… and so it begins

Captains Log, Stardate 69864.7. We left the river Elbe through the Brünsbüttel Lock, entering the Kiel Canal. Currently berthed at Brunsbüttel Harbor. We left the influence of these weird reoccurring stream phenomena and set course to this seasons research ground: the baltic sea.

Happy Geeks Pride Day Everyone! And mind your Towels while watching Star Wars Episode IV. Quite cramed day it is. Ok, enough of that.

Today started as any well planned passage starts. I prepared everything I could and announced the ship is ready for sea. Sure, there are a gazillion of items on the ToDo list but I crossed of plenty of important stuff. So I woke up at the prepared time and my crew showed up at the time we agreed upon. Then we turned the ignition key and all we heard was the whining of a starter clutch which isn’t engaging the flywheel. No spinning flywheel means no cylinders moving meaning no combustion which renders a combustion engine useless. Tried ten or more times, just wasn’t starting. Hmm, isn’t there some item on the ToDo list for investigating the starter solenoid because it was acting up occasionally? Yep. Didn’t cross that one off. So there we were, ready to leave on the falling tide with no time to spare. And Kiel Canal legally forces you to use your engine and mostly has no wind so going under sails alone wasn’t really an option.

So we busted out the trusted special tool for non-cooperating mechanical stuff and started classic percussive maintenance. Worked like a treat and off we went.

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My favourite “friendly enforcer”. Metal core filled with sand for recoil reduction, hard plastic hitting surface and a long, grippy rubber handle. If you hold it on the front of the handle you can make very gentle tap-a-di-tap-tap and if you grap the handle fully you can beat the crap out of things without leaving indentation marks.

Smooth sailing from there, forgot to take pics.

I was kind of afraid of single handing the lock. Luckily S. agreed to tag along, so I had great and also very skilful company. We agreed that I would take the first try on my own and he would only engage if things went sideways. And as always, when you bring skilled folks along to help you out, the conditions are ideal, you are totally relaxed and everything goes super smooth. It is as if the situation smells that your specialist has done the thing a hundred times and so it plays nicely, hoping to fuck you up badly next time when you come alone.

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Some local sailor.

One last picture which pretty much sums up sailing the elbe. There is a lee shore and a pile of stones leading into the water marked by a cardinal warning sign. My instructors told us to keep well clear (100m or more) of these signs and keep a even wider berth to lee shores. These rules don’t apply here. Some say if you can sail on this river you can sail anywhere. I don’t know, I sailed around 100nm on the river, half of which alone. I did survive but it wasn’t relaxing. I had to be constantly on my toes planning my route between moving and stationary obstacles while coping with weird tidal phenomena and constant wind shifts. I’m looking forward to go there again sometime to explore the beauty of it. But for now I’ll seek out less crowded waters to take my time to actually learn how to sail. Drinking water from a firehose is kinda fun but it wears you out after some time.

Working on it….

I guess it’s best summed up by the A-Team Theme or “Working on it” by Mark Knopfler. Long days of fiddeling with stuff. You fuck it up and try again until you succeed. You don’t have the right tools/workshop so you pay others to fuck it up. And then you search for ways to make it right. It takes time, sweat, blood and tears. For example the cooperation with the metal shop: I needed an adapter which is basically 8 holes on one radius and four holes on an different radius. I fucked up measuring the inner radius, the guy from the metalshop put six holes on both radiusses messing up all the angles. The final thing looks like swiss cheese but will do the job.

You befriend some locals on the way who can relate in some way or another. These are mostly a really kind and supportive bunch. They give/sell you stuff you need for little money. They walk you through maps of the local waters and share their wisdom and experience. When you’re down they encourage you. I dunno why but it really means a great deal to me if someone with 40odd years of experience in something tells newbie me something along the lines of “hey, you’re doing ok, you’ll be fine”.

Others think you’re stupid or haphazard or just from another planet. Some just don’t like you because you look like some punk. Some give weird / useless / dangerous advise. With time you learn to choose wisely what advise to adhere to and what not. And you’ll sometimes have to change your mind. For example one of my instructors went furious when somebody started whistling on the boat. I asked him why and he responded “because it’s tradition”. He did it just for the fun of criticising people. Ok, I decided, I’ll whistle on my own ship as much as I want. I talked about that with S. and he just answered that he is really strict on the whistling issue as well because the wind whistles in the rigging if it picks up or a gust hits you. So it’s a warning sign for the helmsman and the person on the main sheet to take immediate action to counter the gust (counter steer/ease sheet/adjust traveller, …). So if somebody is whistling these folks either don’t hear the gust coming or they take measures without a cause. Ok, so no whistling on my ship, I changed my mind on that completely because somebody provided a proper reason for doing things. And now I know on telltale for oncoming gusts…

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Main Halyard and Topping Lift crisscrossed, the further already ate through the roller and into the aluminum

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new rollers, replaced the steel wire halyard with dyneema and replaced the undersized topping lift as well. And now they run in parallel

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unfucking the fuckup by the metal shop by drilling extra holes in the ship. according to the guy in the shop drilling high grade stainless is impossible with a hand drill. Well, it takes lot’s of pressure, low rpm, oil for cooling and a sharp drill bit (good HSS or TiN)

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some just like to watch…

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The old main traveller crapped out on the last sail and no supplier had something in store for the mounted track…

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…so in goes the new, shiny and more beefy…

Learning about marine specific engine parts: meet the impreller.

