Category Archives: Featured

So you want to buy a Cape Dory?

Buying a boat is a potentially stressful affair, usually with a significant amount of money on the line – not to mention a whole lot of hope and expectations, too. Several resources are out there for buyers of Cape Dory yachts thanks to a healthy and active Cape Dory Sailboat Owners Association, which maintains an online forum, organizes events and rendezvous via local fleet captains, hosts online information about boat specs and technical manuals, and provides links to owner websites. If you’re in the market for a Cape Dory, it would be wise to spend some time searching the site, reading the posts, and gathering as much information as you can. I spent numerous hours gleaning what I could from other CD owners via the forum in the months after acquiring Ariel.

In addition to a manufacturer-specific site like the CDSOA, knowledgeable and thorough guys like Don Casey and Nigel Calder have authored absolutely fantastic resources for any sailor who actually desires to know and learn more about boats. Read them. Multiple times. Refer to them as you inspect your potential boat. They even include lists of what to look for if you decide to conduct your own survey. (Always hire a qualified marine surveyor to verify your findings ;).

Here are a few titles to consider:

Calder’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual

Calder’s Marine Diesel Engines

Calder’s Cruising Handbook

Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual

Casey’s Inspecting the Aging Sailboat

Casey’s This Old Boat

By the way, owning and maintaining an older boat is neither easy nor cheap. If you’re cheap, don’t buy one. If you’re motivated and eager to learn, go for it. If you have loads of money and you’re willing to pay someone else to maintain it, go for it. If you lack natural curiosity and a desire to learn new skills, skip the boat and watch sailing videos on YouTube. 😉 If you’re still reading, good; maybe a Cape Dory is the right boat for you (or another classic).

Now that I’ve spent 13 years owning and maintaining a 1979 Cape Dory 36, I’ll share what I know and what I’ve learned for anyone interested in owning a Cape Dory.

First, since I just got off the phone with a gentlemen who is interested in buying a CD36, let me start with a couple of his questions.

Well, I guess the first one is a statement that raises what I see as an important question/consideration: “I’ve heard that the Cape Dory is a wet boat.” The implication is, as I understood it, that she’s not as high and dry as a more modern design and, thus, maybe not the “best” boat for going to sea.

Let’s clarify a few things.

First, a “wet” boat is not a bad boat anymore than a “dry” boat is a good boat. We’re talking about design differences, and like almost everything related to sailboats/sailing, the word is…COMPROMISE.

Cape Dorys, like other boats of their design and era, were designed along much more traditional lines and influenced by old racing rules. What does that mean? Simply put, she’s narrower and has pointier ends. It also means that she heels more easily and tends to roll more than a modern flat-bottomed, fin-keeled boat that carries her beam all the way to her transom. She also likes to sail heeled a bit. Modern boats, by contrast, prefer to be sailed upright. The wineglass shape of the Cape Dory hull makes the boat “tender,” a term that describes her tendency to heel quite easily. That wineglass shape also means, however, that once she heels over a few degrees she tends to “harden up” – i.e., resist heeling farther. It also means that her deep hull tends to slice through seas, not pound into them, giving her a more sea kindly motion than many modern boats. The design also has fairly long overhangs. The idea was that as the boat heeled, her waterline length increased, giving her more speed and beating the rules (back then), so overhangs were advantageous, not just attractive. She also has about three feet of freeboard amidship, whereas a Hunter or Beneteau or Catalina, or just about any other modern boat, will have four or five feet of freeboard to maximize space below.

It’s those differences between the Cape Dory and more modern designs that contribute to the reputation of Cape Dory as a “wet” boat versus a “dry” boat, but again, “wet” isn’t bad any more than “dry” is good; it’s about compromises that relate to other factors that pertain to a particular boat’s additional characteristics.

So what are some of those “additional characteristics”?

Cape Dorys have a modified full keel with a cutaway forefoot, and it looks like this:


The area in black is the keel. Unlike a true full-keel boat (such as the Westsail 32), the forward part of the keel has been “cut away,” which gives her the advantages of a full keel and removes some of the disadvantages (but not all). Advantages include better tracking and less leeway (sideways “slipping”); a finer entry which provides a smoother motion in a seaway as the keel and the area of the hull forward of it cuts through waves (rather than slamming) and displaces more water, preventing the boat from rolling side to side as dramatically as a fin-keeled boat might – especially when lying ahull and not making way; the ability to hold a steady course more easily (and even sail herself once the sails are balanced); internal, encapsulated ballast, so no keel bolts to maintain or worry about; a keel-hung rudder with the propellor protected in an aperture; and a shape that is less likely to result in serious damage during a grounding.

What are the disadvantages? She doesn’t back very well, so controlling her in reverse is challenging in tight quarters; the increased wetted area of the full keel adds drag; full-keelers generally don’t point as high as a fin-keeled sailboat.

