Tuesday, June 26, 2012

First roll through the Rollei

It took me almost a week to finish my first 12-shot roll of 120 film on the recently acquired Rolleicord IV. Of course, it might have gone faster had I remembered to wind the film and not just the shutter for the first five or 10 exposures. Almost all of the shots I took with model Amanda Jacobs on Friday ended up in this one frame.

  Rolleicord accident

Lesson learned. I found the shutter lock that requires the film to be wound before it can be released, and at least I know that double exposures will be easy to accomplish with this little machine.

Luckily I realized my mistake before the shoot was completely over, so at least I got a couple of single exposures before she left.

Rolleicord Portrait

Yes, the Rollei lens is quite sharp, and the shutter is working great at all speeds. It was a much better result than what I got with the Kodak Duaflex.

I took it along to Redfish Island but unfortunately I was so busy with the boat work that I forgot to take any shots with it. However, the novelty of the TLR made picture taking exciting enough that Mary volunteered to take my photo on the way home.

Sailing home

The waste-level finder with a nicer viewing screen arrived last night, so stay tuned for instructions on how to replace and clean the finder. I'm ordering new vulcanite from cameraleather.com this afternoon, so detailed instructions on that operation should be coming soon as well.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Anchored out

I can count the times I've used my anchor on one hand. Until now it has only been utilized for afternoons at Redfish Island or evenings out watching the fireworks and often during those events I've actually been tied up to a buddy boat sitting on their anchor instead of mine. Most of my sailing has been done from the marina and back to the marina.

This weekend I finally reached a longtime goal by spending the night anchored out.

Obviously, the dream of island hopping throughout the Caribbean is shattered if you can't spend the night at anchor. But it's not that I haven't wanted to spend the night out. The boat just hasn't been ready.

With the alternator no longer shearing bolts, the fuel system no longer sucking air, the heat exchanger no longer blowing white smoke, the holding tank no longer leaking, and the anchor light shining bright, I had every confidence in the Seahorse this weekend. I knew that if we had some sort of emergency in the middle of the night, she'd start up and get us home.

We left the marina around 4 p.m. and motored out through Clear Lake only to find the wind was blowing South-Southeast -- directly from Redfish Island.

We hoisted the sails and began tacking across the bay. Redfish is not that far away, but at 4 knots and being unable to approach it directly, it was a four-hour sail. Thankfully, the days are very long, so even though we got there after 8 p.m., we still had plenty of daylight to set the anchor and then relax as we watched the sunset.


(My apologies for the terrible, grainy iphone photo, but I managed to get the Leica to Redfish without a memory card in it. D'oh!)

I was proud of the anchoring job. We were well inside the protected crescent of the island, had plenty of room to swing, and the anchor wasn't dragging. My anchor light was shining bright, my new 12v plugs were charging our iPhones, and my portable lantern was working great in the cockpit.

We toasted with a rum and coke, then turned in for the night.
It was hot. And humid. It was very hot and humid. The cool breeze that should have been blowing through the hatch and out of the companionway had disappeared. It had gotten so still that we weren't even pulling on the anchor line, we were just floating.

Since it was too hot to sleep, I decided to grab another bottle of water and stare at ships passing in the darkness. I saw the jellyfish glow.

I'd heard about the glowing jellyfish, but I assumed it would be a faint all-the-time glow -- as if they were glow in the dark toys. Wrong. They flash a bright green like lighting bugs. It was very interesting.

The breeze began to pick back up, so I returned to bed and did my best to sleep -- until the banging.

I went back on deck to find the wind was now blowing very hard. The boat was straining against the anchor line, and the water felt like it was rushing underneath us and then crashing against the rocky shore of Redfish Island.  This made me very nervous, but the anchor seemed to be set and holding. We had not drifted at all.

The banging was coming from the flag halyard. It was too loose and was flapping in the wind, rattling the blocks at each end and banging against the mast. I grabbed an unused halyard, wrapped it around the flag line and cinched it all into place. Then back to bed.

It was 2:50 a.m. when I the next banging started. Except this was a bigger bang. This bang shook the entire boat.

The tide had gone out, and while we were still floating, the keel had started bouncing off the bottom. If the tide had gone out fast enough that we were just settled on the bottom, that would have been fine, but the bouncing was intolerable. There was nothing to do but pull anchor and move to deeper water.

I saw more jellyfish flash as I was hauling up the anchor line. Apparently they were leaving bits of tentacle on the line, which left a welt on my leg after the line brushed against it. I might be the only person who can never get in the water and still get stung by a jellyfish.

