Monthly Archives: April 2018

  • 206. Top Tips Tuesday - Billy Connolly once said...

    Billy Connolly once said "I've always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives" As for me, my verbal diarrhoea includes (especially when I have had a glass too many) gems such as 'Arrrrrrrr it was a dark and stormy night and the captain said.............' It is however true that whenever you need to grab a knife it is almost always dark, it's blowing old boots and you’re fairly close to a lee shore. Perhaps you have to cut a mooring line or tow rope in a hurry and so on. However, whenever you need to free your boat or perhaps a crew member with a rope round his foot, I know it may sound contradictory, that's when you will need not just a sharp knife but a safe one!


    There is a large range out there, however my favourite that ticks all the boxes is our '12CM BLUNT ENDED RESCUE KNIFE'. It has a brilliant serrated blade that will cut through all high and low tech ropes with ease. It features a blunt end so no danger of injuring yourself or your crew; at the end of the easy to grip handle there is a 'dispatcher' if you ever use the knife when fishing. However, if you ever turned turtle or came across a capsized boat it would make the perfect hammer for banging on the hull to let rescuers know you are there or the to be rescued know that help was at hand. It has an excellent Fluoro yellow high viz holster and comes complete with a couple of strong elastic straps which enables you to easily attach it to a convenient anchorage.


    Clothing company Gill also have a couple of excellent knives in their portfolio. Their Personal Rescue Knife with a much smaller folding serrated blade (than our divers knife) can be opened single handed and has a lock to prevent accidental closure. The handle has what they describe as 'Gill Grip' and the knife of course comes complete with a moulded nylon pouch.

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    Gill also market their Marine Tool like the PRK. This Marine Tool features a serrated locking bladed for quick and effective rope cutting which can be opened single handed and locked to prevent accidental closure. It also features an integrated shackle key, marlin spike, webbing cutter, 8mm spanner and of course that very important bottle opener. Like the PRK it comes with a moulded nylon pouch if you want to attach it to your belt or foulies and both feature a take off point if you want to attach a safety lanyard.


  • 205. Top Tips Tuesday - Even More Brownie Points


    An awful long time ago, Jenny purchased a couple of Freebags for our Hunter Channel 31. They provided sterling service (or as they say on the ticket attached to each bag 'Instant Comfort Anywhere') on that boat and when we sold Dream On some four years ago we kept the Freebags. Hindsight, our Mystery 35, was launched some two years ago and they were trotted out to Corfu and were once again used successfully as a pillow seat, stool, mattress, cushion, backrest and bag both on and off the boat. After over twelve years of hard use they were looking a little bit scruffy and Jenny, being almost as fastidious as me, hard to imagine isn't it, thought they were lowering the tone and asked me, this winter past, if our sail loft could make a couple of new covers so they could be brought up to scratch and complement our relatively new Mystery!


    "Yes, no problem”, said Norma, our number one machinist in the sailloft, who has almost thirty years experience working for us and is used to sewing all sorts of diverse items such as thermal blankets for the Northumbria police spotter plane to airbag covers for Lotus sport cars as well as sails of all shapes and sizes. "However, by the time I have unpicked the old to make a pattern it will probably take about three hours to make the first, maybe an hour for the next!" “Oh!” said I, and with that promptly googled Freebag to see if there was a UK source, no joy. I then contacted the Norwegian company that is Freebag. Yes and no, they would happily sell me a couple however with shipping, import duty etc the price was as much as those three hours labour plus materials used. At this stage Boss man Andy said, “Stop around, if it's such a good product why don't we buy in bulk and sell them through and if they don't sell, be it on your head and not mine!” So if they don't sell, Andy won't be happy, Jenny will because she has two smart new Freebags and so will I as I have more brownie points!

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    Freebag was originally conceived by Norwegian yachtsmen to endure long voyages in rough waters. The shape and patented design combined with polypropylene technology makes Freebag adapt perfectly to your body and allows uncompromised comfort in the harshest environments. Freebag is multifunctional, it's a pillow, seat, mattress, stool and bag. It's flexible with comfort through design and polypropylene bead technology. It's lightweight, easily stowed in its net bag and weighs only 860g. It is of course weatherproof, suitable for all kinds of outdoor use. It insulates from the cold and damp, great for use on a stony or rocky beach!


