Mast preparation continued

With a beautiful day we had a nice slow morning with family and then got back to preparing our main and mizzen masts for painting (well we also washed the dinghy and equipment).

We now have all the wiring out of the main mast.

We have put messenger lines in for them all.

We have removed both winches (a single speed Lewmar 8 and a double speed Lewmar 16, neither self tailing) and all other fittings showing any corrosion.

I was a bit annoyed by the winch mounts. The winches has been fitted with bolts that were too long and so instead of beinfg simply bolted to the winch mount some of them has gone into the mast itself. That has caused more corrosion and extra holes.

So everything is off and the masts have had a wash including a wash of the inside with a hose.

We have decided we don’t have to do a perfect job immediately, so we have not removed anything that we still need and that isn’t showing any corrosion eg spreader roots, spinnaker pole track. Similarly we have decided not to remove winches and cleats from the mizzen (upgrades can come later).

Tomorrow, is clean with acetone, sand, clean and get a coat of primer on. Then we can fill holes we don’t need to reuse with thickened epoxy, then we can sand and clean before a 2nd coat of primer. That then buys us some time for the rest of the work as the aluminium won’t be able to oxidise.

Another task has been looking at all the hardware we need to fit to the masts.

We are now looking at re-purposing the existing Lewmar 16ST for our mainsail reefing. Then 2 Harken 20ST for the halyards. If we can find something suitable secondhand then we will go for that instead.

We are only going to fit 3 actual halyards and supporting hardware at the moment (Yankee or Genoa, Staysail, Main) but with messenger lines for 2nd headsail, trysail and spinnaker.

We are also going to upgrade from cleats to Rope Constrictors for these halyards, skipping all the generations of clutches. Rope Constrictors are about twice the price of a standard clutch but they don’t damage the Halyard at all. But a replacement Halyard is about three times the extra cost. We have found 2 sources Ronstan and Cousin Trestec.

We are going to replace the tired halyard exit sheeves with the newer, simpler plates (and go from 2 to 5 of them so we have support for all the halyards we will ever need.

We have decided to simplify the lighting. We don’t have a simple way to fit lights to the spreaders and get the cables into the conduit at the front of the mast. That means keeping the deck light and the steaming light on the mast Deck light is lower than the spreaders, steaming light is above. However, it looks even simpler to get a combination LED steaming and deck light. One less cable to run up the mast.

Anyway, painting and filling is the first priority. All the fittings can wait for a while.

Foredeck and Forecabin plans update

We have done a lot of thinking about our foredeck (mostly related to anchoring, sail plan and dinghy storage).

During one of the lockdowns we did some thinking about how to use the forecabin beyond the anchoring plans in terms of layout. We checked a lot of those measurements when we were able to visit, however, we didn’t really check the forecabin as it was full of stuff.

Now that we have cleared space we were able to see how the plans above and below the deck can work together.

Length is our key challenge, above and below decks.

On deck we want to store our 2.9m rib upside down on deck in front of the mast. Actually we can store it so that the two tubes slightly surround the mast, but to get it on and off the deck it is going to be a million times easier if the gap between the dinghy and the inner forestay is at least 2.9m.

Starting from the bow we need to cut the existing locker hatch so that the forward part becomes part of the fixed base for the bow roller extension.

Aft of the bow roller will be the electric windlass. We will need to cut the aft section of the locker lid so that becomes part of the base for the windlass. The windlass needs to be far enough aft that we can have a small opening to the locker below (just to store ropes). The opening to this locker space is critical as we need to be able to get our arm and head in to be able reach 5 nuts (3 from the deck, 2 from the bow) that need to go on the bolts holding the bow roller in place. On the other hand if the windlass is too far aft it will interfere with the inner forestay and the dinghy being on deck.

In the end we have decided on a compromise 🙂 The windlass will be directly on to of the existing chain pipe. We will cut the locker lid to position the windlass here and we will add a glassed in network of wood beams under it that the windlass will be bolted to. The aft section of the existing lid will end up sandwiched between the windlass and the network of beams. The middle section of the lid will be refitted with hinges and a latch. If we find we can’t get good enough access to all the bow roller nuts then we can unbolt the windlass and remove the aft section of the old lid to give us more space.

