October 2013 – Salty John : The Blog

When the boat’s been hauled for the winter you’ll want to winterise your inboard diesel engine to keep it safe from freeze-damage and corrosion. 

If it’s fresh water cooled you should change the coolant; this is normally a 50:50 mix of water and antifreeze. The antifreeze contains anti-corrosion additives that lose effectiveness over time so this is a worthwhile precaution.

Residual salt water should be flushed out of the raw water cooling system. To do this close the engine raw water seacock, open the sea water strainer and feed fresh water from a hose into the strainer. 
Adjust the flow of fresh water to just keep up with demand from the engine. 

Alternatively you can take the inlet hose off the seacock and dip it into a bucket of water which is kept topped up from the hose. 

After a few minutes running, pour antifreeze (preferably the pink non-toxic type of antifreeze in deference to the environment) into the water strainer, or the bucket. When the exhaust water becomes discoloured by the antifreeze you can shut down the engine – you’ll now have antifreeze and fresh water in the engine instead of raw salt water. 

Change the engine and gearbox oil – you should do it now because you don’t want that old contaminated oil festering away in your sump all winter.

It’s a good idea to tape over or otherwise seal the openings into the engine – exhaust and air intake – to avoid condensation. Seal the fuel tank breather, also. 

If you’re really conscientious you can slacken all belts but be sure you retighten them in the spring.

Spray everything with WD40. 

Retire to a warm cozy place for the winter and dream of next seasons cruising adventures.

It’s that time of year again, the threat of autumnal storms and the big waves that accompany them. Wind isn’t a direct threat to the small boat sailor; the problem comes when his assassin, the wave, gets in on the act. 

I was once in a severe storm off the east coast of the USA in which the waves built to a considerable height and there was a point at which I didn’t think the boat was going to make it up the face of a particularly steep one. It was an illusion, of course, but pretty scary nonetheless. 

The probable maximum height of wind waves is around 80% of the wind speed. So, a 50 knot wind blowing over an area of ocean with unlimited fetch would produce a maximum wave height of about 40 feet. This height is achieved after it has been blowing for a day, having doubled in height since the first four or five hours of the storm. Further maximum wave height increase is more subdued, it takes two days to get that wave up to 50 feet in height. 

Dylan Winter is sailing himself around Britain in an anti-clockwise direction and is recording his adventure in word and on film. His site is called Keep Turning Left, well worth a visit. You can buy his professional quality film sets at ludicrously low prices Just recently he’s published Ten Commandments for the cruising sailor:

  1. If sailing is possible, sail. If sailing is not possible wait patiently for sailing to be possible. The weather will always change for the better. You will always enjoy every sail more than you thought you would.
  2. Always have a bucket on board. A bucket is a wonderful thing – keep one near you at all times. Clean well maintained boats need buckets just as much as leaky old ones.  A good bucket is a wonderful safety aid. Detailed analysis of entirely invented accident statistics prove that buckets have saved more lives than buoyancy aids. Few boat bilge pumps can match the water shifting power of a frightened man with a bucket.
  3. Never cuss the boat. Sailing is pure physics and if things go awry then it is not the fault of the boat. I had a friend who used to cuss his boat something rotten – but he also kissed her stern and said thanks at the end of every sail. His boat maintenance skills were entirely lacking.
  4. Clean fresh fuel. Feed your boat engines with only the very best you can afford. Old fuel is trouble in store. Don’t keep it – feed it to the car or the lawn mower where it is not mission critical. When you pull the cord or press the starter button on a boat engine then you really want it to start.
  5. The skipper should be the calmest person on board. It is good for the morale of those around you. However, if everyone around you is frightened then be aware of the possibility that they know something you don’t.
  6. Patience is the sailor’s best friend. When correctly applied in large quantities it will keep you out of trouble.  Patience can also be of great assistance when trying to get out of trouble.
  7. Never complain about the food. This is a golden rule – unless you want to be the cook. If you are the cook, then you alone can complain about the quality of the food – others on board are honour bound to praise your culinary expertise.
  8. Do not own too many boats. This is very, very important. Good sailors own just two boats – a big one and a small one. Too many boats is a massive curse and acts as a distraction from the main happiness in life – which is sailing. Good boats require maintenance. Maintenance requires time. Time you should be sailing. Owning too many boats is now an internationally recognized disease – it is called PNM or Poly Navicular Morbus.
  9. Never criticize another man’s boat. An internal dialogue about the merits or faults of other boats is fine. By all means walk slowly and thoughtfully around every marina or boat park you come across. Just do not let that internal dialogue escape into the external world.
  10. Always have a plan C. When plan A comes unstuck and plan B gets moved up the pecking order then Plan C should be a serious proposition.

