Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update

Following my posts Chainplates. We are going for a radical dyneema option and Termination of Dyneema Shrouds. The most contentious issue? I’ve just watched a new video from Free Range Sailing “Our sailboat REBUILD begins ⛵💪 – Episode 157

They are also fitting dyneema chainplates (so far, just for their backstays).

Their solution is a little different to ours. In part, that is because their backstay chainplates don’t have to be waterproof, as they go through the stern from outside to outside. So their solution of two holes and 3 loops of a lighter lashing line isn’t quite right for us. Our use of the softshackle overhand knot to create a loop is better for us as we only need one hole to fill and there is no need to balance the lengths of multiple loops of a lighter line.

However, their use of a HDPE tube to run the Dyneema through is very interesting in one obvious and one less obvious way.

In our Dyneema chainplate design we are making the hole through the deck by creating a thickened epoxy section of deck, drilling through it and then smoothing the epoxy to avoid chafe. If instead we fit a HDPE or possibly a UHMWPE tube though the thickened epoxy then it should reduce chafe even further. We could also have it stick up above the deck a little to avoid as much water running into it (and no danger of gravel on the deck getting into the Dyneema and cutting it. Having an up-stand will make it easier to seal and provide an attachment point for our chafe protection to fit to.

That got me thinking about some strips of RG1000 (basically recycled UHMWPE) that we bought to allow our solar panels to slide on a solar arch (which is currently on hold until we have launched and got a Hydrovane self steering fitted). Anyway RG1000/UHMWPE has some brilliant properties:

This engineering plastic can be machined into virtually anything, from small (low load)gears and bearings to huge sprockets-shapes that until recently were only possible with metals. It not only outperforms metal in abrasion applications, it’s also easier to machine and therefore cheaper. This versatile plastic can be milled, planed, sawed, drilled, and turned to create a huge variety of parts at a very competitive price. It possesses outstanding abrasion resistance, superior impact resistance, non-sticking and self-lubricating and excellent mechanical properties, even in cryogenic conditions.

UHMWPE Rod

I’m therefore thinking that this would be a great way to make the our DIY cheeky tangs. If we started with a metre long length of 70mm diameter rod (costing under £60) we could make plenty of tangs for both masts and some spares. All we would need to fit them would be longer replacement bolts. I’m sure we could use the dremel to cut smooth guides for the shrouds. If we drill the hole for the bolt above the centre then they will stay the right way up (making some form of retention possible). We are currently leaning towards either 11 or 12mm Dyneema for the standing rigging (the Colligo Marine recommendation to replace 8mm 1×19 Stainless Wire is 11mm). Using a 70mm rod would allow us to create nice guides while keeping a bend ratio of more than 5:1 for maximum dyneema strength. It would also allow us to figure out way of doing line retention (maybe as simple as a light dyneema line across the top of the tang?). We would not need thimbles (a significant cost saving) and we could fit chafe/UV protection to the eye splices as we can size the groove guides to fit (finding closed thimbles for 12mm Dyneema that has a chafe sleeve is proving very hard and the only option I’ve found is 16mm which very oversized and very heavy (and that does mean that despite my misgivings we might need to use low friction rings at the lower end of the shrouds due to availability and weight).

Again, just like the chainplate solution these DIY tangs give us something we can easily inspect for wear and we can carry replacements that we can fit ourselves anywhere in the world.

I’m also suddenly realising that these rods might also be the solution we need for our bow roller. 🙂

So very, very happy with this.

Brilliant English Upcycling of old sails

Today I found Sails and Canvas (in Topsham, Devon):

Lifestyle products
Made in Devon
from recycled sails

Absolutely brilliant! 🙂

We will have to sail to Topsham and on the way decide which of our many very old sails are past being usable for us so they can become great new things 🙂

Thanks to Clean Sailors on twitter: Follow @CleanSailors and @SailsCanvas (as well as us @SustainSailing of course)

Termination of Dyneema Shrouds. The most contentious issue?

When you look at the strong opinions about the way you end your Dyneema shrouds it makes all the other strongly held opinions seem conflict free 🙂

This is a bit chicken and egg in the sense that decisions about

a) how you will tension your shrouds at the connection to the chainplate and
b) how you can connect shrouds to the mast

will have a definite impact on which options for terminating your shrouds are relevant.

There are very strong opinions expressed with fervour about how strong some of these solution are and how long they might last. Some people will argue that some solutions must not be used to cross oceans yet I think people have crossed oceans with all these solutions.

So what are the options?

