December 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

Ships have derricks to hoist cargo aboard and our cruising boats can certainly benefit from a similar convenience. We need to hoist provisions aboard, the outboard motor, bulky sail bags and countless other heavy and awkward loads.

On sailing boats you have a ready made derrick in the form of your boom. It’s a good idea to run a halyard to the boom end to provide support and use the main sheet or a dedicated handy-billy to do the lifting.

If the layout of your boat doesn’t lend itself to using the boom you can fit a dedicated cargo hoist. There are various types available, some quite reasonable in price others eye-wateringly expensive. Or you can make your own from 1½” (38mm) stainless tube bent to shape, or cut and welded. The vertical section can rotate inside a slightly larger diameter tube secured to a pushpit upright with bolted clamps or hose clamps. A rubber tip or softwood plug will protect the deck from the cut end of the tube.

A three part purchase using a double block on the davit arm will give you a three to one mechanical advantage. The hoisting line can be secured to a cleat on the davit upright. A more sophisticated version might use a trailer winch and crank handle to do the hoisting.

Cargo derricks are incredibly useful pieces of equipment – you’ll wonder how you managed without one.

Apparent wind is not what you may suffer after too many apparent sprouts with your Christmas dinner this week. The apparent wind of which I speak and have spoken of in the past is an important aspect of sailing that needs to be fully grasped. 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.

Do you stuff it or flake it or both? Your mainsail, I mean. Or do you have one of those combined lazy-jack, sail bag thingies?

For me, the most efficient way to get the main down and under control is to stuff it. You apply the topping lift, release the halyard, form a ‘bag’ with the first yard of sail and into this you stuff the remaining sail as it tumbles down the mast track. You punch the cloth into the bag to get a tight fit, and as each batten arrives you align it fore and aft. You then roll the ‘bag’ onto the top of the boom and secure it with sail ties (or gaskets as they are sometimes known). Job done.

This gives you a secured mainsail in quick time but the result looks a bit like a boa constrictor that’s swallowed a family of warthogs. Not pretty, and for some boat owners, unacceptable.

Flaking the sail as you drop it really requires two people; one stands at the mast and encourages slabs of sail cloth to fall to alternate sides like a concertina’s bellows whilst the other stands at the other end of the sail and hauls the flakes aft, aligns the battens and pushes the reefing lines into the folds to stop them dropping untidily onto the deck. You then secure with sail ties. After a few years the sail learns where the flakes come and the operation becomes more efficient.

The result can be such a satisfying work of art that you delay the fitting of the sail cover so that others can admire your handiwork – like the one in the picture.

Many sailors, myself included, use a combination of the two methods; stuff it until you’re at the dock or have your anchor down, and then go back and flake it.

But my ideal cruising boat, the 40’ fantasy boat about which I occasionally ramble, will have in-mast furling so the above will be rendered moot. Anyone need some sail ties?

Walking through marinas where cruising boats reside you come across some impressive structures created from stainless steel tubing.

The radar arch is de rigueur on any self respecting cruising boat these days and this is often combined with davits, solar panel arrays and wind generators.

Useful stuff is stainless steel tubing.

Salty John Boat Products has acquired a number of Loos Type A metric rig tension gauges at an extremely low price and I want to pass this opportunity on to my readers.

The Type A (91M) handles wire sizes 2.5mm, 3mm and 4mm and is suitable for dinghies and small keel boats. 

They are available at £48 each (VAT included) plus postage, while stocks last. This represents a substantial saving  over the retail price. It’s not uncommon to see these gauges offered for twice that price.

Contact me at if you’re interested. Available to individuals, clubs, associations.

Commercial over, back to the show!

Many boats will have their masts down at this time of year and this provides the opportunity to take a look at the integrity of your vhf antenna system.

It’s a good idea to remove the antenna and take it home for safe keeping. Good quality antennas have a mechanical connection at the base, usually a PL259 connector, so it’s a simple matter to remove any protective tape or silicone and unscrew the connection. (Some economy antennas have factory crimped cable connections so you can’t separate them from the cable. If you have any doubt about the performance of such an antenna and cable you should discard the lot).

With the antenna removed you can have a close look at the cable and connectors. If there’s obvious corrosion at the connectors you’ll want to remove them and check that the cable isn’t blackened and corroded. If it is you might be able to retrieve the situation by cutting back to sound cable. If you don’t have sufficient slack to get rid of all the corroded cable you’ll need to replace it. Get marine quality cable with a stranded and tinned core and tinned braid with good coverage, over 90%. For runs longer than 6m you’ll want RG8X cable and for very long runs, 30m or more, you’ll want RG213.

Check with a multimeter that there is no circuit between the centre pin and the outer shell of the connectors at either end of the mast. If there is, you have a short in the system and you’ll need to track it down and replace the offending connector or cable. This test must be done with the antenna disconnected because most whip antennas show a dead short to a multimeter.

Finally, check that the cable inside the mast is not interfering with any internal halyards which could damage the cable. Most modern masts will have an internal conduit to keep rope and wire apart but some don’t, so check.

I recently spent a few days in the delightful city of St Petersburg, Florida. Strolling along the waterfront, through green manicured parks, I spotted a fleet of Sonar Keelboats owned by the St Petersburg Yacht Club.

The Sonar was designed in 1979 by Canadian Bruce Kirby, creator of the highly successful Laser dinghy. The Sonar was designed for the Noroton Yacht Club, CT, as a comfortable, fast, yet simple boat for match racing and training. This 7m (23’) boat with its large cockpit and straightforward rig fitted the bill perfectly and around 800 were eventually built. International success came when the Sonar was selected for the Paralympics in 1996.

A lovely place is St Petersburg and it has boats, too.

I’ve only ever had a fire on board once, when the alternator controller burst into flames as a result of a lightning strike. A dry powder extinguisher did the business, putting out the fire efficiently even though the resultant snow storm of white dust took a long time to clean up.

Fire on board needs to be taken seriously – three people die each year in Britain alone as a result of fire on recreational craft. The picture shows what can happen if attempts to control a fire fail. This incident was caused by a propane tank leak but it could as easily have been a result of several other scenarios.

As long as we carry combustible materials on board – for cooking, heating and to propel the boat – we need to manage fire safety properly. There are various sources of excellent advice on preventing and dealing with fires on boats including the UK Boat Safety Scheme booklet. Check on line for this information and apply it to your boat.

Fire on board a boat is a very scary prospect; make sure you have a plan to tackle it.