February 2013 – Salty John : The Blog

I’m talking about the World’s buoyage systems and, in particular, about lateral buoyage. Here in the UK, and most of the rest of the world, we use the IALA A system: When entering a harbour or heading up a river, the cans you leave to port are painted red and the cones you leave to starboard are painted green. 

The mnemonic is “Is there any red port left”.

In North, Central and South America, Japan, Korea and the Philippines these marks are painted the opposite way around: Port hand markers are still square cans but they’re painted green, and starboard markers are conical but they’re painted red. This is the IALA B system. 

The mnemonic is the much slicker “Red right returning”.

This difference can confuse sailors heading for the Caribbean, say, or the USA on a charter holiday. So, some clarification:

Only lateral buoyage is affected – port and starboard marks and their associated bifurcation marks, those striped ones which show the preferred side of a wide channel. We’re not talking about cardinal marks or special marks; they’re the same in both systems.

Navigation lights on vessels are the same in all areas – green is starboard, red is port.

The direction of buoyage is the same in both areas – towards the harbour or towards the source of a river – unless stated otherwise on the chart.

If buoys are numbered the number goes with the colour, not the shape. Red marks have even numbers in both systems; green marks have odd numbers in both systems. Numbering starts from seaward and increases towards shore.

So, that’s clear then. I think I need to go and lie down.

To handle ground tackle on a regular basis you need an anchor winch. It can be powered or manual, it can handle rope or chain or both and it can be a capstan or a windlass. 

Technically, on a windlass the axis of the shaft around which the drum or gypsy turns is horizontal; on a capstan it’s vertical. This distinction is rarely recognised these days and the terms are used interchangeably, so anchor winches are simply referred to as ‘vertical’ or ‘horizontal’ – just remember that it’s the axle on which the gypsy turns that is horizontal or vertical.

Whether you drive your winch manually or by an electric motor is a matter of personal choice influenced by the availability on board of sufficient electrical power or willing muscle. 

On Adriana I had a magnificent bronze vertical winch from the Ideal Windlass Company (who also make capstans!), it was powered by an electric motor and had both rope drum and chain gypsy. On other boats I’ve had a horizontal manual Goiot winch and a horizontal powered Muir. All three did their jobs well but the Ideal was a joy. 

The advantages of vertical winches are that they take up less deck space than horizontal winches and the motor and gear box are below deck, protected from the weather. 

Another advantage of a vertical winch, I found, was that the chain exits the gypsy horizontally and travels a short distance before entering the naval pipe. The naval pipe has its opening oriented horizontally and pointing away from the bow so it is an inherently more water resistant arrangement than the vertical opening into which the chain from a horizontal windlass must drop.

A more obscure benefit of a vertical winch is that the rode can lead to it from any direction; with a rope gypsy and appropriately positioned blocks this can provide a means of hoisting heavy items onto deck, or of hoisting a crew member up the mast.

Electric capstans, with their geared motors located below decks, take up room in the forepeak where space may be at a premium. On horizontal windlasses the motor and gearbox are on deck.

Most cruising boats will be using all chain or will, at least, have a long section of chain to which the anchor is attached so a chain gypsy is almost always specified. It is vital that this gypsy is correctly mated to the chain. Calibrated short link chain is what’s used on an anchor winch but there are several sub-types, each with a slight difference in chain link dimensions, so make sure you have the right chain for your gypsy. 

Happy anchoring!

Maintenance time is coming up so I’ll take another look at marine sealants:

There’s a bewildering array of sealants and adhesives available for jobs requiring a watertight seal or bond between surfaces. Attaching deck hardware, repairing the inflatable dinghy, making a hull to deck seal, fitting portlights or sealing through-hulls and seacocks all require sealants with special qualities. 

Here’s a brief run through of what’s available and what it’s good for:

These are easy-to-use and generally clean products with a variety of uses such as isolating dissimilar metals and for sealing wood, glass and most plastics. They resist most boaty chemicals. Not recommended for underwater tasks such as sealing through hulls or for really tough jobs like hull to deck joints. A bit wimpy on the adhesive front.

Polysulphides (polysulfides).
Fantastically versatile and strong, stay flexible, bond well to most surfaces and can be used above or below the waterline. Not suitable for bonding plastics – melt acrylics and some plastics such as ABS and polycarbonates such as Lexan. Yikes. Take ages to cure.

The Incredible Hulk of the sealant world! Powerfully adhesive, they cure to form a flexible seal that’s all but impossible to break. There are several brands available with different cure rates, elongation characteristics, and tensile strength. Sika offers a large range of polyurethane hybrids for different specific purposes, Sikaflex 291 being the all-rounder. The universe could be held together with 3M 5200. I sealed a large gash in my Zodiac with this product and it was still going strong years later. Hull to deck joints, sealing through hulls and any other permanent bonding job cry out for polyurethane but don’t use it on acrylics. And don’t use it on anything you might contemplate taking apart again. Ever.

