April 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

There’s a very interesting article in Practical Sailor concerning anchor loads. They considered the question of why, if certain very popular and widely used anchors have such demonstrably lower holding power than ‘new generation’ anchors, the shores of the cruising world are not littered with wrecked boats. And the answer, as I preach whenever this subject comes up, and what Practical Sailor has confirmed, is that the required anchor holding power in any given set of circumstances is much lower than many have assumed, and by a considerable margin. To make a considered anchor selection you need to know what load the anchor has to resist in specific conditions, not how much it can hold compared to another anchor.

Without knowing what is required of an anchor it’s perfectly reasonable to choose an anchor towards the top of any list of anchors sorted by holding power.
(Strangely, the anchor at the top of the list is always the anchor manufactured by the company conducting the tests and the worst one is their biggest competitor). Because the actual rather than calculated loads placed on anchors in specific circumstances have been independently measured, thanks to Practical Sailor and others, we can make a more informed decision about anchors, which must be a good thing. We now have confirmation that all the popular anchor patterns when deployed properly and appropriately will perform their task. That’s why generations of sailors using traditional anchor patterns such as the CQR and Danforth have successfully anchored in every cruising region of the world. Of course there are other features of an anchor that can influence your decision – stowability, ease of handling, ability to set in specific bottom types, resistance to rust and corrosion, ability to reset at the turn of the tide and so on. I’m just pleased that such a well respected authority as Practical Sailor has debunked the myth that we old seadogs with a pair of old CQRs on the bow roller are dicing with death every time we settle for the night in a favourite anchorage. And, it gives me the chance to drag that old cartoon out!

Thirty-five thousand items! Can you imaging that? That’s how many items of stock the UK’s larger chandlers claim to carry. Thirty-five thousand! Just the space it would take up is mind boggling. The value of it doesn’t bear thinking about. I’m sure that these huge figures are padded out by the many combinations of colour and size for otherwise identical items but, even so, just the thought of looking through even a fraction of that range tires me out. What happens if you ask a question about one of the more obscure items amongst this legion? Does anyone know? I wonder why such numbers are even quoted. Do shoppers shun the miserably under stocked emporia that have a meagre ten thousand items on their dusty shelves? Is more perceived as better? There must be a reason because these companies employ professional marketers to ensure that no stone, or statistic, is left unturned in the battle to get punters into their store, or to their web page. We stock 60 items. Yes, that’s sixty – I didn’t miss two or three zeros off the end. We aren’t really a chandlery in the accepted sense. A specialist chandlery, perhaps, or a micro-chandlery, or even a sub-micro specialist chandlery. Well, we’re just plain small but, I like to think, perfectly formed. Our aim is to stock only uncommon cruising kit – bits of gear that you don’t immediately think of but which enhance the pleasure of cruising on small boats. If you want a bit of rope or a shackle or a pair of boots or a chart plotter we can’t help you. Those are common items of cruising kit. A mooring hook, a hot blade, an outboard motor lifting harness or an exhaust temperature monitor, they’re more our style. Uncommon can also mean of uncommon quality – you can buy a VHF radio antenna anywhere, but the Metz antenna with its superb build quality and lifetime warranty is relatively uncommon. Our LED anchor light is uniquely watertight; our wool watch caps are the best you can get. What about uncommon prices? We constantly check to be sure our prices are the lowest available. For instance, we offer the full range of Loos rig tension gauges at the lowest prices available in Europe.

So, we offer an uncommonly small collection of uncommon products of uncommon quality at uncommonly low prices.

I don’t suppose anyone would argue with the proposition that the wheel is the most important invention in the history of mankind.

I do realise that some folk think it was the thermos flask:

“The thermos flask! That only keeps cold things cold and hot things hot!”
“Yes, but how does it know?”

But most don’t seriously doubt the impact the wheel has had on mankind’s development. However, you have to believe that the compass is up there with the wheel as a significant invention.

The compass was discovered in 10th or 11th century China when someone realised that a lodestone suspended from a thread always pointed the same way. What a ‘Eureka’ moment that must have been!

Unfortunately the Chinese marketing organisation of the day didn’t immediately see the navigation application as worthy of pursuit, seeing more potential in the Feng Shui application. So property developers concerned with the spiritual wellbeing of their building’s occupants, rather than explorers, were the first beneficiaries of this new technology.

Eventually, however, word spread of the lodestone phenomenon and the compass was put to proper use and the rest is history.

Then came GPS, but that’s another story.

A large ship making 30 knots can travel from the horizon to your position in less than ten minutes. Scary thought. It’s why AIS receivers, and even transponders, have become popular on small boats.

As I’m sure most boat owners know by now, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is required by law to be carried on ferries and all vessels over 300 tons, and has been around since 2002. My, how time flies. Ships so equipped send out a signal on VHF, around 162MHz, providing data about their position, speed and direction as well as their identity and other details. An AIS receiver on a small boat can pick up this signal and display the data on a chart plotter or dedicated screen, allowing the skipper to take any appropriate avoiding action and to contact any displayed vessel by name over VHF radio.

By the way, AIS is sometimes referred to as ‘radar’ but it most certainly isn’t – what AIS is displaying is an icon of a ship at a position derived from the broadcast data, not from a radar sweep. AIS systems only ‘see’ vessels that are transmitting the appropriate data – they are not all-seeing. Being hit by a 299 ton fishing boat would ruin your day so the ‘old’ discipline of watch keeping is still essential, as is the ability to determine if a sighted vessel is on a collision course.

