Continuing Solar planning

Sadly, we can’t do much but plan at the moment. However, that does at least give us the opportunity to improve those plans.

In More on sustainability, I included a bit about Jimmy Cornell needing to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. So another incentive to improve our plans.

This is what we have so far:

Wheelhouse roof

4 x 40 watt panels (total 160 watts) for the top of the wheelhouse roof. To be connected so that the two sides are in parallel reducing the impact of the considerable shading as the main boom is just above the wheelhouse.

Guardrail mounted

4 x 175 watt panels (total 700 watts) to be fitted alongside the guardrails. They will be moveable, tiltable and removable. So we can have up to 4 on either side of the boat (to catch the sun). While sailing we should be able to have 2 per side (positioned about 3/4 of the way aft), with the option to drop them to be vertical (like canvas side dodgers but with a gap for water drainage below them) for docking or if waves are a problem. But there are plenty of people sailing with these pretty permanently mounted (eg Rigging Doctor, Millennial Falcon, Sailing Project Atticus). We can also remove them and store them below in really bad weather (recognising that ours are larger and hence more windage).

We have been exploring lots of potential ways of fitting these. Quite a lot will end up depending on how our budget goes over the next few years, but we have a cheap getting us started option using lightish timber struts. Update see Simplifying guardrail solar panels.

Longer Term Plans:

By adding a solar “arch” (see below) we should have a grand total of 1460 watts. That is more than Jimmy Cornell, plus we will be able to rotate and tilt them to improve efficiency. Coupled with significantly reduced power consumption (only 2 people, wind vane steering, only one fridge, no electric winches etc) we think we are heading towards the right ballpark figure.

Solar Arch.

We have lost count of the number of design options we have been through. Here was one. It got pretty complicated as we work around all the constraints. Our fairly narrow stern, mizzen boom and need for Hydrovane self steering make the structure very challenging.

Our current thinking is to mount two 300 watt panels almost completely independent of each other (total 600 watts). Through a combination of rotating and tilting we will be able to position them for maximum efficiency while also being able to have them either clear of the mizzen sail (ie sticking out aft beyond the boat length) or safe for docking or storms (ie extending forward over the mizzen boom and aft cabin) at which point we would not be able to use the mizzen sail. They will also be removable, even at sea so that again we can stow them (probably on deck due to their size) if needed.

Our plan is to first shorten the mizzen boom as much as we can for the existing sails. Longer term we might get a new mizzen sail with a shorter foot but fully battened with a fathead sail (google images of Fathead mainsails), that would keep the boom further out of the way,

Then the implementation we hav agreed with Hydrovane puts the actual vane a little higher than normal so that it is clear of the mizzen boom and sail (thus allowing us to tack without having to touch the vane mechanism).

The solar support will start with an upright carbon fibre tube in each aft corner of the deck (or possibly just down the transom a little), these will be positioned so that they are just clear of the boom as it swings across. They will have a diagonal strut going forward and another diagonal going across the stern. There is a vast array of carbon fibre tubes available up to 54mm diameter so we have some calculations to do.

The top 500mm or so will be above the diagonal struts and will be filled with thickened epoxy. This is then a base onto which the pole for the solar panel drops. These Carbon Fibre Tubes are designed so that each size slides into the next size up. So the poles for the panels will be one size up from the fixed upright tubes. They too will have a thickened epoxy filling but leaving 500mm open to drop onto the upright tubes. Connecting the tubes this way allows the upper section to be rotated or removed. We will have a hole for a pin will allow the rotation to be locked in two places (and will also stop the top tube lifting off).

A smaller tube will be fitted horizontally to the top of the solar panel upright. Using a smaller diameter will allow us to attach it by through drilling the upright for the horizontal to fit though. The joint area will then be filled with thickened epoxy to lock everything in place. The horizontal tube will only project out on one side of the upright (like an inverted L). Using the rotation and locking pin this can be forwards or backwards from the upright. This horizontal will be approximately 3/4 of the length of one of the solar panels.

To attach the solar panel we have two slightly oversized square tubes. These are the long enough to be fitted to the solar panel (going across the width of it). They have holes drilled in the middle, with short lengths of tube (next size up from the horizontal) fixed into them so that they can slide onto the horizontal tube. This attached the solar panel and allows it to tilt.

