Salty John : The Blog

From the steering oars employed by the earliest sailing vessels rudders have evolved into the centrally mounted foils we see today.

On a production boat you don’t usually have the option of specifying the rudder configuration – you get what you’re given – but the design of the rudder will certainly affect the suitability of a particular boat for your purposes.

Whether the boat is for competitive racing or for blue water cruising, the need to sail efficiently is a given and the primary aim of the rudder’s designer will always be to minimise wetted surface, minimise frontal area, and provide the most turning efficiency with the minimum drag.

A rudder is subjected to tremendous forces from the pressure of the water rushing past it – the designer has to get his sums right when deciding how to support the foil in this environment and then the builder has to be meticulous in implementing the design.

Where the requirements of the racer and the blue water cruiser will differ is in how much protection they demand for the rudder at the expense of speed and efficiency, and what priority they give to taking the ground without damage and to avoiding the snagging of lines.

At one end of the spectrum is the unsupported, balanced, skinny foil of the out and out racer; at the other end of the spectrum is the barn door bolted onto the aft end of a full keel. In between are full and partial skeg mounted rudders and transom hung rudders. Choose carefully.

The piece of the Lancaster Canal that runs north from bridge 75 to the Glasson Branch has a particular flavour. The countryside is beautiful in the conventional sense but there’s something about the light that casts a special tenor on the place. When the sun radiates from a cloudless deep blue sky and the air is still, the water is a mirror. Every tree, every bridge, every boat, every drinking cow or sheep, every water fowl, is seen twice. At times the rendition is so perfect that the real and the reflected are indistinguishable.

It’s a lovely place to be, that piece of the Lancaster Canal.

Having the correct rig tension is important because a loose rig is slow and can impart shock loads to shrouds and chainplates as you tack; an over tight rig 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 there’s always the tune your rig like a guitar technique: “Twang! That sounds about right”.
But the Loos 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 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 settings for all your wire.

There are Loos gauges for wire rigging from 2.5mm up to 10mm and for rod rigging of all sizes. You can get them all at Salty John.

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

If you’re planning to go full time cruising and you don’t intend to hop from marina to marina your systems and gear will need to be prepared to a high level of reliability and operational efficiency. Self sufficiency is the name of the game.

In earlier posts I’ve looked at fresh water supply and electricity generation, now I’ll consider other essentials.

Anchoring: Each skipper develops his personal anchoring techniques and trustworthy gear. My own are outlined in my article “The Happy Hooker” written a few years ago but still valid:

These methods kept me safe during six years of full time cruising. Other experienced sailors will have their own particular variations but all will agree that flimsy, undersized equipment has no place on a serious cruising boat. Big anchors, chain and a good windlass are essential.

Protection from the sun: We all love the sun but it can very quickly become your enemy if you can’t shelter from it when you need to. If you’re heading to sunny climes your cruising boat will need oases of shade through which cooling breezes can blow, so give serious thought to the design of your awnings and bimini tops.

If you’re cruising in areas where the prevailing wind is from the east, as in the Bahamas and Caribbean, the setting sun will blaze down upon your cockpit and aft deck just when you’re settling down with those sundowners. Don’t underestimate how miserable it can be if you aren’t prepared for this assault. On Adriana one of the most useful items aboard was a rectangular sheet of Sunbrella which could be strategically fixed with bulldog clips and adjusted as the sun stalked around the boat. We also had an awning draped over the boom and secured to the guard rails; on our later ketch we had custom made awning frames, but still found the Sunbrella rectangle a vital defence when the sun was trying to sneak over the transom.

Repairs and maintenance: We aren’t all motor mechanics, sailmakers or riggers but it’s important to develop a degree of skill in repairing and maintaining your systems. Basic servicing of your diesel – bleeding the fuel system, changing the oil and replacing belts – along with basic plumbing and DC electrical skills add to your self sufficiency. If you’re really good at it you can even add to the cruising kitty by providing your skills to more mechanically challenged sailors.

Happy Cruising!

We are currently enjoying an early Spanish Plume. This is when we have low pressure sitting to the west of the UK and high pressure to the east. This results in a plume of warm air being drawn up from Spain, through France, to our shores. Thank you Spain.

We decided to take advantage of this phenomenon to play truant, sneaking out to take a hike along the local canal. If I can’t get out to sea on days like this my next choice is the canal, a river of tranquility meandering through the Lancashire countryside. Good for the soul.

There are boats here, too, although of a different nature to those you find at the coast marinas. But just like those marinas you get the good, the bad and the ugly. Take your pick.

