Sunday, June 23, 2013

Timing is Everything

I've been installing the Single Sideband radio over the last couple of weekends. It's not a small job to find suitable locations for the control head and speaker, receiver and antenna tuner, then get all the wiring done in a seaman-like manner mainly because space for these items is very much at a premium.  It also turned out to be a bigger challenge than I expected to get the copper foil for the ground plane installed from the antenna tuner to the keel. But everything is installed and wired except for the connections to the batteries, which I will not do until we replace the lead acid batteries with AGM's in a couple of weeks.

While that work is being done, we're also varnishing the cap rails. I really didn't want to go down that road but the teak was at the point where it had to be done, or else. So we got them well sanded and two coats on, with three or four more to come. I am resigned to the fact that they'll need a coat every six months or so.

Anyway, yesterday I went to pump some water through the aft head, which I do every time we arrive at the boat, and it wouldn't go. I checked the thru-hull valves,  both intake and discharge were open and functional. Then I poured fresh water into the bowl and pumped it through, and it was absolutely normal.  So I knew the problem was on the intake side, and I double checked the ball valve and checked outside the boat to make sure there wasn't a plastic bag or something blocking the intake thru-hull. Nope, all looked good. So the next step was to shut the valve and pull the intake hose off and check for a blockage there. I pulled it off the ball valve, expecting to find some seaweed or other flotsam, but it was clean, so I tried pumping again and it still wouldn't go. But I knew the problem was somewhere between the ball valve and the pump so I disconnected the other end of the hose, where it connects to the head pump and found the problem. It was a fish stuck tail-first in the intake of the head. The poor duffer was in up to his gills and jammed pretty tight in the hole.  So I pulled him out and Lisa threw him back in the water, where he flapped his flippers feebly before sinking out of sight. After I put everything back together we were sitting in the cockpit speculating on how bad timing can ruin a fish's day. He must have thought he'd found a really neat little hidey hole and backed himself into it, where he was enjoying life and watching the world go by out his front door. Imagine his surprise and consternation when I pumped the head and he found himself headed bassackwards up the intake hose to the head, where he jammed like a cork in a bottle. I was astonished that he was still alive and I bet he was glad to see me, but my guess is that he was pretty banged up and probably didn't make it. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Elan 400 Review

Here is an interesting new yacht from a British designer, Rob Humphreys, and Slovenia based Elan Yachts. The Elan 400 is their latest collaboration and it is indeed a unique boat. It is a racer/cruiser with twin rudders, hard chines and a very distinctive look. It's a look that I find visually quite attractive.
Elan 400: Slovenian Speedster

Let's start by studying the hull. In the plan view, notice that it's rather full in the bow at the deck level, fairing into a  moderate beam of 12.69 feet. It carries that beam all the way aft where we find hard chines and a near vertical transom. At 16,500 pounds displacement the Elan 400 has a displacement/length ratio of 141. This is not much lighter than my unabashedly cruisey Beneteau 423, which has a D/L ratio 154. But coupled with a sail area/displacement ratio of 21.1, the Elan will be much quicker in all conditions than my slightly underpowered Beneteau, which has a SA/D of only about 16.0.  With these data points, it's clear that the Elan is a pretty sporty ride, but what about those chines and the twin rudders? Do they offer any meaningful advantages or are they there merely for style? Starting with the chines, I would say that they do little, if anything, for performance.  Don't get me wrong, chines have been shown to enhance performance on sailboats. But in my opinion they only make a difference when a boat is in planing mode, which won't be very often for the Elan. I should point out that the Humphreys firm has designed at least one VO70 with chines, and I am certain they make a critical performance difference on such a light and powerful boat. But the 400 is a family style racer/cruiser and I think the chines are there more for style than planing performance. There is nothing wrong with this, they add visual interest and certainly don't take away any performance potential.

Humphreys VO70 at speed. Notice the chine at work, and the weather rudder almost completely out of the water.

