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Archive for April, 2012

Sailboats, Photography, and KAP

Posted by Tom Benedict on 28/04/2012

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced while restoring Smilodon, our Pacific Catamaran 19, is the scant photographic record of this boat. It fell out of fashion and manufacture was discontinued long before digital cameras came to market. Because of this, any photographs of the P-Cat in its heyday were made on Kodachrome or any of the print films available at the time. Unless someone was motivated to scan all their old transparencies and negatives and post them online, they simply aren’t available.

I’m doing what I can to address this, but to date all the photos I’ve made of my boat fall under the category of illustration rather than photography. I’ve made no effort to compose with aesthetics in mind. I’ve made no effort to choose my light. I’ve documented. But I haven’t created anything pleasant to look at. We’re about a week away from the water at this point. If everything goes according to plan next week, we should have it out on the water next weekend. And oh heck yes, I’m bringing a camera!

But this raises a question: How best to photograph a sailboat?

Almost every photograph of a sailboat is made from ground (or water) level. There are almost no underwater pictures, and the aerials you see are almost always made from high altitude using a long lens. There are some very good masthead photos looking down on deck. They were few and far between in the days of film, but have become more common with the advent of digital cameras and purpose built cameras like the GoPro. In my mind, there’s a lot of room for improvement here.

The trick with any form of photography is to look at the subject as objects in space. You can choose your light. You can choose the objects that make up the subject and arrange them to best effect. And you can choose the vantage point of the camera to best take advantage of the composition you created.

Anyone who says the choices are limited when photographing boats hasn’t seen the lengths a movie film crew will go to in order to get the shot they want. They’ll attach camera rigs to the sides of cars. They’ll remove doors. They’ll provide chase vehicles as camera platforms. They’ll follow cars with helicopters if that’s what it takes. (And sometimes it is!) Those same opportunities are available to someone wanting to photograph their boat if they’re willing to step outside their comfort zone and not hold the camera from where they’re standing next to the tiller.

I think the best example of what this kind of approach can produce can be found with kite aerial photography. Since I started doing KAP and seeing all the fantastic photographs my fellow KAPers have made by suspending a camera from a kite line, I can honestly say my favorite photographs of sailboats have been made using KAP. Some of the best I’ve seen were made by Pierre Lesage, who lives in Tahiti. His set from the FaaFaite Vaa proves my point. I don’t think KAP covers all the bases from the standpoint of documentation, but for exploring the aesthetics of a boat powered by the wind, a camera powered by the wind does a darned good job.

Similarly, those masthead camera rigs that the Hobie Fleet used in the 60’s to produce the directly-down photographs of their catamaran decks can be extended to a huge degree to provide wild new angles that really haven’t been explored. For example, recent catamaran designs have sported bowsprits that project between the bows, from which a skipper can fly an asymmetric spinnaker, a reacher, a genoa, or some other overly large foresail. If you look at the rigging on one of these, they amount to a pole that is held in place with three stays: it’s just a big tripod.

That same idea can be used to suspend a camera almost anywhere in space around a boat. Sailboats provide lots of attachment points for stays on their hulls and masts. It’s entirely possible to mount a pole to the transom of a boat with a stay running up to the masthead, and one down to each side of the pole. By adjusting the tension on each of these, the end of the pole can be steered around in space through a pretty large volume. Stick a camera on the end of the pole and you have a vantage point for photographing a boat that may never have been used before. Instant newness!

These ideas can be applied to practically any boat for the sake of creating an aesthetically pleasing photograph, or for creating action shots during a regatta. In my case I’m driven to make them in order to document the Pacific Catamaran.

In the coming weeks I hope to post some results from these tests. I’ll try to share what works and what doesn’t, and show you the pictures that go along with the successes (and failures!) But first I need to take Smilodon out on a shake-down cruise and put it through its paces. Once I know we’re safe, then I’ll start rigging camera gear. Please be patient.

