The number 1 and 2 best upgrade for all sailing boats

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

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

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

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

Best for Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best for environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best for safety

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

Best for purchase cost

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

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

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

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

Best for guests

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

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

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

Best for COVID-19!

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Plans for anchoring

The need.

Once we start cruising our plan is to spend the vast majority of time at anchor when we are not sailing.

Partly this is to save money 🙂 For example, the nearest marinas to us at Conwy currently cost about £35 a night or £215 a week. A visitors mooring is £18.50 per night. Paying those prices would soon add up to very large part of our budget.

However, more than just the money is the experience. We much prefer being at anchor in a quiet river or bay than being tied up in a marina (good examples we have visited before in Cornwall would include the River Yealm and the River Fal as well as bays such as Studland).

So a lot of what we are planning is to give us the maximum freedom to be at anchor as much as possible. By being fossil fuel free we won’t need to go to marinas or harbours for fuel or energy. By having a watermaker we won’t need to go there to fill up with water. By fitting a high quality 4G antenna (up high) we will improve the mobile signal to give good Internet access more of the time, without needing to go somewhere for WiFi. As public WiFi becomes more common we can also fit a long range antenna for that too.

So for shopping, getting rid of rubbish and leisure we don’t need to be in a marina or harbour, we can use the dinghy. Probably the main use of marinas will be when we want to leave the boat unattended for family visits or whatever.

Knowing that we want to be anchored a lot of the time is one thing. However, there are very different challenges for this depending on where you are in the world (and very different costs).

In the UK the key challenge with anchoring is that much of the coastline (particularly the South Coast) is very crowded with many rivers full of marinas or moorings. This reduces the availability of places left to anchor. So often you need to anchor in a more exposed anchorage where you might need to move depending on the weather (particularly wind direction) as there are few available places sheltered enough from all directions.

In other places (like the Bahamas) there are millions of places to anchor (although again you will need to move around due to wind or swell). Other places have fewer places to anchor and more marinas (eg some parts of the Mediterranean).

What we need, therefore, is a high reliability, easy to use anchoring setup that we can trust and which enables us to easily move between anchorages then anchoring becomes the default, obvious, no-brainer choice..

That means, as with many areas, we are making plans that are significantly different to where Vida is at the moment and different to many of the boats that you typically see when walking around a harbour or marina – there you often see yachts with anchors that are tiny and very rarely used.

The challenge

Our requirements are quite different to what was the norm when Vida was built in the 1976/77. Then anchors were normally lifted on deck and stored in an anchor locker. That wasn’t too difficult as the size was limited by the capabilities of a manual windlass.

Over the years expectations, fashion and technology have all changed. Electric windlasses are now common (allowing heavier anchors and longer chain without a very fit and strong crew). There have also been really significant improvements in anchor design during the last 40 years. As a result most boats store their anchor permanently in the bow roller, ready for use and to save lifting it around.

But our bow roller was not designed to store an anchor when at sea, despite that the old CQR Anchor was clearly often stored there (and as a result has damaged the bow roller). Now our anchor locker isn’t big enough for a modern anchor (as they typically don’t pivot and lie flat). Because the windlass is in the anchor locker it requires an extra roller to change the angle of the incoming chain so that it is right for the windlass.

Old CQR anchor in the locker. Note the extra roller in the middle which lines the chain up properly for the windlass.

In the next picture you can see the bow roller and how the chain has damaged the route into the locker.

We obviously get a lot of water into the anchor locker. Despite the little drain holes it collects a puddle of rainwater and if a wave comes on deck that big slot will allow a lot into the locker. Both these have presumably contributed to the rust attack on the windlass.

When we bought Vida the chain was in very poor condition and hence wasn’t able to neatly pile into the chain locker which is under the v-berth in the forecabin.

We were looking for ways to replace the roller in the bow fitting (not only bits chipped off by the anchor but also suffering from UV degradation), but it is difficult as there is no side access to the pin.

Ok so that is the challenge. What are we planning?

The Plan

This plan has evolved a few times 🙂

We start with the anchor hardware. After reading lots of tests and opinion pieces we have chosen a SPADE Anchor. It is one of the “New Generation” anchor designs (about 20 years old). I don’t think I’ve seen it outside the top 5 in any test (in one test they broke the test equipment with a SPADE Anchor).

It does disassemble into two pieces which can be convenient. The shaft is actually 3D (a hollow triangular cross section) which means it is incredibly resistant to sideways forces (such as when the boat swings round to pull in the opposite direction due to a tide change).

The pointed tip is actually hollow and filled with lead so that it is very nose heavy which helps it dig in reliably.

By just about every table of anchor sizes I have gone up one size. So this is a 30kg anchor which means that, at least in theory, it should be adequate for a full storm, if not a hurricane. It won’t be our only anchor but we are following the advice that a big anchor in your locker does nothing so make it your normal anchor.

If I wasn’t going to have a SPADE anchor then I’d probably go for the quite similar and very new Mantus M2 (which unlike their earlier anchor does not have a roll bar).

To go with this anchor I have what should be top quality Italian chain from Lofrans. 80 metres of 10mm, again oversized. I’ll add some line to the end of that should we visit the pacific where there can be some very deep anchorages. This chain alone should be good for pretty bad conditions in up to around 15m or 50 feet depth of water.

This anchor and chain is going to be far too heavy for us to recover by hand (except we would find a way to use the main sheet winches or a block and tackle in an emergency). So we have an Electric Windlass to fit.

This was really what set the limit for the anchor and chain. This was the most powerful windlass that was sensible in price and which used 12 volt. So that stopped me getting the next size anchor.

Now we come to the changes that we need to make.

The bow roller is not suitable for this anchor. It will not hold it securely when sailing. It also won’t be able to fully self launch (so if you let some chain out the anchor will just sit there until you tilt it a bit by hand). We have been thinking about a lot of options in terms of custom alterations to what we have. We might still go down that route for cost reasons. However, what we want to end up with is essentially a Mantus Bow Roller with their Anchor Mate. By removing the right hand roller and side of our existing bow roller we can fit the Mantus Bow Roller on top of the flat base of our existing bow roller.

Then the next set of connected changes are somewhat bigger (and won’t necessarily happen before we launch for our first sailing season). They are designed to address a number of problems:

  • New windlass isn’t going to fit in the existing locker using the same hole to drop the chain below.
  • We don’t really want a new electric windlass to be sitting in a pool of water and to have slat water sloshing in and taking a while to drain.
  • We want a more direct line route for the chain from the windlass to the stored anchor and bow roller.
  • We need more space for the chain and we want it further aft (back) as it is heavy.
  • We want to fit a removable inner forestay for our storm jib and need a strong-point to attach it to.
  • We love that many newer boat designs have a watertight bulkhead inside the bow so that if you hit something and get a crack or hole right in the front of the boat there is a chance that the leak will be contained behind the watertight bulkhead and you won’t sink.

So the plan (today) is to remove the lid of the anchor locker and cut out the forward section of it’s the floor. Then we will remove the interior woodwork of the v-berth to provide access.

We will then fit a crash bulkhead in several sections all the way from the deck to the bottom aft section of the anchor chain locker. This will be chunky plywood, coated in epoxy, attached on all edges to the hull and deck using thickened epoxy fillets and then glassfibre cloth with epoxy resin. It will have enough watertight inspection hatches in it, that all parts of the hull can be accessed in an emergency. The remaining part of the anchor locker floor will be joined to the new bulkhead for strength and watertightness.

I’m estimating that the gap between the watertight bulkhead and the V of the hull will be about 10cm, so not a large “crash box” but better than nothing.

The inside surface will have a sheet of slippery plastic (such as we have bought for our solar panel slider). So it will act as a shute for the anchor chain which will then slide neatly to the bottom of it;s locker which will be as far aft as possible.

Where the crash bulkhead attaches to the deck will be reinforced so that a chainplate can be fitted for the removable inner forestay.

The old anchor locker hatch will then be strengthened and permanently refitted as part of the solid deck. It will become the base for the new windlass which will sit on the deck (we will make a box/seat that will cover the windlass to give some weather/water protection when it isn’t being used).

We will fit a new chain pipe to go from the windlass down through the old anchor locker. From there the chain will simply slide down using the new bulkhead as a shute.

We will provide an opening door from the forecabin into what remains of the old anchor locker as useful storage.

Then we can reconfigure the forecabin. We don’t think we will have a fixed v-berth but instead 2 foldaway single berths with the option to use the cabin for stowage or with a bench for the sewing machine and a seat.

Finally, our normal anchoring style will be to use a bridle. If you just have the chain then in wind and waves as the bow lifts it can cause the boat to snatch at the anchor, as there is no stretch in the chain. This can jerk the anchor out of the sea bed and cause it to drag. There are examples of boats ending up on the rocks just due to the waves from passing ferries because this happened.

The bridle is made from a nylon, stretchy rope. It has two lengths joined as a V. The point of the V is attached to the chain and the two ends are cleated on the boat, one each side. The chain is loosened and now the springiness of the bridal protects the anchor and boat from snatching.

By using a bridle rather than a single line for anchoring and also for mooring balls we avoid any rubbing against the stored anchor (when on a mooring) or the chain (when anchored). The bridal also helps reduce the tendency for a boat to yaw from side to side when anchored.

That means we have a 2nd bow roller that will very rarely need to be used. So one day we hope to add a removable bowsprit to use for an asymmetric spinnaker or code zero sail to improve downwind and lightwind sailing speeds (and for the spinnaker to be easier to use).

While this might sound like a lot of work it isn’t too complicated and should make a huge difference to how convenient and easy anchoring is. It will make it much easier both to anchor and to raise the anchor, plus it will also improve the reliability of anchoring. Last but not least it will help considerably with safety not just around anchoring but also in strong winds (being able to have a storm jib) and if we ever hit anything. Now that we have the expensive parts (anchor, chain and windlass came to over £3,000) the rest is mostly wood, epoxy and time (only exception is sorting the bow roller).

Chainplate update

In my last post (Deck repair question) I was writing about the inadequacies of our chainplate and particularly of the backing plate that have caused the only cracks in our deck.

I shared it on the Rival Association’s private FaceBook group and got some really helpful responses. It seems that chainplates are generally seen as being a bit feeble on Rivals, although I have not heard major tales of woe, more a feeling that they are out of sync with the quality and robustness of everything else.

Having looked at some of the suggestions and had a long discussion at home. That being one of the discussions where I get into trouble for using “vague” words like strong, pull and push – comes of being married to someone who trained as a Civil Engineer.

So as we look to ensuring we get no more deck cracks, definitely no falling masts and no holes in the deck this is where we are now at.

  1. We will remove, clean and inspect the bronze chainplates (really just a bolt with an eye on the top and a flange that sits on top of the deck, while the bolt goes through and has two nuts to lock together). From others who have done this and one person who destructively tested one by cutting it through in multiple places – we expect them to be sound.
  2. The hole in the deck will be drilled larger, the core checked, any damp bits removed and then filled with thickened epoxy. A replacement hole the right size will be drilled through the middle of the epoxy.
  3. We are then going to build in situ a backing plate with knees out of 10mm FR-4 (see very professional model below)

We read an excellent article on backing plates at PracticalSailor and are completely sold on using Precast Fiberglass, frequently known at G10 although the fire resistant version FR-4 seems to be more easily available for us. This is standard glassfibre cloth with an epoxy resin but is made at high pressure so is very dense. Especially when bonded to a surface with thickened epoxy (which makes it a very even joint, smoothing out any irregularities to spread loads evenly) they say it makes an excellent backing plate. Moreover they also noted that “A fiberglass-reinforced backing plate bonded to the laminate provides considerable sheer strength; if not bonded, backing plates should be seen primarily as reinforcement against tension or compression-i.e. loads that are in-line with the bolt.”

Our understanding is that a common way to have a chainplate tied to the hull (so that the deck doesn’t lift) would be a custom length of stainless steel bolted to a bulkhead (or knee) that is “tabbed” to the hull. By tabbed we typically mean first butt jointed with thickened epoxy and then layers of fibreglass with epoxy resin creating a wide bond to the hull. That is because the epoxy fillet used for the butt joint is far stronger than the small area of fibreglass hull. So the failure point would be to for it to come away along with the outermost layer of fibreglass cloth.

We don’t want to spend money on custom stainless steel to connect our bronze chainplate to a new knee (and anyway think that mixing metals is a bad idea due to potential galvanic corrosion). We also want solutions we can work with ourselves and preferably that are not too labour intensive (we want to be on the water sailing).

What we figured is that we can take advantage of the fact that FR-4 (or G10) provides good sheer, tension and compression strength if bonded to a laminate AND that you can make strong epoxy fillets to join FR-4/G10 as the material won’t delaminate.

So we can save ourselves the mess and work of using fibreglass cloth this way:

  • Drill FR-4 backing plate for chainplate bolt.
  • Bond backing plate to underside of deck with thickened epoxy.
  • Hold tightly in place with chainplate bolt (coated in vaseline so epoxy does not stick to it).
  • Use thickened epoxy to bond a similar “backing plate” to the hull just below the backing plate (if there are lumps and bumps or bolts for the hull deck joint it does not matter, choose a spot that avoids them, the two plates do not need to touch each other). Use enough epoxy to ensure an even bond despite any hull curvature. This is going to spread the load over the hull just as would normally be achieved using layers of fibreglass cloth. But with much less labour, less mess and needing less space.
  • When it is all cured, remove the chainplate bolt and refit with sealant (either butyl tape if you want to be able to remove it or sikaflex sealant if not). Leave to set before tightening fully.
  • Trim a couple of FR-4 triangles to act as “knees” connecting the hull plate and the backing plate. By doing this last you can ensure a good fit despite the fact that in boat nothing is level, flat or parallel. Then use epoxy to butt joint these in place, one at each end of the backing plate. Once held firmly you can apply neat epoxy fillets to both sides of each triangle butt joint.

For the cost of one extra FR-4 plate and some thickened epoxy for it, you should now have a the hull and deck tied together so that the chainplate bolt cannot lift the deck causing it to crack. Plus there are other advantages

  • you have avoided any possible galvanic corrosion,
  • you have avoided needing to have any custom stainless steel parts made
  • you have a technique that you can do yourself even at sea with the normal repair materials and tools you will have to hand (spare backing plates, epoxy resin and thickener, butyl tape, hand saw, sandpaper)
  • you have saved the mess and time of fibreglass work
  • the solution is compact and adaptable to tricky spaces and difficult access.

So far we think this is a great idea. Anyone want to puncture our ego’s?

Deck repair question

We have some slight cracking around one chainplate (although “chainplate” doesn’t feel the right description for what is essentially an eye bolt).

When you look at the backing plate the reason for the crack is obvious. Two stacked backing plates and one has moved.

I’m not sure why two sheets of metal were used instead of a single thicker (and preferably much larger one). But the rotation of the 2nd sheet presumably means the single sheet has bent and this caused the deck cracking.

Fixing this is clearly a critical safety issue, we don’t want to lose the mizzen mast and at the same time have a big hole in the deck.

Most of the jobs to fix this are relatively straightforward although they don’t currently have any ties down to the hull (however they are in the thick hull/deck flange area) but they are only for the mizzen so loads are not soi great. I think probably all the mainmast shrouds have a metal strap to connect the chainplate bolt to a bulkhead or strongpoint (no deck cracks for any of them anyway). So we need to:

  • remove the chainplate
  • replace the double backing plate, probably with a much larger G10 or FR4 sheet that is bonded on with thickened epoxy. I’m thinking of a big sheet that forms a single large backing plate for both these shrouds.
  • cut out the cracks with our Dremel
  • Fill the cracks, cover with gelcoat trying to colour match to the deck.

But

The cracks extend into the non slip part of the deck. This is a moulded in diamond pattern.

So what do we do? Do we try to cut a matching pattern into the new gel coat?

Then longer term, if we decide to paint the deck what do we do about nonslip areas? I’m assuming that if we simply paint it then the diamond pattern wont be effective anymore. Do we mask the diamond areas and paint those with Awlgrip or similar non slip deck paint?

We don’t have a lot of places we need to patch on the deck (8 holes to fill from the davits, diesel tank fill points, old mast wiring glands) so a repaint isn’t urgent. But the grey is looking generally a bit faded so I’m sure we will get to that point after all the functional work is completed.

Friday afternoon #16 progress

This afternoon didn’t seem as productive. However, we managed to remove the seacocks for both cockpit drains and also the engine water cooling (this was the one that the survey had condemned).

Despite “easier” access, because we have already taken the engine out, this wasn’t very easy. While the two original bronze cockpit drain seacocks were themselves in better condition than most of the others, the wood pads between them and the hull were rather soft and wet.

The engine water inlet seacock just had to be cut off but it has left the bronze tube in the hull because it seems to have been stuck into a larger hole with epoxy.

We have decided to fit new, larger, composite Trudesign seacocks and position them where there is easier access. More on that in the future.

Meanwhile, just had dinner and now doing some cleaning and packing up to head home.

Another not Friday progress

We won’t be making direct progress on Vida this Friday as I’m working. Still we have been making some progress at home.

Jane has ordered more foam for the saloon (dinette backrests and the outboard portion of the sea berth).

I’ve been collecting a few more parts for the remaining jobs. Now that we have discovered the bilge, I’ve got a water level sensor and an electric bilge pump that it will control. That will mean that should there be a leak we can focus on finding and solving the cause while the pump keeps the water at bay as much as possible. Also if water comes in while we are off the boat then at least it will get pumped out for a while (given that the only holes below the waterline will be for the cockpit drains we have massively reduced the chances of this, unless sea lions attack us). However, there are some problems.

Firstly, at the moment we don’t have good enough access.

Secondly, it looks disgusting. We can’t allow water to get contaminated with all this yuck get pumped out into the sea.

So I’ve got some heavy duty bilge cleaner to try to get it clean enough to not contaminate any water that sits in it. Plus we want to get it clean enough for epoxy resin to stick to it, so that we have options for reducing it’s size and adding some strength (more bio-epoxy arriving soon).

Another area of progress has been towards more visible progress. We’ve ordered everything to fully refurbish our two hatches (one over thee aft cabin and the other over the saloon). Currently, the acrylic is so crazed that you can’t see through it, we had thought we would leave this until later but there are leaks between then acrylic and the frame, leaks in the seal in the frame and leaks between the frame and the deck. At the same time we have ordered a new acrylic panel for the roof of the wheelhouse, you couldn’t see through it and it was also leaking. All of that from Hadlow Marine for less than half the cost of one new hatch.

Finally, a spot of good news is that while the extra batteries are delayed due to the Coronavirus our electric motor has been shipped and we should have it in a couple of weeks (I’m by no means minimising the terrible effects of the virus and fully recognise that a bit of inconvenience for us counts as nothing).

I’ve also corrected the part of the drivetrain that I’d got wrong (maybe I’m on the way to becoming a tapered bush bearing expert) and we should have that soon. There are still some decisions to make and parts to order before we will be ready to connect the motor to the propeller but no rush as I don’t want to make mistakes.

Inspiring stepping up by Sailing la Vagabonde

This is worth watching. Sailors willing to turn their plans upside-down and venture into danger to support change and stand tall for responding to the Climate Emergency. Watch and cheer them on (knowing that they did succeed and Greta Thunberg was able to challenge world leaders at COP in Madrid).
It is in the hope of encouraging others that that we started this Sustainable Sailig documentation of our own journey
(Oh and the video is worth watching if you like cute babies too)

A beyond our dreams yacht

The sailing channels are full of amazing boats. What used to be the sailing magazines that my Dad would buy have been replaced by YouTube channels like Yachting World.

Consistently they present, as if it were normal a world view that everyone will be buying a brand new boat and that these days nobody would consider anything smaller than 40 feet (and that only if it is a “modern” shape which gives about 50% more accommodation than a more traditional design).

So the boats they show off start at about £ 1/2 million (over 20x more than we paid for Vida and nearly 10x what we will have spent by the time we retire to live on her).

So they are far, far beyond our dreams, expectations and none of them have much focus on sustainability in any form.

To be honest not many of them are very attractive to us either. We absolutely do not need or want so much space, we absolutely do not want our sailing to be totally dependent on electrical power for sail control (especially as they all require fossil fuel electric generation).

Yes, nearly all of them will be much faster than Vida (so what, we are not planning to race). Their huge, flat wide sterns and twin rudders will be give more control downwind. Yet the costs of these benefits are huge (mooring/haulout/storage/repairs/complexity etc etc). With our experience a 38 foot boat still seems huge and daunting, we don’t want more 🙂

Yet, I admit that I have just watched a video of one boat that if you happen to give me would be awesome (even if I’d want you to give me the money to make her fossil fuel free).

Actually, I think you would need to give me about £5M. I could buy a 5 year old Garcia Exploration 45 for about £1/2M, keep another £1/2M to keep her and ourselves in luxury for the rest of our lives and then give the £4M away to assuage my guilt at such indulgance 😉

However, there is a lot we can learn from such experienced sailors as Pete Goss and Jimmy Cornell that we can and are putting into practice with our work on Vida. Plus others that we feel they and the rest of the sailing world need to learn about sustainable sailing in the light of the Climate Emergency and connected issues such as plastic pollution.

So what are we trying to learn and implement?

  • Redundancy: For example by adding a Hydrovane wind vane self steering we have 2 rudders, 3 self steering options, 3 hand steering options. Similarly with two battery banks, multiple solar panel circuits, two inverters, two electric hobs etc we have few single points of failure. See my post “The problems of interconnected systems
  • Insulation. Very clearly the levels of insulation make the Garcia Exploration 45 very quite and comfortable. We can’t get anything like as much but we are replacing the traditional ply plus foam backed vinyl with a minimum of 10mm closed cell foam and we already see it making a significant difference.
  • Understanding. Garcia do a week of training for new owners and provide lots of documentation. We are building up complete hands on experience of just about every single part of the boat.
  • Maintenance. A boat you don’t have to keep fixing things on. Our route to a similar goal is quite different. We are doing it through simplicity. eg changing from 3 fossil fuels + electricity to renewable electricity only, removing every seacock (apart from cockpit drains), composting toilets, no refueling or concerns with fuel quality.

What can’t we do?

  • An Aluminium hull and watertight bulkheads making the boat pretty worry free where there is ice in the water (but we can’t see a fossil fuel free heating system that would cope with such climates anyway)
  • A swim platform at the stern. Going to “make do” by sorting the best possible boarding system on the side of the boat.
  • A full deck saloon. We will be making sure we can enclose our wheelhouse for full water protection if not as warm as being “indoors”.
  • Have as much storage space. But we are creating more by getting rid of the diesel engine and tanks, the gas cylinders and the paraffin tank. Also by having less space for long term guests.

What they can’t do?

  • A brand new boat can’t have the same low carbon footprint as a 42 year old boat. We are keeping a cost the planet has already paid from being thrown away rather than using new resources (I’m guessing that everything we put onto Vida in new resources will be dwarfed by the fossil fuel impact of a few tonnes of diesel used each year).
  • Make a brand new 45 luxury boat as unattractive to thieves as a 42 year old 38 foot boat.
  • Reduce the cost to get to ocean crossing by a factor of 10

Maybe it is just self-delusion but we really don’t watch these video’s of new or larger boats and feel we wish we could have one. Well maybe except occasionally a Garcia Exploration 45 with an electric motor 😉

Friday progress #14 rudder headstock

One of the jobs that we have from the survey is to repair the rudder headstock. He had identified that a couple of screws needed replacing. So, after removing the aft cabin headlining, we decided to tackle this while the cabin was empty.

The Rival has a really sophisticated, best of class, steering system that is almost maintenance free and very strong. The tiller bar (front to back just left of centre in the next picture) is connected to the wheel using three gearboxes and a number of solid rods connected with some universal joints and some rose joints. It is incredibly solid and heavy.

In the bottom right of the picture you can see the gearbox that turns several turns of the wheel into a limited movement of the rudder. The upright arm has solid stops to limit the movement.

The plate that has gone green (it is made of bronze so this is normal verdigris and can be cleaned off) is supposed to have four screws to hold it in place. The surveyor had notice 2 were missing. In fact one of the others had snapped off inside and the 4th had been replaced by a bolt head that had turned to powder when I touched it.

The grease hose had become loose, you can also see how the sealant has come away at the bottom. So it all needed to come apart for cleaning and repair.

I could’t get the horizontal arm to come free. So I took off the right hand end, it was very stuck so needed lots of wd40 and some creative use of a bar pushing against the nut, then as I unscrewed the nut it pushed itself out (yes I did have to encourage it with a hammer).

Next was to remove the tiller bar from the headstock. Pretty easy as long as you remove the larger horizontal bolt as it keeps the tiller aligned by going through a groove in the headstock.

Getting closer. There is now a two part “stuffing box” that is used to keep water from coming into the boat. Remove the two nuts and the top half just pulls off (it is there to compress the stuffing trapped below it to stop leaks).

And this is what it looks like fully disassembled. This is the tube that comes out of the top of the rudder. Fortunately, despite removing all the bits from it our rudder hasn’t dropped out of the boat as it is fully supported along it’s length and at the bottom rests on a bearing attached to the skeg.

In case you were wondering the square section at the top is for attaching the emergency tiller.

Very pleased with how it has all cleaned up. Once we have cleaned all the bits we have removed we can re-install it once we get a few parts: the seal (newer teflon based materials should create a better and longer lasting seal than the old grease coated flax), the screws, new grease and new rose connector.

We did a quick test to connect the emergency steering and that needs a bit of cleaning and rust removal as at the moment the handle doesn’t fit in the upright. So we will take that home.

This was a job that had been worrying me a little. The verdigris looked bad and our lack of knowledge and experience made it seem daunting. So very pleased that we got it all apart without breaking anything and that it should be a fairly easy job to reassemble so that it will last for a long time.

Steering failure is a very common cause of people getting into real danger so it is good to see how well built ours is and also to know that we know how it works and how to take it apart and re-assemble it if ever needed.

Progress on sails

Our progress towards maximising the sailing potential of Vida took a few steps forward this weekend.

A reminder that so far we have been doing the following:

When the weather improves (and other boats are moved so that the high lift machines can get to Vida) North Spar will be finishing their work to fit the new boom, new halyards and new running backstays for the mizzen. We have a few jobs ourselves (mostly wiring related for lights, radar and wind instruments – although some of these depend on decisions we haven’t made yet).

So we already know that we need a new mainsail (which will be larger and will reef using slab reefing – which is simpler, more reliable and allows a larger & more efficient sail). The old mainsail will be kept as an emergency spare – although it will need some work which hopefully we can do ourselves. a) to convert it to use plastic slides in the mast track rather than a rope in the furling gear groove) and b) add some reefing points to it (good test for the sewing machine).

So this weekend we took over our lounge to get a look at all the other sails that came with Vida. There are a lot! There is the theoretical possibility to have 5 sails up at the same time and we have 12 altogether. Several of these are probably original so their strength is questionable.

Starting from the front of the boat we have:

