Episode 18 Pole, Son of Pole and Twin Poles

This is not a blog about Polish men, its about building a contraption for stepping* the mast safely.

(*Yachtie phrase, meaning getting the mast up)

I had the following criteria

  • It could be operated it single-handedly
  • It could be locked off at any point in lowering or lifting the mast, to allow me to scurry about and untangle things*
  • It could be folded up for storage
  • It was safe
  • It was cheap

(* This is inevitable when you consider the rigging's penchant for turning itself into a pile of knotted spaghetti whenever it is demounted)

Firstly, it is necessary to point out that the masts on trailer-sailers like mine, are designed to be lowered and raised. Mine has a pivot pin on the cabin roof, and is designed to be lowered backwards. Once the pivot pin is removed, the mast can be slid forward for transport-by-road. It seems likely that the designers of such systems believed that the typical boat-owner had a family of 7 ft weightlifters conveniently at hand for all such operations.OK, so that's an exaggeration, but getting the mast up or down is a challenge for me and a mate, and that presumes that I have a mate, and that he or she is available and willing to help.

The answer to my lack of mates, of course, is the mast-stepping contraption. This went through several iterations before I got something to work, which I have called Pole, Son of Pole and Twin Poles.

My first attempt was an early variation of a gin pole, using a long piece of timber. Let's call it Pre-Pole. A gin pole is a pole that is supported at one end and held at ninety degrees to the mast. The pole is supposed to be kept in this position by guide ropes secured on the deck. However, the wood in Pre-Pole split, and the mast collapsed onto the boat. Fortunately, my boat is strongly built, and didn't seem to mind, which surprised me almost as much as the mast falling down onto the stern of the boat.

Pole: 18mm aluminium tube with rubber vee-block foot,
showing buckling in the middle
Many, many months later, I revisited the concept with Pole, an 18mm diameter aluminium tube, 3m long from the giant retail hardware store down the road. By this time, I had my furler, which probably added another 30kg to the mast assembly, bringing it up to maybe 60kg, and the corresponding potential to do much damage if dropped.

Like its ancestor, Pole was a gin-pole, supported in the vertical position by guide-ropes on either side. The foot of Pole comprised a rubber vee-block, which, I had hoped, would grip the base of the mast. I drilled a 38mm hole into the rubber vee block to fit it to the end of Pole. The best way to drill a hole into a rubber block, I found, is with a spade drill, which is remarkably easy. The only hard part was sweeping up umpteen rubber shavings off the floor after the event.

If you're paying attention at this point, you might ask how I got a 40mm pole into a 38mm hole. The answer, of course, is that the hole is in a rubber block. One trick that worked well was to squeeze the rubber block in a vice. Drill the hole, release the vice, and the 38mm hole expands to 40mm. But, why not simply get a 40mm spade drill? Because the giant hardware store down the road didn't have anything bigger than 38mm.

Son of Pole before lowering the mast,
showing the yoke at the bow for the furler
Pole did not split, like its timber ancestor, and showed early promise as Pete (a mate, yes I do occasionally have them) and I gingerly rocked the mast and fuller back on its pivot. We almost declared victory, when we noticed that Pole had bent alarmingly in the middle, so we put everything back before Pole would be overcome by Euler's Buckling Load (something I had learned at University) and drop the mast on our heads.

Seeing that Pole was not beefy enough, I then tried Son of Pole. Son of Pole was a 30mm aluminium tube with 3mm thick walls, acquired from a metal merchant in the suburbs for about $30.

Son of Pole, with gin-pole upright and mast fully down.
Note the guide-ropes either side,
which should have kept Son of Pole upright.
Son of Pole did not bend in the middle, like its predecessor, and I successfully lowered the mast and took the photos shown here. However, when I tried to raise it again, Son of Pole inexplicably lent over to starboard, and the foot nearly detached from the mast. The whole thing threatened to collapse, so I got a shoulder under it. This time I was on my own (Pete had better things to do), and suddenly realised that I was stuck with a teetering mast and nowhere to go. Thankfully, a passer-by saw my predicament, rescued me, and helped me get the mast back up.

