Thursday, 5 December 2013

I'm anchored in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, ready to cross to the Caribbean when visitors have left and the weather allows. (The voyage here, across the Biscay, down Spain and Portugal was overshadowed by very unpleasant family problems that put me off blogging entirely - hence the gap between launching and arrival in the Canaries!).

It seems a good time to begin to update the blog with descriptions of what has worked and what hasn't. I've done 3000 miles or so in the last few months, and have been living on board full-time since July. I've sailed most of the blue-water parts single-handed, and been gunk-holing in and out of ports in northern Spain and the Algarve. The boat is now as prepared for crossing the Atlantic as I can imagine it to be - I just need to stock up on food and check my water, and I can pull up the anchor and set off.

I'm reading blog postings from sailors who entered the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and I'm watching how the weather changes and how they cope. The obvious first lesson from these observations is that joining a rally is itself a most unseamanlike approach! The rally set off with only a day of following winds. A low was headed this direction, and still they went, 250 boats or so! The boats dispersed in their various efforts to mitigate the weather problems. Those who stuck to the pre-planned route had light, then contrary winds, getting up to 35 knots on the nose, with gusts reported at 60 knots. Then they had squalls, and then it all passed by and they were left with not enough wind to sail. Many did so much motoring that they re-routed to the Cape Verde islands for refuelling. A few boats went around the north of the depression. They had the strongest winds, but were never becalmed, and they are clearly in the lead now. Some have almost arrived - while some who persisted on the southern route are still east of the Cape Verdes.

At last, 10 days after they set off, the trade winds have steadied, and progress looks easy. Rule number one for safe and comfortable cruising: schedule voyages according to the weather - not arbitrarily chosen rally departure dates, or airline schedules.

I find the blogs fascinating. I read of brave helmsmen standing by the wheel through much of the night having waves occasionally crash over them, and I have to wonder why they don't switch on the self-steering gear and go indoors. What kind of game are they playing? Self-steering systems - either wind-powered or electrical work great, and if set up properly, can often steer better than the most careful helmsman. I switch on my self-steering gear before I start the engines or lift the anchor. Apart from manoeuvring in close quarters, the self-steering gear does it all. Standing outside in all weathers only debilitates the crew, and is not a safe practise on a long voyage. It's unnecessary and just silly.

I guess if people are steering much of the time, they don't have time for cooking. Many bloggers have been referring to their ready-meals. I like cooking at sea. I like reading too, but I am reading almost the whole time, so cooking is a pleasant interlude. I wonder what these people do with the time saved by using ready-meals. Read more? One boat had only an electric cooker, and when the generator died after a week, they were left with eating cold food out of cans for the rest of the trip. Others have had freezers pack up on them, and had to eat as much as they could before the food went off.

Toilets! It's amazing how many blogs refer to problems with the toilets, and the nasty work involved in fixing them. I've noticed that with this blog, the most viewed posting by far is the design of the toilet on this boat. I have to say that not having to deal with all those pipes and pumps and valves and holding tanks is just great. Several people in the Algarve have taken a close look at my toilet and decided to switch to the same 'composting' toilet setup. At sea, I resort to the simple bucket-and-chuck-it method - no need to cart the stuff around with me out there. I was amazed to hear one story in the Algarve, of a fellow who had just sailed there from Canada. He told me his holding tank exploded exactly half-way across the ocean, rendering his forward cabin on his little boat uninhabitable even after extensive cleaning. It took a further week of cleaning once he got to Portugal and the replacement of his mattresses to finally deal with the stink. I forgot to ask why he was still using his holding tank so far out to sea - presumably he'd been under the impression that his valves were set up for direct pump out.

And rolling - someone reported spending more than 24 hours rolling through 90 degrees, unable not only to sleep, but find any position where they could wedge themselves into a corner to get some rest. I guess rolling is a natural consequence of a lack of hulls - but some half-catamarans are rollier than others. Rolling downwind all the way across the Atlantic sounds an awful prospect - and perhaps explains the reluctance of some sailors to cook.

