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.