saltyjohn – 21/39 – Salty John : The Blog

I’m a bit distracted at the moment because my office is being decorated and I’m wandering around like a nomad trying to find somewhere to work.

I refitted the Venetian blinds and it gave me this idea for an infinitely variable reefing mainsail. A more sophisticated system than the junk rig, I’m sure you’ll agree!

By the way, did I tell you my eBook is now available at Amazon (clicky up there on the right), WH Smith, Apple, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and Kobo? Well it is.

Full time cruising is a wonderful pastime and it’s made particularly appealing by the people you meet. 

You might think there’d be a single demographic binding cruising folk but you’d be wrong. The motivation to go cruising might be common – freedom, adventure, nude deck-dancing – but the people that actually set off are a widely disparate group. 

Take age, for example – we met couples who didn’t seem old enough to be legally married and we met world girdling octogenarians. 

How about background? – we met musicians, a famous medical researcher, we anchored alongside the world’s most trusted news anchor and we communed with a veritable flotilla of ordinary, somewhat adventurous, people of every nationality, colour and creed.

The point is – you can’t pigeon-hole cruising folk. Get out there, you’ll fit right in!

At last the perfect weather for cleaning up the boat and the inclination to do so coincided – off we went to the marina and got Minnie ready for another summer on the Lancaster Canal. 

Some of you will wonder why a sailboat is on the Lancaster Canal. Well, she used to be on Lake Windermere with full rig and flappy bits and good fun it was too. But, in my endless quest for different boating experiences, the Lancaster Canal, which passes a short way from the house, was too tempting a proposition to resist. When I realised that her basic dimensions were just about OK for the narrow and shallow inland waterway system, Minnie underwent the transformation to canal cruiser.

I had originally intended to fit her with an electric propulsion system but I was defeated by the need for a reliable charging source and so she ended up with an 8HP Honda four-stroke outboard.

When time permits we’ll take Minnie much further afield on England’s 3000 miles of canals but for now a little jaunt to the pub or the ice cream shop will suffice

The spring may have finally arrived which means it’s time to remind you all of the dangers of drowning. 

Drowning is not a noisy, dramatic event. Our body’s response to suffocation by water is quite different to the commonly held view that it involves waving arms and shouting for help. That comes before you are drowning. At that point you are in a state known as “aquatic distress” and can still assist in your own rescue by grabbing at floatation devices. If you aren’t saved at this point you quickly pass to drowning. Then, instinct takes over.

In an article in the US Coastguards ‘On Scene’ magazine Dr Francesco Pia, Phd, describes what he terms ‘the instinctive drowning response’ as follows:

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. 

Drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water for from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

So, if someone dives, jumps or falls overboard and appears to be calm, don’t assume they are not in trouble. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. Talk to them. Ask them: Are you OK? If they reply immediately, they’re probably fine. If they just look blank there’s a chance that they are drowning and you must act quickly to assist them.

Keep a watch on people playing in the water and look for these other signs of drowning:

Head tilted back with mouth open.
Head low in the water, mouth at water level
Eyes closed or glassy and unfocused
Vertical in the water, not using legs
Hyperventilating or gasping
Attempting to swim but not making headway
Attempting to roll over on the back

So, if the kids are screaming and splashing, be thankful – they’re not drowning. If they go unnaturally quite, that’s the time to worry. One day this knowledge may save someone’s life.

Most of you will, from time to time, tow your inflatable dinghy behind the mother ship. There’s nothing wrong with this, we’ve done it many, many times and have never lost a dinghy or its contents. (On the other hand, we once lost all our snorkelling gear when one of our rope davit hoists failed and the dinghy was left dangling by one end – but that’s another story).

Towing an inflatable dinghy is best accomplished with a towing bridle that attaches to the dinghy at two points on either side of the bow. This helps to ensure the dinghy is pulled in a straight line and doesn’t yaw about crazily. 

The towline must float, obviously, or Sod’s Law will dictate that it’ll get wrapped round the rudder, propeller or both. So the towing bridle needs to be polypropylene line or it should be buoyed with one or more floats.

In fresh conditions very light inflatables are prone to becoming airborne. It’s true that leaving the outboard motor on the dinghy provides useful weight to counteract this tendency, but a better alternative is to partially fill the dinghy with water and keep the outboard safely stored on its pulpit bracket.

I like to use quite a long towline if there’s a following sea, adjusting the length to keep the dinghy one wave behind – I find this minimises jerking on the line and also prevents the dinghy colliding with the stern of the boat. An alternative favoured by some is to pull the dinghy right up to the stern – how successful this is depends to a large extent on the shape of the transom.

