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™‚

The need for Active Solar power generation

With the our commitment to Zero fossil fuel sailing we have been having to review and update our initial Solar plan. Designing our Solar Arch has been part of that.

The traditional “passive” approach to solar is not going to work for us. By that I mean the idea of putting up a few solar panels and forgetting about them. We need to generate far more electricity from solar than this approach achieves.

So what do I mean by “Active Solar power generation”. Unlike shore based like people living on boats are used to being proactive about energy use and supply. So the mindset includes managing consumption and keeping an eye on battery state. However, for a long time this has been done with the expectation that you can always charge the batteries by running the diesel engine or a generator or by going into a marina and using the shore supply.

We are making a determined effort to keep electric consumption down through a number of deliberate choices:

  • Wind vane self steering, keeping the electric autopilot only for redundancy
  • No freezer. Yup it does constrain the food you can take and keep but fridge and freezer are huge electrical power hogs.
  • Reduced Computer consumption. We are going to be minimising laptop use by having Raspberry Pi single board computers for navigation, entertainment and “office work”. They run on 12 volt.

However, by committing to Zero fossil fuels we are increasing our electric consumption significantly and reducing our energy sources.

Increased consumption:

  • Electric Motor. This uses a lot of energy and is the opposite to the norm. When we motor we will be drawing lots of energy from our batteries rather than putting it in. While we will have regen (charging the batteries when the propeller spins while you are sailing) the change is incredibly significant as the norm is to see the diesel engine as a provider of almost unlimited “free” electricity and hot water. Of course it isn’t free at all, but more a desirable side effect that has resulted in a significant increase in the number of hours the engine is used. So has become a norm to motor whenever the wind speed drops because at the same time you will charge the batteries and heat the water.
  • Electric cooking. All forms of electric cooking (Induction hobs, Microwave, Pressure Cooker) use a lot of power (although mostly for a relatively short time). The norm is to burn bottled gas (occasionally diesel or paraffin). By cutting out another fossil fuel we increase our electric consumption.
  • Dinghy Outboard. We have an electric dinghy outboard engine. So far the boats we have seen with electric motors (Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy) have not switched to electric outboards (despite the hours they spend maintaining their petrol outboards). In part that is because they want to be able to go faster in the dinghy (see this video from Sailing Atticus for a good reason for this) but it is also about the need to charge the outboard engine battery.

Increased generation

So this is the heart of the challenge. By committing to no fossil fuels all our energy needs to come from renewable sources. We have three options:

  • Engine regen. We are hoping this is going to be significant for us. On longer passages it will do more than recharge the motor batteries from leaving harbour but will contribute something to the daily consumption. It also has the potential to provide power through the night. However, it is only available while sailing and only while you are sailing fast enough (probably won’t contribute much below 5 knots). As liveaboard cruisers typically spend the vast bulk of their time at anchor the contribution isn’t that great.
  • Wind generators. These have the significant advantage of potentially providing significant power at night and through the winter. However, there are problems. Many people complain about the noise and vibration. Fitting them without causing shading on solar panels is a challenge. They do require a lot of wind, probably more than you would normally be looking for in a sheltered anchorage. We’ve looked at the Rutland 1200 but at the moment feel the cost and installation challenges are too great.
  • Solar. The typical installation of solar has been changing quite significantly. For liveaboard cruisers the norm now seems to be to have a solar arch with between 300 and 600 watts of solar panels. That is enough for minimal electric motor use (see Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy or Rigging Doctor) but not for electric cooking, electric outboard etc.

So Active Solar

This is where our plan differs. We are going to have to be far more active about our solar generation. That means a number of things.

Our solar arch needs to be tiltable to increase it’s efficiency (both Sailing Uma and Beau & Brandy do this but the vast majority of solar arches do not).

When sailing we will need to be active in adjusting our solar generation. Some panel positions will be pretty much setup and forget (such as covering the upturned dinghy on the foredeck with panels before leaving harbour). Others will only be possible in lighter conditions (some along the guardrails for example).

The goal will be to have enough permanent solar when sailing (solar arch and wheelhouse = 510 watts) so that with the regen and battery bank we will be able to get through a gale when we have to put all the other panels below. That shouldn’t be too hard as in those conditions you are not likely to be doing much cooking and you can put off charging the dinghy outboard.

