To a certain degree, every passage is a shake-down passage. I mean, it’s rare cruisers pull up to a dock or anchorage after a trying-but-successful passage and say, “Yep, we did everything exactly right. All of our equipment worked just as we intended and we executed everything with unquestionable precision and skill.” Please. If you know cruisers like that, unfriend them. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. There’s always something to learn or take away from a passage. That’s the beauty of sailing. It’s all about shaking–shaking things up, shaking them down, keeping the dust and cobwebs off. There are a million things we learned during our trip last year to the Keys. We’ve forgotten half of them by now, but most of the important lessons stuck. There were also many things we learned we wanted to do to the boat to better prepare it for our next BIG trip. We started keeping a running tally as we were going and then prioritizing–which projects were musts, and which were luxuries. One of our higher-up items on the list was replacing the old leather cover on our steering wheel.
Yeah, that ratty thing.
While a leather steering wheel cover for the boat may sound like a luxury, we consider it a necessity. If the auto-pilot will not hold and you’re forced to hold that thing for hours on end, anything that keeps your hands comfortable and less prone to cramp and ache while you’re doing it is anything but a luxury. Our leather cover had served us well since we bought the boat in 2013, but had suffered a few holes and missing chunks over the years.
And, if I had to hear Phillip gripe one more time about this flap, I was going to rip it off and throw it overboard.
That thing drove him nuts. Heck, it drove me nuts. I’m one of those that can’t leave a scab or a wayward cuticle alone. If it’s snagging and catching on things, or just bugging me in general, I’m going to pick it until it’s a big, infected bloody mess, but at least the flap is gone! Take that flap! Phillip had to watch me closely during the Keys trip to make sure I wasn’t tempted to rip this obstinate little piece off (because it would have caused the whole cover to unravel and fray). Luckily, I didn’t. This worn, ragged cover made it back home in, well, a couple of worn and ragged pieces, so it was high time we replaced it.
Thankfully, our previous owner, Jack, was meticulous in his care of the boat and he kept all of his receipts, manuals, instructions, etc. While we weren’t surprised to find he kept the receipt from his purchase of the leather cover, we were surprised to find that he had bought it in 1992!
So, that the ratty cover we were cursing had been on the boat for 22 years! TWENTY-TWO?! Do they make anything these days that lasts that long? Other than diesel engines, I can’t think of much. When it came to replacing it, we really had no reason to branch out. We were pleased with the product and it had clearly proven its durability. It was an easy decision. Another Boat Leather steering wheel cover it would be. Tom, with Boat Leather, even had Jack’s old records, so he already knew our wheel size, making the order a snap to refill. Within minutes, our new Boat Leather cover was on its way, along with a detailed instruction guide to show us how to accomplish the specific herringbone stitch needed to secure it around our wheel.
Tom has also published a very helpful video on his website which shows, in real time, his perfected method for installing the wheel cover. Armed with our instructions, the new wheel cover and a thick needle, Phillip and I picked a sunny August day and set to it.
I have to admit, the first final RRRrrrrip! of the old leather cover off of the wheel felt good. “Take that flap!”
Our wheel sure was pretty underneath–all polished and shiny!
We are the original gangstuhs.
We didn’t let her breathe for long, though. The next step was a thin layer of double-sided tape to hold the leather cover in place while you wrap it around the wheel.
(That’s my pretty work face)
The Boat Leather cover comes pre-sized specifically to fit your steering wheel and, you can see here, it has holes pre-punched into the leather to make the stitching easier.
Ahhh … the stitching. That was definitely my favorite part! The taping and wrapping was followed by about three hours of super-fun stitching.
I’m smiling here because I didn’t yet know how much “fun” the stitching was going to be. I felt like Forrest Gump experiencing all the different “directions of rain” in Vietnam. We stitched backwards, sideways, upside down.
It honestly wasn’t too bad, though. A nice sunny day, some good Gordon Lightfoot playing in the background and I could have stitched all day. Before we knew it, we had made it around full-circle and were putting the last stitch in!
And, then she was done!
Wheeeh-whoo! Ain’t she a beaut? One hot afternoon of stitching, and she was on there–a new Boat Leather steering wheel cover, ready to take us cruising another 20 years. The Captain was obviously pleased with my stitchmanship.
“Why thank you ma’am.”
And, the best part? No more flap! Our wheel is now soft and smooth and a true joy to hold. We were so impressed with the product, we knew when we saw Boat Leather listed as one of the exhibitors at the Strictly Sail Miami show this past February, we were going to have to stop by the Boat Leather booth and tell Tom ourselves what an awesome job he has done putting out such a quality boat product for so many years.