To support this we add a smaller tube as a diagonal brace between the upright and the unsupported end of the horizontal tube. At which point it will look a like we have a pair of gallows on the boat with solar panels on top 🙂

All the fixed joints will be created by smaller diameter tubes going through the larger, the smaller tubes will have smaller holes inside the joint so that when the joint area is filled with slightly thickened epoxy they get locked into place. We will also use epoxy fillets on the outside of the joints.

We will use dyneema guys to control the tilt of the panels with the option to use them to lock the rotation in other places than the locking pin allows.

To remove the panels we will use a halyard. We will rig it so that the pull is up a topping lift, that means as the upright tube comes free the whole thing won’t swing wildly about into the mast.

This give us multiple positioning options:

  • Preferred sailing option. Turning the panels aft so clear of the mizzen, with the ability to tilt them either for maximum solar efficiency or for minimal windage (compensating for the boats heel) depending on the conditions.
  • Preferred docked option. Turning the panels forward, the mizzen can’t be used but they are fully within the deck outline so not going to snag on other boats or be a hazard to people on the dock.
  • Moderately bad conditions. Assuming that you have taken the mizzen sail down, turn the panels forward and take the tilting control lines forward for maximum stability (better angle and braced to the deck rather than the support post).
  • Storm conditions expected (whether sailing, at anchor or in a marina). Lift the panels up so the uprights come off the fixed supports. Lower to the deck and secure.
  • At anchor. Rotate and tilt so the panels are as close to right angles to the sun, adjust to compensate for both the boat and the sun moving.

Safety

There are obvious concerns about having large panels relatively high in the air. However, there have now been multiple Atlantic crossings by boats similar in size to Vida with panels this size on solar arches.

We do recognise that our design is a little different due to the complications (mizzen and hydrovane). We do not think this design is possible with the typical stainless steel tubing designs. However, carbon fibre tubes can be used for a wide variety of purposes including masts and wind turbines, that support significant loads on unstayed uprights.

Unlike other solutions we have a variety of options do deal with different conditions. We are not creating a fit and forget solution but one that fits with our expectation of Active Solar Generation which we believe is a critical factor in achieving zero fossil fuels. The real potential to increase solar generation isn’t clear but a 30% increase is possible when you can angle correctly and far more if panels can be moved to avoid shading.

Wind generators

We can potentially add a similar pole support base on each side of the boat by the mizzen mast. In suitable conditions a wind generator can then be deployed. Again using the active generation principle. Wind generators are only effective in certain conditions, so why would we want the noise and windage all the time? However, they are the best option for reducing the need for a generator when we need electric power for heating while anchored in winter when there isn’t much sun.

Simplifying fitting a Jordan Series Drogue

One of the most significant advances in yacht safety in recent years has been the development of the Jordan Series Drogue. It was developed in response to the 1979 Fastnet Disaster and has been widely used by a wide variety of yachts in some terrible conditions. Attainable Cruising has many articles about it (and I think some are on their free pages).

So we definitely plan to carry a Jordan Series Drogue with us. Examples from Jordan Series Drogues by AceSails (lots of the history by the late Don Jodan himself), Ocean Brake and DIY instructions from SailRite.

Once you have a JSD (Jordan Series Drogue) one of the key concerns is how top attach it to your boat. The loads could be enormous and so typically the solution has been big stainless steel chainplates through bolted to big backing plates, one on each aft quarter so that they stick out beyond the stern.

That is heavy, and is going to require some substantial engineering (and to be fair John Harries, from Attainable Cruising, admits that he had misunderstood that bolts in a line with the load do not share the load well – something Jane keeps on at me about from her Civil Engineering days).

The chainplate solution would be possible, but expensive and hard work on our boat (the bulwark is the obvious place as it has both the hull and deck thicknesses together) but it isn’t very high so the gap between the cap and the deck is a bit tight for a good sized backing plate.