Setting the anchor at 3 a.m. was not as coordinated as it was when we did it several hours earlier in the daylight. I was rather wary as to whether or not we were dragging. 

I had downloaded the iPhone app Drag Queen to use as an anchor alarm, so I could tell if we were dragging, but due to complications with our anchoring effort, I did not get the position set correctly. I kept watch for a few minutes but then went below.

By this point in the night, the temperature had cooled to a nice 75 degrees, and it was rather comfortable in the boat. Unfortunately my paranoia wouldn't let me sleep. I was up every few minutes to make sure we weren't drifting onto the rock or out into the ship channel.

When I checked again around 5 a.m., the wind had shifted completely and was now coming out of the north. The anchor seemed to be holding, and I finally fell asleep.

I woke up at 9 a.m. I totally missed the beautiful sunrise and early morning coffee that I'd been looking forward to. After I'd checked that we still hadn't wrecked into the rocks, I slept for another hour.

When we finally pulled up anchor to sail home Sunday morning, I found it in a very different place than I had dropped it. The shifting wind had caused us to drag anchor but thankfully swung us away from shore instead of into shore.

It was an easy sail straight home and only took us about an hour and a half to reach the boardwalk.

I can cross one thing off the bucket list, but I'm going to have to get much more proficient at anchoring because  anchoring with no sleep is no fun.

On the upside, the holding tank is holding. We successfully pumped out Sunday morning with no surprises.

Now if only it wasn't 104 degrees in Houston.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Twin lens reflex

Perhaps you've seen a few of these old cameras around.

Kodak Duaflex IV

The Twin Lens Reflex or TLR was a camera design pioneered around 1870. The idea was that you could have the shutter-less top lens remain open and project the image onto a viewing screen, which allowed you to frame and focus, while the shutter on the bottom lens would only open to expose the film.

The two lenses were fixed together on the front plate of the camera, so that if you turned the focus knob,  the entire front plate of the camera would move, maintaining the same focus on the screen as would be applied to the film.

To be blunt, the Kodak Duaflex was crap. It had a bakelite body, and a cheap f8 lens with fixed focus. The one pictured above belonged to my great grandfather, and while it looks beautiful, the shutter sticks. It's not worth repairing since they usually sell for around $6 on eBay. The camera repair shop has a pile of them that are being turned into clocks, nightlights and other nostalgic pieces. Kodak's business plan was to churn out cheap cameras and make their money on film. The Duaflex is about one step up from a cardboard disposable camera.

The Rolleiflex is perhaps the most famous of the TLRs. Rollei also made the Rolleicord, a more affordable version of the camera, which is currently affordable in the second-hand market (although popularity seems to be growing).

I came across this Rolleicord IV dating from the mid-1950s at Professional Camera Repair when I dropped some of my Leica lenses off yesterday to see if they could be cleaned. Cosmetically, this guy has seen better days, but the lenses were very clear for the age of the camera, and the wonderful part about buying from a camera repair shop rather than eBay or craigslist is that the cameras definitely work.

The new member of the family

One advantage of the TLR is its simplicity. Unlike an SLR, you don't need to rely on the mirror flipping up and down. Like a rangefinder you continue to see your subject framed in the viewfinder during the shot, but unlike a rangefinder, no complicated, expensive mechanism is necessary for focus.

At some point my little Rolleicord was transplanted with a Yashica lid and magnifier. It fits and functions fine, so I don't know if it's worth trying to find an original to swap it back. However, I do plan to put in a brighter modern glass focusing screen and to replace the leatherette. I'll document both projects for the blog.

One note, if you're looking for a TLR, always go with one that uses 120 film. 620 film is no longer made, and while you can use 120 film in a 620 camera, it involves re-rolling the film in total darkness onto 620 spools every single time you load the camera. Not fun.

Many of the Rolleis, Yashicas and Ikoflexes actually had factory adapter kits that allowed them to also utilize 35mm film as it became more and more popular. The Rolleikin kit works on most Rolleiflex and Rolleicord cameras.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Relishing relics

Leica lenses are not cheap, nor are they particularly easy to come by with waiting lists for new models and eBay battles for the classics. You can imagine my surprise when a friend at work mentioned he had a couple Leica lenses sitting at home that he'd never used and asked me if I'd like to shoot with them.

Of course it didn't turn out to be a 50mm Nokton or a 35mm Summilux, but it's always fun to try something new, and I was delighted when a few days later he dropped a 135mm f4.5 and a 35mm f3.5 by my office. Unfortunately, both lenses have fallen prey to the dreaded haze and fungus, but we'll see if they can be rehabilitated by Professional Camera Repair.