Ah but in case you get the impression I want to simply indulge in some schadenfruede and list the ways my boat is superior to everyone else's, here's a photograph of my front beam, with the anchor rollers under the A-frame. I think I put the anchor rollers there because I could make use of the tabs I needed to support the forestay attachment. I showed my design to two other catamaran re-builders before I had the beam welded up. They thought my design looked fine too. No-one asked how I was to get the anchors through the A-frame! It's quite a hassle I must say! Much of the time, for short trips, the anchor sits on the net, with the chain left on the roller. Longer trips, I take the trouble to unshackle the anchor from the chain so I can put it all away in the lockers. Dumb, dumb, dumb! It would have been so simple to have placed the rollers outside the A-frame....

Live and learn!

There'll be more details on what has worked on this boat and what hasn't in the following posts.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The end of the beginning

It's been a while since I posted. I've been busy - boat-building.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was doing a lot of work on the boat that would inevitably be invisible. Take water out of the foam, seal it with epoxy, refix all the deck fittings so that the two layers of glass have a water-proof bed of epoxy around each bolt hole, on and on - so many jobs would simply disappear with the final coat of paint.

I wanted to keep a record, for my benefit  - so that when I wondered where all the time went, I could look through the blog and remember all I've done - but also for the resale value of the boat. If I don't pile the boat up on some rocks, one day it will be for sale, and it would be nice for all my careful work to be recognised.

However, I guess I lost interest in writing up every job. I just got on with the work. And now, it's launched. Ready to go:

down to the water...

the water went away, but the boat sits nicely in the mud.

the nesting dinghy on the aft platform - a place to keep it in port and on rivers. At sea, it is stored in the middle of the cockpit.

Ready for action. Where to go? Well, I don't think I am going to blog the sailing for now. Though you might get to see where the boat sails and how it performs via my AIS transponder, which I'll switch on whenever I'm underway.

If I am still fairly close to land, you should be able see where the boat is and how it's sailing here:  Marine traffic map.

If I'm at sea and the boat isn't visible, I am probably too far from land for the AIS receivers, or my AIS has broken, or I have run out of electricity or something like that.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Coming out of a long dark tunnel

Winter in the shed working on the boat is over ! :)

Finishing off outside, where is is cleaner, fresher, brighter and cheaper.

Monday, 4 March 2013

New beam in place

My front beam has been welded together and is now attached. Hurray!

Just like I planned - 6 months ago: reasons to rebuild the beam

It's been a lot of hassle to have fabricated, but in the end, it is exactly as I'd wanted it.

I've fitted the beam to enable me to glass a flange on the catwalk to connect to the beam. I'll have to remove the beam again so that I can paint it - the welding has wrecked the original anodising. I've got hold of some epoxy paint designed for use on aluminium. The fabricator has advised me that though the welding looks neat  and complete, it is likely that there are pin holes in it that I'll never see, but that nevertheless can admit water. So I'll drill a small hole in the bottom of the beam, pour in a can of waxoil, and seal the hole again with Sikaflex.

And today, the boat is ready to come out of the shed, after 6 months of 6-7 days a week working on it. It's on schedule exactly, but only through having worked on it much harder than I'd planned.

What's left? Just three items on the list!

  1. Re-rig the mast, and put that up again - new standing rigging, replace the masthead bulb with an LED one, fit a radar reflector, and a second aerial for the AIS.
  2. Fit the engines. Two 9.9 Yamaha outboards I've been working on. When I bought the boat, the engines weren't fit for use - I had to replace corroded wires, rebuild a gearbox, and replace half a carburettor to get them working again. Beside, when I bought the boat and sailed it to Totnes, the cockpit was a soggy piece of plywood that would barely take my weight, never mind support the weight of an engine. So I haven't yet run the boat with the engines it came with.
  3. Paint the finish coats. Many people have commented on the fact that I have refitted all the cleats and stanchions etc before the final coat of paint, and it seems odd to some that I am bringing the boat out of the shed before the final paint job. Underwater, the final paint will be Coppercoat, which I have already. The weather needs to be a bit warmer before I apply that. Just a day's work. Above the waterline, I'm just using Sandtex masonry paint on deck, and acrylic semi-gloss on the topsides. It's cheap, quick and easy to maintain. So I've attached all the fittings before the final paint job so that the sealant is bonded to the tough epoxy paint, not the relatively weak top coat that comes next. Besides, the shed is all dusty from all the work going on around me. It'll be better painting outside.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Slowing down - making a Jordan series drogue

