Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mutha of Invention

If you've never seen one, a Prowler rudder flap mechanism is sort of like having a small swiss watch made of nylon sitting in your tiller. It is controlled by the skipper via the tiller extension, which connects to the tiller via several satellite uplinks, a modem, and a rubber hose. But this is not just any rubber hose, mind you! It is a rubber hose worthy of German engineering awards, with RTV applied strategically to internal worm gears, small transverse hoselocking fiberglass keys, and small springs to maintain an all-important, quintessentially hoselike circular cross section while being tortured at impossible angles by the skipper! Within the tiller itself, this same highly-engineered and reinforced "hose" attaches to a worm gear actuating beautifully drilled acme threaded captive nuts, sliding one of them fore and aft when the tiller is twisted. This nut in turn pushes or pulls a small rod from a model airplane, which in turn tilts a cam and pushes on another rod. It is this final rod which plunges headlong and fearlessly down the trailing edge of the rudder, only to be held captive by a rotating brass barrel within the wafer-thin rudder flap itself. This assembly is the sort of robust, beautifully designed mechanism one expects from a builder with a thorough understanding of both his product and his craft.

Of course no mechanism is immune to abuse, and in this case the rubber hose itself is generally the first element to give up the ghost when abused by newbies or simply used a lot. Mine failed and was shortened once, only to split nearly in two a short while later. Thankfully neither of these failures caused any hardship in returning to shore. Not a great inconvenience, and relatively easily repaired - with the proper tools. And good light. Some patience doesn't hurt here either. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

None of these qualities were in great supply this past Sunday, when a small group of enthusiasts gathered to put the Prowler through her paces. Naturally I had overlooked the needed repair from the previous weekend, as my foils live in the back of my van most of the time and only emerge when they go on the boat. Fortunately on Sunday I noted the broken tiller hose before we all got fully rubberized in our wetsuits, so that a repair was easily effected in the warm Southern California sun with a minimum of discomfort. OK, that last part is a lie. We were all suited up and ready to go, and I pulled the rudder out of the van with no extension on it. Hmmm...

Perhaps this would be a good juncture at which to note that at least one of the members of the group had driven two hours to try the boat. And that this person has a habit of writing in sailing publications with a rather large readership.

I have often found when confronted by such moments that the most useful demeanor is one of puzzled nonchalance, of the sort one might assume had aliens snuck in through the van's air vents and sabotaged the tiller in an effort to keep foiling technology from reaching the rest of the galaxy. This strategy generally buys me enough time to figure out whether I am completely screwed, or only mostly screwed, before a small mutinous riot ensues and whatever credibility I possess in the world of Mothing (admittedly not much to begin with mind you) evaporates like starter fluid from hot carbon fiber.

As one might gather from the description above, the Ilett adjustable-flap tiller/rudder is not a machine to be disassembled without trepidation, a controlled environment, and a small team of Swiss watchmakers in white lab coats with magnifying jeweler's loupes to relentlessly track and recover any and all lost micro-components. So while headlines such as "Moth Newbie Bombs Utterly in Attempt to Impress Well-Known Journalist" and "Back to the Farm League for LA Moth Sailor" flashed through my mind, I reflected calmly upon my mantra: This looks like a job for some Duck Tape.

Now before you get all hot and bothered about my conflating avian species with adhesive products, I'll have you know that I've done my research on the subject. It is well known that during World War II ducks were in fact employed alongside women in factories to help fill the shortage of qualified male workers. In some of these factories, ducks rose to levels of management, and some even managed to sock enough cash away to go out on their own as war profiteers in the tape industry. Hence the name Duck Tape. Enough said.

Where were we...oh yes - assembling swiss timepieces on worktables consisting primarily of sand. After a moment's flirtation with an orange screwdriver, a voice from Vancouver echoed through my head, recalling a certain afternoon spent on hands and knees in the lawn searching for critical elements of a Prowler tiller adjustment mechanism. Not wishing to add to the folklore on the subject, and well aware that the most deadly element of a recoverable situation is overconfidence in one's ability to reassemble complex mechanisms, particularly when dressed in a wetsuit with rivulets of sweat pooling in its nether-regions, I offered to no one in particular, as though expressing a view that the tiller might in fact spontaneously recompose itself, and has done so in the past on numerous occasions, the statement: "If only we had some tape".

Before we proceed further, a bit of background. When God invented the four wheel drive, four door, long bed diesel Ford pickup, He kept it to himself for many eons knowing, in fact, that if any reasonably industrious, independent human ever obtained such a vehicle, they might in fact be able to accomplish feats formerly reserved only for Gods and the cast of Star Trek. The ability to summon soggy rolls of Duck Tape from ether was apparently one of the long list of said feats, fiery thefts notwithstanding, which confined Prometheus, his Ford pickup, and his liver-eating eagle to a remote mountaintop in symbiotic immortality. Fortunately for the purposes of our story, the secret was already out, and just such a roll of Duck Tape emerged from just such a Full Sized Crew Cab Diesel Ford pickup. Man, I love it when a plan comes together.

