August 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

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:

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!

I missed the movie Captain Phillips when it was first released last year but managed to see it just recently. It’s about the capture of a ship by Somali pirates and it prompted me to investigate how big the pirate problem remains in that part of the world. Well, it seems we have a EU force operating in the area and the success of this as well as self protection measures by the ships and boats themselves has led to a dramatic improvement: In 2011 there were 176 recorded attacks on shipping in the region and in 2013 there were just 7. So far in 2014 there have been 2. Read all about it at:

I’ve pondered whether to go with one mast or two. I’ve had sloops and I’ve had a ketch and I can’t recall any advantage of the ketch that would justify its extra cost and complexity.

That ketches divide the sail area into smaller, more manageable, pieces is the most often cited advantage but with modern materials and equipment I really have to question whether this is valid any more on a boat of 40’.

The sailing benefits are rather too marginal to make up for having that extra stick to buy, tend and maintain.

It will be a sloop.

Having made that decision I looked at three options – Bermudian, gaff and junk. Having been brought up in Hong Kong I’m very familiar with the junk rig and it certainly ticks some of the boxes – handy to tend and relatively low initial cost, for a start. Where it begins to go wrong for me is the on-going reliability – too many components to chafe and break. And, perhaps, there’s still a nagging doubt about unstayed masts.

I’m unfamiliar with gaff rigs so a bit more research was needed here. This is certainly a good looking rig, especially on a traditional style of boat. In some ways gaff suffers from the same erosion of benefit as a result of modern materials and design as does a ketch – a shorter mast for a given sail area is of quite marginal advantage in this era of aluminium spars. Mast tracks are now much less likely to jam and lightweight battens restore sail area higher up, further eroding the advantages of gaff rig.

The gaff rig is more complicated in the sense that it has more components – more running rigging, more potential for chafe and damage, more windage. It does get more sail area up where the wind is and must be faster off the wind but, in the end, you can’t help thinking that if it’s so good why don’t all production boats have gaff rigs?

The Bermudian rig has benefited enormously from years of development – it was clearly the chosen rig, for whatever reason, when leisure boating took off and very few production boats are built with any other rig these days. As a result of ongoing development you can make a Bermudian sloop rig as simple or as complex as you like, as labour intensive or as automated as your perceived needs dictate. I can see no point in swimming against the tide; my ideal cruising boat will be a Bermudian sloop.

But will it be cutter-headed? I’m still pondering that one.