Monthly Archives: January 2015

St. James Harbor, Beaver Island

Ariel anchored in St. James Harbor, Beaver Island.

One of the great things about sailing Lake Michigan is that it’s easy to feel like you’ve really gotten away from it all. With a harbor dotting the eastern shoreline every 40nm or so, it’s easy to slip away for a weekend and enjoy a tranquil anchorage and some new sights. Beaver Island, located at the northern end of Lake Michigan, is a great cruising destination and one that really is away from it all. If you like anchoring out and prefer staying aboard reading, relaxing, and enjoying the sights from the deck of your boat, Beaver Island is the perfect spot. (If you like people, fine restaurants, and lots to do, check out Charlevoix’s Round Lake, where you can anchor on short scope, surrounded by other boats, and watch the parade of boats watch you.)

The following report provides basic information about St. James Harbor and is not intended to be used for navigational purposes.

The approach to St. James Harbor is from the ESE and presents no obstacles. (The northern end of Lake Michigan presents far more navigational obstacles than the southern end; sailors unfamiliar with the area should consult their charts carefully.) Once inside the harbor, there is significant shoaling to the south and southwest, and some thin water to the north. The ferry dock (Emerald Isle ferry from Charlevoix) and municipal marina, located in the NW portion of the harbor, provide a good landmark to steer for. Although the local marina offers transient slips, St. James Harbor provides good holding and shelter, making anchoring preferable*, especially if you have a dinghy to go ashore.

*Anchoring is especially preferable thanks to the harbormaster at the Municipal Marina who, apparently, has little affection or patience for visitors to his island.

Buoys in the inner harbor mark a channel to the northern part of the harbor. There is good* holding in a sandy bottom with moderate depths. Our preference was to nose into the shallower water at the southern end of the inner harbor to reduce rode length. We anchored in about 10-12 feet of water and set out 70′ of rode for a scope of 7:1. *Our experience during the rendezvous of 2010 indicates that holding can be marginal. An abundance of weeds resulted in two members dragging their anchors or having difficulty setting. Be sure to back on your anchor to ensure that it is well dug in.***

The island is not especially dinghy friendly, but we discovered that the folks at Beaver Island Marina, at the north end of the harbor, are happy to let sailors use their beach for coming ashore.

Local sights ashore include a historical society and museum, with much attention given to King Strang and the island’s Irish heritage. There are a few local eateries. A store located near the Beaver Island Marina provided easy dinghy access. I understand that there is some great hiking and camping on the island, but we didn’t look into that.

Without a doubt, the best part of Beaver Island is the harbor. The solitude, the wooded shoreline, the sounds of a pulpwood tug, and the absence of other boats make St. James Harbor a peaceful getaway.

North end Lake Michigan
About 27nm NNW of Charlevoix and 37nm from the north end of Traverse Bay, Beaver Island is a good destination for those interested in a weekend getaway.

Beaver Island group
Beaver Island and its surrounding islands – Fox, Garden, Hog, High. Although cruisers can explore the other islands, thin water and exposed anchorages require more caution and planning.

The approach to St. James Harbor.

St. James Harbor
Boats with a shallow draft can cut north into the main harbor. Deeper draft vessels must exercise caution or use the channel.

Photos of Beaver Island’s St. James Harbor

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This post is pulled from a defunct Ariel blog. I performed this repair a few years ago)

The same instrument displays that created the gelcoat work described in another post also necessitated below-the-waterline modifications. The new Raymarine depth and speed transducers required a 2″ hole, whereas the old Nexus transducers were 1-1/2″. Enlarging a hole by sanding or grinding is a sure way to create just about anything but a perfect circle, so I planned to use a 2″ hole saw. Without something for the pilot bit to bite, however, the drill will wander. No problem. I drove a tapered wooden plug into each hole, then cut it flush with the hull (in the case of the depth transducer, I cut it parallel to the horizontal). Now my pilot bit had something to bite to center the hole saw, and both holes turned out great.




