Wednesday, March 26

Flares - Hot Stuff

by Jeff Strunka

With all of the technological advances to improve safe boating, flares may not always be at the top of the list.  So do you carry only the minimum requirement to satisfy the Coast Guard or is it worth a little more investigation? We think it’s worth it.

Imagine this; you are on a night crossing, 25 miles out of Chicago on a 36’ sailboat heading for Muskegon, Michigan. A storm rolls in fast and the boat is struck with lightning knocking out all of your electronics, power, and put a hole in the hull of the boat. The hole is in an inaccessible area from inside the boat. You are in 3’- 5’ seas, the water is 58 degrees, and there’s no moonlight.  You are well out of cell phone range. Pretty scary indeed!

From the list of safety items below, choose the items that you currently have on your boat left to your disposal.  Since all electrical power is lost and you’re out of cell phone range you won't have a cell phone, AIS, VHF radio, DSC, or a hard wired GPS.


If you do not own an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), flares are now your main communication available to call for help. This example may make you think how important a life raft could be, but we will focus on flares for now.

The purpose of carrying flares is to signal and locate. With flares the most important thing is having them at your disposal when needed and using them when there is the greatest chance of being noticed. After putting on your life-jackets, locating and making your flares available is crucial.

There are many things to consider, but understanding the distance the flare will be seen at and matching that distance to the type of sailing you do, is extremely important. Due to the curvature of the earth, we are very limited in how far we can see. A man whose eyes are 6’ above the ground is able to see 3 miles to the horizon. 

A hand-held flare being held while standing on the deck of an average boat can be seen for 5 miles. At 21 miles out, the aerial flare needs to be propelled 250’ above the surface  of the water to be seen. At 40 miles, the aerial flare must be propelled over 1000’ to be seen. Of course, these ranges are based on perfect conditions. Add in rain, fog, etc and the visibility of your flares will be greatly reduced.

Looking at the example of seeing a flare from 21 miles out, it would only be seen when it reaches its highest point and only for a brief second.  From 21 miles, the 25mm Parachute Flare or Solas (Safety Of Life At Sea) flare that burns for 30 – 40 seconds and floats from a parachute, would offer the best chance to be spotted. At 25 miles out the standard 12 gauge red meteor would not be seen unless there was a boat within 21 miles and they happen to be looking in the direction that you are in. 

Along with flares, another USCG requirement is to carry smoke signals. These are most effective for daytime use. A hand-held  signal lasts for about 1 minute while a floating canister lasts for about 3 minutes. They both put out a large volume of orange smoke. If your boat is going to sink and you will be in the water or a life raft, hand-held flares and smoke signal flares will be needed to locate a small target during the daylight hours.

Click on this link for a list showing the capability of different flares offered by Orion Signal Flare Company.

Determine the type of sailing you do (day, night, offshore, ocean or coastal) and then compare the type of sailing you do to the product available. For a person that day sails within 5 miles of shore, the standard 12 gauge Meteor Pistol and hand-held flare kit should be adequate.

The cost of flares is another factor to consider too. Look at them as insurance. Most people have home insurance. Would you drop it because you never needed it in the last 15 years? What would you pay for flares if you were involved in the scenario presented in the beginning of this article? Be sure to come to Yachtapalooza on March 29th for a flare demo. You can see the full schedule of seminars here

Don't forget about 'Aftapalooza'! Columbia Yacht Club is hosting their annual Yachtapalooza after party, Aftapalooza, at the club. Get 1/2 off ALL drinks at the bar between 6-9pm plus live music by Patrick Gemkow.

See you there!

Have a happy and safe boating season! 