For cruising, however, the full keel is a proven, seaworthy design. There are certainly other options – such as the Pacific Seacraft with a molded stub, bolted-on ballast, and a skeg-mounted rudder (pictured below). Again, compromise is the word. And choosing a boat that’s best for your intended use is critical – e.g., coastal vs blue water cruising, daysailing, floating house, entertaining guests, etc. Add aesthetics into the mix, and sometimes compromise comes in the form of beautifully traditional and attractive lines vs lousy backing. We compromise and put up with her quirks in reverse.


“Is a Cape Dory 36 a good boat for someone who has sailing experience and is looking to take that experience farther via coastal and blue water cruising?”

Yes. She’s a good sailer. She’s predictable. She’s easy to manage single-handed. She’s stable and has nice wide sidedecks and good handholds. Her cutter rig is simple and easy to control. She’ll steer herself if she’s balanced properly. She’s designed and built well. But there are other similar boats that would be good candidates, too. The most important consideration here, to my thinking, is the boat’s condition. Any boat with questionable rigging or other issues is a liability. Condition matters … a lot.

“What issues are there to look out for on the Cape Dory 36?”

These boats are approaching 40. There are several things to look for, but a few are specific to Cape Dory. Chainplates are anchored under the sidedecks at the hull to deck joint with (in the early years) mild steel plates glassed to the hull. Water intrusion over the years can turn them into rusty messes. Later years had aluminum chainplate anchors, which still need inspection. There’s also a steel backing plate located under the bowsprit in the anchor locker. They, too, can rust. Inspect it.

The engine beds were also built of steel and glassed into the hull. Check them.

Although most fittings – such as chainplates and stanchions – penetrate solid glass, there are bits of hardware fastened in cored areas. My experience has revealed that Cape Dory did not properly seal the core in these areas. I’ve found damp core on the foredeck at the chain pipe and in the cockpit at the emergency tiller access. Check the deck for moisture.

The rudder pin and shoe wear over time, necessitating removal and repair.

Those are, to my knowledge, the only Cape Dory-specific issues. Wiring was typical of the era and likely in need of updating. Rigging is likely long overdue for replacement, depending upon previous owners’ efforts. Auxiliaries are potentially nearing the end of their lives or at least approaching the rebuild stage – same goes for gearboxes. Hardware and ports will probably need rebedding. Steering cables might be in need of replacement. Sails are potentially old and bagged out. Electronics may be dated. All of that assuming that the previous owners didn’t stay atop the maintenance. The same items will be an issue on any boat of the CD’s vintage, but maybe worse due to inferior parts and construction methods.

Comparing the CD to other similar designs such as Allied, Alberg, Morgan, etc, the CD is built to a higher degree of refinement. As stout as some of those older designs are, the CD is just as stout and of better construction/engineering, in my opinion.

“Is the Cape Dory slow?” “Does she point well?”

Ariel has consistently out sailed other boats on the water. Most recently, she pointed higher and sailed faster than a Jeanneau 37 on a light-air day with her standard working sails – yankee, staysail, and main. She out sailed an Island Packet 38 – cutter rigged – even while she was towing an inflatable dinghy with a soft bottom (translated: a lot of drag). These experiences and others are, of course, anecdotal, but she’s proven to be no slouch. She’ll easily approach hull speed in moderate air, and in light air – with the right sails, a drifter in our case – she’ll squeeze at least 3 knots of boat speed out of 5 knots of wind.

With a newer staysail and yankee, she’ll sail around 45 apparent. Trimmed properly, she points reasonably well, especially for a cutter. Tired out, bagged out sails won’t point, though. If you’re looking at a boat with old sails, you’ll likely be disappointed with her performance.

“Is she cramped below because she’s an older design?”

Ariel is perfect for two adults. She starts to feel crowded (down below) with four adults, but she’s fine with two adults and two kids. Of course, that’s coming from a cruising perspective. If you’re daysailing, well, we were just out with six adults and five kids – and none of us lost our sanity. She’ll sleep six, but you’ll be constantly shifting people and gear around as you make and make up beds and stow gear.

“I’ve heard that she has a tendency to hobby-horse.”

In light air without a decent sail for the conditions, she can be aggravating in any kind of swell or sea. Her fine ends make her more likely to hobby-horse than a flat-bottomed, bluff-bowed boat, but she’s not bad. Get her going and she’s happy.

“How does she sail off the wind?”

She’s great – on all points of sail, really. The only thing she doesn’t like is a quartering sea; she tends to yaw and roll a bit in those conditions. Lake Michigan waves are steeper and of a much shorter period than ocean waves, however, so perhaps she’d behave better on open water.