– Tom


Posted in Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, Sailing | Leave a Comment »

Some Discoveries and Some Plans

Posted by Tom Benedict on 27/04/2012

I ran across a rigging diagram for a Pacific Cat 2/18 (the later revision of the P-Cat) in the 50th edition of Royce’s Sailing Illustrated: The Best of All Sailing Worlds. It differs from the Pacific Cat 18 in some respects, such as the taller mast and higher aspect ratio sailplan, but in most other respects it’s a copy of its older sibling.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. The other major difference is that the P-Cat 2/18 added a bunch of controls that make it better suited for racing, and shed over a hundred pounds of weight. The newer boat added barber haulers, replaced the boom vang with a cunningham, added a jib downhaul line, changed the main halyard out for something closer to a Hobie’s locking hook, and added a sheeting system for the jib traveler. Since the two boats have very similar hulls, adding any or all of these to an older P-Cat wouldn’t be that onerous a task. With the diagram in hand, most of these mods could be done with a single order from a sailboat supplier and a full day ashore.

What caught my eye, though, was the traveler sheet and the jib sheet system. Both of these were complete mysteries when I began sorting through the bucket of hardware that came with the boat. As it turns out the traveler on my boat is not stock, and was likely added by one of the boat’s owners at some point. The original (which used hardware I found in my bucket o’ sailing bits!) was a 2:1 similar to what you’d find on a Hobie or Prindle. And the jib sheet system? I was close. Close, but no cigar. I had the lines exiting the jib traveler blocks running to the wrong cam cleat. When I rig the boat for sailing, I’ll set it up correctly.

It goes without saying that I ordered a copy of the book. Even if that’s the only page I ever use from it, it was worth the $13 I spent.

Besides, after reading Arvel Gentry’s articles about his sail telltale system, I found myself wishing for barber haulers. With this diagram in-hand, I can see it wouldn’t take much to install them on Smilodon. Because of all the extra rigging I picked up to replace the stuff that had died, I have most of the necessary blocks lying around. The only bits I’d have to pick up are a pair of cam cleats that would be bolted to the deck.

Barber haulers would be nice, but they aren’t strictly necessary for us to get out on the water. What’s actually left at this point before we can get the cat wet?

On the boat, not much. There’s a bunch of hardware still on its way that needs installation, such as mast spreader boots, trapeze wire adjusters, and adding telltales to the sails. The only really work-intensive job left on the boat is to give it its final wax job before we install the name decals and open the champagne.

On the trailer, there’s still a fair bit left to do. I dropped the mast support off at my friend’s office this morning so he can weld the mast cradle to it. Once we get it back there’s the week long process of applying Ospho and painting with Zophar before it’s waterproof. Tonight I’m planning to install the vertical rollers, which arrived today. Once that’s done the only work left on the trailer is to get it weighed, safety inspected, and registered. Then it’s time for that champagne party!

We’re about a week and a half from the water.

– Tom

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An End In Sight

Posted by Tom Benedict on 23/04/2012

Despite being sick for the past couple of weeks, I managed to work on the boat again over the weekend. There’s still a ton of work left to do, but we’re far enough along now that the end is in sight. Well… an end is in sight. There’s always more work to be done on a boat.

The rudders are now complete. I traded some email with a fellow P-Cat sailor, and his description of his rudders was actually really close to what I saw on mine, minus the wooden dowel. The shock cord just passes through the hole in the rudder blades, and loops up and over the top rudder gudgeon. Here’s the rudder kick-up in all its glory:

Rudders Up

When locked down, the shock cord does a good job of holding the blade down, even though there is no real positive lock the way the blades do on a Hobie or a Prindle:

One Up One Down

(Yes, I’m aware the tip of my rudder blade is clipped off. That’s a project for another day.) And here it is, looking from the cockpit toward the rudder blades:

Tiller Bars

Gotta love those teak tiller arms! (Unfortunately, I didn’t discover until after I’d taken these pictures that I had the two rudders installed on the wrong hulls. On the P-Cat this results in a huge amount of toe-in on the rudder blades. This will be fixed by the time we put the boat on the water.)

