BoatUS Reports

News From The World Of American Boating

Edited by Chris Landers

President Obama Signs Waterways Bill

On June 11, President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law. The measure, which has been called "The Highway Bill For Boaters," is the funding mechanism for the nation's waterway infrastructure and makes funds available for the maintenance of vital boating spots nationwide.

"Although the bill focuses on major ports and thoroughfares critical to our nation's shipping economy, this reauthorization is particularly important to recreational boaters as well," said David Kennedy of BoatUS Government Affairs. "The bill signed into law addresses the maintenance and dredging for small harbors and shallow-draft channels, which has been chronically underfunded."

For years many channels and inlets, as well as locks and dams, have not qualified for funding because of the measurement tool used by the Army Corps of Engineers. Historically the Corps has prioritized funding needs by total tonnage going through the areas, rather than considering the other various uses of the nation's waterways. The 2013 WRRDA directs the Army Corps of Engineers to consider factors beyond total tonnage shipped when making dredging funding decisions. It also requires that not less than 10 percent of the value of operation and maintenance funds be given to "Emerging Harbors" or those that have less than 1 million tons of cargo shipped annually, and directs the Army Corps to report to Congress on the maintenance needs of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

U.S. House Transportation and Infra­structure Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Nick Rayhall sponsored the bill, and Senators Barbara Boxer and David Vitter were also instrumental in getting this measure to the President's desk.

New Life for Old Sails

Sailors, especially racers, know that sails have a limited period of optimal functionality and that over the years those once-expensive items end up in sail bags or stacked in garages collecting dust. An organization in South Florida wants those wind-blasted and moldering sails that once helped you win Wednesday night twilight races — and you can receive a tax credit while doing so.

Sails For Sustenance was created after founder Michael Carcaise witnessed subsistence fishermen in Haiti using bedsheets, plastic sheeting, and flour sacks for sails. A sailor himself, he knew he could do something about it. More than a decade later, his nonprofit has partnered with regattas and yacht clubs across the country to collect old sails, which are packed up and shipped to Haiti on relief flights.

Guy Williams and Jay Smith recently traveled to Haiti with a shipment of 58 sails, ranging from little Optimist sails to a monster once flying on a 70-foot mast, and saw firsthand how life-changing these old sails can be for subsistence Haitian fishermen. "We only saw a couple of outboard motors after we left Port-au-Prince," says Smith. "When these fishermen weren't using ragtag cloth for sails, they'd have to paddle their wooden boats miles out to the fishing areas to feed their families. A simple old mainsail from a J22 can be cut by these men and immediately change the lives of two families."

Tugboat Steams (Whirs?) Into Service

A 1928 tugboat got a 21st century upgrade in the Erie Canal. The New York State Canal Commission repowered the dredge tender workboat with electric motors, ditching the 1980s-era diesel engines that most recently powered it. The new engines are Elco EP-10000s, equivalent to a 100-hp diesel, according to the company's website. An engineering consulting firm contracted by the state claims that the engines will save costs over the life of the boat, as well as reducing emissions. "Projects like this demonstrate [New York State's] commitment to protecting the environment," New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said.

The Life Subaquatic

In a tribute to his legendary grandfather, Fabian Cousteau and his team of aquanauts spent 31 consecutive days this summer living and working in Aquarius, an undersea laboratory 5.4 nautical miles off the coast of Key Largo, and 66 feet below the ocean's surface, in a project called Mission 31. Fifty years before, ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau spent 30 days living aboard Conshelf Two, a man-made habitat 33 feet below the Red Sea.

"Mission 31 is a way to bring awareness to that human ocean connection in the same way that Jacques Cousteau did," says aquanaut and mission scientist Adam Zenone. The team's activities were streamed live on the Internet and aquanauts taught classes around the world from beneath the waves.

