sailing Archives – Salty John : The Blog

A tiny breeze, a mere zephyr, is more frustrating than a dead calm. In a dead calm you give up, drop the sails, secure the boom and settle down with a good book. Or you crank up the engine and off you go.

But where there’s a whiff there’s a way. The temptation to try is irresistible.

The main and the lightest jib are hoisted; the topping lift takes some of the weight of the boom; easy on the halyard tension. You know that attempting to move downwind in this tiny breeze is hopeless so you work her onto the wind, a tad below close hauled. Everyone tippy-toes around, avoids shifting weight. You whisper so as not to scare the wind.

Is she moving? You watch the wake, toss bits of lint into the water, and stare up at the sails, willing the jib to be caressed into shape by this hint of a breath of wind.

Eventually, with a bit of luck and canny trimming, the tell-tails flutter into life, the boat begins to make way. This movement conspires with the true wind to create an apparent wind and that brings more movement. Yes! We’re sailing. Now let’s just keep her going – a tweak here, a tweak there.

Damn, but this sailing lark can be hard work.

If you think anchor selection is a controversial subject you should try talking about propellers.
I don’t know why these subjects should cause such angst, but they do. So I’ll just dive right in.

The first issue is drag: Under sail with the engine stopped does the propeller create more drag when it’s locked or when it’s allowed to freewheel? You would think the answer would be unequivocal – and it shouldn’t need rocket scientists to work it out. But just to be sure, some rocket scientists, or their marine equivalents, did work it out recently and their answer is unequivocal: There is less drag when the propeller is allowed to rotate.

Scientists at MIT and at Strathclyde University agree on this. It is fact.

So, we know we get less drag with the propeller rotating but what are the other arguments for and against allowing the prop to turn?

Noise: The rumble from a rotating propeller can be quite intrusive, particularly if you’re off watch in a stern berth. Some people can’t stand the noise whilst others find it interesting; they like to judge the speed of the boat by the level of noise.

Energy recovery: If you want to run a generator off the shaft it has to turn – simple.

Wear: Where there’s motion there’s wear and tear, if not damage, to drive train bearings and seals.

Gearbox damage: Clearly you shouldn’t be risking damage to your gearbox or losing your warranty protection just to get a half a knot of boat speed under sail or to get a good nights sleep in the quarter berth.

It seems that Yanmar became so concerned at the number of requests they received for clarification on the best practice for their engine/gearbox combinations that they issued a directive: The gearbox must be in neutral when sailing or your warranty will be invalidated. If you want to stop the shaft use a shaft brake, they say, not our gearbox.

I have to admit that I sailed for many thousands of miles with my Yanmar 3GM30F in reverse gear to stop the shaft rotating and I never had a moment’s trouble. Just lucky?

If you have a Hurth/ZF gearbox you must not select forward gear when sailing forwards. Or reverse when sailing backwards, obviously. Apart from that, use the gearbox in reverse to lock the shaft or let it run free, it’s up to you.

With a Borg Warner Velvet Drive transmission you can do what you like, it will rotate anyway.

On some gearboxes damage can occur because the engine needs to be running to provide lubrication, with splash lubrication there isn’t usually a problem, so check the manual.

It boils down to this: If you are obsessed with squeezing out the last fraction of a knot under sail you need to let the prop freewheel. You’ll be happy to accept any wear and tear on your cutlass bearing and you’ll issue ear plugs to those that find the noise is keeping them awake.

If you’re worried about wear or can’t stand the noise you’ll want the shaft stopped and whether you do that by using the gearbox or a shaft brake will depend on your gearbox manufacturer’s advice, and whether or not you’re going to obey it.

Simple, really.

But don’t worry, there are plenty more propeller issues to fight over when you want a break from anchor arguments: Folding props, feathering props, duo-props, two blade, three blade, using vicegrips as a shaft brake………

My favourite philosopher has to be Anonymous, or Anon as he’s known to his friends. He’s the guy who said: The final test of fame is to have a crazy person imagine he is you.