I also finished wiring the trailer over the weekend. The light kit only came with eight frame clips to hold the wiring on the trailer frame. When you consider how long a typical trailer is (mine is over 20′ long), with only four clips spread over 20′ of trailer, that’s about five feet of wiring hanging out in the wind between clips! It would be all to easy to have a loop of wire drag on the road. At the very least it would disable the light attached to it. At the worst it could wrap around something like the trailer wheel, and cause an accident.

Thank goodness the folks at Kona Marine are a little more clued in than the people who made the lights. When my son asked if they carried frame clips for trailer wiring, the guy said, “Yeah!” and pulled out a bag of almost a hundred clips. When we got home I stuck clips all over the trailer, spaced about 1′ apart. NOW the wiring is done. NOW it’s not coming off!

I did two other boat projects over the weekend. The first was to seal all the remaining rivet holes in the hull. There were over forty of them. I still need to sand them smooth. The other project was to start rebuilding the skirts at the bottom of the daggerboard wells. This was more of a headache.

The daggerboard wells on the P-Cat are a lot like the ones on an International 404 (or so I gathered from cruising photos in Google over the weekend.) At the bottom of the daggerboard well there’s a rubber skirt made out of neoprene with two aluminum strips screwed on either side of it. The neoprene is slit down the middle, and the daggerboard protrudes through the slit. When I got the boat I had two aluminum strips with two completely different hole patterns in them. Cats have two hulls, so I needed four strips. And for the sake of sanity, I wanted all four strips to share the same hole pattern!

The work started by figuring out which strip’s hole pattern was the best match to what I saw drilled through the fiberglass on the hulls. I threw the other strip in the scrap bin. The strips for the P-Cat are made from 1/8″x1/2″ aluminum extrusion. Thank goodness this is a size that’s carried by the hardware store! A little hacksaw and file work, and I had three new strips ready to drill to match the one I already had. Transferring the hole pattern and drilling the new holes took about an hour. The holes are counter-sunk to take flat head screws so the screw heads are flush with the bottom of the aluminum. When drilling the strips, I drilled two of them with clearance holes, counter-sunk and ready to go. The third I held onto because of a problem I saw:

The holes in the hulls didn’t all line up. They were on a regular spacing, but weren’t accurately drilled. So I filled those holes, too. All forty eight of them. Once the epoxy had cured overnight I sanded them flush and used that last strip to drill new pilot holes in the hull. Once all the holes were drilled in place, I re-drilled the last strip with clearance holes, counter-sunk them, and stuck it with the other strips. Ready to go!

The last step is to punch holes in the neoprene, screw everything into place, and slit the neoprene down the middle to take the daggerboards. That work will take place over the course of the next week. Sorry, no photos of any of this. I’ll try to take some when the actual installation happens.

Hey wait! I take that back! I did two other projects on the boat over the weekend:

I finally installed the new jib sheet hardware. This involved screwing two pivoting cam cleat blocks onto the forward bulkhead of the cockpit. I’d filled all the old holes several weeks ago, but hadn’t installed the new stuff until Saturday. When drilling the pilot holes for the screws, I was surprised to see bits of aluminum coming out of the drill flutes. Aluminum? On a fiberglass boat? YAY! The forward bulkhead is backed by an aluminum plate to spread the load from the jib sheet blocks. No worries about cracking the fiberglass from stress. The more I work on this boat, the more I appreciate its construction. Too heavy to be a serious race boat in this era of eggshell thin hulls and carbon sails, but built just right for working on yourself and teaching kids how to sail!