Orion Flare Quick List


Launch Height

in Feet
Burn Time

5 - 7 Miles

SOLAS -  Red parachute signal rocket
40 Seconds
41 Miles

25 MM Parachute Flare (Pistol Launcher)
29 Seconds
39 Miles

12 Gauge High Performance Meteors
7 Seconds
32 Miles

SkyBlazer II
7 Seconds
31 Miles

25MM Red Meteors   (Pistol Launcher)
7 Seconds
27 Miles

Pocket Rocket Aerial Signal
6.5  Seconds
21 Miles

12 Gauge Meteors   (Pistol Launcher)
7 Seconds
21 Miles

SMOKE SIGNALS  (Daytime Use)
Burn Time

Orange Floating Smoke Signal, Solas
3 minutes

Orange Smoke Hand Held Signal
1 minute

Wednesday, March 19

5 Ways a Sailboat Owner Can Prepare for Spring Sailing

This week I'm stepping aside for a guest, Keith Church of Quantum Sails in Chicago. We've known Keith for many years and he's shared some great info for us all. Stay warm friends. Spring is almost here! - Michael 

5 Ways a Sailboat Owner Can Prepare for Spring Sailing
By Keith Church

If you are planning to put your boat in the water early so you can get a head start on fine tuning your rig, start now. Taking advantage of the next 6 to 8 weeks to prepare will make for a much smoother sailing experience. Here are 5 preparations you can do right now to get ready for Spring sailing.

1. Look Down Under
Everyone knows that a clean, smooth bottom is faster than one that looks like the surface of the Moon. It may sound crazy to start working on the bottom now, but there are advantages to doing the harder, more physical work now when the weather is cool.

Start at the bow and inspect the bottom as you move aft. Look for cracks and material build up. If your thru hulls are the kind that protrude out (instead of being flush) consider changing to the latter to shave time off your end game. I usually take a batten with me and look for any hollows that may have formed over the winter.

Look closely at the hull to keel joint, clean and fill the appropriate areas. Be sure to remove bottom paint from areas being repaired; if you don’t the repair won’t stick. Check both the keel and rudder for cracks and water infiltration and repair as necessary. Look closely at the seacocks and apply grease if needed. One year a customer didn’t check the thru hull for the speedo before launch, it cracked immediately after launching because water had penetrated it over the winter and froze. It was an expensive repair and delayed their spring sailing.

2. Clear Away the Clutter
Take everything that is not fastened down off the boat and clean the area. Every Spring I'm invited on boats that are weighed down by things that have been sitting in the boat for years. Let the keel be the source of weight in your sailboat. This will help keep a sanitary and odor free environment and the boat will sail better. When you are sailing, whether racing or performance cruising only bring items that are going to be used with you. Remember to take it home after you leave the boat. 

3. Prepare Running and Standing Rigging
You should always clean and grease your winch bearings and oil the springs at least every spring. Dirt and salt are the killer of these finely tooled devices. I also suggest doing this before every major regatta, port to port race, or long cruise to ensure optimum performance and especially to avoid breakdowns.

Read up on proper furler maintenance. Different brands have different procedures. Clean the turnbuckles, coat threads with LanoCote Corrosion Protection, add new cotter pins, and use Rig-Rap or 3M Standard rigging tape to protect from snags. Check and service hydraulics. Clean track bearings and condition with McLube OneDrop conditioner.

4. “Sail by Numbers"
Set up what we at Quantum Midwest refer to as “Sail by Numbers." Make sure that all your halyards, sheets, cars, and sail tracks have their clear reference points marked. Check stays and re-mark the reference points so moving through tacks and changing gears in different conditions are easily executed.

5. Check your sail inventory
If you didn't get a chance to inspect your sails in the Fall before storage, lay out your sails and inspect them for damage now. Call me and I will help you. You don't want to find any surprises on your first Spring sail like rodent damage or living bats (true stories). Check storm sails to make sure they attach to your boat properly and know how to rig them properly. New rules require orange storm sails that have to be ready to attach to the rig at any time. Race committees for long distance races are keeping a closer eye on your safety. 

The sailing season in the Midwest is short. The more you prepare in the Spring, the more time you will have sailing this season. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Have a great Spring!
Quantum Sail Design Group

Loft:  312.225.0801
Fax:  312.225.0804
Skype: qkeith

Thursday, March 13

Weather? Weather. Weather!