In rough conditions there’s no really satisfactory alternative to stowing the dinghy aboard – davits are great if the mothership is big enough to accommodate them, or lashed to the deck, or deflated and stowed in a locker. 

In the anchorage the dinghy is prone to nudging the boat annoyingly and is vulnerable to theft. Fastening the dinghy tight to the quarter with bow and stern lines keeps it under control – just make sure you fender it well. As a defence against theft, though, you really need to get the dinghy aboard – or at least hang it, horizontally, clear of the water on a halyard.

Dinghies are an absolutely essential adjunct to the cruising life but they can be a real nuisance – having the right handling system and accessories such as a towing bridle and webbing lifting slings help hugely. Check out the Salty John shop for both.

For many years we produced the Tiller-Hand, an adjustable tension tiller lock. It sold very well but when our molding tool was stolen we decided to discontinue the product rather than invest in a new one. 

There are several tiller locks on the market, some slick and professional, others that would make Heath Robinson cringe. Just Google ‘Tiller tamer images’ and you’ll see what I mean.

A piece of bungie cord across the cockpit and lying atop the tiller will provide enough resistance to stop the tiller moving in benign conditions. Should you decide to design your own on this principle just be aware of the dangers of working with super strong bungie cord without the proper training.

The marine VHF band runs from 156 MHz to 163 MHz. Most, but not all, VHF antennas send and receive over this entire band – they have sufficient bandwidth to perform at both ends of the range. But the performance, the quality of the signal, drops off towards the extremities of the range. This effect is less pronounced with top quality antennas and worryingly obvious on those of lower quality.

AIS optimised antennas were introduced to provide better performance at the higher end of the marine VHF band where the AIS signals reside – 162 MHz. But, if you want to use your AIS antenna as back up for your radio antenna you’re going to want to be sure that by optimising the performance at one end of the band you’re not going to jeopardise performance at the other end, where Channel16 resides. 

Well, you can rest assured that the new AIS optimised version of Metz VHF antenna has the quality of bandwidth to ensure it will perform well as a back-up radio antenna. 

However, I continue to recommend that if you are ever going to use your AIS antenna to replace your radio antenna, go for the Metz Manta. If your AIS antenna is never to be used to back up your radio antenna, go for the Metz AIS optimised version. 

You’ll notice a new link over there on the right taking you to Amazon where my ebook of this blog is on sale for the princely sum of £4.99. 

It’s a compilation of 100 entries, mainly informative, some philosophical, some humorous and, I hope, all entertaining. Nearly all entries are illustrated with cartoons or sketches or photographs. There’s a table of contents that allows you to flick around from subject to subject as the fancy takes you.

Of course you can always just read the blog here – you’ll probably find half the entries in the archives. I guess what the book offers is convenient packaging!

Rudders on boats have been around since 1000BC. They were originally steering oars deployed over the quarter but evolved over time into the centrally mounted foils we are familiar with today. 

When you choose a production boat you don’t usually have the option of different rudder designs – you get what you’re given – but the design of the rudder will certainly affect the suitability of a particular boat for a particular function.

Cruisers have different priorities to racers, as we’ve discussed before, and the rudder will have a bearing on the suitability of the boat for these different activities. In both cases, though, the need to sail efficiently is a given and the primary goals of the rudder designer will always be to minimise wetted surface, minimise frontal area and provide the most turning efficiency with the minimum drag.

Where the racer and the blue water cruiser will differ is in how much mechanical integrity they are prepared to sacrifice for speed and efficacy. 

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 mounted rudders. 

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.

And then we must ponder the imponderables – hitting objects in the water and taking the ground. Hot shot racers don’t anticipate hitting things and certainly aren’t prepared to sacrifice performance for a design that anticipates such an unlikely event. On the other hand, cruising folk do anticipate collisions with under water objects and running aground, deliberately or otherwise. So your rudder has to be fit for purpose.

When we first unstepped the masts on our 41’ ketch there was a coin under each mast. The boat had been owned at one time by a missionary couple who carried bibles to Central America from the USA and, appropriately, one of the  coins was a US half dollar dated 1973, the date the boat was built, and the other was a Guatemalan coin of the same age. 

This practice of putting a coin under the mast has its roots in Greek mythology.  The theory goes that coins were placed there to pay Charon his fee for taking the departed across the River Styx to the afterlife should the vessel be lost.

To ensure our own safe passage to the afterlife we cleaned up the coins and handed them back to the rigger to be replaced when the masts were put back in. The next time we removed the masts we found no sign of the coins. 

Luckily we’d had no need of Charon’s services in the intervening period.