  • Plain eye splice with optional chafe sleeve. I’ve only seen this suggested at the mast. There the eye splice can be either hooked over a Colligo Cheeky Tang [Tula’s Endless Summer] or a attached to the loop of a stainless steel T fitting with a luggage Tag loop (sometimes called a Cow Hitch) [Free Range Sailing].
  • Eye splice onto a Low Friction Ring. Can be tensioned with a lashing or lashed to something else such as a shackle. [Free Range Sailing]
  • Eye splice with optional chafe sleeve onto an open stainless steel thimble. Can be used at top of bottom of a shroud, plus for deadeyes [Rigging Doctor, Sailing Zingaro]
  • Eye splice with optional chafe sleeve onto closed stainless steel thimble. Can be used at top of bottom of a shroud, plus for deadeyes [Sailing Zingaro, Tula’s Endless Summer]
  • Eye splice with optional chafe sleeve onto a Colligo line terminator. Can be used at top of bottom of a shroud, no need for a deadeye [Tula’s Endless Summer]
  • Blue Wave stainless steel eye clamped to Dyneema. Can be used at top of bottom of a shroud (with a turnbuckle) [I haven’t seen these in use].

So I’ll consider them all and how they are typically used at the mast or chainplate as appropriate. First a picture of each (I haven’t included every combination of a chafe sleeve or not.

Colligo Marine Through Bolt Cheeky Tangs
Bluewave Forged T Eye
Dyneema loop on low friction ring
Deeadeye using open thimble with chafe protection by Rigging Doctor
Kraken structures Deadeye, closed thimbles, chafe protection.
Bluewave Dyneema Rope Eye

Opinion Time

Or duck and run time?

If you can afford it then Colligo Marine have stock items for every type of mast connection (of which, if your mast is suitable I think the Cheeky Tang is brilliant for saving weight and reducing the number of components and connections) and for the chainplate they have solutions for both turnbuckles and lashings (or both). They are really well sorted for ensuring the Dyneema bends very gently and also that loads are very evenly distributed to Clevis pins etc.

But at the same time the Colligo Marine stuff is really expensive. We would be talking about thousands of pounds per mast. So they are far outside our budget.

Some of the solutions concern me. Attaching a Dyneema loop to anything by a Cow Hitch or Luggage Tag does not seem suitable for a critical high load like a shroud. To me the bend radius looks very tight and will surely be a weak point.

Also I’m not keen on the Blue Wave terminals (they have a range of them with different connections). I’m sure they are carefully engineered but for me a key safety feature of Dyneema is being able to visually inspect it.

While I think Low Friction Rings are awesome for lots of applications, I’m not convinced that they are a good fit for this purpose. If you fit a large eye splice to avoid a tight bend then it looks like the low friction ring could fall out. If the ring is held in firmly then either the dyneema has to bend sharply or there is a lot of time consuming labour to apply whippings. Even then if the ring is used for tensioning via multiple strands of lashing line people have reported a tendency for them to bunch together and jam.

I think the open thimbles look a bit problematic. In some of the images they look like they have opened up and an open sharp end is very close to the dyneema. It feels to me as if they are a bit close to a catastrophic failure if something catches on them and bends them open.

With both types of thimble a critical issue is what they are attached to. With their first attempt Sailing Zingaro used wide toggles into the thimble and it created point loadings on the sides as they didn’t sit properly. With a Cleivis pin the diameter of the pin might be so small relative to the thimble that again their is a point loading. This is most likely to be a problem at the mast end when trying to find a way to connect to the existing fittings on the mast (or a deadeye to a metal chainplate). Thimbles are at their best with a lashing either for tensioning or to lash them to something.

Conclusion for Vida

Now that we have decided on our Dyneema chainplate solution (but with a closed stainless steel thimble instead of a low friction ring) the lower end of our shroud is obvious, a matching closed stainless steel thimble. That should make tensioning as simple as possible and it is a pretty cheap solution. As our chainplate solution means we don’t need a deadeye or a toggle we save quite a bit of money and weight.

The top of the shrouds is more tricky. Consider this example of what we have now.

All our shrouds end up at through bolts and there are these riveted plates to stop the bolt holes becoming elongated. All the current shrouds have swaged end fittings that are held by a clevis pin through two plates (or tangs). On the mizzen we have 4 x single connections and 2 x doubles. On the main we have 2 x double and 2 x single (I am ignoring the main mast backstay and forestay at the moment).

One option (the cheapest) would be to get longer clevis pins and prise apart the plates/tangs far enough to fit a closed thimble in (but if we are looking at 11mm Dyneema shrouds on the main mast that is going to be quite a lot of bending of the stainless steel).

Another option would be to fit slightly longer bolts through the mast so that instead of bending the plates/tangs apart we separate them at the bolt with a few washers. We still fit the longer clevis pins.