All in all, she’s a good-sailing, well-behaved yacht that exudes class and elegance. Her traditional lines turn heads in every port, and her ability on the water makes her a joy to sail.

I suspect there are some things I may have overlooked. If so, let me know.

More summer cruising: Exploring Beaver Island

When my wife, boys, and I departed St. Joseph back in June, we were hoping to make Beaver Island within about 10 days or so. I had talked up the beauty and solitude of the harbor quite a bit, and both of my boys, I’m pretty sure, had some wild imaginings of a place along the lines of Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island. We’ve spent cold winter evenings tracing our fingers over chart book pages of the Beaver Island archipelago, dreaming of dropping anchor in remote harbors and going ashore to explore uninhabited islands, so it’s easy to imagine my family’s disappointment when our trip was interrupted by mechanical issues.

Two weeks later my youngest could barely contain his excitement as we departed Charlevoix and headed for Beaver Island. Ever cheerful, Josh did his best to contain his anxiety about wind and waves during our passage and toughed it out by focusing on the expectation of a sweet anchorage in Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor later that day. As we motored into the harbor, he chatted away excitedly and couldn’t wait to go ashore to explore. What a joy to see through the enthusiastic and unfettered eyes of a child.

With evening upon us, however, we enjoyed the island from Ariel’s deck, watched the sun set, ate a good supper, and went to bed.


Josh awoke the next morning ready to explore, so we pumped up the dinghy and headed ashore. Prior to this leg of the trip we’d been rowing our Trinka dinghy ashore, so Josh was jazzed to try something new: the inflatable and a 4hp outboard. Not quite as classy or clean as a rowing dink, the inflatable certainly stows (and travels) much better when not in use, so we put up with its gasoline, heavy outboard, and unattractive appearance. But Josh loves it.


Josh wanted to get the lay of the land, so we beached the dinghy at the north end of the harbor and walked south through town, stopping along the way to read historical markers and peek into a few shops (there aren’t many). Again, Josh was chattering with questions and excitement, and I loved every minute of it.


Like most sailors, I suspect, we had to walk the docks at the municipal marina, a prospect Josh approached with a hint of trepidation due to my story from several years ago about a run-in with the harbormaster. If he’s still there, we didn’t run into him this time.

At the south end of town we visited the historical society and read all about the Irish and Mormon history on the island before heading back to the north end. Although I’ve been to Beaver Island a few times, I was surprised to discover at the northeast end of the harbor the Beaver Island Marine Museum. And imagine my joy when Josh begged to stop in. A kind lady greeted us and handed Josh a scavenger hunt sheet, telling him that he could win a prize if he found all of the artifacts listed therein. Away he went!

The museum preserves the island’s fishing heritage with numerous artifacts and pictures. Perhaps the coolest exhibit is the Bob S., an historic fishing tug.


Captain Josh at the wheel of the Bob S. fishing tug.

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Josh’s scavenger hunt diligence earned him a free postcard, while I had the joy of watching this kid’s enthusiasm and wonder.

We left the museum and walked south along the east side of the harbor to check out the entrance light and the view out over the north end of Lake Michigan.


After exploring the island, we ate lunch at Dalwhinnie’s and stocked up on groceries at McDonough’s before heading back to Ariel, our bellies full and our wonder satisfied.

We (or rather Josh) hauled anchor the next morning and set a course through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to the Mackinac Bridge, another landmark Josh was eager to see – this time from below. (I greased the bow roller after this, by the way. She’s quiet now!). Josh had hauled anchor in Charlevoix as well, so with this haul we decided to promote him from “barnacle” to “swab.” He was thrilled.

Summer cruising Part II (or fixing things)

With a new ZF Marine 12M gear from Trans Atlantic Diesels, Inc., my boys and I made the 5-hour drive back to Northport and Ariel on a Sunday. Installation was simple and the transmission slid right into place as it should. I knew that was the easy part. After all the jockeying/shifting of the engine to get the TMC gear to “fit,” I figured I was in for a tough time of aligning the engine and prop shaft. As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. A few shifts and tweaks of the motor mounts had alignment looking good, and I had the transmission in and the shaft aligned within .004″ in three hours.

Really, the only major frustration was the original shift cable bracket – mounted on the back of the transmission – which was too short to position the shift cable properly so that the shift lever could travel equal distances forward and aft. I set the cable to ensure positive engagement in forward and reverse, and the next morning we hauled anchor and sea-trialed the new gear. With the transmission running smoothly – no vibrations or shifting issues – we motored into Northport marina and picked up a slip for the night to charge batteries, fill water tanks, and otherwise ready Ariel for cruising again. The plan was for the boys to sail together, but Jake was running a fever and feeling lousy, so he headed back home with my mom, leaving Josh and me to sail with grandpa. I was bummed to “lose” one of my boys, but being sick is never fun, especially on a boat away from home.


