June 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

Strangely, perhaps, in the majority of man and wife crews the foredeck work is undertaken by the wife whilst hubby stands behind the wheel spitting out commands. We do it ourselves. It seems illogical but it appears to work for most people – one of life’s little mysteries.

Reliable communications between skipper and crew are vital but can be difficult when the skipper and crew are operating at opposite ends of the boat, as they are for anchoring or mooring.

The really slick teams have sorted out a series of hand signals that allow them to carry out these functions noiselessly, as if communicating by ESP. The helmsman and foredeck crew work in silent harmony to arrive precisely at the mooring buoy, the crew triumphantly grasping the ring with the boathook and getting a line attached effortlessly.

Perhaps, if they’re really smart, they’re using a Salty John Mooringmate to ensure that the securing of the buoy is slickly and simply achieved. But I digress….

I’ve seen teams using headset walkie-talkies – a great idea as long as you stay calm and enunciate properly. If the crew switches off the headset and can still hear the captain screaming at her, little has been achieved.

Shouting is one form of communication that simply doesn’t work – it leads to a terrible atmosphere when the anchor is finally secured and drink is being taken in the cockpit.

Another method I would strongly discourage is one we witnessed in a Bahamian anchorage one dark and windy night: A large modern boat with him-and-her crew were engaged in an anchoring saga of epic proportions. They were communicating intra-boat by vhf radio – she with the handheld on the foredeck, he on the fixed set back at the helm. They chose to use channel 16 – in an anchorage full of boats monitoring channel 16. I have to say it was very entertaining but if it were a movie it would have had an X rating!

Whatever means of intra-boat communication you use, remember the wise words of George Bernard Shaw: The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

The RNLI statistics are out for 2013. They show that around the UK’s coast there were 8,304 launchings, 325 lives saved and 8,384 rescues made.

1,827 of the launchings were to assist leisure power boats of all types and 1,557 were to assist sail powered leisure craft.

The remainder of the launchings were to assist people ashore (eh?), people in the water, commercial fishing vessels, other commercial vessels and miscellaneous. This latter category, 639 launchings, includes recovery of dead bodies, animals, objects and cars.

The causes of distress were mainly machinery failure, 20%, groundings, 6.6%, and fouled propellers, 3.5%. Surprising, to me at any rate, was the low incidence of distress due to heavy weather, a mere 2.9%. I have a vision of lifeboats battling through impossible seas to save mariners clinging to upturned hulls but this is, apparently, completely wrong.

The second biggest category after machinery failure is “Thought to be in distress”, 10.5%. Who did the thinking, RNLI or the rescuee, is unclear. MOBs account for only 1.8% of rescues and fire accounts for only 0.9%, more surprises to me.

Here’s a provisioning tip for those taking bananas on an extended cruise. You will significantly slow the ripening process if you wrap the cut stalks in plastic. I used old plastic bags for this test, secured with a piece of sticky tape.

It’s easiest to achieve a good wrap if you divide the hand of bananas into twos, fold the plastic bag so it’s a couple of centimeters wide and start the wrap with it between the two stalks.

I present photographic evidence that it works – after three days the unwrapped bananas were fully ripe, the wrapped bananas at least three days behind. (The last picture has only one rapidly ripening banana because I’m too frugal to allow a banana to go beyond its prime, even in the interests of such important scientific research. Yum, it was good).

Bananas exude a ripening agent that will ripen other fruit stored with them, so keeping them isolated with their tails wrapped will keep all your fruit fresh for longer. So that’s two fruit preservation tips for the price of one.

Built in 1850 the St Anne’s Pier extended 945 feet out into the Ribble estuary.

At its seaward end was a landing jetty for steam ferries running from Blackpool and Liverpool.

Unfortunately, the dredging of the entrance to Preston docks in the late 1800’s changed the course of the river and left the jetty high and dry.

I wonder if the engineers realised that this was going to happen or was it a big “oops” moment?

The pier was shortened to 600 feet after reconstruction following a fire in 1982. The jetty was preserved after protests at its proposed demolition and now sits in glorious isolation serving no particular purpose, a sort of seaside folly.

In its simplest form a boom preventer is a line rigged from the end of the boom to a strong point forward which prevents the boom flying back across the boat in the event of an accidental gybe when running downwind.

There are a couple of difficulties with this simple arrangement: First, attaching the preventer to the boom end when it’s hanging out over the sea takes impressively long arms or some dangerous acrobatics, or you need to haul the boom back inboard within reach, which is a nuisance. A better arrangement is to have a pennant permanently attached to the boom end and belayed near the gooseneck. Then you just need to attach the preventer to this pennant, which you can do safely from the side deck or even the companionway.

The second drawback of the simple preventer is that you need to go forward to release it from the forward cleat when you want to deliberately gybe. The solution to this is to run the preventer through a block secured forward and back to a cleat at the cockpit from where it can be easily released when required.

There are additional tweaks available to those seeking the ultimate in preventer deployment: Setting up a lazy preventer ready for when you gybe is obvious, or devising a single line system whereby a common preventer serves on both tacks, the cleated end becoming the boom end when you gybe, and vice versa.

You could rig a length of bungy cord to hold the pennant in such a way that when you release the preventer the pennant self-stows back along the boom. Very nifty.

