Remember the best sustainable examples are attainable

Sustainability it a topsy turvy journey where contradictions abound and it turns out that this is good news for those of us trying to be more sustainable.

The loudest voices come from the privileged and wealthy, but they have least to teach us about sustainability. That is good news because most of us can’t afford what they are selling whether it be electric super yachts or anything with luxury in the description.

Those loud privileged voices who are desperately trying to hold onto and increase their wealth and power need to tell us that you can’t do what people have been doing for decades. They want you to forget about the Hiscock’s, and the Pardey’s with their multiple circumnavigations (without the benefit of so much modern technology – including reliable diesel engines).

The need to to tell us that our fantasies, our desires are essential needs (while selling what those fantasies are). That life without lightweight carbon fibre everything, without freezers, air conditioning, huge island double beds, space for large numbers of guests is impossible.

They believe that “sustainable” is a poorly defined term that they can throw around with impunity. They believe adding a solar panel or two to the options list makes hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on exotic materials, most often taking advantage of low labour rates and lack of rights, protections for labour and the environment, in some way sustainable.

Their business model depends on selling us more because they can’t compete on any other terms. Their only understanding of value is lower in sticker price than something that is massively overpriced. They run out of ideas other than bigger is better, most expensive is best.

Yet the reality is that none of this is sustainable, none of this is accessible and very, very few people can do it for long.

But the beauty is that now it is easier to find the stories from people who don’t control the media, who can’t buy exposure, who are not trying to sell us something we don’t need.

This is where we find the really inspiring stories of innovation in sustainability. Pretty much, all rescuing old project boats. So often choosing electric because the diesel wasn’t working and couldn’t be rescued. Often needing to work their way round the world (as the examples from the past often did). Fixing things with local materials, supporting local economies far from exotic resorts.

Look for the people who really engage with local people, watch for the way they refer to them and to their countries, customs, laws etc.

Look for the people who have bought boats for as little as $1. Who learn to be better sailors either because they don’t have much range with their electric setup or because they can’t afford to spend money on diesel – so they actually sail their boats.

There is plenty of good news. When we were looking for our boat, there was a huge choice of potential project boats to suit different preferences. There were boats whose sister ships have sailed around the world for under Β£5,000.

Of course you could spend more than 10 times that for newish boat the same length (but with more space and less weight carrying ability). You could buy something new enough that the teak decks will look beautiful for another 2 or 3 years before you have to replace them. You can find boats with more spent on the electronics alone than the value of the whole boat.

But if we want sustainable, then find the boats that need your love. Make sure it costs less than a new car to buy (good tip from Free Range Sailing).

Ignore the people who try to persuade you that time refitting a boat is lost compared to time working to pay for boat or that it is better to strive to pay for luxury for a couple of years rather than be out there into the future in something you and the planet can afford.

If we allow the privileged and wealthy to get into our minds and sell us their dreams then they get to enjoy the fruits of our labour without us, and to add insult to injury they will do so at great cost to the planet.

Oh and you don’t have to be the typical young couple with beautiful bodies and successful YouTube channels. It works well for us oldies too. While we refit we get to stay onboard in a beautiful place and not have to pay for holiday accommodation or campsites. We can look forward to a more secure retirement through needing less not worrying about finding more.

But on the other hand we looked at about 1/2 dozen project yachts within a few miles of Vida, ready and waiting for new owners to join the sustainable sailing revolution. Come on in, the water is lovely, accessible, affordable and you can help make it cleaner too πŸ™‚

Should people convert yachts to electric motors?

In this generally good and fact filled interview (“Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide! | Sailing Uma Interview“) there is the statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it” (at 40:30).

Of all the conversions of Yachts to electric motors, Kika and Dan of Sailing Uma, are possibly the most inspiring, they have more experience than pretty much everyone. They have built multiple versions, done some amazing DIY to get things working in ways they were not designed for and used them over years of cruising (20,000 miles I think they said). Their whole channel is full of brilliant and inspiring stories that spring from their characters which are lovely, positive, empathetic and so full of energy. Their videos around tourism and the environment in Haiti, of accessible sailing catamarans, of their responses to huge unexpected boat problems such as the keel nearly falling off the boat in the early days are great. We also find the way they have reworked the interior of Uma over the years really encouraging, it has helped us be much more adventurous with out own layout decisions.

BUT …

I totally disagree with this statement “If you have a working diesel, keep it”.

I fully accept several of their arguments

  • the key restriction of electric motor installations is the range
  • many people are wedded to the idea that their diesel engine is a significant safety feature (I think they are wrong to do so but they do think that)
  • that an electric motor would force significant changes on many people who cruise to a timetable

Yet, I think they have missed the key reason that nearly everyone with a yacht should be encouraged to switch to an electric motor. We have to stop using fossil fuels and do so fast. So the UN says:

Increased commitments can take many forms but overall they must serve to shift countries and economies onto a path of decarbonization, setting targets for net zero carbon, and timelines of how to reach that target, most typically through a rapid acceleration of energy sourced from renewables and a rapid deceleration of fossil fuel dependency.

I think by now most people reading this blog are aware of the problems with fossil fuels, if not here are a couple of introductions.