I can't yet comment on the picture quality of the 35mm f3.5, but the size is amazing! It's so small it practically makes the M a pocket camera.


While I didn't get to shoot with the new lenses yet, I was in the mood to take a walk with the Leica, so I threw on my 135mm Elmarit and hiked around the block. The crape myrtles are in full bloom.

Summer is here

And when the crape myrtles bloom, you know it's summer in Houston -- as if the 100-degree heat wasn't a dead giveaway.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fireworks and fixes

Friday night started off with a bang -- literally.

Our marina friends joined us on the Seahorse for the Friday Night Fireworks in Kemah. We motored out and anchored just in time. I'm happy to report that both the steaming light and the anchor light worked the entire time.

Off to the east, there was a lightning show almost as impressive as the fireworks, but thankfully it was moving north instead of toward us. However, Saturday morning the rain started coming down and didn't stop until late in the afternoon. That killed our plans to sail out to Redfish Island and back.

Since we were stuck inside anyway, I made a run to West Marine for some electrical connections and new hose clamps, and made it a work day. Job #1, find out where the holding tank was really leaking.

My first move in regard to the holding tank repair was to just change out the hose clamp. After a week of stressing about it, that seemed like the most logical place to start. Unfortunately, I had to spend almost an hour blindly cutting foam off of the hose and out from between the tank and the hose. Then I spent a very long time attempting to get a socket or a screwdriver or pliers or ANYTHING on the screw of the old hose clamp. It just wasn't going to happen. No matter which way I contorted myself or how many different tools I tried, I just couldn't get to that screw.

On to plan B: add another hose clamp.

I had to spend even more time scraping foam off the hose to get a smooth enough surface for the new clamp. Then I had to completely open the clamp, force it around the hose, and get it connected again all with one hand. It took a few minutes to accomplish this. However, with about 18 inches of socket extensions, I was able to lie on my chest on top of the v-berth, reach in through the lower access hatch with my right hand to hold the clamp, then work a ratchet with my left hand through the top access panel. Not the most comfortable position, but eventually I got the new clamp in place and tight -- and then TOO tight.

With the socket driver, and all the extensions, I couldn't tell how tight the clamp really was. I accidentally stripped out the first one. Luckily, I'd bought two, although I was really upset at myself for ruining a $5.99 stainless clamp.

I took a short break and then started the lengthy process again.This time, when the clamp finally started getting tight, I removed the socket driver and just twisted it tight by hand.

Problem solved

Then came the test. I put a bunch of blue tank treatment in the toilet, so that should the leak remain, it would be very visible.

Ten minutes later still no new water. An hour later, still holding. Problem solved!

From now on, I will keep a very close eye on the holding tank level, and next haul out, that entire system is getting updated. Having the pump-out connection at the bottom of the tank is not smart.

Once the poo problem was conquered, I was feeling much better about life, so I finished running the wiring to the v-berth bilge pump. With that pump working, I just have the back-up manual pump to install.

Then I wired in a block of 12v DC outlets for phone-charging and appliances while sailing.

New 12v outlets

I'd had the 3-outlet plug sitting in the boat in a box for over a year, but until the windows were repaired, the shelf where I wanted it to sit had a tendency of getting very wet. However, it's now wired and fused with its own switch on the control panel. In fact, now that I have several 12v plugs, I think I may remove the old horn as my VHF is very loud without it, and mount a small 12v  television in its place on that bulkhead.

Maybe a TV is too fancy. I should probably order my spinnaker halyard and sheets first.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's never as bad as it seems

Perhaps the lengthy eulogy for the Canon HF100 was a bit premature. I finally broke down and unscrewed a couple panels, and within about 15 minutes of staring realized the micro-switch that turns on the screen was stuck. I poked it with a screwdriver. It un-stuck itself. Everything is working again.

I'm now back to planning ridiculously mundane videos like "how to cook on a non-pressurized alcohol stove."

As for the poop flood in my boat? I'm almost positive a new hose clamp is going to solve the crisis.

I'm going to anchor out and watch the fireworks tonight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The poo problem

Sliding open the companionway of an old boat is always an event unto itself. It's not like swinging open the front door of a house. It's a movement that takes conscious effort, and an action that is almost always followed by some sort of surprise.

Usually when I push open the companionway, I'm just greeted by a sudden puff of musty, moldy air. However, sometimes it has been the overwhelming smell of bananas, which were left on board for a week. Once it was water seeping up from the cabin sole when the bilge pump had died. Any of those surprises would have been preferable to the odors that rose up through the hatch and figuratively punched me in the olfactory system.

