Ranger 33

Originally published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine – 2006

Time Tested – Ranger 33

by Tom Dove

Magazine boat tests typically are based on inspecting and sailing a boat for half a day. This one covers 26 years. It’s my own boat, CRESCENDO, a 1976 Ranger 33. We’ve sailed many thousands of miles together during those decades, through child-rearing, retirement, storms, calms, breakdowns and fire. She’s been a family boat in every sense of the term.

Ranger Yachts began as a division of Cal Boats in the late 1960s when Cal was a big name in racing under the Cruising Club of America (CCA), Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) and Midget Ocean Racing Club (MORC) rating rules. Naval architect Gary Mull was recruited as the exclusive designer of a line of fast racer/cruisers for a new division of Jensen Marine to be called Ranger Yachts.

He succeeded brilliantly, beginning with the Ranger 26 and 33. A range of other 23- to 32-foot boats with similar lines followed quickly. His later Ranger 37 was distinctly different, an all-out International Offshore Rule (IOR) racer instead of a transitional design between CCA and IOR.

Enough of the alphabet soup. The Ranger 33, a 1969 design, remained competetive in distance racing for the next two decades and still can hold its own in PHRF club racing. The factories (the main one was in California, but some came from the East Coast) apparently built 464 of them, ending in 1978. The peak production years were apparently from 1974-1976.

The Ranger hull was beamy for its time but is a bit narrow by modern standards. The fin keel and spade rudder were state-of-the-art for 1969 but look huge beside the skinny underwater blades of today’s race boats. The bow and stern overhangs were shorter than many vessels of the sixties but seem very traditional — almost old-fashioned — now. The curved sheer line and high bow were accepted design features then and they still keep the foredeck dry and the spray away from the cockpit today.

Rangers are pretty boats from every angle and their sailing qualities have earned admiration from a whole generation of sailors. Mention one at the clubhouse and somebody will always say, “I used to race on one and we cleaned up with it. Great boat.”


This is beginning to sound like an advertisement or the boastings of a proud father. The Rangers ARE great boats, but they have flaws. While they were the upscale line from Cal boats, aimed at buyers who wanted a bit more yachtiness, the construction was strictly production-line 1970s. The fit, finish and detailing do not match more expensive production boats of the time, such as Sabre and Tartan. The hull is solid fiberglass laminate while the deck has plywood coring. Wood bulkheads reinforce the hull and a molded pan bonded to the inside provides the base for the furniture. The glass work is good, but not exceptional, and surfaces are not as smooth in hidden areas as in today’s boats.

CRESCENDO had one broken glass bond between the hull and an aft bulkhead when I bought her in 1980, but nothing else has let go since then, despite some hard sailing. The joinery creaks a bit as the hull works in rough conditions.

There’s lots of teak (better than you can buy today) in the cabin, with just enough fiberglass and fabric to make a pleasant living space. The original settee backs were uncomfortable so I replaced them with full-height backs, removable to make wider spaces to serve as berths, and covered everything with high-quality foam cushions and a fabric I had admired on a late-model Jeanneau.

There are few chronic trouble spots in the Ranger 33. The hull/deck joint is strong but often leaks. The ports, especially in pre-1975 models, may leak. Like nearly every other boat of the era, the shroud chainplates will eventually leak as rig stresses flex the boat. Any of these failures can allow water to penetrate the deck core and destroy it.

Some owners report that the base of the mast compression post in the cabin needed shoring up with a block of wood to prevent the cabin top and the sole from indenting. I haven’t had that problem with CRESCENDO. Finally, access to the sides and rear of the engine is atrocious.

For a thirty-year-old boat, this is not a long list of problems and all of them are fairly easy to fix. Careful disassembly and rebedding with a few dollars worth of modern sealant will cure the hull/deck joint and port leaks; CRESCENDO no longer seeps a drop after this treatment. A $30 watertight port at the forward end of the cockpit sole takes care of access to the water pump, transmission and ignition system of the engine.

Ah, yes. The engine. It’s an Atomic Four. Opinions are evenly divided over whether this is the most magnificent piece of machinery ever devised by man or a gift from Satan to eternally thwart human patience. I like these antiquated little chunks of iron.

Even the abused original engine in my boat (which I named “Apocalypse” with its four irritating cylinders: War, Death, Pestilence and Famine), easily submitted to primitive repairs. I could always get it running well enough to reach port, and it once brought me all the way back up the ICW from Charleston on only two of its four cylinders after blowing out a head gasket. That kind of dedication to life is worth something.