Now, I knew two things; the 40mm aluminium tube was beefy enough to avoid buckling, and I needed something to stop the mast slewing over to one side. I decided the most robust approach was an A-Frame, with two poles either side. Enter Twin Poles.

Twin Poles needed another trip to the metal merchant to buy another 40mm aluminium pole plus something to make the feet with. This delayed progress in weekly increments, as the only time I could get to the metal merchant was before 1100 on Saturday Morning, such were my working hours, and the metal merchant's opening hours. The same applied to the bolt shops, as I tried to source metric stainless steel bolts of the correct length, with or without shanks. The giant retail hardware store down the road does stock stainless steel bolts, but only in packs of three, or five, when you want four, and rarely of the right length or diameter.

Twin Poles: Foot assembly on the
starboard side showing ply board
slotted on to the base of a stanchion
and a chain plate, pivot pin assembly and
aluminium pole
I intended the feet of the A frame of Twin Poles to be supported on the deck either side of the cabin. The wider the feet, the more stable the A frame. However, there was nothing on the boat that would provide sufficient support and articulation. A simple rubber foot could slip, or punch through the deck. The first step was to make up a pivot pin for each foot, which is harder than you might think because everything was arranged at every angle except a right angle. I decided to get a couple of short sections of 70mm square aluminium box section from the metal merchant, cut one side off, drill through holes at the right angles and use M10 stainless steel bolts as pivot pins. I used aluminium because it was light, and quite easy to drill, cut and file.

Twin Poles: Yoke Assembly
part way through operation,
showing line through block on
the anchor plate to control the drop and lift
Next, the pivot pin assemblies needed to be secured to the deck. I didn't want permanent fixings, so opted to use some off-cuts of builder's ply. I realised a secure support could be got by using the ply to bridge between a stanchion and chain-plate. This had the added advantage of allowing all the axes of rotation for the mast and A-Frame feet to be positioned roughly in-line. Further, bring the A-frame feet further aft meant a longer lever arm, and a longer lever arm meant less stress, which meant more safety. I found most of this by experimentation, which resulted in my aluminium poles being about 200mm too short. The short-fall was made up by lengthening the plywood yoke. One pole was fixed to the yoke with two bolts, and the other with one to it be rotated to bring the legs together for storage and transport. Also, some rotation was needed because of the inaccuracy of my measuring, cutting and drilling.

Getting the angles right for the pivot pins was difficult. I pre-drilled the holes in the poles, then found corresponding points in the pivot-pin boxes. The pivot-pin boxes were fastened to the ply boards by a single bolt, which allowed some rotation between the pivot-pin boxes and boards. The rotation was needed to allow the boards to be slid into place. Some precision was needed to allow enough wiggle to allow the boards to be mounted and demounted, while getting the yoke to hold the forestay and furler in the right location.

Twin Poles; view from the stern
showing the hauling line passing
round the cabin top winch and
secured on the port jam-cleat
To prevent scratching the furler, I lined the inner faces of the yoke with an off-cut string of neoprene, held in place by some black goo and covered with a duct tape from an off-cast roll. Unfortunately, the furler didn't escape completely unscathed; when Son of Pole dropped the mast, the furler hit the ground and collected a few scratches.

I secured the spinnaker halyard to an eye on the top of the yoke, which was bolted directly to a corresponding eye on the bottom. The hauling line was secured to the bottom eye. I thought that a direct fixing from one eye to the other would be more robust than something that relied on the plywood in the yoke. In the final assembly, the yoke had no bending moments, and the forces were transferred directly between the halyard fixing points, and straight down the axes of the poles. The structural engineering that I did in the early part of my career came in useful here, as I visualised how the forces would be transmitted through the assembly.