If we could afford it then Colligo Cheeky Tangs would be great.

We are looking at a fourth option which is to make our own version of a Cheeky Tang. We start with a longer bolt through the mast. On each side of the mast we have a two large penny washers with the largest diameter spacer we can find between them (looks like about 25mm). A dyneema look goes over the spacer and the penny washers stop it falling off. That gives a bend radius of over 2:1. We would join the tops of the penny washers with a small bolt (or maybe a cable tie) to stop the dyneema loop jumping out. The lower side of the outer penny washer would be cut away to provide a smooth route out for the dyneema.

No decision yet until we get the sizing sorted and see how the thimbles fit in the existing tangs.

Big update: see Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update

How sustainable is Dyneema rigging?

Until recently the answer would be: terrible. A “plastic” made with petrochemicals that can’t be recycled.

However, things are changing.

There is now a Bio-based Dyneema fibre which has International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC).

What isn’t quite so clear is which companies are using this and in which products. Marlow ropes announced that they were using Bio-based dyneema in July 2020. Liros also have an announcement but I can’t find product detail. Given it is so new it might take a while to work through the supply chain.

There are also initiatives to accept “retired” ropes back for recycling, it looks like we can be fairly confident that any ropes we buy now for standing and running rigging as well as dock lines etc will all be recyclable (and some companies like Marlow are already making some ropes from recycled plastic).

I confess I’m pleasantly surprised by what I have found. Looks like this is much better than I expected. The only issue will be the microfibres of plastic that get shred into the water during the lifetime of the ropes. Not sure what can be done about that, but at least compared to other forms of plastic pollution this is a significant improvement.

[Update] thanks to twitter there is another option for Bio-based Dyneema: Gleistein

Gleistein is adopting the world’s leading role among textile rope manufacturers – being the first to switch its entire production of products made with Dyneema® to bio-based fibres. Read our factsheet: https://bit.ly/2UKFrKA

Why Dyneema standing rigging?

We know that our decision making process can seem strange to others. 🙂 For example why would we remove a working diesel engine to go for an electric motor. We imagine there will be many who will also be wondering why on earth we are switching from “normal” stainless steel rigging to Dyneema (just to be clear not all at once though).

Vida has a Ketch rig. So two masts and they are entirely independent of each other (no Triatic stay connecting them). We think we are the only Rival 38 with a ketch rig (one other has been converted from ketch to sloop). It is something we like, not just because ketches look great.

We love the safety features of a ketch, obviously having a spare mast to get you home if one breaks is a big one. Having more but smaller sails makes things lighter to move, hoist, reef, and trim. There are more sail plan options when the wind gets up (or if something breaks). The mizzen can be used to stabilise the boat both when sailing and when at anchor.

Against that there is more stuff (to buy, inspect and maintain), more weight, generally slower performance (particularly upwind where the mizzen doesn’t help much and adds windage).

When it comes to the rigging the costs are clearly higher (not quite double because while there are about twice as many components they are smaller sizes than they would be with a sloop rig).

Current condition

The mizzen mast is a replacement (not sure when or why it was replaced). The main mast is sound although it has had quite a few changes made to it over the years and needs some freshening up. We have removed the mainsail roller furling which had been fitted to the back of the mast and got a new boom with slab reefing.

The rigging is about 8 years old (but some of it is original) and insurance only provides cover for the first 10 years.

So we know we need to be working to refresh the rigging before we end up living aboard and crossing oceans in a few years time.

Staying with Stainless Steel

When it comes to refreshing the rigging the obvious choice would be to get a professional rigger to do the job and stay with stainless steel. We would have to change a lot more of the rigging if we did it ourselves as the stainless steel wires go into swage fittings and that isn’t a DIY option. Alternatively at considerable cost when changing the stays we could switch to Sta-Lok fittings which we could fit ourselves.

As we are refitting with the goal of living aboard and world cruising in a few years we are taking a long term perspective.

As you replace more things to achieve longer term peace of mind and reliability the cost of staying with stainless steel grows. At the moment it is all a bit of a mixed bag of original and replacement parts. We don’t have detailed records of what was changed when. So we have a mixture of stainless steel (main mast) and original bronze (mizzen) turnbuckles. We have a mixture of stainless steel and bronze toggles. Some of the bronze toggles have stainless steel pins and some still bronze. We have all original bronze chainplates which have not been removed and checked (I have written several posts about the issues and our solutions, start here). Some of the connecting plates etc at the mast are starting to rust and there are mixtures of stainlesss steel and aluminium components where there is some galvanic corrosion.