So I was pondering and I realised that there might be a good solution similar to the Dyneema chainplates we have come up with. After a couple of iterations this is what I have come up with for boats like ours that have a strong enough bulwark or toe rail (essentially the rule of thumb is these need to be strong enough to hang the weight of the boat from). For us the strength of the 12mm dyneema we are likely to use for our main mast shrouds is a lot more than double the design weight of the boat. The issue is much more about spreading that load rather than the strength of the line.

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

So I’m thinking one 12 mm dyneema line for each side of the boat. Both ends to be fastened to the boat with the loop going through the eye on the end of the JSB bridle. So the load will come to 4 attachment points on the boat and will be pretty equally balanced (the elastic stretch and creep of the dyneema will work to equalise the loads between the two bridles and on each side the loop will move through the bridle loop to equalise the load.).

All 4 ends of dyneema will have an eye splice (carefully done should achieve 80% of the original strength) and the eye will have a chafe protection sleeve as will the loop where it goes through the bridle.

To attach these eye splices to the boat we cut supper drains holes through the bulwark. These are angled so that the outside is pointing aft. They will need to be very smooth and large enough for the dyneema eyesplice. It might be worth using HDPE tubing. Otherwise I’ll make them oversize, fill them with thickened epoxy and then drill and smooth that.

On the inside of the bulwark we will pass a stainless steel rod (probably similar to our propshaft) through the eye splice and lay it horizontally along the inside of the bulwark as the “backing plate”. To spread the load of the stainless steel rod we would build up thickened epoxy between in and the bulkhead. We will coat the rod in mould release first so that the rod can be removed once the epoxy has set and only placed there when needed.

The length of the stainless steel rods will depend on the curvature and strength of the bulwark or toe rail. If there are concerns then use more and connect the dyneema in a cascade to distribute the load to 4 or more points per side.

This way we get better draining side decks (more scupper holes). We get a JSD attachment system that

  • is stored away from UV and other damage except when on ocean passages.
  • is easy to fully inspect every part of before use
  • can have any part replaced at sea if it shows wear
  • doesn’t add permanent clutter or any potential leaks
  • is lighter and stronger than a stainless steel chainplate
  • is much cheaper than the parts for stainless steel chainplates

Of course there are disadvantages and key among these is the potential for chafe. However, this can be easily monitored and if required a temporary Dyneema line could be used while a replacement is fitted at sea. We are not kidding ourselves that it would be easy but won’t require hanging off the back of the boat and is possible. Whereas making and fitting a replacement stainless steel chainplate would not be.

If your boat doesn’t have a bulwark/toe rail that is suitable then a more permanent solution more like multiples of our various dyneema chainplates idea might be possible.

Almost certainly we will be trying something along these lines, but we do so at our own risk and you would have to do your own risk analysis and design.

[Update] Another “brilliant” sketch of this design.

More on sustainability

I get quite frustrated with a number of ways in which claims are made for sustainability. Too often they can be most charitably be described as greenwashing.

So I took the Footprint challenge (again) at https://www.footprintcalculator.org

This time we came out at 2.3 that means 2.3 worlds would be required to maintain our lifestyle. It can also be presented as 3.9gha (global hectares per person). The world can sustain about 1.63gha, the UK average is 7.93gha and the global average is 2.75gha.

So while we are currently living at about 50% of the UK average (2016 data) and just below the global average (again 2016) we still have a long way to drop before we could consider ourselves to be living sustainably.

This is a reduction from what we have achieved in the past. However, by far the largest single item within our footprint is our housing. As that comes with my job we have almost no control over it, at the moment. The second (although only about 1/3 of the first) is driving our van. This calculator doesn’t factor in the cycling I do for transport and of course we are working towards replacing the van with a small electric car ASAP (that reflects changes including Jane commuting for the first time).

Factors that have reduced our score include:

  • No flying (more than 15 years since our last flight)
  • All our Electricity and Gas is the greenest, most renewable available (Ecotricity)
  • We are now nearly completely vegetarian
  • Most of our veg comes through a weekly veg box from a farm only 15 miles away (and everything in the box is grown organically on that farm).

However, Sustainable Sailing is about our long term, our retirement. At the point of retirement we have to find our own home (and we can’t afford to buy a house) and we want to be contributing to life not tearing it down for future generations.