So I’m saying switch away from Diesel Engines because we need to stop burning fossil fuels and I recognise that will have an impact on how you can use your yacht. I’m sorry about that but it is tough. We have to change and the way of cruising with a powerful, pretty reliable (especially if we ignore the very common fuel problems) diesel engine has to come to an end as a rather short time period in the history of cruising yachts.

My rule of thumb is to replace your diesel engine with an electric motor if any of these apply to you:

  • Your diesel engine does not work
  • Your fuel system needs money spending on to solve problems with diesel bug or other sludge or water
  • Your diesel engine needs signifiant work doing on any aspect
  • Your diesel engine needs taking out to do work on your stuffing box, cutlass bearing etc
  • You use a lot of diesel

If after this you have a working diesel engine by all means sell it to someone who will use it less than you.

The impact of switching from a diesel engine in your boat to an electric motor is far more significant than just the reduction in fossil fuels. It has massive symbolic value to others. It causes a big, positive, shift in our own expectations and our commitment to change in every part of our lives. As such it is a step everyone should be considering.

The future of Sustainable Sailing in a COVID-19 world

COVID-19 has changed the world beyond recognition in just a few short months. So what does it mean for Sustainable Sailing in general and how does it affect our personal Sustainable Sailing Goals?

The COVID-19 just like the other global crises we face (particularly thinking of the Climate Emergency and the injustices causing the BLM movement) are tied up with inequality and injustice.

Do you remember this widely reported study from March 2020? Shining a light on international energy inequality

Among all the countries and income classes in the study, the top 10% consume roughly 20 times more energy than the bottom 10%.

Additionally, as income increases, people spend more of their money on energy-intensive goods, such as package holidays or cars, leading to high energy inequality. Indeed, the researchers found that 187 times more vehicle fuel energy is used by the top 10% consumers relative to the bottom 10%.

I’m going to assert that COVID-19 was spread fast and wide by the wealthy travelling (eg skiing holidays in Italy) and finding ways to buy themselves around restrictions on travel. Yet the highest costs have been experienced by those in poverty and in marginalised groups suffering injustice.

We see the same with the Climate Emergency. It is the wealthy who are consuming disproportionate amounts of resources with far higher carbon footprints. It is the poor who suffer the greatest impacts as they live in more vulnerable locations is lower quality buildings with no spare resources.

We see something similar in the injustices that have lead to the Black Lives Matter movement. The impact of systematic institutional racism has destroyed lives and brought whole communities, even nations down. Multiple intersecting privileges have been used by White people use to hold onto and build wealth and power. So one result is that Black Lives are more affected by the Climate Emergency while also having had a smaller impact on the Climate.

If we are to have any chance of a Sustainable Future as a world then

  • we are going to have to build better out of COVID-19
  • we are going to need to make rapid, drastic changes to respond to the Climate Emergency
  • we are going to need to address the Justice and Equality issues of BLM (and other big issues of Justice such a MeToo and LGBTQIA+ rights) or face massive civil unrest that will derail the other responses

Sustainable Sailing in general

It seems to me that providing we interpret our Sustainable Sailing goals in non-selfish ways, so that they matter for others as well as ourselves then

Sustainable: Environmentally; Financially; Mentally; Physically

is going to be helpful in all these crisis.

Sustainable Sailing and COVID-19: Slow, isolated travel has the least chance of carrying COVID-19 to destinations. Travelling on the most self-sufficient (ie sustainable) yachts reduces dependency and risk.

Sustainable Sailing and the Climate Emergency: An older yacht, refitted to use zero fossil fuels, is an incredibly low impact way of living. Sadly the trend to larger, more luxurious yachts sold with elements of greenwash is increasingly detrimental in their impacts. Claims about how low the impact is will always need to be evaluation carefully as there are so many variables. Comments about the need for luxury need to be challenged as the unequal, unsustainable, wasteful things that they are with the constant need to reflect on what actually brings fulfilment and happiness.

Sustainable Sailing and issues of equality and justice eg BLM: Sailing in the UK is clearly not inclusive. The low cost and non traditional nature of Sustainable Sailing allow for a different culture to emerge. One that is welcoming and equal. I find this incredibly beautiful picture and words from Kika of Sailing Uma on Instagram inspirational in this area.

Our personal Sustainable Sailing Goals

COVID-19, especially when combined with the deceit that is BREXIT potentially has a huge impact on our long term plans. Until there is an effective COVID-19 vaccine and a large % of the 7.7 billion population have been vaccinated travel around the world is going to be subject to risks, delays and setbacks. Once BREXIT is done our freedom of movement is drastically reduced and with the huge double hit on the economy and pension funds of COVID-19 and BREXIT so is our financial future. We might be restricted to UK sailing grounds (and hopefully after the inevitable break-up of the UK we will still be able to visit Scotland and Ireland). We might need to look for ways to supplement our pensions.

Sustainable Sailing started as a response to the Climate Emergency. That is still entirely valid although given the lack of action by government it may become more of a lifeboat exercise as a way of keeping ourselves safe in what will be an increasingly affected world.

Sustainable Sailing and issues of Justice is less direct and less obvious. Can we make any difference through attempting to live as anti-racists? Through the ways we treat others? At present it seems rather weak and disconnected from this issue.