Twin Poles: at the start of the drop
The hauling line passed through a block on the anchor chain-plate, went aft to the cabin-top winch and then further aft to a jam-cleat, where I could lock it off at any point. The photos show the furling line exiting the furling drum next to the hauling line. Its there because I didn't take it off, but it was slack and took no loads.

Easing the hauling line allowed the mast to pivot back. This was a nervy moment for me and I jammed the hauling line a couple of times so that I could go forward and check that everything was secure, and to take photos. As in previous attempts, the mast wanted to slew off to starboard, but Twin Poles held firm.

With the mast fully down, the lever arm of the A-Frame became apparent. I had intended to make the lever arm as long as possible to reduce stress, but had it been any longer, I could not have un-hooked the furler, which was now almost 2m above the cabin roof. Having dropped the mast, I took out the mast pin and shifted the mast and furler forward to rest on the bracket on the bow rails. I then made the boat secure on its trailer and hauled it home, where I intended to do more tinkering.

Twin Poles: Mast safely down

Twin Poles: Mast down,
view from bow showing
the A -Frame and hauling
line head-on

Episode 17 Foam, holes and reefs

One of the joys, if you can call it that, of owning an old boat is that after a while, you really get to know it intimately. I began wondering why the feminine pronoun is used on boats, and whether it was because you spend a lot of time trying to wriggle into “her” nether regions, and had to stop because it was getting all too Freudian.

The objects of my latest investigations into the boats innards were two curiosities; one seen and the other unseen. Both of them equally difficult to get to.

The visible curiosity was a brass tap, mounted on the starboard side of the keel box with no obvious connection to anything. I decided to remove it, firstly because by doing so I might discover its otherwise arcane function, and secondly, because I wanted the space for a battery shelf. It took a couple of turns with an oversized adjustable wrench to get it loose, whereupon I found that it was sealed in place by bathroom silicon (the snot of the Devil, according to Chris, an experienced old boat bloke at the marina). Upon removal, it left a hole, and my first thought was that its only purpose was to plug the hole. I then realised, quite rapidly thereafter, that the hole would let water in, if left unplugged. So, I went home, got an offcut of the stainless steel sheet that I had bought for similar hole-covering on the rear transom, and fixed it in place with some stainless steel screws, some Fix190 WT and some swearing when I realised I had made the half hour trip to the boat without my power drill. The Fix190 WT was a recommendation from the boat shop as a replacement for SikaFlex, because my tube of the latter had set solid, and the former would keep better until applied. It still made a black gooey mess.

Having sealed the hole formerly filled by the brass tap, I returned to musing why it was there in the first place. I think it was some kind of sea cock, possibly an outlet to a bilge pump or a galley sink, but the connecting hose had long since disappeared. The boat has another bilge pump under the cockpit, which has the outlet connected to the cockpit drain on the starboard side. Thanks to what I can only speculate is poor design or build, the inlet hose to the bilge pump terminates behind an enclosed compartment under the companionway, so that it does not reach to the lowest point on the inside of the boat, also known as the bilge. I had a not-quite-bilge pump, which would be not-quite-useful at extracting water, if called upon to fulfil its function. To reach the bilge, I would have to make a hole in the enclosed compartment, and pull the inlet hose through and then pass it under the cabin floorboards.

Which brings me to the invisible curiosity. What was there, inside the enclosed compartment? My current guess is that it is either air, or buoyancy foam. Hopefully the latter and, hopefully, not degraded or waterlogged. The reason is that the sales brochures of the time speak of foam buoyancy to make the boat unsinkable. Tentatively, I drilled a small hole in the bulkhead (with my new Makita 18V battery drill), and was relieved to find that no water came out. If there had been water in there, it might have been fermenting there for the past 30 years. So, the compartment has either air or foam. I then filled the small exploratory hole with black goo to keep the air in, in case I would need it in the event of filling the rest of the boat with water.