So our goals are a retirement we can afford (which is why the catamarans costing hundreds of thousands of pounds are irrelevant) and which has a really low footprint (which is again why the big catamarans are out as well as diesel engines, new boats etc).

But we also believe that there are mental and physical benefits to a simpler and more sustainable life. So the choices are also good for us personally. Less stress, more beauty, more experiences, active lifestyle away from air pollution.

So it isn’t surprising that the people we prefer to read or watch are typically not the lifestyle experts, they typically don’t have old boats and low budgets.

It isn’t surprising that we reject the experts saying that fossil fuel free sailing boats are not possible because we have not seen them consider the footprint of their choices. Our goal isn’t to achieve or maintain a lifestyle that the planet can’t sustain. Our goal is to to live at a sustainable level, and within that, to live well.

A good recent example was that Jimmy Cornell who has had to abandon his attempt to sail around the world with zero carbon emissions. Our approach is very different.

When they start with a brand new 45 foot catamaran the embedded carbon footprint is incredibly different to that of a 43 year old 38 foot monohull and this is almost always ignored.

The key advantages of a performance catamaran for cruising without using fossil fuels are the large area for solar panels and the higher sailing speed which means that regeneration from spinning the propellers which turn the motors into generators.

However, we plan about the same amount of solar panels, and we plan to boost their efficiency by tilting them and moving some so that are not shaded by the sails as much.

We too hope to get some regeneration from the propeller but haven’t really budgeted for it.

Where the biggest difference lies is in consumption. That is where the expectations of sustainability are so different. We plan to live within what we can generate not generate enough for a particular lifestyle.

Within the consumption side of the equation comes a really significant disadvantage of catamarans. They can’t be steered by wind vane steering systems that use no electricity. We have seen a number of people whose boats use electric autopilots have to run their engines every couple of days because of the power drain of the autopilot. While we are going to maintain the original electric autopilot (useful for sail changes or when motoring) we won’t be using it on passages.

When you add electric winches, multiple fridges etc it becomes obvious that it is the luxury lifestyle that can’t be achieved. Yet for hundreds of years sailing boats have crossed oceans without fridges, washing machines, water makers etc. Even on a catamaran with it’s autopilot Cornell managed on a “minimal” use of electrical equipment.

Yet the naysayers always home in on the induction cooking and the electric motor as the problems that make zero carbon footprint sailing impossible. Neither of these need to be used if you don’t have enough power in the battery bank. Especially when crossing oceans.

For us the two biggest concerns (and the reason why, in the end we may well carry a generator) are:

  • Fossil fuel free heating (because electric heating is always going to be needed most when solar generation is at it’s minimum).
  • Canals and rivers (eg to get between the English Channel and the Mediterranean) where hours of motoring can be needed against currents or where timetables need to be kept (eg Panama Canal).

To be honest it is amusing that those telling us that a sustainable life isn’t possible haven’t even thought about the most difficult challenges.

It is important to note that we don’t think we have everything sorted yet. We are building up gradually on storage, generation and consumption of electricity so that we can find a good equilibrium for us – and yes, that will include restricting where we go to those places and seasons where we can maintain the equilibrium because anything else isn’t sustainable.

The urge to be the first

Saw some exciting news today.

Just read that Peter Lawless is going to be sailing his Rival 41 around the world single handed, unassisted and non stop. He has a website and a YouTube channel. His aim is to be the first Irish man to achieve that combination.

It is nice to see such confidence in the next size up boat in the Rival range 😁 While we know several Rival 38s have circumnavigated, I’m pretty confident none have done so non stop, and probably not routing south of all 5 major capes.

If you haven’t looked at sailing routes in detail it might surprise you that there is a fundamental difference in the routes between those sailing around the world fast and cruising.

Typically fast circumnavigations are Eastwards (so from Europe via Africa, Australia, Americas to Europe) and they go a long way south to keep the distance down (typically circling Antarctica as close as possible). This is the route of the Vendee Globe, the Jules Verne trophy etc. It goes under 5 major capes: Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), Cape Leeuwin (Australia), South East Cape (Tasmania), South Cape (New Zealand), Cape Horn (Chile) There are normally a series of low pressure systems circling the globe above Antarctica so Eastwards is faster downwind sailing.