Cabin Refurbishment: Part 4 Layout

Continuing from Cabin Refurbishment: Part 3 Interior Theme and Style

Plans so far (layout and technical)

We really love the overall layout of Vida with the small, safe, protected centre cockpit that allows for an aft cabin accessible from the main cabin and two heads compartments.

However, there are a number of ways we want to tweak the layout, for long term live-aboard cruising. A lot of these tweaks come from the benefits of switching to zero fossil fuels, we gain useable space in a number of places. For example:

  • Our cockpit locker now has more that twice the volume (removed diesel fuel tank, paraffin heater and tank, 4 x 12volt battery, water heater, water pump, fridge compressor)
  • We have gained an aft lazarette that used to be mostly filled by the gas bottles.
  • The corridor to the aft cabin is now wider on both sides (electric motor is smaller and doesn’t need the same sound and fire protection; diesel fuel tank removed)
  • The heads compartments don’t have to leave space for and access to 3 seacocks each, we are having much smaller wash basins too (although we are adding small waste water tanks and the composting toilets are a bit larger).

The original layout was rather “optimised” to sell the idea that you could have 8 berths (2 aft cabin, 2 forecabin, double using the saloon U-settee and infill, starboard settee with pilot berth above) and have all 8 sit around the table for a meal.

However, there was never going to be enough space for 8 people’s belongings (especially if they wanted you to have some food for them). Sitting 8 around the table would mean constant climbing over each other for access.

Our plan is to optimise for us as a couple living aboard with the capacity to have two guests for extended periods. In harbour we would use the aft and forecabins for sleeping, each with en-suite heads. Neither of these cabins is suited to use at sea, there the most comfortable place to sleep is a single bunk, in the middle of the boat, with a good lee cloth to stop you falling out. So we are planning for a minimum of one person on watch and so will need 3 sea berths.

That would give us the potential to have a few extra guests, for shorter visits, when in harbour or for shorter passages in good weather.

So here are some of the ideas we have at present.

We have already shared our ideas to remodel the aft cabin to make better use of the space, improving the way into the aft heads, providing a comfortable seat and easier climbing onto the bed, plus better insulation and more practical storage. We have now realised we can grab a little more space from the engine compartment from what was used to avoid siphoning with the exhaust.

I recently wrote about our plans for extending the galley. We plan for a under counter front opening fridge (where the gas oven used to be), for a microwave combo oven above and back from the induction hob. The induction hob to be gimbled but with the option to swap it for the Instant Pot or coffee machine so they can be used gimbled instead. In harbour we will be able to bring out the spare induction hob for more adventurous cooking (we think that having two individual induction hobs is a much better option than a one double hob).

We are pretty sure we want to change the chart table area quite a lot. Part of the goal will be to make the corridor to the aft cabin a bit wider as well as providing good storage (possibly large stuff such as bikes, or a watermaker, or for extra solar panels when they are not in use, or …). If we can make it work, we would like to rotate the chart table itself so that instead of sitting on a folding seat facing outwards (which blocks the corridor) you sit facing forwards. That would give somewhere that you could sit at when on watch keeping an eye on the instruments without disturbing someone asleep on the saloon sea berth.

We have an idea to turn the corridor access to the aft cabin into a single quarter berth when on passage. So essentially a pipe cot/fold down bed that you get out whenever on passage. That would provide a really secure, comfy bed in a place with little motion and easy access to the chart-table. When there are just two of us that leaves the saloon for seating/dressing etc. If we have extra crew we then have 3 sea berths without needing to have the double decker option at the saloon settee. This is only attractive because you will no longer be sandwiched between a noisy/smelly diesel engine and a smelly diesel fuel tank.

We have been exploring different options for the forecabin after we have done all the practical work to improve anchoring. One option is to keep it mostly the same, but improve it for use as a guest double cabin. The key challenges there are the height to climb into bed when it is setup as a double and the way the doors work for the heads.

The second option is to more drastically strip it out so that it functions better as a store/workshop with the option for one or two guest single berths that fold away when not in use.

Our heads compartments will both be laid out very differently, in large part, due to the composting toilets being a little larger but needing no plumbing connections. We have glass washing bowls to sit on top of worktops, so we are going to be very trendy, because they were the cheapest option at B&Q πŸ˜‰ We want a very easy to clean, spacious feel rather than lots of little cabinets. As we have moved increasingly to plastic free bathroom products, you need far less space for stuff anyway.

In the forward heads we are determined to make the shower easy, comfortable and welcoming to use. We will also add an outside shower but we are British and living in Manchester so an outside shower is currently beyond our emotional imaginations capacity. A key to this will be to change the complicated multiway doors around the forward head in some way that will also replace the hopeless sliding door to the main cabin with something easier to use

We have already changed the saloon from having a big central table, the new table leg allows a table to be moved around so access is much easier. Eventually we will have a tabletop that opens out if needed. We can also use the same table and leg in the cockpit for al-fresco dining. We will make it so the U-shaped seating area can become a 2nd single sea berth.

We didn’t like the way the main settee backrest hinged up to make “bunk beds”. The lower bunk was very nice (but you couldn’t sit up in it) but it was very difficult to climb up into the upper berth. A side effect was that the settee was too deep for normal length legs πŸ™‚ So we will add a more comfortably positioned backrest that moves right out of the way.

