May 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

When you use a multimeter to check that you have no short circuited connectors in your cable run you should be aware that the cable must be disconnected at the antenna as well as at the radio.

Most vhf antennas show a short circuit to a multimeter – see the first picture – so the cable, when connected to the antenna, will also show a short circuit whether it is or is not actually short circuited. This short circuit reading at the Metz, and other quality antennas, does not mean the antenna is faulty. This is the correct reading.

So, if you’ve just come down from connecting your antenna at the masthead and you haven’t checked the cable run yet, you’ll need to shinny back up the mast and disconnect it.

Only then can you proceed to check that you don’t have a short circuited connector or a corroded section of cable. In fact, it’s a good idea to check each connector at the time you fit it, before you solder it, to avoid much frustration later on.

I’ve blogged before about troubleshooting your vhf antenna system and about the ease with which a PL259 connector can be inadvertently short circuited during fitting but I felt the need to emphasise the point about disconnecting the antenna before checking the cable run after a couple of people thought they had a ‘short circuited’ antenna. No, it’s supposed to be that way. A faulty Metz! Heavens forefend!

Well, we’ve had the first tropical storm of the year in the Atlantic; TS Alberto made an out-of-season appearance off the US east coast and then rapidly dissipated. An early start to the Atlantic hurricane season, it seems. Summer must be just around the corner.

Over here there’s a hint of summer in an otherwise disappointing May. They say that if March is like May, and it was, then May will be like March, and it was. Well done ‘they’.

Yesterday the sun had its hat on and we went out to play. The staff and management of Salty John Boat Products took a couple of hours out of their hectic schedule and headed for Minnie, the yacht that thinks it’s a narrowboat, for a pleasant dawdle down the Lancaster Canal.

The swans are still a little aggressive this time of year with young to defend, but less so than when they are still on the nest – they had a token hiss and show of feathers but we were past without a direct assault.

Swallows swooped over the water, herons fished from the banks, sheep and cattle grazed languidly. After a couple of hours of utter tranquillity it was back to headquarters to pack up the day’s sales for dispatch to far flung places. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it.

You know the sort of thing:
Red sky at night sailor’s delight,
Red sky at morning sailor’s warning.

I never did find that one particularly useful or, for that matter, true.

Much more useful is:

First rise after a low fall,
Brings the strongest blow of all

It reminds us to watch out for the sting in the tail of a passing low.

Long foretold – long last,
Soon foretold – soon past

is probably true, but lying hove-to for eight hours when a severe gale popped up out of nowhere didn’t seem much like ‘soon past’ at the time, but in meteorological terms I suppose it was

I was reading Frank Robb’s little book Handling Small Boats in Heavy Weather and came across one of Frank’s own little versicles, as he calls them:

High and steady? – sleep at rest
Sea will be as flat as a typist’s chest.

How non-politically correct is that?! But seeing as he wrote it in 1965 we can probably excuse him.

In this age of readily accessible and largely accurate weather information weather versicles have lost any meteorological value they might have had, but they’re great when you want to play the salty seadog to the neophyte sailor.

We kept Minnie on Lake Windermere for a couple of years and had to develop a technique for picking up our swinging mooring on a regular basis.

We weren’t entirely new to swinging moorings; while we were in the Bahamas and the Caribbean coral-friendly moorings were beginning to take the place of anchoring in many of the more popular spots, so we’d picked up a mooring from time to time without much drama.

As with most sailing couples, I’d take the helm while Carol used a boathook to pick up the mooring. Then I’d go forward and help her to secure it. The only potentially awkward bit would be when Carol was attached to the buoy by the boat hook and the wind would be blowing the bow off – this is when we could lose Carol, the boathook or both.

So I got the idea of using a mooring device to get a line onto the mooring buoy. Carol was ambivalent if not downright sceptical; mooring devices come in many and varied form including contraptions of fiendish complexity which thread a line through the mooring eye like a magic trick and she didn’t fancy being blamed when the rabbit failed to come out of the hat.

But keeping it simple is my mantra so we eschewed the plastic thread-a-line-through-the-eye jobbies in favour of a straightforward, very strong, stainless steel mooring hook with a spring loaded bail.

The concept is astoundingly simple. The key component of this set up is the clip which you attach to a boathook (or a broom handle or whatever) which holds the mooring hook in position with the bale wide open. A line is attached to the eye of the mooring hook – we use a splice in 12mm three strand nylon but you can use a bowline if you like. You cleat off the boat end of the line, just as you would coming into a dock, and you grab the mooring buoy with the mooring hook. When the hook is through the mooring eye you simply pull the boat hook away and the clip releases the bale securing the mooring buoy. Simples.

If you miss, you just reset the hook in the clip and you’re ready for the next go around. In two years on Lake Windermere Carol never missed on the first pass. If picking up a mooring was an Olympic event Carol would be in the team – but they’d probably ban the Mooringmate as unfair to the competition.

Get yours in the Salty John shop.