We would be looking at thousands of pounds to completely re-rig in stainless steel and that would probably need to add having custom made stainless steel chainplates that would have a known condition and be long enough for better backing plates.

So Dyneema?

Dyneema has been used for boat rigging (in small numbers) for about 20 years. See this: DYNEEMA RIGGING Q&A PETER GREIG which includes:

Insurance companies are accepting Dyneema rigging. It has been around for 20 years and there is no recorded failure anywhere in the world from professionally done splicing. However stainless steel cases have a huge amount of claims

Dyneema rigging potentially will outlast stainless steel. Only severe chafing from something very sharp could affect it, but the same way it would affect wire anyway. I have recently worked on a boat that I rigged 15 years ago and which has done 6000 miles in that time – there was absolutely no deterioration visible.

Advantages

  • Weight. Much, much lighter than stainless steel. This reduces the loads on the boat and reduces heeling making sailing faster and more comfortable. This has driven the adoption on racing boats.
  • DIY. Dyneema line is easy to work with using very basic tools. So it is perfectly possible for us to do all the work ourselves.
  • There are no special components (especially to connect and tension wires), so a cruising boat can easily carry the spares needed to re-rig the entire boat anywhere in the world. Potentially all you need is line, thimbles and low friction rings. Not only can you carry everything but it is small, light and won’t rust.
  • Stronger. Dyneema rigging has to be sized for stretch which means that when you size for the same amount of stretch you have many times more strength.
  • Inspectable. There are no hidden parts, all the Dyneema can be seen and checked. The two forms of damage (chafe and UV) are very visible long before failure.

Disadvantages

  • The line itself is expensive (100m of 8mm 1×19 Stainless Steel £576 vs 100m of 11mm Dyneema £1,360)
  • Dyneema is stretchy compared to Stainless Steel so you have to fit larger sizes (eg as per above 11mm instead of 8mm).
  • Dyneema is vulnerable to chafing (rubbing) wear. However, problems are very visible and it is possible to protect it with sleeves or seizing.
  • Dyneema is vulnerable to UV degredation. Again this is visible when it happens and most chafe protection will also provide UV protection.

Conclusion

We are switching to Dyneema first for our Mizzen mast and then for the main mast (except the forestay) for the following reasons:

  1. We can do everything to switch to Dyneema rigging ourselves which saves a lot of money.
  2. We can sort our concerns with our chainplates to solve the weakest link in the rigging with something that is stronger, that we can inspect, repair and replace ourselves.
  3. We will save a lot of weight which will improve our sailing performance and comfort.
  4. We can carry everything to be able to re-rig everything, anywhere.
  5. We will not have to rely on others expertise to properly check the condition of the rig.

In return we recognise that we are likely to have a few hassles

  • We might have to hunt more carefully for surveyors and insurers
  • Tuning the rig will be a slower process (we are going to be using lashings to tension the shrouds and they are slow to untie, tension and tie up).
  • More work to get us afloat the first time because we are not “just managing” with the problem chainplate.

Outstanding Issue

We will not be able to replace the forestay with Dyneema as we have a roller furling system. This includes an aluminium extrusion which covers the forestay and rotates to roll up the genoa sail. This would quickly chafe through the Dyneema. We don’t plan to review this until either the genoa sail or the roller furler need replacing.

Plans

Mizzen mast first due to the problem chainplate. Making the smallest changes to the mast that we can, so reusing the existing connections as much as possible.

Sail for at least one season.

If all has gone well then do the same to the Main Mast.

At some point in the future upgrade the mast connections to use Colligo Cheeky Tangs for simplicity, strength and weight saving (but this will cost a couple of thousand pounds). The good news is that this change wouldn’t require any changes to the rest of the rigging (just slip the top thimble out so the eye splice goes over the Cheeky Tang. This will shorten the shroud/stay a little but the lashing will be able to cope with the change.

Chainplates. We are going for a radical dyneema option

In my last post “Chainplate update, more challenges” I linked to a whole bunch of YouTube channels where people have switched their rigging from Stainless Steel Wire to Dyneema Synthetic rope.

I’m going to write more on why we plan to switch to Dyneema, fully recognising that this is not yet seen as the norm. Also on the connections that are needed at the mast end of each shroud/stay.

Here though, I’m focusing (again) on the chainplates. I’ve detailed the problems we have with our chainplates, although it is worth noting that these problems are not typical of other designs. We don’t see many boats with bronze chainplates and we don’t see many boats where the chainplate is basically just a bronze eye bolt through the side deck with a backing plate (the chainplates for our main mast cap shrouds are bolted to right angle connection from a plate bolted to the bulkhead rather than just a backing plate).