When conditions improve we should be able to sail in light to moderate with an additional 1,050 watts (2 x 175 watts on the dinghy, 4 x 175 watts on the guardrails from the cockpit to the stern. Some of this is going to suffer from massive shading at times so we are assuming it will be about 1/2 as efficient as the solar arch.

Then at anchor we need to have lots of solar panels that come out and are positioned dynamically. We will need to have solar panels positioned above the mizzen boom, around most of the guardrails and possibly above the deck. How many of these we will need is still uncertain (it depends so much on where we sail – if Coronavirus and Brexit mean we have too stay around the UK then we are going to need a lot more solar in Scotland than the Caribbean).

So far we are planning on a total of around 2,400 watts (13 x 175W + 4 x 40W) which so far I have only heard of on large catamarans.

We will need to be active in working with these panels. We will need to adjust the tilt during the day so that as the sun and boat move their efficiency is kept as high as possible. We will need to move them if other boats come alongside or if we are in a marina. We will need to put a lot of them below when sailing.

So I’m going to be building a standardised wooden surround for each panel. This will provide attachment points so that any panel can be fitted to any section of guardrail (and be tilt adjustable) or to the supports above the boom and dinghy. The edging will provide bump protection when moving them around and allow panels to be stacked without scratching the glass. We have chosen the 175W Victron panels as our standard because they are about as large as we can lift, manoeuvrer around the boat and fit through the main hatch into the cabin.

Exactly, where we will store all the panels that need to be “reefed” (taken down) in a gale is currently not fully sorted. Some might go on the aft deck or aft cabin. Some in the corridor to the aft cabin where one of the diesel tanks was. Some in the forecabin (which is likely to be mostly storage when there are only 2 of us).

We are under no illusions that we can achieve zero fossil fuel without ongoing, daily labour to maximise solar generation. But while that might seem a lot of work remember that we won’t spend any time (or money) finding and visiting fuel docks or carrying jerrycans around in the dinghy.

In summary

We believe we can capture several orders of magnitude more solar power than is generally the norm for monohull cruising yachts. But it will require us to work at it every day.

Sustainable Sailing and Human Power

I’ve been quiet on here during the COVID-19 pandemic so far. More urgent priorities and has seemed inappropriate when so many have been dying, ill or struggling in other ways. However, some countries are now starting to move beyond lockdowns and it now seems more appropriate to focus on building a better future. One that is more human in scale, more caring of people and planet, more sustainable. So here are some thoughts of another aspect of bringing Humans into Sustainable Sailing

With a goal of zero fossil fuels being central to our understanding of Sustainable Sailing there is a big gap in what we have been planning so far.

What about using human power?

I’ve come up with a number of potential uses for human power when Sustainable Sailing. Let’s see if any make sense.

  1. Moving the boat
  2. Replacing electric powered items on the boat
  3. Generating electricity
  4. Getting to/from shore
  5. Getting around on shore

Now we have a list, time to consider them in some detail.

Moving the boat

The best examples I know of for actually moving a yacht by human power come from two races. In the UK The Three Peaks Yacht Race (run to and climb the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland; sail between them; engines only allowed within specified areas of the ports) and the Race to Alaska (No motor, no support, all the way to Alaska.
The physical endurance, saltwater know-how, and bulldog tenacity to navigate the 750 cold water miles from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska). There are great videos from Race to Alaska 2019

My conclusion is that if you want to be able to make any real progress with human power to move a yacht then 3 conditions need to be met

  1. You need a large crew so that you can have people who are rested enough to cope with a storm that follows a long calm where you have been using human power.
  2. The lighter and easier the boat to move the more practical it is. A racing multi-hull is the best option, a live-aboard heavy displacement mono-hull very bad.
  3. So far the most effective solutions for speed are also fragile and take up a lot of space. Neither good for long term cruising.

Therefore, it seems to me that it is better to invest in improved sailing performance in light winds to minimise the amount of time that human power could improve your speed. For shorthanded cruising (eg a couple living aboard) an electric motor is going to be far less risky in harbour situations where you don’t have spare crew or where you need to be able to cope with tides and headwinds while manoeuvring.

Replacing electric powered items on the boat

Probably the only electric powered item that we plan to have that we could easily (and more cheaply) replace with a human powered version, is the windlass for raising and lowering the anchor.