I repowered with a professionally built Atomic Four (from Moyer Marine) in 1998, a surprisingly simple job that two of us completed in two days. It has fresh-water cooling, electronic ignition, an electric fuel pump and oversize alternator. It’s a 21st century reworking of 1940 technology that has been utterly reliable. It cost about $3000, compared to over $9000 for a new diesel.


On a solo sail in moderate winds one afternoon last year, I caught and passed two nearly-new 35-foot cruisers, starting from two miles astern — on autopilot and while reading a book in the cockpit. This sort of thing happens all the time, leaving other skippers wondering what they’re doing wrong.

But don’t think that this 30-year old design is faster than a new racer. It isn’t. Recent performance-oriented boats have longer waterlines, lighter hulls, better rigs and more efficient underbodies. Something like a J-105 will eat up anything from the 1970s unless conditions are perfect for the older vessel (stronger wind and rougher water).

The Ranger 33 is also seaworthy, seakindly and responsive. The ballast/displacement ratio is moderately high, so it’s stiff and rarely heels more than about 25 degrees if you’re sailing it properly. The hull cuts choppy waves effectively and tracks well when surfing down large following seas. The displacement/length ratio is also moderate (it was considered quite light in 1970), so the motion in rough water is easier than most new boats. My wife and children never had trouble steering during their watches, even in tumultuous conditions.

This boat is reasonably well mannered under power, but everything depends on fitting the correct prop to the Atomic Four. The engine needs to run at 1800-2200 rpm for best power and it doesn’t have a diesel’s torque to drive a very large prop. I’ve had the best success with a 12×5 three-bladed motorboat propeller, although that produces a lot of drag under sail. I’m also fairly satisfied with the unique 10×7 three-blader from Indigo Electronics, but if you want to preserve sailing performance, a 12×5 folding Martec is adequate.

Motoring speeds are in the six- to seven-knot range with a 72 dB sound level if the engine box has been lined with insulation. Backing is good with a three-blader and fair with the folding two-blader.

Soon after buying CRESCENDO, I asked an acquaintance for advice on handling the boat. He had won many races with a Ranger 33 and answered quickly, “The key to speed is to keep reducing sail.” He was right. I will use the 150% genoa only up to about 12 knots, when whitecaps first appear.

Now that I no longer race CRESCENDO, a 135% jib stays on the boat all season. When the breeze is over about 15 knots, a deep reef goes into the mainsail and that’s good to about 20, when I roll up the jib. Reefed main alone is perfect well into the 30+ range. Reducing sail early keeps the angle of heel low, the speed up, and the crew comfortable. There’s absolutely no reason to overpower this boat; it wants to sail upright and is faster that way. If you have the right amount of sail up and trimmed properly, you can lock the steering wheel and it will track perfectly.

Downwind if there are no whitecaps, I set a big asymmetric spinnaker from a sock. I love this sail, as it transforms light-air days on the Bay from constant motoring into a pleasant, easy, silent experience.

Now that I no longer have the full strength and agility of youth and most of my sailing is single-handed or with nonsailing passengers, I’ve installed bigger sheet and halyard winches, roller furling on the jib, and an anchor windlass so that nothing requires more than about 20 pounds of manual force. After these simple hardware changes, it’s easy to go cruising by myself for a week or more and that’s a liberating experience.

Mods and updates

At the height of a minor hurricane on a summer evening in 1996, a 12-volt wire chafed through and shorted, burning out the entire interior and rendering CRESCENDO a total insurance loss. Everybody who looked into the black hole that had been a cabin said, “Scrap her.”

After a lot of serious thought and discussion, my wife and I decided to rebuild. We took the settlement, bought the boat back from the insurance company for its salvage value and poured about $40,000 into making her better than new. A year later, with the hull repaired and new wiring, plumbing, engine, canvas, upholstery, insulation, slatted wood hull ceilings, stove, bookshelves, drop-leaf table, gelcoat overhead and Awlgrip on the hull, she was a showboat.

We might have been better off putting the money into a newer boat instead, but we liked the Ranger 33 so much that this seemed like the proper move. An old boat can do that to you. Like a faithful family pet, these inanimate compositions of wood, glass, steel and resin can insinuate themselves into your lives.

When you choose a good boat to begin with, it’s even harder to give it up. The Ranger 33 is one of those good boats. You can buy a typical one for only slightly less than it cost twenty years ago. Put another $5,000 into new equipment and sails and you’ll have a lifetime investment that will help you raise your children, escape the pressures of work and carry you into retirement.

— The End —

Builder: Ranger Yachts, 3090 Pullman St., Costa Mesa CA 92627 (out of business).

Designer: Gary Mull

LOA 33’2″, LWL 26’4″, Beam 9’6″, Draft 5′, Displacement 10500 lb, Sail area 681 sq ft,

Power Atomic Four, Water 21 gal, Fuel 21 gal. Price: $17,500 to $30,000.


Displacement/Length ratio: 258 (moderate)

Sail Area/Displacement ratio: 17.8 (moderate)

Ballast/Displacement ratio: 0.46 (moderately high)

US Sailing Screening Value: 1.8 (below 2.0 recommended for offshore sailing)

Comfort Value (Ted Brewer) 27 (moderate)

CHESAPEAKE OWNER GROUPS: O’Day, Cal, and Ranger Association (Mid-Bay) Roy and Louann Meisinger 8253 The Midway Annadale, VA 22003 (703) 978-6035 mmeisin@erols.com O’Day, Cal and Ranger Association (Northern Bay) Al and Jan Gunzelman 1708 Oakland Avenue Baltimore, MD 21221 (410) 391-5925 tfhfbs@bellatlantic.net O’Day, Cal, and Ranger Association (Southern Cheasapeake/Potomac) Tom and Cathy Heacock 4400 Rollingbrooke Ct. Alexandria, VA 22306 (703) 765-1613 theacock@juno.com

RANGERS ON THE WEB: Ranger Sailboat Owners – http://www.rangeryachts.org/ SailNet – http://list.sailnet.net/read/?forum=ranger

SailboatOwners.com – http://www.sailboatowners.com/forums/menunew.tpl?fno=499.133

Moyer Marine (the Atomic Four guru) – www.moyermarine.com

Indigo Electronics (Atomic Four upgrades and prop) – http://www.atomic4.com/

Software Defined Radio

Hams: Click here for my notes on connecting FlexSDR to FLDIGI


 The virtual front panel of a Software Defined Radio (SDR)

The new frontier in radio communications is Software Defined Radio. Instead of having a piece of hardware that looks like a radio, with dials, buttons and a display readout, there’s just a plain box. Mine is blue and about the size of a 100-sheet pack of printer paper. It came from a company called FlexRadio and it cost about $1800. This box has connectors for a computer, an antenna, power source, microphone, Morse code key and headphones or speakers. That’s it. No adjustments. No tuning display.

Hook up all the wires, push the power button and the indicator light turns on. Nothing else happens. In SDR, everything happens in the computer software.

So you download the free software from the company site, follow the straightforward directions, and a radio front panel appears on the monitor. It’s impressive, with a beautiful frequency readout down to 1 Hz, a panadaptor waveform window and more buttons than any normal mortal could figure out unaided in a month.

Click on the power switch icon and the blue box comes to life. Sounds pour out of the speakers. Scroll the mouse wheel up and down and you’re tuning across the band. Click on a button to go to the ham band you want to use and you’re there. Click to change from single sideband voice to CW (Morse code) and it’s ready to go. Click on the automatic antenna tuner and it’s ready to transmit. It even tells you what license is required for each band segment and identifies shortwave broadcast bands.

And that’s just the start. It’s an incredible receiver, with adjustable filters that slice away everything you do not want to hear. You can configure the transmitter to fit your voice exactly until it sounds like you at the other ham’s station. It can receive and decode any type of transmission you might receive. It links to a computerized logbook to automatically record the frequency and time of the stations you contact. It links to digital radio software like FLDIGI or Ham Radio Deluxe to adapt to any mode of communications: PSK31, CW, RTTY…

The best part is that it cannot become outdated. If hams decide to experiment with a new technology, all it takes to try it yourself is a software update.

I’m hooked. This is the most fun I’ve had with ham radio in many years.

Over The Horizon

Over The Horizon
by Tom Dove

Originally published in several Maryland newspapers 2/24/89

If your cruising has been restricted to the Chesapeake Bay and you would like more of an adventure this summer, why not plan a cruise that will take you into completely new waters? Go over the horizon and up the coast or around the Delmarva peninsula.

You can make an extended cruise in almost any boat. If yours has bunks, head and galley, you have more options for overnighting than if you are traveling by small runabout, but it is possible to make long trips by stopping at motels and hotels for the night. You might consider camping as you go by water, too.

This is the perfect time of year to plan your adventure. The weather is still too cold to actually go out on the Bay with any comfort, but the days are getting noticeably longer so spring must be on its way.

First, pick a place you would like to cruise, then see if it is practical to get there in the time available. Start with a large-area chart that includes both your homeport and your destination to get the “big picture” and to estimate travel times.

For relaxed cruising under either sail or power, 50 miles per day is plenty. Sailors will probably be more comfortable planning on an average of about 35 miles per day, with a few longer legs included where necessary. Powerboaters could certainly go as much as 100 miles in one day, but they will be very tired of the noise and vibration at the end of the run.

If your destination seems too far away for your vacation time of one or two weeks, consider breaking the trip into two sections. Perhaps you could take the boat part of the way over a long weekend and leave it at a marina, go back and cruise for a couple of weeks, then bring it back home during another long weekendnear the end of the summer.

Trailerable boats make long range cruising easy. A friend once took his 22-foot Aquasport along the coast from Annapolis to Maine over a two-week period and left it there in a boatyard. At the end of the summer, he drove to Maine with the trailer andbrought the vessel home.

Here are some suggestions for cruise destinations and routes:

*** AROUND THE DELMARVA PENINSULA – Circumnavigate in Deither direction with stops at Chesapeake City, the Cohansey River, Cape May or Lewes, Ocean City, Chincoteague, Norfolk, Mobjack Bay and Crisfield.

*** TO NEW YORK AND LONG ISLAND SOUND – North through the C&D Canal and down Delaware Bay, up the New Jersey coast with stops at Cape May, Atlantic City and Manasquan, through New York harbor and into the Sound, where you should spend a week or two exploring the harbors and towns.

*** TO NEWPORT, MARTHA’S VINEYARD AND NANTUCKET – Add a couple of weeks to the Long Island Sound run and visit this excellent sailing area. Go to Block Island, too.

*** TO MAINE – Just keep going north. If you have less than four weeks, consider leaving the boat up there for the winter, then return next summer to pick it up and continue your cruise.

*** TO THE NORTH CAROLINA SOUNDS – This area is like the Chesapeake was 20 years ago, but it’s hot after June.

*** TO NOWHERE, OFFSHORE – Get some open ocean experience by going east from Norfolk for a day or two to get into the Gulf Stream, then turn around and come back. This is the easy way to find out if you like ocean cruising without committing yourself to a long voyage.

Remember to build in lots of extra time to your plan and do not schedule tightly. Have alternate destinations in case the weather closes in or people get tired. Don’t push; just have fun.

— The End —

America’s Cup Spectacle

The 34th America’s Cup competition has started in San Francisco and it is spectacular, even on TV. The boats are 72-foot catamarans with hydrofoils that routinely touch 40 knots of boat speed in the winds that rip through the Golden Gate. The competitors are New Zealand, Sweden, Italy and the U.S.
Prada (Italy) boycotted the first race because they were irritated over a rules interpretation, so Emirates Team New Zealand sailed around the course alone to collect one point. Some things about the Cup never change, do they? Live coverage and written articles are on the America’s Cup Internet site but they don’t seem to keep video afterwards:


The New Zealand One News channel does have some video to watch later, and you can find it here:


You really should see those boats under way. Incredible stuff. SAIL Magazine this month (and on their Web site at sailmagazine.com) has excellent descriptions of the boats and the event.

The next race is Tuesday, July 9 starting at 1215 PST. The schedule is at:http://noticeboard.americascup.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Schedule-70613.pdf . I’m streaming the Internet content to a 50″ TV via my AppleTV interface and it’s mighty impressive.
I found even better video coverage of the America’s Cup racing. It’s on YouTube:
This makes it easy to see on your TV if it is Internet-enabled or has a box like an AppleTV or Roku. Just go to YouTube in the TV menu and search for “America’s Cup”.
The YouTube site keeps videos online for later viewing and, I think, also streams it live. The next race (actually the first real race start, since Prada forfeited their first one yesterday) is on Tuesday at 1215 Pacific Time, if I’m reading the schedule on the official America’s Cup site correctly. That should be 3:15pm Eastern Time.

How Much Can You Take?

Sloop off Miami

A good boat, properly handled, can be a safe place when the wind kicks up.

How much can your boat (and you) take? 
by Tom Dove

First published 6/9/89 in several Maryland newspapers

“Sunny and hot today with highs in the 90s and a chance of an afternoon or evening thundershower. Winds southerly at 10 to 15 miles per hour with higher gusts in thunderstorms,” the radio repeats almost every day from June through August.

Within that familiar, innocuous report are at least two hidden warnings for all boaters on the Chesapeake: the Bay may get choppy from the southerly wind and a thunderstorm may blast you with winds up to sixty knots.Your preparation for a typical summer day should depend on your boat and your experience, in that order. A boater’s axiom states that the boat can withstand more than you can.

Seaworthiness is not necessarily related to size in boats, but comfort generally is, and a skipper’s mental state is controlled largely by comfort. Let’s look at rough weather techniques according to size and type of boat, remembering that there are overlaps; one 30-footer may have a hull shape that gives it a better ride than another 35-footer, for example. 