Two months from now an intrepid group of men and women in sailboats, rowing boats and kayaks will set off on the 750 mile Race to Alaska which runs from Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, to Ketchikan, Alaska via a stop at Port Townsend, BC. The race is open to any boat that has no engine and the route is mostly up to the contestants, there are just two way points that must be past.

The rules are sparse; you can stop to provision or to fix your vessel as long as you don’t prearrange any assistance – self sufficiency is the name of the game.

The winner gets a prize of $10,000 and the runner-up gets a set of steak knives.

The water is cold, the grizzly bears fierce and the weather capricious. Venturesome barely covers it.

You can sign up for it here:

As I’ve said earlier, a major difference between weekend sailing and setting off to cruise the wide blue yonder is the requirement for self sufficiency. You’ll need to look at your systems and gear in a different light when faced with a lack of ready access to shore side facilities.

In particular you’ll need to carefully consider fresh water supply, electricity generation, maintenance and repair, sun protection, anchoring systems and safety gear.

DC electrical system: The considerations here are exactly the same as for your fresh water system – storage and supply; battery capacity and charging capability.

The biggest single user of electricity on a small cruising boat is refrigeration. If you have no desire for cold beer and crisp veggies you can get by with limited battery capacity supported by the standard alternator on your engine. Running an hour every couple of days should keep your electronics and lighting going nicely. Add a couple of solar panels and you’ll be truly independent.

If you intend to cruise in a warm climate and want to take with you a modicum of luxury – ice, cold drinks, fresh veg, butter and the like, you’ll need to beef up your power generation and storage systems. Throw in a water maker and extensive electronic navigation and communication systems and you’ll need to get really serious about making and storing amps.

So, calculate your daily consumption realistically and provide yourself with deep cycle battery capacity of at least four times this figure. Batteries should not be discharged on a regular basis to more than half their rated capacity, and you’ll want to give yourself a two day cushion so four times consumption isn’t excessive.

A typical small cruiser with a fridge would need around 100 amp-hours per day, half of that for refrigeration, so a 400 amp hour battery bank would be appropriate. A larger boat with water maker, fridge and freezer and extensive electronics will want considerably more, typically 600 to 800 amp hours.

Many boats have a separate engine starting battery and this is not a bad thing if you remember to keep it charged and you can spare the space. Having fuel in the tank and flat batteries is a frustrating situation. On Adriana I had no engine starting battery preferring two 200 amp hour banks for everything. On occasion I ran both banks almost flat but, fortunately, my Yanmar diesel would, with the decompression levers operated, rotate fast enough on the few residual amps to fire up and save the day. Had it failed to do so I might well have invested in a dedicated starting battery.

Having sufficient storage capacity is one thing, now you have to keep it topped up and a diversified charging capability has great merit. Most boats will have a means of converting fossil fuel to amps – some use their engine, larger boats tend to use a diesel generator properly plumbed-in and sound proofed; smaller boats might carry a petrol generator. If you mainly use the engine as your charging source, as we did for three years on Adriana, you’ll want to consider a high capacity alternator and a smart charger to make the process more efficient and minimise running time. Having to run the engine for a couple of hours a day can become quite intrusive.

Most sailors also take advantage of wind and sun – solar panels and wind generators, and occasionally water generators. Solar panels need careful thought regarding location and mounting methods (tilt-ability is good) but can provide noiseless, pollution free charging at practical rates. Wind generators can be cumbersome and noisy to neighbouring boats but in a good breeze can get the amps pouring into those battery banks. I’ve no experience with water generators – they are more useful to boats that are constantly underway rather than to my own stop and start nomadic lifestyle so I’ve never been tempted to try one.

I once saw a pedal powered generator, perhaps an option for the fitness fanatics among us.

Technology will continue to provide us with better and better DC systems for our boats because we have the same problems as do electric cars – power storage and replenishment. Lighter more powerful batteries and rapid charging systems are what we need. Fuel cells are already with us; their price will fall as demand increases. More efficient and more durable solar panels will become available and will, I suspect, increasingly replace wind generators as the preferred green choice for charging.

A major difference between weekend sailing and setting off to cruise the wide blue yonder is the requirement for self sufficiency. You’ll need to look at your systems and gear in a different light when faced with a lack of ready access to shore side facilities.

In particular you’ll need to carefully consider fresh water supply, electricity generation, maintenance and repair, sun protection, anchoring systems and safety gear.

