December 2013 – Salty John : The Blog

If you are in the market for an LED anchor light, the type you hang in the rigging, not a fixed masthead type, there is a possibility of confusion and disappointment if you don’t read and interpret the retailer’s description. I’m not suggesting there is a conspiracy to defraud, just that you need to be sure what it is you’re buying.

For instance, there are two similar looking anchor lights available at UK chandlers. One is the US supplied Davis Mega Utility Light and the other is a similar light supplied by AAA in Taiwan. They are both plastic bodied lights with a good quality Fresnel lens. The Mega Light has a grey body, the AAA light is all black.

Until recently neither light was available from the manufacturer with an LED cluster. Both lights come with two incandescent bulbs, a standard bulb and a bulb that has lower light intensity but consumes less power; you can decide which option to fit depending on circumstances. Suppliers claim an operating life of 5,000 hours for these incandescent bulbs, and that the lower power bulb is OK for 2nm visibility.

Several years ago the Taiwanese light became available from various suppliers with a retro-fitted LED cluster. (Salty John was one such supplier but we don’t make them any longer). Just recently the Davis light has become available with an LED cluster. I have not seen the LED version for sale in the UK yet but the Davis website shows it.

The LED version of both lights has very lower power draw and long life – the LEDs last up to 50,000 hours. 

But the incandescent light versions are also available and these are described as low draw, or low power and also long life and extended life lights – the sort of jargon we’ve come to associate with LED lights.

So, unless they are specifically described as LED lights they almost certainly are not!

Prices range from about £20 to £65 at the main chandlers. But price is an unreliable indicator of which version you’re getting – you can pay £20 or £50 for an incandescent version, or £27 up to £65 for an LED version. 

Best deal? Buy a £20 Taiwanese light, fit it with a 9xLED Super Bright cluster, run a strip of silicone tape around the body-to-lens joint, and put a blob of silicone inside the cable gland. You’ll have a waterproof LED light that meets code for visible distance and will last 15 years or more of continuous anchoring.

March , 1991, Adriana was anchored in the lagoon at Luperon, Dominican Republic.  We’d arrived a few days before from South Caicos and we were desperate to stock up with fresh supplies. Luperon was seriously defective on the shopping front so we planned to head for the big city, Puerto Plata. The recommended mode of transport was the gua-gua.

We rowed ashore at the crack of dawn to make our way to the bus stop where the gua-gua for Puerto Plata was boarded. Sitting on the back seat of the Mitsubishi mini-van we waited patiently as fellow passengers joined us and before long the capacity of the bus, as contemplated by its creators, was impressively exceeded. In fact, fourteen passengers and a driver were aboard the eight-seater as the journey began. And then, on the outskirts of Luperon, we stopped to pick up a policeman and his wife, a youth with his broken arm in plaster, a woman with her small child and a cock-fight enthusiast clutching his prize bantam.

With a mind-boggling twenty-one souls, not counting the chicken, squashed within, the gua-gua bounced on its way, over hill and dale, weaving an erratic course around pot-holes and ruts, toward Puerto Plata. Julio Iglesias at full volume competed with the happy chattering of this compressed humanity.

Puerto Plata is a bit of everything; a bustling port, industrial centre and major tourist destination. This town does have a certain charm and we enjoyed a late breakfast on the terrace of the Central Hotel to recover from our sardine-like journey. 
We stocked up at the supermacardo and Carol bought local larimar jewellery. Having bought a stack of post cards we found that the post office had run out of stamps!

To reach the bus depot for the gua-gua ride back to Luperon we took a moto-concho. Clutching our provisions Carol and I straddled the pillion of the 60cc Suzuki trail bike and hung on for dear life as the driver weaved through the traffic. We felt every bump and pothole through the bottomed-out suspension and on several occasions I was certain we would be flung into the road to perish under the wheels of oncoming traffic.

The journey home to Luperon started inauspiciously as the passengers had to push-start the gua-gua, but then it was the relative roominess of a mere eighteen passengers and we happily dozed away the miles. 

Tracking down VHF radio receiving and transmitting problems is a fairly logical procedure and I’ve written a short article about it for the Salty John website (clicky over there on the right), in the ‘articles and links’ section. 

When your VHF radio fails to communicate, defective cable and connections are the overwhelming favourites to be the culprits. Remember that to check your cable run for short circuits and breakages you need to disconnect at the antenna and the radio. Most whip antennas, including the Metz and the AlphaOne, are internally earthed as a precaution against damage by lightning and will show a short circuit to a multi meter.

Antenna joke: Two antennas met at the masthead, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t up to much but the reception was excellent.

In the summer of 1968 I was in Peshawar, on Pakistan’s northwest frontier, starting up a grain processing facility. I was 19 and it was my first overseas assignment for the British engineering company that employed me.

Hotel accommodation in Peshawar at that time was not suited to the needs of westerners but fortunately the new mill complex included an executive suite for use by visiting dignitaries and this was made available during my three month stay. The sparsely but adequately furnished apartment had the huge advantage of a western style toilet. 

I took lunch each day with the office staff, cross-legged on the floor of the reception area, but I ate dinner alone in my quarters. The food was always the same – spicy curries and chapatti eaten with the fingers – I never tired of this delicious fare. 

