Why Dyneema standing rigging?

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

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?

Chainplate update, more challenges

Back in June I wrote “Chainplate update” which explored how we might solve the problems with our chainplates that we detailed in “Deck repair question“.

We are very comfortable with our solution to the backing plates / under deck reinforcement: replace the inadequate stainless steel plates that have 4 problems

  • too small (so the load is not spread far enough which can cause the deck to crack or even complete failure)
  • made of two layers that can move out of alignment (then they can bend and cause cracking or complete failure)
  • no tie in to the hull (so the deck can pull away from the hull or crack or fail)
  • potential for corrosion due to mixed metals (bronze chainplate bolt with stainless steel rigging and stainless steel backing plates).

Note that while there seems to be a common view that Rival yachts have rather under engineered chainplates I have not heard of any actual failures. But the boats are getting older and we have deck cracking around one chainplate.

Our solution with 10mm FR4 board attached with thickened epoxy and the the option of FR4 ties to the hull is going to be a much better solution and one that is ideally suited to DIY. However, we have some remaining problems.

First, the thickness of the deck that the chainplate bolts go through varies. The deck rests on a shelf that is attached to the hull, as it would have been laid up by hand the thickness of the deck and shelf varies. That means a few of the chainplate bolts are barely long enough. So even with the inadequate backing plate the bolt doesn’t extend all the way through the 2nd nut which is used as a lock nut. With a thicker backing plate bedded onto thickened epoxy to ensure even load distribution it might not be possible to fit a lock nut. Any replacement is going to be very expensive (custom bronze fixtures). If they were stainless steel we could replace the double nuts used to lock them on with a nyloc nut and reduce the length of thread needed, but I don’t think these are available for bronze nuts.

Secondly, we have a long term plan to replace all the stainless steel rigging with Dyneema synthetic rope. We wrote about this back in October 2019 “Starting to sort out sailing“. More and more people are doing this (for example 4 YouTube channels have documented this: Rigging Doctor, Tula’s endless summer [my playlist of their videos], Free Range Sailing, Sailing Zingaro).

I’ll go through the dyneema rigging elsewhere, however, the relevant issue here is how to attach the dyneema to the chainplates. So far in the videos and reading we have done there are three options.

a) A toggle that allows a deadeye (see image below and how to make one by Rigging Doctor) to be attached via a clevis pin. We don’t have this sort of toggle (need Fork to Fork but we have Fork to Spade – examples of both here) at the moment (because of the style of rigging turnbuckle we have). This is the solution used by Rigging Doctor, Zinhgaro and some of Tula’s shrouds. However, none of them have bronze chainplates so there is no issue of mixed metals. So we have the expense of toggles, the risk of corrosion between dissimilar metals, and using a chainplate that has had 43 years of wear on the hole to which the toggle attaches. This solution is complex with so many different components (chainplate, toggle, deadeye, lashing to shroud) that have to be bought/made and fitted.

Dyneema Deadeye

b) A Colligo marine female Chainplate distributor which Tula used on some of their shrouds. Again we have the cost of these (we would need 14 and the price ranges from over £60 each to hundreds depending on size).

c) A frictionless ring attached to the chainplate by lashing it to a shackle (see the Free Range Sailing video at 15 mins). This is a whole lot cheaper as it is just a shackle and a frictionless ring (so under £20 per shroud).

All 3 solutions don’t solve the dissimilar metals problem as all of them connect something not bronze to the bronze chainplate. All of them rely on there not being too much wear in the 43 year old hole in the bronze chainplate and they don’t help with the problem of the length of the chainplate threads.

But we have come up with a creative solution that is going to be much cheaper, lighter, easier to maintain and stronger. Wait for the next blog post 🙂

For reference here is a grainy image of how one of our chainplates looks on deck.

To attach the rigging turnbuckle (that is used to tension the stainless steel shroud/stay) a toggle is fitted like this. It provides articulation to handle the different alignments of the turnbuckle and chainplate.

Lessons from the Vendee Globe and other trends

We are really enjoying watching the Vendee Globe (single handed, non stop, no outside assistance round the world race). Our key sources are the official website tracking and their YouTube Channel but we are also enjoying the content from Sea Wolves.

