Saturday, October 24, 2015

Creative anchor and chain installation

Oceanus with her new Lofrans Tigress windlass, Rocna 25 (kg) anchor and chain. Goodlander would take issue with me using the cleat on top of the windlass (too much wracking) to take the strain off the chain, but I wanted to try it out. When not at the dock, I'll using the mooring cleat.
For more than a year I struggled with exactly how I would install my anchor and chain aboard Oceanus, my 45-year-old Columbia 43. The boat had an old manual windlass, a 45-pound CQR anchor and a chain and rope rode. It was all questionable. We wanted to cruise far and sleep well at anchor, so I knew I needed to upgrade everything.

Piece by piece I chose the elements of the anchoring system: a Lofrans Tigress windlass, a Rocna 25 (55-pound) anchor, 300 feet of 5/16th G4 high-test chain connected with a load-rated hot-dip galvanized shackle. These choices were heavily influenced by the anchoring advice from the folks at Morgan's Cloud, Attainable Adventure Cruising web site. Their on-line anchoring book very convincing lays out what anchors to buy (Spade or Rocna) and how to choose chain. They also go in to great detail about shackles: what to buy (a load-rated galvie shackle) and what to never buy (stainless steel swivels). Their experience with decades of high-latitude cruising and anchoring under challenging conditions together with their no BS approach made them my go-to source for anchoring equipment advice.
The choice of the Lofrans Tigress windlass and the Rocna was relative easy, figuring out the other elements of the anchoring system and how to put it all together took some time.
I went back and forth on how much chain I needed -- 200 feet spliced to a nylon rode or 300 feet of all chain. I wanted 300 feet, but I was concerned about that much weight in the bow. Then this summer we got a visit from our friends, Karin and Joe aboard Flying Sideways, another Columbia 43. For the last three years they cruised their boat from San Diego to Mexico and the Pacific Side of Central America. They said the boat would handle the weight of 300-feet of chain fine. They also said I would need that much.

So when I bought a copy of Creative Anchoring, the new book from Capt'n Fatty Goodlander, I was delighted to learn that the anchor, windless, amount of chain, everything, right down to the shackle, that Capt'n Fatty had aboard his 43-foot, 30,000-pound ketch Ganish, was exactly what I bought for Oceanus. The only difference was that he had 3/8ths G4 chain, whereas I had 5/16ths G4. But his boat is bigger by 8,000 pounds and is ketch-rigged, so it is heavier and has more windage than my boat.

The book, like all of Capt'n Fatty's writing, is funny and entertaining. Better yet, he explains in detail how he rigged and marked his chain and a step-by-step explanation about how he and his wife, Carolyn, deploy and retrieve the anchor. Just what I was looking for.

Virginia and I started putting together our anchoring system. I drilled holes in the deck where our manual windlass was. After removing as much of the balsa wood core as I could reach with a bent nail in a hand drill, I taped up the bottom of the holes and filled them with epoxy thickened with cabosil to about the consistency of honey. This protects the balsa wood core even if the fitting leaks.

The next day I redrilled the holes and ran the bolts through. Virginia, chief electrician aboard Oceanus, mapped out where to run the wire for our windlass. Then we worked backwards with a hole saw along the path the wire would take back to the battery bank in the saloon. It ran under shelves and through lockers in the forepeak, our stateroom and the head until we reached the bathtub.

Old technology saves the day.
The tub has a seat. Under the seat is filled with foam insulation. I needed to drill through the insulation to the plywood bulkhead and into the battery box underneath the forward settee in the saloon. I was nervous about doing this because I could inadvertently drill a hole in our tub. Virginia would hurt me bad if I did that. So, I used a long bit on an extension in my old Stanley brace and went from the head side where I knew where the sides of the tub were. It worked like a charm and was kinda fun too.

With the pathway to the battery box established, we used a flexible 100-foot tape to measure precisely how much wire we would need. We even used masking tape to hold the measuring tape in place to get a good measurement. The two runs of double ought tinned wire is expensive and we didn't want to buy more than we were going to use.

Don't cheap out on the wire. Undersized wire causes voltage drops that hurts the performance of your windlass and can cause heat buildup in the windlass and the wire. The wire can get hot enough to cause a fire aboard. Goodlander has some scary stories about this in his book.  The cable we used is as big around as your thumb.
The windlass cables start their journey from the battery box to the chain locker. Note the 100-amp breaker in the positive (red) cable.
We ran the wire and put a 100 amp breaker in the positive (red) wire inside the battery box. This is important to protect the big wire. It's also a handy way to cut the power to the windlass so no one can run the windlass from the deck switches while you're away from your boat. We got a lot of help from Mike and Vince at our local Englund Marine store with the details of the installation. Englund's also loaned us the big $600 pair of crimpers to attach the lugs to the monster wire.

The installation looked perfect. With excitement and trepidation Virginia stepped on one deck switch: nothing. Then the other deck switch: also nothing. The deck switches feed into a control box that contains two solenoids, one for the up and one for down. Using a chunk of battery cable and bypassing the control box we determine that the winch and the switches were working fine. The control box was defective.

The new control box in a high locker just outside the chain locker. We made no connections inside the chain locker where they could get wet. The control box is a replacement. The original was defective from the factory.
I wish I could tell you that Imtra, the company that imports Lofrans windlasses to the US from Italy, was super accommodating when we called. Alas, it took my sweet wife lots of convincing to get them to agree to send us a new control box and pay for shipping. (She wisely wouldn't let her hot-head husband negotiate with the Imtra rep.)

The new control box from Imtra arrived a week later. It took a few minutes to switch it out and the windlass worked like a champ. It's frustrating to spend so much money on equipment, spend a lot of time and more money on installation and then have a high percentage of the pricey gear not work the first time.
Me demonstrating poor lifting technique. You can see some of the cable ties marking the chain lengths.
With the windlass installed, it was time to load the chain and anchor aboard. I waited until high tide before bringing the chain down the ramp to our dock in a wheelbarrow. We laid the chain out on the dock so we could measure and mark it.