Hurth HBW 10 2 R in blue. ZF Marine 12M in the raw. For those wondering, a new ZF 12M from TAD runs $1700.


ZF 12M


Clearance was so tight I had to use the shift lever from the old Hurth. Ridiculous.


Gear in, aligned, filled with oil, and ready for action. Let’s hear it for another 37 years of service. (Fingers crossed).

We departed Northport Tuesday morning bound for Charlevoix and quickly found a nice breeze that allowed us the sail the entire way. We arrived in Charlevoix in a squall and just in time to catch the bridge opening into Round Lake.


Emerald Isle ferry departing Charlevoix for Beaver Island.


Channel from Round Lake into Lake Charlevoix.


Up North cruising is beautiful, and this little cut into Lake Charlevoix is no exception.


Lake Charlevoix ahead.

During the trip from Northport to Charlevoix a familiar creak from the steering system was noticeably worse. After losing a transmission this summer, I wasn’t about to risk another interruption, so once into Charlevoix we headed to Irish Boat Works and tied up at their courtesy dock. Cramming myself into the engine compartment once again, I loosened the steering cable and removed the suspect sheave pin.


Clearly the bronze pin had been rotating in the SS sheave mount. All of the other pins have anti-rotation locks to keep the sheave spinning on the pin, not the pin spinning on the mounting flanges. I talked with Edson, the maker of our steering system, and they said that replacement pins are now SS and $23.00 a pop. I sourced a SS clevis pin of the appropriate size for $5.00 and the system is silent and silky smooth once again. If you have an Edson system, ensure that your pins aren’t rotating. If they are, pull and inspect them.

We spent a couple nights anchored in Oyster Bay, one of our favorite spots, swimming and relaxing. It was nice to be cruising again and to have the transmission issue behind us. Sort of.

During our passage from Northport, I was troubled by a slight thrumming coming from the prop shaft as it freewheeled, so…once again I squeezed myself behind the engine, undid the coupling (and Drive Saver), and checked alignment, figuring that maybe the engine bouncing around on its mounts might have shifted alignment ever so slightly. At the end of this round of alignment, I couldn’t fit the .003″ feeler gauge between the output flange and the coupling. The pilot on the coupling slid smoothly into the output flange and the faces mated up about as perfectly as one could hope. I put everything back together and was immensely pleased to hear…nothing…during our boisterous passage from Charlevoix to Beaver Island.

We made a fast trip to Beaver Island under double-reefed main and staysail on a WSW wind blowing 25 kts and gusting to 30. Sailors unfamiliar with Lake Michigan sailing might be surprised by the waves the wind kicks up when it has sufficient fetch. Unlike the ocean, with a steady swell, Lake Michigan kicks up steep waves that are packed together, making the experience much like sailing an inlet or channel. Multiple wave patterns make things even more boisterous. I was glad I’d replaced the sheave pin. Pictures rarely convey wave height, but the pics below are of about 6′ waves.

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Even though we’d had a beautiful, clear day, a storm hit us just as we were approaching Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor. We anchored in a rain and enjoyed a beautiful sunset as the storm cleared – even witnessing a spectacular full rainbow.

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Beaver Island has long been a favorite anchorage – we even hosted a Cape Dory Rendezvous there in 2010. It was nice to be back.

Gotta pay if you’re gonna play

Just over a week into our summer cruise from St. Joseph to points north (we were hoping to make Mackinaw City) the transmission packed it in during our departure from Leland. With a dinghy in tow and a forecast for increasing winds and waves, I was motorsailing in the early-morning light winds when my wife and I heard a noise from below the cockpit that sounded a bit like cavitation. As the boat speed suddenly dropped off significantly, I began going through a mental checklist of possibilities. After confirming that the shaft and propeller were still where they should be, that the prop wasn’t fouled, and that the shift cable and lever were moving/engaging, I concluded that we’d “lost” the transmission.


Transmission packed it in just after leaving Leland. Fortunately, it didn’t quit a couple days before as we were entering in moderate seas, or the day of our departure. All in all, a good time for a transmission failure.

Although it clouded up as the day wore on, we had a beautiful sail up and over the Leelanau Peninsula and dropped anchor in Northport, a familiar harbor where we’ve spent some time on the hook. I immediately began making calls to figure out which was the better option: replace or rebuild. With a new transmission running about $1700 and a rebuild close to the same, the decision was obvious.


We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and a pleasant sail north.


Preparing to round Cathead Point.