    Both our old Freebag(s) are still going strong albeit a bit scruffy but doing sterling service. Mine, great for use when tinkering, cleaning and polishing my 'boys toy', Jenny takes hers into the garden when on planting or weeding duties!

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    The original Freebag's working cousin, the Freebag pro, is proving to be very popular with all sorts of tradesmen who spend a lot of time on their knees such as floor tilers, electricians etc. The sail loft guys have already 'borrowed' three from stock, the verdict........ brilliant bit of kit!

  • 204. Top Tips Tuesday - Electrical & Electronics

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    First we had the beast from the East then it was the wet from the West or something like that! With the half decent weather over the last few days let’s hope you have caught up a little with your preseason prep, however today as I write we have a predicted max temp of 7 degrees and of course it's peeing with rain!

    Now it’s time to check out your electrics and anything electronic. If you haven’t got round to fitting a Merlin SmartGauge battery monitor (perhaps you have already fitted same) now is the time to fit one it’s a cost effective means of keeping an eye on your electrical consumption. SmartGauge represents a totally new approach to monitoring the state of charge of deep cycle batteries. The most common type of meter used for this purpose is an amp hours counter which basically adds up the current going into a battery and subtracts the current coming out to give a representation of the state of charge of your batteries.The SmartGauge works on a different principle. The final result is a battery state of charge meter that is much simpler to install, simpler to set up, simpler to understand and yet gives a meter that actually does a far better job of telling you the state of charge of your batteries. SmartGauge uses computer models of different types of lead acid, deep cycle batteries. This model is then used by an algorithm in SmartGauge to calculate the state of charge. The algorithm continually calculates results and some of these results are fed back into future calculations giving an ever changing, and self correcting, result. The result is that SmartGauge cannot run out of synchronisation with the batteries and successfully manages to track the battery capacity as they age and lose capacity, which is the biggest problem with the amp hour counters and the main reason they make such a poor job of tracking the state of charge of batteries over time.


    If your batteries have been stored at home, kept fully charged (incidentally lots of folks are now using one of the excellent C-Tek 8-stage battery chargers to do this) you probably don’t have much to worry about however you should always check their condition before reinstalling.  If they are not of the sealed variety, check that the cells are fully topped up, however at this stage don’t connect. Assuming securing straps are fitted, make sure that they are secure and hold the batteries both fore and aft as well as athwartships. If no straps, 25mm webbing, webbing plates and sensible sized fastenings are strongly recommended. If over the winter a battery has failed for whatever reason, do not be tempted to purchase an automotive battery you should go for a good quality deep cycle one for domestics, or a dedicated starting battery for engine starting. Now check your shore side power source; first check the cable for any damage to the outer casing then take both plug and socket apart, clean contacts with that excellent specialist fast drying contact cleaner, reassemble then spray with Boeshield and finally check that you are obtaining power to your RCD. If you were unlucky last year and found all the marina outlets full, consider purchasing a 3-way splitter.


    Remove your external power source and make sure that the RCD is clean and that the trips are working. If you haven’t got one perhaps consider purchasing a Metermaid, it gives you the opportunity to monitor your shoreside power consumption! Finally check out your 240 volt sockets assuming they are fitted. Incidentally, if you have a trailer sailor or similar. Why not consider investing in a mobile mains power unit, comes complete with its own built in RCD.

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    Now check the condition of the battery isolator switches. Are the contacts clean? If not, clean them and reattach the terminals ensuring they are secured firmly and free from corrosion, finally connect the battery leads to the battery posts after smearing a little Vaseline/petroleum jelly on both post and the internal bearing surface of the terminal, connect the positive first and then the negative. Don't forget the posts are of a different diameter to prevent connecting the wrong way round. Turn your battery isolator switch on, then with the stop control pulled out (assuming a diesel engine), turn the engine over a couple of times, turn off the engine isolator switch and push the stop control home. Now turn your attention to the house battery's isolator, are terminals clean and corrosion free? If any electrical items have been added since you last checked, is the main supply cable to your distribution board still suitable for the increased load? Making sure the house batteries are not turned on, open up the distribution panel, check for any signs of corrosion and ensure contacts are clean. Any push on connectors (bullet, spades etc) should be pulled apart and checked for dirt or corrosion and treated accordingly, finally spray all surfaces with Boeshield and replace panel. Turn on batteries then turn on all electrics one by one to check everything works and all components that should be interfaced are still communicating. Check all interior lights, including the reading light in the aft cabin, the neon tube in the engine bay, forward cabin light, and don't forget the 12 volt DC socket at the nav table, often used in conjunction with the Dual USB Charger Plug due to our ever increasing dependance on portable electronics such as iPads and tablets. To "tidy" things up perhaps consider fitting a Dual USB Charger Socket.

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    Often neglected and hard to find at a lot of chandlers is the tiny compass bulb, make sure it’s working and, for what they cost, always carry a spare. Consider perhaps substituting existing filament or halogen bulbs with LED's to cut your power consumption down if shore power is not available.


    It goes without saying that you should of course check that your fixed VHF is transmitting/receiving clearly, if not check antenna connections ie deck plug and socket. Check, if its a DSC/VHF, (most are these days) that it's getting position data from your GPS/plotter. If the boat is new to you, don't forget to contact the relevant authority (OFCOM) and get your details added and the previous owners removed.

    Speaking of plotters, is the electronic chart card up to date and relevant for the area you are going to be using the boat in? We can update C-Map, Navionics and Garmin charts or upgrade to a different area if you are changing your cruising ground for this season. Don't forget however that electronic charts should be used only as a backup to official government paper charts and traditional navigational methods.


    Wind speed and direction, do they need calibrating? Remember to write it in your logbook as you cannot do it on dry land! If you are not that confident with the boats electronics, make sure you have a fall back reference book should you need to seek advice, Rob swears by Nigel Calder's Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual.


    Happy boating and we look forward to seeing you on the water.

  • 203. Top Tips Tuesday - Preseason Prep - Spars & Rigging


    If the weather was as bad and as poor as we had over this Easter weekend, you may be running behind schedule, however, to ignore checking over the mast, boom, standing and running rigging is not a good idea! So no time to waste, let's get started! Assuming your mast is down (inspection is always easier than dangling from a bosun’s chair, more about that later) we should start with the masthead light. Check it’s secure and the lens isn’t suffering from UV damage, check cables for chafe where they exit the light and enter the mast. Remove the lens, then bulbs and make sure all the contacts are clean by using the excellent specialist fast drying contact cleaner. If they are the filament type bulb our recommendation is to replace regardless (keep old as a spare) or seriously consider going for replacement LED bulbs, a lot less current drain and almost bullet proof in a heavy beat to windward!  However, remember you shouldn’t put a white LED behind a coloured lens, only use a coloured LED bulb. After replacing the bulbs, spray all electrical connections with Boeshield and then clean the lens both inside and out. Before replacing the now clean lens, you must of course check the lights are working (our Top Tip is to use an old redundant small 12 volt alarm battery and connect to the wires where they exit  at the bottom of the mast, it’s much easier than lugging round a big heavy 110 amp hour beast) once satisfied,  reassemble. If the light has suffered from water ingress and you are happy that it's still up to the job, make sure that any seals are intact however a smear of Lanocote will help keep moisture out.


    Check the condition and security of the mast head VHF aerial or combined VHF/wind indicator (if the Windex is becoming brittle through UV damage consider replacing). Examine carefully any other antennas like the AIS or Active band transmitter/receiver and of course don’t forget the condition of any cables especially where they enter or exit the mast. Assuming mast head wind speed and direction are stored below deck whilst the mast is down, check manufacturer's handbook for information on lubrication and maintenance. Clean contacts as above and once again spray with Boeshield after refitting. As for me, I prefer to leave the transducer off when the mast is being refitted as the ‘small print’ of a boatyard’s terms and conditions often does not cover you for accidental damage, yes it's a mast climb to fit however replacement transducers can set you back over £400-00! Satisfied with your mast head gear? Now turn your attention to the mast head and check all masthead sheaves for damage and wear.