Elitists among us might opine that Duck Tape is no match for the ingenuity of Swiss watchmakers, but in the interest of brevity, suffice it to say that they would be wrong:

Though a first attempt suffered from inexpert application, a retape of the joint provided a stable tiller universal (and more importantly an entirely stable foiling experience) for the whole afternoon. Duck Pride! Look on my works, ye reclusive Australian artisans, and despair! For I am Ozzy-mandius, conjurer of Duck Tape, ruler of nutshells, king of infinite space!

Ok, on aesthetic grounds we are not quite up to Pininfarina standards. But the smile on my face from doublehanding the Moth in divide-and-conquer mode for hours, capsizing in a huge variety of ways, losing my hat, recovering it, and finally succumbing in a tag-team mothing session to a rather-too-large windless patch, is none the smaller for it.

Of course it may have transpired that, despite mutual consent and due entirely to uncontrollable circumstances, said writer, sailor, and otherwise generally intrepid adventurer was left rather ungainfully bobbing about in Long Beach harbor with a longish swim to shore. If so, I expect to be roundly pilloried shortly in the sailing publication of your choice. But with any luck I'll have a chance to make it right down the line.

On which note a concluding poem:

I Could Give All to Time

To Time it never seems that he is brave
To set himself against the peaks of snow
To lay them level with the running wave,
Nor is he overjoyed when they lie low,
But only grave, contemplative and grave.

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time's lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except - except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.

- Robert Frost

Monday, October 22, 2007


A 48 mph Santa Ana pummeled Cat Beach, creating sand dunes around parked cars. Photo GK.

Ol' Santana ain't got nuthin' on the Santa Ana that cranked out of southwest Utah and opened a can of good ol' fashioned Whupass (TM) on southern California Sunday. The beating mainly took the form of wildfires caused by downed power lines, which then seemingly burned half of Malibu, along with various other parts of the Southland area. The fires were aided by the 5-7% humidity of the wind. From a mothing standpoint, it was a total washout, with gusts to 48mph on the breakwater outside Long Beach. Winds in the mountains were recorded at speeds up to 111mph.

Strangely enough, there was virtually no wind in Seal Beach when I went into a kite shop for some supplies, but when I came out fifteen minutes later there was amazing breeze and the tiny channel between Seal Beach and Long Beach was pure roiling spindrift. The wind was puffy but remarkably strong and it stayed that way for several hours, showing no signs of backing off as we patiently walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch, came back, hung out by the cars letting our ears fill up with sand, and finally rolled out of the parking lot and drove home without untying a single line from the trailer.

More Mothing next week, and more info on the fires HERE

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Headed out to oil island to tank up

It occurred to me today, while watching pretty good sailors flail around with the Moth, that there are two more or less distinct skill sets at play in this game. First, there is Mothing. This involves somehow getting yourself onto a very skinny boat and keeping it upright long enough to sail it. Mothing would also include figuring out how to do tacks and gybes in lowrider mode, how to carry the boat into the water, etc.

Foiling incorporates Mothing, but then rapidly transcends it. Suddenly there is the possibility of flying too high or too low, auguring in to windward, stacking, capsizing to leeward by heeling ever so slightly in that direction, trimming the rudder, and aerial gybing.

Foiling seems to get people into Mothing, but Mothing keeps them busy for awhile before they can get very serious about foiling. Of course there are the talented exceptions, but these people spend a lot of time sailing small, high performance dinghies for the mostpart.

Today we got out late due to a running marathon in Long Beach that closed half the town down and prevented us from accessing our launch area. So over the fence with the Moth and out to sea. Phil and Greg each took a turn with impressive virgin talent on Phil's part and a big improvement by Greg over last week's effort. I made some cable length adjustments which seemed to smooth things out a bit but I think the gantry needs some fine tuning as I am up and down a bit too much offwind. Conditions were perhaps a bit much for learning at 12-15 earlier in the day, moderating toward sunset. The tiller universal cut my second go short but hung in there long enough to get me back to shore.

Cold enough in the water for a drysuit, though apparenly the seals on wetsuits are so good now that you don't really get wet in them any more, so the difference between wet and dry is becoming a matter of semantics. Greg had a toasty full arm wetsuit on and seemed warm enough, though he was generating a lot of heat through hard work and capsize recovery getting to know the boat.

Breeze moderated toward end of the day but there was enough left after Phil gave up the boat to take him for a brief foil two up. He is 160 and I am about 165 for a total of 325 pounds on the boat. I went out on the rack alone and kept him in the middle for fear of getting a bit too powered up, plus it's kind of hard to coordinate with someone new to the boat. So he got a taste of foiling anyway. Impressive what these foils will lift when they have to.

Ran into fireball twirlers on the beach after dinner and got some video but then they ran out of gas, so you will just have to take my word for the fact that it was a pretty sight while it lasted.

More photos coming whenever the blogging software lets me upload them.

Phil demonstrates Karate Kid moves on the launch pad

If you spent more time mothing and less time standing around looking geeky you'd be able to gybe two up like Bora...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

POIDA (Pics or it Didn't 'Appen)

Some photos and video from the other day. Thanks Greg!

Flyby Vid

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sign of the Times

I'm not sure if my paper delivery guy aims for this Agave, or if it reaches out somehow and grabs the paper, but the plant is the closest thing I've ever seen to kite-eating tree. I mean, I walk out to find an LA Times stuck in the Agave at least four mornings a week, sometimes more. Maybe the paper guy doesn't like Tequila? Anyway it's apropos because the Times' editor just quit within the past year after the parent company (Chicago Tribune) cut the newsroom staff to unprecedented levels, so they're dealing with some thorny issues at the moment.

Sailing-wise, apparently Long Beach is one of those fantasy spots where the wind blows reasonably hard, even when it isn't supposed to! With weather like this it's tough to figure out why there isn't a windsurfer strapped on every car: 15-18 and steady from the West, high 70s air temp. I will say that a fair number of kites were out today, and weaving between them does require a bit of care, as most of them are just reaching back and forth on the edge of control trying not to go downwind! The ones trying aerials sensibly venture farther out, presumably so as not to be tied in knots by the newbies. In any event a fine sailing day with Greg out on a new prototype picnic tri he's working on, which proved a very capable R&R vessel and video platform. Horses for courses. Everything held together pretty well on both boats although my vang needs rerigging so the sail looks like hell in the video, and Greg did lose his daggerboard at one point. He gave mothing a lengthy try with mixed results but made quite a lot of progress on what is admittedly a steep, slippery learning slope for a guy used to sailing foilers with THREE foils...he mentioned that yesterday he and his friend A. had the speedo pegged at 38 MPH (33 knots) FOR MOST OF THE AFTERNOON. Something to shoot for I guess...

I am working on the gybes but actually was having enough problems tacking today - probably 17-18 out by the oil platforms and lumpy but I think it was just not enough time in the boat lately. Never really had any problems tacking in that sort of wind before so it was kind of surprising in a very annoying way! Three A-cats out today (presumably training for worlds next month in Islamorada) but I was basically too knackered to do any speed testing against them after breaking my tacking sequence down and building it back up again - fortunately the last tack before heading in was a beauty so I felt like I was back on track.

Still haven't got the Velocitek mounted on any sort of plate so no tracks to share.

Canoes should be at the HPDO at American Yacht Club in Rye and I think Peter and Bora were planning to be there with Moths, so it will be interesting to see what Bora writes about it.

Vids coming soon, so stay tuned...(don't you hate it when they say that?)...

Alive to Foil another day...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Moth Myths

At some point there was some talk about whether seaweed is a big problem for hydrofoil Moths. In general, the consensus among experienced foiler sailors has been that it presents no more of an issue than in other boats, which is probably true. However it must be the case then that kelp is excluded from most people's definitions of seaweed, because short of hitting a crab pot (ask me how I know), few things will bring a Moth to a halt from full foiling height like a nice big clump of kelp.

I have no idea how difficult it is to back a VO70 down to clear the keel, but I suspect it is easier than trying to sail a Moth backwards. If you're lucky, you'll only grab a small bit of the stuff, which will make your Moth nose around in the drink like a pig searching for truffles while you sort out what to do next. I have to say that it does provide excellent practice in crash tacking, because the clumps are often barely visible until you are on top of them and if you're foiling, you have about two nanoseconds to execute an avoidance maneuver.

Going to need another wetsuit - I'll bet the water at Cabrillo Beach wasn't much over 60 today, if at all. Nice place otherwise, but not much use trying to sail on the inside by the launch ramp as it's too shallow and there's too much weed. Extremely tame racoons add some novelty value to the whole experience around dusk.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pity the Poor Wingbar

Somewhere in Ohio my trailer axle failed and the trailer tipped over on, well, my Moth wingbar. The whole program ground to a halt on the shoulder, and then it started to rain, just as the last light was fading from the sky. It was all pretty catastrophic - one moment you are listening to the radio in air conditioned comfort, with a little John McLaughlin guitar jazz playing, and the next moment all hell has broken loose and you are dragging some amalgam of carbon, wood, rubber and steel down the interstate making all kinds of sparks and ugly noises. I managed to right the trailer and drag it to the nearest off ramp, then rebuild the trailer by replacing the undercarriage with a new one. That got me to California, where my moth was now unsailable. So one of my first projects after setting up the garage shop was to undertake a repair. Just in case anyone else out there ever has to do this, I'll post the steps I used. It goes without saying that you should use full barrier precautions with the epoxy and avoid inhaling too many fumes, and always use a nice particulate respirator with a tight seal when sanding composites. These instructions are aimed at people with some experience building composite widgets, but not much, because that's me! And if you are not of a technical bent, or have no interest in knowing how to accomplish this task, you can stop reading now and go back to YouTube, unless you are at work, in which case you should get up and go for a cup of coffee.