But it was another of Anon’s pearls of wisdom that sprang to mind as I was pondering how the cruising boat has changed over the past thirty odd years:
Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. 

When I dreamt of setting off into the wide blue yonder I followed the teachings of the Hiscocks, the Pardeys and Bob Griffith. My boat would be simple, rugged and seaworthy. It would carry stout ground tackle, fly hanked-on sails and be worked from the deck not the cockpit.

And that’s pretty much how it was. Adriana was 33’ overall, heavy displacement, a simple sloop rig, boom gallows, a massive bronze windlass to handle the all-chain rode and CQR anchors. She was classically pretty, (being from the board of Phil Rhodes she could hardly be anything else), with long overhangs, sweeping sheerline, wide decks and cramped accommodation.

We planned to navigate by dead reckoning with a compass and a set of charts. We carried a plastic sextant for when we were out of sight of land. Fortunately, GPS became available and affordable at about the time we cast off so my astronavigation was never seriously tested.

We had a shiny new Yanmar diesel engine and this begat a battery bank and a big alternator and this in turn begat a fridge to keep the beer cold and the veggies crisp.

This could have been the thin end of the wedge, or as my mate Anon would have it: If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.

But no, for this long term cruise we managed to stave off any further adulteration of the hair shirt cruising ethos and had the adventure of our lives. After all, as Anon is fond of saying: Footprints on the sands of time are not made by sitting down.

Anon’s camel did shuffle a bit further into the tent when we set off again a few years later – the boat was bigger and the KISS principle somewhat further eroded by watermaker, forward-looking sonar, radar and wind generator.

The bigger boat served us well but the watermaker, radar and sonar didn’t make it. They failed to live up to their billing: The watermaker didn’t make water, the forward -looking sonar didn’t look forward and the power-hungry radar didn’t earn its keep. I’ve always seen this as justification for my continuing view that avoiding unnecessary complications on a cruising boat is the way to go despite the current obsession with all things electronic, high tech and led aft.

Of course, my failure to keep what would now be considered essential equipment fully functional is addressed by Anon in one of his more profound thoughts: The man who can’t dance thinks the band is no good.

A great little thinker is old Anonymous.

We’ve been discussing mainsail battens on the forum. Not in a really serious way, not with Dylan Winter involved. He was telling us about his loose footed, batten-less jury rig designed for quick dowsing and redeployment as he ambled up the River Nene. It reminded me that Adriana had a batten-less, roach-less, headboard-less main for our first three-year adventure.

For tweaking the last ounce of performance out of a mainsail it needs the roach to add sail area high up, to stabilise airflow over the head of the sail and to minimise tip vortices. I didn’t think much about that when I had the sail built.

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.

Well we needed to batten down the hatches up here in Lancashire this week. Hurricane Katia turned out to be a real boomerang of a storm – set off from this side of the Atlantic, roared through the Caribbean, soaked the US eastern seaboard and then came barrelling back across the Atlantic to knock the apples off my tree.

A nasty couple of days, weatherwise.

I’m anticipating a slow week. The Southampton Boat Show starts this weekend and many people will be keeping their wallets closed until they see what bargains they can pick up at the show. Normal service will be resumed in a week or so.

This might mean we can take time off for a boat trip later in the week, once the remnants of Katia have gone on their way. Every cloud and all that.

I dug out my old deck shoes the other day. I bought them in 1998 and they’ve traveled a few thousand sea miles, and a fair few on land as well. I thought they were just about broken in, really.

It hasn’t been warm enough to wear them here in the frozen north for a few years, (the Salty John cool code decrees that socks must never be worn with deck shoes), but summer finally arrived and I put them on and promptly skidded across the kitchen floor like an ice skater. The soles, which at one time would have walked up walls, had acquired a glass-like finish devoid of all adhesion.

The high-tech razor cut tread had gone from large areas but I wore them to the boat anyway in the vain hope that if I could work some heat into them, the rubber soles would develop traction – like the tyres on an F1 racing car. I walked down the dock like a teenager in a strop, dragging my feet all the way, but failed to develop enough heat to provide proper grip. I’d probably spin off at the first hairpin turn; they had to go.