Polyurethane’s better looking, smarter but slightly wimpier brother. Looks good for a long time, cures very quickly, UV resistant, ultra flexible, shrugs off teak oils so can be used as a deck caulk, doesn’t stink and doesn’t shrink. What’s not to like? Oh, and you can use it on plastics, even ABS and polycarbonates. 3M 4000UV is an example.

Then we have a bunch of specialised sealants: Butyls, acrylics and bedding compounds. I’ve never found a use for these, given the availability of the above, but there may be special, obscure applications for which they are more suitable than the mainstream sealant types.

I’ve crossed the shallow Great Bahama Bank, between Gun Cay and Chub Cay, three times. On two of those occasions we broke the journey by anchoring for the night just south of Northwest Channel Light. The first time we did this I was woken by the sound of another boat thumping by in the wee hours of morning. He was not twenty feet away and I realised our anchor light wasn’t functioning.

For a couple of years I’d been using a paraffin lamp at anchor but this night I’d just flicked on the masthead light – it let me down when I really needed it.

I like an anchor light around head height, it’s more readily visible to boats manoeuvring in an anchorage and more effective because it illuminates some of the superstructure and it doesn’t get lost against a starry sky. Nowadays I use a Salty John dusk – to – dawn LED anchor light but such technology wasn’t available then. 

The second time we anchored off Northwest Channel light we were in company with another boat and we were treated to this magical golden dawn.

The third time we crossed in one straight shot but the journey was interrupted when we ran aground – out of sight of land. A very weird experience! We managed to get off quickly and work our way back onto the recommended route from which we’d strayed. 

A few years ago I wrote an article on techniques for handling running aground. It’s on the Salty John website, but here are the conclusions:

1. Recognize that you are aground as soon as possible and stop forward motion. 
2. If motoring, go into reverse immediately. If sailing, get the sails down, check for lines in the water and start the engine, then go into reverse.  Be aware that your rudder is vulnerable when backing up in shallow water. 
3. If this fails, limit the damage by getting an anchor out to windward. If possible orient the boat to provide the most protection from wind or waves. 
4. Reduce draft by heeling the boat. A very effective method is by pulling on a masthead halyard. Another method is putting weight onto the end of the swung-out boom; a crewmember or a flooded dinghy being the main candidates. Motor or tow the boat off into deeper water. 
5. Seek assistance from the professionals, or hail a passing Good Samaritan. 
6. Running your engine in shallow water and when aground churns up the bottom: Check your raw water intake strainer; if it is filled with sand and mud check your raw water pump impellor for damage.  

Happy cruising!

If you want to take your antenna cable through a bulkhead, or cabin top, or deck for that matter, one choice is the PL363 connector with two PL259 plugs.

The one in the picture is a 1.75” connector fitted with two large stainless nuts. These connectors come as standard with rather narrow-walled nuts, quite useless, particularly if you want to use sealant at the joint. So, add the hefty large diameter nuts.

To take cables through a deck you may want to look at the Cableport, a wonderful Swedish design that’s standard equipment on many top quality boats. Check it out on the Salty John website.

Other choices would be deck plugs, deck glands or a swan neck. Deck plugs are notoriously corrosion prone and need meticulous maintenance. There’s a wide range of deck glands available; you’ll probably want the type through which you can pass a 19mm diameter PL259 connector, especially if you drop the mast each season. 

Good quality connections minimise losses in the antenna system.

I once bought a proprietary dinghy bailer, a blue plastic one. I lost it almost immediately. When its replacement also went walkabout I made my own from a milk carton; it lasted for four years. I’ve made several since.

Bailers are easy to make, definitely not rocket science, as you can see from the picture.

 I prefer to use milk cartons because the material is relatively soft and conforms to dips and depressions in the fabric base of the dinghy. For a big boat bilge or hard floor dinghy you might choose a fruit juice carton which is made of sturdier material. There may be other suitable containers from which to fashion your bailer – look under the sink, perhaps.

Have fun!

On small to midsize boats the mainsail control systems are commonly four part (4:1) purchases. The boom vang, the backstay adjuster and the mainsheet can be controlled by this arrangement of two double blocks – either standard blocks or fiddle blocks. 

You can tell 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. A three part purchase would have three lines leading to and from the loaded block; a six part purchase would have six lines leading to and from the loaded block.  

An extremely useful four part purchase is the handy-billy. Equipped with snap shackles at each end it can be used for all manner of things: Clipped between boom bale and toe rail as a boomvang it provides the most effective way to hold the boom down when on a run; it can help hoist the dinghy, the outboard or even a MOB. I’ve used my handy-billy to hoist the cooker out of the cabin and to lower the engine in.

The handy-billy – an essential piece of kit on any boat. 

Have look at the range of reinforced ball bearing blocks on the Salty John website, excellent blocks at very attractive prices.