*** POWERBOATS UNDER 20 FEET: These popular boats are great fun in smooth water but begin to take spray aboard when the waves are more than about one foot high. In a two-foot chop, they become downright uncomfortable and anything rougher than that calls for slowing down and coming off a plane to slow, displacement speed. Their transoms are often quite low with a cutout for the outboard motor, so they are vulnerable to seas from astern.

In a little powerboat, stay off the open Bay if the wind exceeds about 15 knots. In rough water or thunderstorms, head for the nearest shore and pull up on the beach. If you are caught out, anchor or try to power slowly into the wind and seas. Put on a life jacket and stay with the boat, even if it gets swamped.

*** SMALL CENTERBOARD SAILBOATS: A Small centerboard sailboats, especially self-bailing racers and day sailers, can generally handle rough water better than they can strong winds. Thunderstorms are a serious threat and the sight of black clouds building in the west should send a small-boat sailor to the nearest shore to drop and furl the sails. If you have a Sunfish, Laser or similar vessel and are caught out in the open Bay in survival conditions, put on a life jacket, drop the sails and hold on until the squall passes. 

*** POWERBOATS 20-30 FEET: Boats in this size range can generally make progress through all normal Bay conditions, although the ride may be rough and wet when wave heights exceed two feet. Thunderstorms are a different matter. If the water is less than about 15 feet deep and you cannot reach a safe harbor, drop the anchor and ride out the storm. A good anchor with a length of chain between it and the rope rode can be a life saver.If you are caught out in a squall, slow down and try powering slowly into or away from the waves and wind. Keep your speed down to the minimum necessary for rudder control and avoid getting broadside to the waves. 

*** KEEL SAILBOATS: Slow speed and deep draft work against reaching shelter in keel sailboats but these vessels are generally able to ride out nearly anything the Bay can throw at them. If you cannot reach an anchorage as a thunderstorm approaches, drop and furl all sails and ride it out under bare poles, either broadside to the wind or running before it. Check to be sure you have plenty of sea room to leeward and will not be drivenaground. 

*** LARGE POWERBOATS: While three-foot chop will not bother a 40-footer too badly, thunderstorm winds will whip up conditions that require you to slow down to displacement speeds. If the storm is not too severe, you may be able to power into the waves, but 50 and 60 knot gusts will push the bow until the boat is lying broadside to the waves, an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous position.In severe winds and seas, turn your stern to the wind and run slowly, staying well below planing speed. A deep-draft trawler will handle these conditions easily while a high, boxy cruiser without much hull underwater will be a handful for its skipper.

In any boat, keep your eye to the west and northwest this summer. Storms from other directions rarely reach you (I have been clobbered by a few notable exceptions), but cumulonimbus clouds building in the west on a summer afternoon should be a warning of severe weather within an hour or so. 

— The End –

Quiet Harbor In Ocracoke

Quiet Harbor In Ocracoke 
by Tom Dove

Originally published in several Maryland newspapers 1/13/89
OCRACOKE, NC-The scene recalls the famous exchange between the Old West lawman and his faithful sidekick: 
“Sure is quiet.”
“Yep. Too quiet.”

Except for the hourly spurt of about a dozen cars from the Hatteras ferry, this village of 650 is almost too quiet for a visitor in January. Only the two general stores and a couple of guest houses are open. Otherwise, it’s a fishing town not unlike Tilghman Island or Smith Island.

Ocracoke is even more remote than Smith Island. It’s a 20 minute drive to a 40 minute ferry to another 20 minute drive to reach a supermarket on Hatteras Island. And you thought crossing the Bay Bridge was a big deal.

All these features of Ocracoke make it interesting to the cruiser, expecially to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) traveler with a little time to spend exploring the North Carolina sounds. Spring and Fall would be ideal times to be here.

Ocracoke is not directly on the ICW. You must leave the secure comfort of that well-worn path and cross Pamlico Sound to reach the near-perfect harbor of Silver Lake on the island. The sound is shallow and can get rough in strong winds, so pick your weather carefully for the crossing.The entrance to Silver Lake is narrow but well marked, and water depths will accomodate medium sized sailboats with ease.

Once inside, you are sheltered from all directions and the entire town is within easy walking distance.You may anchor in the harbor and a public dock is adjacent to the ferry terminal. Hardware, groceries and anything else you might expect in a self sufficient town are on the waterfront.

The commercial docks often are occupied by a sizable fleet of fishing trawlers; this is a working village.It is complete down to the school, whose 100 students (grades K-12) make it the smallest public school in the state. It may also be the prototype school for the next century, with heavy use of computers, modems and satellite communication.

Talk to the residents and you will think they are transplanted Eastern Shore people who have picked up some of the Carolina Accent. It sounds a lot like home to a native of the Chesapeake.