Most of us have been there, we head down to the lakefront. The sun is shining. It’s our one day off to go sailing. We’ve packed the cooler full of goodies. Our excitement is at an all time high. The car is parked and we are half way to the slip. Then we ask ourselves, “What’s up with the clouds?”

Cloud cover increases. A lake breeze develops. The temperature drops suddenly. A warm southerly becomes an easterly. Now you put on your jacket and tell yourself, “Weather gods be damned! I’m going sailing!” Does this sound familiar? I have to admit as much of a weather junkie as I am, I still find myself at least once per year not checking in depth weather forecasts. I’ve become my own worst enemy.

This article will provide you with some cool websites and apps available for both Android and IOS (iPhone/pad) systems. As long as you’re in cell tower range, we all have great info at the tips of our fingers. There’s never really been a reason to leave the house without checking the weather before going boating; now it’s even easier and with more information available.  - Thanks to our friends at Sailing Anarchy I’ve discovered this new site (still in Beta testing). NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has come out with a new site that is seemingly user friendly and will be especially interesting to weather nerds. NOAA says the site is, “a GIS-based web mapping portal displaying near real-time observations, analyses, tide predictions, model guidance, watches/warnings, and forecasts for the coastal United States.” I’ll start poking around the site soon and add some notes in a future article.  - Most of us have used Accuweather. Whether you’ve used the website or listen to any number of radio stations that use Accuweather as their source for weather info, we’ve all used Accuweather. The info is pretty standard and should provide you basic sailing weather information. Accuweather is also available as an app for mobile devices.  - This is the site I grew up with sailing and that most sailing friends used until some of the new sites and apps came out. Click on the link, choose your “zone” and get a nice 48 hour forecast. As a Chicago guy, I typically compare the LMZ741 and LMZ742 zones to see how different they are. Of course if you’re planning a trip up the coast or crossing over to MI City or even bringing your boat down to the yard, the wind and wave info provided will be more appropriate as you cross into each zone.  - This site couldn’t be simpler. Type in Chicago to find your weather station and you’re good to go. You can see all the different buoys and wind observation stations. You can see forecasts as well. Windfinder is very easy to use and is also available as an app for mobile devices.  - Sailflow is another easy site/app to work with. On the home page of the site just enter the city, zip code, region and you’re connected to real time wind info. The site and app give wind observations and forecasts that are very user friendly. Many friends, crew, coworkers, etc all use Sailflow. Even on my iPhone it’s easy to use and read. Highly recommended.  - I have yet to use PredictWind. From harbor chatter to online reviews it seems like a great tool for well, predicting wind. There’s a free version, but it doesn’t seem very useful. You’ll have to pay $19 a year for the basic version and if you’re really, really into it, you can pay $499 a year for the Professional Version. The Pro version offers current, tidal and email options plus way more. If anyone has any insight on PredictWind, shoot me an email.  - Intellicast is another app that I’ve heard around the docks, clubs, and the yard. I’ve not used it but looking through the site, I could be persuaded. According to the site, “The Intellicast Boating App is the first of its kind to fully integrate current NOAA navigational charts along with the most advanced meteorological data available in a rich interactive, customizable map environment.” Intellicast is part of The Weather Channel Companies, FYI.  - BlueFin’s Marine Weather app is highly popular in searched forums on the web. It’s another app I’ve not used but it seems that the online reviews from users are nothing but positive. It’s a free app that uses NOAA info as well as Rutgers Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (RU COOL). According to the website, “Marine Weather is a free, ad-supported weather app providing users access to marine weather forecasts, live buoy data, tide predictions, sea surface temperatures, and radar.” I’ll be installing this app on my phone today.

Now what to do with this info? To start with I highly recommend using the free apps and see what you like. I also recommend using multiple sources for weather and then comparing them to real time results. NOAA doesn’t always get it right. Neither will Accuweather. Heck, we’ve all watched the weather guy on TV or listened to a weather report on the radio, be just about as wrong as it gets.

