Gearing up for fast summer progress

Besides the actual work we have been sharing we are also trying to get everything ready for us to make real progress during our summer holiday on the boat.

Just a couple of weekends to go. So we have been doing some buying and have to plan what we are going to take with us. We need to find a balance between having everything we need and having space for everything. Also between good and bad weather jobs. Last summer we had 3 named storms during two weeks on the boat which kept us from many outside jobs.

One significant thing (both in cost and the progress it will unlock) is our bow roller. The local Anglesey Fabrication company have our template and are going to adapt the existing bow roller. They are going to make the central spine larger and replace the two outer sides. This is essential for the changes to our foredeck including anchor windlass and inner forestay. Plus we can’t get the main mast up until it is back in place as the forestay attaches to it.

Meanwhile all the FR4 board has arrived for the main mast chainplates. Also various bits such as the next hole saw size we need, extra mask filters and new orbital sander pad.

Jane is also working flat out on the aft cabin cushions with a target for them and the remaining work in the cabin to be completed by our holiday so we can move back to sleeping there.

One of other things we hope to try out during our holiday is our Highfield Rib dinghy with ePropulsion electric outboard motor. So I’ve bought some launching wheels for it so that we need neither carry it nor drag it up the beach. The ones I have chosen have two pads bolted to the Aluminum transom. The removable legs attach either upwards for storage or down for wheeling the boat around. I’m not super impressed as it looks like they need some adjusting with a dremel for the locking pins to fit. I’ll share details when I’ve got them working.

Once the main mast is up we want to lift the dinghy and start storing it on deck (at least until we launch, thereafter we will need to keep it at home again).

Keeping track of the dependencies between jobs, the budget, the space on the boat, what weather will permit and what we are storing at home so that we can be really productive is making my head hurt 😂

Drilling and then filling big holes for new chainplates

Today we drilled 8 holes 44mm in diameter through the deck (and in 4 cases on through the plywood backing sheet). Where we already have a 9.5mm FR4 backing plate we didn’t go through that.

It was all going very slowly with a cheap hole saw unil one bit of fibreglass got so stuck that I couldn’t get it out. A visit to Screwfix sorted that with a much better Milwakee hole saw that very quickly finished the job.

Then Jane taped some plastic (from old takeaway box lids) over the holes on the inside.

Next we filled them with thickened epoxy (only a few leaks inside that meant some top ups were required).

Now we are ready for the smaller hole (the edges of which will be fully sealed and waterproof thanks to this thickened epoxy).

So we continue to make progress towards the mizzen mast going up.

I’ve also measured and ordered all the FR4 backing plates for the main mast. Now that we know what we are doing I think we will be able to fit all all of them in about 3 days.

Anniversary chainplate progress

To celebrate our 33rd Wedding Anniversary we have fitted the chainplate backing plates in the lazarette for the mizzen running backstays. These were the least accessible, so it is good to have got them done.

They are temporarily held in place, while the thickened epoxy sets, with the old chainplate bolts and old backing plates. The difference between the backing plates in size and thickness is startling. Plus ours bed onto a very smooth bed thanks to the thickened epoxy which has squeezed out a little all the way along all 4 sides.

The extra holes visible in the pictures are from the bolt holes for the davits that we removed early on. They didn’t have much in the way of backing plates and had caused some cracking in the gel coat. We will fill them properly when we next mix thickened epoxy.

We just have 2 FR4 plates to fit to the big plywood backing plates in the aft cabin, we fitted full length plywood backing plates in the aft cabin because each side has 2 mizzen shrouds, 1 main backstay, 1 mooring cleat, some solar panel supports and the pushpit. Just to be sure we are going to distribute the chainplate loads over the plywood with FR4 bonded to it.

Then we can start the holes through the deck for the dyneema chainplate loops. Initially a 44mm hole through everything except the FR4 backing plate. Then fill this with thickened epoxy (to make sure we have a waterproof seal to the polyester resin of the deck and the plywood) . Then, for the mizzen, a 29mm hole through the thickened epoxy and the FR4 for the dyneema loop to be pushed up through (after it has been sanded beautifully smooth).

