Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stopping the Flop

Warning:  This post contains some technical nautical detail that many readers might choose to skip.  If so, just look at the pictures and go back to surfing through your Facebook page.

I’m sitting down below in the cabin on the computer for the first time in a week while Connie makes coleslaw.  It’s 82 degrees down here and I’m in a pair of nylon shorts and nothing else.  My old man’s rule about wearing a shirt at the dinner table has gone by the way side as have many other of those civilized manners I was taught from youth.  I’ve got a small wardrobe now consisting of two pairs of nylon shorts and two short sleeve cotton shirts.  When we take the dinghy to shore I get my shorts wet and my shirt, if I wear one. The only reason for a shirt now is to keep my back from getting too sunburned. Once back aboard I retrieve the second pair of shorts that I left there from the last wet dinghy trip.  So with constant salt water rinsing, my wardrobe stays in pretty good shape and the shorts can stand up on their own.

Our last shower was in the cockpit of the boat with two small buckets of fresh water.  Connie and I washed each others hair and backs and came away feeling all clean and shiny.. and frisky.   

Just look at all the crap hanging off our boat.  Got the awning up, the wind vane deployed, the two flopper stoppers rigged, extra lines in the water to help us when we are swimming and cleaning the bottom, the swim ladder down, and a bunch of inflatable kayaks on deck.
Flopper stoppers were the topic of conversation last night so I thought they deserved to be discussed here for everyone’s entertainment and enlightenment.   A flopper stopper is a device that you lower into the water, boomed out on one side of the boat with a long pole.   The stoppers I have consist of three bright orange wide-brimmed cones set one atop another about two feet apart.  A stout rope runs through the three devices and comes out the bottom where there are numerous heavy fishing weights attached.   To deploy this device you run the boom out to the side of the boat and attach this thing at the end, lowering it down into the depths.  We use the spinnaker pole deployed out the other side for the second set of flopper stoppers.  Both the boom and the spinnaker pole are held aloft with a halyard and secured fore and aft with guy lines so the poles cannot swing. 

Note the boom out to one side and the spinnaker pole out to the other.
Here on the Pacific coast of Mexico the swell usually comes in from the northwest.  This is because the dominant weather system in Arizona and New Mexico is a strong high that sends constant high winds roaring down the Sea of Cortez.  These winds whip up generous wave trains that gain momentum as they head south.  By the time they get down here the wind might have dissipated but the rolling swell is still there.  Our weather reports sometimes give swell height and timing.  For instance we might hear four foot seas at twelve seconds.  The higher the swell the more rocking of the boat, the shorter timing the more violent the roll becomes.

At anchor the boat sometimes comes sideways to these rolling waves.  Traveler has a rounded hull shape and she rolls easily like many single hull boats.  These rolling waves can toss the plates off the table, put your salad in your lap, or spill your precious glass of wine.  And at bedtime sleep cannot come if you spend your time digging your fingernails into the mattress trying not to get dumped onto the floor.  The flopper stopper is rumored to dampen the rolling effect.  I say “Rumored.”

I’ve seen flopper stoppers in the marine stores that are built like a square box where the lid opens one way but not the other, kinda like a valve. So you can drop it into the water it will sink easily but then when you try to pull it back up, the top of the box clamps shut and it is much more difficult to move it upwards.   The cones do a similar thing; easy to drop down but hard to pull upward.

Traveler heading south under full gennaker with a four foot swell .
After making our way south from Bandaras Bay we stopped in a little anchorage at Punta Ipala. The guide book says, “ This anchorage can be swept by waves” during periods of NW wind and swell.  When we anchored the wind was light from the northwest and the swell was coming in from the same direction. An anchored boat usually points into the wind.  Thus the bow of the boat rose and fell with the swell and while it was a little rolly inside the boat we were able to cook and eat and play cards just fine.  Then at bed time the wind fell and the current started to pull the boat southward.  Soon the boat pointed South and we were beam on to the rolling waves coming out of the west.  We rocked and rolled foolishly for hours until the land breeze came in and got the boat pointed to the east where we would be aft on to the rollers.  Sea breeze during the day, land breeze at night, is the rule down here.

After a good run south the next day we came to Bahia Chamela where Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer, the creators of the wonderful book, “Pacific Mexico A Cruiser’s Guidebook”, say “some northerly swell can bend around the point and enter the anchorage.”  As usual, when I enter an anchorage, I cruise around looking for boats I know and pretty much terrify everyone as I come much too close to their anchor lines.   We saw the sailing vessel Mystique in there and as I scraped by his bow sprit he yelled out to watch out for his stern anchor line as most people in the anchorage had both bow and stern anchors deployed to keep the boats pointed out to sea and directly into the swell.

Taking the good advice we decided to set both a bow and stern anchor to reduce the roll.  Connie dropped the heavy main anchor, a Bruce, off the bow and I backed down on 200 foot of chain before dropping the aluminum Danforth  off the stern.  I then pulled forward to set the stern anchor.  But by the time I got the chain and rope rode out we were right on top of the forward anchor.  We had not set them far enough apart. 

So Connie pulled up the Bruce and we pulled way, way forward and reset it properly.  When done Traveler was facing out to sea just like all the boats in the anchorage except one.  And that evening we enjoyed watching that one boat turn sideways to the swell and have its mast sweep great arches in the sky as, no doubt, the contents of their cabin started working their way down to the cabin sole.   The next morning we watched them relocate, setting out both a bow and stern anchor.

Mary introducing the flopper stopper
Having learned the lesson of bow and stern anchoring in swell prone anchorages, we proceeded down the coast a short hop to the beautiful little anchorage of Paraiso that our friend aboard, Mary, wanted to visit.  Shawn and Heather advised that “Waves and swell wrap around the islands…” so we knew we were in for a rolly night.  We set bow and stern anchors but the waves were refracting off the cliff sides and rolling us still   So we grubbed around below decks and found the old flopper stoppers that came with the boat and which we have never used.  With the Boom out to port and the spinnaker pole out to starboard, we deployed the flopper stoppers.  After hours of work with chain, anchors, rope, poles, weights and other stuff we had our little home rigged to battle the swell. 

Did the flopper stoppers help? We think they did.  They didn’t stop the rolling but they dampened it.  Did the stern anchor help?  We think it did because it kept the swell from setting directly on our beam.  And more importantly, it made poor traveler look much like an old fishing boat with all sorts of things sticking out.  We enjoyed the anchorage, staying two days and had the place to ourselves the second night.  Nice.

I woke this morning to a slight roll of the boat and the sound of coconuts rolling around on the coach roof.  Ezrah had harvested a half dozen in expectation of drinking the coconut water for an electrolyte boost.  Then Connie brought me in a cup of hot tea and I got to sit in bed, drinking my tea, listening to the coconuts rolling about and watching my nylon shorts standing up on their own on the cabin floor where I dropped them the night before.

The marina where we are presently staying in
Barra de Navidad,Jalisco
 pretty posh huh?

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