What Worked, What Didn’t (published October 2017)
After 10 years of cruising, we aren’t going home any time soon. We are on our way across the Indian Ocean to South Africa; then, Tierra Del Fuego has an enticing tone. Along the way we are still finding some things that work and some that don’t.
1) LOFRANS TIGRES Windlass
After 10 years of countless anchorages on our way to halfway around the world, our Lofrans Tigres windlass has been beat by tropical sun and continuous dousing of salt water. The only freshwater rinse it would get is from the rain. The Tigres has lost some of its original cosmetic sparkle but none of its strength; this is despite at times winching up abandoned moorings or some other incredibly heavy thing off the ocean bottom along with our own ground tackle. And of course, there have been the impossible chain snags on rocks which pulled our bow down to the water and required SCUBA gear to untangle. With all the episodes of over-stressing, the only injury to the windlass was a widening of the “inner cone clutch” keyway. If the inner cone clutch can be removed without damaging it, then a machine shop can cut a new keyway opposite the worn one. This will suffice till a new cone clutch can be ordered.
The only maintenance I have done to the windlass is to occasionally apply a light coat of grease to the inner and outer clutch cones. As suggested by Imtra, lithium grease should be used for this lubrication although I have been using water repellent winch grease. Do not use automotive grease as it will attract salt residue and turn gummy.
There is a series of Tigres service videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daJBBSqcgNI
The only strange thing about the Lofrans is that you are supposed to change the gear oil every four years. To do so, however, you have to remove the whole windlass then turn it upside down to drain it. So, even changing the oil once in 9.5 years, as in my case, the Lofrans continues to work fine. When changing the oil, use a new gasket or “O”-ring under the oil screw plug to keep a good seal against water intrusion. When operating a windlass, be sure to run the electrical charging system to make sure the windlass is getting full amperage.
2) Manson Supreme Anchor
When we sailed away on Brick House for a world voyage, we kept the anchor chain on the CQR 60 pound anchor. On a very windy day in the Bahamas, anchored in 10 feet of water with 100 feet of chain out, the CQR plowed a long farmer’s furrow as it endlessly dragged across a grass bed nearly ending our voyage shortly after it began. Immediately we swapped the chain to our 65 pound Bruce. The Bruce was a big technological advancement over the CQR. Over a 10 year period, the Bruce performed adequately except in three difficult situations, once in soft mud and twice in smooth coral. I always felt an anchor with a more pointy business end would not have slipped its hold in the way the Bruce did and would have given a more secure hold in more common anchoring textures.
Over the years, anchor technology has jumped over our Bruce anchor and we have followed the evolution. I have seen the adverts and touched the new anchor designs displayed on chandlery floors. There are several very good new anchor brands to choose from. We anchor in far more varied conditions than what most anchors are tested in. I feel the Manson Supreme will be a big upgrade to our well used Bruce and should perform far better. However, if an anchor was made in China, I personally would not touch it. Manson anchors are made in New Zealand where we have witnessed the high caliber of yacht related manufacturing.
The one thing on the Manson Supreme I will not be using is the long slot to pull the anchor out of the sea bottom backwards. That is for day anchoring, not for a cruising boat that swings with changing currents or shifting winds.
3) Mack Sails
In Thailand, halfway around the world from our sail maker in Stuart, Florida, we have ordered a new genoa to be made by Mack Sails. Some sailors in the U.S. think in the opposite direction as though it is a good idea to send their money to South East Asia to order a new sail.
In Thailand, we have had experiences with two sail lofts. One was a U.S. branded loft, in Jomtien Beach, Thailand, where we had them replace the light colored sun covering on our six-year-old Mack Sails. This was simple seamstress work. They did a nice job but the total bill was astoundingly exorbitant as though we were in a posh yachting haven of the Mediterranean. This is shocking when one considers the average Thai worker will make around $15 a day, if they are fortunate enough to find a job. It appears sail repair and sail making has taken on world pricing regardless of the local economy. We won’t be using that sail loft again.
Since we are preparing to cross the Indian Ocean and potentially wander into the harsh, adventurous latitudes of deep South America, our attention turned to our mainsail. That sturdy sail was made in Whangarei, New Zealand, by David Parr, at Calibre Sails. The eight year old sail had normal wear and an abused area which prudently needed attention. We took that sail to a very large, well known loft in Phuket, Thailand. When it was repaired and handed back to us, it was disappointing to find new webbing securing the sail slides was minimally stitched, unlike when we handed them the sail to repair. That attachment would not last a storm let alone an ocean crossing. There were other details which left an incomplete job. The loft was more than happy to correct these items but I had to think, what if we were not personally there to spot the defects before rolling it out on the deck of our floating home? What if this was done to a new sail and sent to us in the U.S.? It became apparent that if the workers on the floor, whose hands put the sails together, have little experience sailing a boat, they will not understand the tremendous forces placed on a sail and will have a misguided sense of durability and construction technique. We were finding that to have sails made or repaired in Thailand may not be of the quality and pricing that advertisements suggest.
Googling for feedback on this Thai loft, seasonal coastal cruisers in the U.S. had favorable responses. When I queried our long range cruising friends, the consensus was very negative and that this brand of sail was not suitable for long term, offshore use. And with that, we chose not to follow a false economy but to order a U.S. made Mack Sail, which has proven endurance on Brick House. Our six year old sails, with some maintenance on the sun covers, appear brand new despite years of sitting in the sun, and being used in every kind of weather condition.
Mack uses only the best, most expensive Dacron, Marblehead cloth made by Bob Bainbridge. “These fabrics are the finest, most tightly woven fabrics in the world and rely on the quality of yarn and weave, rather than impregnated resins, to maintain integrity.” To distribute loading more evenly across the fabric on our genoa, and to hold the sail shape for 15 to 20 years, Mack builds their jibs with the more difficult miter panels rather than the easier to sew, long, crosscut panels.
At Mack Sails, all the miter panels are joined using triple zigzag stitches. There are many details that go into a strong Mack sail, like the finished seams along the leech and foot of a sail called tabling. On our Mack Sails, the tablings are two-plied with an extra thickness of wider Dacron tape under the tabling. Leech lines are always centered in the tabling with stitching on either side to prevent the very aft edge of the sail from “cracking.” Additionally, we found darker Sunbrella will last substantially longer than lighter shades so the new sun cover on the genoa will be a dark green color.
All of our Mack Sails, older and new, will certainly be with us in Tierra Del Fuego and far beyond.
4) Reef Cringle Hook
In decades of sailing, I have never seen a reef hook which would properly retain the reef tack cringle while setting in a reef in the mainsail. Too often, I would set the tack cringle in the reef hook and go to hoist the sail only to have the cringle fall off, requiring one hand to hold the cringle in place while hoisting the sail with the other hand and somehow keeping myself from being tossed away from the mast. For an improved reef hook, I removed the barb from an old spear gun head then ground a flat spot on the reef hook so the barb would fit nicely without binding. A stainless rivet holds the barb in place. Why hasn’t someone made this commercially, long ago?
5) March Pump
For nearly 10 years, an 893 series, brushless, March pump, was a water assist to the cooling system of our galley freezer. Another March pump sat idle in case we wanted to lift water to our reverse osmosis watermaker. The March pump is a magnetic drive pump which eliminates the need for a shaft seal and makes them reliable. Besides longevity, another advantage is that a centrifugal pump is far quieter than a diaphragm pump, and uses less electricity. March pumps are incredibly expensive so it was disappointing to have the ceramic magnet on the shaft, a vital part to make the pump work, of both of our March pumps fall apart. It is easy to replace the expensive shafts with attached impeller and magnet but I think I will look for a less expensive option.
I don’t remember how many bent struts we have replaced on our Wheel-a-Weigh retractable dinghy wheels. Coasting onto a beach with a small surf running is enough to slam the wheels against the beach bottom and bend the struts. Also backing off a beach and slamming into a small obstruction will cause the same damage. Being anodized rectangular tube aluminum, they can’t be straightened again as that would make the metal even weaker. Since there is no corresponding size of rectangular tubular stainless steel, we had solid 304 stainless steel struts made. They are considerably heavier than the original aluminum but should end the bent strut problem.
7) Green Laser Marker
In many parts of the world, COLREGS, International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, have no meaning. In Southeast Asia, fishermen have a strange belief that if they pass close by the bow of another moving boat, they can wipe away their bad fishing luck onto the victim vessel. To make navigation even more difficult, at night, local craft throughout Southeast Asia and in other parts of the world burn no recognized navigation lights. And it seems the captains of these boats do not understand the proper navigation lights of a long range cruising sailboat. To help discourage the dangerous practice of crossing close in front of our bow or to grab the attention of a boat which is on a non-yielding collision course with us, we found the best remedy is to shine our extremely high powered, 1,000 milliwatt, green laser marker in the sky above the approaching boat. This laser is far more powerful and has nothing in common with the “laser flares” being marketed for distress signaling. During the day we do not see the beam of our laser but this does not diminish the effectiveness on the receiving end. Four out of four times, the fishing boats intent on crossing close across our bow decided it would be better luck to pass behind us. At night, the beam is an incredibly bright ray that can be seen for many miles. When shining into the sky over a boat closing dangerously near, it is a great relief to hear the engines of that vessel suddenly go to idle. From a street vendor in Indonesia, we paid $40 for the Laser JD-303 but it can cost up to several hundred dollars online. Our laser uses one large 3.7volt rechargeable battery. There are some incredible lasers of 5,000 milliwatts of power that produce an excess abundance of attention grabbing light and, if one cared to start a fire, can quickly get a dark object smoking at very close range.
8) Navionics Charts and Application
We have used both Navionics chart chips, and the Navionics application on our smartphone since we left Rhode Island. Both keep getting better every year. The ‘Boating’ application, which years ago was very basic, now has great functionality. With “Plotter Sync”, part of the Navionics app installed on the smartphone, routes and markers, can be synced to our Raymarine Es128 Chartplotter. We can update the chart chip in the chartplotter, and can upload our own ‘sonar (depth) charts that the chartplotter creates as we sail. Now that this is such a simple process, more and more sailors are uploading data to the system, resulting in a plethora of useful soundings, anchorage information and other such “community edits” for everyone with Navionics to use. We used to have to remove the tiny chart chip from the plotter to do any of this but now its done via a simple Wi-Fi connection between the two devices. Navionics has added accurate tide and weather information for all areas, as well. Between the regular updated Navionics charts and the ‘Sonarcharts’ created by other sailors’ uploads through Plotter Sync, we have an extremely thorough visualization of the depths, routes and anchorages everywhere we go, without the need to really consult any other source Very handy!
Even though we are on the antipode we will not be getting closer to home when we sail to the Indian ocean. Homeward bound will be a long time coming. Till then, we will keep tweaking and updating our floating home to keep it safe.