Photo of Fabien Cousteau scuba divingFabian Cousteau and Adam Zenone have been living where they work. (Photo: Kip Evans)

But the real advantage of a platform like Aquarius is the easy access it provides scientists to the ocean floor. Aquanauts living in the installation are not returning to the surface, so they don't have to decompress between dives, allowing them far more time on the bottom. Zenone, who investigated adjacent sea-grass beds, seeking evidence that they might provide the reef with a buffer against acidification, found the reef base an invaluable tool. "You're already down there on the reef," he said. "You can get 6 to 8 weeks' worth of surface dives in a 10-day saturation dive. It opens up a world of possibilities for robust and continuous data sets."

Of course, living conditions in the briny deep are simple, and Aquarius has been utilized in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program to study the feasibility of long-duration space travel. "It's a little like hunting camp. You've got six people together for a month at a time, in an area the size of a school bus. You bump into each other a lot," said Zenone. But he wouldn't trade the experience. "Every time you look out the window, you see something new and unexpected; something you wouldn't observe on a normal scuba dive. It's like a dream living down there."

Tsunami Debris Still Coming

Three years after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, debris continues to land on Pacific Northwest beaches. A small boat that washed ashore in Washington on January 15 has been confirmed to be debris from the disaster, and four more boats found May 23 and 25 are also believed to be tsunami debris. However, scientists think we're at the tail end of the debris field, and the flotsam arriving now is made up of items that crossed the Pacific below the surface. Objects with a profile above the surface are pushed by the wind as well as tides, and move much faster. While scientists think we will see this debris for about another year, the effects of Fukushima could be felt on U.S. beaches for years to come. That's because Fukushima debris is caught in the North Pacific Gyre, better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and could stay out there for years, occasionally breaking off to land on U.S. beaches.

S.S. United States Gets A Push

Once the fastest ocean liner in the world, setting transatlantic records in the 1950s, the restoration of the luxurious S.S. United States has been having trouble getting underway. The nonprofit group that owns the ship hopes to change that, with the help of cruise-industry executive Jim Pollin, who donated $120,000 to the ship's campaign to save the huge five-bladed prop from being sold for scrap.

Photo of the SS United StatesThe S.S. United States, docked in Philadelphia. (Photo: Lowlova)

The S.S. United States had a cruising career that lasted 17 years, through the end of the era of transatlantic ocean liners. Since 1996, though, the 990-foot steel and aluminum ship has been laid up in Philadelphia, stripped of her fireproof fittings and appointments, where a succession of owners have attempted to bring it back to life. In 2011, just before it was to be scrapped, the ship was purchased by the nonprofit S.S. United States Conservancy, which plans for the ship to be moved to New York, where it will serve as a museum and retail space. Those plans are far from certain, however. In a press release, Conservancy Director Susan Gibbs said, "Jim's generosity will help ensure that the propeller will remain aboard the ship, where it belongs. Now, we must save the rest of the vessel."

Eyes Wide Open

As summer fades into fall, it's easy to let down your guard. You may have moved on from hurricanes to winterizing and storing — but hurricane season is far from over. There's a ditty the old hands in the Caribbean still use to remind themselves of this:

June ............. Too Soon
July .............. Stand by
August .......... You must
September .... Remember
October ......... All over

NOAA chart from August 2005 shows the chances of 50-knot winds from Hurricane KatrinaThis NOAA chart from August 2005 shows the chances of 50-knot winds from Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: NOAA)

While hurricane season officially starts on June 1 in the North Atlantic, June is usually too soon for hurricanes to develop, and in July we most often stand by waiting for the season to really get underway. When August rolls around, you prepare, but it's really September you'll remember. And, of course, October was very nearly all over when Sandy came calling in 2012. If you have any doubt as to the accuracy of the rhyme, check NOAA statistics for the frequency of storms by date ( While deadly hurricanes can and do occur anytime during the official season, the peak season has historically run through October 20.

The Next Invasion?

The opening of the Northwest Passage bodes well for shipping companies looking for a shorter transit, but they aren't the only ones using the Arctic route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In a commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from the Smithsonian caution that invasive species will likely find their way through as well. The passage is already being used by creatures great and small — gray whales and a species of plankton are among those believed to have made the trek from the Pacific to the Atlantic. But scientists drew particular attention to ballast water used in ships as a transport for hitchhiking microorganisms.