I think I will need to dig a hole through the foam, if it exists, to connect the inlet hose to the bilge pump to the bilge and so make it not-quite-useless. To compensate, I am considering filling the remainder of the airspace below the cockpit with plastic ball-pit play balls ($8 per 100), kept secure in a ball-net. Expanded polystyrene, or builder’s foam seems too fixed and messy, and will not allow the kind of air circulation needed to allow the boats innards to dry out.

Having taken out the brass sea-cock, I made up a shelf for the battery, so that it is nicely tucked up, out of the way, and the connecting wires no longer dangle through the water in the bilge.

Finally, I took her/it out for a sail on Sunday afternoon for a race, sailed poorly and recorded a DNF. I think it was because I put up too much sail, and by the time I had figured it out, all the other boats had got past me. So, I retired and shortened the course.

There is a life-lesson in greed here - try to grab too much, and it will actually slow you down. The aerodynamics are interesting, and I’m still trying to understand out how they work. It’s counterintuitive; you’d think that more sail equals more force, and hence more speed, but it works the other way around. I think you need to think of it in three dimensions - an overpowered sail will heel the boat, so that the resultant force vector is pointing down into the sea, rather than forward. It also pushes the boat to leeward more, so you can’t point (sail towards the wind) at such an acute angle. In any case, once I had reefed the foresail (reduced the sail area), my speed through the water increased from about 4.5 knots to 6.0, I was able to point the boat further into wind, and the boat became much easier to handle. The difference was remarkable. I am now converted to reefing, and will probably overdo it until I work out what the best settings are for different conditions.

The good news was that my new foresail furler worked well and, on returning to shore, I found almost no water in the bilges, meaning that my contraptions for stopping leaks around the keel pin were working well. Also, no water was coming through the hole where the brass sea-cock had been. Small successes, indeed.
The electrics inherited from the previous owner. Although they looked messy, they actually worked. No trunking, and wire  glued to the cabin walls with white bog. The old stop cock is hiding behind the big, black lead-acid battery on the cabin floor.
Old battery removed, old stop cock on side of keelbox under companionway. Cables replaced in trunking, except for cables under floor to new battery in new location, with red and black insulation tape at joins.

Stop cock hole sealed over with stainless steel plate.
New battery shelf. Cables now routed through trunking. Battery replaced with small, sealed red and white unit.

Episode 16 Success and other dangers

We don’t do enough to promote the fear of success.

Probably, its because we’ve decided that the only fear worth fostering is the fear of failure. Even that is misleading because it is really a fear of looking a goose in front of persons more competent, and more superior, than oneself. Technically, it relates to peer pressure, which is a lamentably underrated virtue. For instance, my fear of looking a goose in front of other drivers (peer pressure) keeps me alert to driving on the right (left) side of the road, which, in turn, has probably saved many lives. I have decided there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to blend in, though one should be discerning about what one should blend in with.

The fear of the fear of failure is one of those things that I’d like to feed into my politically incorrect two-stoke tree mulcher, together with other post-modern sacred cows, like the Disneyesque notion of following your heart. 

There is another danger out there that awaits the unwary failure-averse among us - Success. Particularly in a competitive environment such as a boat race.

What could possibly be wrong with winning, I hear you say. I’m glad you ask the question, so let me explain.

[At this point, Martin puts on his most sincere voice, knowing that if he can fake sincerity, he can fake anything. He’s been watching the politicians on TV, and reckons that if they can do it, so can he.]

The problem is that when you succeed, you’ll want to go back and succeed again. Call it confirmation bias, if you like, or even the Gambler’s Fallacy.

I got a whiff of this, when I finally got the boat out with its new rigging and sails for a Sunday Afternoon Race Around Green Island. I had cajoled a mate, Maurice, to crew for me, and together we set off into the unknown, not knowing how the new old tub would react.

I am happy to report that the boat did, indeed, sail better. Noticeably. Which is reassuring after my recent investment in her. She took on a solid heel of about 10 to 15 degrees, occasionally bowing over to 30 degrees in the gusts, but never panicking. Two hundred and twenty kilograms of cast steel slung below the boat in the keel made sure of that. And she slid along nicely at about 4.5 to 6.0 knots, which is about half a knot or so faster than before. Importantly, she pointed quite nicely with an angle of about 50 to 60 degrees off the wind, up from about 70 to 80 with the old, blown out jib. What these numbers mean, is that we managed to work our way upwind and almost made the first mark off Green Island before being overtaken by the first of the boats in the pursuit race behind us.

The experience of getting overtaken was to be repeated many times before reaching the finishing line, but not comprehensively so. We started at the front (being the slowest boat in the race) and finished about twelfth from first and fifth from last. Which means there were still some boats behind us, allowing us some gloating rights. That’s not bad.

We also saw a Green Turtle and scared an Osprey, with its fishy lunch, off a navigation post, as we brushed past. I had instructed Maurice, on the helm, to get as close as he could to the markers without entangling the rigging in them, and he did a remarkably good job of it.

Puffed up with this modest success, my mind then started to calculate how to get the boat even faster. I’d need a new Mainsail ($900), a better bracket to pull the outboard right out of the water ($150 to $300), a bespoke mechanism to fill the keel slot when the keel was down ($500 ?), shiny go-faster paint ($5000), carbon sails ($ eeek!), a new boat, with foils, and so on. When you add up the dollars, you wonder if you’d be better off with a less expensive addiction, say illegal drugs or funding a private war in central Africa. All this because I had almost succeeded at something, and needed to clamber towards turning the "almost" into an "actual".

And so, we need to fear success, or at least hold a healthy respect for it, in the same way that we should fear failure. You never know what it will drive you to.

No that I’ve got that off my chest, I need to plot a way to get past that 11th-placed boat. And after him …

New Furler and Foresail, but getting overhauled in the last leg
Course recording from iSailor

Episode 15 Curses and other discretions

Today, the planets aligned, or so I thought. My boat was finally ready for a sail - the new standing rigging was on, the new foresail was wrapped neatly around the furler, and I’d even checked for leaks the previous weekend to find none.

 But, the winds were a little too fresh. A sustained gust at the hardstand, just as I was about to hook up the trailer in the morning, persuaded me to go home and wait another week.

My current sweet spot for windspeed is about 5 to 15 knots. I’d go out in less than 5 knots, but I’ll be prepared for lots of idling around with the possibility of pushing against the tide with the motor. I’d also go out in winds a little fresher than 15 knots, but not without some assistance from a deck-hand, and not with the new, but untried, wardrobe that now dresses the big pole in the middle.

Being short-handed (a sailing term meaning that you haven’t organised a mate to help out), I regarded the forecast of 15 knots, strengthening too 25 in the afternoon, as borderline and, possibly, delusional. I would either launch the boat and curse myself when things got exciting, or go home and curse the weather. I opted for the latter, which was galling, because high tide was in the middle of the day and the recent rain had subsided to possible showers. The former was nice for launching and retrieving, and the latter, tolerable with a chance to dry off.

It has been while since my previous posts, and the reason is that the boat has been laid up since the end of October. 3 months! Since hypothesising that the boat’s wire luff on the foresail made it sail like a garden tub tied to a plastic bag flapping about in the wind, I elected to change the standing rigging. The turnbuckles on the old wire rigging had no adjustment left in them, so all the tensions and angles on the mast were wrong, like a badly tuned guitar with a warped neck. Following a recommendation from Ullman Sails, I got Rope Solutions to replace the rigging. Replacing the rigging also required replacing the foresail. The new rigging, with fully adjustable turnbuckles cost about $3,100 including GST, a Furlex 50s Furler, and labour to tune it all.

A couple of things to note here;

  1. Don’t try to get things done before Christmas. If you’ve ever followed the program “Grand Designs”, you’ll know that aiming to get things done before Christmas is a guaranteed way of getting things done before the follow Easter. Fortunately, my delay was only a few weeks, rather than the nine months and several hundreds of thousands of pounds that follows most “Before Christmas” projects on Grand Designs as surely as night follows day 
  2. Your rigger will demur on lowering and raising the mast, possibly, because he knows how easy it is to damage stuff, and legitimately, because he can save you labour costs. This means you’d need a mate to help out, unless you’ve become adept at doing it yourself. I’m not adept, which incurred further delays as I hunted around for an available mate who didn’t mind loosing a couple of hours over the weekend. So, thank you Ryan (down) and Pete (up). I also managed to bend one of the turnbuckle screws (add $20), which shows how easy it is for inexperts like myself to damage stuff, even with willing, but inexperienced help. 

Then, the new foresail. The old ones would no longer work, and they were blown out anyway. The sail-maker needed the final dimensions on the rigging after the mast was up again, which is fair enough, but added another couple of weeks to the project. The foresail measures about 12.6 m2 (a tad larger than the old Genoa, at 12.4m2) and cost about $1100, with a UV strip. Because of the Furlex Furler, I am advised that I only need one foresail, and can furl it in or out, depending on conditions, so I don’t need a separate, smaller jib.

Foresails, incidentally, have their own language. A jib is a foresail that does not extend to the mast, but a Genoa does. Storm Jibs are even smaller and are usually used for stability rather than forward motion in a storm (hence the name). To clarify, or perhaps to obfuscate in a profusion of words, these are often referred to as Number 1, Number 2, Number 3. A Number 1 typically has a 150% overlap, which I find misleading because only 33% of it actually extends past the mast and overlaps the main. A Number 2 has 130% to 140% overlap and a Number 3 has a 98% overlap, meaning none, and is, actually, a Jib. To simplify, Number 1 equals big (or Genoa), Number 2 equals middle, and Number 3 equals small (or Jib), followed by Numbers 4 and 5 (or Storm Jibs). These terms are important for racers, but now that I’ve only got the one sail, I’m likely to allow them to fall into disrepair in my lexicon and never refer to them again. From now on, its just “The Foresail”, but I may lapse into “Jib”, or “Genoa”, or even “Jenny”, or “that big white flappy thing at the front”.

So, I would like to report that 3 months and $4,200 have yielded a boat that sails nicely, and that I can sing the praises of Ullman Sails and Rope Solutions. But, alas! And by no fault of either of these fine establishments.

Still, part of the art is knowing your limitations, and today’s winds were just beyond mine.

On the plus side, I got to see my daughter as she, literally, flew through between her friend’s wedding in Adelaide and a job placement in Noosa. She felt a little fragile after being subject to a torrent of free Champagne and Red Wine the previous night, and I, in response, did my best to kerb the boisterous teasing that such a state prompts in older Dads. As Mr Bennett muses in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”. My cynicism has not yet plumbed the depths of Mr Bennet’s, in part, because I am cynical of it, and partly because it doesn’t actually yield anything good. It frustrates the simple enjoyment of the good in life, even sailing (gasp!). Cynicism, I have decided, is not the answer, and is its own dour dogma that is as truculent as any religion. Not sailing on this Sunday morning also afforded me the opportunity to meet the new Priest-in-Charge at our church, who seems a good bloke, and I genuinely enjoy going to our church anyway. I’m not afraid of dogma, but I think you have to choose the right one.

 That cursed wind had its compensations, but I’m hoping for better weather next weekend.