All of that leaves little space to attach the inner forestay. However, as we do not want a low tack point or a low foot for the staysail or storm jib (because they have to be above the dinghy when it is on deck) we have a little more freedom. So we are going to use a bridle, one leg connected to the deck each side of the tail of the windlass. The tensioning of the inner forestay will happen between the top of the bridle and the bottom of the shroud (which is where the tack of the sail will be attached). Conveniently this means the bridal legs are attached (using the same system as all our chainplates) right next to the bulkhead that is the aft end of the existing anchor locker. We will strengthen this to handle the extra loads with the network of glassed beams for the windlass.

So, we are confident that we can fit everything on deck. There will still be room to move when needing to raise/lower/reef the staysail and for anchoring.

Below decks we have reached a new set of compromises. First, the acceptance that the existing forecabin was never really suitable for two adults. The longest measurable bed length is 6 feet, that assumes you have your head right in the aft outer corner and your feet taking the opposite corner at the forward end.

So rather than try for a substandard double bed that puts limitations on what we can achieve for anchoring we are going to put in a much better single berth that will allow us to improve the chain storage and fit some crash bulkheads.

To achieve this we will move the ply foot board from the V-Berth. Approximately, 100mm forward of this (which is just forward of the where the chain drops down from the windlass) we will put in a watertight crash bulkhead (with little inspection hatch). This means the berth will be 100mm longer, so more full adult size.

With just one full length berth on the port side we can bring the chain down inside a low friction tube that curves to the starboard side (so the berth can be a more comfortable width) and brings the chain much further aft to a carefully shaped “bin” that is the correct proportions for the chain to self stack behind the current anchor locker.

This frees up what was the chain locker and the route to it for an additional watertight crash bulkhead. This is the area most likely to be damaged by hitting a floating object and will give us some protection. It also moves the weight of the chain about 1000mm further aft than it actually was (about 500mm aft of where it should have been).

We will change the current floor level of the forecabin which provides a tiny space with headroom with a too small awkward step so you can get on the bed (which is then too tall compared to the floor to use as a seat). Instead there will be a new floor at the right height to sit on the single port bunk. You will climb up onto this from the heads compartment (which becomes your entrance/dressing area) as you enter the cabin. The reason for this change is that under that new floor, running full width, right down to the hull and forward to the new chain locker will be a built in GRP water tank (to make up for the loss of the water tank in the bilge which is now for our batteries).

The starboard size of the forecabin will now be a dedicated storage area (which means it should be a lot easier to free up the port side bed from a storage area to be available for single guests).

We will therefore ensure that the dinette in the saloon is easily turned into a comfy double bed with thick curtains separating it from the galley/companionway/chart table. That means we still have capacity for 2 double and 2 single beds which is plenty. When sailing we can have 2 excellent sea berths in the saloon plus the aft cabin. If we find the aft cabin is too close to the stern for comfort, and we need a 3rd sea berth often enough, then we can create “pop-up” quarterberth in the corridor leading to the aft cabin. All of which means we are happy with the choice to reduce the number of beds from the theoretical (but completely impractical) original 8 too 6 by switching the forecabin to a single and not having a pilot berth above the starboard “sofa” in the saloon.

What we like about this plan is that we have significantly reduced the amount of work to get the foredeck and forecabin ready for our launch compared to what we feared. We also gain a far better chain storage, a large water tank so that we are heading back to enough capacity for ocean crossings, and watertight crash bulkheads that are better than we expected (with less work too). Plus on deck we have a workable solution that gets us much better anchoring, a proper cutter rig and space for the dinghy on deck.