Any water coming through the deck hole will be caught by a tube around the dyneema chainplate loop. We have simplified this. The tube will have 2 end caps. One glued to the underside of the chainplate backing plate with a hole for the chainplate loop. Then the other on the bottom to catch any water.

On top of the deck we are going to put “mushrooms” which will stop water running along the deck flowing into the hole. They will also be a collar to hold the bottom of the fabric sleeve that will protect the dyneema from UV and chafe.

It all feels a lot closer to getting the mizzen mast up. That will, hopefully, prove that it all works so that we can do the same for the main mast. There are plenty of other things that we can make progress on once the mizzen is up.

Bow roller for anchoring progress

Yesterday evening I updated the template for our extension to the existing bow roller.

It doesn’t look quite so massive now. It has holes in the right places for attaching the forestay, yankee furler, anchor rollers and anchor retainers. The anchor retainers will be adjustable plates bolted to this, they will be connected by a roller which will stop the shank wandering around and damaging the dyneema rigging when the anchor is being raised or lowered.

Both the forestay and yankee will have a pair of stainless plates bolted to the assembly so that the dyneema attachment is well clear of any possible chafe damage.

We will need two almost identical copies of this template (the one in the middle needs a little cutout for the round pulpit socket). At the aft end they will be connected by a plate which will be through bolted to the deck in a couple of places. We will have a third shorter copy for the port side of the second roller (we don’t need that to come all the way aft as it won’t be used for storing an anchor.

We will then create a V shaped pad that will attach to the bow (where the narrow piece goes down the outside of the bow) which the anchor will wedge against when fully raised (so that it doesn’t move when hit by waves).

Next task is to get a price for the stainless, the cutting and welding.

Autopilot progress

On Friday, while preparing to fit the backing plate in the cockpit locker we decided to remove the drive unit for the  original Neco autopilot.

This is a beefy electric motor that uses a chain drive onto one of the shafts of the Whitlock steering system. From all we can find out about this it is definitely worth keeping. It seems to be highly regarded although it predates the availability of small affordable permanent magnets, that have transformed electric motors.

The bracket it sat on had a lot of loose rust on it. This mostly seems to have come from elsewhere, probably the old fridge condenser. A bit of sanding shows that all it needs is cleaning and painting (and new bolts).

However, the controller is in much poorer condition.

Also it doesn’t fit what we want from an electronic autopilot. For us there are three key missing features.

  • Click on from standby to continue on the current course. Something has happened and I need my hands to do something (adjust a sheet, do some navigation, take a cup of coffee from below, move to get a better view under the sails). This should be a one button press and be almost instant. With this unit you first have to turn it’s compass setting to your current course and then turn it on. That means looking at the compass then looking at and adjusting the compass dial on the Neco and then switching it on (except currently there is no on/off switch so you had to go below and turn it on at the circuit breaker).
  • Tack. When sailing singlehanded we can’t reach the genoa sheets from our steering wheel (and certainly will need both hands to tack the genoa). With a good autopilot you click the on button and the the tack port or tack starboard buttons. The autopilot does the steering to tack the boat while you sort out the sheets for the sails. With the Neco you have to work out what course you want to be on after the tack and turn to that (quick what is 47 degrees less 90? – which is what you have to work out if you are on starboard tack steering 47 degrees and need to tack. The answer is 317 degrees).
  • Steer true course rather than heading. Due to tides and leeway, the actual direction a boat goes in is rarely exactly the same as you are steering. The Neco doesn’t handle this well. All you can do is enter the heading. Modern autopilots can do either and they generally have quick buttons to adjust the course a degree or 10 at a time. Again with the Neco all you can do is turn the compass rose to the heading you want.

So what are we planning?

Our plans are changing a bit. Ideally we would be fitting a Hydrovane Wind Vane for self-steering before our launch. However, at nearly £6,000 it will have to wait for a bit. So the cheapest solution to having some self-steering is to use this existing drive unit with a new controller.