I’ve become an expert at making dinghy bailers from various types of plastic container. When I bought my Zodiac several years ago it came with a specially made bailer which I lost almost immediately. I bought another one from a chandler and promptly lost that one. So I made my own – and kept it for two years.

The technique is simple, as you can see from the drawing.

You can experiment with different types of container. I prefer the 2 litre milk carton because it’s a good size and of just the right consistency to follow the contours of the dinghy bottom without threatening to tear the fabric.
You can use orange juice containers for a stiffer construction or bleach containers if you want a round profile.
If you want to use it on the boat and the bilge is a bit narrow you can use a 1 litre milk carton instead.

Making bailers out of used plastic containers is good for the planet and could probably grow into a rewarding hobby.

It’s that time of year again; masts are up and rigs are being tuned. Whether for racing or cruising correct rig tension pays enormous dividends when it comes to sailing efficiently.

There’s an article about rig tuning using a Loos tension gauge on the Salty John website. Here are some comments from it:

Forestay tension – masthead rig: It is almost always advantageous to set the forestay tension as high as possible within the limits of structural strength. Generally, it is possible to use 15% of the breaking strain of the wire as the forestay tension. The backstay should be adjusted to maintain a straight mast with the desired forestay tension. The backstay tension will be less than the forestay tension because the backstay makes a greater angle to the mast than does the forestay.

Note that rollerfurling jib tension can only be set by adjusting backstay tension.

Forestay tension – fractional rig: Because the forestay tension cannot be directly balanced by the backstay tension some mast bend is accepted and the sails are cut to accommodate it. Forestay tension of at least 15% of the wire strength is desirable but, if this should result in excessive mast bend, it may be necessary to back off the tension.

Upper and lower shroud tension – masthead rig: The initial rig tension should be high enough that the leeward shrouds do not go slack when sailing close-hauled in a brisk breeze. The proper tension for your boat can be found by a few test runs under sail and then the Tension Gauge can be used to record and maintain this value.
For many boats a shroud tension of 10% to 12% of the wire strength is adequate. In some rigs it may be advantageous to carry a bit more tension in the uppers than the lowers.

Upper and lower shroud tension – fractional rig: In most cases the same comments apply as for masthead rigs. However, there is one exception. Where the upper and lower shrouds on a fractional rig lead to chainplates located aft of the mast – swept back spreaders – most of the forestay tension is balanced by the upper shrouds. A shroud tension as high as 20% of the wire strength may be required to achieve the desired forestay tension. Never exceed 25% of the wire breaking strength.

A well tuned rig and correctly set up spreaders (ban the droop!) will ensure you get the best from your boat and avoid structural damage. The key is the Loos tension gauge.

What do you use to connect your anchor to the chain? I’ve always used a straight forward shackle because I like to keep things simple, a philosophy that’s always worked for me, being somewhat simple myself. I like a bow shackle because, to some extent anyway, it prevents the shackle pin head colliding with the bow roller cheeks as the anchor’s hauled up. A D-shackle is narrower in the body section but the shackle pin head sticks out like a sore thumb. In either case you’ll need to mouse the shackle pin to stop it unscrewing.

You can get shackles that have flush pin ends, usually tightened with an allen key, to avoid the clash between protruding pinhead and bow roller cheeks. I don’t know how they’re secured, though. Maybe with a locking fluid such as Loctite? Hmm.

Do you put the shackle pin through the anchor shank or through the chain link? It’s an interesting question but there’s no doubt in my mind that the shackle pin goes through the hole in the anchor shank – it just seems right from an engineering point of view and, in fact, the genuine CQR used to be supplied with a shackle thus connected.

The curved surfaces of the chain interact smoothly with the curved surfaces of the bow shackle. So, pin through anchor, no doubt.

The shackle should have a safe working load (SWL) at least equivalent to that of the chain. You can’t just pick up any old galvanized shackle; you need to check the safe working load. Short link proof coil 8mm chain typically has a safe working load of around 800 kilograms but a bog standard galvanised shackle might have a SWL of 200 kilograms, way too wimpy for the job. Look for a stainless steel shackle and, even then, you might have to go up a size to get the right SWL. There’s a limit to how large a shackle the chain link will comfortably handle, if you want a really beefy shackle it can help to have an oversized link on the end of the chain

You can get specialised anchor connectors, with or without a swivel, both solid and articulated, even double articulated. You can find them in a cunning cranked pattern, they look like a banana, designed to force the anchor to rotate around to the right attitude and slither perfectly into the correct parked position on the bow roller. Once again, the most important thing to check is the SWL because you don’t want to introduce a weak link into the system. Just because it’s called an anchor connector doesn’t mean it’s up to the job, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that there are a few baddies amongst the available selection so check the SWL, it should preferably be stamped on the connector.

There you have it, two anchor posts in a row and we don’t even sell anchoring tackle. If you haven’t done so yet, pop along to the shop and see what we do sell.