Normally on boats this age, there is a long stainless steel plate that goes down into the cabin with multiple bolts either to the hull of the boat or to a main bulkhead. This plate sticks out of the deck for the shrouds to attach to it. With newer, higher performance boats the engineering of these has to be much more sophisticated as rig loads are greater and the general material in the hull much lighter and thinner.

What we have seen is that it is very normal to need to refurbish or replace the chainplates on boats that are over 40 years old especially when there are plans to cross oceans. So we have seen Tula’s Endless Summer, Beau and Brandy, Kittiwake, and others who have had to do this work. There have been a variety of solutions from upgrading to Titanium, direct replacements, or switching to through bolted external chainplates.

Going Dyneema.

We however, are not looking at a refurbishment (doesn’t solve the problem of the thread being too short for a thicker backing plate) or a replacement with similar (cost and not ideal attachment point for Dyneema shrouds).

When thinking about our chainplates while planning for Dyneema rigging one of the practical issues to sort is the attachment points. I will do a separate post about our plans for the ends at the mast. At the lower end you need a means to tension the shroud and a way to attach it to the chainplate.

As I have been reading about Dyneema rigging it has struck me that lots of people have multiple extra fittings to adapt the connections at the ends. It allows existing chainplates and mast fittings to be reused, essentially via adapters.

So if we have got to do work on our chainplates anyway I started wondering if it would be possible to end up with a chainplate which we could directly connect the tensioning lashing to. The only solution on the market is the Colligo one but that would cost hundreds of £ per shroud and would not solve any of the problems with the chainplates themselves.

Then as I was searching I found these Soft Padeyes

These are not generally being used as chainplates for shrouds, but for sheeting, temporary attachment points, removable inner forestays and the like. Most boats won’t be able to consider these for their chainplates because

  • they only make sense for dyneema shrouds
  • they only make sense if you are tensioning your rig with dyneema lashings, not turnbuckles
  • I’ve only worked out how they can be used to replace chainstays like ours that are in the side deck and that don’t have engineered ties to the boat

But for us, I have realised is that it should be simple for us to make these ourselves, using the backing plates we have already designed. Not only that, but they will be easy to inspect at sea and even replace at sea ourselves if needed.

Making and fitting the dyneema chainplate

I don’t think it is going to be very difficult – but don’t hold me to that 😉

  • Remove the existing chainplate and old backing plate.
  • Drill out a significantly larger hole where the chainplate bolt was. This is to make sure that we get to clean dry deck core. Later it will be filled with thickened epoxy and then a hole drilled in the epoxy for the dyneema loop. This way the deck core will be protected from damp by the epoxy. It also means we will have the option to angle the hole so that it is aligned with the shroud (currently they are not).
  • Now fit the backing plate using thickened epoxy so that the hole in the deck is in the centre. We might apply pressure from below or drill a small hole in the centre to allow a light line to pull it up tight through the deck hole.
  • If this is one of our more heavily loaded chainplates (eg main mast backstays or cap shrouds) then we will add the additional bracing to the hull.
  • With the backing plate fitted we can now fill the hole in the deck with thickened epoxy.
  • Drill from the deck through the thickened epoxy and through the backing plate. Hole should be big enough to thread a doubled dyneema line through from below. I’m going to use dyneema one size up from the size used for the shrouds and I’m going to cover it with a chafe sleeve.
  • Round and smooth the edges of the hole at both top and bottom to minimise chafe when the loop is tensioned.
  • Make a dyneema loop. I’m going to follow a simplified version from the video below. It uses a very simple overhand knot which can’t slip because the loop is passed through eye splices that stop the knot from slipping. It seems to have a lot of advantages for this (easy to create, large knot, very strong and tested). Mine doesn’t need the soft shackle eye which makes it even simpler. It will just be a loop, closed by the knot at the open end. This probably needs to be about as short as I can make it because we want to keep the loop above the deck as small as possible, just suitable for a low friction ring or stainless steel thimble.

At this point we could just thread the loop up through the backing plate and deck, then put the low friction loop in it (and if we wanted a padeye on top of the wheelhouse roof this would be fine).

However, it will leak.

Stopping Leaks

One option for a waterproof version is to buy this complete solution from Colligo for about $80 (for the waterproof version), but they only go up to 5mm with 5,000 lb breaking strength.

Alternatively we can make our version waterproof while still keeping it easy to replace ourselves.

For this we need a “washer” made from the same material as our backing plate. The outside diameter should made to just fit inside a short length of plastic pipe. Choose a pipe that is large enough for the knot to easily fit inside it, also a pipe that we can get a waterproof end cap for.

