September 2012 – Salty John : The Blog

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been soliciting quotations for a new injection moulding tool for the Tiller-Hand, our popular tiller lock and controller. 

Some of my readers will remember that a couple of years ago our moulding tool was stolen and sold for scrap and, as a result, we decided to stop production of the Tiller-Hand. 

We offered the drawings, samples, know-how and stock of components to anyone who wanted to go into production, supplying the Tiller-Hand to the marine trade, including Salty John. There was a lot of initial interest but no serious contender emerged prepared to invest a few thousand in a new moulding tool. 

It seems a pity to let such a successful product die out so we’re looking at re-introducing it ourselves. If all goes well it should be back in the shop by Christmas. Watch this space.

Well, I hope our customers like the new-look shop. The website and this blog now have a family resemblance and colour coordination. Oooo!

We’ve added a new range of rigging blocks and other deck hardware and we’ve tried to make the site a little easier to navigate. 

We’ve stuck with our ‘all prices include shipping and VAT’ policy so there are no sneaky extras when you get to the check out. Many customers have told us they appreciate this approach.

Another aspect we haven’t changed is the plethora of technical information. If you’re buying on-line you need as much detail as possible to make an informed buying decision so, in this respect, more is better. 

And it’s much more fun to shop in a place that has entertaining and educational information together with the commercial bit – hence the articles and links section, including the link to this blog.

Click over there on the right to visit the new-look shop – hope you like it!

Lift boats are the service vessels of the offshore oil industry. Their most obvious feature is the three giant cylindrical legs towering 250 ft above the deck. 

When the lift boat gets alongside a rig these legs are lowered to the seabed and the whole boat is jacked up so that it can act as a work platform to service the rig a hundred feet above the surface. 

Boat!? Ha! These things weigh 2,500 tons, measure 200’ by 120’ and are propelled by a pair of 7 foot diameter screws driven by two 1,500 HP diesels! They house 20 workers and carry all the equipment and spares necessary to service the rig. There’s a helicopter landing pad and a 10,000 square foot working deck.

Lift boats carry 2 or 3 cranes to assist in servicing, reconstruction or repair of the rig. Each crane can lift 200 tons and can reach out 150’. 

And here’s why lift boats caught my attention recently – each of the cranes has a vhf radio to coordinate crane movements and the builders of the Dixie Patriot, the largest lift boat in the world when it was commissioned in 2003, specified Metz Manta vhf antennas. 

Tough job but someone has to do it.

I’ve been having a little trouble sleeping. I lie awake pondering such things as why in 2011 the majority of customers bought our blue sail ties whilst in 2012 they have, so far, bought mainly red sail ties? How can trends change so rapidly? Who sets the fashion for sail ties?

And why, in all eight Cruising Guides on my bookshelf, are there charts and chartlets that say on them “Not for Navigation!” What else could they be for?

And why someone would find this blog by typing into Google the phrase ‘April11, 1993’. I’ve tried it myself and after 10 pages can still see no reference to me or my blog or the website. But according to our site analytics that’s how someone got here. Definitely a thing that makes you say “Hmm”. 

I went down to the chemist and bought a sleeping aid called Nytol – I suppose it rhymes with ‘goodnight all’, to give some indication of its efficacy, but when I got it home I read on the back: “Warning. May cause drowsiness.”

I paid good money for a product that may or, presumably, may not, do what it says on the tin. I want to see: “Warning: Induces trance-like state”. I want endorsements by Sleeping Beauty.

Talking of rhyming, I discovered today that there are rhyming dictionaries available for song writers and poets. I understand that the most difficult word to find a rhyme for is orange. And if you’re looking for something to rhyme with homage you’re stuck with West Bromwich. Not many people know that. 


Winches are one of the two main methods used to multiply your effort when working your boat. Blocks are the other.

Blocks provide mechanical advantage and they also redirect the lead of a line to make it more convenient to pull on.

A single block at the masthead with a halyard running through it is a simple one part purchase. It provides no mechanical advantage, but it does redirect the lead of the line to the base of the mast so that you can conveniently haul on it. Without the block you’d have to balance on the top of the mast to haul up the sail. 

By combining blocks into sets that work together as a team you gain mechanical advantage. How much mechanical advantage is gained is known as the ‘purchase’ of a set of blocks – three to one purchase, four to one purchase, and so on – and this is determined by the number and configuration of blocks in the system.

The more times the line runs through the loaded set of blocks the greater the advantage. The most common examples on a boat are the mainsheet system, the boom vang and the backstay tensioner. On small and mid-size boats these are most commonly four part purchases – a 4:1 mechanical advantage – as in the picture 

You can tell this is a four part purchase because the loaded block – the one that moves with the load – has a total of four lines leading to and from it. A three part purchase would have three lines leading to and from the loaded block. In the picture the blocks are fiddle blocks – two sheaves are mounted in each block in an in-line configuration rather than the side to side configuration of standard double and triple blocks but the same principle applies to both types of block. 

The downside of block systems is that the higher the purchase the slower the work is done – so you have to choose the right balance between speed and ease of effort. Bigger boats with heavier loads will require greater multiplication of effort – or gorillas for crew – and that means more line to haul and more time taken to do it.

Friction is also a formidable enemy in block systems so choose ball bearing blocks which will keep the loss at each block down to around 3% rather than 10% or more for blocks with sleeve bearings.

To get even greater mechanical advantage you can use one purchase to haul on another purchase – a compound system such as this gives huge mechanical advantage because the efforts of each system are multiplied, not added together: A three part purchase pulling on a four part purchase gives a 12:1 advantage, not merely 7:1. Or you can use a winch to haul on a block system to even greater advantage. 

Blocks are a metaphor for human teamwork; a single block achieves very little on its own but working together with others the results are almost magical. 

Here at Salty John we’re working hard on a facelift for the website, and at the same time we’re adding a new section for sailing hardware. 

Principal amongst the new products is a range of rigging blocks from Viadana of Italy.

Viadana, located in Bellano, close to Lake Como, has been involved in the design and manufacture of sail boat equipment since 1961. Noted mainly for their top class sailing dinghy equipment they also produce a range of heavier duty ball bearing blocks for big boats and that’s what we’ll be offering on the site in the next week or so.

Blocks take a heavy load in an unforgiving environment so they have to be tough. This range of Viadana blocks is manufactured from good quality materials – stainless steel ball bearings, Delrin® cheeks and sheaves, supported by 316 stainless strapping. Rugged and silky smooth.  

Perhaps the most interesting thing about these rigging blocks is the price; we’re able to offer them at a significantly lower price than the established chandlers. For a multi-block system such as a mainsheet or backstay system the saving will be substantial. 

Oh, and we’ll have a range of cam cleats, too. Watch this space. Ciao!