Update #11 – Life Rafts?

Greetings all!

We’re still stuck on land, getting ready for the Fubar (San Diego to Cabo rally).

One interesting thing this week: We “hauled out” the boat to do some maintenance. While we were in southern California there was a failed attempt to lift the boat. They had to give up when the boat was too heavy. I wasn’t there, but spoke with the lift operator. He said that the lift was shaking, and the tires looked like they’d go flat, so he put the boat back in the water. This time, we went to the Delta shipyard, in Seattle, and their 200 ton lift. It was worth the visit just to see the place – we were the tiniest boat there!

As long as the boat was out of the water, we decided to paint the bottom. The original plan was for the bottom to be navy blue or black, but we wound up with a “teal” color, that has been making us crazy. We’re just back from driving to Delta, which was closed. The guard allowed us to peek across the fence and see the boat – the bottom is now painted black, and looks much better. As you can see in the photo below, the teal showed the crud….

There are some pictures that have been floating around the web of a ship being dropped during lifting, which I always thought were faked. Amazingly, they are real! If you haven’t seen the photos, it’s worth a peek Click Here.

While the boat was out of the water, I looked at the bow thruster, which you can see in the photo above. It doesn’t show up well in this picture, but there is a lot more crud growing on the thruster than one would expect for a boat so new. For those not familiar with bow thrusters, the propeller you see above is sitting sideways to the ship, at the bow. There is a similar sideways prop at the back of the boat (the stern thruster). I can side-step the boat into tight parking places, or assist the rudders for tighter turns. That said, I can only do this if there isn’t too much gunk clogging the thruster. My assumption is that this stuff grows faster in warmer water, and I suspect we’ll find plenty of that between San Diego and Costa Rica this winter. I’ve asked the technicians about painting the thruster (and, the props) with some sort of coating that will make it tougher for this stuff to grow.

Below is a posting by Scott Strickland, a Nordhavn 47 owner, which was sent to the Nordhavn Owners Group. I’m passing it along because it incited a lot of discussion, and has a lot of great information on a topic I’d never given much thought (but will henceforth).

From: Scott Strickland [mailto:scottstrickland@advret.com]
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2007 4:28 PM
Subject: Ken: Life rafts.


As I get ready for our departure for the Galapagos in (about 6 weeks), I had my life raft repacked yesterday. I learned a lot, much of which was not as positive as I had hoped. I spent 8 hours at the factory and watched them work on 4 rafts of which mine was one.

Our life raft was made 6/2003. I had it serviced 9/2007. When the lift raft was ready for inspection (6/2006), I was not near the US so I delayed the inspection till I got to the US. The raft has been stored inside the saloon since I got it.

Basically our raft was useable, (there is a little question if the line attaching the raft to the boat which was showing signs of wear was strong enough to hold the raft to the boat) I have since learned how to manually trigger the life raft if you are in the water. The way rafts are packed is if you pull the “rip cord” looking at the bottle there is a good chance the bottle will hit you in the face when the raft opens! You need to be at the end of the raft with the bottle 90 degrees away from the face.

You should learn which side of you raft the rip cord is and how to safely deploy it from in the water, (ours is on the side with the big red waterproof label I added to the handle!)

EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW HOW TO DEPLOY THE LIFE RAFT IF THE ATTACHMENT LINE FAILS. ALSO THE LIFE RAFT SHOULD NOT BE DEPLOYED UNTIL EVERYONE IS READY TO JUMP INTO THE WATER IN CASE THE ATTACHMENT LINE FAILS. If you read about the sail boat race disasters, you will find that the attachment line failing do occur more often than you would think. If the line is too strong the raft will sink when the boat sinks, so it has to break at a light load, yet in rough seas the line will get “jerked”-and surprise it breaks before you are in it!

The second problem was the vacuum packed bagged had a hole in it. Ours had a hole on the bottom where the weight rested on the bottom of the boat. they suggested and I now have a rubber sheet I placed under the life raft. While the vacuum packing increases the water tightness of the raft, it does not guarantee it.


On the outside stored life rafts they were repacking the survival gear was a soggy unusable mess. I was sure this would not be the case with our inside stored life raft. Well… it was better but not perfect!