Goodlander marks his chain every 50 feet with nylon cable ties, as many as will fit on one link. That's about five or six in our case. At 50 feet we bristled up one link, at a hundred we did two links separated by three links, at 150 we three links separated by three links, and so on. Goodlander said marking the chain every 50 feet is a compromise between knowing too much and knowing too little. That made sense to me.

Virginia had the idea to spray paint a mark in between, so we can get a little finer detail on how much chain is out. We used some white appliance paint to mark three links every 25 feet, if it wasn't already marked with the cable ties. The advantage of the cable ties is that even if your chain is real muddy, you can still see them. The painted links in between might be obscured with mud, but most of the time we should see the mark.

Considering how close the tolerance is between the chain and the gypsy head on the windlass, it's surprising that all the cable ties don't gum up the works. But I could detect no change as the bristly links came aboard. According to Goodlander, the cable ties last a long time too.
The new U bolt installed in the chain locker along with some Dry Deck to allow the chain to stay drier.
Before we loaded the chain aboard, we installed a heavy U bolt in a re-enforced section of the chain locker's bulkhead. This is to tie a length of rope onto the end of the chain, well, nearly the end. Goodlander suggests tying the rope five links from the end so you can shackle on more chain or rope to increase the length of your rode, should you need to. The rope tied to the U bolt can take the strain temporarily while I shackle additional rode onto the end of my 300 feet of chain.

The chain is not shackled to the U bolt for another reason: in an emergency I may need to divorce the chain from my boat. With a length of rope, just long enough to clear the chain gypsy, I can cut it free if I need to and retrieve it later.

I also put four squares of Dry Deck in the chain locker to keep the chain off the bottom and allow some air to circulate to keep the chain drier. This was another suggestion from Goodlander's book.
I will need to add a stainless steel kick plate to the bow of Oceanus to protect it from the anchor.
We used the windlass to load the chain on the boat. A few feet before the anchor came aboard we added a link's worth of cable ties to warn the windlass operator to slow down and ease the anchor aboard.

Oceanus has a deep chain locker. The chain drops about six feet before it starts to pile up. This is good to keep the chain from hockling. Shallow chain lockers, so common on newer boats, have a problem with this. I don't anticipate we will.
Oceanus's deep chain locker.
I really enjoyed reading Creative Anchoring and I learned a lot. Great stories, good and bad examples and loads of Goodlander's opinions informed by more than half a century of living afloat. The details in the book was just what I needed to finally put together my anchoring system.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Changing throttle and shift cables

Henry works on the binnacle of Oceanus to replace the shift cables.
Among all the projects aboard Oceanus, changing the shift and throttle cables was not even on my radar.

I've been reading sailing magazines since I was a kid and I can't remember a single article about changing them. Like most things on a boat, you only replace them if it's a problem, right? But Henry, my diesel mechanic and friend, insists they should be changed every seven years. More often if you don't use your boat much.

The thing about shift and throttle cables is the problems creep up slowly. The cables, which run from the helm to the transmission and fuel-injector pump on the diesel, gradually get stiffer and harder to move until they freeze up all together or break; possibly -- no probably -- at a critical moment. A broken or frozen cable would leave you unable to shift or control your throttle.

Henry was suspicious of  my cables from the get go. "When was the last time these were changed?" he asked, pinning me with his piercing blue eyes. Without waiting for an answer he said, "I bet it's been more than 20 years." My guess was that it was even longer than that, but I didn't say anything, I just shrugged.

Henry's diagnosis was confirmed when he drove the boat. "These are way too stiff," he said. "And the chain for your wheel needs oiling too."

I hoped this would be a simple job. Just take the old cables out and put the new ones in. What could go wrong?

Everything. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. All six of the bolts we needed to remove to take apart Oceanus's helm were frozen. Henry managed to remove three of them without breaking them off, but it was an hours-long struggle. The remaining three finally broke off and had to be drilled out.

An hour and a half job became a day and a half job. All because who ever put the six bolts in last never coated them with anything to prevent them from freezing in place. That person was not Henry, who coats every bolt he puts in a boat with Never Seize.

"Years from now when someone takes these apart they will thank me," he said. And be amazed something actually comes apart easily, I thought.

To get at things better, we removed the stainless steel tubing that supports the helm and took off the old teak piece that connected the two. The teak was already the worst-looking piece of wood on the boat and taking it off didn't help its looks any; a big chip broke lose as we were removing the U-shaped stainless tubing that serves as a handhold.
The old wood piece that helps tie everything together at the helm station was the worst-look piece of teak on the boat.
After Henry left that evening of the first day of screw removal, Virginia polished the stainless steel handhold and I went to my stash of teak pieces and found one to make a replacement for the connector piece. Using the old one as a pattern, it only took me a couple of hours with a jig saw, drill, hand plane and sander to make a replacement. When Henry returned the next morning he approved.

Henry spent the better part of the second day removing the old screws from the binnacle. He then ran a tap through all the holes to clean up the threads. Finally, he could replace the cables.

He helped me attach our teak cockpit table to the new teak replacement piece I made. Then we put the binnacle back together.

Before he left to head back to his home and business in Salem, he offered to take the throttle and shift levers home to spruce them up. They are original to the boat. Forty-five years of use, abuse, saltwater and neglect took a toll on the nickle plating; it was about half gone and both levers were corroded. Henry said he would glass bead the levers and polish up the bronze on his buffer. He also assigned me a list of tasks to complete before he returned, including oiling the chain and other moving parts of the steering system.

The next weekend Henry returned with the levers. Not only were they now beautifully polished bronze with all the nickle plating removed, but he painted the background on the cast lettering that says "Fuel" on one and "Shift" on the other. A very nice touch.Thanks Henry!
The polished bronze looks nice with the new teak.
The new cables make a huge difference in the feel and response when driving Oceanus. Best of all, I don't worry about them failing, at least for another seven years or so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

From The Pit of Despair to the Valley of Hope

Henry in his natural element.
For months I've been making almost daily forays into The Pit of Despair, a.k.a. the engine room on Oceanus.