The last project was to run the jib sheet and traveler sheet. When buying line I bought 50′ of 3/8″ line for the jib sheet, figuring I’d cut off what I needed and keep the rest for spare. Turns out no cutting was necessary. Because the jib sheet runs back and forth across the cockpit so many times, it took all fifty feet just to make it work. I’ll adjust this, if necessary, once we have the boat out on the water.

I did take a picture of the finished traveler system. It gives the skipper 3:1 purchase on the mainsheet traveler – a necessity according to a fellow P-Cat sailor:

Traveler Closeup

The traveler sheet is set up as a loop. As you take line in to pull the traveler toward centerline, the opposite side takes line in just as fast, so you always have the same amount of loop on deck. It’s a little counter-intuitive to someone who’s used to the Prindle style traveler sheet, but it does work. I’m eager to try this out on the water.

So what’s left? A lot, unfortunately. Among other things I need to install telltales on all the sails, finish re-riveting the headboard on the larger main, replace the zipper on the genoa, finish building out the trailer (which will involve a fair bit of welding by a friend of mine), and install a bunch of hardware that should be coming in the mail over the next several days. Still plenty to do. But this isn’t much compared to what my list was like when I started this whole project!

We’re close enough to done that my son and I picked up a bottle of champagne when we went shopping on Saturday. Sorry, we have no plans to crack it over the bow. I’m not that melodramatic, and I cringe when I think of bashing up the boat and signing on for yet another fiberglass repair job. But when the last repair is done and we finally stick the Smilodon decals on the sides of the boat, we’re going to kick it up with a wine and cheese party in the boat’s honor. If the weather holds fair the next morning, we’ll finally go sailing.

– Tom

P.S. I realize that for the last month or so I’ve been fixated on posts about sailing. Well… about boat repair, really. I expect about another month of strictly sailing posts, and then I’ll start posting about engineering, KAP, and everything else I do when I’m not sleeping. Bear with me. Eventually the boat will be on the water, and life will once more be chaotic.

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Pacific Catamaran (P-Cat) Rudders

Posted by Tom Benedict on 18/04/2012

Most of the time I try to write articles that might be of interest to at least one other person on the planet. I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.

This time I’m writing a question that I hope at least one other person on the planet can answer. In short, I’m stumped.

It has to do with the rudders on the Pacific Catamaran 19. They’re… well, they’re weird.

On the face of it, they’re not that different from any other catamaran I’ve seen: The rudder blade slots into a cast aluminum housing, and is held in place with a pivot bolt:

P-Cat Rudder Assembly

In the case of the P-Cat, the housing has a stainless steel sheet metal weldment bolted on top, similar to the rudder on a dinghy. And as with the dinghy rudder, a wooden tiller arm slots into the stainless weldment and is screwed in place. (I’ve omitted the teak tiller arm in these photos.)

Here’s where it gets odd: With most catamarans, there’s some means to lock the rudders either up or down. This doesn’t have anything even close. When I got the boat, the rudders had a wooden dowel stuck through the hole below the housing, with a length of shock cord wrapped around the dowel and then up and over the upper gudgeon pin:

P-Cat Rudder Down

The shock cord was dead, but I could see that with some new shock cord and a fair bit of tension, this would serve to hold the blade down in the water. Likewise, it serves to hold it up:

P-Cat-Rudder Up

But I’m not certain this is how the P-Cat rudders were originally designed. At best it encourages the rudder blade to be in the up or down position. But it’s a far cry from the Hobie cam lock system or the spring detent system on a Prindle. Those offer positive locks with a known position for the blade. This bungee system is more of a suggestion than an actual lock.

I think one of the previous owners of this boat realized this and did something to address it. On each of the rudder housings there’s a 1/8″ diameter hole drilled through the housing a few inches above the pivot pin. It goes straight through the housing, through the blade, and on through the housing on the opposite side. Stick a 1/8″ stainless  steel pin through it, and the blade is locked in the down position. Hey! A positive lock!