Dry day helps main mast progress

Our first fully dry day for what seems like forever and what a difference it has made!! Our last work on the mast was in Slow progress preparing the Main mast for refurbishment, plus tangs continue

Today the first task was to try to get the mast foot off. We we used two heat guns at the same time; we applied lots of WD40; we used vinegar to help with the corrosion; we used a slide hammer through a hole I drilled in the mast foot (I bent the “hook” so it wasn’t a great success); we used chisels with the hammer; we used a dremmel to cut all the way around the joint. Eventually it started to move. In the end we got it off and then had a big surprise as lots of disgusting crumbled polystyrene fell out.

There were several hours when I didn’t dare believe it was going to work. However, the end result is really encouraging, with some cleaning and then epoxy coating we are going to be able to fully reuse the mast foot on the original end of the mast.

We then started cleaning out the polystyrene debris (looks like the mast was lined with polystyrene but it has broken up). We took out two black sacks full.

The really good news at this point is that we discovered that there is a wiring conduit already fitted. It will be a tight squeeze for our cables and I might add some rivets to make sure the conduit doesn’t come free.

With that done I carried on stripping stuff off and then Jane did a first clean to get rid of the green growth. A bit more to be done before we can paint.

Still not sure which of the remaining fittings I’m going to remove before we paint. We also have decisions about what we fit to the mast. However, that can wait for the spring. Our first objective is to get both masts painted with epoxy primer, then epoxy filler, before epoxy undercoat, and top coat. It will be much less wasteful to do both masts the same time. Fortunately the forecast is looking good at the moment.

When we do get ready to put the main mast up it is going to be fitted out very differently. Still got lots of decisions to make about that, so more later.

Wet day planning

Today (Saturday) was forecast to be heavy rain all day. So we started with a duvet morning which was very welcome. After lunch we did a shopping trip to Aldi.

Then the only practical progress was to improve the double (pullman style) bed in the aft cabin. So the bed base now has fewer gaps and is fully secured (I do need to sort out simpler access to steering without taking up huge boards which would be difficult in any kind of rough sea). The edge board to the seat is now much higher which hopefully will stop it trying to escape over the top. Now that the layout is fixed (and working really well) we also adjusted the mesh that is under the mattress (stops condensation/mould) to fit properly.

Then more planning of what jobs to do next.

The sizing and availability of bolts is a constant challenge. When we are changing things we are rarely able (or want) to reuse 44 year old bolts for critical tasks.

The latest issue are the bolts to attach the bow roller. Three bolts have captive nuts in the bow and these will have to remain imperial (5/16ths). The two big bolts down into the anchor locker were 1/2″ diameter and 4.5″ long with a weird half countersink, half hexagon head). I can’t get either 1/2″ or 14mm long enough in A4 stainless steel. So I think I’ll have to get Keith to drill and countersink them for 16mm bolts. Then two more smaller bolts which go through the stem, still to size these.

We have ordered another nice upgrade. New acrylic washboards and hatch top to match our other windows (and wheelhouse rooflight). The hatchtop is hinged (no space for a forward sliding hatch) and at the moment has a middle hinge that leaks if we have rain blowing in from behind. Also the thumblock to hold the top up is a pain to use (literally if you don’t tighten it and the hatch falls on your head while climbing in or out). The wood is all in poor condition.

We have ordered from Hadlow Marine again. The new top is one piece and will have a gas strut. We will have 2 instead of 3 washboards. I’m sorting out a new locking bar which should be simple, safe and secure.

Besides the two major jobs when we have good weather (masts and foredeck) I also have a few jobs inside. Adjustments to the starboard settee back as it is too high. Shelf in the galley. Test install batteries and design/build boxes. Refit floorboards without any creaks.

We have decided to create little wooden boxes for the inside of the chainplate loops (where there is a large dyneema knot under the backing plate) to catch drips and allow inspection/replacement. But that can be done indoors which is why the mast and foredeck work take priority as we need dry weather suitable for curing epoxy.

That’s it for now, looking forward to big and visible progress over the next few days.

Preparing our Mizzen Mast for Dyneema rigging

Today it was time to start getting the mizzen mast prepared for the Dyneema Rigging.

FR4 Tangs

Jane got busy on carving the FR4 mast tangs. We need 8 (2 forestays, 2 cap shrouds, 2 lower shrouds, 2 running backstays). This was working with the basic “triangles” I cut the other day (see DIY Mast tangs for Dyneema: progress).