Just before we bought Oceanus three years ago Jason, the previous owner, pulled the Perkins 4-108 and rebuilt it. He fired up the engine before we purchased the boat and it ran great. The fuel lines from the engine were stuffed into a five-gallon jug of diesel fuel and there were a few more things that needed finishing up, but the big job was done. Finishing up the rest of the install would be, well, maybe not easy, but something I could do. Or so I thought.

Actually I didn't think about it much. For the first two years we owned the boat my wife and I focused on the fun stuff; finishing the interior of the boat and painting the outside. These were things we knew how to do.

But I had the nagging sensation that I should get things done in the engine room. Here's a partial list of what needed doing: replace prop with correct one, replace raw water pump (the old one leaked around the shaft), rebuild spare fuel-injection pump and replace the one on the engine (it had a fuel leak around the throttle shaft), make new instrument panel, install new fuel tanks, run new fuel lines, install new fuel-tank vents and run vent lines, install secondary fuel filter, replace/upgrade alternator, mount oil filter and raw-water strainer... the list went on.

Before our haul out last year, Jason helped replace the raw-water pump and, with the help of Lance the diver and Jason again, we replaced the prop. That was enough to get the boat safely up the Yaquina River 11 miles to the boatyard and back, but it still left a lot that needed doing.

I thought Jason would be around to coach me on work in the engine room, but (good for him -- sad for me) he moved to Hawaii last fall.

Last winter and spring (we only have two days of summer on the Oregon Coast, which I took off) I worked at finishing up the interior, installing plumbing (another hated job) and cutting down the engine room to-do list. With the latter I got good advice from Henry, a marine engine mechanic from Salem who spends every weekend working on his 50-foot 1950 Stevens motor yacht. He would drop into the engine room and tell me what I was doing wrong and I would change it. (I moved my secondary fuel filter three times.)

Each day I climbed down the hatch my discouragement grew until I began calling the engine room The Pit of Despair. With time running short and faced with some daunting tasks, like changing out the fuel-injection pump, I cried uncle. I was in over my head and I knew it. It took some persuading, including my wife talking to Henry's wife, Kelly, but we finally got a commitment from Henry to help me.

Over the last couple of weekends, he finished most of my list and found several other problems that needed fixing. One was rebuilding the starter, which he took back to his shop and brought back the next weekend. The difference was nothing short of amazing.

Between weekend visits Henry would give me assignments as he found more things that needed doing.
Henry measures for new cables.
Henry spent one long day changing the fuel-injection pump. The old fuel-injection pump leaked fuel from the throttle shaft. It took Henry until late evening to install the newly-rebuilt pump, but we couldn't get the engine started. The hour was late and Henry needed to leave to go to his home and business in Salem the next morning. "Don't worry," Henry said, "the engine kicks over the first time on only about 20 percent of fuel injection pump installs."
I made the new instrument panel, but Henry finished wiring it.
But worry I did. I would wake in the middle of the night worrying. When Saturday came I hoped Henry would have time to work on my engine, but he had another job that needed doing. Saturday evening he came by the boat and dropped off some tools and a battery switch and said he would work on the engine Sunday morning while we were at church. During church I found myself wondering and worrying about how Henry was doing. I'm not used to turning over boat projects to other people.

As we walked back down the dock from church I could see water happily spurting out of the engine exhaust. The engine was running great! All was right with the world.

Henry also installed a battery switch and cables so we can use our house bank to start our engine if our starter bank fails. We can also charge our house bank using our new alternator.

"Now tomorrow I'm going with you when you motor over to the fuel dock to fill your starboard tank," Henry said. "I want to check to make sure there are no leaking fittings."

Henry in his ever-present, faded orange knit cap aboard Oceanus.
It was great to have Oceanus leave the dock again. Henry and I noticed that idle was a little fast, but the engine ran great! The fill up went well with no leaks.

Back in our slip Henry adjusted the throttle and discovered another problem. The throttle and shift cables needed replacing. So next weekend Henry will be back getting Oceanus one more step closer to leaving.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A visit from "Flying Sideways"

Karin and Joe's Flying Sideways looking good at Marina Chiapas, Mexico.
Karin and Joe from Flying Sideways, a Columbia 43 Mark III, visited the Oceanus crew on Saturday. The four of us had a wonderful time as they inspected our boat and we peppered them with questions about cruising in Mexico and farther south.

I've written about Flying Sideways before. She is one of the prettiest 43s around. Over the last three years, Karin, Joe and their dog Jack have sailed her from San Diego to Mexico and Central America. The crews of Oceanus and Flying Sideways followed each other's adventures for the last couple of years on each others' blogs. When we finally met in person they felt like old friends. Let's hear it for the wonders of the internet!
Joe and Karin hard at work.
Karin and Joe are no strangers to adventure. They are both pilots and skydivers each with thousands of jumps to their credit. For the past three years they cruised Flying Sideways in the winter months and then work for the largest skydiving company in the world during the summer in Phoenix, Ariz.

When they won a trip to Portland, Ore., they rented a car and came to Newport to see us. The conversation was non-stop as they inspected our yacht and we quizzed them about their boat and adventures.

They bought Flying Sideways in San Diego and worked on outfitting her for five months before heading south to Mexico. Their first foreign port was Ensenada, which they gave high marks for easy entry into the country with friendly officials and good services. The first season they explored Baja and the Sea of Cortez. Their second season they explored Mexico's Gold Coast all the way to the southern border.

This last season started with the notion of sailing to Panama and Chile, but the ever-flexible crew of Flying Sideways ended up cruising Nicaragua, El Salvador making it as far south as Bahia Ballena in Costa Rica where "everything started to break: water maker boost pump, dingy engine and solar charge controller." They returned to Marina Chiapas in Mexico to lay up their yacht for the summer.

We enjoyed hearing highlights over Virginia's excellent pot roast. Stories like the time the dropped anchor off Zihautenejo and found they were about 100 yards from the main stage during a week-long international guitar festival.

Joe and Karen love the ocean and the desert.
Their love for the people and places they visited is infectious. Their advice and recommendations: pure gold for us. We can't wait to follow in their wake. We look forward to seeing them again. The sooner the better. From virtual friends to real friends. Karin and Joe, we miss you already.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

We need your vote!