I've seen more than my fair share of storms. I used to think that a cruising boat should be able to take anything the sea could throw at it and that I should be able to handle a boat in any conditions, and so I paid far too little to weather forecasts or even the seasons. That youthful, optimistic adventuring spirit lasted through the ownership of several boats before being at last knocked out of me by one avoidable storm too many. I have a friend who has sailed several times around the world, much of it single-handed. He has rarely seen a gale, and once got right the way round the world without encountering one. That's the way to go!

Well, anyway, now dedicated as I am to choosing the right season for a route, and watching the weather as closely as possible, I still regard a gale or more as almost inevitable, and even if I have nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of my life, it will be pleasanter sailing if I have some confidence that the boat can handle some severe weather.

Part of the preparation for long distance sailing has been to strengthen areas, make sure every joint and connection and seal is water tight, simplify things, chuck out unnecessary weight, complication, and through-hull connections. That's all the same for any boat.

I've found that the way a boat behaves in rough weather depends very much on the boat. Each one handles differently in rough weather, so it's difficult to adopt a single strategy that will cover all possibilities. Sailing in storms is a big subject, but it is covered well in 'Heavy weather sailing' by Adlard Coles - a book I've read through and through, and was pleased to find that a new section has been added for multihulls in the latest edition.

Here's one storm strategy that isn't in the book that worked for me. 30' trimaran, single-handed, Gulf of Genoa, January 1st, 1982(?) (told you I failed to bother about the season). Sailing west from Viareggio with the wind behind me, all was well until it very suddenly increased. I got the mainsail down entirely, and was left with the working jib up. By the time the main was all snugged up, the boat was surfing fast steering with the Autohelm. I steered by hand and very soon, I realised I didn't dare re-attach the self-steering gear. We were going far too fast for that, and single handed, bound to the tiller, it would be difficult to drop the jib. Also, I was now going very fast in the right direction, so I continued with that setup - for the next 12 hours (until I'd sailed into the middle of the low, and the wind just stopped, as if someone had switched off the fan). The waves grew big and steep, and it seemed there was almost always a wall of surf behind me.

I don't know what the wind speed was, but I remember thinking the boat speed log was broken, because it kept showing 2, 3, 4, 5 knots, and I was clearly going much faster than that. Most of the time, the speed was showing in the mid-teens. Then I realised the speed log only goes up to 20 knots, and so those little readings were 20 knots less than they ought to be. I'd reached a top speed of 25 knots! This on a boat that I'd rarely seen go faster than 8 knots in 2-3 years of sailing!

Yeah, the wind speed... so the boat was going downwind at 15 - 25 knots. I had a Rutland wind generator. If I was anchored in a gale, that put out 4 amps. I'd never seen more than that. It was now frequently putting out 6 amps, and it sounded like a helicopter.

So that was a lot of wind, and the sea was quite shallow, so the waves were very steep. Maybe I did the right thing. No wave came into the boat. Of course, I was sailing on the edge of catastrophe. One wrong move with the tiller, and I'd have broached and capsized for sure. Or if the rudder hit anything in the water, or just popped up (it was a lifting rudder). But it went fine, that time.

That strategy might have been good considering the steepness of the waves, but usually, you need to slow down in a storm. Stop perhaps, with a sea anchor. However, Richard Wood's experience with a sea anchor has put me off that idea, as well as imagining lying ahull in bad weather trying to set an parachute in the sea off the bow attached to a bridle, and having that all work out just fine (probably in the dark, alone, tired and in the rain too...). Tricky to deploy correctly. So anyway, I've settled for a series drogue.

This kind of thing, attached to the back of the boat:

I made my own - instructions are here.

Here are a couple of things I learned that will be useful if you also make your own.