We really don’t like the storage in the saloon area. Every cupboard door and opening is a different size and none of them line up (which is not what is shown in the construction drawings). Many of them are so deep that you have to empty them to reach things at the bottom. So one day this will be simplified making the space look larger while being more useful.

Phew! It sounds a lot. Fortunately we won’t be doing this all at once, nor are we in any rush. These jobs will be spread over years while we are still working and using the boat for weekends and holidays. While there will always be much less volume than a modern 38 foot yacht we are very happy that we will have plenty for our needs and all in a boat design that is proven, trusted and affordable.

Cabin Refurbishment: Part 3 Interior Theme and Style

Continued from Cabin Refurbishment: Part 2 Approaches and Cabin Refurbishment: Part 1 the story so far and what is delaying us.

We want the interior to be light, simple looking, no fuss, intensely practical both at sea and living aboard on anchor, and comfortable but without any pretensions to being luxury. We want to build it from the most sustainable materials we can reasonably afford. Given that we expect the new interior to have a long life we are ok with us using some plastic in after all what is a 42 year old plastic boat that has plastic sails, plastic windows etc (Thanks Kika of Sailing Uma for that clear argument in this very helpful interview (“Electric Engines on Sailboats: A Complete Guide! | Sailing Uma Interview“)

Probably our general theme could be described as Herreshoff Style (mostly white with minimal wood trim) with some variations such as the cushions (what was on special offer for the aft cabin, recognising it is normally covered by a sheet and duvet; and in the saloon a blue because there wasn’t so much choice in the hard wearing semi recycled Sunbrella fabrics); stainless steel for the bigger handholds (as otherwise you need expensive and unsustainable hardwood) and “sophisticated” greys in the galley.

How to achieve this?

Part of the reason for choosing this style is that much of the internal timber is looking tired. There are lots of water stains, but fortunately we haven’t found any rot or delamination. So for the timber we are keeping (bulkheads for example) the best option is paint which handily should also be less work and harder wearing than trying to restore and varnish it.

Headlining

This is the biggest challenge for us. As we have removed the, wet and sagging, headlining we are taking advantage of that by insulating the hull as well as under the decks and coachroof with 10mm closed cell foam (several layers where headroom isn’t an issue such as between the hull stringers). We need to hold this in place and we don’t want to look at black foam as we are not goth teenagers πŸ˜‰ Our first attempt was to simply use spray contact adhesive with the idea of then painting it white. But it didn’t work.

The contact adhesive hasn’t held it in place, and so within a few days it all fell down. We have had discussions about whether being more generous with the adhesive would solve the problem, it was made clear to me that I was invited to do it myself next time with as much glue as I wanted but that it still would not stay up πŸ™‚ More than that, the joints at corners are going to look uneven, we can’t see how to do anything approaching tidy for window surrounds, and finally if the foam is knocked at all then it gives and the paint cracks.

So we have been looking for something to hold the insulation up, give neat edges/joints and be light in colour, preferably white.

We have looked at various plastic sheets and plastic tongue and groove planks but didn’t want to introduce so much raw plastic and getting a good finish in awkward spaces is going to be tricky and time consuming especially with narrow plank styles.

We also looked at tongue and groove pine, but if it is thin enough to not cause headroom issues then it is also very fragile. We ruled out rectangular sections of timber due to the effort to fit them so that they look good (and cost).

In the end we think the best option for us is to cover it with thin plywood sections, which we will screw directly to the stringers or coachroof. Essentially this was what was there before. Now though it will have insulation behind and will be painted white rather than covered in foam backed vinyl. We will have removable sections wherever there is a bolt or fitting that we could need to access (fortunately not too many).

We can then cover the joints and edges with thin strips of softwood. Not sure what surface treatment except we will try to keep it’s natural colour, we don’t want to try to stain it to look like hardwood.

Floors

The floors are a problem. They are traditional Teak and Holly laminate so won’t match the new colour scheme. There are a few other problems too. They creak a lot, there is a hole from the old table leg and the matching plastic stuck to the slopes of the hull in various points is disintegrating.

Most of the floor boards are large awkward shapes and were screwed down, with a few loose sections for access to the water tank, speedo etc. We could do with being able to access more of it for storage, but we also need to be able to fasten every board down for safety (if we get knocked down you don’t want to be in your bunk getting hit by both floorboards and tins of baked beans).

We have seen a number of budget solutions applying standard DIY floor laminates but are not convinced, we feel they are not really going to last in the salt water environment and they are not designed for lift out sections.

For winter in the boatyard the cheap foam tiles sold in places like Halfords have been great but they don’t make access to the opening sections easy and they won’t last a very long time.

So one idea we are wondering about is cork tiles stuck down and then painted – comfortable, warm and soft while being a sustainable crop. Cutting for openings and awkward shapes is easy but edges are vulnerable.

For marinas and even at anchorages carpet or rugs can be nice but when at sea there are real problems with them slipping and getting wet.

So long term quite a lot of work to do but it will make a huge difference to living onboard (I really hate creaky, cold floors).

Lighting

In Cabin Refurbishment: Part 1 the story so far and what is delaying us I had a bit of a grumble about the totally inadequate original lighting. There are very few lights, they look dated and are not in very useful places so not worth upgrading to LED bulbs.

We like a bright interior, especially in the winter but we don’t like bright point lights and shadows. So the easy solution is going to be lots of strips of LED lighting integrated into the corners of the headlining trim. We will have a red option for the galley, chart table and sea berths. But we don’t want flashing multi coloured, remote controlled disco lighting. Simple switches are much preferred as you don’t lose them and get in trouble with someone else on board πŸ™‚

Lighting is going to be mostly LED strips that are hidden behind the trim to avoid direct glare.

Conclusion

We feel pretty happy with most of this and how it will be to implement (apart from the floor which feels very uncertain still). Next part will be on the layout.

Continued in Cabin Refurbishment: Part 4 Layout

Cabin Refurbishment: Part 2 Approaches

Continuing from Cabin Refurbishment: Part 1 the story so far and what is delaying us.

I’m going to generalise and say there are four main approaches to the interior of older yachts.

The Minimal: don’t change anything, don’t fix anything that isn’t a problem for you. Probably coupled with gradually reducing expectations of where you will go. This is where Vida had been for a number of years which included 2 years out of the water. Inside the layout and furnishings were essentially original with nearly all original equipment some of which didn’t work and some of which had become dangerous (eg gas installation, paraffin heater and especially it’s jerrycan). As is obvious from the speed we have taken stuff out this is clearly not something we are comfortable given our goal of preparing the boat for a live-aboard retirement.

The Restoration: There are lots of people who do this absolutely beautifully, spending hours and hours sanding and varnishing the interior woodwork, replacing like for like with beautiful care so you can’t see the joins. This is not us either, partly because we don’t really like that traditional look of so much dark wood, partly because we want to be sailing not sanding and varnishing, partly because we think things have moved on from what was a traditional yacht in the 1970’s.

The Functional: Do what is needed, very often on a low budget, so that you can get sailing. Often something by younger people who take on a project boat. Whilst Vida is definitely a “project” boat we are not yet ready to go off live-aboard cruising (which is what we see for a few years time in retirement) so we have time to do things to a more comfortable standard befitting our advanced years πŸ˜‰

The Radical: a complete refit including remodelling and modernising. Obviously we are doing this on the technical side (composting toilets, removing seacocks, fossil fuel free etc). Clearly this can be done to a wide variety of standards from exquisite to utilitarian. Our preferences are more to the pragmatic and functional end of the spectrum. We are not interested in a wow factor of beautiful joinery or a “luxury” presentation so much as everything working awesomely and being very low on maintenance.

Obviously, these are very simplistic generalisations and most people will combine the different options for different parts of the boat (a forecabin might get ignored for a long time unless it is where you sleep in which case it might be first priority.

We choose to put ourselves towards the more extreme end of “The Radical” approach for a number of reasons.

  • It makes the technical stuff easier and quicker if we are not trying to make restoration as easy as possible. We save ourselves a lot of effort if we can remove things to improve access without worrying about restoring them or keeping it functional while the work is happening (so for example it hasn’t been an issue for us to have 9 or more holes in the bottom for months and months)
  • by spending some money we can save a whole lot of time (eg by buying new sinks for a new worktop rather than trying to rescue the old ones), our present lives mean we are quite time poor at present.
  • We believe that expectations and products have changed a great deal in the last 40 years. Examples include
    • what we expect to cook and eat when sailing or living aboard. Making a cup of tea or instant coffee and adding water to dehydrated food is only expected by weight watching racers. We want real food and given that our diet is almost entirely meat free we want to be able to prepare meals from fresh ingredients wherever possible. Our budget and anchorage preferences means we want and expect to cook ourselves nearly all the time rather than eat at restaurants. This affects storage, food preparation areas and galley equipment.0
    • Navigation, communications and entertainment are a whole different world with significant impacts on every part of the interior (the Internet, mobile phones, batteries, electronic charts, LED’s, TV’s, video etc)
    • Our expectations of comfort (warmth, dryness, depth of mattress, materials, ventilation)
    • Where people expect to cruise to. Yes the world but also the North West Passage was impossible for a yacht and many places would not have occurred to ordinary people, they were for the amazing adventurers only. So now we can watch people going to Greenland or the Norwegian Arctic Circle and think we could do the same.

What we are still realising is that our approach means that when we think of refurbishing the interior we are actually looking at rather more radical re-workings of the space than we had expected or realised. That seems a good place to finish this post and leave you hanging on for part 3 πŸ™‚

Continued in Cabin Refurbishment: Part 3 Interior Theme and Style

Watch who you watch

I watch a lot of YouTube sailing channels (especially during the COVID-19 lockdown) πŸ™‚

I do notice that if we are not careful then what we watch directly influences our plans, even our beliefs in what is is possible, especially they influence what we think we need.

I suggest that we need to be picky. Look for the channels and video’s that support your aspirations. Challenge the assumptions and justifications that people have made, often (and this is not a criticism because is normal human behaviour) to make themselves feel better about their choices.

This is going to be especially true when it comes to making choices around sustainability. When we look into it deeply and when we listen to those who have made a real commitment to sustainability, then it is obvious that the impact on every part of life and especially on the typical view of material wealth and consumption is huge and drastic.

It is easy to believe that we need what “successful” cruisers and especially perhaps “successful” cruising YouTubers have and say/believe is needed.

Fortunately, when we reflect on this a) some things are obvious and b) there are alternatives.