We did vacuum up the dust from the workmate and from the tarp as we went.

Between getting started, interruptions and recharging the dremel she managed nearly two completed tangs today. They are getting a bit quicker but it is going to need quite a few more days work!

Mizzen mast prep

Meanwhile, I started work on the mast itself.

There were some things we knew we needed to remove:

  • one remaining radar reflector bracket (the other has already broken off)
  • the radar mount (we no longer have radar, we would not trust a new radar to this mount!)
  • the deck light (we want LED and it was in poor condition)
  • a couple of plastic cleats (one of them broken). There are already 4 original alloy cleats and only potential for 4 lines at the mast head.
  • the VHF aerial (we need a new one for both VHF and AIS).

When we saw how much corrosion was under some of these (indicating that the different metals had not been electrically separated causing galvanic corrosion) we decided that this is our best opportunity to do a full refurbishment.

So as well as removing the deck light we also removed the external channel for it’s wire (that was riveted to the mast).

Having decided to do a full refurbishment I spent some time doing research. We have decided to go for a full epoxy paint. So we are removing anything that doesn’t look absolutely perfect. At the lower end of the mast the gooseneck, winch bases and original cleats are all looking good, plus they are low enough that they could be removed and refitted with the mast up.

Further up the mast the two higher shroud attachment points have stainless plates riveted to stop the through bolt elongating the hole. I was a bit concerned about some signs of corrosion, so I have removed them (and the VHF bracket). You can see the end of the compression tube in the bolt hole. In this picture you can see I have taken off the mast head, which also came off very easily (note that I have replaced the very bad halyards with messenger lines). I will add an extra line for an internal topping lift rather than use the external block that is shackled on).

Here you can see the lowest shroud attachment. No stainless steel plate for this one as there is not enough space above the hole due to the spreader attachment. Looks like some corrosion where whatever was used as a barrier between the stainless steel and the aluminium has failed.

Top of the mast with the mast head removed.


We are going with mostly International Paints Products. So 2 part epoxy Interprotect Primer (grey) followed by 2 part Perfection Undercoat (white) and then Perfection gloss top coat (Mediterranean White).

Before the primer we need to prepare the surface. So sanding (I’ve ordered a special ScotchBrite pad – we need to be careful not to use anything metallic when doing the surface work as it could cause more galvanic corrosion), the cleaning with acetone before applying the primer ASAP (the aluminium oxidises really quickly which stops the primer adhering properly).

After the Primer we will use thickened epoxy to fill all the holes that are no longer needed and make good any areas where we had to sand away pitting.

We are aiming for 2 coats primer, then 1 coat undercoat and 2 coats top coat. We have ordered enough paint for the main mast as well. So we will get that prepared to the same point and sand, and paint with primer together (then the rush is a bit over).

Once the painting is done we have a few more things to fit and so I have been sourcing some of these.

  • new bolts, washers and more to attach the tangs for the dyneema shrouds. The imperial measurement bolts won’t be ready until 8th September which delays putting the mizzen mast up. It took ages to sort out and calculate the bolt lengths as it is affected by the angle the shrouds meet the mast.
  • new VHF/AIS aerial (probably from Digital Yacht as we will probably use their AIS devices)
  • new deck/cockpit light (probably on the spreaders rather than the front of the mast so they light up the area for reefing the mizzen).

I have been looking up how to install wiring in a mast and avoid them rattling as the boat rolls. Seems the best way is to install electrical conduit and rivet it to the inside front of the mast. Not sure yet about this.

I also want to sort our lazy jacks for the mizzen to control the sail better when we lower it.

I have bought a rivet gun and (very expensive) Monel rivets (they are an inert metal which means no galvanic corrosion). I have also order Duralac which is used to insulate stainless steel from the aluminium.