Whilst an AIS receiver, costing around £200, will provide you with the data transmitted by AIS equipped vessels, an AIS transponder (transceiver) gives you the facility to transmit your own position, speed, direction and identifying data to AIS equipped vessels in the area.

Until recently the cost of a type A commercial transponder was prohibitive for the leisure boater but type B transponders have been introduced, starting at around £500. Type B transponders send out less information, less frequently and at lower power than type A transponders.

I’ve always obeyed the law of superior tonnage and got my little boat out of the way of the behemoths before they enter my comfort zone, so an AIS receiver would do for me, but it’s nice to know you can have your own plaintiff cry broadcast at reasonable cost.

AIS signals are transmitted at VHF, a fraction either side of 162MHz, so you need a VHF antenna and, you know where I’m going with this, the very best are from Metz Communications whom we represent in Europe.

Most mastheads have limited space on which to mount two antennas the required half metre or more apart. A good alternative is to mount a Metz Manta or Metz AIS antenna on the pushpit rail. It can provide back-up for your masthead VHF radio antenna and still receive AIS data from 10 or 15 miles away, depending on the height of the ships transmitting antenna. Very comforting.

I was pondering my next blog posting when I recalled the words of Charles Caleb Colton:

“When you have nothing to say, say nothing”

So here’s a pretty picture.

One sure-fire way to ruin a cruise is to put your back out. One sure-fire way to put your back out is lifting your outboard motor on and off the boat improperly.

There isn’t, to my knowledge, a portable outboard motor that’s equipped with a lifting point that allows it to be hoisted vertically. The carrying handle on most outboards is on the front, between the power head and the shaft. When you pick the motor up it lies horizontally – ok for carrying but useless for hoisting from boat to tender or vice-versa.  That’s where our motor lifting harnesses come in:

The Motor Grip is for motors that you would typically move around by hand – probably single cylinder four strokes would be the limit unless you’re built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. For bigger motors the Motor Grip has a bigger brother, the Motor Lift. Instead of a handle this hoisting harness has a steel loop to take an attachment point from your boom or a lifting davit. Details of both in the Salty John shop.

I like hoists on boats – when you’re cruising you’re always lifting heavy items aboard with the attendant risk of damaging yourself. For us it was usually 5 gallon fuel jugs or water jugs being manhandled; for nearly a year, between the Bahamas and BVI, we didn’t lie to a dock so everything was ferried to the anchored boat by dinghy, and hoisted aboard by hand. A swivelling dinghy davit or a dedicated cargo hoist would have been a real boon. There are several good ones about – you can get collapsible ones that stow away when not in use or massive fixed arrangements that look like they came out of Cammell Laird’s shipyard. The choice is your, Google is your friend.

The sailing season is getting underway, masts are back up and the boats are in the water. Tension gauge season is upon us, whilst Metz antenna season continues unabated – it’s busy here at the Salty John emporium.

With rigs being reinstalled and checked over it might be timely to revisit a post I made last year about drooping spreaders – one of my pet subjects:

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.

So, there you have it. Get your tension gauge working to set your rig just right, re-pin and wrap your turnbuckles, check your spreaders and have a great season.

This strange looking contraption is the prototype of the Salty John sheet release device. It’s a friction brake installed between the sheet and the sail attachment point that can be set to slip just before something nasty happens – capsize, excessive heeling, gear breakage.  I’m sure you get the idea. The prototype in the picture was fitted to Minnie in 2007 when she sailed on Lake Windermere and it worked quite well. There’s a patent pending somewhere in the system, so encouraged was I.

Of course, salty sailors that we are, we didn’t need such a thing but I’ve always thought it might be a good idea on a dinghy when teaching youngsters to sail, or on a small keelboat to avoid scaring inexperienced crew by putting the rail under in gusty conditions.

The working title was ‘Sheet Slipper’; I wonder what Reverend Spooner would have made of that? But I digress.

Sacrificial release devices are available for boat rigs and, in fact, they appear in many engineered products to limit the load that can be applied to a particular component – shear pins are the most obvious example and fuses do the same job in electrical circuits.

For sailing you can get ‘fuses’ that let go under higher than permitted loads to prevent gear damage or avoid capsize – of particular interest to multi-hull sailors. By the way, did you know that the late Tristan Jones, the nautical fantasist, filed a patent for an anti-capsize device for multi-hulls? Sorry, I’m digressing again.

There’s a climbing device consisting of a flaked webbing strap sewn together in such a way that under load it unzips progressively, breaking the climber’s fall in a controlled manner – I bet that could serve as a rig load releaser.

But the mad scientists in the Salty John secret laboratory came up with a device that isn’t sacrificial – once the gust has gone you reset it instantly by pulling on the control line, ready for the next gust, and you can adjust the tension at anytime to suit changing conditions. That’s what’s different about it.

The prototype is based on our now, sadly, discontinued Tiller-Hand but the production model would be more compact, taking up little space in the sheet geometry, and it could be modestly priced. Assuming anyone decided to take it to market. After all, it’s the mad scientists of S J that came up with the perpetual motion outboard motor, based on solar powered garden lights and mirrors, and no-one’s snapped that up yet.