Let’s take a look at the fresh water supply: You’ll need enough fresh water to sustain life and to maintain an acceptable level of hygiene when away from the dockside tap for considerable periods. Two sides to this equation – storage and supply. You need enough tank capacity to meet your requirements between opportunities to refill.

We’re not talking here of provisioning for a single long passage such as a transatlantic or a non-stop round the world race – we’re looking at the needs of living on the hook away from marinas for reasonable periods in relative comfort and respectability.

How much water? In the UK the average person uses an astonishing 150 litres (33 gallons) a day of fresh water so it’s obvious that something has to change when you go to sea in a small boat. We each need 2 litres (0.5 gallons) a day to drink, the rest is squandered on washing, laundry and cooking. You can’t afford to squander anything on a small boat, so you’ll need to modify your lifestyle if you’re a habitual waster. For instance, running the tap whilst cleaning your teeth is a sure sign of a newbie to the cruising life – waste not, want not is the mantra of the cruising sailor. A shower takes about 7 litres a minute, that’s 35 litres (8 gallons) if you can keep it down to 5 minutes a go; if you wash in salt water and only rinse in fresh you can probably keep it down to 5 litres for a complete shower.

Allowing for an adjusted lifestyle and some laundry and cooking you’ll need 10 litres (2 gallons) per person per day when cruising. A couple of weeks supply is the minimum you’d want to consider if you aren’t going to be constantly looking for a shore side tap or chasing rain clouds so a cruising couple will require minimum water tankage of 280 litres (60 gallons) which is about what we had on Adriana (32’ LOA). Twice that would have been more comfortable and that’s what I’d aim for. Small cruising boats such as the Nicholson 32, Sadler 32, Vancouver 27 and the like don’t have that sort of capacity and you’ll need to look at supplementary storage – bladder tanks is one way, and 5 gallon containers on deck is another. (Actually you’ll need containers anyway, even if you only use them to carry water from shore to the boat).

To summarise, a crew of two will want 600 litres (130 gallons) of water storage and a crew of four will want 1200 litres (260 gallons).

Water storage is one thing, supply is the next problem. The available sources are the dockside tap, rain and the sea.

Obviously, if you are going into a dock for any reason, don’t leave without having topped up your tanks. In some parts of the world water is scarce and expensive; don’t be surprised if you have to pay for it or, worse, find it unavailable. We once arrived in a parched South Caicos with dry tanks and were gifted 5 gallons of drinking water by the proprietor of the small marina there – he said it was too precious to sell. Without his generosity we would have been in trouble.

Rain is an unreliable source but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready to collect as much as you can when the opportunity presents itself. You can collect a lot of water in a tropical downpour if you’ve thought out the system ahead of time. On Adriana, water running down the scuppers was diverted into the open tank inlet, after allowing a few minutes to clear the salt off the deck. We would also create a gutter with the mainsail cover slung under the boom and put a bucket at the gooseneck to gather the water that poured off it. Many a time we’ve filled our tank in a single squall and had wonderful deck showers into the bargain. That others in the anchorage are also running around on deck feverishly lathering their naked bodies in some semi-erotic rain dance could be considered a bonus.

By all means carry a solar still for emergencies but a reverse osmosis water maker is, at the present time, the only practical way of desalinating sea water at a practical rate. I’ve often considered installing one but have always been put off because the complexity and maintenance regime offends my KISS philosophy, but for others it might well be an answer. You wouldn’t want to risk minimising your water tank capacity in the confident hope of never having your water maker fail, but as long as it’s fully functional you can have a veritable aquatic orgy. We met a couple with a domestic washing machine installed on their aft deck, supported by the output from a huge water maker.

To keep your water safe it’s a good idea to treat your tank with a tablespoon of bleach to 130 litres (30 gallons) of water. Having your precious water supply turn foul is not something you want to contemplate. If you’re fussy about water taste store your drinking water separately or buy it in bottles.

In Part 2 I’m going to be considering self sufficiency in your electrical supply. Keeping your water maker going is just one reason for keeping a steady flow of amps available.

I’m not going to risk getting into a discourse on which brand of anchor is the best, that’s a very easy way to alienate a large chunk of the boating population. Besides, I’ve cruised far and wide with two CQRs and a Danforth in total safety, so I have no experience with the so-called new generation anchors, all smoothly fabricated, shiny and pointy and which get everyone so hot under the collar on boating forums. But I will stick my toe in the water on the subject of what to attach your anchor to and the use of that anchoring essential, the snubber.