Tom was incredibly humble and grateful and asked us only for one small favor in return … a live testimonial from yours truly for his soon to be updated website.
Me?? Have something to SAY about something? Never!
I didn’t hesitate (although perhaps I should have–I could have planned my giddy teenage spiel a little better, but alas … it is done). Tom clicked his phone on video and I took off, talking ninety miles a minute, raving about his twenty-year product, throwing in a blog mention and ending the whole thing with a wicked thumbs up. YEEEAAAH!
Remember when I become famous, you saw it here first …
So, replacing the wheel cover? Done. Next time, we knock off another biggie of our Post-Keys Project list. That’s right followers, it’s time to do some sol(ar) searching. Join us!
Many thanks to the folks who make these posts a little more possible with PATREON.
We did!! Sure, the Strictly Sail show is a great place to look at a ton of sailboats, but it’s also a great place to learn a ton about them, too. The Strictly Sail folks bring in speakers from all over the world–real experts in their field when it comes to sailing, cruising and crossing oceans. And, they offered so many different topics! From chartering to boat buying, ocean sailing, engine maintenance, navigation, tropical destinations, you name it. They offered something for every skill level and interest. We only had four days at the show with a half-day committed to a hands-on sail class and, of course, the desire to check out all of the boats and “cool boat stuff” on display. Time was of the essence. We had to be selective!
I felt like Elaine on Seinfeld trying to decide which seminars were really “spongeworthy.”
(And notice I said seminars not speakers – keeping it classy). We had a checklist that we stuck by and tried to coordinate and catch the topics we were really interested in or certain “sailebrities” we knew we just had to see. While we saw plenty of seminars–most were great, although there were a few snoozers (I will not name names)–here are the highlights:
1. Kretschmer‘s “Storm Sailing Strategies”: Ahhh … Mr. Kretschmer … where do I begin? This is a man who has crossed the Atlantic ocean more than 20 times and has taught and trained hundreds of mariners worldwide in hands-on storm tactics, yet he prefers to walk around the dock barefoot and hang with the everyday, no-name sailors. Our primary takeaway from his “Storm Sailing Strategies” seminar? “Forget about the main!” When downwind sailing, drop the main and just throw out the head sail. The main just bangs around shadowing the head sail, often accidentally jibes and basically just drives you crazy. I think it was Al Pacino who said it first, but Kretschmer sealed it for me:
2. Nigel Calder’s “Lessons Learned Along the Way”: Hands-down favorite presentation for us at the show. As I mentioned before, Nigel, being the hyper-technical yet undisputed expert of marine diesel engines and electronics, I expected him to be knowledgeable, yes. But, entertaining? No. Absolutely not. Was he, though? You better believe it. Nigel was surprisingly humble, self-deprecating and willing to re-live any number of his colossal screw-ups with a comedic timing that would knock your socks off. In this presentation “Lessons Learned Along the Way,” Nigel recounted, in vivid detail, not two but the THREE times that he, in the process of changing the oil in an engine, drained the oil from the engine, forgot entirely that he’d drained it (usually because a friend said “hey let’s go get a cold one at the pub”), then cranked the engine (to get to the pub) and promptly “seized it up solid.” Repeat that in a thick, British accent and you’ll come remotely close to understanding how wildly entertaining Nigel Calder was. Our primary takeaway from his presentation?
“If you’re going to seize one up solid, try and be sure it’s not yours.”
Smart man, that Nigel.
3. Lee Chesneau’s “1-2-3 Rule for Hurricane Avoidance”: Smart man, that Lee, too. We caught two of Lee’s weather forecasting seminars and learned a great deal from both of them. I, in particular, learned these are not little haircombs dotting the chart
Rather, they are wind symbols (arrows to be exact), indicating wind direction and speed.
Ahhhh … brilliant! Lee also did an excellent job of explaining the National Weather Service’s 1-2-3 rule for avoiding a hurricane path. If you’re out there, too far from land to get to shore, you can safely maneuver your way out of the path of a hurricane by estimating the “danger area” over a 72-hour period. Using the NWS’s 10-year average track predictions, you can predict the path of a hurricane’s danger zone (meaning the radius where the winds escalate above 35 mph) by projecting its path 100 nautical miles over 24 hours, 200 nm over 48 hours and 300 nm over 72 hours.