At this point I’m in two minds about putting the mizzen mast up. It will be very handy for sorting the fit of the dyneema shrouds/chainplates; the solar panels; the pushpit and later the hydrovane. However, one of the beauties of the way we are fitting the dyneema shrouds is how easy it is to remove them from the mast when it isn’t up. If we don’t have the mast up all winter the boat will be quieter and there will be no wear or UV dammage on the shrouds or chainplates.

Anyway it is now raining and expected to rain all day on Tuesday, so back to inside jobs in the morning.

Heavy weather sailing tick box exercise

So I’ve just added the classic “Heavy Weather Sailing” 7th edition by Peter Bruce to our library.

Very interested to note how well our choices fit with the various chapters:

Chapter 1 on boat design could have taken the Rival range (although never mentioned) as a model. So we see the great designer Olin Stephens recommending:

  • balanced hull shape (Tick)
  • low freeboard (Tick)
  • small well drained cockpit (Tick)
  • two masts (Tick)
  • not too wide (Tick)
  • deeper rather than shallow hulls (Tick)
  • higher cabin sides (Tick)
  • strong keel (Tick)

In Chapter 2 on stability in breaking waves by Andrew Claughton we also tick lots of boxes

  • Our keel being a fairly long fin with a good skeg
  • balanced ends
  • lower freeboard with high coachroof
  • everything we see implies a Rival 38 should have a pretty good stability curve, we have heard that Peter Brett was very aware of the angle of vanishing stability (a point where the boat no longer tries to turn the right way up after being knocked over)
  • There is a table summarising the design influences on capsize and a Rival is pretty much solidly in the safer spectrum for them all.

The Jordan Series drogue gets it’s first mention, and they are all positive.

Chapter 3 on design trends by Peter Bruce

This puts the Rival in what seems to us to be a sweet spot after the development of fin keels but before dish shaped boats with small fins and spade rudders. This is a sweet spot for short handed cruising as faster, more modern designs tend to need to follow more active tactics. We are not going to have experienced racing dinghy sailors or surfers who can actively surf down huge waves safely so better have a design that doesn’t favour such tactics.

This is the first chapter to note the negative impact of roller furling sails on a boats stability (due to the extra weight up high when the sail is furled). That is one of the features of our desired long-term sail plan.

There is a concise but comprehensive list of questionable design features and we seem to be clear of them all (except I think we might want to strengthen our cockpit locker and we already know we need a way of securing our hatch boards). All the work to remove seacocks and only have composite ones fits too (although that post is now a bit out of date, with the electric motor we have only 2 seacocks below the waterline which are the e cockpit drains, we won’t have holes for the fridge or depth sounder and the 2 seacocks will be protected by a coffer dam so that a failure won’t cause us to sink).

Chapter 4 on Spars and rigging by Matthew Sheaham and Harry James

One point is the expectation that composite rigging such as Dyneema will one day be used universally with the weight reduction being a very significant gain for stability.

Another is more concerns about the weight of roller furled sails and the dangers of a failure. With slab reefing there are concerns about friction for systems brought back to the cockpit (ours are not).

Chapter 5 on Storm Sails by Peter Bruce and Richard Clifford.

Here we score well for plans although we haven’t got as far as implementing them. So adding our inner forestay to be used for either a staysail or a storm job is good.

We haven’t got as far as thinking much about practicalities for a trysail. We don’t currently have a track, a sail or anything. With a mizzen that can be reefed we do have an alternative so it isn’t quite as urgent.

Chapter 6 on preparations for heavy weather is mostly for the future but it does reinforce the desire for a Hydrovane. The section on fires adds weight to my plan to fit fuses at the battery terminals and to make sure the battery boxes are watertight. Having no fossil fuels aboard is clearly a significant safety feature.

Chapter 7 on the use of drag devices has clearly been updated with details on the Jordan Series drogue which are very positive with the only downside being the difficulty of recovery until conditions have moderated significantly. So nice to see our thinking reinforced.

That is all I have read fully so far, I can see from the “Storm Experiences” section that we are going to feel good about not having davits for our dinghy – but we think that is pretty obvious. We know we have a lot of experience of actual heavy weather that we need to build. However, I am reassured that much of our thinking is already validated by this highly respected book.

Electric Motor one thing that is not covered at all is having an electric motor. There is quite a lot on the advantages of a reliable diesel, but with the recognition that there can be significant problems (lines around the propeller after a rigging failure, flooding through the exhaust or engine room ventilation, extreme angles of heel causing problems, dirty fuel especially with sediment from the tanks. We have to make our plans with the assumption that we will not be able to use the electric motor for long enough to make it a viable tactic for anything but manoeuvring assistance. As we have written before we think this is better than an over dependence on a diesel, in particular a false sense of security that it will always work see Another example of why to switch away from Diesel and Losing a diesel engine for safety

Scenes of devastation

A very wet day yesterday and I had some work to do. So we didn’t make any boat progress.

Today with an uncertain forecast we have been doing some jobs inside.

Jane has continued to coat the mizzen supports and bed headboard with epoxy. Should be ready to paint next weekend.

I’ve started on the starboard side of the main saloon. We have been debating what to do with this ever since we bought Vida.

The original seat backrest was hinged so that it could be lifted flat to become a pilot berth. The cushion (like all the others) was smelly and disgusting, it was glued to the very thick and heavy ply backrest. The backrest wasn’t in quite the right place for it to be a really comfortable seat (too long a squab and too sloping backrest).

We have been wondering whether to fit a new pilot berth, however it would only be needed if we were passage making with a crew of four (we can already sleep two in the saloon which is fine with a crew of three) and it was too rough to be comfortable for someone to use the aft cabin. So we are holding off on that for the moment.

As we looked at all this in terms of fitting the new backing plates for the dyneema chainplates we decided that we would go for a full change. The cupboards were mouldy and smelly. The underside of the cupboards (which is above you when you sleep) was also mouldy. The plywood hull lining needed to be cut away for the full chainplate backing plates, also to allow us to fit some insulation.

In the next pictures you can see the piece of plywood we used to test the position we want the backrest. It will allow us to gain 150mm of extra cupboard depth. The pictures show the cupboards without the doors which show how difficult access would be to prepare for and fit the backing plates. You can also see the fluxgate compass for the Neco self steering and to the right of that there is extensive water damage to the bulkhead veneer (leaks from the old windows and dorade vent).

Taking it all apart created a fair bit of mess, full suit, mask and ear protection needed. However, it didn’t take too long and this is what we have now.

Once, we have fitted the backing plates I will be creating a replacement for the mini bulkhead that the cap shroud chainplate extension was bolted to. I’ll fit one each side of the dyneema knot at the end of the chainplate loop. They will be tied to the backing plate and the hull with big epoxy fillets and GRP cloth tabs. The lower end will be shaped to “hook” over the stringer so that it is all locked together.

Before that I need to remove the ply soffitt, as it is in poor condition, remove the backing plates for the mooring cleats and grind/sand it all clean and smooth.

To finish we will be fitting 20mm of closed cell insulation to the hull under the deck and between the stringers. Where this is visible we will cover it with thin plywood painted very light grey.

Our backrest is going to be made from individual planks with cushion attached. These will stack on top of each other in slots at the ends of the settee. When sleeping they lift out, turn around and drop into slots on the inner edge of the settee to act as leeboards to hold you in the bed when the boat heels. As they are lifted up from being the backrest they reveal your bedding and extra width to the bed.

Instead of cupboards I am going to make plywood boxes that are exactly shaped to fit against the hull. The will slide onto rails fitted underneath the deck with simple catches to hold them in place. We might possibly divide them up into two rows so that none of them are to heavy to lift out when full. The sides will be partially fabric to save weight and provide ventilation to avoid mould.

We hope to end up with a more comfortable seat, a better bed and more storage with less damp and more warmth due to the insulation and far better access to all the through deck fittings including the dyneema chainplates (which will also be stronger due to the much larger and more rigid backing plates). All the structure of this shouldn’t add any weight and might well reduce it. Win, win 🙂

Gearing up for fast summer progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow roller for anchoring progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autopilot progress

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

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

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

However, the controller is in much poorer condition.

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

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

So what are we planning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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