But what happens if the blade drags bottom, or you whack the tip of it on a rock or reef? The pin is small enough it should shear, but there’s no guarantee of that. It’s just as likely to rip the tip off the rudder blade or tear the rudder gudgeons out of the transom of the hull. With the Hobie and Prindle designs, at least, the rudder blade will kick up before it breaks.

So here’s where I’m asking for help: If you’ve ever seen a P-Cat rudder system and can tell me where I’m going wrong, please let me know. I’m not trying to do a factory-fresh restoration job on this boat. But I’d sure like it to work.


– Tom

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One Step Up, Two Steps Back

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/04/2012

The boat project has been a serious case of one step up and two steps back recently. Every step of the way, it seems as if it’s fighting me.

Here’s a recent example: I was sick for the past couple of days, but I managed to drive into Kona today to pick up lights for the trailer. These are sealed LED lights, submersible, pre-wired, ready to go. Easiest install in the world. Four bolts and a bunch of clips, and I should be done, right?

Wrong. The lights assume you have a flat surface to which you can bolt them. Unfortunately the trailer was built with the rearmost U-channel facing backwards, not forwards. So there’s no flat surface on the entire rear end of the trailer. I need to install one. Fifteen minutes to install the lights. Several hours to make a flat surface to mount them to.

Another example are the trapeze wires. I finally broke down and bought four sets of 2:1 trapeze adjusters and rings. They’re beautiful, and I can’t wait to use them! I already picked up all the shock cord I need to make them work, and I picked up four micro blocks to run the shock cord through. All I need to do is attach the trapeze wires to the mast. Simple, right? (Hey, the boat came with trapeze wires!)

Wrong. The trap wires were attached with a bolt and nut in such a way that the trap wires could slip off the bolt while the boat is under sail. So I poked around and figured out how to do it using a single shackle on each side. As an added benefit, the shackle also makes the attachment for the mast stays more secure. All I needed was a pair of 1/4″ shackles! Simple, right?

Wrong! The shackles I picked up (which were labeled as 1/4″ shackles) had pins around 0.270″ in diameter. Still roughly 1/4″, but too large to fit through the eyes in my mast stays. I could drill out the eyes in the stays, but somehow drilling out a hole in a forged tension member just strikes me as a reallyreally bad idea. So those shackles went into the parts box, and I ordered a new pair from Sail Care that have 0.230″ pins. Now I have to wait a week before I find out what the next show-stopper is on the trapeze wires.

I won’t even go into how I’m doing on the registration for the boat and the trailer. There are so many Catch 22 situations in there I have to write them down to keep them straight. Right now I’m waiting on wiring the trailer until I can finish painting it, which is waiting on welding to be finished, which is waiting on a welder to be fixed, which is waiting for the guy with the welder to come back from vacation so he can fix his welder, do the welding, I can install the parts, he can weld them, I can paint them, and finally (finally…) wire the @#$% trailer. Oh! And then get it registered.

So the to-do list on the boat really isn’t getting any shorter. It’s just getting more diversified. Instead of a single line item for “Install light kit” I now have several bullets that include buying metal stock for making the plates, bolts for attaching them to the trailer, another line for painting the rotten things, etc. It just keeps going. And going. And going.

At some point I know it’ll be done. Already, in many ways Smilodon is farther along than Schrödinger’s Cat ever was. But at least we got Schrödinger’s Cat out on the water! I haven’t managed that yet with Smilodon. I’ll just keep gritting my teeth, making my stupid lists, and grinding away at it.

I just wanted to sail.

– Tom

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Sailing and Skin Cancer

Posted by Tom Benedict on 11/04/2012

Someone recently started following my blog who wrote a post back in 2011 about Skin Cancer Month – May. May is coming up fast, so this seemed like a good time to write a post about sailing that doesn’t directly involve our boat, Smilodon.