Over a period of a few weeks you’ll get a real feel for the who, what, when, where to trust data supplied by these sources. Personally I compare the NOAA forecast with SailFlow and typically wind up with some useful info. If you have any advice, news, or otherwise on the subject please send your emails to

Quick note: At our spring open house Yachtapalooza we will have a seminar, “There’s an App for that: A Review of Sailing Apps” by John Hoskins and Phil Pollard. Click here for the skinny. 

Tuesday, March 4

Cordage 101

Cordage 101
By Michael Argyelan

Strings, lines, ropes, running rigging, cordage, whatever you want to call it, understanding the basics of cordage is an important aspect of being a good sailor. If you don’t know the breaking strength of your halyards, you might be putting yourself and your crew at risk. Do you know what stretch and creep are? How about core dependant versus cover-core dependent? No? Well you will after reading this article. First, let’s explore the fibers and materials used in the covers and cores of lines.

Polyester: A general grade line for applications not too concerned with stretch. Most covers of lines are constructed of polyester. There are different grades available to the line manufacturer, which affect color retention, sheen, wear and UV degradation. Polyester stretches less than nylon, and is durable and economical.

Spectra: Very strong and durable. It has super low stretch, and is light enough to float. Spectra has the best fatigue life of most any fiber. One issue with Spectra is “creep”; under high static loads (think main halyard), Spectra will elongate very slowly. After a period of time, you might notice that your main halyard now seems an inch looser. Using one size larger will greatly reduce creep, but it may still be noticeable. Spectra is the ultimate material for high fatigue and lightweight spinnaker halyards, guys and sheets. Spectra does not absorb moisture, which keeps it lighter on the boat.

Dyneema: Dyneema is like a fraternal twin to Spectra. Dyneema has a slightly different molecular structure than Spectra and higher breaking strength in the larger diameters. It displays slightly better wear characteristics in heavy use areas, but has more elasticity than Spectra. Like Spectra, Dyneema has a relatively low melting point making it susceptible to friction damage.

Vectran: A liquid crystal polymer fiber, it is another fiber that is very popular for low stretch applications. This fiber has very low stretch and high breaking strength, low creep, good in tight bends, and has good chafe resistance. Vectran is very popular for control lines and halyards requiring extremely low stretch. It has an excellent track record and is used on many boats. Vectran is an alternative to Dyneema as it has less stretch and creep, although it does not have quite the fatigue life or UV resistance of Dyneema. It is also slightly heavier and does not float.

Technora: Technora is an Aramid fiber, similar to Kevlar. It has very high strength and low creep, but is more susceptible to fatigue, especially around small diameter sheaves and tight bends. It is also very susceptible to UV degradation and so must be protected with a cover or a coating on the core. It is more suitable for halyards and other lines that remain static when loaded. Cruiser/day sailors with furling jibs that stay up all year would benefit greatly using a line with a Technora core.

Creep vs. Stretch: Creep is non-recoverable elongation, whereas stretch is elasticity or recoverable elongation. A “stretchy” line (ie. Polyester) will return to approximately its original length when unloaded. Lines that are prone to creep or elongate (especially Spectra or Dyneema) will gradually stretch under load but will remain at the stretched length after the load is removed. They will eventually stretch and then creep to failure. All line materials are susceptible to stretch and creep. Now let’s explore the difference between a core dependant line and a cover-core dependant line.

This image shows a polyester cover and a Spectra core.

The typical day sailing boat with run-of-the-mill cordage is likely to have cover-core dependant lines on their boat such as New England Ropes Sta Set (polyester cover and core). If you’ve ever looked at your lines closely, you’ll notice that there’s a cover (white or colored with some sort of flecked color or a solid color without a fleck) and inside is either a white or colored core. The strength of a cover-core line is completely dependant on both the cover and the core being in optimal condition.