 There you have it – Sailing according to Dylan.

Heaving – to effectively parks the boat at sea. You can heave – to for a lunch break or to weather a storm. Or, as Bernard Moitessier says in his classic The Long Way: “….when you no longer know what to do: come about without touching the sheets, put the helm alee, stretch out in the cockpit, eyes closed, and then see things as they are….”.

How you do it depends to a large extent on your boat and it’s a good idea to practice the manoeuvre so that you can do it when you need to. For most it’s a matter of tightening up to close hauled and then tacking without releasing the jib sheet. Once the jib is aback, let out the main a little and lash the helm alee. Each boat will behave somewhat differently but the principle of setting the helm and main to drive the boat against the backed jib remains – it’s a matter of finding the right balance for your boat and the prevailing conditions.

In storm conditions you’d be down to storm jib and fully reefed main or trysail but you can heave-to with a fuller sail plan if you just want to stop for a contemplate, like Bernard, or to carry out some task which is best done with the boat still. 

Hove-to, the boat should lie about 40º or 50º off the wind and forereach slowly. You are underway so need to act accordingly regarding collision avoidance.

One of the more valuable skills in the cruising sailor’s armoury, heaving – to.

Lightning at sea is a scary 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.

Let me say, first of all, that 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 reparably, 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. Or at home.

If your boat has all the big bits of metal bonded together and to the boat ground you will 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. Probably a good idea to do some research.

Halyards, sheets, guys and other control lines are the boats sinews, they transfer the load from the muscles to the site of the work. They hoist and trim the sails that move the boat.  

There are two basic construction methods for boat line – three-strand and braided. Three-strand is used for docking and anchor lines and by traditionalists who want a classic look to their running rigging. Braided line is the mainstay of the modern boat’s running rigging.

For many years double braided polyester has been the line of choice for cruisers – it’s durable, strong and uv resistant. Easy on the hand and it knots well – a superb all-rounder. 

But in this high tech racy world there is a plethora of more purpose-specific options. Because each rigging application requires a slightly different emphasis on the lines qualities – strength, flexibility, stretch and abrasion resistance – the rope manufacturers have obliged with a bewildering array of specifications.

Within the braided line category we find single braided line and double braided line. Single braided line is just that, a line comprising twelve strands of fibre woven together with no cover. This line is very flexible, quite strong with moderate stretch and abrasion resistance.

Double braids are lines with a braided core within a braided cover. They are strong, reasonably flexible, low stretch and quite resistant to abrasion. They represent the most widely used form of construction for running rigging. A variation of double braid construction is parallel core line in which the core comprises parallel fibres running all the way through the line and covered by a braided outer sleeve. These lines are a bit stiffer than double braid but have lower stretch characteristics.

Within each construction category we find different man-made fibres being used, often blended together. These include the well-known polyester and polypropylene. Then we have high modulus polyethylene such as Dyneema and Spectra which display great strength to weight ratio and low stretch. They knot poorly and have a low melting point but their great strength and low stretch make them popular on racing boats. We also have aramid fibres such as Kevlar and Technora and liquid crystal polymers such as Vectran.

These various fibres bring specific characteristics to the table which, combined with the appropriate construction method, permit the very precise selection of the right line for the job. 

So, you can choose a special line for each task or, like me, you can just use double braided polyester for all your running rigging.