If your interest is history, there is plenty of it here. Since the 1500s, ships have used Ocracoke Inlet and run aground on its outlying shoals. The place is rich in stories of shipwrecks and rescue and of commerce and piracy.

Ocracoke is filled with curiosities: two tombstones indicate their owners died 13 years before they were born. Purebred mustangs roam wild four centuries after the last contact with Spain.

Then, there is the story of Old Quork.Old Quork was a contentious, abrasive, blasphemous fellow who insisted on going fishing one stormy day in March, swearing profusely, against the unanimous advice of the islanders.Old Quork never came back and no trace of him was ever found. To this day, no Ocracoker will go out fishing on March 16 – Old Quork’s Day – insisting that the water will be too rough. It generally is.

Sometimes you just want to take a long walk or a refreshing swim at an ocean beach. With 16 miles of undeveloped Atlantic shoreline, you should be able to satisfy that urge here. A single road runs keel-straight up the length of the island and everything but the village at the southern tip is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – no houses, no souvenir shops, no condos. It’s lonely and beautiful.

An excellent nature trail and wild pony pasture are about four miles north of town. Otherwise, there is nothing special to do here, and that is its appeal. If you want nightlife or elaborate restaurants, skip it. Leslie Lanier, a transplanted Georgian who has lived in the village almost two years says, “We see two kinds of people here: those who settle in and stay for weeks and those who take one look and leave on the next ferry.”

For more information, contact the Ocracoke Civic Club, Ocracoke Island, NC 27960, (919) 928-6711. Cruise into Silver Lake on Ocracoke and visit a while. Just don’t expect anything to be happening in midwinter and be sure to stay in port on Old Quork’s Day.

— The End —

How Much Do You Need To Know?

LESC Laser

Sailing a dinghy in strong winds takes a different set of skills from driving a runabout.

Originally published in several Maryland newspapers 2/17/89

How much does a boater need to know? 
by Tom Dove

Each spring, hundreds of people buy boats and go out to enjoy the Chesapeake and other bodies of water. Almost all of them get back home. Boating on semi-protected waters like the Bay is a relatively safe sport, certainly less threatening than leaping out of airplanes and probably less hazardous than sliding down mountains on pieces of wood or than driving to work in the morning rush hour.

Still, there are things every boat operator should know for the sake of safety. How much you need to know depends on the type of boating you will be doing.

Small-boat operators may be at the greatest risk, as a little vessel may be swamped or overturned by storms or by the wake of carelessly run big boats that race close by. Canoeists and rowers should be good swimmers, have a good sense of balance and always carry life preservers and a small anchor. They should know how to right a capsized or flooded craft, bail it out and get to shore without assistance.Anyone who relies on manual power must recognize his or her range limits as it is not fun to run out of energy and still have “Miles to go before [you] sleep.”

Generally, rowboats, canoes and kayaks should stick to rivers and creeks and not venture into the open Chesapeake where a swiftly approaching storm could be a serious threat.Sailors in little boats must be cautious, too. A one-design racing sailor should carry an anchor and 100 feet of light nylon anchor line for emergencies. It adds little weight and a lot of security.

Small-boat sailors are often proficient in racing rules and ignorant of the standard right-of-way rules under which we all must navigate. For example, darting across the bow of a sightseeing vessel is not only foolish, it is generally illegal, whether you are racing or not.
Most people enter boating with runabouts in the 15- to 20-foot size range, so experienced skippers know they must beware when they encounter almost any vessel of this type. It is legal to operate a boat in Maryland without any experience, instruction or certification if you were born before July 1, 1972 (people younger than that must take a boating safety course). It’s legal, but not wise.

Captains of small runabouts need to know about right-of-way, weather, wake, piloting, charts, anchoring, firefighting and engine maintenance. Little powerboats are capable of long trips at high speed and their skippers should be, too.

Most families move up from the runabout to a small cruiser after a few years. The bigger boat demands additional knowledge.A cruiser often weighs more than a large car and this extra mass makes it less quick to respond. The basic handling techniques learned on a small boat still apply, but they must be modified.

Too often, skippers of cruisers in the 25-35 foot range plow along, oblivious to the destruction caused by their wake as they run close aboard piers and smaller vessels. The sternwake doesn’t look nearly as big from the flybridge as it does from the canoe you just swamped.Docking a medium-sized boat in a crosswind or a current provides its own education, but owners of such craft should have some idea of what is happening and why.

Coastal cruising sailors must have a high degree of independence because they move too slowly to escape rough weather and must learn to deal with it. They must also be proficient in navigation and shallow-water piloting. On the Bay, it helps to learn the tricks for getting off sandbars.