Whitman Miller, director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's Marine Invasions Research Laboratory and one of the article's authors, told Smithsonian Magazine "there's going to be a mixing of the biota in a way that's never occurred before. That's something that we need to give thought to." Shipping along the northern route is expected to increase, along with tourism and development, all of which could provide a path for invasive species and a welcoming environment once they arrive. Unlike existing paths between the oceans, like the Suez and Panama canals, the Northwest Passage doesn't have the changes in salinity that provide natural barriers to traveling organisms, and consistent cold temperatures along the Passage could allow more of those hitchhikers to survive.

Sixty Years of WD-40 ...

But it was never meant for your boat

If you had to make a guess at two products that nearly every boat with a cabin has in it, you'd probably nail it if you said duct tape and WD-40. Duct tape is pretty simple. You use it to tape stuff together, with varying amounts of success. But WD-40 is not quite so humble. For 60 years, people have been using it for everything from eliminating squeaking door hinges and freeing rusted bolts, to removing pythons from bus chassis and naked burglars from air-conditioning vents (yes, really). This ubiquitous product, which the manufacturer says was the 40th attempt to make a water displacement (WD — get it?) product for preventing corrosion in nuclear missiles, has many applications for boaters, but it shouldn't be used everywhere.

Photo of spraying WD-40 on trailer rollersWD-40 for freeing rusted bolts? Yes. For lubricating rollers? Not so much. (Photo: Michael Vatalaro)

Where It Works:

  • Lubricating sticky or squeaky hinges
  • Cleaning winch gears (though it's not an appropriate lubricant)
  • Protecting tools from rust
  • Lubricating throttle linkages
  • Freeing rusted bolts
  • Cleaning & drying a shore power cord connector that was dunked
  • Cleaning engine or mechanical surfaces that were splashed with seawater
  • Removing duct-tape residue (one of its highest and best uses)

Where It Doesn't:

  • Shift cables. If they're rusty, replace them
  • Circuit boards. WD-40 is not an insulator. Use contact cleaner
  • Porous plastics, which may be harmed by the solvent
  • Zippers. They'll gum up. Beeswax works best (purchase from dive shop)
  • On gears & metal that slides against metal. You don't need a water-dispersant here, only a lubricant. Use grease. And, yes, this includes lubricating winches
  • Sail tracks & slides. It will work fine for a day or so, then gum up the works. Use a dry lubricant
  • Anything you wouldn't use kerosene on

While the formulation for WD-40 is a secret, it's basically a solvent, mixed with light oil, a thinning agent, and a propellant. It's a great product when you need to get some oil into a place only a spray can get to, and its solvent properties make it handy for cleaning most metals and some plastics. And yes, it does displace water. It's a fair bet that most boaters have a can (or two or three) aboard, and it's handy as an occasional squeak killer and rusted-bolt remover. But WD-40 is not a long-term lubricant and tends to get sticky over time. The thinning agent makes it easy to spray the product, but caution should be used because it quickly evaporates and leaves a heavier residue that can become gooey and attract dirt. No need to abandon your faithful WD-40. Just make sure you're using it right.

Caesar Salad, Anyone?

Is it a shadow? Is it an oil slick? No, it's just the one of the biggest schools of anchovies seen in Southern California in 30 years. These small swimmers made their way into the shallows of La Jolla, leaving scientists at the nearby Scripps Institution of Oceanography grappling for answers as to why. While it's not uncommon for anchovies to enter shallow waters in large numbers, it's rare for them to be seen in these numbers.

Photo of a surfer and huge school of anchoviesSurfers paddle near a huge school of anchovies off the coast of La Jolla, California. (Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego)

According to NOAA, northern anchovy has been fished off the West Coast since at least 1916. The anchovy gained traction in the 1940s after the Pacific sardine fishery collapsed and processors began canning anchovies instead. Their catch increased from 960 tons in 1946 to 43,000 tons in 1953.

But then the sardine returned and the anchovy's popularity decreased again. But before you run to SoCal with your nets, note that the anchovy best known in the culinary world is their European cousin found in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. California's variety is more likely to be used as bait. 

— Published: October/November 2014

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