Phil's Logs


The Boat

The Crew


DATE: January 10, 2007

This log finds the parallax back in white bay where I spent a week cleaning, and repairing finally my 12-volt dc system. HAPPY TO REPORT THAT Al's of Tortola FINALLY repaired both alternators and all ships systems are winking and blinking. Boat owners always mark it a red-letter day when everything works. This day is one of those days. I used to be superstitious about celebrating such a day but not anymore for I am certain that no matter what I do or say s#@#@#@ breaks and will break again, better to celebrate while it lasts.

Someone stole my computer case, which I had left on the table right behind me at village cay marina in Tortola. A very nice place, you wouldn't have expected it and I didn't, especially so brazen, I wasn't 10 feet away. The perpetrator thought he had a computer but all he got was a worn out case and my camera cord. I should make him a t-shirt. So no pictures but no good ones to post anyway. Soon I will dive Saba and with luck ought to be able to post some spectacular underwater shots.

I was rereading Moitessier's Sailing to the Reefs, particularly the sections where he accounted with “great diffidence” to other more experienced sailors about things that worked and didn't work. I don't know how Moitessier can owe diffidence to anyone except maybe in the sense that what works for some never works for all. I though it might be time with great diffidence to those much more experienced to give my account of what works and what doesn't..for me..

Little Village Water maker:

I have the smallest 7 to 8 gallon modular unit, which I installed. Modular because you have more options of how to customize your installation to available space and manual because I try to keep it simple. Manual only means that you have to turn a few valves to turn on, to fresh water flush and when cleaning time comes, to clean. As long as you took care in the installation and can get to everything really no big deal. I bought the unit at a great price at the Annapolis Boat Show and received great support from the local distributor in Portsmouth, VA. It works like a charm and having water when you want it is truly a luxury.

Mac Stac Pack:

This is one of the on the boom mainsail storage devices. It tames my monster mainsail and makes raising lowering and storing the main a breeze. My main usually goes up while still on the mooring or hook and doesn't come down until I am on the hook again. The Mac Pack makes it so simple and keeps the u.v. off the sail during the down time. I broke the zipper in route and the Mac Pac folks talked me through a temporary repair and the warranty will cover it when I get back, great support.

Dan Winters Sails

I have know Dan and his son Brett a long time, nothing but quality service over the years. They measured and sold me the new Neil Pryde main and recommended the Mac pack and then installed both plus helped with the rig tune. When I needed help with the Mac Pack they were on the phone helping me all the way. They also put up with my racer's fanaticism over nuances in sail shape. The main is in a cat the MAIN sail, the Mac Pack/ Main combination allows me to sail more and motor less as the effort to raise, lower and store the main is minimal.

12- volt dc system vs. Gen- set.

Now this is as an individual choice as you can have, particularly, in the boats up to say 40 feet or so or in a performance catamaran or monohull where weight is the enemy. I am told that as the boats get larger the power requirements grow so great that a 12 volt dc system is no longer viable. If you have to have ac underway or on the hook then you are realistically forced in to a gen-set no matter the size of the boat. I like the breeze and Parallax has 7 opening hatches, I set here at full noon with the breeze blowing typing this log I can t imagine shut up with the gen-set going. Plus, the boat is already too complicated and too heavy. But others feel much differently, and if I were sailing in hotter climes or stayed in marinas often where the boat couldn't orient to the wind, I probably would too.