Voila! The 1-2-3 rule. Thank you Lee!
While there were plenty of other seminars we thoroughly enjoyed, I’ve tried to not be a snoozer myself by recounting them ALL in excruciating detail here. Pam Wall’s “Do You Want to Go to the Bahamas?” and Woody Henderson’s “Sailing Offshore” presentations, though, do get an honorable mention. In all, the seminars at the Strictly Sail show were well-planned, informative and–once you’d bought your $20 ticket to the show–absolutely free! Always a plus in our book. And, they were very intimate settings (think 20-30 folks, at most, attending, although it was usually 15-20) where you could interact with the speaker, interject and ask questions during the presentation and approach them afterward to ask them pretty much anything you darn-well pleased, which, for me, was … Will you read my book??
I hope I didn’t scare them too badly …
We had checked out a good deal of the boats at the show and heard plenty about them. And, I’ll tell you, one thing walking around a lot of sailboats makes you want to do is — SAIL! Isn’t that the point? We had signed up for a hands-on sailing class out on Biscayne Bay and were really excited to get out there on the water and put some of our newly-acquired sail plans to work.
Hands-On Essential Cruising Skills Class: We headed out Saturday morning (Happy belated V-day followers!) from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. for a three-hour hands-on sailing class. The workshops are limited to 6 persons and were $99 a person.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but at $99 for a 3 hour sail around beautiful Biscayne Bay we figured we couldn’t miss. Perhaps he (and, yes, I assumed our instructor would be a “he” – totally misogynistic of me, I know) would spend an hour telling us which lines controlled the main sail and which ones the jib, how to drop the anchor, etc. Really basic stuff. That was definitely a possibility. But, what if he jumped right up and made us put a triple reef in in some heavy winds or … even better – HEAVE-TO!
What is “heave-to” you might ask? I once heard a boat instructor say, “It’s not where I heave, and then you heave, too … ha ha, snort,” and I hate to admit I actually chuckled when he said that. Heave-to is actually a critical sail skill for cruisers. It’s basically where you stop the boat (pretty much) in the middle of water so you can get some rest, make some food, hold your ground in a treacherous storm, or worse, turn around to pick up a man who has fallen over-board. For those of you non-sailors (or sailors, but non-heavers!) out there, heaving-to is basically where you leave the sails as is and turn the boat around in the wind to back-wind the jib. See how the Jenny, the head sail, on our boat in this picture is full because the wind is coming across the starboard (right) side of the boat?
If we were to heave-to in this position (i.e., turn to starboard until the wind came around and pushed on the back side of the Jenny), it would look like this:
Notice how the head sail is backwinded. We would then slowly turn the wheel back toward the wind (to port, or the left) until the boat basically parked itself in this position. It’s kind of crazy to think a boat can just stop itself in the middle of the water with sails up and the wind blowing, but it can. I’ve heard many sailors describe it, in rough conditions, as “turning off the sea.” Basically the sails are fighting the keel and rudder and the boat barely moves, usually a knot or less. Imagine if you’re bucking and rolling over monster waves and you can execute this maneuver to safely stop the boat and wait it out? American Sailing Association video on heaving-to HERE.
Knowing how to quickly and effectively heave-to is an incredibly valuable skill and, one that I’m a bit embarrassed to say, Phillip and I had never actually tried on our boat prior to the Strictly Sail show.
I know. We agree. We should have never shoved off for the Keys without trying it at least once during a safe afternoon sail in Pensacola Bay, just so we could be sure we knew how to do it, and how exactly our boat would perform in a hove-to position before we got ourselves out in the middle of the freaking Gulf. But, suffice it to say, we were inspired by what we learned during our hands-on sail class and we have since tried it on our boat in the safety of Pensacola Bay. You’ll also be thrilled to know we (and by “we” I mean “I”) goobered our sails up sufficiently–or as Nigel would say, “seized them up solid”–in the process, with witnesses to boot! Look out for that doozy-of-a-post soon!
We were pleased to find that, in addition to some basic skills, our hands-on sail class also covered docking maneuvers in high winds, storm tactics such as heaving-to, anchoring in rough seas, best practices for picking up and securing to a mooring ball and other skills that were great for Phillip and I to broach for the first time or just brush-up on. It never hurts to practice (or get out on the water for a beautiful day sail!). We got to get out on a Jennau 35, one Cruising World’s Pocket Cruisers of the year (although I have to say, I don’t personally consider a 35″ boat to be a “pocket cruiser” but that’s just me). We had another couple aboard who had done some chartering and were looking to buy a boat soon and a guy who had just bought his first sailboat and was just getting into sailing.