Urine. The boat absolutely reeked of urine.

I had just installed a new Y-valve that made the holding tank functional for the first time in years, so we had been occasionally taking advantage of the on-board toilet for the past two weekends, flushing into what we THOUGHT was an empty holding tank.

The tank had emptied itself into the V-berth bilge, and this dark, thick liquid was sloshing around under the bed.

I did not take photo. It was too disgusting.

I poured bleach into the bilge and watched it angrily foam. Then I pumped out the bilge into multiple buckets and carried away the filth. That was followed by a rinse of clean bleach water.

And then the dark water rose again.

The tank wasn't empty. It was still completely full. We had apparently been flushing into a mostly full tank that must have sat full for years and years. I was amazed it had never leaked before.

I attempted to use a pump-out cart to pump out the tank, but got minimal results as it was just accelerating the leakage in the bilge.

At that point I had to open the access port on top of the tank and begin pumping it out with a small hand pump. It took 8 buckets before we got it down to the thick sludge in the bottom that then promptly clogged the hand pump.

With the source of the chocolate fountain eliminated, I pumped out and cleaned the bilge again.

This seems to be the culprit.


The pump-out hose attaches at the base of the tank. My hope is that it is just leaking at the hose connection, but it might be where the elbow connects to the tank. I'd like to pull the tank and relocate the pump-out hose to the top, but to do this I have to cut open a huge section of the V-berth.


I can't actually see this hose connection. I'm working blind through a 10" x 10" access panel, and I had to just stick a camera down in the crack and blindly snap photos to see with what I was dealing.

Having the hose foamed in with the tank makes just removing and replacing the hose even more of a task.

I might be able to snake a ratchet into the space to tighten the hose clamp, but I really don't want to face the consequences if that test fails as there is still some very nasty stuff in the bottom of the tank.

I did very well at not gagging or vomiting, but the idea of cleaning that sludge out of the tank through the access port has had my stomach in knots for two days.

I think I may let this project settle for a week or two before I dive back in.

This is definitely the worst part of boat ownership.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anchor light conquered

It's already too hot in Houston. I started climbing the mast at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and for every inch of progress I made, I was sweatily sliding back down two inches. It was evident I was not going to make it up without help.


I tied a loop in a second halyard for my foot. I then slowly made my way up the mast by standing in the loop, having my belayer take up the slack in my harness line, then sitting in my harness while she raised the line for my foot. I'd then stand back up in the raised halyard, and the whole system would repeat. This is pretty much the way you'd climb a single rope with prusik knots or ascenders, but by using two halyards there was no additional equipment necessary.


By the time I made it to the top, the sweat was burning so thick in my eyes, I could barely see, but I set to work dremeling the last screw off the anchor light fixture. Then it was quite the task to get the old bulb out of the fixture. It had corroded into place as well.

I had bought LED bulbs for the mast lights hoping they would last longer, but when I tested the anchor light I found one of the LEDs was already dead, so I pulled it back out and went with another regular bulb.


I also remembered to put some cheap line in the empty halyard and topping lift blocks, so that when I can afford the new halyards, I'll just have to tie them on and pull them up instead of making another climb.

So I did it. Every switch on the fuse panel now works!


Let's hope it's the last time up the mast for at least another year.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Death of a camera

It always gets me when a piece of equipment dies.

Sometimes it's irritation because it turned out to be cheap crap that never worked right. However, in this case, it's like saying goodbye to an old friend. My Canon HF100 got splashed with seawater while we were out sailing a couple weekends ago. It seemed fine at the time, and it kept on recording, but now the screen is dead.

I can't complain about the Canon's quality. It has crossed the Atlantic more than once and definitely outlived its expected useful life. Although it's four years old, the recordings still hold up against the new DSLR video cameras. And unlike the DSLRs that top out at 20 minutes due to sensor heat, the HF100 can shoot over four hours of continuous footage. However, the primitive 17 mbs AVCHD codec is a bit clunky and newer cameras are shooting at 24 or even 32 mbs.

I'm upset to lose a piece of equipment in such a stupid manner, and I'm upset that I'll eventually have to spend the money to buy another camcorder. But the real feeling of loss is in all the movies and video blogs and DIY videos that I had planned to make when I scraped together the money to buy the Canon four years ago.

Sure, I made a few. The four DIY videos I actually got around to making have totaled more than 100,000 views on YouTube. There were just so many more I had planned to make. So many ideas for short films that had originally hinged on the purchase of this camera that never came to fruition.