The electric windlass we are fitting can be used manually. However, having an electric windlass seems to us to be a great safety feature.

It allows us to have a much heavier anchor and chain,

it means we won’t put off moving to a more sheltered anchorage because we don’t want to manually raise the anchor,

if you need to leave an anchorage in bad conditions we won’t start sailing while physically exhausted from raising the anchor.

It raises the anchor much faster, which with the saving in physical effort makes sailing on and off anchor much easier

So we think investing in better electrical capacity is a better option here.

More and more yachts, particularly larger ones now have electric winches and/or electric sail furling. We plan to stick to manual as long as we are physically capable, possibly getting an electric powered winch handle rather than a whole winch when we need help.

Most of our other electrical systems are cooking or water related. So far no obvious human powered options (water-making would be great but falls far short of daily needs for a lot of effort).

Generating electricity

How about using a bike or something to generate electricity while we exercise? Our conclusion is that it can’t generate enough to be worthwhile (especially when you factor in a small crew). Time and money better spent ensuring maximum power from your solar by keeping it clean, shadow free and pointing at the sun.

Getting to/from shore

This is where I believe it starts to get very interesting.

We have gone for probably the most popular dinghy style (A rigid inflatable with aluminium hulls). Having inflatable hulls makes getting on and off the boat so much easier and safer with no risk of damage. An aluminium hull is both lighter than the traditional grp and much tougher for dragging up beaches (it is also fully recyclable). Ours is a Highfield Classic 290 which we should be able to store on our fore deck when sailing (just in front of the main mast), it also fits inside our van for transport to and from home (nowhere to keep it near the launching place near our mooring).

Ribs are pretty rubbish to row (the hull is too wide with too much water and wind drag, plus the seating position is inefficient. So we have an electric motor, but that means we sacrifice speed, it won’t be possible to plane (but we don’t expect to want to zoom to fantastic diving spots for example).

Could human power provide an alternative? We have looked at various “toys” to use when at anchor. SUP’s (stand-up paddle boards) are very popular and the inflatable ones easy to store. But practical and useful they are not, unless it is warm enough to wear just a swimming costume and you don’t need to go far and it is smooth water without much wind and you don’t want to carry anything. An inflatable kayak is a little better in practicality.

So instead we are wondering about carrying something designed to row well. The best option that we have found is from Angus Rowboats, they have an amazing track record (first human powered circumnavigation, rowing across the Atlantic, coming first in the under 20 feet category of the Race to Alaska). They have this beautiful Oxford Wherry available as plans or a kit. I’ve had a chat with Colin Angus and we agree it should be possible to make a minor adjustment so that the wherry can be divided into 3 nesting parts for storage on deck (we think it would fit on our aft cabin). We think that this would be the most efficient human powered dinghy that you could carry on a yacht. With a sliding seat you will be able to carry yourself and a passenger to explore rivers and harbours at a similar speed to our outboard engine on the rib.

We don’t think this would be suitable for our only tender, the key issues is that with the sliding seat you have to have outriggers for the oars and this makes coming alongside a yacht very difficult without causing damage (so instead we will use the rib as a dock/boarding platform). The lack of an engine option makes carrying large amounts of shopping or fighting the fast tide in the Menai Strait unattractive.

Getting around on shore

It amazes us how few of the sailing YouTube channels carry bikes with them to get around on the shore, particularly to go shopping. In a recent video Beau and Brandy had a 30 minute walk to the supermarket. They then had to push the loaded trolley back before an hours round trip returning the trolley.

Matt and Amy on Sailing Florence seem to be the best sorted with two Brompton bikes but we think they too are missing a key thing to transform using bikes for shopping. What they need is a trailer. For us there are two stand-out options (they need to fold and they need to be suitable for any bike and they need to resist corrosion). If we didn’t already have a trailer then the Cyclone Range from Radical Design are brilliant. The other option (and yes we have one) is from Carry Freedom We have an old Large Y-Frame but there are other options now. Here is mine in use (Cargobike sadly not so suitable for fitting on board boats, plastic box is just bolted on, anything else could be used). It works as a hand cart too for getting right to the loading point.

Conclusion

By far the most cost effective and transformative use of human power in Sustainable Sailing is a bike with a trailer.

A good rowing dinghy (probably in addition to a RIB) comes second.