The weather has clearly been unusual and fits with this article about Jimmy Cornell where the guru of sailing routes around the world writes:

In 2010 I sold my Aventura III and, as I was 70, felt that the time had come to call it quits. That didn’t last long and by 2013, with accelerating climate change increasingly making the news for those who were prepared to listen, I decided to get another boat and attempt to transit the Northwest Passage. Described by scientists as the “canary in the mine” of global climate, whatever happens there eventually spreads to the rest of the world. I did manage to transit this once impenetrable waterway, now opening up as a consequence of climate change. I also saw the consequences of global warming affecting the local population. With mission accomplished, in 2017 I sold Aventura IV, and that was it. But not for long, as three years later, with climate change surpassing the worst predictions, I decided to put retirement on hold for a bit longer and try something completely different. Like sailing around the world on a fully electric boat along the route of the first circumnavigation 500 years previously.

It is good to see so many of the competitors in the Vendee Globle are working to raise awareness of climate, ocean and water issues. Many are also contributing to scientific research on issues such as plastic in the oceans, water salinity & temperature etc.

There are also a number of competitors using electric motors (they have strict standards of being able to motor at a set speed for a number of hours) and renewable energy charging of batteries (solar and water generators being the most common).

However, it does highlight for us that planning to sail around and about the planet in a few years time that conditions will not be as people have come to expect. Trade winds are not as reliable, both big storms and large areas of doldrums are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

We think we are starting to see some trends in the responses to this. Some get a lot more coverage than others. These are most obvious where people look for their own balances between safety, comfort (and for some luxury) and cruising area.

The trend that has been going for a long time now is to bigger boats and towards catamarans. There is a significant industry push with lots of publicity towards 45 foot plus fast catamarans. This is typified by the Sailing La Vagabonde channel and approach. To cross oceans safely (and cruise around the Bahamas during hurricane season) they use the very latest weather reporting which they access while at sea (Predict Wind) plus they get professional routing advice (such as when the crossed the Atlantic bringing Greta Thunberg back to Europe a year ago). They rely on the combination of up-to-date weather routing (in some cases with shore based professional forecasters giving individual routing advice) and a fast 48 foot catamaran to avoid the worst storms.

Another approach, is again for large catamarans but with the focus shifted from lightweight high performance towards luxury. A good example would be the choice of a new Seawind by Sailing Ruby Rose. Their focus has been on a mid performance catamaran designed to be spacious and luxurious while at anchor to fit with an approach to safety which avoids risks. So while faster than their existing 38 foot monohull they will be staying out of danger though a more cautious approach about timing and planned routes rather than on speed and dynamic routing. It does mean long periods in marinas and anchorages waiting for good weather, it does mean a lot of motoring to keep to passage timetables and it does limit the cruising grounds somewhat. It remains to be seen how far that will continue to be possible as the climate emergency continues to disrupt the weather patterns that have been stable for hundreds of years.

Of course a question is where that leaves everyone else who has neither £0.5 million to buy and the money to maintain a large catamaran.

Many will continue to follow the popular US market of slower, cheaper catamarans, many of them ex charter boats (such as Gone with the Wynns) and for the most part cruise in the Bahamas, Caribbean etc. With significant upgrades some will still cruise the world but for the most part need to make careful downwind passages and expect to motor or motor sail a lot.

We believe that another option, for years popular among those without lots of money, is for a well found older monohull. These can come from an era when you had neither the weather information nor the speed to route around storms, so they needed to be able to cope. With modern improvements such as Jordan Series Drogues for survival in the worst storms and better weather information they provide a more cost effective option and one that should allow cruising to continue as the weather becomes ever more unpredictable.

As the older systems such as diesel engines on these boats fail, sustainable conversions will become more common – as we see on Sailing Uma, Beau and Brandy, Spoondrifters, Learning the Lines and so on. They don’t get the publicity because there is not the same amount of money to be made from them, by the industry. They are not aimed at the wealthy wanting luxury. However, as an option to be able to go cruising in the face of climate change and be part of the solution rather than the problem they are a great option (the only option other than a DIY build?)

Avoiding engineering calculation paralysis

Two recent examples have in equal measures frustrated and amused me.