For cruisers that Southern Ocean is unattractive, if the objective is to enjoy visiting places then a route to the most remote parts of the oceans where storms are normal and it is very cold is unattractive. Cape Horn is particularly feared as there is a pinch point between it and Antarctica where winds and seas rush through. So the majority route Westwards using the Panama Canal to avoid Cape Horn. Then you can cross the Pacific via some of the beautiful island groups in warmer weather with downwind sailing to Australia. If piracy wasn’t an issue many would return to Europe via the Red Sea, Suez Canal and Mediterranean thus avoiding the more challenging Cape of Good Hope.

So there is this huge difference right from the beginning depending on whether you want to go around non stop (or just a few stops) or whether you want to see more places, go slower and take fewer risks.

We are definitely in the cruising camp (and with a grp boat relying on solar energy we won’t be going to far North or South into the Arctic or Antarctic). But it made me wonder if we have any urges or expectations to be first at anything. We certainly are not considering single handed firsts, nor a non stop circumnavigation, nor do we aim to be unassisted.

On the other hand wherever we go we will be the first Jane and Dave to sail a Rival 38 Centre Cockpit Ketch there 😂

Is that enough?

For us it definitely is. We love watching and supporting others doing amazing things (like the Vendee Globe) but that isn’t us.

Instead, our goals are clearly much more about the means (ie Sustainable) rather than specific firsts. To travel well (by our definitions) rather than to set records.

Boat access update

So we were last on Vida for Friday 9th October (Friday Progress 28). Since then the restrictions either for North Wales or for Manchester (and for a lot of the time both) have not allowed us back.

We had hoped to get a few days after Christmas but Manchester is still in tier 3 and Wales goes into a pretty full lockdown from the 28th December.

With very little prospect of change for a couple of months it does mean we will need to plan carefully whether to try to get enough done to launch in 2021 and finish over next winter or see if we can get a more complete refit complete for 2022.

I have a 3 month sabbatical in 2022, we would love to use that for our first extended cruise but we would need to have completed so much and tested it beforehand.

Feeling more than a bit frustrated by the knowledge that going and working on our boat is incredibly low Covid risk. We don’t stop on the way. We typically don’t meet anyone. The only shopping we do is for electricity cards from the boatyard chandler.

Yet the rules are clear and we are not about to break them. We have seen too much of the devastation that Covid causes.

Dyneema forestays and backstays

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

All the posts I have been writing about Dyneema rigging and chainplates have been mostly focused on Shrouds (the standing rigging that holds masts up from the sides). Much of it also applies to Stays (the standing rigging that holds masts up from the bow and stern of the boat). However, there are some differences, for us especially because we have a ketch rig (two masts).

So I’ve been checking out how to apply the work I’ve done for Shrouds to Stays. It is quite different for our Mizzen and Main mast so I’ll write about them separately.

Main Mast

As I have mentioned in other posts (eg Why Dyneema standing rigging?) we are not going to be replacing our forestay with a Dyneema synthetic rope. The roller furling for our genoa would chafe through a Dyneema forestay very quickly as it puts the forsetay inside a metal tube that is rotated to roll up the sail around it.

However, we are planning a removable inner forestay (see Progress on Sails for our first mention of this) and this will be Dyneema. With all that we have learnt we will probably fit a DIY Cheeky Tang (see Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update) for this. Earlier we would probably have used a Bluewave Forged T Eye (as mentioned in Termination of Dyneema Shrouds. The most contentious issue?), however, if this is to be capable of acting as an emergency forestay, holding up the whole mast, then we will want a thicker line than 8mm.

Our current plan for the inner forestay is to have it as far aft from the bow as we can manage. The limits are set by the space required for the dinghy on the deck and where we can reinforce the underside of the deck enough. This will allow us the option of setting a staysail so we have a cutter rig (two smaller jibs instead of a genoa). Depending on how high we fit it to the mast we might need to add running backstays (which our mizzen already has so see below).

To hoist a sail at the inner forestay we will need to add a sheeve to the mast just below where the inner forestay attaches for the halyard (and at the bottom for the halyard to come back out of the mast).