For everything else your energy is better used improving your boats sailing ability and electrical generation and storage.

Friday progress #18

So we came to the boat late last night to spend time off with plenty of Social Distance. Didn’t come within 50 metres of anyone last night (apart from those in other cars). Today we spoke to Richard working on the boat next to us in a howling gale from at least 5 meters distance. I did buy one thing from the chandlery but at an appropriate distance from the staff. Now it seems we have the boatyard to ourselves. Will return home tomorrow.

It feels like slow progress today. More clearing out of the diesel engine remains (fuel pipes, exhaust, wiring) and cleaning of the space. We have managed to get the very heavy steel engine bearers out (not sure yet if we will reuse them at half the length or not need them).

The slowest part has been trying to sort out the Stuffing Box. This provides a seal around the propeller shaft. We want to replace it for 3 reasons

  • It needed a fair bit of work doing a) the “stuffing” replacing anyway as it was apparently leaking consistently b) the grease gun needed servicing c) there is a pressured water supply from the engine cooling which we won’t be able to maintain.
  • We want a modern leak free alternative to keep the area around the electric motor as dry and salt free as possible.
  • We want to keep reducing maintenance and the newer dripless seals go for years without any servicing (and without needing to take the boat out of the water to do that servicing).

We haven’t managed to do this yet. We can’t undo the last of 4 bolts holding the stuffing box outer casing in place. Thanks to the Rival Association Facebook page we think we have a couple of potential solutions to look at.

So some photos. All looking a lot cleaner and more empty but not finished yet.

Most of the fuel pipes plus assorted other engine bits
Fighting the stubborn bolt (it is still winning)
What remains of the outer shell of the stuffing box.
That last bolt, always the least accessible one is the one that won’t undo (a stainless steel bolt in a bronze shell is a recipe for getting stuck due to galvanic reaction between dissimilar metals)
Aft wall of the engine compartment looking very empty. Note also the “missing”, heavy, metal engine bearers, they are not needed for a 40 kg engine that runs smoothly compared to a 180kg engine that tries to shake loose all the time.
The cockpit locker, looking from across the engine bay. The dark stain is where the port side diesel tank was. The batteries were on the left between the engine bearer (foreground) and the fuel tank. On the right was the hot water, the fuel for the heater, the water pump and the fridge condenser.

The whole space should now be free of diesel and we have vacuumed all the worst mess out. Won’t smell properly clean until the last bits have been removed, it has been cleaned, sanded and painted. But at least until then we have 6 big holes (from seacocks, propeller, exhaust, bilge pump) for ventilation.

We didn’t get to eat until 9:30pm, so am feeling very tired now. Not sure what if anything we will manage tomorrow before heading home.

Friday progress #17

We arrived last night to find two good bits of news, things that are being done for us πŸ™‚

First, work has started on replacing the toe rail which was agreed as part of the original purchase. So far the joint between the deck and hull has had old filler that was loose. Turns out some of it wasn’t original and some of that had never fully cured (too cold when made or not enough hardener). So we now have most of that joint filler replaced with a modern slow cure epoxy (suitable for Beaumaris temperatures). Later the new rail (which is like a black rubber escalator handrail).

Second, our new boom has arrived. Will look at that in detail when we get the masts back up, maybe next month, maybe not.

Anyway today we started on the diesel tanks. First job was to empty them. So we siphoned out the diesel and offered it around the yard. People turned up with containers which was handy as we must have drained out over 100 litres in total.

Here are some pictures of the dismantling of the starboard casing around the tank between siphoning sessions.

The tank was very firmly held in so there were a lot of bits to unbolt and cut.

That shelf on the left was a beast to remove. Turned out there were some beefy bits welded into the tank that went into grooves in the wood. Completely invisible so I couldn’t work out why the beam wouldn’t come out even after cutting it on all sides.

Once the tank was free it essentially just fell into the corridor where it got wedged. It was obvious that it still had diesel in (without an inspection hatch it was impossible to look in and see). Also that it wasn’t going to fit through any of the possible ways out of the boat. So we would need to cut it up first.

There turned out to be another 20 litres of very dirty diesel which we pumped out into buckets and filtered into fuel cans.

This is what the new space looked like before cleaning. Huge!

Last bit of the tank going out of the boat.

Job done.