Epoxy the washer onto the backing plate so that the hole lines up. So that the knot fits well against the washer. I will make a large countersink around the hole in the washer (making sure it is nicely rounded and smooth). We are consideing lining the countersink with a thin hard rubber to spread the load a little more evenly over the knot.

Now we fit the length of pipe over the washer so that it is long enough to hide the knot (a marine sealant should be enough to attach it). Any water seeping down the dyneema will be caught in the pipe and you can remove the end cap whenever you wish to drain the water and inspect the knot or even replace the dyneema.

We will put some silicone sealant around the loop as it comes through the deck to reduce the amount of water that can seep down and stop debris slipping down and damaging the dyneema.

If the loop sticking out of the deck is quite long, I’ll put a whipping around it to hold the friction loop/thimble in place.

The results

We will now have a dyneema chainplate. It will be a lot stronger than the dyneema shroud connected to it (because it is made from the next size up dyneema). It will be a lot lighter than any other solution.

There is nothing to corrode, there is nothing we can’t keep spares for and nothing that we can’t replace at sea.

Compared to all the other ways of attaching a dyneema shroud there are fewer components so cheaper, lighter and keeps the lashing much lower to the deck for improved looks and less chance of chafe or snagging on anything.

For improved looks, UV protection and chafe protection we will make covers for the lashings. Probably rectangles of Sunbrella material held on with velcro and ties.

Tensioning

Both Rigging Doctor and Tula’s Endless Summer have videos on how to tension dyneema shrouds with just lashings. Colligo themselves don’t suggest that for boats over 30feet. However, both Wisdom and Adreneline are much longer than Vida and as we have a ketch rig our masts are a lot shorter. We might have a slight advantage as our low friction ring will be so close to the deck that we don’t have to worry so much about it being pulled out of alignment as we tension the lashing.

Summary

Compared to every other solution for improving our chainplates and connecting dyneema rigging this seems much cheaper and easier to fit. Plus it is lighter, stronger, tidier, and more functional than any other solution I’ve found. Finally, we can inspect it, maintain it and replace it ourselves, even at sea which is fantastic.

What do you think?

[Update] See Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update

Chainplate update, more challenges

Back in June I wrote “Chainplate update” which explored how we might solve the problems with our chainplates that we detailed in “Deck repair question“.

We are very comfortable with our solution to the backing plates / under deck reinforcement: replace the inadequate stainless steel plates that have 4 problems

  • too small (so the load is not spread far enough which can cause the deck to crack or even complete failure)
  • made of two layers that can move out of alignment (then they can bend and cause cracking or complete failure)
  • no tie in to the hull (so the deck can pull away from the hull or crack or fail)
  • potential for corrosion due to mixed metals (bronze chainplate bolt with stainless steel rigging and stainless steel backing plates).

Note that while there seems to be a common view that Rival yachts have rather under engineered chainplates I have not heard of any actual failures. But the boats are getting older and we have deck cracking around one chainplate.

Our solution with 10mm FR4 board attached with thickened epoxy and the the option of FR4 ties to the hull is going to be a much better solution and one that is ideally suited to DIY. However, we have some remaining problems.

First, the thickness of the deck that the chainplate bolts go through varies. The deck rests on a shelf that is attached to the hull, as it would have been laid up by hand the thickness of the deck and shelf varies. That means a few of the chainplate bolts are barely long enough. So even with the inadequate backing plate the bolt doesn’t extend all the way through the 2nd nut which is used as a lock nut. With a thicker backing plate bedded onto thickened epoxy to ensure even load distribution it might not be possible to fit a lock nut. Any replacement is going to be very expensive (custom bronze fixtures). If they were stainless steel we could replace the double nuts used to lock them on with a nyloc nut and reduce the length of thread needed, but I don’t think these are available for bronze nuts.

Secondly, we have a long term plan to replace all the stainless steel rigging with Dyneema synthetic rope. We wrote about this back in October 2019 “Starting to sort out sailing“. More and more people are doing this (for example 4 YouTube channels have documented this: Rigging Doctor, Tula’s endless summer [my playlist of their videos], Free Range Sailing, Sailing Zingaro).

I’ll go through the dyneema rigging elsewhere, however, the relevant issue here is how to attach the dyneema to the chainplates. So far in the videos and reading we have done there are three options.

a) A toggle that allows a deadeye (see image below and how to make one by Rigging Doctor) to be attached via a clevis pin. We don’t have this sort of toggle (need Fork to Fork but we have Fork to Spade – examples of both here) at the moment (because of the style of rigging turnbuckle we have). This is the solution used by Rigging Doctor, Zinhgaro and some of Tula’s shrouds. However, none of them have bronze chainplates so there is no issue of mixed metals. So we have the expense of toggles, the risk of corrosion between dissimilar metals, and using a chainplate that has had 43 years of wear on the hole to which the toggle attaches. This solution is complex with so many different components (chainplate, toggle, deadeye, lashing to shroud) that have to be bought/made and fitted.