When running in light or moderate airs, I clip the boomvang to a strong point at the rail below the boom so that it pulls the boom down with much less effort and less load on the gooseneck whilst acting as an effective preventer. Some say this practice risks breaking the boom should it dip into the sea, but as long as the line is reasonably stretchy and the securing point is aft of the chain plates the boom has room to move. It has certainly never been an issue on my boats.

The boom can become a dangerous weapon when not properly controlled.

Turnbuckles (rigging screws) are used to tension the stays and shrouds on your boat’s rigging. They comprise a body into each end of which is screwed a threaded rod. One rod has a right hand thread, the other a left hand thread – when you rotate the body both rods move towards or away from the body at the same time, tightening or loosening the stay.

The lower rod connects to the chainplate and the upper rod connects to the rigging wire. They do this via various fittings including T-ends, jaws, clevis pins and machine swages. Whatever is used on your particular boat the critical point is articulation: If your joints don’t articulate they can break.

The body of the turnbuckle can be open or closed: A closed turnbuckle body, sometimes called a tubular turnbuckle, looks smooth and tubular but it can trap water and dirt in the lower end and this can lead to corrosion; it is also difficult to tell how much ‘bury’ there is left on the rod ends – always comforting to know your turnbuckles aren’t hanging on by a single thread.

Closed body turnbuckles have a check nut on the threaded rod to lock it against the turnbuckle body – this avoids the need for cotter pins or ring pins to stop the turnbuckle unscrewing itself. For extra security you can run a piece of wire from one fork, through the hole in the turnbuckle body, to the other fork, to prevent turning.

My personal preference is for open body turnbuckles (pictured). Open body turnbuckles bare all – you can see the rods and how much of their thread is engaged. You need to pin them to stop the turnbuckle unscrewing and you then need to tape over the pin to prevent it snagging on a sail. Bandit™ tape is ideal for this because it is non-adhesive and doesn’t leave a sticky mess when you remove it to adjust the rig

To adjust an open body turnbuckle you can turn it by hand or with a screwdriver inserted through the body opening, or you can use a spanner. With a tubular closed body turnbuckle that is too stiff to turn by hand you can use a special tool that fits into the hole in the centre of the body.

Whether you have open or closed body turnbuckles you need to think carefully about the material from which they are made. On the face of it stainless steel would appear to be most fit for purpose but you’d be wrong. Stainless threads suffer from a condition called galling, and it is pretty galling I can tell you, in which the threads jam when heavy load is applied. A much more satisfactory arrangement is a combination of a silicone bronze body and stainless threaded rods. This is a non-galling combination.

The threaded portion of the turnbuckle is typically twice the diameter of the wire it is intended to handle – 6mm wire would have an M12 thread or, in old money, ¼” wire would use a ½” thread turnbuckle. Check with the turnbuckle manufacturer for their specific recommendations.

That’s probably as much as anyone needs to know about turnbuckles.

More complex mainsails and their attendant control and reefing systems have become commonplace on cruising boats: Full length battens supporting a large roach and three reefs with reefing lines led aft is not untypical these days.

We’re told by racing sailors that for tweaking the last ounce of performance out of a mainsail it needs the large roach to add sail area high up, to stabilise airflow over the head of the sail and to minimise tip vortices. To hold the roach you need battens and the ultimate development of battens is to go full length, which assists with sail handling by allowing the sail to drop more tidily into a lazy jack set up. The cars to support full length battens add to the complexity.

Three reef points means you can have just the right amount of sail up for the prevailing conditions – assuming you know just how much sail that might be – and having the lines led back to the cockpit means you don’t have to go on deck. That’s another trend – controlling all aspects of the boat from the cockpit – only racers seem to have crew on deck these days.

Let me offer an alternative view, just for argument’s sake:
Adriana had a batten-less, roach-less, headboard-less main for our first three-year adventure. It had a single reef that halved the sail area, put in at the mast.

The lack of a headboard and battens were maintenance considerations – I was determined to do all my own maintenance on this cruise and I’d identified these items as potential problem areas.

My rationale was that I could afford to lose some mainsail area because Adriana tended towards too much weather helm, I wanted to keep things simple and low maintenance, being able to drop the main off the wind without battens catching on the spreaders was a good thing. And if it was a design good enough for Lin and Larry Pardey it was good enough for me.

It was a lovely sail to handle, ten ounce soft Dacron, and it fulfilled all my expectations.

But you can’t stop progress. The cruising sailor of today demands the latest technology, not just in sails but in all his equipment, and he’s prepared to pay for it.

The pretty village of Arnside, Cumbria, sits on the estuary of the Kent River which flows into Morecambe Bay within a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.

The railway line from Lancaster to West Cumbria passes over the river via the Arnside viaduct. Arnside was a port until the estuary silted up, a consequence of building the viaduct which was completed in 1857.

The rising tide surges fiercely up the river,   driven by the 9m (30’) tidal range and the constricting effect of the mouth of the estuary – there’s an impressive tidal bore at spring tides. Because of the potential danger, warning notices are posted at the pier and an audible warning is sounded before every incoming tide in daylight hours.

H.M. Coastguard station at Arnside has adopted special equipment to tackle the demands of rescues in the shallow and turbulent waters – Jet Skis!

Surprisingly, perhaps, this is an active dinghy sailing area and the Arnside Sailing Club operates out of the Old Customs House in the village. Dinghy racing and cruising takes place for about two hours on each high tide.

Worth a visit is Arnside.