Our backstay is currently slightly complicated and the tension can’t be adjusted (something you often want to do when sailing to control the tension of the forestay which changes the shape of the genoa).

It starts with a single wire at the top of the mast.

Part way down the single backstay is split so that one can go each side of the mizzen mast.

I’m assuming this is to save weight, although it might also help avoid the back of the sail (the leech) from rubbing on the backstay when sailing upwind (the sail won’t be pulled in as far as the centreline where the single backstay section is, but it might be pulled in far enough to rub against one of the double lines if they go all the way to the top of the mast (because the sail “sticks” out from a straight line from the top of the mast to the end of the boom – this is called “roach” and it is supported by sail battens). Our current sail doesn’t have roach but the original design adds 21 square feet of roach (and it is in a very efficient place near the top of the sail).

The problem with the single to double backstay is that instead of having the safety feature of two independent backstays you have multiple single points of failure.

So looking at where the single backstay attaches to the top of the mast.

I’m thinking we can replace that pin with a longer bolt and two DIY Cheeky Tangs so that we have 2 independent backstays right from the top of the mast. With Dyneema lines being so light we would save a lot of weight and add redundancy.

If we find that we need the backstay central at the top to miss the sail then we can add a couple of low friction rings to pull the two lines together at an appropriate point. If one backstay fails then the other will be a bit slack but will still be there.

A similar technique is commonly used to tension the backstays. A line with a low friction ring is used to connect the two backstays. This line is then pulled down to pull the backstays together (and tension them) or slides up to allow the backstays to separate (and follow a more direct line) thus slackening them. This technique automatically compensates for any differences in the tension of the two backstays (the slacker one always moves more inwards to balance the tension).

Mizzen Mast

Our mizzen mast doesn’t have a forestay or a backstay. A forestay would stop the main boom from being able to swing from side to side. A backstay would require a much shorter mizzen boom (and so smaller sail) or something sticking out the back of the boat to fasten it to.

So instead we have 2 shrouds that come forward from the top of the mizzen mast to the sides of the boat. The main boom just misses them. These stop the mast falling backwards.

Then we have two shrouds (side stays) that start just below the spreader and are angled slightly aft. These stop the mast falling forward but as they do not go to the top of the mast they are not enough to hold the mast up if the sail is pushing forward. For this we have running backstays, one each side. These provide the extra support for the mast, but to let the sail out fully they have to be released. So when you tack or gybe you loosen one and tighten the other so that the boom can move across the boat.

The net effect is that our mizzen basically has 4 shrouds per side. One per side is a running backstay and so you need a means to tension and release it as needed. As far as replacing them with Dyneema there is no need for any difference in the shrouds themselves.

Remaining issues

  • We need to finally confirm the current sizes of the stainless steel wire (need to be allowed back to Wales).
  • Then we can finally calculate the size of Dyneema to replace our stainless steel wire.
  • We need to decide where to protect with a Chafe/UV sleeve.

Other than that we are close to getting on with building and fitting it all 🙂

Brilliant English Upcycling of old sails

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

Lifestyle products
Made in Devon
from recycled sails

Absolutely brilliant! 🙂

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

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

Termination of Dyneema Shrouds. The most contentious issue?

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

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

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

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

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

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

So what are the options?

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

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

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

Opinion Time

Or duck and run time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion for Vida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big update: see Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update

Why Dyneema standing rigging?

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

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

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

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

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

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

Current condition

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

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

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

Staying with Stainless Steel

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

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

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

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

So Dyneema?

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

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

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

Advantages

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

Disadvantages

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Outstanding Issue

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

Plans

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

Sail for at least one season.

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

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

Chainplates. We are going for a radical dyneema option

[Update] I have written a lot about Dyneema standing rigging so I now have a guide to it all in: Dyneema / Synthetic Rigging Summary[End Update]

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

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

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

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

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

Going Dyneema.

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

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

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

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

Then as I was searching I found these Soft Padeyes

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

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

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

Making and fitting the dyneema chainplate

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

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

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

However, it will leak.

Stopping Leaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results

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

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

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

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

Tensioning

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

Summary

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

What do you think?

[Update] See Dyneema Termination and Chainplate update