Learning about marine specific engine parts: meet the impeller. That little guy is pumping sea water for cooling the engine.

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trying to unfuck some instruments. This one had broken cables, water ingress and some previous owner removed the data cable by cutting it into different pieces…

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big ship passing by

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Some kind soul sold me a self steering windvane for a real bargain. But it needs some modification so it has to be completely disassembled before cutting & welding

It feels like slow progress but actually I’m not doing too bad. On the 26th of march, I first set foot on a sailing yacht and around two month later I’m licensed to operate such a craft commercially, bought my own and made did a bunch of repairs / upgrades. Not too bad at all actually. I guess I can set sail soonish and do the rest of the outfitting en route. Cruising after all is mostly doing boat maintenance in exotic places.

Pornstyler revived

It has been sitting for six month. The fuel pump was almost dead and I ripped out the wideband lambda to analyse the car of a friend. A storm put water through the tilted sunroof and I forgot to turn off the interior light after soaking up the water thus emptying the battery. Today I jacked it up, threw in a new fuel pump and the recharged battery. Turned on and off the ignition a couple of times to create fuel pressure in the empty lines (changing the pump got kinda messy). And what happened? The thing just started up and purred along. I LOVE these old mercs. I just had to add some fuel, air up the tires and it performed flawlessly on an extended test drive including a stretch of autobahn.

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jacked up and secured with a three legged stand

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Parking lot after six month. Quite grimy and some grass growing. And still leftovers from new years fireworks…

 

 

Sidenote on Motor TV: Sabine Schmitz on Top Gear

My favourite german race driver actually starts to co-host my favourite british motor television show. And she keeps on dominating the main host. Around 10 years ago jeremy clarkson (old host) did a 9:59 in an Jaguar S-Type on her home turf (Nordschleife) and she was caught on camera saying “I could do this time in a van”. Long story short: She did a 10:08 in a ford transit, no modifications and on a public driving day on the track.  Look it up on youtube, fun to see a white panelvan overtaking fancy racecars and even motorcycles.

While filming the new season the new host Chris Evans jumped out of the car to vomit after a couple of minutes with her in an Audi R8 on a closed track. The new season might be fun…

I’ll still miss Clarkson, Hammond and May…

Another day another sail

This time with more wind (4-5bft) and competent crew, another first! Some friendly local who is sailing for his whole life and really into the iw-31 volunteered to show me the ropes of both the ship and the local waters. That really helped a lot, especially concerning sail trim. IMG_1884 IMG_1891

And I again realized: I really like this boat! There were some bigger boats which should have been faster. But if their crew made some slight mistakes like shoddy steering or running a little too much canvas and bam, the little iw-31 was either onto them or got ahead. I hope I’ll soon learn to get her dialed in nicely as well, the puzzled looks on the other, much more expensive vessels seems well worth it.

But before that she needs some love. The main sheet traveller gave up and under close inspection I realized the sheet winches where attached with pieces of rotten plywood. Seems she hasn’t seen heavy weather for a while. So I took off the winches and the traveller is to follow. She is not ready for sailing anymore :-( As soon as I am back to hamburg I’ll have to throw some money at the right folks and put in long work hours… But these issues are neither very complicated nor expensive so I just have to pull through…

Elbsegeln (sailing the river elbe)

I did the first sails on the Elbe. Alone as well as with friends. I think I did ok. And I no longer consider the Kieler Förde crammed.

We already established the high density of traffic on the elbe because of the Port of Hamburg. So yesterday we thought “hey, lets catch the last hour of the rising tide to go in the direction of Hamburg and go back when the tidal current reverses”. What we didn’t know was that the grand opening ceremony of the 826th harbour anniversary was scheduled for the same afternoon. And since tidal streams are something like train-tables to the tidal-aware sailor EVERYBODY was on that rising tide train to the city, including the honorary guests.

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The green one (Alexander von Humbold II, famous for Becks Beer commercials) and the white sailing vessel (Dar Młodzieży) actually took the lead of the parade. We caught them both on the way to party, so to speak.

As a kicker the wind came directly from the city so we had to tack up the river, (crisscrossing the waterway). Plenty of folks were doing exactly that so watching them gave me a feeling of what is ok and what not. The only mishab on my side was a ferry captain who used his loudhailer to inquire if I had been drinking. Nope, I was sober and that was too close. My mistake for sure but all he had to do was to ease the throttle a bit to let me pass. So nobody was harmed or threatened.