If you rely on your 12- volt system then I believe deep-cycle flooded batteries are still the way to go and of this type the 6 volt “golf cart” type batteries are the most economical. I can't imagine getting by on much less than 660 amp hours worth or 3 banks of two each 6 volt deep cycle batteries. Weight is really driver here for me, batteries are very heavy and I run the minimum. Gel sails and fiberglass mat types do have their advantages, chiefly low maintenance but their cycle life is still significantly less than a well maintained flooded cell system. Maintenance is the key, which means regularly checking and topping off with water. Often the hold down systems for these batteries are so cumbersome to work with and the batteries so tucked away that maintenance, even adding water is a HUGE chore. If you can't change this then maybe gel or fiberglass mat is the way to go. On Parallax, the batteries are mounted above the swamp line (the level the water would be at if the hull was holed) (probably only feasible in a catamaran, monos generally want the weight lower and if holed tend to sink anyway). I don't use battery boxes, the battery compartment is completely fiberglass with integral drains. In my experience battery boxes make maintenance horrific and are so bulky reduce the number of batteries you can fit in a given space. The batteries in Parallax fit under screwed in teak cleats on one side against a bulkhead and on the other side are tied down to stainless steel hold downs with 3/16 Dacron line. This is very secure and the tops of the batteries are COMPLETLEY uncovered so I can pull the filler caps without loosening or unstrapping anything. I keep a squeeze bottle of water and a hydrometer in a plastic bag in the compartment. Adding water is no major chore although I have learned to put on nylon swim trucks. Most of my cotton ones have somehow acquired little acid holes


If you have a 12 volt system, flooded or otherwise, you have to have a way to keep them charged...fully, as undercharging and over cycling are the killers of flooded batteries. I try to have enough amp hours on line so that the batteries don't drop below 12.4 volts, which I understand represents a 25% discharge and yields the greatest overall amp hour life for the battery. If you don't have a gen-set, or even if you do, you will probably rely on your engine alternator(s) and/or alternative charging sources. Whether you rely on your ships engine alternator as the sole recharging source or not, a high capacity alternator sized to your engine with a smart 3 or 4 stage regulator is a must. If you try to rely on the standard automotive type set up that may have come with the boat you'll never keep the batteries fully charged. I use two Balmar 4 stage regulators which can be custom set but also come with standard pre-programmed set ups. They work great and seem very hardy. I use a Balmar high capacity alternator (100) amps on one engine and a custom high output Declo I got on the Internet for 100.00 on the other engine. The automotive Delco is much cheaper but not quite the equal of the Balmar. The Volvo automotive type that came as original equipment is in the hold as a spare but it may be too puny to even hold as a spare. Together these alternators can pump out nearly 200 amps which is about right for 660 amps hours of total battery capacity. If you don't have a high capacity alternator and multi-stage regulator system you will be running the engine all the time in a largely futile attempt to keep the batteries fully charged. Except for the weight factor might as well have a gen-set in that case, it would save your ships engine and gen-sets are generally much quieter.

Solar cells:

If you have high capacity alternators coupled to multi-stage regulators and if you don't mind running the engine an hour or perhaps two a day you can keep the system fully charged. If you don't want to use the ships engine to this extent for charging then some sort of alternative charging method will be necessary. I opted for solar cells and installed 250 watts of them. Calculations with ample safety factors said that was plenty, practice says not. I think there are three reasons, 1st I believe the ratings on solar cells are far too generous, cloud cover even slight cloud cover severely degrades the output, 2nd there are losses in the regulators. I use phase regulators but there are newer generation regulators that advertise charging efficiency's up to 30 % greater. I am not up on the technology so I don't know why this may be true. If it is true, then it stands that my system is losing 30%, and 3rd and by far most importantly, if you are going to run a 12 volt system then you have to install optimal low draw lighting and equipment. I have a camper type (rv) refrigerator and this minimally insulated high power consumption unit breaks the 12 volt bank. I knew it would tax the system but I didn't have the money or time to build a complete well insulated box and install a system. Without a doubt I should have installed one of the newer generation 12 volt holding plate type of systems. My choice would have been Technautics, but there are other quality manufactures/assemblers. I believe this one system improvement would decrease my 12 volt consumption by half or even more. Evaporator type systems are less efficient and rv type equipment is atrocious. I would install an air-cooled compressor over a water cooled unit at slight loss of efficiency but a great reduction in complexity, remember rule one s#@#@ breaks.

Other things to consider in your choice of solar cells is that except on much larger boats the solar cells will probably be shaded some of the time depending on point of sail.

And if you rely on electronic autopilots as most cats do this is precisely the time your amperage requirements go up. Still, underway, most of us run our engines enough that power generation is always augmented by the high capacity alternators.