The cones aren't hard to make, but I needed 140 of them, so I bought them ready made on ebay. There was enough work involved attaching them, but after a bit of practise it took 4 minutes each.

There are several types of double-braided rope. I got some cheap, and struggled to attach even one cone. Turns out this type of rope (used for cod-ends on fishing nets) it much stiffer and more compact than the loose soft stuff you need for making a drogue. Check with your supplier than the rope will be suitable for a drogue.

Splices are easy. Here's how:

Stainless thimbles can twist and distort under great strain. A twisted thimble can fray your rope. Add a lump of weld to the inside of the thimble to close the loop.

Here's the bridle and finished drogue:

The drogue is no use without something strong to attach it to. I have some little cleats at the back - good for attaching a dinghy painter, but not a drogue. So I had some stainless steel plates made up and attached them to the hulls. The hulls are foam sandwich, so first I removed the foam from the inside:

and replaced it with plywood epoxied into place. The plywood is well glued to the outer skin:

Then a couple of layer of glass over that to join the ply to the inner skin:

Then bolt on the steel plate:

The 10mm thick tab at the aft end is for attaching one leg of the bridle. The loop at the for end is just something I can use to tie things in place on my aft platform (like a sit-on canoe I'm thinking of buying, for use as a second dinghy, to go fishing, and exploring creeks).

I don't expect this work to make the boat now prepared for any eventuality. But perhaps one day, in the right kind of storm, I'll attach my drogue, throw it off the back and sail slowly and safely downwind till it's all over.

Update, 3 years and many thousands of miles later: The series drogue remains in the bag. I once moved it from its locker to the cockpit, and that seemed enough to quell the storm, and all was well. However, I still regard it as my ultimate backup. When it all gets too much, I'll hang it out the back, tie off the tiller, close the doors, and stay inside. I haven't had to resort to that yet, but I have used an Abbot drogue quite a bit, and the results of that suggest to me that the series drogue is going to behave just as predicted.

The Abbot drogue, attached to the same plates has been great. See my trans-Atlantic log for details of that.

One other use of these plates: I use a Galerider drogue on a bridle over the stern whenever the boat surges about at anchor. The worst conditions I experienced were in Northern Spain, when I had a F6-7 blowing against 3 knot current. No fun at all. I had a lot of scope out, so the boat had lots room to sail about, and according to my GPS, we hit 4 knots before sailing ahead of the anchor and snatching to a stop, only to drop back downwind, and then surge forward again on the other tack. I hung a Galerider off the stern on a bridle, and the boat just stopped! Almost dead still. The anchor can cope very well indeed against a steady pull, so I wasn’t bothered about the bit of extra drag caused by the drogue, but I was very pleased not to have the anchor, the boat and me snatched about from one side to the other. I have three drogues on board – I have the Galerider specifically for anchoring in wind over tide conditions.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Ah paint! After all the repairs and alterations, it's time to cover the whole unsightly mess with a nice covering of paint that will obliterate my weeks of work.

See the nasty purple bruise just below the hatch drain hole? That was where water had got into the laminate. I drilled holes though the outer skin, and rinsed out the salt and chemical rich liquid, and then dried the area out with paper wicks, and then heat. Then I injected epoxy resin in to rebond the skins with the laminate. The ugly purple is some dye (builder's chalk) I added to the resin so that I could see where the stuff was going.

See the area just to the left of the drain hole? This is where two foam panels are joined, and the join had been faired in with car body filler. Car body filler absorbs water. This was evident by the old paint bubbling in this area. The paint was removed, then the car body filler, and the are has been refaired with epoxy filler.

At  the top of the picture you can just see a line of holes where I have fitted an epoxy/glass component that will hold the forward net in place. This replaces some aluminium track that was screwed and bolted through the hull - a hole every few inches. Each hole somewhere for water to leak into the laminate. Now, all gone. No more holes.

See on the right of the picture, there's a bit of the crossbeam? There was dampness in there. All rinsed out and dried and refilled, and finally, and extra layer of glass/epoxy. All now dry and reintegrated and strong.