After a little sleuthing online, I came across the TMC60, a better, more reliable gear that should fit. I had several conversations with a very helpful and knowledgeable gentleman from BetaMarine USA and decided to order the trans, which I received two days later. In the meantime, I pulled the old Hurth HBW 10 2 R and made way for the new trans. Unfortunately, these things never go as smoothly as they should; one of the five cap head screws that secure the damper plate to the flywheel stripped. Rather than make things worse while working upside-down and on my head, I reinstalled the other fasteners and planned to continue running the original damper, which appears to be in decent shape.

Incidentally, the fact that it was even possible to pull the old transmission without heroics was due to our stuffing box arrangement. Ariel’s stuffing box screws onto her stern tube, as opposed to other CD’s with a stuffing box that is connected to the stern tube via a short length of hose. Thanks to our shorter, simpler stuffing box, I was able to unbolt the coupler and slide the prop shaft aft until the coupling met the stuffing box. It did take a little maneuvering to get the transmission and adapter plate out, but it wasn’t difficult.


Removing the transmission required unbolting the coupling from the DriveSaver, sliding the shaft aft to the stuffing box, and removing the water lift muffler and bracket.


Cramped quarters, but thank goodness I fit!


Stubborn cap screw in the damper plate. (And a leaky, oily Perkins).


The culprit. Hurth HBW 10 2 R. Pretty decent service for being 37 years old.

Sunday, July 3, with the new transmission – and after driving 5 hours back to Northport – I spent hours jockeying the heavy Perkins 4.108 around, trying to get enough room for the new trans. Cape Dory shoehorned the engine and trans so far aft that there was no way I could get the new trans shift lever – which exits the case on the port side of the box – to clear the hull without raising the rear of the engine 5/8″ and sliding the whole engine forward over an inch. It was clear that I would have to re-engineer the engine foundations in order to accommodate the required position. Summer is just too short for that so, admitting defeat, I pulled the gear out and moved the engine back to its original location (not an easy task, especially in such a confined space).

Back home in St. Joseph, I reluctantly returned the TMC60 and ordered a ZF 12M, which has the same dimensions as the old Hurth and should be a direct fit. Why didn’t I just go with the Hurth in the first place? Two reasons: First, the TMC is a better (less expensive) gear and I was confident it would fit; Second, ZF transmissions have a less-than-stellar reliability record. If you’re interested in researching issues with the ZF, simply Google “Hurth/ZF transmission thrust washer” or “Hurth/ZF transmission slipping” or “Hurth Transmission Problem.” Perhaps the post of most interest is this one on the Cape Dory Board: Hurth Failure

At any rate, the new ZF will be here Friday, and I’ll head back to Northport to install it and get Ariel back to cruising.

Eventually I’ll open the case on the old Hurth and look into the possibility of rebuilding it to keep as a spare. I did drain the ATF and it has a metallic sheen/glitter to it. Word is it’s probably a failed thrust washer, but perhaps more is going on. I can spin the input shaft with one hand and prevent the output flange from spinning with the other, so clearly something is slipping.

Repost: Beaver Island Cape Dory Rendezvous, 2010

I’d nearly forgotten about a Lake Michigan Cape Dory site I created a few years ago. Digging through the posts, I thought this one was worthy of sharing here because of the handsome boats.



There could be no greater testimony to the high caliber of Cape Dory owners than a loosely planned event – hosted by a couple of newbies, no less – turning out to be a great time. And such was the case for the Lake Michigan rendezvous held Aug. 2-6 at St. James Harbor, Beaver Island, the relaxed island atmosphere and its natural beauty providing the perfect backdrop. Even without a carefully planned schedule, tours, or activities, there was plenty of good conversation, a congenial spirit, and a lot of enthusiasm for the event – and even excited talk about planning one for next year.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Cathy Monaghan and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley, who regularly posted registration reminders to the CD Board, 10 people registered for the event and four boats made the trip. Now this number might be small in comparison to some of our other fleets, but as our Dear Mr. Dunn pointed out in a recent issue of Masthead, the vastness of the Great Lakes shoreline tends to complicate things. (Some quick math indicates that the one-way mileage average of the four boats is roughly 160nm)

When Ariel and her crew, Dave and David VanDenburgh, arrived Sunday evening, August 1, we were greeted with a pretty harbor made more attractive by the presence of two Cape Dorys, SISU (CD28) and Spindrift (CD300MS). After anchoring and settling in, we dinghied over to SISU and met Guy Leslie and Jan Jones. Guy is a long-time Cape Dory owner (first a Typhoon Weekender, then a CD25) and the proud new owner of a beautiful CD28, SISU, which he purchased in Holland, MI, in September 2009 and brought to her new port in Traverse City. When he heard about the rendezvous, Guy was eager to meet up with other CD owners and said he “just had to make it.” And make it he did, taking SISU on their first extended trip together. Little did he know he’d have a few more opportunities to “get acquainted” with her as the week progressed. In the true spirit of a rendezvous, however, he found that he had plenty of support as he dealt with tough anchoring conditions and some transmission issues. Much to his credit, Guy remained optimistic and unflappable through it all.