Back when my wife and I were sailing Schrödinger’s Cat, our Prindle 16, around the inland lakes of Texas, we were pretty careful to wear sunscreen. That was back when we were young and immortal, so thoughts of skin cancer weren’t necessarily at the forefront of my thinking. But it hurt like @$%! to hike out on a wire with a sunburn! Wearing a shirt, using sunscreen, wearing a hat and sun glasses, and wearing sailing gloves meant I got to sail longer, harder, and more often. So that’s how we dressed.

Another one of the cat sailors we knew at that time took this a step further: She either wore a dry suit, or she wore full-length supplex nylon shirts and pants. The sleeves went all the way down to her gloves, and her hat covered the back of her neck all the way down to her collar. She wore neoprene boots, zinc oxide, sun glasses, and everything else necessary to cover every square inch of her body with something. She could’ve been a vampire for all we knew. (Pretty sure she wasn’t. But she was a good sailor!)

At the time we thought that was pretty extreme. But now? These days I’m not so sure…

Some months ago a spot on my son’s back started to change shape, size, color, and texture. Those are the four classic signs of “you must pay attention to me!” when it comes to skin spots. We made an appointment with his doctor, who referred us to a dermatologist. The dermatologist was pretty sure the spot was two overlapping moles, and was nothing to worry about. He gave us two options: watch and wait, and keep a weekly photo log of the spot with a scale in the frame for size reference, or remove it and do a biopsy just to be sure.

I put the question to my son. Keep in mind he’s eleven years old. He thought about it for a bit and then said, “Take it off.” I’m driving him to the dermatologist later today to have it removed and biopsied.

Which brings us back to sailing…

We live in Hawaii. We’re close to the equator. There are places on this earth with higher UV indices, but we’re pretty close to peak. When we go to the beach, we time things so the sun is low enough in the sky for most of the UV radiation to be attenuated by the Earth’s atmosphere. When we can’t do that, we use sunscreen religiously. None of us want to burn. And certainly none of us want skin cancer.

When I’m out flying kites I almost always wear a long sleeved white shirt. The long sleeves protect my arms, and the light colored cloth reflects light and helps keep me cool. My kiting shirts are all cotton. Great for kiting, but lousy for sailing. Once wet, it stays wet. I’m planning to add some long sleeved, light colored nylon shirts to my collection along with some light colored nylon pants. Smilodon isn’t currently rigged for trapeze wires, so I might pick up some neoprene boots while I’m at it to make hiking straps less painful to use. I’ve already got a hat that covers the back of my neck, and I’ll wear the same sunglasses I use for kiting.

Starting to sound familiar? Yep, I’m going to be a vampire sailor. When this question came up at home recently and I described what I had planned, everyone started nodding. Especially my son. We’re all going to turn into little soggy vampires.

So how are we planning to celebrate the month of May? By sailing andnot getting a sunburn.

Stay safe. And wear your sunscreen.

– Tom

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Progress on Smilodon!

Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/04/2012

I worked on two major projects on Smilodon today. (I’m loving the name of this boat!)

Early in the morning I broke out the West Systems epoxy and filled all the oddball screw holes in the hull. A bunch of fittings had been moved over the years, and there were several gaping screw holes. Also, I needed to fill the holes from the old jib hardware. When I removed it, I found there was yet another set of holes for an even older set of jib hardware hidden underneath. More holes!

Here’s how I did the epoxy work:

First I drilled the holes out using a pistol drill to clean up all the rough edges on the fiberglass, and to get a clean surface to work from. Then I used a Dremel with a flame tip grinding bit to chamfer the edges of the holes. (“Flame tip” refers to the shape rather than to any actual flame.) Once the holes were opened up and chamfered, I cleaned each one out with an alcohol soaked q-tip.

To fill the holes I started with West Systems 105 resin and 205 hardener. I wetted each hole with the as-mixed epoxy using a fresh q-tip for each hole. Once all the holes were wetted out I took my remaining epoxy and mixed it with West Systems 406 colloidal silica until I got a consistency just between mayonnaise and peanut butter. This was then loaded into a syringe. Back out to the boat!

