wet, but who does that every time?

That said, it does make sense to put it on sooner rather than later. What's the point in getting a little bit sunburnt while you rig up before slapping it on? In fact, it might even be worth putting it on before driving to the lake. The plastic laminate in windshields filters UV fairly well, but I'm not so sure about the window glass which is tempered, not laminated.

I don't pay too much attention to the SPF factor once it's above 20, because what counts is not to what degree it filters every last UV ray, but how long it stays on your skin. Besides, you do need a little bit of UV for your skin to make vitamin D.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to drill out rivets

What you really want to avoid when drilling out a rivet is ovalizing the hole by drilling right through the rivet, slightly off center. A hole that is not quite round and bigger than it ought to be will weaken both the spar and new rivet. The best way to do the job is to drill off the head of the rivet and then drive the rivet through the hole using a punch. This is the way airplane mechanics do it, for good reason.

First, drill off the head using a drill bit slightly larger than the diameter of the rivet. Once you've gone far enough, the remains of the head will start spinning around on the drill bit. Try to not go further than you need to, but in the worst case, you'll put a slight chamfer on the outside of the hole. Here's what you'll end up with:

Note the head of the rivet on the drill bit...

...and the countersunk hole in the body of the rivet.

Now it's time to punch out the rivet. I like to use a punch that is a slightly smaller diameter than the rivet. If the spar was built properly with a corrosion inhibitor like Lanocote, the rivet will slide out like butter, with one tap on the punch. You can also smell it, even on this 20 year old boom. If a Lanocote wasn't used, it'll take a couple of knocks with hammer to punch it through.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What ails sailing in the US?

Based on the mini Stonehenge in my backyard, I think it's around the winter solstice, so it's time make another blog post. There seems to me much gnashing of teeth about the demise of sailing in the US, how it's only old guys that do it these days, and that the younger generation are distracted by these newfangled interwebs, social networks, and updating their blogs once a year. Well, here's my take on what's wrong with sailing in America.

It's run by old farts for the benefit of old farts. The best example I can think of this is the phenomenon of sailing club initiation fees. This is nothing but a way for the old members of a club to screw the new ones. Oh you'd like to join our club and get into sailing? That's great, but first let us slap you in the face with this initiation fee. In fact, in fact in honor of Tillerman's latest group writing project, I name this the worst ever sailing innovation. (Tillerman may be old, but he's not a fart. See, not all old people are farts). I can think of plenty of other examples of the, well, old officers of sailing clubs acting not in the sport's interest but in their own. These are harder to generalize, and I'm not inclined to elaborate on the individuals and incidents I have in mind.

The second big problem is the American fetish for big boats. If you take ten sailors who like to race, are they going to have more fun on the water sailing one mega yacht, or sailing ten Lasers? Even ten Optimists would be more fun than one yacht. It's the conservation of fun principle. Each boat only supplies only so much fun, so you don't want to dilute it by having too many sailors on board. Better to have more boats on the water. Instead of spending all day trimming a jib, wouldn't people prefer to be their own helmsman, tactician, sail trimmer and meat on the gunwale? Of course, the old farts will say, "Ooh, wouldn't you like to sail on my yacht today?" as if they're offering you a treat. I would consider it more of a chore, and I'd rather race against them on the water.

A final problem, at least from my limited point of view in the midwest, is the predominance of old, cumbersome, and again big boats. I'm thinking mainly of the Thistle and the Flying Scot. I can't fault those who sail them, because everyone wants to sail like against like, but if impractical boats dominate, it's got to put some people off the sport. Who wants to sail a boat you have to launch off a trailer, you can't car-top, and you can't sail after capsizing? I'm sure more modern boats like the V-15 and 470 would have more broad appeal.