I had one 4 oz emergency water packed break and it damaged an amazing amount of stuff. For example the water activated lights (ours came with two) were of course used up. More stuff was then damaged by one AA battery that leaked. When they repacked my life raft I asked and they agreed to pack the water in a second sealed bag. Put the batteries and Sun Screen in a third sealed bag, and I had them pack the EPIRB and Water Maker in a fourth sealed bag. Then seal everything up in the last sealed bag. This will limit leaks, and also provide extra protection for the two critical items, EPIRB and water maker.

EVERYONE SHOULD SEAL STUFF IN DIFFERENT WATERPROOF CONTIANERS. —I suggested this should be standard on all rafts, but I do not think they will do this.

The quality of some items was lower than I expected.

There raft comes with two flashlights. One a double AA waterproof light that is good. The second is a Disposable Lite retail $3.49 at Amazon. It is not waterproof and was dead when tested. I told them to not ever bother with replacing it, the chances of it working when needed were 0%.

The raft comes with 3 USCG approved flares and 3 USCG approved aerial flares. I had them replaced with SOLAS rated parachute and hand flares. I have tested the flares that came with the life raft (on the Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally we got to test flares) and they are really poor-SOLAS approved flares are much much better. In daylight a USCG approved flare can be seen about a mile away (if you are looking right at it), they do not go very high and are not very bright and stay in the air about 5 seconds-the SOLAS flares can been seen from several miles away and stay in the air much longer. On an ocean going boat where the closest vessel will almost never be within a mile USCG approved flares are not very useful.

The leaky AA battery trashed the knife that came in the raft. The old one was sharp, the new one is not very sharp.



What makes this so troublesome, is when I talked to someone who lost their boat, they said they did not have time to grab their grab bag.

There are some cases where there is no time to grab the grab bag-so you have to depend on just what is in your life raft.

One of staff who repacked our life raft freely offered that he wished that life rafts did not come with hydrostatic releases. He brought up a interesting point: while the release is activated somewhere around 18 feet below water level the life raft will not inflate until the attachment point to the boat is 35 feet below the water level. Because the life raft basically floats just at the surface, the raft is not visible to someone in the water until the life raft inflates. By the time the top of the boat (where most rafts are mounted) is 35 feet below water level you are way too far away to swim up wave to get to the raft. Remember you will drift away in the direction the waves are moving.

He said the dirty fact is, while about 50% of the life rafts have hydrostatic releases, they make up far less than 50% of the number rafts successfully used in a sinking situation. He gave a bunch of qualifiers, like excluding the life rafts dropped from helicopter rescue crews to sinking boats, navy and cruise ships where 50 rafts deploy around a ship and you are supposed to swim to a nearby one, which make more sense because they open when deployed–not after the sinking boat is underwater.


He said because all hydrostatic release cases are designed to open automatically, none are anything but water deflecting, and he said they find the percentage of rafts that are usable in this storage environment to be much lower. He says he wishes they would outlaw them. He said anyone with a hydro-release should just switch to a water tight box.

After reading the instructions three times and playing with our life raft door I could not get it to the water tight configuration. They had to show me the two tricks. I am not sure I can explain them in well writing. Basically the right door (from the inside) has a plastic clip on the end of the vertical zipper that needs to be attached to the upper raft tube at the door.

The second tricky part is that it is difficult to closed the doors three seals from the inside. This is much easier to do from the outside! You have to attach the Velcro a little, more the zipper a little, and repeat. About 1 inch at a time if it is heavy weather. But in the center you have to screw around with the plastic clip from the inside, then the Velcro, then the zipper. You have to attach the Velcro from the inside for the last bit. I am sure I could not figure this out in the dark in rough weather. Know I know the correct way I think I could do it. It could easily take 10-15 minutes to seal it up. The reason the door is sealed this tightly is they learned just a Velcro and zipper closure would fail in rough seas. Glad I was not on the life raft that learned about this problem!

Ours raft packed in a press with a pressure of 2,300 lbs on the raft.

The trip was well worth it. I am much more realistic in what to (and not to expect from the life raft.).

Scott is also the author of some great “guides” which are on the Nordhavn site. They are definitely worth checking out, and using as the basis for your own pre-trip guides. (Click here).

I’ve been keeping myself entertained while stuck on land by reading the blog from Buddy Bethea, owner of Always Friday, a Nordhavn 55 just coming back from Alaska. We’ll be cruising Alaska next summer, and Buddy is passionate about Alaskan cruising and fishing. Buddy’s blog can be found at: http://www.alwaysfriday55.com/aspx/templates/tuleSunset.aspx/msgid/333107I’ve never fished, and never expect to, but if I ever do, it will be because Buddy’s blog talked me into it.