Deck shoes are like jeans; it takes years to break them in and then, just when they look and feel really cool, they’re worn out and ready to be tossed away. Oh well.

A very good sailor once told me that racing was the best way to hone my sailing skills. I have to agree with him. The racer’s attention to detail in setting up and trimming the boat and the tactical aspects of navigation really do help you to get from A to B faster and more efficiently.

Some will claim that, as cruisers, they really don’t care how long it takes to reach their destination but I think the majority of sailors prefer to think of themselves as skilled in harnessing the winds and currents and that’s exactly what racers are.

There are obvious differences between the priorities of the racer and those of the cruiser – racers have big crews and can handle complex sails such as spinnakers more readily and they will persist in pursuing the shortest course to the line when the cruiser may be taking a longer but less arduous route. The short-handed cruiser may reef down before the racing crew even considers it and the cruiser may choose to heave-to whilst the racing crew battles on.

The racing boat will be equipped to get there fast, as safely and comfortably as possible; the cruising boat will be equipped to get there safely and comfortably, and as fast as possible.

For the most part, though, the lessons to be learnt from the racing circuit about making the boat go faster benefit the cruising sailor. In particular, sail trim and rig tuning are as relevant to one as the other.

Knowing that your sails are set to make the most of the available breeze gives a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Racing, with its emphasis on sailing efficiency, teaches you to achieve this.

Knowing that your stays and shrouds have the right degree of tension to ensure the best performance from the boat without danger of the whole lot falling down around your ears is a comfort. Racing teaches you the importance of a well tuned rig for efficiency and for rig integrity, and how to achieve it.

The big sailmakers and the one-class boat manufacturers provide tuning guides for set up and trim. North Sails, for instance, has on its site tuning guides for over 80 types of boat.

The tool of choice for rig tuning is the Loos tension gauge – all the tuning guides provide Loos gauge settings. The Loos gauge instructions give preliminary settings for all rig types. Whether you’re a cruiser or a racer, or both, a Loos tension gauge will help to get you there faster and safer.

I once towed a disabled boat a couple of miles into a marina and received a nice bottle of wine as a reward from the grateful owner. The other day, on a sailing forum, someone stated that by simply accepting a tow you entitled the captain of the towing vessel to claim ownership of your boat. Nope. Just because you accept assistance does not mean that you are awarding your boat and contents to your savior.

But, what the rescuer could do, unless you made some other deal at the time in front of witnesses, is make a claim for salvage and let a court decide upon the merit of the claim and make an appropriate award. In order to stand a chance of receiving an award the salvager would need to show that your boat was in peril, he voluntarily provided his assistance, he risked his life or loss of his property in conducting the salvage and, of course, his efforts were successful. Based on that, plus other aspects such as the time he expended and the value of the property he salvaged, the court would make an award.

At sea, sailors are required, by law and custom, to help save lives. They are not, however, required to save property and, when they do, it seems they can seek compensation for their efforts. A nice bottle of wine seemed adequate reward to me and my crew as we settled down to drink it with dinner in a snug anchorage that night.

When I started sailing I was taught to never leave the winch handle in the winch after tacking or trimming. The reason was to avoid injury should the pawls fail and the sheet tension spin the handle with great force.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of this advice since I’ve never met anyone who knew anyone who was injured by a whizzing winch handle released by a failing pawl. However, I continued to remove my winch handle and stow it in a winch holder when not in use because my favourite winch handle was non-locking and I didn’t want to lose it overboard, and I wanted the winch top to be unencumbered should I need to release the sheet quickly.

I’ve never had a boat where the winch handle being in the winch was a trip hazard to people stepping in and out of the cockpit but if I needed additional motivation for my ‘stow the handle after use’ policy that would be it.

Recently I was discussing winch handle habits with another sailor and he said he always moved the handle over to the lazy winch after the tack, basically using the lazy winch as a winch handle holder and at the same time having it ready for the next tack. I can’t think of an objection to this practice,  if you have locking winch handles and the handle doesn’t trip you when you leave the cockpit. And it doesn’t risk injury should one of those pesky pawls give way.