Dyneema Deadeye

b) A Colligo marine female Chainplate distributor which Tula used on some of their shrouds. Again we have the cost of these (we would need 14 and the price ranges from over £60 each to hundreds depending on size).

c) A frictionless ring attached to the chainplate by lashing it to a shackle (see the Free Range Sailing video at 15 mins). This is a whole lot cheaper as it is just a shackle and a frictionless ring (so under £20 per shroud).

All 3 solutions don’t solve the dissimilar metals problem as all of them connect something not bronze to the bronze chainplate. All of them rely on there not being too much wear in the 43 year old hole in the bronze chainplate and they don’t help with the problem of the length of the chainplate threads.

But we have come up with a creative solution that is going to be much cheaper, lighter, easier to maintain and stronger. Wait for the next blog post 🙂

For reference here is a grainy image of how one of our chainplates looks on deck.

To attach the rigging turnbuckle (that is used to tension the stainless steel shroud/stay) a toggle is fitted like this. It provides articulation to handle the different alignments of the turnbuckle and chainplate.

Fresh water tank

Jane has been assembling photos to show the progress we have made in our first year of refitting Vida. As we looked at them we looked a bit more closely at the pictures of our fresh water tank (according to the survey around 400 litres).

You can see a lot of it here.

It is stainless steel and sits under the main cabin floor on top of the encapsulated lead of the keel. It starts just aft of the mast support and continues under the companionway ladder and wet locker to the forward bulkhead of the engine compartment.

The problem is that as we look at the photos we realise there is a lot more rust both inside and outside (as well as horrible crud on the gauge float).

So looks like we will replace it. Having all our drinking water in a single tank which already has rust seems like a risky thing when planning ocean crossings.

To remove the tank we will need to (at least temporarily) remove the companionway steps, the wet locker and several floor beams. That means we are wondering about putting the house batteries at the bottom of the wet locker, directly on top of the keel. That would be great for weight distribution and might solve a future issue of where to add extra house batteries if we need them.

If we fit polypropylene tanks that are a better shape to fit the space we might be able to not lose much water capacity in the process.

But we can’t do much until we can get there and do some careful measuring and disassembly. One of the challenges is that the companionway steps are not central but instead offset to starboard (to make the galley bigger and provide the space for the steering wheel in the cockpit).

As usual we are in that place where things have lasted well for 40 something years and might last a fair bit longer, but with a few years before we will be ready for live aboard cruising it seems sensible to tackle this large jobs now rather than when in some remote part of the world – yes we do plan to go more remote than Anglesey 😉

Being off-grid vs being Sustainable

During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been plenty of YouTube Sailing channels talking about living Off-Grid and talking about their Sustainable lifestyles.

However, the two are not the same. Sustainable living is well suited to being able to live off-grid but not all off-grid living is Sustainable.

Off-Grid, for sailing cruisers tends to mean living away from harbours and amenities for extended periods. Usually time is spent mostly at anchor.

However, if that extended time is achieved by large tanks of fossil fuels then it isn’t sustainable, instead it is simply bulk buying. Some versions of off-grid living will actually be less sustainable than living in a marina or harbour. For example most economies are de-carbonising their electricity supplies. So being in a marina might be more sustainable than being at anchor in a remote location if:

  • you are using a town water supply rather than fossil fuels to power a water maker
  • you are using a marina electricity supply that is at least partially provided by renewable sources rather than burning propane for cooking and/or diesel for heating & electricity generation
  • you are using shoreside toilets connected to a sewage plant rather than discharging raw sewage

By not using fossil fuels Sustainable Sailing helps reduce key limitations for living off-grid . In fact it will allow you to live off-grid for far longer, as essentially food becomes the only limiting factor (assuming you have what is needed for hygiene etc and boat maintenance).

With preparation and care (and throttling your activities to the renewable energy you store) it is going to be possible to be self sufficient for energy and water (at least in climates where enough solar power is available). By combining long life foods with standard ways of adding fresh food such as baking bread, sprouting seeds&beans, making yoghurt and catching fish it is possible to be comfortable for long periods. If you add local provisioning of fresh vegetables and fruit rather than going back to the full grid then indefinite off-grid living becomes straightforward and attractive.

Sadly, few of the YouTube channels have risen to the Sustainable version of Off-grid living. Yes, a few solar panels are now the norm but so is running diesel engines, generators, and petrol outboard motors.

