May 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

It’s still early in the season here in the UK but boats are out sailing and that means rigs are getting tuned – at Salty John, rig tension gauges are flying off the shelves.

Having the correct rig tension is important because a loose rig can impart shock loads to shrouds and chain plates as the mast flops from side to side, and a rig that’s too tight can cause structural damage.

A well tuned rig will have equally tensioned shrouds so that the boat will perform well on both tacks, the leeward shrouds won’t dangle flaccidly and the forestay won’t sag. She’ll feel right on all points of sail.

You don’t need a tension gauge to set up the rig – there are methods whereby you can measure the change in length of the shrouds and stays as the turnbuckles are tightened, and you can always try the musical ear approach: Twang! That seems about right.

But the Loos & Company tension gauge gives you a quick, accurate check and that will encourage you to test often, making sure all is well. For racers who set their rigs to suit the prevailing conditions a Loos gauge is an important tool in their race-winning armoury.

There’s a link on the Salty John website to the North Sails catalogue of tuning guides – your boat might be in there and, if so, you’ll get information on the best Loos
gauge settings for all your wire. If not, use the guide in the Loos instruction booklet to get your initial settings and then fine tune at sea.

There are Loos gauges for wire rigging from 2.5mm to 10mm and for rod rigging of all sizes. Salty John stocks them all and regularly checks to ensure they’re the lowest cost supplier.

So, you can’t tuna fish but you can tune your rig – with a Loos tension gauge.

The media likes to provide us with comparisons to help us get our heads around the magnitude of that which they are trying to describe.

Aircraft carrier decks, for instance, are always measured in football fields. Tall things are made to stack up against Nelson’s Column. Wild animals are compared in size to cars and in speed to Olympic athletes.

The population of China is made to lie down head to toe and be wrapped round the world a few times so we can see just how many of them there are.

The other day I was watching a TV programme on food waste in Britain and we were told that the amount of waste was equal to three double-decker buses. What? Three people threw out their double-decker buses without even tasting them. Scandalous!

You know that fetid stench you get below decks when you return to your boat after a few days away? It is, more often than not, down to the sea toilet.

Most marine toilets are flushed with raw water from sea, lake or river. This flushing water contains living organisms and it’s the demise of these little devils in the pipe work that begins the downward spiral; the resultant bacteria generate that awful sulphurous gas smell which you suck into the bog when you pump. The pipe work itself can become contaminated so that no amount of flushing will get rid of the smell.

At one time I handled maintenance for a fleet of charter boats and keeping the heads sweet was a big headache. I was persuaded that a major contributor to the odour was the fact that the translucent sanitation hoses let in sunlight which hastened the demise of the bugs and, thereby, the creation of the bacteria which caused the smell. I wrapped all my pipes in silver foil as a defence but found no real improvement and ended up changing all the pipes at the beginning of each season, and still had to deploy an array of disinfectants on a regular basis.

When I moved onto my boat full time and set off on my three year modest odyssey the problem was greatly alleviated by frequent and regular flushing. Unless you live aboard you simply can’t keep up the necessary flow.

The only boat of the seven I’ve owned not to suffer the odours was my GB32 trawler which had a fresh water flushing system and in-line deodorizer. But on a long distance cruising boat you simply can’t afford to flush freshwater down the bog, it’s way too precious for that.

If I were doing it all over again I’d certainly have a proper automatic sanitizer like the SeaSmart system. And then with that problem taken care of I’d address that other potential odour source, the bilge – but that’s a post for another day.

Dylan Winter, he of Keep Turning Left fame, filmed the making of his new sail by Jeckells of Wroxham. I found it interesting; I hope you do, too.

Jeckells has been a sailmaker since 1831 so you get a lot of accumulated skill and knowledge when you entrust your sail making to their hands.

Thunder and lightning season approaches – are you ready for it?

The Met Office tells us: Thunderstorms develop when the atmosphere is unstable – when warm air exists underneath much colder air. As the warm air rises it cools and condenses forming small droplets of water vapour. If there is enough instability in the air, the updraft of warm air is rapid and the water vapour will quickly form a cumulonimbus clouds. Typically, these cumulonimbus clouds can form in under an hour.
As the warm air continues to rise, the water droplets combine to create larger droplets which freeze to form ice crystals. As result of circulating air in the clouds, water freezes on the surface of the droplet or crystal. Eventually the droplets become too heavy to be supported by the updraughts of air and they fall as hail.
As hail moves within the cloud it picks up a negative charge by rubbing against smaller positively charged ice crystals. A negative charge forms at the base of the cloud where the hail collects, while the lighter ice crystals remain near the top of the cloud and create a positive charge.
The negative charge is attracted to the Earth’s surface and other clouds and objects and when the attraction becomes too strong, the positive and negative charges come together, or discharge, to balance the difference in a flash of lightning (sometimes known as a lightning strike or lightning bolt). The rapid expansion and heating of air caused by lightning produces the accompanying loud clap of thunder.

Lightning at sea is a scary and, occasionally, dangerous thing. When the lightning bolts are fizzing down around you is probably not the best time to start speculating on the efficacy of your lightning protection measures, so give it some thought before you find yourself in that situation.