In addition to getting the boat ready for the run south to Cabo, and then Costa Rica, I’ve now started doing research on marinas and anchorages. This includes buying charts for the trip. As usual, nothing is ever easy on a boat. Before buying charts I needed to decide what navigation software I’ll be using. I’ve been running Maxsea, but haven’t gotten comfortable with it. In Anacortes recently a couple of other Nordhavn owners demonstrated Nobeltec and persuaded me to make the change. West Marine was across the street from the marina, and Nobeltec was only $400, so I figured “why not?”. That’s where the fun began. After installing Nobeltec, I called them to ask about getting charts from Alaska to Costa Rica. The salesman said “We have a package of charts for only $1,900, but maybe you can get it cheaper from your local retailer.” Ouch. So, I called my retailer, Alcom Electronics, who agreed to a 15% discount. For this I received an unlock code, allowing me to access the charts, which were already on a CD supplied with Nobeltec. After doing this, one would think I would have charts, but that would be too easy. Nothing south of the border would come up. Another call to Alcom. “For anything outside the US, you must have a dongle” said my rep. I now have a little chip which plugs into my computer, and invoices for nearly $3,500 for charts! Another call to Alcom. “What happened to the discounted $1,900 package?” I asked. “That’s for the overview charts. You also need the detailed charts.” Ouch again. I’m still not convinced and now need to go back and match chart by chart the packages that I bought. But, wait, it gets even more fun. Experimenting a bit more with Nobeltec, I discovered that it wouldn’t accept input from the AIS system, or control the autopilot. Maxsea had been “speaking” to these devices via a proprietary network (called Navnet) that Nobeltec couldn’t access. This means running more wires. Hopefully, when I get this figured out it will have been worth all the effort (and expense!).

During our last night at anchor I did have Nobeltec running enough that I was able to use a feature, suggested to me by Buddy Bethea, that I think will come in handy. When anchoring, it is always important to know if the anchor has “dragged.” If there is any wind, you need to constantly monitor where you are through the night, to ensure that the anchor hasn’t broken loose. Different skippers have different techniques, and I’ve always used a combination of techniques simultaneously. In addition to any visual position references, such as lights on other boats and on shore, I set the radar, so that I can see where the ship is sitting relative to the shoreline. I also use a feature in Navnet that uses the GPS to signal an alarm if the boat shifts more than a certain distance from where the anchor was dropped. Nobeltec has a nice tracking feature which leaves a line on the chart showing where your boat has been. By zooming in when you drop anchor, with tracking on, the little position line on the chart traces everywhere that your boat has been. After a few hours at anchor you can see your exact swing circle. This can be a bit misleading, in that in light wind, your boat tends to rotate within a few feet of where the chain is hanging down to the bottom. However, it does give you a visual picture of exactly how your boat has been moving through the night. I don’t have a screenshot, but if I did you would immediately see my swing arc. It will take some experimenting before I get comfortable enough to depend on this feature, but longer-term, I would like to find an option which would allow me to kill the radar at night. The radar uses a lot of electricity, and has a lot of moving parts. 

Trip planning has thus far has not been fun. I’ve been calling marinas to check on slip availability. History tells me that when we arrive at our various destinations we will find a slip much of the time. However, as I sit here dialing marinas, I’ve probably spoken with 30 marinas, and have exactly zero slip reservations. We were spoiled by the little 27’ power catamaran we have been running the last three years. When we cruised the Bahamas last year, everyone seemed to have space for us, and at the worst we tied up at the dinghy dock. It’s a different experience calling a marina when you have to say “Can you accept a 70’ boat with a 21’ beam?” We do love anchoring out, but it is also nice to be in port from time to time. I’ve never gotten accustomed to leaving the boat unattended at anchor, and there are times when you want to explore the towns. Often a boat our size has a crew who can run you to shore, and pick you up later, but we don’t have that luxury.

That’s it for this update. We head south of the border on Nov 7th. A lot to do….

As always, if you have questions, you can always post them on the comments page of my website (http://www.kensblog.com/) or email me directly (kenw @ seanet.com). If you were forwarded this email by someone else, and would like to start receiving your own copy, then (click here).

Thank you,
Ken Williams Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

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