September 2014 – Salty John : The Blog

Not long after you begin a life on the ocean waves, cruising full time on a small boat, you will start to notice symptoms of mental disorder directly related to this new life style. Most commonly it relates to having been deprived of a plug-in electricity supply:

Ampaphobia is an obsession with hoarding battery capacity. The sufferer becomes frantic to measure accurately the amps flowing into and out of his battery banks. He becomes convinced that his alternator, solar panels and wind generator are faulty. He tests them exhaustively and joins boating forums to compare his results with other ampaphobics who think that they, too, are being cheated by their amp gathering resources.

As the condition takes hold the sufferer will accumulate different types of batteries and charging devices, more sophisticated monitoring systems, several types of hydrometer. A battery terminal cleaning brush.

Ampaphobia is often caused initially by another condition – meltaphobia, the fear of the boat fridge failing to keep its contents cold. Obsessively monitoring the fridge temperature with a range of increasingly sophisticated thermocouples is a dead give away. Help should be sought immediately before the condition can develop into full blown ampaphobia.

Another electricity related hang up is toasteritis, the compulsion to design and build a 12 volt DC toaster. This condition afflicts many long term cruisers once the novelty of burning toast on a wire rack placed over a cooker burner has worn thin. I’ve never seen a successful 12 volt toaster, but with all the cruisers out there frantically doing the R&D it’s only a matter of time.

I’m sure you get the picture. You may have your own particular physical or mental condition as a result of long term cruising but, rest assured, once ashore for a short period the symptoms disappear. To be replaced by an overwhelming desire to sell up, quit your job and run away to sea in a small boat.

Allow me a little commercial break on behalf of Salty John, it may be of benefit to some of my readers:

Salty John doesn’t sell rigging blocks anymore – they take up a lot of room, you need a huge inventory, and they can hardly be called ‘uncommon cruising kit’. So, no more blocks.

The good news is there are some absolute bargains to be had as Salty John disposes of existing stock.

These are top quality reinforced ball bearing blocks made by Viadana of Italy. They are available in 34mm, 45mm and 57mm pulley diameters which take up to 8mm, 10mm and 12mm line respectively.

Prices are up to 50% off retail price, some below cost, so a definite bargain opportunity. They aren’t shown on the website, so:

Contact Salty John at for a list of available blocks and prices. First come, first served.

Cardinal buoys are, as many of you will know, yellow and black and have two cones on the top which help to identify them as North, South, East or West marks. The two cones point up on the North marker and down on the South marker – very logical.

On the West marker the top cone points down and the bottom cone points up. On the East marker the top cone points up and the bottom cone points down. There’s no apparent logic to this so they are more difficult to remember and various mnemonics have been suggested: Because the West top mark looks like a bobbin you’re supposed to think ‘wind wool’, west. Eh?

I prefer to think of the West top mark as the shape of a woman as outlined by the hands of a wolf-whistling admirer – waist equals west. Simple. You may use that with my compliments.

To assist the helmsman when running wing and wing I use another mnemonic – point the tiller at the sail you want to fill. It’s a bit more complicated with a wheel – point the bottom of the wheel at the sail you want to fill. This simple rule prevents that “ooh-err” moment when one of the sails begins to luff and a prompt response is called for. Makes an expert of the most novice helmsman.

Mnemonics are useful devices.

My travels by small boat are recorded in 7 journals and my RYA log book. The log book received its first entry in 1981 when, young heart bursting with pride, I glued in my certificate for qualifying as a Day Skipper, or Dazed Kipper as it is popularly known.

In the log section, miles at sea are logged along with night hours and days on board. I’ve had to add many pages to the original publication (G15/78 from the RYA) and I do try to keep it up to date – last years pootle about Scotland’s west coast is in there.

The journals make interesting reading many years on:

The Good: “This place is as close as you are likely to get to heaven whilst still alive…….the palm trees are silhouetted against a golden sky and a spotted eagle ray glides under the boat in the gin clear water….

The Bad: “During the afternoon a wall of towering cumulus headed towards us from the N/NW. We saw two waterspouts in this black threatening mass…..the wind went NE, 30 knots and gusting…

The Bizarre: “….just outside Luperon the gua-gua stopped to pick up a policeman, a man with a broken arm, his wife and a mother with a small child, bringing the occupancy of this Mitsubishi 8-seater to a mind boggling 21, not counting the chicken….

The Bureaucratic: “…..he filled in the forms with a meticulous accuracy of which Bureaucratis himself would have approved….

The Humbling: “….we met Tony and his son who have a Westerly Centaur. They bought it in the USA, did a double transatlantic and were heading home to the Philippines via the Panama Canal”.

Ah, the memories!

Just a hint of autumn in the air.

I had a good laugh at this poem:               


Jon Crowley

Never would Tracy have sailed round the world, In the ordinary course of events. She’d never done anything like it before –

The excitement she felt was immense.

For one day she read of the “Marie Celeste”, And a woman was wanted as crew. And without really thinking of what it entailed

She decided that’s what she would do.

So she bought a cagoule and a stout pair of shoes And a bag for her ham-and-egg sandwiches, And a book, which enabled our heroine to say

“I’m lost!” in a number of languages.