 

My first real single handed sail

After hoisting the sails for shits and giggles for a couple of times I actually used them for their dedicated purpose for more than a couple of minutes being all alone aboard. That was a definite first. And quite entertaining, going upwind you have to tack (crisscross) over the waterway. This needs a careful timing because the large freighters are fast, and can’t break nor steer in time to avoid a collision.

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I did it.

Well, my mood is still rapidly changing between happy and terrified. I a did buy a boat. The idea was to get something as small as bearable for a summer trip, slow and safe, easy to handle. Then start in a place which is great for beginners, easy waters, no tides, Kiel for example. And how did it play out? Yeah, well. I bought an 9,3 meter heavy displacement offshore racer-cruiser. The thing dominated races back in the 70s. And I bought it in Hamburg, famous for having the third largest port in whole Europe. And about 4m of tidal range. So there is all kind of weird current phenomena going on and container vessels and ferries produce large waves.

On the upside, the vessel is known for being pretty bulletproof and easy to single-hand. And she is a beauty!

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Designed by famous sparkman and stephens (S&S). Build by IW-Varvet in 1970 on the island of Orust, Sweden. A modern (at the time) US Design build by shipwrights whose lineage goes back to the vikings. Literally! Technical details: http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5505

The last couple of days were spent mostly working on the boat or planning on what to change. She is old and battered but she wears her scars with pride.

Disclaimer: I don’t believe in the myth that all ships are female, if they have a gender at all. Her current name is Baldur but the pronoun she fells more appropriate then “he” or “it” or the singular “they”. I guess there is some nonbinary genderqueer thing going on. I’m pretty sure she’s got balls as well. And in GB she was actually marketed as the “SHE-31″ (South Hants Engineering being the name of the shipyard)

Success! (mostly)

Location: Emden, Germany
Odo: 309107

So yeah, there they are. My license to operate “pleasure craft” on waterways navigable by sea-going ships (required if your vessel sports more than 15hp). The other one is optional / only required if you work as a commercial skipper on pleasure crafts in coastal waters not exceeding 12 nautical miles (german version of the “yachtmaster coastal”, thats the one where you actually learn how to sail a yacht). And the last one for buying / handling distress signals such as caliber 4 rockets.

Achievements unlocked!

Achievements unlocked! A proper summary of the last autumn/winter

Ah, and some money in the bank. The only license which is missing is my radio certificate (SRC). I flunked that one because I forgot to mention the current time when ending distress communication. Whatever… I will not make the same mistake in real life because I’m not allowed to carry a radio to actually make distress calls. I mean, imagine what would happen if I omit the current time! Some bloke might have to look at his own clock in case he is interested in the exact moment when everything was back in order.

So yeah, we might take an educated guess what comes next… Let’s say I already found out that the forecastle of a Albin Vega is not long enough for me but for example a kings cruiser (successor of the folkeboot) or a Thames Marine Mirage 28 suit me just fine.

Finally…

Just watched a documentery about the us navys next gen ships. The crew went to test out new equipment. Two identical guns well proven on land vehicles with newly added electrickery for naval use. One failed right off the bat during initial adjustment, the second one just at the beginning of the first engagement. Classic.

Deployed a submergable to search for mines. Six hours in the hydraulic pressure drops to a critical level. Just at the same moment as the mothership develops a hydraulic leak as well. Needless to say most of the needed spares and tools have to be flown in. Like for example a ginormous hydraulic purge unit to bleed the hydros of the submergable after repairs. Captain to Engineer (who just bleeded the ships steering hydros after changing the busted hose): “Hey, you could have done that on the sub as well, right?”. And the engineer just tilts his head, shrugs and gives the good old “yep, totally but I’m not allowed to because of procedure bullshit” expression. That is how different departments/companies/entities work together.

It’s getting better. The captain is pissed about the retest procedures taking too long, the technicians from xy complany are pissed about the captain being pissed. They work through the night as fast as possible after talking about the situation for an hour and just flunk the thing. The changed part starts acting up before the sub hits the water because they just messed around with the symptoms. And (drumroll) they can’t release the thing because of a design flaw in the release mechanism.

After that the weather starts to act up, “storms” and three meter waves. Perfect excuse for heading back to port. That leaves the problem of making the mission a success. But a young sailor has the perfect idea: The rest of the testing will take place in port. The Captain is happy because his mission is a success and the project team is happy because their crappy prototype can’t be tested in port. Captain: “We are going to keep working tactically as if we were on sea, the only difference is that we’re going to be tied up to the pier”. I wish they would fight wars this way. Everybody is happy about their “outside of the box thinking” and “flexibility”. Priceless.

Yep, governmental and corporate (software) projects are the same all over the world, the parallels to my line of work are overwhelming. You can’t make good projects by just throwing money at them.

I’m really looking forward for the moment when the realization sets in that I don’t have to cope with that kind of shit in the next couple of months. This was my last day in the office.