    Alloy sheaves running on stainless axles are notorious for seizing up through corrosion. On some masts, especially older Selden (Kemp), it’s impossible to replace the sheave without taking the masthead fitting out of the spar. Clean and then lubricate with a ‘dry’ lubricantdon’t use a grease or oil as it attracts grit and can damage sheaves made from  Tufnol (recognised by it’s brown colour/fabric weave) Next check the condition of the forestay and backstay attachments, draw the clevis pins out, examine them for wear and at the same time check that the ‘hole’ that they pass through has not elongated. If OK, replace and secure with new split pins, not rings, and make sure that they are properly opened out!


    If you have been unfortunate enough to have suffered a halyard wrap last season, pay particular attention to where the wire strands exit the swaged terminal/talurit splice. Flex the wire gently to check for any sign of broken strands, even if it’s only one broken strand replace. If the forestay shows signs of birdcaging (wire opening up) you should also replace the forestay without question. Your spinnaker/asymmetric halyard block can take a hammering, because it's out of sight out of mind. Beware of damaged or buckled side plates which can lead to halyards jamming.


    Working your way down the mast, if an older rig and stainless tangs are used for the attaching of standing rigging and there are signs of corrosion behind the fitting I would suggest  drilling out the old rivets, inspection of the mast wall behind and, if satisfied,  replacing with new monel ones after you have used a barrier such as Duralac or Tef-Gelbetween the two disimilar metals.


    If a fractional or similar rig, remove the combined genoa and spinnaker halyard box, check for stress cracks, worn sheaves and then clean and lubricate as above. Then check the security of spreader brackets, paying particular attention to all rivets. Check once again for any signs of corrosion underneath should the bracket be stainless. Turning to the spreader tips, if the rigging is still attached to the spreaders check for a broken strand possibly hidden in the spreader end clamp. Slacken the clamp, move the tip up or down and flex the wire gently. Consider fitting a pair of leather spreader boots to prevent chafe once you have satisfied yourself that everything is OK. Steaming and deck flood lights are often neglected, check and service as per your mast head lights.


    Check the gooseneck and base of mast kicker bracket for wear, replace if badly worn, replace worn nylon spacer washers. Check for any cracks around halyard exit slots, this is especially important on fractional rigs set up with high amounts of pre-bend, consult your rigger if any are found. Keel stepped spars should have their deck coats/seals checked as it’s impossible to replace them without lifting the mast out again. If a keel stepped mast Spartite is an excellent product for sealing the mast/deck. At this stage don’t forget to run  your eye over the rest of the rigging, examine all rigging screws for damage, if the threaded lower stud is bent replace and pay particular attention to any rigging screw that is not toggled as they do not articulate and are liable to more stress.


    Wash out and lubricate (as per manufacturer’s instructions) halyard swivels and drum bearings on headsail reefing gear. The Selden  Furlex unit should be lubricated with their grease. Pay particular attention to the joints in the headsail foil, if slight movement there is a danger of mis-alignement. Consequences; the sail jamming whilst hoisting and you may run the risk of tearing the luff tape. You may also end up with some rather nasty stains on the sail opposite the suspect joints caused by fretting of the alloy. If you have movement it may be a loose rivet or fastening that’s missing or a worn jointing piece. Consult the manufacturer’s manual for details on how to remove and replace. Foils may be cleaned by washing with soap and water. A scrap of luff tape may be run up the foil to scrub inside the grooves. If lubrication is required, spray a thin coat of McLube SailKote on sail luff tapes away from boat deck. Check the end stop at the top of the foil is secure and that the bearing just inside the top of the foil is still round, if its oval replace!

