Salty John : The Blog

Here’s a post I made earlier – actually a few years ago – I hope it’s still of interest..

I like walking around marinas, there’s just so much to see and reflect on. As I stroll around I tend to settle on a theme for the day: Drooping spreaders, types of bow or stern, cockpit covers or whatever springs to mind on that particular day.

On a recent recce I was focused on bow rollers. It occurred to me that one of the things that distinguishes a proper cruising boat from a marina-hopper is the way her ground tackle is managed.

A serious cruising boat will have a proper anchor handling set up including an anchor locker, anchor winch and a bow roller. Trying to deploy and retrieve your anchor on a regular basis without the right system makes this essential task a frustrating chore.
I’ve talked before about anchor winches, windlasses and capstans so let’s take a look at anchor, or bow, rollers.

The anchor roller shares the pointy end of the boat with the forestay chainplate, pulpit bases and rollerfurling drum so it needs to be well engineered to avoid conflict with these other essential bits of kit. Occasionally you find the boat builder has provided a combination stem head fitting that incorporates the roller and full marks to them for this. Most boats don’t have this luxury and the cruising sailor has to retrofit one of the many proprietary anchor rollers available.

On Adriana we had hanked-on sails so no furling drum to get in the way of a hefty single roller bolted through the foredeck. The cheekplates were smooth edged and deep enough to keep the anchor from sliding off the roller. It worked a treat.
I like to stow the anchor on the anchor roller ready to deploy with minimal delay. On Adriana we could only stow one anchor ready for action so I’d still have to lug the second anchor from the lazarette when required, but at least we could do that while we were secure on the main bower. On our bigger ketch we had the luxury of a bow sprit and a substantial bow platform that accommodated our two big CQRs easily, as is the case with the boat in the picture.

Take a critical look at you anchor management system – it can make anchoring a joy when it’s right, a nightmare when it’s wrong

Here are a few more pictures taken along the towpath of the Lancaster Canal. It’s certainly a pretty place when the sun shines.

In this occasional, whimsical, series I’ve so far decided that my ideal cruising boat will be a 40’ moderate displacement sloop with a long fin keel and full skeg to support the rudder. She’ll be no deeper than 5’ and up to 13’ on the beam. She’ll have a deck saloon or pilot house. I’ve mulled over a variety of options to arrive at this basic concept.

Now I’m going to consider her systems. Sail handling will be important because, although I almost always sail with another crew member, I need to be able to sail single-handed should the need arise.

The working headsail is going to be relatively small, no overlap, so the main will be quite large. What I find appealing about smaller headsails is that they can be carried for longer as the wind pipes up and even when they’re partly furled they still have a high degree of efficiency. A large headsail, radically furled, is an awful thing.

On Adriana I had a soft Dacron mainsail with no headboard, no roach and, therefore, no battens. It was joy to handle. I had one reef point in it, halving the sail area in one fell swoop. I could put that reef in, by myself, in a minute or two. But she was a 32’ boat; my ideal boat is 40’ and much more powerful – a different approach is needed.

If I stick with conventional hoisting and slab reefing I’ll need a lazy jack/stowage bag system. Even so it’ll be a challenge to reef and stow single-handed. So, I’m considering an in-mast or in-boom reefing system. This would seem to go against my ‘keep it simple’ mantra but I’m no Luddite and using technology to keep it simple is fine with me.

I’ve sailed an Amel Maramu with in-mast furling and I liked it very much. I think that’s the way I’ll go. The choice of system and the cut of the sail will need thorough research but I’m going to have in-mast reefing. I think.

Here are a couple of articles you may find informative when you’re designing or troubleshooting your boat’s vhf radio/AIS antenna systems:

VHF antennas and their installation

Troubleshooting your vhf antenna system

They both highlight the importance of using good quality cable of the correct size, making good connections and using a top class antenna to extract the full potential from your radio.

You might be able to receive vhf signals on a bent coat hanger but you certainly can’t transmit effectively on anything except a proper antenna. As you transmit, the antenna coil heats up and unless it’s of substantial gauge with soldered joints and supported properly it will distort, degrading performance.

A top quality antenna will milk the full potential from whatever radio you have – hence the expression “a penny in the antenna is worth a pound in the radio”.

You can get a Metz antenna and a full range of accessories at the Salty John shop: www.saltyjohn.co.uk

On deck stepped masts the cables for the masthead instruments, antennae and lighting have to leave the mast at deck level and then travel through the deck to their destination below. This has to be achieved without allowing water below decks along with the cables.

One way to do this is to terminate each cable with a plug and fit mating sockets on the deck. The plugs are, however, notoriously prone to corrosion and to damage from
being stepped on.

A better way is to take the cables through the deck before making any joint, if a joint can’t be avoided altogether.

Deck glands of various types are available – they are designed for individual cables or small groups of cables. The best types allow you to pass a connector, such as a PL259 coaxial cable connector, through the gland without the need to separate it from the cable. These glands are expensive and prone to damage from being stepped on. They are also not entirely reliable over time and you often see them supplemented by globs of silicone sealant in an attempt to restore their integrity.

Another method of getting cables below deck is a swan neck pipe. This is a popular method on bigger boats but it can look a little ridiculous on smaller boats because of its size. The major functional drawback of the swan neck is that it snags lines.