In their plans for Ruby Rose 2 Nick and Terysa have oodles of calculations but they appear to be aimed at justifying fitting large diesel engines because an all electric boat isn’t possible. They seem to have totally missed what was shown to be possible in their interview with Dan and Kika from Sailing Uma.

Then there is the subscription website “Attainable Adventure Cruising, The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site” with an article in the last week “Induction Cooking For Boats—Part 1, Is It Practical?” where I joined a discussion coming from our very different approach.

Both these present a numbers based “engineering” approach to decision making about the “practicalities” of moving away from fossil fuels. Sadly due to the initial assumptions the approach almost always leads to the conclusion that renewable energy sources cannot provide enough power for either propulsion or cooking.

The approach rejects working examples because they don’t present numbers in an “acceptable” way.

Our problem with this approach is that it is simply too easy to make assumptions about what is needed and the conclusion depends far more on the assumptions than on the calculations. In both these cases the assumptions are based on the expectations and lifestyle of a couple.

Ruby Rose have assumptions about never compromising on a luxury lifestyle with every modern convenience.

John and Phyllis have decades of experience cruising in high latitudes and strong views on what is safe and seaworthy. They have a stated goal of not considering anything that has not got a 10 year history of reliability.

Both these approaches are flawed if the goal is sustainability (or if budget constraints are tight). So if your assumptions are that you need to motor for an hour at full speed, and 500 miles at cruising speed, cook for a couple of hours every day, run a water maker, washing machine, multiple fridges and freezers, electric auto pilot, video editing laptops every day then you are going to conclude that renewable energy sources can’t cope.

Cynically if you control the list of things that you want to run all the time or anytime regardless of the conditions then you can guarantee that you will never be able to manage with renewable resources (at least until the last oil well has run dry and the Netherlands has disappeared under the sea).

Yet there is another way. One that we find most often from people with limited resources.

Embrace the limitations

Or start at the other end. Start with the resources that are possible.

  • What battery bank capacity can I afford?
  • What size battery bank can I fit (size and weight)
  • How many solar panels can I fit (and afford)?
  • Is wind generation going to fit my boat, my budget, my geography?
  • Is water power generation either from regen on an electric motor or something like Watt and Sea going to work (how much time sailing at suitable speeds)

These provide the constraints. Then sustainability becomes how you live within the constraints. There are plenty of options.

  • A vegetarian or vegan diet (as recommended as a key way of reducing our carbon footprint) can reduce the cooking energy significantly (no a roast chicken cooked for several hours is not required every week, if you want it then save your energy up first, or use a solar oven)
  • Set your passage plans according to the energy you have, probably slower (but then the whole point of sailing is surely to sail)
  • Set your cruising ground according to the season and energy available and required (so you probably can’t sail sustainably into an Arctic winter which is just a constraint, like the ones the majority of people live with all the time)
  • Have food available that doesn’t need to be cooked if you are short of energy (Huel and the like)
  • Plan to use appliances when you have the energy, keep the ones that have to be on to a minimum (eg freezers, fridges, autopilots).
  • Embrace the constraints. Do you really have to be able to do the washing, make water and cook for 2 hours on the same cloudy day – if yes then why?
  • To be honest the list is endless, we have gone in just a few years from it being normal to only use an engine in harbours to expecting to motor constantly for days at a time. From no refrigeration and basic hobs to dishwashers and ovens and drinks coolers in the cockpit.

The argument that it isn’t possible to live within the constraints of renewable energy is disproved by history. It is disproved by the examples already documenting their experiences eg Sailing Uma; and Beau and Brandy.

The challenge is to our assumptions, our privilege, our expectations of luxury. The opportunity is to open ourselves to the impact our lives have on others and to stop seeing ourselves as deserving something that our actions deny for others both now and in the future.

Remember the best sustainable examples are attainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch who you watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things are obvious.

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

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

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

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

What others do you recommend?

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).

The need for Active Solar power generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increased consumption:

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

Increased generation

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

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

So Active Solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary

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

Sustainable Sailing and Human Power

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

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

What about using human power?

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

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

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

Moving the boat

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

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

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

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

Replacing electric powered items on the boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generating electricity

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

Getting to/from shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting around on shore

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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