Let’s say you have a main halyard that is starting to chafe in the area near the shackle where the line goes around the sheave when at full hoist. Any chafe on the cover of your halyard essentially means that you now own a compromised line holding up your main sail. The strength of the halyard is dependant on the cover and the core working together.

Lines can also be compromised by UV degradation. Have an old halyard that is left on the boat year round with the mast up? It’s likely that your cover-core dependant line has UV degradation and its strength has been compromised. Nothing like a halyard snapping during an enjoyable day sail to ruin that freshly poured rum drink!

Core dependant line is just that, the strength characteristics are dependant on the core of the line. Many, if not most, common core dependant lines have polyester covers to help protect against UV degradation, provide better chafe resistance, and make the line easier to handle. However, the difference between a cover-core dependant line and a core dependant line is, if the cover starts to chafe or break down due to high UV degradation, your core is likely still operating at a high level and uncompromised like a cover-core dependant line.  

Typical core materials are likely to be the ones we covered earlier in this article: Spectra/Dyneema, Technora/Aramid, and Vectran. Many race boats will help save weight on the boat by stripping back the cover of the line except where the line meets the clutch or winch and leave just the core of the line exposed. Doing this of course limits the life of the line as the core is now exposed to UV and chafe but has not changed the strength of the line.

This image is of a Spectra core.

Some lines are sold without a cover at all. Of these, some have a special coating to help with UV issues, and others do not. In fact, many boats have started to use Spectra/Dyneema lines in lieu of wire for lifelines as the cordage is lighter and in most cases, stronger than the wire they replaced.

This image is of Yale PhD cordage. This is the example of where a “cover” is simply spun over the Spectra “core”.

Not all lines have a “core” per se. Some lines like Maffioli Swiftcord and Yale PhD have the “cover” spun around the “core” and therefore, look like a core only line. Most often the spun cover is there to protect the core of the line from chafe, UV, and to provide a good “hand” or grip when using the line. The polyester (likely) spun cover also provides a good grip on winches, cam cleats, and the like. Some spun materials will even have an added “special sauce” to it so grip is enhanced. Yale PhD uses what they call iGrip to improve the feel and grip. A huge bonus of lines like these is that they are very light, feel great in the hand, and have almost unbeatable strength to weight ratios.

Of course there are also other lines made from other materials. Some lines are made of mixed materials like poly/aramid covers, etc. In the world of running rigging materials, it’s sort of like Burger King, have it your way.

Choosing line diameter: To determine what line size (diameter) is appropriate, you will need to know what size line your winches (self tailing), clutches, blocks, and sheaves can handle. You may want a big, fat, grippy 1/2" line for your jib sheets, but if your self tailing winch can only handle up to 7/16” line, then the max line you can use is 7/16”.

The same criterion applies to halyards. If you want a larger diameter line because it’s easier for your crew to hoist and easier on the hands, you will need to know if the halyard sheave at the top of the mast can handle the line size you want. You will also need to know the max diameter that your clutch and cabin top self tailing winch can handle. If you have a mast base block and deck organizer (likely) then you will have a max diameter that you can use in those too.

Someone with little to no knowledge of cordage would think choosing line is pretty easy. Pick a color, pick the size that feels good, and go. This is obviously not the case. Or at least it’s hopefully clear to you after reading this article! Always pick your running rigging based on the application, the performance and characteristics of the line, the size of your sheaves, winches, clutches, and then and only then, your budget and favorite color.

A quick note on splicing: We highly recommend that you splice halyards to your shackle. A proper splice will retain almost 100% of a line’s given breaking strength. When you tie a bowline knot, you will lose almost 20% of the load carrying characteristics. As you may have noted above, some high tech lines don’t perform well in tight bends. This is even more reason to have your halyards spliced to a shackle.

If you have any questions on cordage, want a running rigging inspection of your vessel, or advice on the right lines for your particular boat, please do not hesitate to contact me at or 773.364.1344. I hope this finds you well and warm.