Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Designing a new rudder, part 2

By measuring photographs and doing a little maths, courtesy of the NACA 0012 formula, I was able to discover what size and shape my new rudder (transom-hung, constant foil cross section) should be. Next problem: what materials?

My old rudder was a single piece, almost certainly a tropical hardwood, dense and strong. Marine plywood was an obvious option, except that no local suppliers had real marine-grade plywood (non-marine grade, which I have used for cabin furniture, can have voids and gaps within interior laminates, hidden weaknesses which could be fatal in a load-bearing structure). My old rudder was a single piece of tropical hardwood, which I also tried to source: a local supplier had lots of beautiful teak and iroko, but no planks wide enough to make a rudder in a single piece - they simply aren't there to be had (they've all been made into rudders already?). It might be just as well: a solid piece of timber can be sundered by a single stress-grown crack, not such a problem with laminates.

Abandoning nature, I talked to the very helpful Liam Phelan of mid.ie, and began to investigate the possibility of a synthetic foam core (Corecell) wrapped in fibreglass. To get an accurate spec on which foam and how much glass, Liam suggested I talk to Martin Armstrong, chief technologist at Gurit, a firm which supplies composite materials to pretty much everybody who builds composite structures - submarines, wind farms, huge racing yachts, aircraft, etc. Martin is a busy guy, but he spent half an hour talking an amateur sailor and novice builder through the materials and techniques necessary to fabricate a composite rudder.

First, the core: A550 foam (Corecell) for the rudder core; a single 8ft x 4ft x 25mm sheet would suffice. I wasn't sure how easy this would be to shape, but Martin reassured me that it is far less dense than wood, while also having no grain; normal wood working tools would suffice, it could even be sanded into shape; a surf form might be handy. Only one problem to watch: being an excellent insulator, it is really bad at dissipating heat, so power tools should have fresh, sharp blades to minimize friction.

Layers making up my composite rudder

Then, the exterior, from which will come much of the strength; Martin specified six layers of glass cloth:

Layer 1: 290g 4-harness satin, laid at a 45 degree angle, and with a 100mm overlap both sides at the leading edge, and a similar tail at the trailing edge
Layer 2,3,4: uni-directional 500g fabric running top to bottom (no overlap)
Layer 5: 290g 4-harness satin, 45 degrees again
Layer 6: 290g 4-harness satin, 0 degrees

This post is part of a series on making a fibreglass rudder with a foam core:
Designing a rudder, part 1
Designing a rudder, part 2
Making a rudder, part 1

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Car cleaning tip

One of our cars has a light-grey plastic trim in the interior all around the ceiling. Looks nice and bright, but not so easy to keep clean. Today, we found the solution: all the black grubbiness around areas that hands touch a lot (e.g. the sunroof controls) was removed instantly by the simple application of a popular brand of baby wipe. Looks good as new now. Excellent stuff.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Astronavigation (Celestial Navigation) for Beginners

Knowing one's way around the night sky is a useful thing, if, like me, you have a telescope and want to know where to point it, or if, like me, you have ambitions to learn astronavigation. Until last week, sunset came early enough that I could get a few minutes of practice on every clear evening, standing in my garden and counting out the stars. This time of year, the orangey-red light Arcturus is usually the first that I see; the distinctive blue blaze of Vega is to the east, and when the sun's glow has faded a little more, Pollux, Castor, and Capella (actually 4 stars, an exotic double-binary) show up nicely.

The stars that I am really watching for, though, are Polaris (the north star) and Etamin; obviously, Polaris is very useful, in that it gives a navigator a course to steer anywhere in the northern hemisphere above maybe 10 degrees of latitude (ish) - but why my interest in Etamin (gamma Draconis)? Well, it so happens that my home port on the eastern seaboard of the north Atlantic is just a smidgen north of Etamin's declination (celestial latitude), which is 51 degrees, 29 minutes, 20 seconds. Now, Polaris has the useful feature of always (where always = "several hundred lifetimes") being 51 degrees and X minutes above my local horizon; Etamin, by contrast, whirls around the sky, never dipping below the horizon, but once per day passing through the zenith - what you might call "Etamin-noon".

In practical terms, this means that were I some day to be lost in the blue vastness of the North Atlantic, no GPS, compass, sextant or chrometer to guide me home, I could use Etamin to find the latitude of home, sailing north if Etamin passed north-of-zenith, and sailing south if it passed south-of-zenith. Once at the right latitude, I would need only to keep an easterly course, and a sharp look-out for pointy rocks. Of course, measuring the fixed, non-whirling altitude of Polaris is more convenient - it can be done whenever Polaris is visible - but that would require an instrument, ideally a sextant. Marvin Creamer, an American amateur sailor and retired professor of Geography, once sailed around the world on Globestar using techniques like this and no instruments whatsoever, making surprisingly accurate landfalls.

Unfortunately, during part of the year, Etamin-noon would fall during daylight hours - but even then, other bright stars at similar latitudes could give useful hints. Which bright stars pass directly over your home port / next port? Just follow the linked query at Wolfram Alpha to see a table listing the hundred brightest stars by declination, and you'll soon be on your way. A useful tool to help you practice is the (totally free) Mobile StarChart, a java applet you can install on your mobile phone - it only has about thirty star names, but is open source, so you could add more.

Living a long way from the sea? Astronavigation can also be pretty useful in the desert, and was much practiced by people like Popski. Must learn how to use a sun-compass one of these days.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Designing a new rudder

So, our beloved Briongloid, a 6.6M fin-keeled sailing yacht went adrift from her mooring, and spent an uncomfortable day bouncing on pointy rocks. The pounding reduced her wooden rudder to matchwood - so it's time to make a new one.

How big, and what shape? From a profile scale illustration of a Pandora International (our boat's model) I figured out the height and width - about 1.65 metres * 0.37 metres. Now, I just needed the cross-section's shape.

It turns out that the best shape for a rudder is a foil - like the shape of a bird or aircraft wing, the magic of the foil shape is that it generates lift (unlike, say, a flat surface, which only creates drag). Back in the 1930's, the boffins at NACA, the forerunner of NASA, investigated different foil types to find the best shapes for different aeronautical (and incidentally marine) applications.

For relatively slow-moving displacement craft like our yacht, their "NACA 0012" foil is the best fit; by creating a Google Calc document based on the NACA 0012 formula, I generated the cross-section above (y and x axes are not in proportion). Note the very round leading edge and thin trailing end.

Many fins and rudders taper from one end to the other, and give the leading edge a crescent profile; this tapering reduces drag by about 4% - for me, not worth the much-increased difficulty of shaping the foil.

This post is part of a series on making a fibreglass rudder with a foam core:
Designing a rudder, part 1
Designing a rudder, part 2
Making a rudder, part 1