She set off for Plymouth, to meet with the crew Who were waiting for Trace’s arrival. But I’m sorry to say that they laughed when they saw

The equipment she’d brought for survival.

They sat and they chatted, and very soon found That she knew not a thing about yachts, Nor of charts, nor of flags, nor echo-location,

Nor night-navigation, nor knots.

So they looked at each other, her shipmates-to-be, And they reached an unspoken decision. And later that night in the “Admiral’s Arms”

As she gazed at the Sky television,

They bought her a supper – prawn cocktail it was, Then a steak, and a lovely Peach Melba; And they plied her with drinks of the powerful kind

Till she knew not Madras from the Elbe.

Then off they all scarpered, jumped into the boat, Cast off, and set course for the Med. And when the next morning Trace opened her eyes

With a thumping great pain in her head,

She was lost and deserted, the crew were all gone – Not one could she find in the place. And hence, in the papers, the headlines next day:

“Crew Disappears Without Trace”.

Here’s a post I made earlier – actually a few years ago – I hope it’s still of interest..

I like walking around marinas, there’s just so much to see and reflect on. As I stroll around I tend to settle on a theme for the day: Drooping spreaders, types of bow or stern, cockpit covers or whatever springs to mind on that particular day.

On a recent recce I was focused on bow rollers. It occurred to me that one of the things that distinguishes a proper cruising boat from a marina-hopper is the way her ground tackle is managed.

A serious cruising boat will have a proper anchor handling set up including an anchor locker, anchor winch and a bow roller. Trying to deploy and retrieve your anchor on a regular basis without the right system makes this essential task a frustrating chore.
I’ve talked before about anchor winches, windlasses and capstans so let’s take a look at anchor, or bow, rollers.

The anchor roller shares the pointy end of the boat with the forestay chainplate, pulpit bases and rollerfurling drum so it needs to be well engineered to avoid conflict with these other essential bits of kit. Occasionally you find the boat builder has provided a combination stem head fitting that incorporates the roller and full marks to them for this. Most boats don’t have this luxury and the cruising sailor has to retrofit one of the many proprietary anchor rollers available.

On Adriana we had hanked-on sails so no furling drum to get in the way of a hefty single roller bolted through the foredeck. The cheekplates were smooth edged and deep enough to keep the anchor from sliding off the roller. It worked a treat.
I like to stow the anchor on the anchor roller ready to deploy with minimal delay. On Adriana we could only stow one anchor ready for action so I’d still have to lug the second anchor from the lazarette when required, but at least we could do that while we were secure on the main bower. On our bigger ketch we had the luxury of a bow sprit and a substantial bow platform that accommodated our two big CQRs easily, as is the case with the boat in the picture.

Take a critical look at you anchor management system – it can make anchoring a joy when it’s right, a nightmare when it’s wrong

Here are a few more pictures taken along the towpath of the Lancaster Canal. It’s certainly a pretty place when the sun shines.

In this occasional, whimsical, series I’ve so far decided that my ideal cruising boat will be a 40’ moderate displacement sloop with a long fin keel and full skeg to support the rudder. She’ll be no deeper than 5’ and up to 13’ on the beam. She’ll have a deck saloon or pilot house. I’ve mulled over a variety of options to arrive at this basic concept.

Now I’m going to consider her systems. Sail handling will be important because, although I almost always sail with another crew member, I need to be able to sail single-handed should the need arise.

The working headsail is going to be relatively small, no overlap, so the main will be quite large. What I find appealing about smaller headsails is that they can be carried for longer as the wind pipes up and even when they’re partly furled they still have a high degree of efficiency. A large headsail, radically furled, is an awful thing.

On Adriana I had a soft Dacron mainsail with no headboard, no roach and, therefore, no battens. It was joy to handle. I had one reef point in it, halving the sail area in one fell swoop. I could put that reef in, by myself, in a minute or two. But she was a 32’ boat; my ideal boat is 40’ and much more powerful – a different approach is needed.

If I stick with conventional hoisting and slab reefing I’ll need a lazy jack/stowage bag system. Even so it’ll be a challenge to reef and stow single-handed. So, I’m considering an in-mast or in-boom reefing system. This would seem to go against my ‘keep it simple’ mantra but I’m no Luddite and using technology to keep it simple is fine with me.

I’ve sailed an Amel Maramu with in-mast furling and I liked it very much. I think that’s the way I’ll go. The choice of system and the cut of the sail will need thorough research but I’m going to have in-mast reefing. I think.

Here are a couple of articles you may find informative when you’re designing or troubleshooting your boat’s vhf radio/AIS antenna systems:

VHF antennas and their installation

Troubleshooting your vhf antenna system

They both highlight the importance of using good quality cable of the correct size, making good connections and using a top class antenna to extract the full potential from your radio.

You might be able to receive vhf signals on a bent coat hanger but you certainly can’t transmit effectively on anything except a proper antenna. As you transmit, the antenna coil heats up and unless it’s of substantial gauge with soldered joints and supported properly it will distort, degrading performance.

A top quality antenna will milk the full potential from whatever radio you have – hence the expression “a penny in the antenna is worth a pound in the radio”.

You can get a Metz antenna and a full range of accessories at the Salty John shop: