saltyjohn – 36/43 – Salty John : The Blog

Drooping is not usually a good thing. You don’t want drooping bits. You especially don’t want drooping spreaders. Drooping spreaders are a symptom of a rig in distress, a rig on the road to catastrophic failure.

Perky upward pointing spreaders are what you want. Perky spreaders have tips that bisect the angle of the shrouds that pass over them. In this way the load on the spreader is even and the spreader is disinclined to be pushed up or down, slackening the shroud and threatening the integrity of the whole rig.

Spreaders come in lots of shapes and configurations: The racier boats have spreaders with aerofoil sections, like little aircraft wings, to reduce wind resistance. Cruising boats tend to have longer spreaders to give a broader based rig, sacrificing sheeting angle for better mast support. Old fashioned cruising boats under about 45’ tend to have single spreader rigs, for the sake of simplicity, whilst more modern boats with relatively taller masts adopt multiple spreaders at shorter boat lengths. Spreaders can be fixed at the mast or fully articulating and they come with a variety of methods of attaching the shroud to the spreader tip so it doesn’t jump out. But whatever the spreaders design, droopiness must be avoided at all costs – check your spreaders now!

A word of caution: Once you become an aficionado of the perky spreader your marina dock strolls will take on new meaning, your eye will be inexorably drawn aloft in search of droopers with the attendant risk of an early bath or a broken toe.

Just back from the USA and the Salty John elves are very busy shipping the goods ordered whilst we were away and generally getting things up and running again.

Here’s a picture of an eagle constructed entirely from car bumpers. I don’t know why anyone would do such a thing but it looks pretty cool. It’s located at the entrance to the Watergate marina complex on Clear Lake, Texas, where we kept a boat for a time.

Not many people know this but Galveston Bay is the third biggest yachting centre in the USA, after Annapolis and San Diego. Clear Lake, in the northwest corner of Galveston Bay, has a huge number of marinas catering to weekend sailors and a thriving live aboard community.

It was a sunny 30ºC when we left Florida and a numbing 5ºC when we landed at Manchester. Oh well.

Next week we’re off to the USA for a two week break. The first stop will be Texas to spend time with family and then it’s on to south Florida for fun in the sun.

Y’all check out the notice on the Salty John website alerting you to the fact that nothing will be shipped out until we get back on 23 November. Feel free to place your orders, though.

I’m unlikely to blog until we get back but then I hope to have lots of interesting stuff to get you through the winter months. Ciao for now!

A bout of bursitis in my knee this week got me thinking about the physical and mental effects of long term cruising.

Bursitis is caused by repetitive movement and pressure on the joint. As a result, carpet layers, footballers and housewives are more likely to suffer bursitis in their knees than is the general population. I’m convinced that trying to maintain balance on a constantly moving deck for six years of my life has left me susceptible to bursitis in my leg joints.

What about ampophobia? This is an obsession with hoarding battery capacity. The sufferer becomes frantic to measure accurately the amps flowing into and out of his battery banks. He becomes convinced that his alternator, solar panels and wind generator are faulty. He tests them exhaustively and joins boating forums to compare his results with other ampophobics who think that they, too, are being cheated by their amp gathering resources. As the condition takes hold the sufferer will accumulate different types of batteries and charging devices, more sophisticated monitoring systems, several types of hydrometer. A battery terminal cleaning brush.

Ampophobia is often caused initially by another condition – meltaphobia, the fear of the boat fridge failing to keep its contents cold. Obsessively monitoring the fridge temperature with a range of increasingly sophisticated thermocouples is a dead give away. Help should be sought immediately before the condition can develop into full blown ampophobia.

Another electricity related hang up is toastitis, the compulsion to design and build a 12v DC toaster. This condition afflicts many long term cruisers once the novelty of burning toast on a wire rack placed over a cooker burner has worn thin. I’ve never seen a successful 12volt toaster, but with all the cruisers out there franticly doing the R&D it’s only a matter of time.

I’m sure you get the picture. You may have your own particular physical or mental condition as a result of long term cruising but, rest assured, once ashore for a short period the symptoms disappear. To be replaced by an overwhelming desire to sell up, quit your job and run away to sea in a small boat.

Wrapped up warmly against the chilly breeze we idled north along the Lancaster Canal on this perfect autumn morning, sun sparkling off the rippled surface.

A convoy of swans escorted us for a while as we pottered past farmers’ fields and beneath stone bridges.

We didn’t meet another boat, nor towpath walker, angler or blackberry picker during our couple of hours on the water.

And then it was back to Salty John Towers for fried egg butties and footie on the box. Bliss.

I wrote an article for the Salty John website about selecting a cruising boat and in it I suggested that an important consideration was whether or not the boat could take the ground safely. Somebody took me to task on this, saying that boats weren’t supposed to take the ground and if I hit the bottom and damaged my boat it would be entirely my own fault. Hmm.

I beg to differ, but I can see how such a view could take hold and how it would be of some relief to boat builders that it be allowed to.

I’m certainly not a yacht designer so I can only speculate that bolt on appendages are favoured because it’s cheap to build that way and it allows more varied keel configurations to be used, designs that would be impossible to accommodate with an encapsulated ballast keel. And it allows the contact area between hull and keel to be minimised and streamlined – this is apparently a good thing when trying to design a faster boat. I suppose that’s why we see keels dropping off, and not just from high tech racing boats; even if the design is technically correct there must surely be less room for error in manufacturing to the required tolerances.

I once bounced a fin keeled Jeanneau Symphonie off the hard packed bottom of Galveston Bay. Not deliberately; I was caught by the tsunami-like bow wave of the tanker I’d just crossed the Houston ship channel in front of.  A day or so later I found that water was trickling in from a crack alongside the keel – when I waggled the saloon table pedestal I could increase the flow! The repair was time consuming and costly.

So, whereas I don’t suggest that bolted on keels are unsuitable for cruising, far from it, I do think a cruising boat should be able to take the ground, deliberately or accidentally, without  major structural damage.

A bad antenna system will make even the most exquisite radio perform badly. To get the best out of your VHF radio you need a top quality antenna system. As radio buffs are always telling us: “A penny in the antenna is worth a pound in the radio”.

VHF antenna systems comprise an antenna (aerial), a feeder cable and a few connectors. If you have a really good quality antenna such as the Metz Manta and use good quality connectors, you’ll want the correct coaxial cable to complete the system.

Coaxial cable for VHF radio is 50 ohm – your TV cable is 75 ohm so you can’t just use some coax left over from that satellite dish installation.

Furthermore, marine cable needs to work in a hostile and constantly moving environment. That’s why it needs to be tinned copper to resist corrosion and the centre core needs to be stranded so it can bend without breaking. A good PVC jacket will keep sunlight degradation at bay.

But what size cable should you choose?

I reckon you need to aim at a transmission loss of no more than 40%  in the run from radio to antenna. This is also the opinion of the offshore yacht racing authorities so I’m in good company.

You’ll want to restrict the line loss (known as attenuation) to about 2.5 decibels (dB).

The picture shows, on the left, RG213 coax and on the right, RG8X.

RG213 (or its slightly lower spec but similarly stiff cousin, RG8U) is a whopping 10.3mm diameter, nearly half an inch in old money. So it’s heavy and doesn’t like to go around tight corners, but it only loses 2.2 dB per 30m length. On the right is its less uptight little brother – RG8X. This flexible fellow is only 6.5mm diameter, much lighter and easier to work with – it loses about 3.5 dB per 30m.

(RG58, which sometimes comes with cheap aerials is 5.5mm diameter and is very lossy – about 5 dB per 30m. OK for short runs, perhaps, but not for masthead installations).

So, if you have a cable run of up to about 25m or so you can go with RG8X, for much longer runs you’ll need to wrestle with RG213/ RG8U.

There you have it.

The October edition of Yachting Monthly carries the latest article in the excellent Crash Test Boat series. YM have all but destroyed a 40’ Jeanneau Sun Fizz in the interests of finding out what really happens when disaster strikes in a variety of ways.

So far they’ve dismasted it, rolled it over, bashed holes in the hull and now we see what happens when you lose a seacock or through-hull transducer.

Seacocks can fail disastrously with no warning if they have been allowed to corrode or have been badly installed. A shocking number of boats are fitted with brass seacocks, apparently, and these can corrode and fail in short order – I saw a report where a boat nearly sank when a 16 month old brass seacock failed through corrosion!