Wind generators:

I considered this and am still considering it, the power potential from one of these units is much greater than from the solar cells a small boat would have space to install. They are, depending on make and model somewhat noisy and of course add mechanical complexity but one look around the harbor and it is easy to see that they are the alternative charging system of choice, and for good reason I think. Day or night, as long as the wind blows (and the wind almost always blows in the trades) they generate power, and lots of it. The one thing I can say for relying on strictly solar for the alternative charging system is that if it is an optimal installation, that is you have room for sufficient cells and your 12 volt dc equipment is as miserly as it can be, then you have greatly reduced the windage, complexity and probably weight. You should be able to lock up the boat leave the refrig running and not have to worry about the wind generator in a storm or mechanical failure. Perhaps most importantly, solar cells are absolutely silent.

Auto pilot:

In my book the most important piece of equipment on the boat. If you single- hand a lot maybe indispensable. I read about Josh Slocum and his self- steering boat but I have never owned such a boat and know no one who has. I can't imagine life without an autopilot. I am really a sissy. Most cats reportedly don't do well with wind /servo units. This is reportedly because the acceleration and deceleration on cats an attendant shifts in apparent wind overwhelms these units, which of course steer to the apparent wind. I don't know if I buy this and know of no one who actually tried to fit one on a cruising type cat. Parallax is toward the high end of performance of most CRUISING cats in the 40 foot range. But I don't believe the changes in apparent wind are that dramatic. I have sailed plenty of Monohulls that use a monitor wind/servo unit and that is a marvelous piece of equipment, steering the boat better than most helmsman with NO power requirements, other than the force of the water rushing by. Unfortunately, I didn't have the money to experiment on Parallax to disprove the conventional wisdom and in any case installation on most cats would be very difficult (this may be the real reason). If you cant use a wind/servo unit and/or want to install an electronic autopilot then I can vouch for the Raytheon 6000 unit (g type with servo) driving a Robertson pump into a hydraulicly actuated rudder system. You can interface it to the GPS or the wind instrument as long as they output Raytheon's proprietary Seatalk or NEMA.. The system is completely interfaced on Parallax and over time I have dialed in the responsiveness, gain and damping factors. It can steer by the compass, by the waypoint or by the wind. Most importantly, is the “it” drives in all conditions encountered so far at all points of sail. On a recent single- handed trip back from Bermuda I didn't touch the helm for 36 hours. Sweet. I don't know yet what it would do in 60 knots off the stern quarter, a piece of knowledge I could forever do without.

Anchors and anchoring systems:

If you read previous entries you get a feel for the frustration a less than optimal anchoring system can engender. I now pull the anchor on Parallax without hesitation maneuver tight anchorages and if I don't get it right the first time sometimes a matter of 10 feet, up comes the anchor and I try it again. This is good, I am very prone to not getting it right the first time. This is wonderful flexibility for the cruiser. The number of sailors who tend to stay in one spot or even worse stay on moorings because of a system that is too difficult or unreliable or in which they have no confidence is amazing, I can certainly identify. I said the autopilot is the most important piece of equipment, I should have said underway. The “for real” most important system is the anchoring system. All sailors fear returning to the anchorage to see their boat drifting away or worse on the rocks, and even the most robust get tired and worn manhandling heavy anchors and chains.

If you read earlier entries about my anchoring woes you can get a taste on my thoughts of the various anchors. When I bent my main spade (Delta) anchor, I was forced into an unwanted test of other anchors. I made it clear before that I think the CQR fiat out sucks. Since then I read a comprehensive repot on various anchors that mirrored my experience. Coincidentally, here at white bay I met a sailor who lost his Bruce at Culebra and had to haul out his spare CQR. He drug at anchor practically all night and he and his crew kept a constant anchor watch and had to reset numerous times in stormy conditions and close quarters. Over a couple of rum punches he, his bleary eyed crew and I agreed whole-heartedly CQR's suck. Two for sale notices now are now posted at the Soggy Dollar in white bay.