If a pandemic that has encouraged many cruising sailors to go off-grid, hasn’t cured them of their dependence on fossil fuels then you have to wonder what will. Clearly their complaining about the amount of time and money they spend fixing and maintaining their engines and the money they spend on fuel hasn’t reached the tipping point towards change yet.

Lessons from the Vendee Globe and other trends

We are really enjoying watching the Vendee Globe (single handed, non stop, no outside assistance round the world race). Our key sources are the official website tracking and their YouTube Channel but we are also enjoying the content from Sea Wolves.

The weather has clearly been unusual and fits with this article about Jimmy Cornell where the guru of sailing routes around the world writes:

In 2010 I sold my Aventura III and, as I was 70, felt that the time had come to call it quits. That didn’t last long and by 2013, with accelerating climate change increasingly making the news for those who were prepared to listen, I decided to get another boat and attempt to transit the Northwest Passage. Described by scientists as the “canary in the mine” of global climate, whatever happens there eventually spreads to the rest of the world. I did manage to transit this once impenetrable waterway, now opening up as a consequence of climate change. I also saw the consequences of global warming affecting the local population. With mission accomplished, in 2017 I sold Aventura IV, and that was it. But not for long, as three years later, with climate change surpassing the worst predictions, I decided to put retirement on hold for a bit longer and try something completely different. Like sailing around the world on a fully electric boat along the route of the first circumnavigation 500 years previously.

It is good to see so many of the competitors in the Vendee Globle are working to raise awareness of climate, ocean and water issues. Many are also contributing to scientific research on issues such as plastic in the oceans, water salinity & temperature etc.

There are also a number of competitors using electric motors (they have strict standards of being able to motor at a set speed for a number of hours) and renewable energy charging of batteries (solar and water generators being the most common).

However, it does highlight for us that planning to sail around and about the planet in a few years time that conditions will not be as people have come to expect. Trade winds are not as reliable, both big storms and large areas of doldrums are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

We think we are starting to see some trends in the responses to this. Some get a lot more coverage than others. These are most obvious where people look for their own balances between safety, comfort (and for some luxury) and cruising area.

The trend that has been going for a long time now is to bigger boats and towards catamarans. There is a significant industry push with lots of publicity towards 45 foot plus fast catamarans. This is typified by the Sailing La Vagabonde channel and approach. To cross oceans safely (and cruise around the Bahamas during hurricane season) they use the very latest weather reporting which they access while at sea (Predict Wind) plus they get professional routing advice (such as when the crossed the Atlantic bringing Greta Thunberg back to Europe a year ago). They rely on the combination of up-to-date weather routing (in some cases with shore based professional forecasters giving individual routing advice) and a fast 48 foot catamaran to avoid the worst storms.

Another approach, is again for large catamarans but with the focus shifted from lightweight high performance towards luxury. A good example would be the choice of a new Seawind by Sailing Ruby Rose. Their focus has been on a mid performance catamaran designed to be spacious and luxurious while at anchor to fit with an approach to safety which avoids risks. So while faster than their existing 38 foot monohull they will be staying out of danger though a more cautious approach about timing and planned routes rather than on speed and dynamic routing. It does mean long periods in marinas and anchorages waiting for good weather, it does mean a lot of motoring to keep to passage timetables and it does limit the cruising grounds somewhat. It remains to be seen how far that will continue to be possible as the climate emergency continues to disrupt the weather patterns that have been stable for hundreds of years.

Of course a question is where that leaves everyone else who has neither £0.5 million to buy and the money to maintain a large catamaran.

Many will continue to follow the popular US market of slower, cheaper catamarans, many of them ex charter boats (such as Gone with the Wynns) and for the most part cruise in the Bahamas, Caribbean etc. With significant upgrades some will still cruise the world but for the most part need to make careful downwind passages and expect to motor or motor sail a lot.

We believe that another option, for years popular among those without lots of money, is for a well found older monohull. These can come from an era when you had neither the weather information nor the speed to route around storms, so they needed to be able to cope. With modern improvements such as Jordan Series Drogues for survival in the worst storms and better weather information they provide a more cost effective option and one that should allow cruising to continue as the weather becomes ever more unpredictable.

As the older systems such as diesel engines on these boats fail, sustainable conversions will become more common – as we see on Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy, Spoondrifters, Learning the Lines and so on. They don’t get the publicity because there is not the same amount of money to be made from them, by the industry. They are not aimed at the wealthy wanting luxury. However, as an option to be able to go cruising in the face of climate change and be part of the solution rather than the problem they are a great option (the only option other than a DIY build?)