Twice a day I’d be interrupted in my duties by my appointed batman, Rafik, delivering tea in a china tea service on a silver tray. He did this at ten o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon wherever I was on the site and no matter in what activity I was engaged.  

The plant had been built in an undeveloped area on the banks of a river to the east of the city. One morning in June a hoard of people and animals arrived on the far bank of the river and erected tents and other temporary shelters. I was told these were Shia Muslims assembling to celebrate Muharram.

The flat roof of the five story mill provided a grandstand from which to watch the goings-on in the impressively sized encampment. An even better view was had from my perch on top of the stairwell roof, reclining in an old rattan chair I’d liberated from the office. Access was via a rickety bamboo ladder, one of many used in the construction of the building. 

One afternoon I’d retired to my perch on the stairwell roof to watch the finale of the celebrations across the river. Several fanatics were engaged in flagellation, enthusiastically whipping their own backs with long chain flails with steel blades inserted along their length. The flesh of the men’s backs was being ripped to shreds and blood and sweat flowed freely. There was wailing and clapping and much ado. It was fascinating if gruesome entertainment. 

I became aware of some activity behind me and turned to see the ladder moving.  A china tea service appeared over the parapet followed by a black woollen Jinna cap and then the sweat-bathed, grimly grinning face of Rafik. It was three o’clock.

Oh, for a bilgus immaculatam like the one pictured!

The term bilge, it’s thought, is a variant of bulge first used in the early 1500’s and was itself probably a variant of the French boulge which was a sort of leather purse. 

Bulge was defined as ‘the lowest part of the ship’ and also ‘the foulness which collects there’. Yummy yummy.

Keeping the bilges fresh can sometimes seem an impossible task. We’re tempted to use all manner of hazardous chemicals in an attempt to absorb whatever lurks therein, creating a pool of toxic waste that we pump overboard with a huge burden of guilt weighing on our conscience. Well, that’s probably overstating it, but you know what I mean.

It’s best to use non-hazardous bio-degradable liquids that digest the oil, fat and bacteria in bilge water. There are various brands on the market – Google is your friend.

A fresh, clean bilge is a thing of beauty.


Rigging blocks provide mechanical advantage and they also redirect the lead of a line to make it more convenient to pull on.

A single block at the masthead with a halyard running through it is a simple one part purchase. It provides no mechanical advantage, but it does redirect the lead of the line to the base of the mast so that you can conveniently haul on it. Without the block you’d have to balance on the top of the mast to haul up the sail. 

By combining blocks into sets that work together as a team you gain mechanical advantage. How much mechanical advantage is gained is known as the ‘purchase’ of a set of blocks – three to one purchase, four to one purchase, and so on – and this is determined by the number and configuration of blocks in the system.

The more times the line runs through the loaded set of blocks the greater the advantage. The most common examples on a boat are the mainsheet system, the boom vang and the backstay tensioner. On small and mid-size boats these are most commonly four part purchases – a 4:1 mechanical advantage.

You can tell this is a four part purchase because the loaded block – the one that moves with the load – has a total of four lines leading to and from it. 

The downside of block systems is that the higher the purchase the slower the work is done – so you have to choose the right balance between speed and ease of effort. Bigger boats with heavier loads will require greater multiplication of effort – or gorillas for crew – and that means more line to haul and more time taken to do it.

Friction is also a formidable enemy in block systems so choose ball bearing blocks which will keep the loss at each block down to around 3% rather than 10% or more for blocks with sleeve bearings.

To get even greater mechanical advantage you can use one purchase to haul on another purchase – a compound system. This provides huge mechanical advantage because the efforts of each system are multiplied, not added together: A three part purchase pulling on a four part purchase gives a 12:1 advantage, not merely 7:1.Or you can use a winch to haul on a block system to even greater advantage. 

Blocks are a metaphor for human teamwork; a single block achieves very little on its own but working together with others the results are almost magical.

Apparent wind is not what you get from eating too many apparent beans, it’s the term we use for the wind as you feel it on a moving boat.

The concept of apparent wind is largely unknown to non-sailors but if you sail a boat it’s a fundamental fact of life: apparent wind is what you sail in. Apparent wind is the wind you experience when the boat is moving – it’s the true wind modified by the boats motion. A 15 knot breeze coming at you from 45 degrees off your bow when you’re stationary becomes a 20 knot breeze at about 35 degrees off your bow when you’re moving forward at around 6 knots. The boat speed adds to the true wind speed, and modifies its angle of approach. Conversely, when the wind is from behind its speed is reduced by the speed of the boat. A 15 knot breeze from dead astern is an apparent wind of just 9 knots when the boat is moving at 6 knots. When you’re sailing you don’t really think about apparent wind – it’s the wind you’re sailing in and that’s that. However, there is a time when you really need to consider the effects of apparent wind and that’s when you change from a course off the wind to a course on the wind.

If you are running dead downwind at 6 knots in 15 knots of true wind and you then round up onto a close hauled course, the apparent wind goes from 9 knots to over 20 knots quite quickly. It can come as quite a shock! You need to be ready for it.