At the bottom - the red colour? More epoxy filler, to fair in a layer of epoxy and glass added to strengthen the edge of the flare in the topsides which was damaged in places, and seemed thin and vulnerable to more damage. All fixed up, and now....

Obliterated. Weeks of work gone. Never mind the colour. It's just an epoxy undercoat.

The red line at the top - fairing with epoxy again, where an aluminium rubbing strake has been removed (again, holes through the hull every few inches. Madness!) The red at the bottom, the epoxy fairing over the reinforced hull flare. Some of the white and the blue is also epoxy filler - I varied the colour so I could see what I was doing as the work progressed. Anyway, it's all gone now...

Same for the decks too, where I have had to remove car body filler. And gel coat non-slip too. That was damaged and unsightly, and there was water under some of it. Nasty stuff. All gone, all ready for paint - 

I was fortunate to find a high build epoxy paint which is perfect for giving the boat a very durable and waterproof coating. I found it in a navy surplus yard. It's the sort of stuff that is used on ship's hulls, before the antifoul goes on. Leigh's Epigrip. I recommend it! Easy to apply as well as giving a tough finish. And as government surplus, it was £2 a litre. Cheaper than domestic emulsion! I bought the lot, 200 litres - enough for two coats on my topsides, three coats underwater (in preparation for the Coppercoat), and three coats underwater on the catamaran next door. (That's the catamaran next door, on the right of the image above). I was delighted with the bargain. My neighbour was quoted £5000 for the paint system for his boat.

No paint sticks better, is more durable or waterproof than epoxy paint. The one downside of epoxy is that it is vulnerable to UV, so it needs covering. The usual argument between yachties is whether to use one-pack or two-pack polyurethane paint. Both types are tough and expensive. Two-pack is tougher and more expensive. They give a shiny high gloss finish, which I have concluded has a dubious value. Shiny, it shows up every inconsistency in the hull, and so people spend forever filling and fairing before using this paint. And when the paint is damaged, it's quite a bit of work to again, fill and fair and repaint, and polish the patch in back to perfection.

I've concluded life is too short for that kind of perfection. I'll forgo the shininess and the expense and the upkeep ( I NEVER want to have to polish my boat!). The final coat will be domestic acrylic paint. The epoxy will protect the boat from moisture and abrasion, and the acrylic will protect the epoxy from UV. I haven't decided yet between Dulux and Sandtex, but the whole lot will cost me £30-40 instead of several hundred, and it will all be painted in a day. Scrapes will be touched up in minutes. And for the non-slip areas of the decks, same stuff, except I'll use the textured masonry paint. Cheap, easy to apply, durable, and since I've used it before, I can also say it sands away just fine - when it comes to recoating, the aggregate doesn't build up.

Painting. After all the work and preparation, it's a pleasant and easy job. All that work and preparation, now sealed up and hidden away. :)

Maybe my boat just wasn't yellow enough! Sorted!

Update: Leigh's Epigrip is brilliant. For epoxy paint, it is cheap. It is easy to apply. and after 2.5 years of hard use, I can say that it is very hard wearing. I've had places where a rope has been sawing across the deck (something I tend to avoid, naturally) and the top paint has gone, but howhere has the epigrip been worn through.

I used Dulux Weathershield gloss paint on the topsides and it is fine. A little wear and tear and scuffing, but it hasn't even dulled, here in the tropics. The Dulux salesman recommended that I used something else. He told me it wouldn't last. It has! One day, not soon, I'll give it all a quick sand and another coat. Maybe an afternoon's work, for several more years of looking fine.

I used masonry paint on the deck. Smooth everywhere, then textured where I need non-slip. It's OK. In places it has scratched off, where I have dragged something heavy across the deck. Eventually, it began to chalk, which doesn't matter much except the chalkiness contaminated the rain water we collect from the coachroof. So I have overcoated that with latex paint (available in the US, not sure what the equivalent would be in the UK). This stuff too is cheap, water-based stuff. It has stopped the chalkiness. One day, I'll give the whole of the decks and cockpit another coat. No rush though. And it will be cheap, it will take less than a day to do, and will last a few more years.