So here are the Soggy Dollar anchor choices, reader beware

Delta and Bruce near a tie I would probably give Delta a slight edge but I found a good used Bruce which I now have as the main anchor and am perfectly happy with it.

Both anchors are massively strong and have no moving parts and the weights are about the same for a given size boat. Both self-launch and store nicely on almost any bow roller. The Delta is MUCH more expensive as it is still proprietary and there are to my knowledge no exact take offs. The Bruce or claw as it is now called is much less expensive. Bruce's patent run out and they no longer make the Bruce, the copy made by Harken I think, and others is called the claw. Here's the caveat, I did see a claw that was not an exact Bruce clone. The leading edges weren't nearly so sharp and the curved wings found on the original Bruce didn't seem to be the same. I don't think these knock off Bruces were made by Harken. Harken is a first rate manufacture and I can believe they would make a Bruce copycat that wasn't exactly like the Bruce but beware. Parallax's anchor is a real Bruce.

Danforth types. These anchors I think hold better than any in most conditions, the trouble for cruisers is they don't store well on the bow roller and don't always self launch, especially the light aluminum Fortress or Guardian type Danforths. They may not reset as readily in a current or windshift. Saying that, when I was doing my forced anchor comparison of all the anchors on board the too small Fortress Danforth was the clear winner. I could rely on it to set and hold like the dickens. The trouble was I had to go forward and push it and 10 feet of chain out to make it fall on its own against the drag of the windlass and roller system . Awkward, it enhanced my innate propensity to screw up. And, it set sort of funny on the bow roller, but it would set at an angle. It was too small and the next larger size might not have. In addition I believe the Danforths in general and particularly the aluminum types are more easily bent. Not while holding the boat at anchor as in this case the forces are lined up along the anchors axis. Retrieval is another matter, I have a brute of a windless plus I have controls at the cockpit so I can maneuver the boat and operate the windless at the same time, a great system but at the sacrifice that if I am single handing I cant really see the angle the chain makes from the boat when I retrieve the anchor nor can I manually feel the load. If you fail to come up on the Danforth or any anchor for that matter, along the axis of its shaft the momentum of the boat as it moves and the retrieval power of the windless may well pull sideways to the axis of the anchor. The aluminum Fortress particularly, can't stand such oafish boat handling. I bent the shaft two or three times luckily, I found a way to bend it back . True the Fortress was a size smaller than it should have been, but I still believe susceptible to this type mishandling. I think even the steel Danforths will bend easier, yes I have bent one of those too, you see a pattern. In any event the great anchoring experiment was a good learning experience for me as now I am super careful with the force of the windless, the momentum of the boat and the angle of the chain on retrieval. Still, I don't always get it right, the corollary to the rule that s#@#@# always breaks is that you always occasionally screw up. For a second anchor and/or an anchor that easily sets to rope and can be deployed manually and in a hurry you just cant beat an aluminum fortress. You can pick it up sling it off the boat and it will set unerringly with short scope. Try slinging a 45 pound CQR. For this reason in my opinion a lightweight Danforth is the anchor if you don't have a mechanical retrieval system. I see folks manually (or cranking a manual windlass) retrieving a CQR or even a lighter Bruce or Delta. I think after a while you would just stay put


What can I say I love it even though it is big and the weight of it and the chain unnerves me. I have an older Maxwell and it is a workhorse. I just don't have the experience to make observations among different models so all I can do is, as in the case of the autopilot, vouch for my experience with what I have. I have read numerous comparisons in the sailing literature and as you would expect there are reported differences in quality and operation. You pays your money and you takes your chances. On the Parallax the windless and the chain live exactly midships and that's where it needs to be. On a mono or cat the weight is just too great to have all that stuff on the bow. The Parallax has retrieval and deployment controls at the cockpit, and on the catwalk which makes life good for a single- hander, or at least a careful single-hander. I have also repositioned rollers and chain falls to hopefully eliminate the possibility of jamming and allow the freefall feature on the Maxwell to work at a great speed without jumping off the gypsy. Works great. As a result, now anchoring is as easy as I can imagine it can be which results in me being able to move from one place to the other without thinking too much about it. I did have 200 foot of chain but I am such a weight freak I replaced it with 160 foot of high-test chain and 150 foot of line. I used to think that if I had a windlass with a rope to chain gypsy I would cut down my chain to 100 feet or less. Chain is heavy. But after using the system for a while and talking to lots of experienced cruisers I have been converted into all chain guy. The rope to chain splice can be problematic and chain works very well on the gypsy and generally falls tangle free. I think now I would still have about this much chain even if I had a chain to rope windless. My Maxwell has a capstan and when I am out of chain I have to manually wrap the rope on the capstan. I have yet had to use the rope part of the rode though its good to know its there. I think 160 of chain is just enough, those with heavy displacement boats where weight is not a factor might use more. As weight conscious as I am I am still glad to have the chain and the big Maxwell. But as I note above, that much weight on the bow would truly freak me out, if your going to have the weight somehow get it back as far as you can. I saw one light weight cat with an even more neurotic skipper but even he had rigged a PVC pipe which hang from the rigging and which allowed him to lead his chain back to midships. Where there is a will there is a way.


This is a tough call communication technology advances so fast that your always truly looking backwards when your asking others what works for them. If money is not a great consideration and or you have to have instantaneous voice communication when you want it then satellite based communications is the way to go. You can have full voice capability or text capability or even a reduced emergency positioning/limited text system. But this still comes for a price, subscription fees equipment costs and per minute charges. This is changing all the time and the costs generally are coming down. In addition, more and more weather information is being made available on satellite systems. When I made the decision for communications on Parallax, I decided to rely on high frequency-HF- (SSB radio based) voice and digital communication systems. I think I would still make the same decision today, partly because I am an amateur radio operator and would have an amateur transceiver on board anyway and partly because the costs per baud are still too great for me for satellite based communications of comparable capability. This is truly an area to research especially if you don't already have an affinity with high frequency equipment either marine band or amateur. A few years from now perhaps much sooner the costs may tip the scales the other way, for the high end yachtsman it already has.

For those who still can't swallow the start up and informational costs of satellite communication then HF communication is still a great deal. The Amateur service is superior than standard marine service in my view partly because its free but even more so because you are tapping into a network of amateurs worldwide who grew up with the notion that the amateur radio corps is a public service. Of course you have to pass the required tech and code tests to get your amateur ticket but these are not onerous and I think the code requirement mat be going away. If I got in trouble I would certainly send a maday over the standard marine bands but you can also bet one would also go out on the amateur bands. For lesser troubles there is always a helping amateur somewhere in the world. The subject is too comprehensive for this log but a HF system consists of a HF transceiver either amateur or marine band coupled to a very sophisticated and proprietary digital conversion/error checking modem known as Pactor ( Pactor 3 is the latest and far superior version) The Pactor modem couples your transceiver with your computer, with this system you have almost unlimited e-mail capability and access to a tremendous amount of weather data including GRIB files. The way the system works, whether amateur or marine band is that the information typed into your computer is converted to a sophisticated error checking digital format, which is then fed to your transmitter. The receiving stations are hooked up to the internet so your e- mail or weather query or position report then goes through standard internet protocol to the weather provider or text recipient. The return text or information is stored on the shore side system. When you query the system, return e-mails and requested weather data are sent to you over the HF band to your transceiver, decoded by your Pactor modem and displayed on your computer screen using communication software called airmail for the amateur based system and sail mail for the marine band system. For the amateur operator this is absolutely free and for marine HF users I think the subscription to saildocs is something like $250.00 a year, although your airtime is more limited. The Pactor System is the heart of this communications system. As a bonus it decodes radio fax and Morse code as well. The only drawback is that at some times during some days atmospheric propagation is more limited. But usually you can find a frequency that works and I have rarely waited more than an hour before finding a station somewhere on some frequency. Like all e- mail its not instantaneous, the going and coming of the information has a lag time but a query for a grib file can often be returned in as little as 5 minutes, pretty good for a free or nearly free service..

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