What about the twin rudders? Once again, on a VO70 they make a lot of sense. But does that translate to a racer/cruiser like the Elan 400? It would be very interesting to compare a single ruddered 400 with a twin ruddered version. I have no data to support my opinion, but my gut feeling is that in most conditions that average people sail in, the single ruddered boat would perform as well or better than her twin ruddered sister. Here in southern California, we have lots of kelp and I can foresee plenty of fiddling around with a kelp stick and a fair amount of strong language as a racing crew struggles with kelp on our local offshore races. When I think of the added weight, drag and cost of a twin wheel-twin rudder arrangement, I would demand a meaningful improvement in performance from the two rudders and I just don't think it's there in typical conditions on a boat of this type. With all that said, I'd love to go for a ride on one of these boats.

With its powerful hull,  bow pole, non-overlapping jib and svelte cabin trunk, the Elan 400 is a sporty looking ride.

Moving on to the deck, I'm impressed with the innovative features incorporated into it. The transom is wide open, with a seat panel spanning it. This panel is removable and doubles as a gangplank, complete with wheels on the shoreside end,  for when you're Med moored in Monte Carlo. The transom also has a drop-down panel making it into a water-level swim step with boarding ladder and transom shower.

The cockpit is beautifully laid out for racing.

The cockpit itself is very well laid out for a racing crew, with plenty of room to move and ergonomically sensible access to winches, etc. The twin wheels are mounted on fairly lethal looking pedestals and give the helmsman a great view. The general arrangement is typical of the modern racer/cruiser, with short seats forward and wide open space aft. The traveler is mounted on the cockpit sole, which I think is the best place for it and the halyard winches are on the cabin top where they should be. The designers have incorporated a number of tricky features into this area. There is a cleverly designed dining table that retracts into the cockpit sole, retractable footrests for the helmsman, and a recess near the transom for the life raft. Add covered bins for sheets and a retractable companionway hatch board and you've got a pretty busy cockpit. Yet it looks clean and elegant!
Beautifully detailed deck

The rest of the deck is fairly conventional with a low and aesthetically pleasing cabin trunk, jib tracks mounted close inboard and an anchor windlass and locker forward. The boat is equipped with inhauls for the jib, which is an indicator of how serious Elan is about racing performance. Your average cruising sailor wouldn't know what to do with them.

Elan offers the 400 with either two or three cabins. I chose the two cabin version mainly because I prefer to have a dedicated nav station instead of a fold-away chart desk. I think those things look great at boat shows but are not particularly useful. Of course if you're sailing is limited to local waters you have little need for a dedicated chart table and the space would be better used for other purposes.

Sensible layout for casual racing and weekends at the island.

The accommodations plan incorporates a good sized forward cabin with a V-berth, seats and storage lockers. Elan thoughtfully refrained from pushing the berth too far forward so the foot of the bunk is reasonably wide. As in the rest of the boat, there is a plethora of locker doors that conceal lots of fairly small shelves. In spite of all those doors, it looks like usable storage space is somewhat limited. This is because the builder has pushed the lockers well outboard, making them quite shallow, The trade-off is the visual sensation of bright, wide open space below.  I think this is perfectly acceptable given that the Elan 400 is not intended for living aboard or long offshore passagemaking.
In the three cabin version, the chart table folds away to make a full length settee on the port side of the salon.

Given the intended purpose of the boat, the galley is adequate, although you may wish for a bit more storage space here. The aft stateroom is quite large and comfortable looking. The hard chines may contribute to the extra space here, or it could just be that the transom on the 400 is in the neighborhood of eleven feet wide.

The 400 looks fast.

Overall, there is much to like about the Elan 400. The tall rig with non overlapping headsails provides lots of horsepower. The twin rudders should provide precise steering and the deep keel will keep the boat on its feet. As I mentioned before, to my eye this is a pretty boat that has excellent performance potential. While the squared off trapezoid shape deadlights in the hull could have been more artfully designed I expect the Elan 400 to turn heads wherever she goes. I took all the photos shown here from Elan's excellent web site and I invite you to visit to learn more about this interesting boat.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The State of the Sport