Guy Leslie descending into the engine compartment to ferret out the cause of his transmission woes.
Guy Leslie aboard SISU.

Monday morning dawned rainy and windy, a 15-20 kt southwesterly setting in for much of the week. The gusts proved too much for SISU’s anchor and she began creeping downwind through the anchorage, her anchor fouled with weeds. Once SISU was safely re-anchored, we went ashore to meet Bill and Mary Kay Movalson, new owners of Spindrift, a very clean CD 300 Motorsailer out of Gladstone, MI, just north of Escanaba.

A weedy bottom made for tough anchoring.

Bill and Mary Kay Movalson’s CD 300 Motorsailer, Spindrift

Bill and Mary Kay purchased Spindrift in May and, like Guy, they were excited to hear about the Beaver Island rendezvous. Bill is quite the gadget/innovation guy and has already made a number of upgrades to the boat, including custom dinghy davits and pilothouse doors. Mary Kay is a gracious host and loves the comfortable ride and versatility afforded by the Motorsailer. Bill and Mary Kay had obligations in Mackinac and needed to get an early start in the morning, so the group enjoyed drinks and conversation aboard Spindrift before heading to Shamrock, a local restaurant. Just as we were leaving the dock, Mike Ritenour and Sue arrived aboard La Vida, a CD33. Rit and Sue, exhausted from their 60+ nm trip from Cheboygan (not to mention their earlier travels through Lake Superior and the Soo locks), opted to settle in for the night and anchored in the harbor.

La Vida anchored in St. James Harbor.

The group met in the morning for coffee and breakfast (and yet more great conversation), and then walked over the St. James Boat Shop to check on Bill, a skilled woodworker and old friend of Rit’s. Bill and his apprentice make fine cherry buckets and strip canoes. Sawdust covers the floor of the shop and partially completed boats hang from the ceiling or rest on sawhorses. After taking a bit of joshing from Bill, whose 80-something mind is as sharp as ever, Rit added another cherry bucket memento to his collection.

Old Bill splicing a handle for his cherry bucket.

After some exploring and stocking up on groceries, the group migrated to La Vida for drinks and conversation. Rit gave a tour of La Vida, which is absolutely decked out with gear, while Sue listened graciously. For those who don’t know, La Vida was a victim of hurricane Hugo and rescued by Rit, who has put some 60,000 miles under her keel since then. To say that she is equipped is an understatement. By Rit’s own account, even the Coast Guard during a courtesy inspection finally gave up trying to find fault when they realized they weren’t in the presence of your typical Weekend Warrior. Rit’s good nature and wonderful companion, combined with his considerable experience, made the time aboard La Vida a real privilege.

l-r: Michael “Rit” Ritenour, Guy Leslie, Sue

Two members came in by ferry: Kevin LeMans and Great Lakes Fleet Captain Ed Haley. Kevin had originally planned to sail Raconteur, his CD30, but crew plans fell through and he ended up camping on the island with his family and joining the group for breakfast. We hope to meet Raconteur in person at the next rendezvous! Ed Haley traveled and then traveled some more to make an appearance, and we are grateful for his dedication. After completing a 500-mile bike ride through Iowa with his son, Ed drove to Charlevoix and caught the ferry to Beaver Island, arriving just in time to sort out some transmission issues on SISU. Not surprisingly, Ed once owned a CD28, so his experience came in handy.

Dinner with the crew the night before departure.

Friday morning brought with it a shift in wind, giving everyone a fair wind home. We said our goodbyes over breakfast, courtesy of the GLF, and set a course for home. Rit, Sue and La Vida set out through Gray’s Reef Passage and on to Mackinac; Ariel headed south for South Manitou Island (and St. Joseph); and Ed and Guy messed about with SISU before Ed took the ferry back to Charlevoix. Despite his earlier transmission troubles, Guy made it home safely to Traverse City without a glitch.

Rit and Ed Haley say goodbye.

Although the newbies might like to take credit for a successful rendezvous, there’s no doubt that it was due to the unequaled character of your typical Cape Dory owner. After all, great boats pick great people. Perhaps there will be more great boats and great people next year?! We’ll keep you posted.

Ariel in early morning sunlight, departure day.

What?! Another project?!

I’m fortunate to teach in a school that supports its teachers and their crazy innovative ideas. In just one short week, I’ll be launching a new class that combines language and applied arts as students work together to build four Shellback dinghies. The course? Nautical Arts.

