June 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

Amazing how a single word can conjure up tantalising images of an idyllic tropical island lifestyle! When we first arrived in the Florida Keys on Adriana, our 32’ sloop, the Beach Boys had just released their tune ‘Kokomo’ about a relaxing island paradise somewhere nearby. The song certainly caught the imagination of our little band of adventurers and the concept of Kokomo was never far away as we each made our plans for heading ‘down island’ as soon as money and commitments would allow.

Kokomo, Indiana and Kokomo, Arkansas actually exist and I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. I’m sure these are splendid places but I rather doubt we’d find white sand beaches, swaying palms and tropical drinks served in coconut shells by hip swivelling topless maidens. There’s a Kokomo in Hawaii, too, and I’m guessing that it might be closer to the mark – but it still won’t be the Kokomo of our imaginations.

Another bubble-burster comes with the realisation that the Beach Boys were not, in fact, accomplished surfer dudes, nor were they impoverished buskers eking out the means to fit out their little boats for blue water escape; they were too busy building a mega-million dollar phenomenon for that nonsense. 

But, at the time, we knew none of this. Kokomo was the dream that drove us on to wonderful adventures in exotic places. We might not have found Kokomo, but many times we were damn close to it.

Although VHF range is considerably enhanced by height above sea level and, therefore, a masthead location is obvious, there are occasions when a rail mounted antenna is the best option.

For AIS systems the required VHF antenna, or AIS optimised VHF antenna, can be mounted on the stern rail to avoid congestion at the masthead and to provide redundancy should the masthead radio antenna fail or be lost in a dismasting.

Because AIS signals come from communication towers mounted high up on a ship’s superstructure you’ll get good range to your rail mounted antenna, certainly enough range to allow time to avoid even the fastest moving vessel.

The bracket you see here allows a Metz antenna to be mounted on the stern rail. Its tool-less operation means you can remove and stow the aerial when you leave the boat, or flip it over to keep the whip out of harms way when you aren’t using AIS.

By the way, some of us say antenna and some of us say aerial – I thought I’d mix and match today. I’m bilingual; I speak English and American.

Last year I published this technical illustration of my perpetual motion solar powered outboard motor (SPOMp) and it won’t lay down.

Every day someone finds it in the blog archives and then last week I was told that a teacher is using it in his class to generate discussion about energy conservation!

The SPOMp was designed to power Dylan Winter’s boat, affectionately known as Slug, on his continuing 20,000 mile crawl, left handed, around the UK’s severely indented coastline. His previous power plant, the Beast, had become recalcitrant and a more reliable and environmentally friendly alternative was sought.

As it happens, Dylan went the whole hog and disposed of Slug and Beast in one fell swoop. He now owns a pretty Hunter Minstrel, appropriately named Katie L, with an outboard well into which he can slot his choice of outboard. It seems unlikely he’ll be using the SPOMp – the outboard well introduces difficulties with power-diminishing shadows that render it less than reliable.

You can see what Dylan’s up to by going to his website – there’s a link over there on the right. Worth a regular visit and the DVD sets must be the best sailing entertainment bang for the buck around.

Mounting the inflatable tender on davits is an ideal solution to the stowage challenge presented by these indispensables of the cruising life.
The balanced connection between the davit hooks and the dinghy is best accomplished with davit slings – usually one at the dinghy’s bow, one at the transom. 

On each set of slings carbine hooks attach to the lifting points in the dinghy and a central ring provides the attachment point for the davit falls.

On most cruising sail boats it’s desirable to have the dinghy hoisted as high as possible. But how do you know what length of davit sling you need? And are they different for bow and stern?

Well, the solution is a pair of adjustable davit slings like these from Salty John. Simple.

I’m firmly of the opinion that all boats are a compromise and that the boat that’s most likely to take you cruising is the one you have. Having said that, however, I find discussions about the pros and cons of different aspects of the ideal cruising boat endlessly fascinating. Here’s one about where the mast should be stepped:

One of the benefits of a keel stepped mast for a long distance cruiser is that, in the event of a shroud or stay failing, the deck aperture will probably hold the mast up long enough for you to reduce the load on it. With a deck stepped mast it’s likely to topple straight overboard. But, on the other hand, the deck stepped mast is more likely to remain in one piece and could be recovered to set sail again. The keel stepped mast could break above deck leaving a stub, which may or may not be useful to jury rig a sail, but making re-rigging more complicated. Also, there is the possibility of the collapsing keel stepped mast structurally damaging the coach roof at the aperture.

The keel stepped mast is more likely to leak – mast boots are a pain in the neck. On my keel stepped ketch I found that the most effective mast aperture sealer was duct tape. Once the deck chocks were set up I’d wrap the whole thing with duct tape and then cover that with the painted canvas decorative boot to improve the aesthetics.

Any leakage into the keel stepped mast through halyard and cable entries will end up in the bilge, but the mast does provide a convenient conduit to get cables below. In the case of a deck stepped mast there is no way to get cabling below without making holes through the coach roof or deck and these can be a source of leaks if not properly protected by a Cableport, swan neck tube or deck glands.

