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Friday, March 30, 2012

A TOAST TO KING NEPTUNE

I got into a discussion the other day with someone about the likelihood of a boat getting struck by lightning. Lightning strikes on boats ... especially big yacht targets, are not uncommon. Statistically you are more likely to get struck by lightning at anchor. This may be the case because of several factors:

- boats tend to be out in the open while at anchor

- boats in a marina have lots of other company and most are plugged in and well grounded to the marina electrical system

- 70% of lightning strikes occur between noon to 7 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JHUNgNb0Uo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XeEAI2KFRc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP2jCcSR1qo

Negative charges repel negative charges and attract positive charges. Positive charges are trying to reach the negative charge up in the clouds. The positive charges accumulate at the top of the highest conductive object. The better the contact with water the more easily the positive charge can enter the object. When the electrical potential between the positive and negative are great enough to overcome the insulating values of the air, lightning occurs. The electrical potential can be 100 million volts. A lightning strike is the flow of electricity from negative to positive and usually to the highest positive conductor in the area. Side flashes are frequent as the charge tries to follow it’s path to ground – that means anything that is conductive along the way, including humans, risks being a conductor to the ground.

No boat is lightning proof. Sailboats masts on fiberglass boats are especially vulnerable even when the mast is bonded with heavy copper cable to the lead keel in the water. If the potential charge is great enough it can overwhelm the conductor resistance and look for multiple paths. An ungrounded not bonded mast is like waving a flag – hit me ... hit me.

Power boats are not immune either and tower equipment like VHF antennas are prime targets. Grounding needs to be at least 8 AWG copper to ground. To some degree you are in a cone of protection inside a boat provided you sit low in the center of the boat and don’t touch anything electrical or conductive – but that doesn't mean the lightning won’t blow the bottom out of the boat if it cannot find sufficient path to the ground (water), and the boat could sink. If you are underway in a storm it is especially dangerous to be touching two different metal objects with different potential (like throttle controls and VHF). Best to plot a course and go on auto pilot while touching nothing conductive. Better yet get into a safe harbour before the storm if possible.

If your really wanted to be lightning preventative you could use a long pair off jumper cables clipped on your anchor rode chain (you need chain right to the boat from water and clip the other end to the highest conductive point (like a VHF antenna or mast) but how many people are willing to come prepared for that ... and even so, no guarantees of side flashes following your very conductive “full of water” body. A living spark plug so to speak.

When all else fails, I recommend toasting the God of the sea - King Neptune ... and pray for salvation. Lightning is scary stuff.

Posted by at 7:40 AM
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SPINNING THE BOAT SHOWS

We attend most of the boat shows on the eastern seaboard including Toronto, Annapolis, Fort Lauderdale & Miami. To be sure it is apparent that boat and yacht sales are in a mild recovery in North America. Not in all sectors though. The larger yachts 50’ and over are selling modestly but at an encouraging level. Smaller boats 30’ and under are selling modestly at an encouraging level. It seems the boats 30’ to 50’ are somewhat lagging.

It’s always a joy for me to attend ANY boat show especially if it’s somewhere warm during the Canadian winter. I love them all, but especially I like going to South Beach Miami to the Miami Boat Show. I just like the vibe in Miami. But lately I see that even when a show looks lite and poorly attended the show operators spin it into best ever show, sales up by X %, attendance up by X % and life has never been better. We deal with enough brokers and enough show participants are clients to know that that is not entirely true. Some shows are still experiencing hit and miss attendance. Things are looking better and manufacturers are coming out with new designs - not just repackaged old designs. Builders are starting to innovate again. But few builders of the larger boats are building on spec at this point in time. The upper middle class in the above 30’ range has not recovered and may be a split audience that may take many more years to fully recover.

We all hope the economy rockets back at some point and boat sales robustly follow along. Their are some positive sign in the markets and recent studies prove that boat sales track the ups and downs of the markets. But lets be honest, it isn’t always good news and we are nowhere close to the salad days we had five to ten years ago. The recession past was serious business and technically even though we’re out of it, we’re still feeling some after shocks from time to time - just like post earthquake symptoms.

But really, I don’t think it’s helpful if a show is down from one year to the next and everyone associated in the industry spins it into something it’s not. I’d rather see the message that - yes things were down, but this is the time to buy as we can all feel that we are on the cusp of leading out from this nightmare that we’ve seen over the last four years. And this is the best opportunity right now to buy a new or used boat before things fully stabilize and prices head up along with inflation. In fact I would argue that the best opportunities were two years ago and at this point in time this is the last chance before prices go onward and upward. A sure sign that I take notice of in my own backyard is that marinas/boat dealerships are consolidating. The ones that got batted around for four years and can’t take it anymore are getting out ... and the ones that see the opportunity coming down the track are getting in big time and scooping up as much as they can take on.

Posted by at 7:39 AM
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Monday, March 05, 2012

SPRING IS IN THE AIR

If you are down south basking in the heat with your biggest problem being where did you put those sun glasses to cut the glare from the scorching sun reflecting off the bright white deck of your yacht ... then you do not need to read this. If you're like most of us, the boat was put away for the Canadian winter and by now you are probably chomping at the bit to get it ready for spring launch. It’s just around the corner and spring is already in the air.

In Ontario this has been a very mild winter with light snow (so far) and we are hopeful that the weather will turn into an early launch and some extra weeks tacked onto the all too short Canadian boating season. Flying over Lake Ontario the other week, I was amazed that the lake is devoid of shore ice and other than the odd bobbing cube, the water looks deceptively enticing ... enough to set sail in mid March. We have seen some historically abnormal years, where the ice has gone out on smaller lakes as early as the 3rd week of March! This looks like it could be one of those years as the long term forecast is shown to be well above seasonal averages running through to the end of March and the jet stream is further north than usual. So I’m excited and looking forward to hot lazy summer days at anchor in sheltered harbours surrounded by heat absorbing granite to warm my soul and help me to forget about just how quickly we will be back to another fringing frigid winter.

As you get older you start to scheme or dream about avoiding things you don’t want to do. Me ... I’ve had it with Canadian winters. I’d rather be back to summer by about January 2nd every year. So here’s the thing – almost all the industrialized countries of the world have a warm island or so somewhere down south to go to that is part of their country, allowing their citizens to go south transparently ... without the the risks of medical coverage, taxes and duty problems.

Yes it’s time my friends ... we need a warm island in the Caribbean that is part of Canada with direct flights, no passport security nonsense and covered by provincial health care. I will tirelessly work for any candidate or political party that will run on a platform that will acquire a warm island surrounded by turquoise blue waters. And I mean ANY party – even the NDP or Green party would have my vote. It trumps all other issues. Please get me a tropical island and I’ll be loyal to your political party for the rest of my days. There’s got to be dozens of islands that would love to be part of Canada. We can call it Canbuda or the Canada Virgin Island. Or how about St. Canada or Puerto Canada? Please, please, please, Mr. Harper - buy us an island. The wave of boomers coming through the system can be diverted six months of the year to make way for the younger generation to get to work with some decent jobs back in the frozen north. Heck you can even raise my taxes 20% to pay for it. Throw me a bone Mr. Harper - I’m getting desperate here.

Rise up and be heard seniors & boomers. Email or telephone your MP today and tell him/her we need a warm island. What’s that you say – the politicians can all retire at full pension for six years work and they don’t give a rats ass because they’ll be basking somewhere warm in any event at taxpayers expense. Well if a warm island is not an option, I say bring on global warming so I can drop anchor off some Georgian Bay island in December and soak up the rays. Just kidding of course, we all know that global warming is a bad thing don’t we?

Posted by at 6:41 PM
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