I applied a thin layer of unthickened epoxy over the edges of exposed laminate in each new cut to prevent water migration, then bedded the transducers in plenty of 4200. Ariel splashed a few days later with nary a leak. By the way, hull thickness in both areas is 1″.

LED Bulb Upgrade for an Old Guest Anchor Light


Many boats use masthead-mounted anchor lights, but some may still be using the older Guest anchor light (pictured above) that hangs in the rigging. While the Guest lights don’t exude the charm and tradition of a paraffin lantern, they have the advantage of being seen more easily than masthead lights, which tend to blend in with a starry sky or tower high above a boat powering nearby, and the large 6v battery will last for a couple hundred hours. The standard incandescent bulbs, however, leave a little to be desired in terms of luminosity.

Good news: There is an affordable LED replacement that not only burns longer with less energy but also burns brighter than the incandescent. I purchased and installed one prior to our month-long summer cruise, and it worked well. It was much easier to spot from shore in a crowded anchorage than the old incandescent, and it burns as bright as many masthead lights.


There may be other suppliers out there, but I purchased mine for 6.95 + shipping from eLite, part T3-1/4 (10mm) Miniature Bayonet (BA9s) Base LED Bulb. The company responded promptly to my order, notifying me of invoice receipt and shipment date. The bulb arrived quickly and well packaged. Time will tell just how long the bulb will last, but we spent some 25 nights at anchor already this summer.

Self-Steering without an Autopilot

By David VanDenburgh Sr.

We were a week out of Hawaii heading for San Francisco and both our autopilot and our backup autopilot had packed it in. We tried a fix but upon opening the case found the gears ground to powder. It looked like someone would need to steer all the way home (about three or four weeks). I figured this would be the perfect time to see if I could make Pygmalion (a Westsail 32) steer herself.

When the wind is forward of the beam, self-steering is not too hard to achieve (at least not in a full-keel cruising boat – those of you with fin-keeled flat-bottom modified racers are on your own!). To accomplish it, you have to understand the forces involved.

First, put the boat on course and hold her there. Then tinker with sheets until the helm is well balanced – just a touch of weather helm. The principle here is to move the center of effort and the center of resistance very close to one another, with the center of effort just slightly aft of the center of resistance. The center of effort is moved aft by easing headsails and hardening the mainsail (on a sloop or cutter) and/or the mizzen (on a ketch or yawl). Conversely, the center of effort is moved forward by hardening the headsails and easing the main (and/or mizzen). (There’s not much you can do to move the center of resistance unless you want to move stores around and rebalance your boat.)

If the wind were steady in force and direction, all you would need is a light bungee cord to hold the tiller or wheel against the slight tendency of the boat to head up, but of course the wind is not steady. Puffs will cause the boat to heel which will cause her to want to head up (stretching the bungee cord). Lulls will let her stand up which will cause her to want to head down (as the bungee cord pulls the tiller up). Fortunately you can take advantage of your boat’s reaction to heeling.

What you want to do is translate the extra tension on a sail created by a puff into a force that pulls the tiller/wheel in a direction that will head the boat downwind a little to resist the tendency to round up. Conversely, you want to translate the reduced tension on a sail during a lull into a force that turns the tiller/wheel in a direction that will head the boat upwind a little to resist the tendency to head off.

There are a number of ways to do this, but the easiest way is to tie a line into a headsail sheet with a rolling hitch (or taut line hitch) and bring it to the tiller (through a block or two) so that increased tension in that line will pull the tiller up and resist the tendency of the boat to head up. This force will probably need to be balanced with a bungee cord pulling in the opposite direction. In a puff, the boat heels and wants to round up into the wind, but the increased pressure on the sail pulls harder on the sheet and therefore on the self-steerer line tied into the sheet, which pulls the tiller up and resists the tendency to round up into the wind. When the puff eases, the bungee cord pulls the tiller down, heading the boat a bit off the wind. It takes tinkering to get it right.

Using this rig, we were able to get Pygmalion to steer herself for hundreds of miles at a time, setting us free from the tiller and reducing fatigue.

Captain Dave and his son, me, on the day of Pygmalion's departure from SF bound for Honolulu.