Some things are obvious.

If you have already taken steps towards a sustainable life then you already know that you will already not be using things that are sometimes presented as essential. Let’s give some examples:

  • Flights: If it is presented that it is normal, indeed essential to fly frequently, yet you have given up flying at all or reduced it to minimal levels then is it essential. Maybe you need to change your plans for where you cruise so that you can get to visit family without flying – that might restrict you to the same continent.
  • Radar: One of those technologies that is becoming normalised. Those who have it can’t imagine sailing without it. But essential? Easier yes, and yes it allows you to do somethings even in fog with lower risk. But is it the only option? Maybe you need to restrict where you go, or allow longer, or re-route, or have more crew, or go slower. Maybe avoiding situations that would be dangerous if the radar failed? Maybe being more cautious about reefing when you don’t have radar to track squalls?
  • B&G Instruments: It seems to have become like a graduation standard. “We are now proper cruisers because we have all B&G instrumentation”. Of course, the company are very keen for us to believe that which is why high profile channels get sponsored, get special deals etc. Yet go back to the same channels earlier video’s. Did they always have B&G, the “best”? Are there other channels also cruising but without B&G? What about the people who were cruising before YouTube?
  • Electric Motors: if you see people arguing that electric motors are not really practical for a typical cruising yacht then unpack what is behind it? What do they mean by practical and typical? Do you aspire to be typical or to be outstanding? Does practicality require you to average 200 miles a day whatever the weather? Will you only feel safe if you have the speed to avoid a storm? In which case don’t buy a boat from an era when weather forecasting, communications and boat speed made that impossible – or on the other hand embrace that. Buy an older boat that was designed to cope with bad weather because there was no option to avoid it).

So if the goal is to become “successful” meaning you can now afford a new yacht, or the best instruments, that you can choose the best between a catamaran and monohull, that discussions about the “best” boat length for cruising go up by 10 feet, or that suddenly only twin rudders are safe then no problem, look for the “successful” sailing channels.

On the other hand, if the goal is sustainable sailing then look for those channels. The ones refitting old boats on tiny budgets. The ones without the essentials, how they cope with unreliable or broken engines, no dinghy, no electrics, leaks, no fridge or freezer, stuff that had been repaired, whose boats don’t look like a showroom, who have no sponsorships, who have smaller and older boats than you think you need. For me that includes

What others do you recommend?

The number 1 and 2 best upgrade for all sailing boats

So having had a big grumble in my last post, Teak decks. The worst β€œluxury” β€œupgrade” ever, it is time for the opposite. A celebration of the best upgrade you can make to your boat.

The terrible pun in the post title probably gave away that the best upgrade is a composting toilet, the best option for all your number 1’s and 2′ πŸ™‚

Composting Toilets win the “best” accolade for many reasons. Best for maintenance is a big winner, best for environment should be another, best for safety is pretty significant too. For many best for purchase cost will be important too. However, they are also best for guests and absolutely the best for COVID-19!

That is probably why I’ve mentioned composting toilets so many times on Sustainable Sailing, more than 10% of my posts include “composting” πŸ™‚ So let’s review my claims:

Best for Maintenance

All the sailing channels on YouTube have plenty of videos which include traditional marine toilet problems. There are a lot of parts and plumbing. They get blocked, the pumps need servicing, bit get clogged with calcium deposits that need to be cleaned, hoses need replacing, seacocks servicing and of course all these jobs involve you dealing with sewage, often old sewage.

A side effect of this, that you only really appreciate after taking out all this out of the boat is how much better the whole boat ends up smelling. Especially true if your boat has a holding tank.

So how much maintenance does a composting toilet take? Very little. We have Nature’s Head toilets. If two of us are using only one of these and no other toilets then we have to empty the Urine container about once every couple of days and the solids every few weeks. If you have two toilets the solids have to be emptied much less frequently as they have longer to compost down. If you use one just for weekends then it lasts for months.

That process of emptying is really easy. Undo the latches, lift slightly and put the cap on the Urine bottle and just lift it out. No spills or smells. Depending on where you are and what your emptying options are you could just slot in an extra container and store the first until you can empty it.

The solids are also easy to deal with. Remove the seat, release the catches holding the base to the boat. Cover with an open bag and tip it up so that everything goes into the bag. At the moment we just bring the bags home and put it in a compost bin. If you are able to do this when the toilet has not been used for 48 hours then there is no smell. That is easy to manage if you have two toilets or only use the boat for weekends. Otherwise you can get a second base unit with a lid and so put the full one aside with the lid on for 48 hours.

Composting toilets vary. Some have no moving parts at all. The Natures head has a closing flap over the solids with a simple and sturdy lever to open and close it. Spares are available and it would be easy to bodge a repair. There is also an agitator which is a very simple mechanism. Spares are available and again something could easily be bodged. If both these broke it would not put the toilet out of action, you could manually sprinkle some compost on each time to cover the waste and there would be no smell.

But apart from these very simple things the toilet isn’t connected to anything else (you can connect a hose and fan, but it isn’t essential – we haven’t done so yet – it might gain you a few days between emptying as it helps dry solids more quickly). There are no sewage or water hoses, valves, holes in the boat etc.