A quick shout-out to our American Sailing Association sailing instructor for the day — Jeff Lewis — who was super knowledgeable but also easy-going, a great teacher and a lot of fun!
So, great edutainment at the Strictly Sail show. We learned a ton, and I hope you have too. Sailing is awesome, intriguing, forever challenging and rewarding. You never stop learning.
Now, on to the COOL BOAT STUFF! There were only like 500 booths (give or take) at the show, each offering some really innovative, helpful and interesting boat products.
1. Boat Leather: This guy, Tom, has been producing leather boat products for decades. When we bought our boat back in 2013 it had one of his boat leather steering wheel covers on it. Unfortunately, it had a couple of tears and a flap that were driving us crazy, so we started doing some research to replace it. When we flipped through our previous owner, Jack’s, meticulous paperwork (the man kept every receipt – and we’re so grateful!), we found Tom had sold the wheel cover to Jack back in 1992! So, that one piece of leather had lasted on our boat for over twenty years! We reached out to Tom this past summer and bought a new wheel cover from him. His instructional video was very helpful and allowed us to easily stitch the cover on ourselves. Boat Leather is a great product with exceptional service and instruction behind it. Can’t recommend it enough.
2. The Furling Spinnaker (Code Zero): That’s right, it will knock your socks off. Literally, because you no longer need a spinnaker sock! Before the Code Zero, sailors would launch their spinnakers by raising a big “sock” that houses the spinnaker sail, letting it fly freely, and then pulling the sock down to douse the spinnaker when they wanted to drop it.
Not a bad method (and not a bad 80’s one-piece, Trisha), but they have now created a furling spinnaker which is not quite a true spinnaker but close enough and a lot easier to manage. It is asymetrical, called a Code Zero, and it furls, meaning it spins around a stay at the front of the boat like most jibs and stays there. With the Code Zero, your spinnaker can now actually stay out on its own fore-fore stay all the time and you simply unfurl it when you want to fly it, and furl it up when you don’t.
And the crowd goes aaaahhhhhh …. It was probably the most innovative and intriguing item on display at the show. Many of the new boats come with a Code Zero already installed or are rigged with the necessary equipment to easily add one. I’m not saying we’re going to go out and put one on the boat this year, but they’ll definitely make you start thinking you want one. Lugging that huge sail from down below up onto the deck and then raising and lowering the massive sock can often deter sailors from flying a spinnaker when the winds are right for it, and get them into some trouble if they can’t get it down fast enough when the winds have picked up and are too strong for it. Winds can gust up quickly and if the sock jams and you can’t get your spinnaker down fast enough, well …
let’s just say it’s not pretty. The Code Zero definitely got a lot of folks rubbing their chins and thinking twice.
3. Gill Offshore Weather Gear: They are cranking out some pretty flexible, seemingly light-weight, yet high-performance foul weather gear at Gill. They also offered a 15% discount if you purchased at the show. If you recall, we had been sporting the Gorton’s gear that came with our boat (thank you Jack!) for years now.
We are clearly in need of a new (non-circa 1994) foul weather set that actually fits us, so we were seriously considering picking up a pair of the offshore Gill sets at the show.
While we didn’t end up getting them there (thinking it was a little late in the season to be buying foul weather gear), I have to say I was almost swayed by the Gill sales guy who had something super flattering to say no matter what bulky piece of rubber I decided to put on.
“Oh Matthew, stop it!”
Alright, and last but not least. Now that we’ve reached the bottom, let’s talk about the head.
4. The Airhead: This little gem. A composting toilet for the boat.
Think no suction tube, no joker valve, no holding tank, no pump-out, no macerator, no extra thru-hull on your boat … Definitely a lot to think about. The “stuff” drops in and is then contained or composted until you are ready to dump it out. No odor (they claim) and anticipating standard use, the No. 2 bin should only have to be dumped about once a month. Hmmmm … considering the fun we had replacing the suction tube on our boat and every equally exciting head project since then …
we were certainly giving the composting head some serious thought.
So – you learn some stuff, you check out new stuff, you peruse boats, babes and bikinis and you drink a lot of booze. Who’s liking the boat show now? Raise your hands! Next time, we’ll pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse of the “show behind the show”–the food, the restaurants and the chance-sailebrity encounters–before we call it a wrap and get on to the next adventure!
Many thanks to the folks who make these posts a little more possible with PATREON.