Tomorrow, we will hopefully get the 2nd tank done. At least we know we we are doing but lots more work to clear access to the tank and it will need to be cut into smaller pieces.

Speed vs Sustainability

One of the most visible conflicts when aiming for Sustainability in almost any area, is between it and Speed.

The obvious starting place is speed in terms of moving fast, where the sustainability cost is clear and huge. Speed never comes free. All forms of transport require significantly more energy per unit of distance at higher speeds. That is because air resistance increases much faster than the speed (typically by the speed squared). For boats the drag of the water is much greater as it is so much more dense than air.

However, it is even more complicated for boats. When not planing, a boat has a maximum hull speed (approx between 1.34 and 1.51 times the square root of the waterline length in feet – see WikiPedia). For Vida that gives an approximate maximum hull speed of about 7.5 knots.

In practice what that means for Sustainability is that however powerful an engine we put in we will not go any faster than 7.5 knots. As a boat moves through the water it creates a standing wave which is very visible if you look at a boat moving, just behind the front of the boat is a peak, at full hull speed there is just one wave with the trough at the back of the boat. Any extra speed makes that wave steeper and you can never climb up it and so you can’t go faster.

But the real issue is that the amount of energy needed to reach the maximum speed isn’t simply a proportional increase. We can only estimate at the moment because there are so many variables according to hull shape, loading, windage, sea state etc we won’t know exactly without a lot of real world testing. However, we would expect to need twice the energy to do 7.5 knots as say 5.5knots.

The impact on our electric motor will be all about range. At full speed we might expect roughly 7.5 knots for 1.5 hours ie 10.75 Nautical Miles. However, if we drop the speed to 4 knots we might be able to motor for 6 hours or 24 Nautical Miles. Of we drop again to 3 knots (or typical canal speed) then we will add considerably more range.

Even when not directly burning fossil fuels, speed is costly in Sustainability when sailing. To go faster you need a longer and lighter boat (typically built using more “exotic”, less sustainable materials and methods). You will need higher tech sails that perform better but use more exotic materials and typically need replacing more often.

To go really fast you need to get past the hull speed restrictions. You can achieve that either by having a boat than can plane (flat bottom, lots of power and very low weight – typically not going to be affordable or suitable for live aboard cruising with a small crew) or a multi-hull (trimaran or catamaran) where the hulls are so narrow that the hull speed formula no longer applies).

Length is the “easiest” way to get extra hull speed which is one reason why sailing cruisers keep getting bigger but this is also going in the opposite direction to sustainability as then they use more resources at build time and throughout their life (and they increase much faster than the length does).

On the other hand speed increases do have a multiplying effect. Faster boats can more dynamically route to get huge benefits by being in the right place for far more advantageous weather systems. That can make a far bigger difference to ocean crossing times than the simple speed difference. This video shows this at it’s most dramatic (but is pretty much as far from sustainability as you can get in a sailing boat)

However, I want to move beyond thinking speed in terms of movement and extend it to speed of progress.

In every area, progress is not proportional to the resources used. We know this from every area of life. As you add more and more people to a job it doesn’t keep getting done faster at a proportional rate. If you want to have your driveway paved it will not get done 100x faster by 100 people compared to 1 person (most of us can’t fit a 100 people on our driveway, even if we could they would be getting in each others way, getting the materials to them fast enough for them all to work at full speed would be difficult, you would need people set aside to co-ordinate them etc).

So as we seek to be more sustainable I suggest that we will also need to slow down, in our expectations, in our plans, in our work rates and in our spending.

The benefits multiply across all our areas of sustainability (Environmentally; Financially; Mentally; Physically) if we slow down. We can have time to plan better, to find better options/bargains, reduce mental and physical stress, to avoid mistakes.

This is why we decided to start the process of getting to a live aboard cruising retirement life years before we will be living aboard. By doing so we can be more sustainable, achieve more for less.

What works for us in this example scales up in all kinds of ways across society. Faster isn’t better, slower is usually more sustainable. All we need to do is reprogram our expectations (all we need to do!!!! Hollow laugh). Fortunately, once people of tried slowing down they tend to prefer it and become advocates, which is a good reason for hope. It has left us thinking that one of the things we should be looking to offer when Vida is afloat is the chance to experience cruising on a zero fossil fuel yacht in sustainable ways.