I feel like I owe an apology to the Canon for letting it sit so many months at a time and never following through on the plans we made together.

RIP buddy. You were a soldier.

In memory, here's a video from way back when the Canon was young. (The horrible timing and off-key singing were my fault, not the Canon's.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

One switch left

I snapped this photo of the fuse panel the day I bought the Starwind 27. Three years later it has been sanded, stained and varnished. The hinges were fixed, so it doesn't hang open with wiring spilling out any longer.

When I started, not a single circuit worked. Now, each switch matches the boast of the label printed beside it with the corresponding action -- except one. The switch to the anchor light. It would work. The electricity is there. I just can't seem to get back up the mast to put a new bulb in the socket.

It's really eating at me. I've never been so close to having EVERYTHING working.

I'm resolved to changing that bulb this weekend no matter what.

Even if there's lightning storm and hurricane force winds, I'm going to get that bulb changed!

Ok, maybe not if the weather is bad, but SOON. I swear it!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Replacing fixed ports on a Starwind 27 sailboat

I'd been thinking about it for three years. I'd had the supplies yet hesitated for two months. This weekend I finally set aside the time and replaced the fixed ports on the Seahorse.

The original windows were so crazed it was like looking through a frosted shower door.

Crazed plexiglass

Two of them had cracked in half from top to bottom and were just being held together with silicone in a desperate attempt to keep the water out.

Cracked and crazed starboard window

Then I had to deal with the issue that many of the screws had rusted off in the screw holes.


When I called Beckson to inquire about replacement ports, here is the quote I received.

PF555-BSWINDOW 90/90,blk/smk,PRPR305.00

PF525-BSWINDOW 90/45,blk/smk,PRPR305.00

Yes, $610 + tax + shipping for four windows seemed a bit much.

That's when I turned to this DIY article for help: http://www.thecoastalpassage.com/windows.html

If you can stand Bob's braggadocio regarding his skills with a scalpel, it's a great article. I decided I was going to use this method to replace my ports and purchased the following supplies:

1 36" x 48" x 1/4" sheet of smoked plexiglass: $109
1 tube Dow Corning 791: $12
4 5' rolls 3M heavy Duty Mounting Tape: $24
1 really nice scraper: $8 (because scraping with a screwdriver sucks)
1 roll Frog Tape Masking Tape: $4
1 super cheap caulking gun: $3

Project total: $160

I used my dremel to cut the plexiglass. It would have probably been faster and easier with the jig saw, but I was nervous the jig saw would shatter the acrylic.

I started on Saturday around 9 a.m. and nervously removed the first window. That was the easy part. Scraping all the silicone off the cabin was the hard part. I had estimated the project would take about an hour per window. It actually took closer to four hours per window.


Around 2 p.m. Saturday I had the two starboard ports cut and mounted. I had been nervous the 3M tape wouldn't hold the acrylic down because the cabin curves, and the acrylic would have to flex, but it worked like a charm.

Fixed ports mounted

I took a break to cool off and to find a better scraper. Then I started cutting the port-side ports. The first one shattered, and I was thankful I'd bought more acrylic than I needed. The next two cut out with no problem, so I removed the old windows, started scraping and had all of them mounted by dinner time.

As soon as the dew evaporated Sunday morning, I started masking the windows for sealant. I forgot to take a photo of any of the windows with masking tape on them. I had thought the masking was tedious. Then I opened the Dow Corning 791.

I don't know if I had a really bad caulking gun or if the Dow 791 is just THAT thick, but I had a terrible time getting it out of the tube. I'd have to press the plunger into the deck and lean all my weight on the trigger to get it moving. It made for a very long caulking process.

Once I'd get a bead around the window, I'd work it into the crack and smooth it out with my finger, then I'd pull the tape to leave a nice clean seal.

New fixed ports

Beware, on The Coastal Passage DIY, the Dow Corning 791 is black. Mine was not black. It was a light grey color. I was not thrilled that it was light grey, but it still looks ok. Anything looks better than my old windows.

Someone more skilled than myself could probably rout a 1/4" lip into the hull and make the windows sit flush with the cabin. That would look very nice and modern. I don't own a router or care enough to attempt it.

With no screws in the acrylic, I've hopefully eliminated all the weak points that caused the previous windows to crack. The boat also looks 20 years younger.

The Seahorse with new windows

The only question left is how long will the 3M mounting tape and Dow Corning 791 hold up against hull flex? Hopefully a very long time.