Sailrite, a company that we've spent a lot of money with during the boat's restoration, is having a contest and we need your vote.

We entered our cushions and pillows in our main cabin. Here's the photo:

Just go here, find our photo and vote for us. We are currently in third place without any effort on our part, other than entering. The two projects in first and second place are POWER BOATS! We can't let them win!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Eight reasons we didn't go north

Eight cute reasons gathered together during the July 4th weekend.
This spring, being our optimistic selves, we thought we could have the boat seaworthy by summer to spend a month or so in Puget Sound close to our kids and grandkids. That didn't happen.

During the July 4th holiday we managed to get all eight grandchildren in one place for a photo. As you can see they are a cute bunch and a real magnet for us. In a way I'm glad we didn't go north first. I'm afraid it would be too hard to leave.

The third anniversary of us becoming the stewards of Oceanus came and went last week. Our to-do lists are still long, but not seemingly endless like at the beginning of this journey. There are many improvement I have yet to report on the blog. I want to take new photos of the boat and have a before-and-after photo set similar to the conclusion of one of those TV makeover shows.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stripper pole safety with true-lover mats

Sailor's true lover mat weave provides secure footing on Oceanus's companionway steps.
The vast majority of injuries (more than 70 percent) aboard a sailboat are the result of falls. Most falls occur while going in or out of the companionway. *

This statistic became real for my friend Kevin, who owns Skylark, a beautiful Columbia 50 he moores on San Diego Bay. Last year his wife fell coming down the companionway ladder when they were anchored at Catalina Island. Her feet were wet from kayaking and she slipped on one of the three wide steps going down into the cabin and broke a rib.
Kevin's beautiful Columbia 50, Skylark, getting ready for a sail on San Diego Bay.

The accident cut the trip short and they made a speed run back to San Diego and the emergency room.

"It's easy to forget just how incredibly slippery things can get when they get wet," Kevin said, "Things getting wet on a boat is an everyday deal. Plus, I'm only getting older and don't heal as fast anymore."

Kevin's quick solution was to install self-adhesive rubber safety treads from Harbor Freight ( It seems to be working.

"Elegant?  No.  Functional?  Yes," he said.

Skylark is so elegant that I didn't notice the rubber treads when I was aboard. I was about to follow Kevin's lead and make a trip to Harbor Freight for treads to cover our varnished steps, but my wife had another idea. She suggested that I make rope mats for the steps similar to the ones I made for our previous sailboat, Lobo, a Pearson Renegade.

The pattern for the rope mat is called the sailor's true lover mat weave. I saw it in my old copy of Hervey Garrett Smith's book, The Marlinspike Sailor. Even in Smith's day (before the advent of fiberglass boats and synthetic ropes) sailboat owners used rubber matting on ladder steps. He grants its efficiency, but says: "Neat rope mats, however, are not only just as efficient, but softer under foot, far more interesting, and bespeak a real welcome to the cabin below."

I got out my old copy of the book. I looked at the picture, but try as I might I could not get the knot started. Why I could weave a rope mat 30 years ago, but not now is... well... let's think about something more pleasant, shall we?

Rosella to the rescue

Our friend, Rosella from a few boats down, weaves rope mats. I know this because examples of her work are all over her boat. She's from Western Samoa and started weaving mats and other things when she was a child.

Rosella and Virginia weave rope mats for Oceanus' companionway steps.
She agreed to come to our boat and show us how it's done. She wove the first mat while Virginia knitted and watched. It took a few months to schedule another weaving session. When Rosella returned, she and Virginia wove the last two mats together. Rosella set up the pattern for both mats and then together they wove in the rest of the rope. This kind of activity encourages a lot of visiting and stories. It's the kind of activity that weaves communities together.

After Rosella left, Virginia and I tightened up the mats so they fit the steps. The edges of the mats come right to the edge of each step.
Rosella and Virginia talk story while weaving rope mats.

Once they were the size and shape we wanted I glued them down with white adhesive caulk. Each mat took an entire tube. It's a time consuming task too. You must make sure all the rope is glued down, especially around the edges. It takes time to mold and press the mats into the right shape and clean up the extra caulk that squeezes out as a result.

I installed the top mat three or four months ago. We are pleased with how well it's held up. It looks better with age. The 5/16ths nylon rope used to make the mats is tough and abrasion resistant. Best of all, it provides great traction and feels good when you step on it with bare feet.

Keeping them clean is less of a challenge than I anticipated. A quick vacuum usually does the trick. The steps are removable, so when they get really dirty I can take the steps on deck and give them a good scrub. If they really get ugly we could always paint them. I would hate to do that, however because we would lose some of the cushy feel.

Stripper pole love

The other part of safety around the companionway is having convenient and strong places to grab. A few months ago I installed a brass stripper pole near the companionway. Several visitors to the boat looked at me over their glasses when I point out this safety feature. "Every well-found yacht should have a stripper pole, right?" I said sheepishly.
A view of the weavers from the companionway shows the brass stripper pole.

Since everything aboard needs to serve at least two functions, I used the stripper pole as a leg to our new salon table. I lashed on an L-bracket on with net twine using a French hitch. Now, blessedly, it looks less like a stripper pole.

Two teak grab rails on either side of the companionway complete the safety upgrades.

Making Oceanus safe is a major goal during her refit. Projects to improve safely, like getting in and out of the cabin without falling, are a priority. I can't eliminate all possibilities of falls, but these are some obvious ways to mitigate the risk.

* For you ex-copy editors and researchers out there: I can't remember where I read this, but it stuck in my head. Anyone?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tales and tips from our haulout

Oceanus after our six-and-a-half week haulout last fall. We are still recovering.
I'm still recovering from last year's haulout, but I think I can finally write about it without suffering a full attack of Post Traumatic Haulout Syndrome.

For the benefit of my brothers and sisters about to put their beloved boat on the hard, I have two stories about what went well and one tip I wish I knew before we splashed the boat.  I still can't talk about some parts of the haulout. Maybe someday after more (sailing) therapy.