Each hole was filled, starting from the bottom of the hole and moving toward the surface of the hull, using a syringe. When I ran out, I mixed up more and kept going. The thickened epoxy held its form well enough not to droop. Once all the holes were filled I emptied the last syringe back into the mixing cup and used a spatula to fair the filled holes.

The working time on the West Systems 105 mixed with 205 hardener is plenty long to make this repair on several holes at a time. I was cautious the first time and did ten holes. The second time I filled more at once along with several spots where the gel coat had cracked away to expose raw fiberglass. Everything went very smoothly.

Epoxy Repair

The second project was to finally FINALLY paint that @#$% trailer. In some of the earlier pictures you can see the state of the trailer as we got it. It had sat out in the rain for years, and was rusted through. But because the guy who made it used such thick stock, it was  still structurally sound. So rather than replace it, we stripped it, put it through several sessions of Ospho to convert the iron oxide to iron phosphate (a rust inhibitor), cleaned it thoroughly, and finally painted it.

The previous owner gave us a gallon can of Zophar. This has to be, hands-down, the nastiest paint on the planet. It’s basically coal tar, binder, and solvent in a can. This makes it extremely waterproof once it’s on. But it is a seriously unpleasant substance to work with. The cool part is you really don’t want primer. You don’t want to sand. You just want to slap the stuff on and not leave any pinholes. So my son and I grabbed our brushes and went nuts. It’s ugly, but it’s DONE.

Trailer Painted

I had already removed the wheels, axle, springs, and third wheel for the Ospho step, so we painted those parts separately. One part that wasn’t painted at all is the upright at the front of the trailer that supports the mast while in transit. I couldn’t paint it because a friend is welding it up at the moment. There are a couple of spots on the trailer where I’ll need to do touch-up work, but that’s ok. I’ll also have to Ospho and paint the mast support and then paint over the welds where it’ll be attached to the trailer. But that’s a couple of weeks off. Everything in good time.

Toward the end of the day I went by the Post Office and picked up a package from Sailrite: A new headboard for the larger main, a new zipper for the genoa, and three packs of telltales. Rydra is going to install the headboard, I’m going to sew the new zipper on the genoa, and the telltales… Well, they’re another story. A fellow cat sailor shared Arvel Gentry’s writings about telltales with me, and I’m a convert. I can’t wait to try his telltale system out on the water. But that’s a post for another day.

– Tom

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Boat Legalities and Ducky has a Name

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/04/2012

Work on the boat and trailer is still moving along – enough so that I started work on getting both boat and trailer registered. That’s when the fun really started.

This trailer was not bought. It was built by the previous owner from steel bar stock. His choice of materials is really quite nice. The wall thickness on all of the components is 1/4″ or thicker, making for a seriously solid trailer. It’s in dire need of rust treatment and painting (both of which are under way), but the trailer itself is solid. It has also never been registered, so a simple transfer of title like you’d do on a car won’t work. I did a little research and found that Hawaii DMV actually has a set of rules for registering a home-built trailer. Thank goodness! Here’s the procedure

  1. Take the bare trailer to a state-certified weigh station. West Hawaii Concrete is the one closest to my house. Weigh the trailer and get a weight slip.
  2. Next, take the trailer to a state vehicle inspection station. The Shell station in Waimea is the closest one to my house. Bring photo ID and the weight slip. Get a provisional safety inspection.
  3. Next, drive to the county tax office and present a photo ID, the weight slip, and the provisional safety inspection. Get a new license plate, registration sticker, and a VIN for the trailer.
  4. Go home, install the license plate and the registration sticker, and stamp the VIN into the metal of the trailer. I also plan to stamp my unladen trailer weight.
  5. Drive the trailer back to the state vehicle inspection station, present photo ID, weight slip, provisional inspection, and registration, and receive a final safety inspection and sticker.
  6. Enjoy being legal.