  • Spinnaker. Definitely original. Never seen one with heavy bronze rings at the corners (and don’t want those flying around my head). Seems serviceable and probably hasn’t been used much. Used in light winds when sailing downwind (probably between 110 and 170 degrees). They look pretty (ours is a light blue), but are work intensive to put up and down and also to trim.
  • Roller furling Genoa (the front sail used most of the time, typically rolled away when using the spinnaker). The front of the sail runs up a groove in a metal tube that has the forestay inside it (the forestay holds the mast up by stopping it falling backwards, it goes from the top of the mast to the front of the boat). A furling drum is spun by a reefing line and turn the extrusion to roll the sail around itself. This allows the amount of sail that is unrolled to be adjusted and therefore the size of the sail you use. That means you can roll the sail away a bit as the wind increases. However, when you partially roll the sail up the shape tends to not be very good as you can see in this picture where the middle of the sail is all baggy. We might try to improve this by sewing a tapered strip of foam to the front of the sail (that increases the width of the roll in the middle of the sail reducing the bagginess there).
  • Mainsail. To be purchased when we can finalise the measurements when the new boom is fitted and the masts are up. The challenge is to have it as big as possible without it rubbing on the backstay (wire from the top of the mast going backwards to stop the mast falling forwards). Plus the original as a spare.
  • Mizzen. Generally the expectation is that the mizzen is not used when beating upwind (remembering you can’t sail directing into the wind. So beatings means sailing at an angle of say 45 degrees to the wind and alternating between heading to the right of where the wind is coming from and then to the left so that you zig zag towards where the wind is coming from). The reason for this is to do with how the sails interact with each other as the wind blows along the boat. So normally you furl it when close hauled (sails pulled in tight because you are trying to sail as close as possible to the direction the wind is coming from). However, as soon as you are able to bear away (turn away from the wind direction) the mizzen starts to help. We have two mizzen sails, as they tend to stay on under a cover the older one will be more of an emergency spare (handy because it is smaller and has no reefing point so is less useful anyway).
  • Mizzen staysail. This is a really fun sail for when you are at say 90 degrees or more to the wind. It is a bit like a combination between a spinnaker and a genoa but for the mizzen mast. So it is a triangle from the top front of the mizzen mast, down towards the bottom of the mainmast and then the corner you sheet in goes almost to the back corner of the boat. Normally a ketch rig like ours is considered slower than a one mast sloop, however, in light winds from the right direction the mizzen staysail can really change that. We have 2. One is original and shall we say a bit tired. The other looks to be in pretty good condition.
  • Other headsails. We have 5. Only one of them that can be used at the moment which is a ghoster (a huge genoa that is used in very light winds and which doesn’t need to attach to the forestay, useful for maybe 60 degrees to 160). The others are alternatives to the genoa of varying sizes, conditions and ways of attaching to the forestay. One could be a backup to the genoa as it could use the same furling groove. One is a storm jib, very useful (obviously in strong winds) but it is incompatible with the roller furling system.

One job we therefore plan to add to our list is to fit a removable inner forestay. This will be a dyneema (very strong, low stretch rope) that will be setup about 10cm behind the forestay with the roller reefing genoa. That could be really inconvenient as you would not be able to tack or gybe the genoa from one side to the other without furling it away each time. However, the trick is that while it is attached permanently to the top of the mast, the bottom is normally kept in a stowed position at the bottom of the mast. Only when you want to roll away the genoa and use a different headsail do you attach the bottom of the inner forestay to the front of the boat (at a strong point we need to build) and tension it with a block and tackle. We can then essentially “tie” any of the other headsails to this inner forestay using soft shackles (essentially strong loops of dyneema that can be opened and securely closed). The most important benefits of adding this are that we then can use our storm jib in high winds and we also have a ready to use emergency forestay that can hold the mast up if there is ever a problem with the main forestay. Another benefit is that rather than have a poorly shaped partially roller furled genoa we have the option to use a smaller headsail on the inner forestay.

Some of our sails need some work, but we figure learning to do repairs/adjustments on 40 year old sails is the least expensive way to learn. They are not worth paying anyone else to work on and the skills will be invaluable when sails get damaged in the middle of passages. To only need to buy one sail (new mainsail) is absolutely fantastic.

I’m really pleased with what I have found out about the dyneema inner forestay and using it with soft shackles, that allows us to make use of all the old headsails (even if some of them are so tired they fail catastrophically on their first use) and do nearly all the work ourselves (we will get North Spar to sort out attaching the top of the inner forestay to the mast). This is a fairly new way of doing things which promises to be light, cost effective and simple. It significantly improves our options in strong winds without compromising convenience the rest of the time.