Replacing the cutlass bearing

After the crew finished pressure washing our hull, I walked around it looking in wonder at the work that lay before us. It was apparent that something needed to be done about the cutlass bearing. I may have uttered an expletive. OK, I confess. I definitely remember uttering an expletive. Having never replaced a cutlass bearing, or even pulled the propeller shaft, I was intimidated and briefly considered hiring the yard to do it. I'm glad I didn't. (Story to follow.)

The thing that saved me was an excellent set of instructions on the Compass Marine web site. This corner of the web is must reading for DIY boat owners. I followed his directions exactly and had no problems.
After cutting and removing the old bearing I polished the inside of the strut using my Dremel tool and a red scrubbing attachment.

The new cutlass bearing.

The setup with the all-thread rod, three nuts and three washers.
I put some grease between the two washers on the business end.

Almost there...

...and we're done with no drama.

First you remove propeller shaft. Then you can try to tap out the old cutlass bearing. Just looking at my cutlass bearing I knew this wouldn't work so I went to the second option. Using a hacksaw, I cut most of the way through the old cutlass bearing and used a screwdriver and hammer to bend it in on itself. I could then easily tap it out.

As I cut out the old cutlass bearing, a yard employee stopped by to offer advice. The employee was always friendly and tried to be helpful. This occasion was no different.

"Once you get the old one out," he advised, "all you do is take the new cutlass bearing, grease it up good with liquid dish soap and bang it in with a big ol' hammer. Nothing to it."

Using liquid dish soap to lubricate the new cutlass bearing during installation is good advice. And I took it. Banging it in with a big hammer... not so good. The yard employee may have been able to pull this off, but I doubt it. Had I elected to hire the yard to install it we would have found out. He would have been the yard employee assigned to the task. The Compass Marine method is a sure thing and easier on the cutlass bearing, not to mention the propeller strut. It's not as exciting as the yard employee's method, but haulouts are never short of that kind of excitement.

Instead of a hammer, I used a two-foot length of one-inch all-thread rod. I had this left over from another project and it was perfect for this application. You put two nuts and a washer on one end to lock the nut on the rod, slide the rod through the hole in the strut, slide on the new cutlass bearing (well lubed with liquid dish soap) and thread on a third nut with a washer. Turn the third washer with a wrench. I needed the biggest wrench I had and used all the leverage I could to overcome the friction of the cutlass bearing sleeve sliding into the strut -- but no trauma, no drama. Easy.

Sealing the mast

I use "Capt. Ron's Never-Leak Super Spar Seal (TM)" to seal around my mast. You will not find this wonder product in your local chandlery or even the West Marine catalog or Fisheries Supply. But you will find it in your local hardware store in the plumbing section under it's more common name "Toilet Bowl Wax." It will set you back all of about a dollar. You will even have some wax left over for emergencies. I've been using it now for about two years and I'm sold on the product. And not just because I'm a cheap #*(&$^d.

Sealing a mast is never easier than with "Capt. Ron's Never-Leak Super Spar Seal (TM)." In this photo I tried some rescue tape around the mast collar to dress things up, but it didn't last and it wasn't necessary.
Here are the advantages: It's cheap, available anywhere people use toilets, easy - almost fun - to gob in with a putty knife, quick to install and de-install, and -- best of all -- it never leaks.

The only disadvantage I've found is that it's hard to get off the deck. Once, when I wasn't paying attention, I dragged the hose over it. Some got on the hose and then on the deck. Scrubbing with soap and water wouldn't touch it -- as you might expect, but it was easy to remove with mineral spirits.

When I hauled out it was quick and easy to dig out most of the wax in preparation for the crew to pull the spar. After I launched, the yard crew stepped the mast just as rain clouds gathered. I quickly tightened the stays and dove into the cabin for my "Capt. Ron's Never-Leak Super Spar Seal (TM)." In 10 minutes I had the mast hole watertight just as it started to pour. I can't think of another product that would work in that compressed timeline.

I have a friend here at the marina that used a fancy (read: expensive), two-part compound in a kit to seal the mast on his Ingrid 38. It worked OK until he decided to tune his rig. Then it leaked like nothing was there at all. Another friend used the same product and didn't wax well enough and the yard had a heck of a time when they tried to pull his mast, which increased the cost of pulling the mast and damaged his boat.

Some people I've told about toilet wax are concerned it will melt when it gets hot. In the Northwet this is NEVER a problem, but it might be when I go south, say in Mexico. The person who told me about "Capt. Ron's Never-Leak Super Spar Seal (TM)" cruised Mexico and the western Caribbean and had no problems with melting wax. We will see.

I keep a spare ring of toilet bowl wax around for emergency leak repairs and to remind me how grateful I am that do not to own a house anymore.

What I wish I knew

After we splashed our boat, an update to a blog I follow arrived in my email. The couple say they always ask to be the first boat launched in the morning. Then they ask the yard to put them in the travel lift slings at the end of the workday before launching. That way they can coat the bottom of their keel and have it dry over night.

Oh well, there's always a next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Mystery Dinghy goes to rehab

After some extensive work, our Mystery Dinghy is ready for relaunching. 
When I bought our 8.5-foot fiberglass dinghy last summer off an ad on Craig's List, I knew she would need some work. Her teak inwales and outwales were in splinters, her thwarts were in need of repair and her bottom was covered with scars. I also wanted to reinforce her transom and install quarter knees since she was going to have a small outboard. And she just would never look right in my eyes without a breasthook.

Just how much work to do on the dinghy was a matter of philosophical debate with Virginia. Do we make it beautiful to match Oceanus? Or do we make her strong, but not fix her cosmetically so she's less appealing to would-be dinghy thieves? In the end beauty won out -- as it should.
Rowing the Mystery Dinghy for the first time was a real pleasure; she rows like a dream.