Here’s a brief description of the course (something school administrators require when you come up with a crazy idea and they want it formalized):

Nautical Arts provides an innovative, exciting, and unique synthesis of language arts and a practical, hands-on approach to learning as students work in groups to build – from the keel up – an attractive and functional sailing dinghy. Emphasizing teamwork, short- and long-term planning, project management, writing and documentation via an online blog, construction skills and techniques, and – of course – developing an appreciation for great nautical texts, the course has at its core a service component: the students’ completed project boats will be auctioned, and the proceeds will be donated to a local charity.

I am thrilled to have the chance to pursue a project like this, but at the same time I’m more than a bit apprehensive because, according to builder Eric Dow, it takes “an experienced builder 100 hours,” and I’m dealing with 16 inexperienced builders and 50-minute class periods. I did a bit of quick English-teacher math that looks like this: four students times 60 hrs = 240 hrs of labor. Figure a 50% rate of efficiency, and we’re coming in at 120 hrs of labor. Close. Hopefully, close enough! We do have some after-school hours and Friday afternoons that we can take advantage of if we need a few extra hours to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m planning on soliciting some support from local businesses during the week. Really, I think this is a great opportunity not only for our kids but also for the community to get involved and give back through a cool project. I’m hoping I can get some strong support. I spent a bit of Christmas break putting together some informational sheets that I can take around to local businesses to pitch the idea. Fingers crossed.


The plan for the rest of this week is to build at least one ladder frame – the “jig” for the rest of the boat’s construction – and to create patterns for the major components. It’s going to be a busy end to 2015 and a crazy start to 2016! Wish me (us) luck. And if you’re interested in helping sponsor the project, drop me an email or message through this site. Happy New Year!

Tether vs No Tether: When safe isn’t

My dad and I had a little back and forth email exchange recently about this article from Practical Boat Owner – “Is it safe to use a tether?” As the article read-in below indicates, using a tether to keep sailors aboard has been the prevailing wisdom.

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Solo sailors, especially, are dependent upon a harness and tether, and rely on the system to either stay aboard or enable them to pull/climb/claw their way back aboard after a fall overboard – at least, that’s the hope. Tethers and jacklines are mandatory safety items for most (if not all) open water races. Even the Chicago-Mac race rules required us this summer to rig jacklines and have safety tethers. (The fatalities of 2011 Chicago-Mac race prompted a change in the race rules and generated attention related to the design and use of tethers: Practical Sailor blog and New Mac-Race safety regs). My thoughts last summer about the actual safety of the system are confirmed by the video linked below. The first rule – of course – is to stay ON the boat; DO NOT go over the side. But if you do go over the side, you may wish you weren’t tethered.

Watch the video yourself and see what you think:


Many sailors, perhaps, place too much faith in their equipment. If you read the Practical Boat Owner piece, you’ll note that four of the “real-life situations” at the end of the article highlight the danger of being tethered if you do go over the side. And in two of the situations, slipping or wriggling out of the lifejacket/harness was the saving factor. In the other two situations, it sounds like the skipper got free from his tether in one instance, and in the other the boat drove up on the beach. I also recall another story of a husband and wife cruising alone together. The husband had the night watch and when the wife awoke in the morning to relieve him, he was nowhere to be seen. She soon found him – dead – being dragged behind the boat by his tether.

So what’s the take away? A few things come to mind, but first the obvious: don’t go over the side; stay on the boat! Second, design a jackline and tether system that prevents crew from going over the rail. Perhaps rig a jackline along the centerline of the boat and use a tether that’s less than half the boat’s beam. At the very least, test your current jackline/tether arrangement to see what could happen if things went wrong. Third, ensure that you have a functioning quick-release tether – easily releasable under load – that will allow you to keep your lifejacket on in the event of a trip overboard, rather than wriggle free from it to avoid immediate drowning. And the last item: it just might be better to go untethered, depending upon your circumstances. Given the option, I’d much rather take my chances with a MOB recovery than A) be drowned while being dragged alongside the boat, or B) be stripped of my lifejacket and adrift for who knows how long while awaiting rescue.

As any good sailor will agree, it’s important to know the potential limitations of any system you rely on aboard – whether it’s radar, your engine, GPS, or your anchor. And whether you use jacklines and a tether or not, it’s always good practice to consider eventualities. Doing so just might save your life.



Boys sleeping in the port settee, radar assisting through a fog, GPS plotting our course, and iNavX running on the iPad as backup. Heading south and home toward St. Joseph after a summer cruise.

Video: Smooth Sailing

Upgrading the fuel system and adding a polishing circuit

Like most boat owners during their first season of ownership, we had the odd issue to sort out when we sailed Ariel out of St. Joseph and toward Traverse City that first summer of 2003. Most of the issues were fairly minor, but one issue slowed our progress northward considerably and, at one point, left us without an engine during an approach through a narrow channel in unsettled seas and a good blow: algal bloom and sediment in the fuel tank. After changing filters and doing what we could to clean the diesel tank, we resolved to find a more permanent fix.