You might think that the deck stepped mast would have another significant advantage because it saves space in the cabin but this isn’t necessarily so; a compression post is often needed to take the rig load from the deck stepped mast down to the keel. If the layout of the boat is such that a bulkhead can be advantageously placed directly under the mast step then there probably is a space saving. If that bulkhead has a door in it you’ll need to be careful that rig tension doesn’t distort the coach roof enough to jam the door.

I think it’s a question of ‘you pay your money and you take your choice’ – I’d happily cruise with either arrangement. However, in the case of trailer sailors, or when you cruise in an area that requires you to sail under bridges, a deck stepped, tabernacle mounted mast wins hands down.

I haven’t addressed the rig tuning and performance aspects of the keel stepped mast over the deck stepped mast because I think that for a cruising boat it’s of minor significance – some will feel differently.

For discussions on other aspects of cruising boat design have a look through the older blogs, and get over to the Salty John website – there’s an article there on choosing a cruising boat.

There are few things as annoying as birds pooping on your nice clean boat. It’s particularly distressing when they choose your expensive, dark coloured, Sunbrella canvas work to do it on. Clean up is tedious and there’s a real danger of permanent staining. So, what can you do about it?

Firstly, have you noticed how some boats are targeted by birds and others aren’t? I’ve walked around many marinas in my time and I’ve always been struck by how some boats attract birds and others don’t. I’m told that once a group of birds selects your boat as their privy they’ll keep coming back to your boat, to the exclusion of neighbouring boats, until something changes. No-one seems to know precisely why one boat is selected over another but it seems that once one bird has pooped this gives the signal to the others to follow suit. Clearly, if you’re near habitat that supports birds you stand a greater chance of becoming a convenience than if you’re located well away from a bird-friendly environment. So, don’t be a victim. If you’re a chosen one, clean the boat meticulously and move to another berth.

For the most part the birds sit on your spreaders and boom and drop their gifts from on high. Sometimes they’ll stand on the boat rail or spray hood and crap but that seems a less frequent procedure. So, it’s important to make perching on your appendages difficult. One way to do this is to run a length of fishing line – I actually use old fly fishing lines – from mast to topping lift, about a foot above the boom. You don’t need to add pieces of ribbon or, heaven forbid, old CDs, it’s the line that prevents them landing.

That saves your boom cover from boom perchers but you still need to tackle the messages from higher up. A line running from mast to shroud a few inches above each spreader works well. On smaller boats it’s a good idea to stow your halyards in clips half way along the spreaders – I guess the smaller area for perching is less desirable.

If you don’t give much of a damn for flag etiquette it works to have flags hoisted on port and starboard flag halyards – the flapping puts the little crappers off. Come to think of it, we’ve just had the Jubilee celebrations in Britain, bunting must be lying around for the taking so go ahead and decorate your boat with it!

At the masthead a burgee is effective. Other masthead deterrents include a VHF whip antenna and a spike on your Windex – standard on the Davis model. One thing that doesn’t deter birds are those bottle brush type lightning dissipaters, I’ve seen a bird nesting in one! (They don’t deter lightning either, but that’s beyond the scope of today’s blog).

The triatic stay on ketches can be a problem and I can see no easy solution. Perhaps a fishing line running along above it, or flags suspended from it? Or just do away with the triatic stay altogether and stand a better chance of keeping one of your spars in place if you’re dismasted. A bit drastic, perhaps.

On power boats with full length stainless tube safety rails you get unwelcome perching. In a marina in Majorca I saw a large power boat on which cable ties were wrapped around the rails every few inches with the tag ends pointing up. A deck hand told me it worked well but it certainly looked like sh…,err, the thing we’re trying to prevent.

Last, and definitely least, are the rubber snakes, lizards, alligators or what have you intended to scare off birds. In my dock walking research the incidence of guanoed boats with a snake lying in the cockpit suggests that they aren’t an effective deterrent – they may even be attractors.

Of course, the best deterrent of all is to keep moving – birds can’t hit a moving target – so, if you needed another excuse to go full time cruising, this is it.

I’m not even going to mention a shotgun.

Well, the thousand boat pageant on the Thames was a triumph of British stoicism over British weather. The sight of the choir on top of the barge carrying the London Philharmonic Orchestra, looking like drowned rats in the torrential rain, hair plastered to their heads, the ladies make up running down their faces, belting out Land of Hope and Glory was pure bulldog spirit. It made you proud to be British. Well done, you lot!

Not so well done to the BBC, their coverage was terrible. The pageant was the star; they didn’t need to distract us from it by cutting to inane side shows, mindless chatter demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge of things nautical and spouting reams of irrelevant statistics. BBC outside broadcasts always used to be so professional but this time they failed us. Not very well done, you lot!

The organisation was excellent; we British do pomp and circumstance so well. The individual boat owners, skippers and crew were brilliant; the boats were beautifully turned out and handled with skill and professionalism in difficult circumstances.

And the Royal Family got it just right, as usual, displaying a keen interest in the goings on and, most admirably, standing and waving to their loyal subjects from beginning to end of the rain lashed, wind swept affair. Excellent, Your Excellencies.

Monday morning the rain had stopped and a tiny ridge of high pressure brought sunshine so we took a boat ride up the canal returning in time for the village festivities – a jazz band and barbeque at one of our pubs. Lots of bunting and fluttering flags, lovely.

Tomorrow the rain and cold will be back, after all it’s only June.