Oracle on its foils. A new level of sailing performance

I've been thinking lately about the state of the sailing industry in the US, and, frankly, it's not pretty for the designers or the builders. Since the "Great Recession" there has been a decline in yacht design activity in this country. With a few exceptions, most of the designers I know are struggling to find commissions and many builders of custom and semi-custom yachts have diversified into powerboats or other products, or simply shut their doors. Is this the natural ebb and flow of business cycles, or are there other forces at work? It may be a matter of business cycles but I think there is more to it than that. It's pretty clear that the recession took a lot of money out of the sailing industry, which is to be expected since many people have been understandably more focused on their economic survival than new boats.
International Laser at speed

Another factor is the way people spend their most precious commodity, leisure time. Sailing is time consuming compared to other sports that compete for your recreation time. Golf is a good example. You can go play a round of golf on a Saturday morning and be home in time for brunch. You drop your clubs in the garage and you're ready to spend the rest of the day doing other things. Sailing, on the other hand, is pretty much an all-day affair. If you just want to go out for a couple of hours, you head down to the boat, spend a half hour getting it ready, then push off from the dock and, if you're lucky, there is a breeze and you go out and enjoy sailing for a couple of hours. But who wants to sail for just a couple of hours on a Saturday? Instead you spend the day on the water, enjoy the hell out of it, then get back to the dock around four in the afternoon. Then you spend an hour folding sails, hosing down the boat, etc. and perhaps have a cold beverage and watch the sunset. Sounds like a good day to me. But for many, that doesn't work because they always have so many other things to do. Further, in many families not everyone involved in the decision-making process is as enamored of sailing as we are, so compromises must be made. Soccer, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, golf, riding, biking, hiking, surfing, etc. all compete for their time and interest, and most of those sports are less work, less expensive and less time consuming than sailing, so it's no wonder the sailing industry is struggling.

Another interesting symptom of the sailing malaise is the average age of the people you find out on the race course on any given weekend. It's been going up. Of course there are younger people coming into the sport and I am pleased to see the vibrant junior programs of the yacht clubs in my town. Still, the geezer-to-young buck ratio at my yacht club appears to be on the rise. Among the ranks of the cruisers, both local and long distance, the average age also seems to be on the increase. I guess it's all part of that 70 is the new 60 paradigm.
A Hans Christian 38 drives to weather

With all of these forces at work, there seems to be a lot of hand wringing over the changing sociological and economic landscape in the sport of sailing. Declining sales, declining demographics, fewer boats on the starting lines, danger and death at the Americas Cup...Yikes, it's enough to make you trade your boat shoes for golf shoes.

For some this is a catastrophe. My God, our beloved sport is shrinking! What shall we do? Well, I have a couple of recommendations. First take a deep breath and relax. So what if our sport is shrinking? It'll find some point of equilibrium, some point where it's in balance with all the other forces that work on our leisure time, our psyches, and our multifarious commitments. Second, remember that you enjoy the sport. Remember that there are thousands of us out there enjoying our time on the water. If you're in the recreational boating industry, think about building the quality of the sailing experience instead of the quantity. Take your family and friends out sailing and don't worry that some or maybe even most of them don't connect with the absolute pleasure we derive from it. I'll wager that there is someone who has encouraged you to try something new, mountain climbing, horseback riding or whatever, that just didn't work for you. Those sports are no poorer because you didn't go out and buy a new Stetson or ice ax. And our sport is no poorer because someone came, saw... and decided they'd rather be on a mountain trail.
Left Coast Dart headed your way

Frankly, I'm not the least bit disappointed that our sport is in something of a decline. Here in California, in the last year or so we've lost eleven people in yacht racing accidents. The jury is still out on the death of Andy Simpson, the crewman who died when the Swedish Americas Cup catamaran capsized, but the other deaths can be attributed to operator error. So either we need to improve the skills and knowledge of the folks that are already out sailing, or we might be better off if people who don't have those skills took up a different sport, or got the necessary training before heading offshore. Sailing is a lovely sport, pastime, and lifestyle, but it's not for everyone so let's just relax and enjoy it. We can and should welcome anyone who joins in, and we need not be concerned when people don't get it and prefer other things. Sailing and the sailing industry will survive and thrive in its own way, its own time and at its own level.