To begin with, the dinghy is inherently beautiful. We call it the Mystery Dinghy because we don't know the designer or builder. Whoever built the boat really had a good eye: the beautiful sheer, near perfect proportions, and nicely spiled lapstrake planking, are all evidence of good design well executed. She also rows like a dream. It's tough to get all that right in such a small package, as evidenced by the many ugly dinghies I see that don't row worth a damn. Not giving her a good finish and fixing her cosmetic problems would not do her justice.
The Mystery Dinghy is now papered with a HIN and registration number and sticker.

Another thing we had to fix was her documentation: there wasn't any. The guy I bought the dinghy from had no title and didn't know the builder or any previous owners beyond who he got it from.

There was no builder's plate and no Hull Identification Number (HIN), although the boat was clearly professionally built. Since it didn't have a HIN, it was built most likely before 1972 when the Coast Guard started requiring the numbers. That mean's she is about the same age as Oceanus, built in 1971.

I applied for a new HIN, title and registration from the Oregon State Marine Board and got the Sheriff's Marine Deputy to inspect the dinghy. After a few months, the Marine Board sent us a new title, registration and HIN. Because she is under 12 feet and is used as a tender to a documented vessel, we perhaps didn't need to pay the extra for full registration. But because we will have an outboard I wanted to be on the safe side. Now that we were legal, we could start the restoration.
I removed the thwarts and old inwales and outwales, and cut holes cut for inspection ports. The pattern for the quarter knees is in the upper left of the photo.

The biggest project was to remove and replace the teak inwales and outwales on the sheer strake. The old ones were originally riveted an glued and screwed into place. Taking them off was a chore. The tool of the hour was my trusty grinder with a metal-cutting blade.

I used the old pieces as a rough pattern to make the new outwales. The new inwales were different because of the addition of new quarter knees and a breast hook. I felt the dingy needed these for a couple of reasons: First, because she would have a small outboard, it would serve to better tie the transom to the rest of the boat and strengthen it. Second, they provide excellent places to grab when muscling a dinghy aboard a boat or up the beach. Third, they are beautiful and the dinghy's traditional look demanded it. I made the edges smooth and well rounded over so they feel good to your hands as you grab them.
I put nearly ever clamp I had to use when installing the inwales, outwales, quarter knees and breasthook.

Installing the new inwales, outwales, quarter knees and breasthook took nearly every clamp I had in the shop. All the clamps outweighed the dinghy, I'm sure. I cleaned the surfaces to be glued with acetone and coated them with epoxy mixed with cabosil filler and clamped them in place. Once they were where I wanted them, I drilled, countersunk and screwed them on for good measure. Later, after the epoxy kicked, I removed the clamps and Virginia plugged the holes with plugs made from cutoffs so they would match.
The new teak breasthook is nice to look at and a great handhold right where you need it.

The dinghy was now structurally sound. We could have quit there and had a perfectly serviceable dinghy. But we decided to go for beautiful.

Next, I mixed some epoxy filler and started filling the dings, old screw holes and other imperfections before we could paint. The bottom of the dinghy was especially challenging. Below the waterline it was covered with small pock marks in the gelcoat. My guess is that she was left in the water for a season and when someone scraped off the barnacles devits of  gelcoat came with them. She looked less like she suffered from acne and more like she survived a bad case of smallpox. Filling and sanding between the keel and the laps was the toughest part.
Virginia puts the first coat of black paint on the sheer strake.

Once all the filling and sanding and filling and sanding was complete, the dinghy got a final sand all over with 220-grit sandpaper. Then Virginia worked her magic with paint. During our recent trip to Minney's in Newport, Calif., we scored a quart of black and quart of white EasyPoxy one-part polyurethane paint for less than half price. Virginia painted the outside of the dinghy white with the exception of the sheer strake, which she painted black.

After she gave each color two coats, we turned the dinghy over to paint the inside. Virginia mixed a little of the black paint in with the remaining white to get a light grey for the inside. While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled some glass beads into the paint where we wanted non-skid and stippled it with a foam brush loaded with the grey paint. When it dried, the results looked and felt good.
Stippling paint on the non-skid parts of the dinghy's sole.

The dinghy's thwarts are made up of slats of teak attached to a frame and then screwed into the dinghy. They are light weight and surprisingly comfortable. I replaced a couple of broken slats, sanded and varnished the whole assembly while they were out of the boat.
A closeup of the quarter knee also shows the rejuvenated seat thwart.

Before we painted I applied several coats of my linseed oil and spar varnish mix to the new wood on the dinghy. I also carved the new HIN in the transom. Now that the dinghy was painted, I applied three coats of spar varnish. The wood glowed. I screwed in the rehabbed thwarts and she could have passed as new.

But we weren't finished yet. We attached the new registration numbers and sticker. Then we attached the new Dinghy Dogs. These are inflatable tubes that attach to the sides of the dinghy. They will add stability when getting in and out of the dinghy while diving or boarding from Oceanus. They should also help keep the boat upright when landing her through the surf. The best part is they don't drag in the water so the dinghy will still row well.
Dinghy Dogs attached.

Virginia and I got the Dinghy Dogs idea from Lin and Larry Pardey. They are similar to what they put on their fiberglass dinghy. With the addition, they say their dinghy could serve as a life raft in emergencies. This makes more sense to me than buying an expensive, single-purpose life raft that you must pay someone else to repack every few years. I've spent time in these kinds of life rafts when I took a Safety at Sea class. I don't like them. I would much rather be in a dinghy set up with additional flotation. I also don't like equipment that I can not, by law, maintain myself. The horror stories about this are legion.

We completed the work on the dinghy a couple of weeks ago, but other jobs and bad weather have kept us from relaunching her. We are eager to try out the Dinghy Dogs and the new outboard, but we want to do it when the weather is calm so we can get to know her. It looks like we may get our break soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A proper sailor's knife with some history

My rigging knife has served me well for more than a quarter century.
A friend asked me yesterday what I thought made a good rigging knife. The question took me back 25 years ago when I was working on the tall ship Lady Washington. I worked in the office pimping the project but I stole out to the shipyard often to talk to the shipwrights and riggers. Ostensibly, it was for information that I could use in the articles and news releases I wrote to promote the Washington State Centennial project, but really it was to learn as much as I could for my own selfish ends.

I was a hopeless fan boy when it came to the riggers. Those guys were just cool! And they carried a knife everywhere, all the time. This knife wasn't like the knives you saw in chandleries that catered to weekend sailors and yachties. This knife was made for serious work. It was almost always in their hands. I looked for one like theirs, but couldn't find anything close, so I had a friend make me one.

Ken Adamson also worked on the Lady Washington at the same time I did. We were friends for some years before. It was he who encouraged me to leave my job at the newspaper to work for the fledgling Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, which was building the Lady Washington.
That's me at the right, in a costume my wife sewed. Ken is the guy with grey hair and glasses in the back row second from the right.

Ken was an all around craftsman. A former high school industrial arts teacher, there weren't many crafts he wasn't familiar with, if not already an expert in. His woodworking skills were legendary in the shipyard. When there was a problem that needed solving Ken was the go-to guy. He also made pots, jewelry and knives in his home studio.

I told Ken of my fruitless quest to find a proper rigger's knife and asked if he would make me one. He watched the riggers closely too and knew just what was needed. I had complete faith in his skills as a craftsman and left the details of the knifemaking to him. Several weeks later he told me my knife was finished and I went to his studio to pick it up.

It was everything I wanted and more. The wood scales were of African kingwood and the handle fit my hand perfectly. The blade had a thick spine to take whacks from a mallet to drive it through rope. Ken ground down the blade to give it a little hollow and bring it to a sharp edge. He crafted, almost inconspicuously, a small eye in the back of the handle to take a lanyard. But perhaps the most elegant feature of the knife was its drop point. It looked just right.

Most "rigging knives" sold at chandleries had a sheep-foot point - maybe end is a better term because a sheep-foot point is not pointy at all. In the sailing ship days when a sailor would come aboard for a cruise he would hand over his knife to the bosun's mate. The bosun's mate would stab the point in the ship's rail, break it off and hand it back to the sailor. Fights in the fo'c's'le were less lethal with pointless knives.

Unfortunately, these disabled knives became associated with sailor's knives and the tradition created a whole crop of knives without a point. Having a point on a rigging knife is a handy thing, and not just when your shipmate gets a little feisty.

Ken made the blade of high-carbon steel. It holds an edge like nobody's business. I've never had a problem with rust on the blade; care and use keeps the rust away. Stainless knives are for late-night cooking shows; just like stainless boat anchors are for marina queens - not real voyaging boats.
Some of the other tools in my ditty bag. Note how deep the knife is in its sheath.

I made my own sheath for my knife out of harness leather with a turks' head knot at the top for reinforcement and to keep the opening's shape. The sheath is deep, so the knife is secure. Ken approved of the sheath and especially liked the turk's head.

When I'm on deck, or especially aloft, I attach a longer lanyard to the leather thong that's always on the knife. The lanyard hooks the knife to my belt and keeps me from losing it overboard or becoming a missile when dropped from aloft.

The knife Ken made me may not be the best rigging knife for everyone - maybe not for my friend who asked me about rigging knives, but for me it's perfect. Ken died a couple of years ago. I miss him. The knife he made me is still warm with the labor, skill and love he put into it. I think of him each time I use it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Winches aboard Oceanus: Barient, Barlow, Wilkie and Winchmate

Some of the 12 winches aboard Oceanus from the largest to the smallest.
Columbia Yachts built Oceanus in 1971 as a racing boat and the winches show it. The big two-speed Barlow and Wilkie Number 30 primary winches and the Barient 22 two-speed secondary winches in the cockpit are impressive and expensive pieces of equipment. In all, there are a dozen winches on the boat: two 30s, two 24s, two 22s, four 16s, and two small reefing winches on the boom that I think are 12s. They are from a mix of makers: Barient made in the U.S.A., Wilkie made in New Zealand, and Barlow made in Australia.

None of these makers are in business anymore. Lewmar gobbled them up and shut their doors. That would be really bad for us old boat owners with all this glittering hardware if we couldn't get the little springs and pawls that need to be replaced from time to time. But bless their little black heart, Lewmar continues to make and sell those two items. Hutton-Arco Yacht Winches in Australia acquired the tooling from Barlow and sells other spare parts for these old winches as well.

The machined stainless steel drum on the Barient winches
 is still beautiful after 45 years.
I've been thinking a lot about winches over the last few weeks as I've serviced each one of them. For most of the winches it takes about an hour to take apart, clean and lubricate the parts, replace the springs and put them back together. For the big number 30s it takes closer to four hours, just because of the many parts and their size. It's a job I've grown to enjoy and something that gives me time to reflect on the yachting scene of the time Oceanus was made.

Back then Columbia Yachts was the largest manufacturer of sailboats in the world. They also made the largest production sailboat at the time, the Columbia 57. The 57 and the 43 were the company's flagship race boats. Both were designed by Bill Tripp, the hottest racing-yacht designer of the time. Both boats regularly won their classes in the premier ocean races of the day like the TransPac, Ensenada and Bermuda races. The company's advertising featured these wins, which helped Columbia sell all the boats in their line.
From 1969 to 1973 Columbia built the Tripp-designed 57 and 43 to win big ocean racers. 

But I digress, back to winches. Being the biggest builder of sailboats in the world meant Columbia had to buy a lot of winches to put on those boats. The winch manufacturers put out a fairly uniform product regardless of whether they were made in the U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia or England. The designs largely came from the America's Cup boats, which had to be built - even the hardware, like winches - in the country the represented. (Don't get me started on the current state of the America's Cup. Let's just say I yearn for the 12-meter days.)

The consequence was that these winches, regardless of the manufacturer or country are nearly identical. Some have drums machined from bronze and some models and manufacturers have machined stainless steel drums. But the parts themselves are pretty much interchangeable. They are all incredibly well made and built to last. There is not a speck of plastic anywhere inside or out. The stainless steel needle bearings gleam inside their bronze cages nearly a half century after they were made. The drums, spindles, pawls, gears and other parts are finely machined and a joy to look at and handle. These are finely-made machines that will easily last another 50 years with a little care.