My boat has been struck by lightning, with me and crew aboard, and the impression I got was that there is nothing a mere human can devise to prevent or mitigate a strike – lightning is so all-powerful that it does what it wants to do whatever puny defensive measures we might take. But it’s probably a good idea to try anyway.

In my case no life was lost and the structural integrity of the boat wasn’t compromised. The masthead instruments were vapourised, the alternator controller burst into flames and started a fire in the engine compartment and all electronics were damaged – some repairably, others not.

So what can you do? If your boat has an aluminium mast electrically connected to the keel or other adequate grounding point, it will provide a zone of protection for a radius around its base equal to the height of the mast. This usually covers all of the boat, but some larger boats or those with short masts may have some unprotected areas peeking out of the zone – be aware of this.

People within this zone of protection are almost certainly safe from harm as long as they aren’t touching or standing close to metal components, particularly if that metal is connected to the lightning protection system. The absolutely worst place to be in a lightning storm is at the wheel with one hand on the backstay. The best place to be is below decks.

If your boat has all the big bits of metal bonded together and connected to the boat’s earth you’ll have some protection from side flashes which occur when the lightning seeks alternative routes to ground. I wouldn’t personally elect to have the seacocks included in this matrix of interconnected metal bits but it’s not uncommon practice.

To protect electronics they must not only be switched off, they need to be disconnected completely, including from microphones and antennas. If they have plastic or aluminium cases they need to be put in a safe environment such as the oven or a steel box which will protect them from the huge magnetic fields caused by nearby lightning strikes.

There is a lot of useful, and scary, information regarding lightning protection in the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) Standard E-4. I’m sure there are other competent sources as well. It’s probably a good idea to do some research before we get much further into lightning season.

A young Canadian, David Welsford, fixes up a 28’ wooden sloop and heads for the Caribbean. This short video perfectly captures the spirit of adventure and self sufficiency that fuels such an undertaking: 

Skippool Creek is a place of marshes and mud banks, shelducks and mallards, reed warblers and redshanks and it’s the home to an eclectic collection of boats.

Converted lifeboats, elegant wooden sloops, hardy little motorboats and modern, ocean going yachts cling to docks poking into the creek from its grassy banks.

To accommodate the huge tidal range in this area the docks are mounted on tall pilings fashioned from old telephone poles, scaffolding bars and wooden planks. Isambard Kingdom Brunel would be turning in his grave and Heath Robinson would be punching the air.
Where the bank is some distance from the road, low wooden walkways provide access across the marshy ground. At high tide the access road floods.

Skippool Creek feeds into the River Wyre which in turn flows into the sea at the port of Fleetwood on England’s northwest coast. The Blackpool & Fleetwood Yacht Club sits where the creek meets the river – it’s a thriving club with every sailing activity from dinghy racing to cruising rallies. It has an excellent social calendar, too.

On the marshy banks decrepit hulks sit cheek by jowl with shiny new boats; a graveyard and a nursery of nautical ambition.

Skippool Creek, fascinating.

Well, here we are in our new-look home. All nice and white and clean. I hope you like it.

We migrated from the old blog because, whilst it was hosted free by Google, we were restricted in what we could do.

The archive of older posts has been transferred so you can browse through it – should be something for everyone interested in boats and travelling. We’ll keep to our policy of blogging at least twice a week and, as usual, your comments are welcome.

I don’t do bucket lists but I’ve always had a hankering to visit Whitby on the north Yorkshire coast. I don’t know if this urge stems from the town’s association with Captain James Cook or a desire to sample the fish & chips, but this weekend I finally achieved my ambition.

Whitby is where Captain James Cook trained as a seaman, working for a local shipping line transporting coal to London. From here Cook went on to join the Royal Navy and thereafter to embark on his famous and well documented voyages of discovery.

Whitby is a popular destination for day-trippers and holidaymakers and on this sunny weekend was teeming with people. Thousand upon thousand of them.  The streets were crammed, the trip boats were doing a roaring trade, the pubs were packed. Whitby was full.

We climbed up and down the 199 steps to the ruined Abbey and rewarded ourselves for the not inconsiderable effort with exceptionally good fish, chips and mushy peas at one of the many harbour side eateries.

I’m glad I’ve finally seen Whitby.

Someone has discovered that if you cover one eye, thus acquiring 2D vision in place of your normal 3D vision, you are less likely to get seasick.

This discovery comes on top of the discovery that if you wear one earplug you will, similarly, be less prone to the dreaded mal.

I see a trend. Half of your senses aren’t enough to convince your brain of the need to send the signal to the vomit reflex, which is what sea sickness is all about. Your brain doesn’t like to be told two different things by different sources – your eyes say one thing your ears another so your brain assumes you’re being poisoned and tells you to throw up, violently. But, it would appear, one ear or one eye aren’t convincing enough.

Why not be doubly sure? Put a patch over one eye and wear an earplug in one ear.  I’d love to test the efficacy of this plan myself but I don’t suffer regularly from the affliction. Have at it, you sufferers, it has to be worth a shot.