1. Make a new partial circumference carbon sleeve, using the intact bar as a male mold. I used two strips of 5.7oz carbon, wrapping the tube with mylar packing tape as a release agent. There can be no gaps in the tape or you risk it sticking to the bar, and the fewer tape wrinkles the better. Squeegee as much resin out of the carbon as possible before sticking it on the bar, and then wrap the whole mess with peel ply and electrical tape, stretching it a good bit as it goes on to provide uniform tension. If you can find 2' tape great, but it's usually expensive and the skinny stuff works also if you don't mind doing a million wraps. You should overlap about 50%; more is better but anything over 50 takes forever. Make this sleeve twice as long as the area you are repairing.

2. After the epoxy kicks, Take the sleeve off the tube, pull the peel ply off, and admire it for a second. Then cut it in half normal to the long axis. Trim half to fit inside the tube. Sand the inside and outside of the broken tube, and the inside of one of your two sleeves (the other one has a peel ply surface on its outside so it needs no sanding). Now they are ready to bond over the c-shaped broken tube. Lube up the sleeve with thickened epoxy (I used West System High Density Filler, which I think is just milled cotton fibers - a bit heavy but really strong) and jam it inside the broken tube (this will stretch your vocabulary so it's best to not have any kids around while you do it). Take the other sleeve and bond it over the outside of the broken tube. Put some peel ply on or just wrap it with Mylar packing tape, putting LOTS of tension on to compress the outer sleeve against the broken/half tube and against the inner sleeve. If you put too much tension on, you will end up with this section being smaller diameter than the rest of the tube, which is undesirable cosmetically but otherwise of no particular import. As a final step, put the bar into position on the boat, with the ends telescoping over their respective mates. This will ensure that everything is lined up while it goes off. It goes without saying that some tape shoule be applied over the socket in the broken bar to keep goo out, and it doesn't hurt to put a little wax on the crossbar male ends; otherwise the bar may be permanently bonded to the cross bar after this step! Give it a night to kick.

3. When you are done, you should have something that looks like this:

It has a big hole in the end for the front cross piece, but you really should not be able to see that hole, because this part of the bar has a cap to keep water out. So the next steps are to reinforce any partially weakened tubing that was not covered by the sleeves (a good bit in my case) and then make an end cap and bond it on.

4. I had a good bit of bar where two or three of the layers of original carbon had been ground away, but not the entire wall. This needed to be reinforced to get that part of the bar back to its original strength. This is pretty straightforward - just sand the bar a bit, cut some long strips that extend slightly beyond the affected area, put them on and wrap with your tape of choice. It might look something like this while it is curing:

5. Make an end cap. This is sort of a two step process. To brigde the big hole in the end of the bar, you need to put something into it to provide a nice surface for the carbon to lay on, because otherwise it will hang in space and not be the right shape. So the strategy is make a light cap using some sort of foam as a mold, then release that, get the foam out, trim the cap, and then bond it to the bar as a second step with more layers of carbon over the top and tape over those to compress it all. Simple, right? Again, be sure to keep goo out of the socket.

6. After this step, take all the tape off. You will likely have plenty of surface imperfections, bumps etc. unless you have been doing this for awhile. So get out a chunk of 2x4 and some 36 grit sandpaper and make it look right. You have probably used way too much carbon and resin, so some of it needs to come off anyway. Your tramps have to slide over this thing, so there should be no big bumps or ridges on the main part. My corner came out a bit bumpy because I didn't do a careful job with mylar while making the end cap, so it didn't fit quite right. I also used the wide tape on the corner, which was suboptimal because it bunched up inside the corner. So put the mylar on carefully and use narrow electrical tape for best results. I did not grind the bumps off the corner because there are only three layers of carbon there and they are pretty highly loaded. So far it has held up well.

7. After an 30-60 minutes of hard sanding and trimming you should have a functional bar. You will note, in the case of a nice prepreg original product, that the end you just repaired is somewhat heavier than the other end. But don't sweat it - it's pretty much impossible to match prepreg resin ratios with a wet layup, and with some care you should be able to maintain a better balance than this, which isn't really that bad in my view:

That's it. Now rig your tramps and go sailing!