So, that’s what I do now.

I’m an expert on giving up smoking. I can say this because I have tried and failed and then tried and succeeded. So I know the difference.

I started smoking when I was 16, which is pretty damn early to start smoking. When I was a lad it was cool to smoke. If you didn’t smoke you were weird. How could you stand school without a fag (oops, showing my age) now and then. How would the girls look upon you if you didn’t at least try to emulate the heroes of the day – James Dean and James Bond (eighty a day according to Ian Fleming, his creator)?

I didn’t notice the point at which smoking changed from being a voluntary activity to being an addiction. I guess it was around three or four years in. I was aware of people talking about ‘giving up smoking’ around that time – early twenties. The concept of there being some difficulty in no longer smoking was only just beginning to dawn.

I was something of an athlete at school. I played soccer and I ran the 100 yard and 220 yard sprints for my school. Actually, you don’t notice the effects of smoking when you’re a sprinter as much as you do if you’re a long distance runner, but still, I have to say, I did eventually notice and my reaction was to stop sport. To concentrate, I suppose, on my smoking.

When I was in my late twenties I made a serious attempt to stop smoking. It was painful. It was also very scary because that’s when I realized that smoking was an addiction and it had me in its maw.

Over the next few years I gave up smoking several times – a week, a month and, one time, more than a year. Each time I would fail to sustain my abstinence.

Each time that I failed to quit the prospect of ever giving up became more distant. My dependency seemed to grow.

In 1988 I decided I was going to take off in a small boat, with my wife and daughter, to explore the world. In order to achieve this long held dream many sacrifices would have to be made; my career would have to be, if not abandoned, then put on hold; the luxuries of a salaried existence would be lost, the pennies would need to be counted. No problem; a dream so long and jealously held was not going to falter because of silly materialistic trappings.

Ah, but wait. Surely there was no room on a small boat for the many cartons of cigarettes that would be necessary to sustain a habit that now ran to three packs a day?

I decided to quit. This time I decided to make it stick. I had seen friends try and fail with a variety of patches, drugs and other nicotine substitutes but the overwhelming message I got was one of failure. It was going to have to be cold turkey.

That was 23 years ago. I’m still clean.

How did I do it? There is no easy way, I’m afraid, but nothing worth achieving ever is easy. What’s required is will power. You might not think you have it, but you do. Trust me.

Here are the imperatives:

Immediately assume the persona of a non-smoker. This is hugely important! Don’t tell people who offer a cigarette “No thanks, I’m trying to give up.” How negative is that! Say “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” You don’t have to become an evangelist about it and condemn others for smoking, just make it clear you don’t smoke.

When the first craving occurs, tell yourself that in about ten minutes the craving will diminish. It does. Each time the craving arrives tell yourself that it will go away in a few minutes. It will. Cling to that.

Under no circumstances ‘reward’ yourself for giving up for a day, a week, a month, a year, by having a cigarette. Remember how you laughed at this concept when you face the situation, as you surely will. Resist!

Remember, you are a non-smoker! Keep telling yourself that.

There will come a time when you will wake up in panic from a dream in which you started smoking again. When you realize it’s just a dream the relief will be immense. And you will know you’re well on your way to being a non-smoker.

So, you don’t have to go blue water cruising to quit smoking, but it helps.

Spring has sprung!

The grass has had its first cut of the year, the daffodils are in bloom and the lesser spotted boat washer is to be seen.

Minnie has scrubbed up really well, she has a new acrylic hatch board and her tiller has had six coats of varnish. She’s looking good and ready for her first full season disguised as a motor boat on the Lancaster Canal.

This year we’ll be reporting on our meanderings on the canal system but we’ll also be hoping to get our salt water sailing fixes on other people’s boats later in the year.

Bring it on, Skipper! (A versatile expression I learnt from a bridge operator on the ICW in Florida many years ago).