My big Wilkie number 30 cleaned and ready for some grease. There are a lot of parts, but they go together easily.
I've worked on newer wiches with too few needle bearings set in plastic cages. They do not inspire the same feeling. That's why I enjoy servicing the wonderful old winches. I get a sense of the pride and craftsmanship the builders put in their work all those years ago. It makes me feel privileged to own such a fine thing. I want to take care of it. I also want them to work well and not fail when they are under a heavy load.

My guess is that the winches on Oceanus have not been serviced for a dozen years because that's how long it's been since she's been sailed. Lucky for me, the grease used by the last guy who serviced them held up. None of the parts are frozen or corroded. It also helps that everything is either marine bronze or stainless, which play pretty well with one another. Winches with aluminum drums and other parts may not have held up as well.

According to the manufacturer's instructions, winches should be serviced at least once a year. More often if they are raced hard or if they have aluminum parts. In fact, they recommend aluminum winches be serviced once a month! You can find original manuals and other helpful information here and here. I'm not an expert on servicing winches, but here are a few thoughts and observations that might be helpful.


Lewmar and Harken, two current winch makers, both put out nice tubes of winch grease. Both seem pretty expensive for what they are, but I like them. The greenish amber Lewmar grease seems a little heavier of the two and reminds me of the waterproof bicycle grease used on wheel bearings. The Harken grease is a translucent white and reminds me a lot of Vaseline. I like to use the heavier Lewmar grease on the gears, needle bearings and adjacent surfaces and the lighter Harken grease on the ends of the pawls and the surfaces they contact. It seems to me that you want to keep the heavier (and stickier) grease away from the pawls so they don't get gummed up.

I also use 3-In-1 Oil on the springs and pawl pivots so they move freely. Some people recommend using spray lubricants like WD-40, but I don't think they are heavy enough. The original directions recommend a 30-weight oil. I think 3-In-1 is a little lighter, but close enough. I like to use WD-40 when I'm cleaning the winch, in concert with a soup can filled with mineral spirits, but I don't think WD-40 is heavy enough for the long-term lubrication the pawls need.

I also use my trusty old can of waterproof lithium grease for all screw threads so things come apart easily the next time. Lithium grease wouldn't be a bad choice for lubing the entire winch. It certainly would be cheaper than the spendy little tubes of grease from Harkin and Lewmar, but I thought I'd go with winch-specific grease - at least until I get more confidence. Interestingly, the old Barlow instructions for servicing their winches recommend their grease (of course), which is no longer available, but in a pinch they say you can use Vaseline.

The grease I found inside Oceanus's winches looked like green axle grease. It is much heavier and stickier than should be inside a winch because it slows the action and can cause the prawls to stick and not work properly. But, the heavy grease did a great job preserving the innards of the winches. The bottom line is this: what you use to lubricate your winches is less important than keeping them lubricated.

Directions on servicing winches all caution against getting the stickier bearing grease on the pawls since it could cause them to stick in place. That is true and good advice. But the maker of one YouTube video I watched took this so much to heart that he was stingy with the grease he put on his aluminum winch parts. I think that's a mistake, especially on an aluminum winch. Every surface inside a winch should be covered with a light film of grease or oil.

Pawls and Springs

Pawls and the little springs associated with them are what keep winches rotating in only one direction. If they fail it could be bad. I can think of several scenarios where someone could be severely hurt if these little fellows failed. I bet you can too. So it was distressing when I serviced one of the spinnaker halyard winches (yes, Oceanus has two) and found only one of the four pawls was working. Yikes!

I found several pawl-spring assemblies in my other winches where one leg of the spring was broken or corroded off. These springs are small. It wouldn't take much corrosion or metal fatigue to cause them to break. They need to be replaced regularly. As I mentioned, Lewmar still sells springs and pawls to fit Barient, Barlow and Wilkie winches. I found them at West Marine. Keep a supply on the boat and change them when you lube your winches. Don't wait for them to break.

On my big two-speed number 30s the pawls have larger coil springs that fit into a dedicated hole. I suspect they will be good for the life of the winch if they are kept oiled.


Barlow 30 with the Winchmate self-tailing conversion installed. The Pepsi is for scale.

Speaking of the big 30s, the owner of the other Columbia 43 in my marina, Alcyone, retrofitted his 30s with Wichmate self-tailing conversion. I wanted some for Oceanus.

These are well-made self-tailing conversion kit for larger sized winches of the Barient-Barlow-Wilkie design. It fits numbers 27, 28, 30 and 32 right out of the box. The larger sized #33 through #36 winches can be retrofitted after modifying the drum, according to

At $550 or more per winch (depending on the model), these are not cheap, but they are still a good value. They are a high-quality product. Compare replacing a winch the size of a number 30 with a new self-tailing winch and you won't balk at the price. They are also a great value because of the personal service Dave, who makes the Winchmates, gives. Here's my story.

Stripper arm at 8 o'clock.
My number 30s are nearly identical even though one is a Barlow and the other is a Wilkie. When you get them apart, however, the Wilkie seems to have a higher polish on the machined parts. After cleaning and servicing them I fitted the Winchmate self-tailing device on the Barlow. It worked great. Then I tried to do the same on the Wilkie, but the drum wouldn't slide over the spindle extension. I called Dave and told him my story. After a few questions he agreed with me that the spindle extension needed to be turned down a bit in a metal lathe. He said he'd send me a new one. And he did. I got it in about a week and it fit and worked perfectly. The service was absolutely top notch.

If you get the Winchmate self-tailing conversion, place the striper arm at the 8 o'clock position while you are facing it and looking abeam. That way the stripper arm deposits the line in the cockpit and not over the side of the boat where you don't want it.

I'm no expert

If there's one thing I hate about the internet, it's folks passing themselves off as experts when they are not. Let me say this flat out: I'm not an expert on servicing winches. If I have something wrong, please tell me in the comments. I will fix it. I don't want to perpetuate bad information on the web; it seems to get repeated and eventually gains gospel status. Maybe in a year or two I'll review this post and update it as my experience dictates.