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    If you haven’t already removed and washed your halyards do so. Do not wash at a high temperature or use a biological washing powder as it can damage some polyester ropes, preferably leave to soak in water for a couple of days prior to washing. Don’t tumble dry as the heat will damage most synthetic ropes, instead hang out to dry then leave in the airing cupboard for a few days. If using a washing machine place any shackles inside a pair of socks to prevent damage to the drum on the machine and keep the other half happy! Check all eye splices, worn or damaged halyards should be replaced. Wire halyards that are found to have spikes are fatigued and should be replaced as they are on the point of failure, consider replacing with Dyneema, Spectra or similar ultra low stretch materials as it is cost effective and usually has a longer life span.

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    When re-stepping your mast replace all split pins that secure clevis pins or lock turnbuckles, mouse shackles with Monel seizing wire, lightly grease all turnbuckle threads with Lanocote. Consider fitting turnbuckle covers adding shroud or guard rail rollers or at the very least tape over the split pins in the turnbuckles with self amalgamating tape after setting up your rig which all help to reduce chafe on sails and prevent damage to crews clothing and boots. Do not under any circumstances tape the complete body of the turnbuckle, water can be so easily trapped see below!

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    Mast still up? Read and inwardly digest Spinlock's excellent article on ‘Going Aloft’. Spar and rigging inspection with the mast still up will take a lot longer as it has to be carried out from a bosuns chair but it shouldn’t be neglected. If, for whatever reason, you have not removed the rig this year, inspect whilst swinging from halyards and if necessary, budget for its removal next year. If I am climbing, and I still do so on a regular basis even at my advanced age, their Mast Harness isn’t the most comfortable but without a doubt the one that I feel most secure in! Incidentally, if I ever have to go aloft alone, then I always use the Topclimber mast climbing kit. All the above still applies however it will take a lot longer and obviously it’s more weather dependent!

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    Check the inboard end of the boom casting for wear, check rivets are sound and if any jammers/pulleys are part of the assembly, that any sheaves are free running and not chipped and when the cam lever is rotated they will hold the load from reef and outhaul lines! Check the kicking strap slide (if alloy) for wear from the stainless shackle/attachment point on the strut/strap assembly. Make sure any fastenings are man enough for the job and that the slide is not creeping towards the mast. Examine the boom in this area for any stress cracks and corrosion from stainless fastenings if used to secure. Next check the reefing lines take off attachment eyes are secure and then pull through the lines for signs of chafe. Make sure that when you come to fit the main back on the boom, you reeve the reef line under the boom first to ease the load on the fitting! If the main sheet pulley blocks are secured mid boom as against attached to the end casting examine as per kicking strap slide. Next the outboard boom casting, check the condition of the pulleys then check (if end boom sheeting) that the shackle securing the mainsheet block still has plenty of alloy left on the attachment casting. If you still have a wire outhaul check for spiking in the lay of the wire and if any are found replace. Reef lines, especially in single line systems, can be a source of friction. If fluffed up, consider changing as the difference when putting a reef in can be the difference between chalk and cheese.

    Finally if you haven’t already done so, now is the time to give the mast and boom a wipe over with Yachticon's Aluminium Polish and Wax, it’s a mixture of polymers, waxes and polishing agents for cleaning and protecting alloy spars!


    We had a tremendous response and a tremendous number of correct answers. Drawn out of Andy’s ‘lucky hat’ first and winning the Bynolyt Searanger II binocularswas Hugh Beeley from Aberdeen. Second out of the hat was Peter Hart, he was the winner of the Seago 3 in 1. The Topargee water tank gauge will be winging its way to Mark Pullen of Petersfield and the Boarding Ring Glasses will be worn by Doctor Rodney Horder of Torquay when the going gets rough! Keeping his boat ship shape and Bristol fashion with 2 packs of Vistal this coming season will be Derek Gardiner and last but not least, sixth prize of that brilliant product Wet & Forget goes to Richard Stibbs of Portishead.

    Congratulations to the above winners and commiserations to those who’s answers were correct but failed to get drawn out of the hat! Prizes will be dispatched Tuesday the 3rd

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