A better option is the Cableport, a Swedish design in use on thousands of boats worldwide and original equipment for several top class boat builders.

The Cableport is a polished stainless steel entry port that takes electrical and communication cables through the deck via a 49 mm shrouded opening. It can be easily opened to remove cables and connectors when the mast is unstepped or when wiring changes are made. (No silicone or other sealant is required after initial installation).

The Cableport doesn’t catch rigging and lines and can be stepped on without damage. Well worth a look: www.saltyjohn.co.uk

I’ve said before that the rolling hitch is useful for attaching the snubber to the anchor chain; an equally important use is fastening the hammock to the forestay.

Hammock is one of the few words we’ve taken from the language of the pre-Columbian West Indian natives, the Caribs. Columbus tells us it’s the word they used for what he describes as “the nets in which they sleep”

A variation on the hammock is the Spanish hamaca, the deck chair. Hammocks are much more useful on small boats than are deck chairs.

I know sailors who sleep in hammocks below decks in preference to bunks but we only use ours on deck. I’ve seen a hammock slung below the boom and the boom pushed out over the water – to keep the occupant cool, I imagine. A particularly pleasant hammock with which I’m familiar is slung outside Foxy’s on Jost van Dyke, BVI.

Hammocks can be large or small, solid or mesh and with or without stretchers at each end to hold them open. They’re all good.

If you want to sling it on the foredeck you’ll probably need to know how to tie a rolling hitch

When we first unstepped the masts on our 41’ ketch there was a coin under each mast. The boat had been owned at one time by a missionary couple who carried bibles to Central America from the USA and, appropriately, one of the coins was a US half dollar dated 1973, the date the boat was built, and the other was a Guatemalan coin of the same age.

This practice of putting a coin under the mast has its roots in Greek mythology. The theory goes that coins were placed there to pay Charon his fee for taking the departed across the River Styx to the afterlife should the vessel be lost.

To ensure our own safe passage to the afterlife we cleaned up the coins and handed them to the rigger to be replaced when the masts were put back in. The next time we removed the masts we found no sign of the coins.

Luckily we’d had no need of Charon’s services in the intervening period.

When I feel like a dose of fresh air and tranquility I head for the Lancaster Canal, a few minutes from home. The canal meanders for 56 miles through the countryside between Preston in Lancashire and Kendal in Cumbria. At one time I’d potter up and down the canal on Minnie, the day sailor that I converted for the purpose, but these days I tend to just hike a few miles on the towpath.

The section of canal between Garstang and Galgate is my favourite; it has the most attractive rural vistas and provides a flourishing wildlife corridor through the surrounding farms and villages. The banks in summer are alive with wild flowers – sweetflag and bulrush, water lilies and meadow sweet.

Yellow hammers and bull finches flit around the hedges and you might be lucky enough to see an electric blue kingfisher, as was I this weekend, flashing up the canal. Moorhens, coots and mallards abound and there are always swans.

Every now and again a brightly painted narrowboat heaves into view and gurgles past, or a canal cruiser with a skirt of dangling fenders potters by.

Sanity restored, I head back to my office to carry on with the task of flogging nautical paraphernalia

I’m mulling over the sail plan and particularly the headsail set up on my ideal cruising boat. I’ve sailed cutters but never owned one so my experience is limited. It’s difficult to get a handle on what the sailing benefits might be in ‘normal’ conditions – clearly it’s important to get the two headsails working harmoniously and that requires a different set up for each point of sail.

Probably easiest on a reach, but all boats sail well on a reach. On the wind I think you need to have a high cut yankee ahead of the staysail, or the staysail won’t contribute very much. Off the wind I see the opportunity, perhaps, of wing and wing headsails, or a staysail sheeted flat to combat rolling.

I’m not too concerned about the problem of tacking the genoa through the slot between the two stays but I’m not too happy about the need for running backstays and the tending thereof.

I do like the fact that with a cutter, as the wind pipes up you can reduce sail area progressively and the centre of effort moves inboard but, could it be that the cutter rig with running backstays infringes my “keep it simple” mantra? Is there another way?

What I’m beginning to favour in my mind is a simple single headsail set up with a removable inner forestay specifically for heavier weather – and rigged from close to the masthead to avoid the need for runners, often called a Solent stay. Setting up an inner forestay and hanking on the storm jib is a bit of a pain in heavy weather, too, but I don’t mind foredeck work.

I don’t want big overlapping headsails so if I stick to a 100% headsail on a furler and then have a smallish staysail and a storm jib that hank on the removable inner forestay I’ve got a handy and workable arrangement for all but very light conditions.

I think that might be the way to go. Next, I need to consider how to handle the relatively large mainsail – I’ll let you know what I conclude.

Full time cruising on a small boat is a wonderful pastime and it’s made particularly appealing by the people you meet.

You might think there’d be a single demographic binding cruising folk but you’d be wrong. The motivation to go cruising might be common – freedom, adventure, nude deck-dancing – but the people that actually set off are a widely disparate group.

Take age, for example – we met couples who didn’t seem old enough to be legally married and we met world girdling octogenarians.

How about background? – we met musicians, a famous medical researcher, we anchored alongside the world’s most trusted news-anchor and we communed with a veritable flotilla of ordinary, somewhat adventurous, people of every nationality, colour and creed.

The point is – you can’t pigeon-hole cruising folk. Get out there, you’ll fit right in!