The key reason why it is all so much less unpleasant is that the urine and solids are separated. That means you don’t get liquid sewage which is what really smells and needs treating and is potentially harmful. Also the whole unit is a solid plastic construction, it can be easily removed so that it and the compartment can be fully cleaned. It can be placed in a fully sealed easy to clean floor space, no need for access to seacocks, pumps, valves.

Best for environment

It turns out that keeping liquids and solids separate has fantastic benefits for the environment. If you have access to some land (such as weekend/holiday sailors typically do at home) then you can take both the liquids and solids home.

Urine, especially if stored for a few days and diluted with water is an excellent fertilizer, even safe on food crops. See the positive uses of Urine πŸ™‚

If this isn’t an option then emptying it into a regular toilet or urinal is easy and allows for the normal processing (while wasting very little fresh water compared to normal use).

If that isn’t possible then emptying over the side of your boat outside coastal waters will have minimal side effects, in coastal waters where you might get higher concentrations there can be side effects from too many nutrients and also from pharmaceuticals that were not fully used by your body.

If you can compost the solids for over a year then they can be used on any plants including fruit and veg. Less than that then better to not use for food crops.

If that isn’t possible then after a couple of days the solids are safe to put with normal garbage. On long voyages either store (it is not a lot of space) or empty over the side while at sea (if they have been composting for a few days essentially it is just like dropping earth into the sea).

By contrast every other toilet system leaves you with either raw sewage or chemically treated sewage. You should not be dumping this ever in a river, harbour or coastal waters (legal restrictions do vary). So you either need to find a harbour where you can pump it out (what a lovely job) or you need to pump it in the ocean and remember this is quite different from the separate elements, this is sewage and it is highly polluting and very unpleasant.

We think dumping sewage into the sea should be banned everywhere. We are old enough to remember swimming from British beaches where you could find yourself surrounded by sewage, and remember the bugs that laid us low on holidays from this. The effects on marine life and the ecosystem are obvious and well proven. The only defence is that the quantities from each boat are small but that is a very weak defence and leaves sailors looking very bad.

Best for safety

Every standard marine toilet has a couple of seacocks, flushing water in and waste out (except for the incredibly wasteful ones that have a fresh water flush). So you have two fittings that are below the water line, generally tucked behind the toilet in a small compartment making access difficult. A failure here sinks your boat. A blocked valve because something inappropriate gets flushed can mean that you can’t shut it off. The risk might be small but boats sink every year due to seacocks being left open and hoses failing. Remember that if there is a problem then you are going to be trying to fix a leak while surrounded by sewage.

Best for purchase cost

Ok, there is a huge range here. But you can build your own separating composting toilet very cheaply (a seat, a couple of containers and a separator and a box to put it all in). Loads of plans available from the people who sell the separators eg from we-pee. Some go more basic which doesn’t seem very nice to use.

The cheap ones get “flushed” by simply dropping some compost or sawdust in after use.

We did build one of these and used it at home to test using a composting toilet before committing to buying them for the boat. After that we decided to go with a more expensive option (it seems that way until you price a complete replacement marine toilet and adding a holding tank) of buying a Nature’s Head. We felt that it would seem less scary to visitors.

We buy packs of Coconut coir briquettes for Β£10. In each pack there are 5 briquettes and each expands to 9 litres. In total that gives us about 25 toilet refills or a couple of years of full time use for two people. Beyond that a spray bottle with diluted vinegar is all that is needed for cleaning and stopping a calcium build-up.

Best for guests

Trying to explain how to pump a marine toilet to a new guest is difficult and error prone which is just embarrassing and unpleasant for everyone. It is also embarrassing and unpleasant for everyone when as will inevitably happen a guest blocks the toilet.

This is why we like the Nature’s head. It is really obvious. Open the flap before depositing solids, close it after and “flush” by turning the handle. No way can they block it up. Even if they miss it is easy for them to wipe with some toilet paper with no harm done.

Only lesson to teach is to get the men to always sit down (a few big waves soon encourage that anyway).

Best for COVID-19!

We had all taken for granted that when in a marina or in a boat yard you could just use their toilets. We forgot that you can’t use your marine toilet while ashore and that if you can’t move the boat in a marina and all the facilities are closed you will not be able to pump out your holding tank.

This is no problem with a composting toilet. Wherever the boat is, in the water or out of it, you can continue to use your composting toilet without needing any facilities from anyone else. Even if nothing else were available or permitted you can store the two separate parts without any smells or problems for as long as needed.

As we look forward to Wales opening up a bit and being able to visit Vida we are at a big advantage to everyone else because we do not need to have access to the yard or club toilets. Mother Ship Adrift Family Travel and Sailing Blogs were one YouTube channels who had real problems due to being in a boat yard in Spain during the lockdown when the boatyard were told they were supposed to close the toilets. No wonder in a recent video (21 minutes in) they were so excited by Rigging Doctors composting toilet.

Conclusion

Do not spend any more money on your existing marine toilet or holding tank or hoses, valves, seacocks. Instead as soon as you can rip it out and fit a composting toilet. Best boat upgrade ever πŸ™‚

Teak decks. The worst “luxury” “upgrade” ever

Okay, time to be controversial (and that is a sad thing because I don’t think this should be controversial at all).