Make sure your seacocks are Bronze, DZR or, my own preference, Marelon.

Anyway, the intrepid Crash Test Boat team deliberately broke off seacocks and smashed transducer fittings to test ways of stopping the influx. They tested the old soft wood bungs we’ve all carried for years and found them to be effective but with some reservation – they rely on the hole being symmetrical for maximum sealing.

Another solution was the Forespar TruPlug, a composite rubber bung that looks like something that might be on offer in a sex toy emporium catering to the more extreme tastes. The Tru Plug was given high marks for efficacy because it conforms to the shape of distorted openings; against it was its price – about £20. You’d probably want to keep one in an obvious location and take it to the site of the failure rather than have one tied to each through hull as you might do with wooden bungs.

The team also tried the old traditional solutions – a carrot and a potato – and both performed admirably with the spud just pipping the carrot on effectiveness.

I love this YM series – it’s both entertaining and of true benefit to boat owners and operators.

We’ve had something of an Indian summer this past week so Minnie, the yacht that thinks it’s a narrow boat, was out and about on the Lancaster Canal.

The term Indian summer was coined in America, by the way, and has nothing to do with the Indian sub-continent. The Indians on the US east coast, aware of the debilitating effect of working and harvesting in the summer heat and humidity, would wait for warm snaps in the autumn to get out into the fields. Hence, an Indian summer is a warm spell in the fall.

On Friday we took an extra couple of hours at lunchtime and tootled down the canal to the Hand & Dagger for a pint and a sandwich. The pub overlooks the canal and there are convenient mooring bollards close by. The ham sandwich on brown bread with a little salad garnish and homemade mustard was delicious, as was my pint of Boddingtons bitter.

All in all a pleasant interlude from the backbreaking work and overpowering stress that constitute daily life at the coal face of Salty John Boat Products and Metz Europe.

My favourite philosopher has to be Anonymous, or Anon as he’s known to his friends. He’s the guy who said: The final test of fame is to have a crazy person imagine he is you.

But it was another of Anon’s pearls of wisdom that sprang to mind as I was pondering how the cruising boat has changed over the past thirty odd years:
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. 

When I dreamt of setting off into the wide blue yonder I followed the teachings of the Hiscocks, the Pardeys and Bob Griffith. My boat would be simple, rugged and seaworthy. It would carry stout ground tackle, fly hanked-on sails and be worked from the deck not the cockpit.

And that’s pretty much how it was. Adriana was 33’ overall, heavy displacement, a simple sloop rig, boom gallows, a massive bronze windlass to handle the all-chain rode and CQR anchors. She was classically pretty, (being from the board of Phil Rhodes she could hardly be anything else), with long overhangs, sweeping sheerline, wide decks and cramped accommodation.

We planned to navigate by dead reckoning with a compass and a set of charts. We carried a plastic sextant for when we were out of sight of land. Fortunately, GPS became available and affordable at about the time we cast off so my astronavigation was never seriously tested.

We had a shiny new Yanmar diesel engine and this begat a battery bank and a big alternator and this in turn begat a fridge to keep the beer cold and the veggies crisp.

This could have been the thin end of the wedge, or as my mate Anon would have it: If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.

But no, for this long term cruise we managed to stave off any further adulteration of the hair shirt cruising ethos and had the adventure of our lives. After all, as Anon is fond of saying: Footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down.

Anon’s camel did shuffle a bit further into the tent when we set off again a few years later – the boat was bigger and the KISS principle somewhat further eroded by watermaker, forward-looking sonar, radar and wind generator.

The bigger boat served us well but the watermaker, radar and sonar didn’t make it. They failed to live up to their billing: The watermaker didn’t make water, the forward -looking sonar didn’t look forward and the power-hungry radar didn’t earn its keep. I’ve always seen this as justification for my continuing view that avoiding unnecessary complications on a cruising boat is the way to go despite the current obsession with all things electronic, high tech and led aft.

Of course, my failure to keep what would now be considered essential equipment fully functional is addressed by Anon in one of his more profound thoughts: The man who can’t dance thinks the band is no good.

A great little thinker is old Anonymous.