Up until step #6, this means towing a completely illegal trailer around. Nope, there’s no way to get around that. And yep, you have to tow it or put it up on a flatbed truck. So there’s no much of a way around it. But in the end, this turned out to be the easier of the two to register. The boat registration was a whole ‘nuther ball of wax.

In the state of Hawaii, boats are treated very much like cars in that owning a registered boat means that you have a state-issued certificate of title. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five million dollar yacht or a twelve foot dinghy. If it’s registered and you get HI numbers to put on the side of your prow, you get a certificate of title. Transferring ownership of a boat without that certificate of title is a real pain.

Unfortunately I think the rules may have changed over the years, so not every boat has a certificate of title associated with it. Some boats were never registered in the first place. I spoke to the harbormaster at Honokohau Harbor in Kailua-Kona several times about this. The upshot is that it’s preferable to find that certificate of title, but there is another way.

In the process of trying to find a certificate of title (which I haven’t found yet) I spoke with several of the previous owners of this boat. Like most history stories, the history of this boat is not some vague hand-wavy thing the way history is often presented in school. It is a very definite, very human story:

The boat was originally made by Newport Boats in California in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I still don’t have a fixed date when this hull rolled out of the shop. It was purchased by a guy who was buying several boats in order to ship them to Honolulu. I’m unclear if this guy was a boat broker, or if he wound up being co-owner, but shortly thereafter it was owned by another individual living in Honolulu, and was sailed regularly off the coast near Diamondhead. Some time later it was bought by a sailor who moved to the Big Island, with whom I spoke over the phone. He never registered the boat here, and after he sold it to the guy I bought it from, the new owner didn’t register it, either. I suspect it wasn’t registered in Honolulu, either. So there may simply not be a certificate of title.

The cool thing is there have ever been only five owners of this boat. I’m number five. For a boat this old, that’s actually pretty neat. Even better, when I called owner #3, he said, “Hey, you live on #### road!” I was a little taken aback. He knew exactly where I lived, and I’d cold-called him! It turns out a family member of his had seen the boat while driving home one day. It was apparently the day we had the mast up for the first time, and they recognized it. Not only is the list of owners of this boat small, it’s such a small community we live in, everyone knows everyone else.

Which leads me to the other way I can register a boat in the state of Hawaii: Without an actual certificate of title, I can file an affidavit of ownership with the Harbormaster. It stakes a claim as owner of the boat, but it means if any previous owner comes forward with a certificate of title, that right of ownership comes into question. The harbormaster said if that happens he would expect the two of us to settle it amongst ourselves, and that only one of us would come forward with the certificate to clear up the paperwork. If this was anywhere else in the world, I’d live in paranoia that some previous owner might come forward and stake a claim on my boat. But all the previous owners of this boat know each other! It’s such a tiny world here, I really don’t see that happening. So far everyone I’ve talked to has just been excited to hear how close the boat is to being in the water. They just want to see it sail again. So do I.

Which brings me to the last part of this post: The name.

I really do want to see this boat sail again. It’s an older boat that’s been out of production for several decades. There’s a good chance this hull is as old as, or is slightly older than I am. You can’t get castings or spars for it. You can’t get factory sails for it. As far as the boating world is concerned, it’s an extinct boat. An extinct catamaran. This gave me the idea for the name: Smilodon.

The saber toothed cat, or Smilodon, lived from about 2.5 million years ago until roughly 10,000 years ago, at which time it went extinct. My boat, or Pacific Catamaran, was manufactured from about 1960 until the late 1970’s, at which time it went extinct. There are obvious parallels.

When my wife and I shared this with our kids, they loved the idea. Finally, the boat has a name! So last night I drew up a graphic and got a price quote for cutting it out of 7″x36″ vinyl:

Smilodon Logo

The price I got was reasonable, so I’m having two made: one for each hull. I just hope my fellow sailors get the joke. Otherwise I’m going to spend more time explaining than sailing.

– Tom

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