Ocean sailing is a different game and in many ways, it is simpler; there is nothing to run into and knowing your exact position is not as critical as in Bay sailing.On the ocean, you must be totally self-sufficient, so you must have a very strong, well prepared boat that you know intimately. You must be willing to endure a lot of discomfort and broken sleep patterns. 

We all have heard of someone without any experience who bought an unmodified production sailboat and set off around the world. We have also heard of people who have gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The odds for success are not too different.

Before the boating season begins, analyze what you need to know and start learning it. Investigate the courses offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Power Squadrons and Department of Natural Resources. See what your local community or yacht club offers.It is easier to learn what you need to know before you get onto the water than it is to acquire it the hard way: Out There.

— The End —

Physical Fitness for “Ham” Radio Operators

Copyright Tom Dove  1993 

Physical fitness for the amateur radio operator
by Tom Dove

Our spouses and friends may worry that we “Hams” do not get enough exercise as we sit for hours in front of our rigs. You can stay fit as you enjoy your hobby with these simple exercises, recommended by the creative commuter gang that meets each morning on the 147.105 mHz Anne Arundel Radio Club repeater in Davidsonville, Maryland. 

CHOKE CHOKE – Choose an inductor that fits comfortably in your hand. Squeeze and release this coil 25 times to build the muscles in the hand and forearm. Inductive reasoning experts recommend removing the coil from its circuit so it does not impede your movement. 

DIPOLE CHIN-UPS – This may require lowering your antenna or using a tall ladder. Reach or jump upward and grab the antenna on either side of the feedline. Do chin-ups until you drop. For extra fitness, climb the feedline to reach the antenna. For extra adventure, try this exercise at a friend’s station while he is operating and achieve a special glow. 

HT CURLS – Hold a handheld radio in your palm and lift it to your shoulder 20 times. This exercise builds strength in the biceps muscles and increases the endurance needed when operating in public service events. While new hams may use small transceivers, a greater level of fitness will result from curling radios at least twenty years old.  

POWER SUPPLY PRESS – Disconnect your power supply from the radio and hold it with both hands behind your neck. Press it vertically until both arms are straight. Repeat ten times. The age of the power supply should be inversely proportional to the age of the Ham. A healthy college student may be able to press a 1955 model with tubes and an 850 volt transformer, while a sedentary amateur may choose two D-cell batteries. 

PTT THUMB PUSH – Set your handheld radio for a quiet simplex channel and hold it firmly in the left hand, resting the thumb on the PTT button. Press and release the button repeatedly, being sure to identify yourself in compliance with FCC rules. After 25 pushes, change hands (this will require inverting or rotating the radio) and repeat. This exercise will prevent flabby thumbs. 

TOWER EXERCISES – Climb an antenna tower until your knuckles turn white. As you become more proficient, your altitude will increase. Extra points are awarded for leaping from the tower to the ground instead of simply climbing down. Proper execution of this drop is also beneficial to tall people who wish to become shorter. 

YAGI YOGA – After exercising, meditation is beneficial to both body and mind. Sit atop a beam antenna in a crosslegged position while your assistant rotates it, beginning at north and going clockwise. Close your eyes and repeat the mantra “Ohm” 52 times. 

— The End —

Visit Your Boat In Midwinter

Chafe guardIf your boat is winterized afloat, be sure to check the chafe gear on the dock lines.

First published in several Maryland newspapers, 2/10/89 

Visit your boat in midwinter
by Tom Dove

She is sitting out there patiently waiting for you. All she needs is a little attention and a few kind words and she will repay you next summer with support in your stormiest hours, shelter from the outside world and absolute dedication to your safety, comfort and mental well-being. 

Go see your boat this week. It will be good for both of you. Although the winter has been a mild one, it is not over yet and cabin fever hits us all about this time. There are several ways you can use your boat, even if it is too cold to take it out on the water.

When there is a break in the weather, slip down to the boat, go aboard with a book, light the stove for a bit of warmth and read for a while. This is guaranteed to lift your spirits, especially if your vessel is afloat and you can remind your body of how it feels to rock gently in a snug harbor.

Be sure to have enough ventilation that the stove does not deplete the oxygen supply in the cabin. Carbon monoxide poisoning could spoil your entire day.

If the weather is dry, open the cabin and let the air circulate through the boat to dehumidify it. Fresh air will prevent mildew and preserve the hull and upholstery.

If you have a gasoline engine, this would be a perfect time to replace spark plugs and ignition wires that you neglected in the fall layup.

Is there a small improvement project you could do aboard? How about installing a teak rack to hold the handheld VHF radio or chart plotting instruments? Should you replace that broken door hook or lubricate the drawer slides with wax or silicon spray?