The controller we are looking at is essentially a DIY system using the PyPilot software running on a RaspberryPi Zero W with various boards and sensors attached. It can have a screen and be controlled by a keypad, a remote control device or a mobile phone. It can also integrate with the OpenCPN chartplotter software that we intend to use.

There are people who have got PyPilot working with Neco drive units so whilst it isn’t a small, simple task it is perfectly doable.

This isn’t a replacement for the Hydrovane (that has big advantages in not using any electricity and providing an emergency rudder).

Eventually we want to end up with a whole range of steering options (sorted by preference when cruising):

  • Wind vane (probably a Hydrovane) which is independent of everything else and steers us at a constant angle to the wind.
  • Neco drive unit controlled by a Raspberry Pi running PyPilot.
  • Standard hand steering using the wheel (primary choice in confined spaces)
  • Emergency tiller steering. We have a two part metal tiller that is stored under the aft cabin bunk. By lifting the cushions and opening a hole in the deck we can put the emergency tiller on top of the rudder shaft and steer from the aft cabin roof. Useful if if any part of the connections from the steering wheel fails.
  • Emergency tiller attached to the wind vane for hand steering (built into a Hydrovane and an optional extra for a Cape Horn wind vane).

We have also considered adding a tiller autopilot attached to the wind vane. Both the HydroVane and Cape Horn vane steering allow an electric tiller autopilot, designed for smaller boats, to steer the boat via the wind vane system. However, if the Neco unit can work we probably don’t need this (at least for a long time, we might like the extra backup on very long ocean crossings). Meanwhile it saves us another £1,000 or so.

This feels like a good project for winter nights, and if we can’t find time before the launch I can do it on the water providing I have bought the bits.

We have a poop box 🤣

Today Jane did a great job with epoxy fillets and epoxy coating the mizzen supports in the aft cabin. Sorry no pictures.

Meanwhile, I built a poop box 😁

I haven’t finished the lid.

The box fits directly onto the Natures Head composting toilet base. So you can tie it on, turn the toilet upside down and empty it into the box. No mess and no need to carry the full toilet base through the boat. While we have a home with compost bin we can bring the poop box home to empty into the compost. Later we can have more boxes to store until we find a good place to empty them.

Mizzen Chainplate progress

Today we created the port side forward chainplate backing plate (what a mouthful) and cleared the space for it (cutting a gap in the bulkhead between the aft heads and cockpit locker; also cutting and grinding some old fibreglass for things that are no longer there like the old heater and the diesel tank fill).

All very messy and dusty.

Then we have epoxied both the port and starboard backing plates into place. That went pretty smoothly, Jane managed to mix the thickest epoxy yet and so we are confident that there is a really good layer spreading all loads across the whole of the backing plate.

Just the backing plates in the lazarette for the running backstays (needs to cover a large enough area for mooring cleats as well – the old ones where half on and off the deck shelf so we need something good as a backing plate here) the and we are ready to fit the dyneema chainplates through them (several steps to do as part of that).

Nearly out of FR4 board for these backing plates, so I’ll have to order some more.

Note that we are currently using the old chainplate bolts to pull these backing plates up tight while the epoxy sets.

Aft cabin mattress test fit

This is so brilliant!

Now Jane “just” has to glue some of parts together, cover with wadding and stockinette, and make the new cover.

The size is great, a big improvement as is the access via the step and seat (which still needs a cushion & backrest). Going to be really comfy.

My only slight concern will be getting enough breeze to Jane’s side when in the tropics. But she does like to be warm in bed!!! 😂😍 And the tropics are a long way off 😕

Now that’s what I call a backing plate.

We have dry fitted the chainplate backing plate for the starboard forward mizzen stay. We measured the deck thickness at the old diesel fuel filler at 20mm. With this backing plate of 9mm immensely dense, stiff and strong FR4 board it makes me feel that having an additional 2 layers of 9mm plywood in the aft cabin was very much overkill!!

Next visit we will repeat for the port side and then make permanent with thickened epoxy (so that it is bedded to the underside of the deck/hull joint with no gaps).