Captain Dave and his son, me, on the day of Pygmalion’s departure from SF bound for Honolulu.

Spin-Tec Roller Furling Review

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The following is reprinted from an older Ariel blog. It was originally written about four years ago. We are still just as satisfied with our Spin-Tec furlers.

Simplicity and technology need not be at odds with each other. Take the technology of Dacron or fiberglass. Both of those bits of technology have proven simple and yet remarkably durable and efficient, making owning, sailing, and maintaining a boat simpler – and more enjoyable – than ever. Now, if cotton and oakum are your thing, read no further. When roller furling emerged on the market, traditionalists viewed it with skepticism, and for good reason. After all, why complicate things? And early furling systems did have their problems. Not only were they bulky and expensive, but they often jammed at the worst possible moment, leaving skippers to watch helplessly as their headsail flogged itself to pieces or, worse, drew greedy gulps of wind as the boat thundered out of control toward another boat, or a dock, or…. Modern furling units have resolved most of those issues and are much more reliable.

There are a number of roller furling units on the market, a few of which have received excellent reviews and some that have not; some are well-known and others unfamiliar. Finding the right combination of quality without publicity could translate to major savings on a great product. One of those lesser-known but quality units is Spin-Tec. We met Betsy, a Spin-Tec representative, at the Strictly Sail show in Chicago last year where she demonstrated the Triumph 2000 system and discussed with us its features and construction.

We were immediately drawn to the simplicity of the design. Unlike most roller furlers, Spin-Tec furlers do not use ball bearings. Instead, the unit – drum and foil – rides on Delrin bushings. Additionally, the unit does not utilize an upper swivel between the headsail halyard and the head of the sail, meaning that the whole thing rotates as a unit so there are fewer parts to wear out and less likelihood of failure. This design eliminates the weak spot of traditional roller furlers. Upper swivels are not only subject to wear, but they can cause halyard wrap if the headsail halyard is not led to the furler at an appropriate angle. Typically, this involves adding hardware at the masthead to achieve a specified angle between the halyard and the furler. Halyard wrap renders a furling unit inoperable, and potentially at the worst time. Finding a unit that eliminated this problem was a priority.

This design certainly is simpler than many of the units on the market, but it’s not without its complications, most notably the inability to hoist or remove a headsail without going aloft to secure the head to a stainless steel bail that is welded to the upper part of the extrusion, or masthead tube. To address this, Spin-Tec sells a device, a sort of car-assembly, called a halyard accessory that rides on the foil and allows users to change sails from the deck with the aid of the halyard. The unit certainly seems handy, and functioned well in Betsy’s demonstration, but the additional expense of $300 is tough to swallow, especially since we have no need to change the headsail and don’t mind a trip aloft. There is an additional drawback to the halyard accessory: It uses a meathook-shaped piece of stainless steel to hook the bail on the masthead tube, thus securing the head of the jib. Imagining that pointy piece of steel aloft immediately conjured visions of a shredded drifter.

The standard roller furling assembly is still a slick, streamlined unit, and the fact that it came with everything needed for setup was equally attractive. When we looked at comparable units by other manufacturers, the advertised price was only the starting point. And not only were their starting prices higher, but the necessary add-ons meant that we would get a lot less bang for our buck. Like most sailors, we are price-conscious and must spread our boat units as far as possible without compromising quality. Spin-Tec’s quality and pricing meant that we were able to buy two furlers – staysail and jib – for only a little more than the price of one furler by big-name companies like Schaefer (which was second on our list) or Harken.

Spin-Tec furlers differ from other furlers in their assembly. Rather than rivets to secure foil sections, Spin-Tec includes aluminum channel inserts that are glued in place to join foil sections seamlessly. The theory behind this is that the entire furler is in compression when in use so there is no need for fasteners. This certainly speeds and eases assembly, and seems plenty stout, but only time will tell how well the system will hold up. I should add that the aluminum channel inserts fit snugly within the extrusion, so the glue is mostly redundant and a gap-filler to ensure a snug fit. The unit is also designed to fit over existing fittings, so there is no need to cut or modify the rigging. Simply remove the turnbuckle from the lower swage fitting and begin sliding foil sections toward the upper swage fitting, joining sections as you go.