I recommend that at least the primary anchor be deployed on an all-chain rode with a manual or electric windlass to handle it. It’s unequivocal – all chain is the only way to fly for long term cruising where anchoring is a way of life.

Many weekenders and some cruising boats use a rope rode with a chain leader. This introduces the spectre of a parting rope-to-chain splice and chafe or laceration on rocks, coral, or bow-roller. In Big Major’s Spot, Bahamas, during a hefty blow a neighbouring boat was nearly lost when his nylon rode chafed through in a frighteningly short time.

Chain self-stows, avoiding a snake’s honeymoon of soggy nylon on the foredeck which must then be coaxed down the naval pipe. An all-chain rode never leaves the windlass, giving complete control. Another point in favour of chain is the reduced scope required and the attendant smaller swinging circle.

So, what are the perceived advantages of rope/chain combinations? The most significant is weight. With chain it’s important to arrange stowage as low and as far aft as possible. Selecting the right chain for the job is important; high test chain is lighter and more flexible than proof coil for a given breaking strength.

Nylon rope is cheaper than chain. This is an important and undeniable advantage of nylon over chain. The second anchor on Adriana was carried on 30 feet of chain and 300 feet of nylon. This was a compromise born of the need to minimise weight in the anchor locker and maximise weight in my wallet. But I wouldn’t want to rely on rope for my main anchor, that’s an economy too far.

Nylon rode is quieter than chain; it doesn’t crash on the bow-roller in surging conditions. To gain this advantage for chain, a snubber is used. Ah-ha, I knew I’d get there in the end!

The snubber is a length of nylon or polyester three-strand line that takes the anchor load from the chain to a deck cleat or Samson post, absorbing the shocks and leaving the chain hanging in a loose bight, resting lightly and relatively noiselessly in the bow roller.

The snubber is attached to the chain by a chain hook of some sort – there are a range of proprietary variations available – or a rolling hitch. After a few months we dispensed with our clunky chain hook in favour of the rolling hitch – we found this more positive than the chain hook and more deck and toe friendly. The rolling hitch is particularly suited to this purpose, it doesn’t tighten under load and so won’t jam and become difficult to undo.

The snubber for a 35 to 40 foot cruising boat would be typically 12mm diameter and at least 12m long. If you choose a line that’s too heavy you won’t get enough of the beneficial stretch into the system, which is why old halyards and sheets aren’t really suitable for this purpose, they tend to be low stretch. The snubber is attached to the chain and a strong point on deck and then the chain is run out until the snubber comes up taught, then a few more feet to give a nice healthy loop of chain and you’re set. Should the snubber chafe through the chain retakes the load.

A snubber is also useful in anchorages where the swell comes from a different direction to the wind, curving around a headland, perhaps. The boat, lying to the wind, may take the swell on the beam and roll uncomfortably. In this case, lead the snubber line all the way aft to a cleat or sheet-winch on the side away from the swell. Then, as you let out more anchor chain, the boat will turn her head toward the swell as the anchor lead point moves aft. This bridle arrangement can mean a good night’s sleep in an otherwise impossibly rolly anchorage.

An essential thing is the snubber.

When running wiring and cables from source to destination there will almost always be bulkheads, superstructure and decks in the way. How you get your cables through these obstructions is quite important if you want to avoid abrasion and keep a watertight joint.

To take cables through a deck or superstructure you may want to look at the stainless steel Cableport, a wonderful Swedish design that’s standard equipment on many top quality boats. It’s a polished stainless steel entry port that takes electrical and communication cables through the deck via a 49mm shrouded opening. It can take 6 cables up to Ø12mm, or more of smaller diameter.

The Cableport has the benefit of excellent waterproof integrity, a low profile to avoid snagging lines, and ‘step-on-ability’.

Deck plugs are notoriously corrosion prone and need meticulous maintenance but, if you’re up for the maintenance, they can be convenient. There’s a wide range of deck glands available – single cable or multi cable, plastic or metal; you’ll probably want the type through which you can pass a 19mm diameter PL259 connector, especially if you drop the mast each season and don’t want to remake the connection every time.

For many internal hurdles a simple hole with adequate abrasion protection will do the job but in some special cases, such as an antenna cable run from under the mast to the radio, you might want to combine a connection with the bulkhead passage. For this a good choice is the PL363 connector with two PL259 plugs. The one in the picture is a 1.75” connector fitted with two large stainless nuts.

Have a look at for details of the Cableport and a range of vhf cable connectors.