I spent some time browsing the trawler forums and decided Ariel needed an updated filtration system with a fuel polishing circuit. I purchased two Racor 500 FG filters off of Ebay and gathered the necessary bits to plumb the two filters in series. I mounted them on a piece of Starboard and routed the valves and lines such that I could switch between a primary filtration circuit, a secondary filtration circuit (the old Racor R24s), and a fuel polishing circuit. The fuel polishing circuit required a pump, so I bought a Walbro 6802 and mounted it in the port cockpit locker, above the fuel tank.

This system has been in service now for over 10 years, and it has worked flawlessly. It’s more than adequate for our fuel flow and capacity, but that’s what I wanted: a system that would end our worries.

The idea behind a fuel polishing circuit is to cycle the entire contents of the diesel tank through the filters, thereby removing any sediment or water that – unchecked – could cause more problems. I generally run the polishing circuit back at dock after a lively sail, when the contents of the diesel tank are likely to be stirred up.

This is the original concept as I drew it:




And the layout before it was mounted in the engine compartment:


The original fuel setup with the R24s and an old Fram, the orange top just visible above the oil fill.


The new fuel filtration setup in place.


New setup plumbed and ready for service.


On/Off switch for the fuel polishing circuit.


Walbro fuel polishing pump and mounting location in port cockpit locker.

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And here’s some of the original write up providing background and info about the installation from the old website, should you care to know a few more details:

When we finally tackled the fuel issue a day later, we discovered that Ariel was suffering from a major buildup of crud in her diesel tank. After removing the Racor spin-on element, catching it and the spilled fuel in a ziploc baggy, I gave the bag a good shake and held it up against the sunlight coming in through the companionway. It was virtually opaque; I could just make out thousands of tiny black specks held in suspension.

During Ariel’s winter layup, I will be draining the tank and doing another thorough cleaning to ensure a fresh start for next season. The most important part of our approach, however, is the addition of two Racor 500FG turbine filters in series, with our old Racor R24S plumbed on a manifold as backup so that we can switch to a fresh filter if the 500s begin to show signs of restricted flow. This setup will drastically improve the engine’s reliability factor, and it is something called fuel polishing that will make our crud woes a thing of the past.

Unlike tractor-trailers, trawlers, and other vessels that have a high fuel turnover rate, sailboats – especially here on Lake Michigan where tides and remote, inland slips are non-existent – often have fuel that is months (if not years) old. Invariably, condensation forms inside the tank, dripping into the fuel, creating a wonderful environment for growth. It is this growth – unchecked for 24 years – that caused all of our woes. Without a higher turnover rate, there is little that can be done to prevent this problem. Even biocide will not solve the problem once it presents itself; once the creatures are dead, their carcasses will still clog filters. But how to get a higher turnover rate? Fuel polishing.

By plumbing an electric fuel pump into the fuel system that circulates fuel through the filters and back into the tank, it is possible to keep old fuel clean and free from devastating blooms of crud. Completely turning over the fuel at least three times a week is the recommended practice. This is what we hope to accomplish this winter with our dual Racor 500 fuel filter installation, and a basic fuel polishing system.

After last summer’s nonsense and the pain of spending over $100.00 on Racor spin-on elements, I spent some time searching Ebay for a cheaper (in the long run) alternative to our current R24S filter. I was able to find two new 500FG turbine filters for 75.00 a piece with a much cheaper element–8.00 each vs. R24S at 25.00 each. Now that I’ve got the filters, I need to determine the best way to set up the filtration system so that it’s possible to change filters while underway, and maintain a fuel polishing circuit. After a bit of musing, I came up with the sketch above. This system would utilize all but one of our current filters, so we wouldn’t be wasting any pieces, plus it allows for an easy way to prime the fuel lines and filters–not to mention ensuring the likelihood of having an engine when we need it most.

The Walbro pump, located where it is, and the priming pump on the R24 allow for easy priming on both sides of the manifold (valve). After changing the filters in the 500FGs, all that is necessary to bleed the system up to the lift pump is to close the valve located just after the two 500FGs, flip on the Walbro and let it run for a minute or so. Once fuel has been drawn through the 500FGs, it’s a simple process of opening the valve to direct fuel to the engine, then operating the lift pump until there’s fresh fuel at the tertiary filter’s bleed points–although I doubt that would even be necessary since there shouldn’t be any air between the second valve and the tertiary filter. Similarly, switching the first valve to the R24, I can easily use it’s built-in pump to prime it. Here’s a picture of the pump I’m after, it’s a Walbro 6802, 7 psi shut-off, max. capacity of 60 gph, continuous-duty pump. The pump is often available new through Ebay or through for about 100.00.

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