During assembly, five Delrin bushings are inserted at regular intervals in each foil section to secure the furler to the headstay, ensure smooth operation, and eliminate metal-on-metal contact. Spin-Tec includes a steel rod that is used to push each bushing to its proper location within the foil. This process involved quite a bit of grunting and resulted in a couple of blisters. The instructions suggest that moderate force may be required to push each bushing to its seat – i.e., projections within the extrusion. Either “moderate force” is an understatement or I’m a total wuss. Yes, there were some bushings that went into place with “moderate force,” but that was the exception and not the rule. Most bushings required a fair bit of coaxing, which occasionally involved a few taps with a hammer. The upshot of all that effort is that it’s unlikely the bushings will ever shift out of position.

I completed assembly of both furlers over a two-day period, totaling about six hours. This system is the only system I’ve assembled, so I can’t make any comparisons to other brands. The assembly did catch the attention of the harbor master and a few boat owners. The harbor master commented on the size (diameter) of the foil sections and the lack of rivets, shrugged his shoulders and left. The double-grooved foil, shaped like an airfoil, is elliptical and slightly larger than most.

Adjusting headstay tension once the furler is in place is accomplished easily. The drum assembly of the furler slides over the extrusion and the lower tube, and is secured with six machine screws. Accessing the turnbuckle requires removing the six screws and sliding the drum up the extrusion where it can be locked in place. With the drum out of the way, the turnbuckle is adjusted easily.

The furler’s open-drum design is simplicity itself, and good lead placement results in a smooth, tight coil of line. This is another feature that sets Spin-Tec furlers apart from other brands that use closed or semi-closed drums that can make clearing furling line jams impossible or, at best, frustrating and time consuming. Because the Spin-Tec drum is open, however, some tension needs to be kept on the furling line when the sail is unfurled lest the line work its way off of the drum. Simply cleating the furling line prevents this from happening. We installed a genoa track-mounted jam cleat for each furling line on the starboard side and another, mounted to port, for the staysail outhaul since it’s set on a boom. The kit included four fairleads, which was not enough for Ariel’s length. Betsy from Spin-Tec happily sent us four additional fairleads that I placed in strategic locations to minimize chafe and provide smooth operation of the furling line, 60′ of 7/16″ double-braid nylon that comes with the kit and is easy on the hands.

Rigging the furling unit for the staysail was only slightly more involved than the jib. Beyond the standard assembly and furling line routing, we needed to rig an outhaul that would allow us to maintain the boom-mounted staysail’s self-tending feature. We already had a block on the aft end of the staysail boom for an adjustable outhaul that would redirect the line forward toward the staysail boom pedestal. From there, I added a small block to the staysail gooseneck and routed the outhaul outboard to the rail-mounted block included in the Spin-Tec kit. The staysail outhaul then travels aft through standard fairleads where it terminates at a jam cleat mounted on the genoa track. Unfurling the staysail requires uncleating the line to the furling drum, then hauling in on the outhaul. Furling the staysail is just a reversal of these steps, the staysail boom topping lift keeping the boom under control when the sail is furled. This setup has the added benefit of making it possible to adjust staysail outhaul tension from the cockpit.


We logged several daysails and a two-week cruise last season. The furlers performed flawlessly, saving time and energy, and relieved us from going forward to ready or douse the staysail and jib. The units spin freely and easily thanks to the large diameter of the drums. The system’s quirks, such as they are, don’t cramp our style any. The simplicity of the Spin-Tec design would probably appeal less to sailors who expect to change headsails frequently, but for the cruising crowd it’s a great system: we set the jib and staysail at the beginning of the season, tensioning the luff with a Spectra seizing at the tack, and there they remain until haulout. The absence of the upper swivel also means that we have a free halyard, which we have used for our drifter. (Note: Spin-Tec does offer a furler for race-minded sailors, the R/C 1000)

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