It is too cold to take on major projects, but little things that can be done in less than an hour will reduce your spring outfitting by that much time and give you a feeling of accomplishment to shorten the winter.

Did you spray the electrical wiring with silicone spray when you laid up the boat in the fall? Do it now and preserve the entire system. The back of the main electrical panel is the most important place but remember the battery terminals and engine electrical connections, too. If the batteries are still aboard, check them with a hygrometer and bring them up to full charge. You will welcome your solar charger now, if you have one. 

Be sure water is not collecting anywhere inside the boat. If it is stored ashore, be sure it is level so rain and snow run out the normal cockpit drainage system.

If your boat is afloat, check the connections of all hoses where they attach to the through-hull fittings. Inspect them for freeze damage and close all except the cockpit drains.

Boats that sleep on land in winter must be properly supported. Be sure the jackstands, timbers or cradles are on firm ground and that they press on the hull evenly.

If your boat is covered, insure that fresh air can get underneath the canvas or plastic tarp so things do not rot and mildew.

A midwinter visit to the boat can be a welcome break in these short days. I have a ham radio station aboard and often spend a half hour or so chatting with other hams around the world until the cold of the cabin gets too severe.

Tinkering with a boat in midwinter is not as nice as cruising the Bay or chartering in the Caribbean, but it is better than sulking at home and your boat will respond by being ready for springtime when you are.?

– The End —

The Trip To Haulout


When the snow flies, it is time to put the boat to bed.

The Trip to Haulout 

First published in several Maryland newspapers, 12/8/89

We waited a bit too long to take Crescendo to the boatyard for winter haulout, as usual. The Thanksgiving snow filled the cockpit to a depth of four or five inches and, while the day was clear, the temperature would never reach the 50 degree mark promised by the forecasters.

That probably did not bother the forecasters. They spent the day inside a room with nice warm facsimile machines and cups of hot coffee. The five-mile trip from our pier at home to Lippincott’s marina would not be so cozy, but we knew there would be scenic compensations.

Corelle dinnerware is one of the great inventions of the century. My wife, Pam, busied herself shoveling snow out of the cockpit with a cereal bowl.

It would be a powering passage, as I had taken all the sails off the spars in preparation for hurricanes and we had not taken our sloop out sailing since that time. We had not sailed her much, as family illness, land travel and sailing on other boats had filled our summer.

The engine seemed ready enough; it started easily and ran smoothly on the old gasoline that had been in the tank since this time last year. The Atomic 4 burns so little fuel that we sometimes do not use a 20-gallon tankful over a summer of sailing.

The water was slate gray dotted with white flecks – some were whitecaps moving with the 15-knot wind and others were sea ducks skimming along inches above the ragged surface. Few Bay residents see the sea ducks that migrate into the region in the fall. They stay in open water, generally almost a mile from shore, and blend so well with the waves that they are invisible from distances greater than a few hundred yards.

When startled, these little fellows fly in short bursts with rapid wingbeats and land comically in a splash on the back of a wave. Their black and white feathers flicker in the sunlight like an old silent movie.

Hunters seek the birds, which survive in reasonable numbers here as they have not been hunted to near extinction like canvasbacks and some other species. A lone hunter sat in his outboard runabout on the river, surrounded by black-painted bleach bottles that might resemble ducks to a nearsighted viewer. He and his boat were being carefully avoided by the sea ducks. “Big brave man. I hope you freeze,” Pam muttered as we passed the hunter, summarizing her general feelings about hunting for sport.

As we entered the north end of Kent Narrows, the engine began to run roughly, probably a result of the old gasoline but possibly just a bid for attention. It does this whenever we get into tight situations: passing through Hell Gate on New York’s East River, entering the Atlantic City inlet against the tide, docking on the Cohansey River in a swirling current. If you have cruised, you understand.

Of course, the current in Kent Narrows was against us. With the barnacle-covered prop and bottom, our speed dropped to about three knots over the ground and we chugged lamely toward the bridge.

Why do we do this? Why shiver out here when we could be reading a good book and sipping hot cider beside a fire at home?

Next year, we’ll winterize earlier. Sure, we will. And we’ll start getting up a half-hour earlier to beat the rush hour traffic to work, too. Dream on.

Winterizing is a sad chore so perhaps it is best to delay it until late November – a sad, gray time of the year. If we are going to be melancholy, why not put it all together in one lump instead of letting it spill over into the bright sailing season?

Crescendo is asleep at the yard now. Her veins are filled with antifreeze and her soft bunk cushions are propped up to allow the cold winter air to flow through her fiberglass skeleton.

Next spring, baby. We’ll be back next spring to take you away from all of this. Then we’ll have some fun.

 — The End —