July 2011 – Salty John : The Blog

It’s ten days to the start of Cowes Week, so here’s a picture of a cow. We’re nothing if not topical here at Salty John.

Good luck to all the participants – have a great time!

A storm jib that sets well in a blow is a good thing to have, obviously, so you design and install an inner forestay to carry one.

The problem is that when you want to use the storm jib it’s also the time you don’t want to be going on the foredeck.  Just when you really, really don’t want to go up to the foredeck you have to, to set up your inner forestay and hank on your storm jib. Life, like the sea, can be cruel.

I suspect these inner forestay arrangements (particularly the more Heath Robinson versions) are rarely used. I bet most people just try to use a fully or almost fully rolled headsail rather than risk a trip forward.

Boats with small mains and big jibs are particularly disadvantaged because these large jibs are useless when rolled radically. A boat that relies less on a big foresail will already have a smaller jib on the roller furling gear so the furled set will be better.

I cruised for three years with hanked-on sails and then another three years with roller furling. If I were doing it again I’d seriously consider going back to hanked-on sails.

But that’s a different discussion. If I did have roller furling I’d have a small, fairly heavy sail, the equivalent of a No.3 jib, perhaps, that would keep the boat sailing as the weather built and would set well even when rolled right down, and I’d change to this sail well ahead of the rough stuff arriving.

Big roller furling headsails are a nightmare when you get caught out.

Raw water failure is the most common problem with marine diesel engines. Within a short period of time expensive damage to the engine or wet exhaust system can occur. Reduction or total blockage of the raw water flow could be caused by debris in the inlet through-hull, a clogged inlet strainer or failure to open the inlet seacock.
The raw seawater cooling flow takes the heat from the engine cooling water in the heat exchanger and discharges it via the exhaust system. Failure of this flow of raw water will not only lead to overheating of the engine but also overheating of the exhaust system components. And it can occur before the normal engine block mounted temperature sensor detects it.
If the wet exhaust muffler melts, the raw water pump will continue to pump water into the boat, creating another problem to contend with.
Sentry™ provides an audio and visual alarm if your engine’s raw water cooling flow should be interrupted. Simple to install, a Sentry exhaust temperature alarm makes good sense. That’s why they’re used by fishing boats in Alaska, tugs in the Panama Canal and pleasure boats everywhere.

It’s that time of year – masts are back up, boats are out on the water and VHF radio problems are emerging.

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, in the ‘articles and links’ section:

When your VHF radio fails to communicate, defective cable and connections are the overwhelming favorites to be the culprits. 

Seen on a tee shirt: Paddle faster, I hear Banjos

Some ocean passages are more enjoyable than others.

Obviously, the weather has a huge bearing on the pleasure of a journey but even heavy weather passages can be hugely satisfying in the right circumstances – a well found boat, confident crew, no gear failures, spot-on landfall. I did a delivery trip from Chesapeake Bay to Newport that included being hove-to for eight hours in an un-forecast storm that falls into this category. Of course, I’ve also had heavy weather passages where my inner self has been screaming: Stop the boat I want to get off!

Calms are more challenging but can still be enjoyable – doing the Mona Passage from Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico we had virtually no wind for the first two thirds of the trip, then a lovely breeze kicked in to waft us to Mayagűez. I remember it being a passage of great contentment despite the fearsome reputation of this stretch of water. On the other hand, the oily calm that preceded our ‘ultimate storm’ passage off the Cape of Good Hope was most unpleasant.

One of the least enjoyable passages I’ve endured was along the north coast of Hispaniola en route to Samaná. Two nights and a day, not much wind and lightning building to the north which eventually caught us as we rounded Cabo Samaná. But the most unpleasant aspect came from an eerie feeling of disquiet for a large portion of the trip. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem but there was a strong feeling of melancholy aboard during the first night and day that seemed disproportionate to the concerns about the approaching bad weather. I read later that Bahía Escocesa, the Scots Woman, is thought to be haunted and that this feeling of sadness, along with hearing a woman sobbing, has been reported often. Hmm.

And the best passage? Our first crossing of the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas because it signified the start of a truly great adventure – our modest odyssey, island hopping to the Caribbean.

I dug out my old deck shoes the other day. I bought them in 1998 and they’ve traveled a few thousand sea miles, and a fair few on land as well. I thought they were just about broken in, really.

It hasn’t been warm enough to wear them here in the frozen north for a few years, (the Salty John cool code decrees that socks must never be worn with deck shoes), but summer finally arrived and I put them on and promptly skidded across the kitchen floor like an ice skater. The soles, which at one time would have walked up walls, had acquired a glass-like finish devoid of all adhesion.

The high-tech razor cut tread had gone from large areas but I wore them to the boat anyway in the vain hope that if I could work some heat into them, the rubber soles would develop traction – like the tyres on an F1 racing car. I walked down the dock like a teenager in a strop, dragging my feet all the way, but failed to develop enough heat to provide proper grip. I’d probably spin off at the first hairpin turn; they had to go.

Deck shoes are like jeans; it takes years to break them in and then, just when they look and feel really cool, they’re worn out and ready to be tossed away. Oh well.

To all our US readers.

A very good sailor once told me that racing was the best way to hone my sailing skills. I have to agree with him. The racer’s attention to detail in setting up and trimming the boat and the tactical aspects of navigation really do help you to get from A to B faster and more efficiently.

Some will claim that, as cruisers, they really don’t care how long it takes to reach their destination but I think the majority of sailors prefer to think of themselves as skilled in harnessing the winds and currents and that’s exactly what racers are.

There are obvious differences between the priorities of the racer and those of the cruiser – racers have big crews and can handle complex sails such as spinnakers more readily and they will persist in pursuing the shortest course to the line when the cruiser may be taking a longer but less arduous route. The short-handed cruiser may reef down before the racing crew even considers it and the cruiser may choose to heave-to whilst the racing crew battles on.

The racing boat will be equipped to get there fast, as safely and comfortably as possible; the cruising boat will be equipped to get there safely and comfortably, and as fast as possible.

For the most part, though, the lessons to be learnt from the racing circuit about making the boat go faster benefit the cruising sailor. In particular, sail trim and rig tuning are as relevant to one as the other.

Knowing that your sails are set to make the most of the available breeze gives a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Racing, with its emphasis on sailing efficiency, teaches you to achieve this.

Knowing that your stays and shrouds have the right degree of tension to ensure the best performance from the boat without danger of the whole lot falling down around your ears is a comfort. Racing teaches you the importance of a well tuned rig for efficiency and for rig integrity, and how to achieve it.

The big sailmakers and the one-class boat manufacturers provide tuning guides for set up and trim. North Sails, for instance, has on its site tuning guides for over 80 types of boat.

The tool of choice for rig tuning is the Loos tension gauge – all the tuning guides provide Loos gauge settings. The Loos gauge instructions give preliminary settings for all rig types. Whether you’re a cruiser or a racer, or both, a Loos tension gauge will help to get you there faster and safer.