I believe that NO yacht should have teak decks today. They are sold as a luxury upgrade, yet they are environmentally destructive, don’t last long as GRP decks, on older boats they cause leaks, in the tropics they get too hot to walk on and they raise the temperature in the cabin, they are heavy (just what you don’t want) and they take lots of maintenance.

We are so glad that Vida doesn’t have teak decks. To reinforce that view we have recently watched a couple of videos.

On Magic Carpet, Aladino (as a professional boat builder who has beautifully rebuilt Magic Carpet from an insurance write off) shows how to properly maintain a traditional teak deck. Note that each year he spends more time maintaining his beautiful deck than Vida has had deck maintenance in 42 years. Our grp decks are original and have never been painted, so all the repairs are visible (none) and so are all the faults (cracks around one chainstay, chain damage into the anchor locker, holes from some fittings we have removed).

Then on Follow The Boat you can see the waste and cost in time, labour, materials etc when a teak deck has not been properly maintained . The cost wasn’t just the new deck and toerail needed but a complete new interior refit due to water damage from the leaking deck. Here is a recent refit revist which includes having to remove the deck (with nothing that could be salvaged). Oh and remember that Esper is 12 years younger than Vida (also note that Vida has had preventative Osmosis coatings twice and shows no signs of Osmosis now).

For us use of Teak is a key environmental concern, even though much modern Teak comes from plantations, that is not always the case (and would not have been 40 years ago). But if it lasted as long as the expectations say maybe it would not be such an issue.

Teak is incredibly expensive and so a status symbol. Yet nowadays Teak decks are so thin that they are unlikely to last much more than a decade (although at least it is glued on and not screwed on, so not as likely to be a cause of leaks). That lifetime will be reduced if chemicals are used to maintain it’s colour, also if scrubbed with the grain and also if not washed weekly with salt water.

So Teak decks are an expensive status symbol that are environmentally destructive; require lots of maintenance work; make your boat too hot inside; provide a non slip surface that you can’t walk on in the tropics (because it is too hot); and which after 42 years we would have to replace if they had been fitted to Vida, if not this year then within a few.

In summary: Luxurious status symbols like teak decks are for people with far more money than sense.

Staycation Electric Motor Progress

So we are coming to the end of our staycation. Managed several walks, one food shop, one visit to the pharmacy.

Cushions

Plus Jane has made lots of progress on the cushions. She has nearly finished all the ones we have foam for. That is all the backrests for the U-shaped part of the saloon finished. Also nearly finished the cushion that goes behind the log bench on the starboard side to make the a great sea berth.

Electric Motor

Meanwhile, I’ve continued to make progress with the electric motor frame. both end frames are complete.

Front and rear motor end plates (outside faces)
Front and rear motor end plates (inside faces)

So I have been able to attach them to the motor, add the shaft, belt pulleys and belt drive (and tension it).

Motor in the frame with the belt tensioned.
Note that the back is deliberately lower as the propeller shaft is not horizontal.

Remaining motor tasks

So just a few tasks left.

While it is already very rigid (each end frame weighs about 10kg) I do want to make sure there is no twisting or other movement between the motor and the shaft).

  • so I need to cut and drill the 4 angle lengths to attach the front and back together at the corners (all but two of the bolts already fitted to the end plates)
  • add one diagonal flat bar per side.

I need to cut a keyway in the shaft to lock the large pulley to it. Then fit both pulleys with keyways.

I haven’t got the right spanner for the big bolts on the bearings yet, that will have to wait until we can get to the boat.

Once we have sorted all that we have a much larger angle length which will be for the two cross bars that rest on the engine mounts (which we have not got yet).

Of course I’ve still got to build a battery box and do all the wiring and fitting. The box for the 4 x 300AH batteries will be positioned just forward of the pulleys. As the box will drop between the original grp coated engine bearers the batteries (2 layers of 2 batteries) will end at about the same height as the motor frame.

Weight comparisons

I’ve done a quick estimate of some of the weights. I can check what we have take out more accurately later. But

Electric Motor + Frame + Batteries (1,200AH) = approx 220kg

Diesel Engine with gearbox approx = 180kg
Two huge stainless steel fuel tanks? Guess more than 80kg (will check)
All the exhaust components, fuel filters etc etc? Guess at least 30kg
Original engine bearers (not being replaced) 20kg
Full load of fuel. Guess 70 gallons which is around 220kg
Starter battery approx 30kg

Total being replaced is over 560kg

So the new Electric motor fully fuelled is 1/3 the weight of the diesel engine fully fuelled. Even compared with empty diesel tanks the electric motor system is 1/2 the weight. And that weight is all in the centre of the hull with a much lower centre of gravity than before. So our boat trim won’t vary as much.

Space gains

Beyond all the weight comparisons there is the space issue. The entire electric motor and battery bank easily fit in just the old diesel engine compartment (with space for house batteries, inverters and solar charge controllers). So we gain 1 fuel tank plus old battery box (for 4 lead acid batteries) into the cockpit locker. Plus we gain the 1 fuel tank space at the side of the corridor to the aft cabin.

And more gains

Then there is the smell! Diesel smells horrible and inevitably over 42 years there have been leaks of fuel and exhaust soot in the boat. All that is going to end up cleaned off and painted. We can already tell the difference, by the time we are finished it will be lovely πŸ™‚