Checking for leaks the previous weekend - none found

Episode 14 - Weights and Measures - Austral 20 Mark 2

I trust the following data will assist anyone who is considering buying a trailer sailer, but might not be sure of how big and heavy it might be, particularly with respect to whether it can be towed by the family car and parked in the driveway at home.
The following have been copied from the Australian Trailable Yacht and Sports Boat Rule (which provides an indication of how fast the boat is) and the Austral 20 Brochures in John Crawford's Library
Dimension Value
Class based handicap (CBH) 0.650
Length overall (LOA) 6.09m
Beam 2.38m
Max draft 1.52m
Min draft 0.30m
Advertised displacement (compare displacement below) 862kg
Jib 8.36m2
Main 8.73m2
Genoa 14.50m2
Spinnaker 33.45m2
Advertised price 1977, boat $6737
Advertised price 1977, trailer $645
The following have been measured from my boat. The numbers for my boat may differ from yours. I've published these numbers in good faith, and accept no responsibility for what you may use them for.
Part Item Weight (kg) Notes
Trailer Wheel and tyre 21 Two per trailer
Trailer Tow-away trailer and frame 376 Kessner single axle tilt trailer. Weighed on weigh bridge 22-06-2017
Boat Keel 211 Cast steel keel. Major dimensions = 1620 x 455 x 37mm.
Boat Mast 31 Major dimension = 7710mm
Boat Mast spreaders Included in mast Major dimension = 680mm
Boat House battery 9 Small battery 27AH
Boat Rudder 9 Fibre-glass construction
Boat Tiller 1 Solid timber
Boat Bow anchor 6 Danforth galvanised steel
Boat Bow anchor chain and rode 7 Galvanised steel chain and nylon rode
Boat Stern anchor 2 Galvanised steel grappling anchor
Boat Outboard motor 29 Yamaha 6HP 2 stroke long leg
Boat Bow mast holder 2 Pine timber
Boat Stern mast holder 2 Pine timber, galvanised steel and roller
Boat Genoa 2 Wire luff
Boat Jib 1 Dacron with wire luff
Boat Spinnaker and bag 1
Boat Storm jib 1
Boat Mainsail and boom 10 Boom length = 2400mm. Roller reef and slab reef
Boat Spinnaker pole 1 Aluminium tube
Boat Fenders x 4 3
Boat Floor boards 14
Boat Interior cushions 18
Boat Big fuel bowser 15 Including petrol. Connected to outboard
Boat Small fuel bowser 5 Including petrol. 10 litre backup
Boat Timber step ad builder's tub 11 Normally left at home for engine flushing
Boat Lifejackets x 4 3
Boat Mast support post 4
Boat Tools and first aid kit 4
Boat Miscellaneous ropes and lines 7
Boat Grab box 2
Boat Fire extinguisher 1
Boat Tie-down strap 1
Boat Hull and all fixtures 683 Every 'boat' item not included above. Estimated from balance of weights
Boat Displacement (Sail-away weight) 1095 Estimated from balance of weights
Total Trailer and boat tow-away weight 1471 Weighed on weigh bridge 02-01-2018
According to the numbers, the boat appears to have taken on weight from its youth in 1977 to middle age in the present day, increasing its displacement by 233kg from 862kg (as advertised) to 1095kg. Who said that boats were not like their owners?

Episode 13 Other Boat Syndrome - Pathology and Treatment

I confess to succumbing to one of life's most pernicious pathologies - Other Boat Syndrome (OBS).

It must have had a rapid onset, occurring within a few weeks of acquiring my boat, brought on, possibly by a short episode of Buyers' Regret. Having made the diagnosis, I have come to terms with a long period of rehabilitation, which comprises a mix of Shock Therapy and a reformation of mind-habit.

OBS is not unlike BBS (Bigger Boat Syndrome); its lusts are quantifiably smaller, but the outcomes are the same. If you find yourself experiencing the following symptoms, you probably need help (the only prerequisite is that you already own a boat);

  • You spend a disproportionally large amount of your on-line time browsing boat ads, or you actively contribute to forums that facilitate on-line boat-hunting.
  • You find yourself drifting around the local boat club sizing your neighbours' boats, at every opportunity, especially during the time you should be sailing your own boat
  • You can name the price, weight, rigging configuration and cabin layout of any boat in the same class as yours without any conscious effort
  • You think your boat is the worst example in its class. Though this point might actually be true, you have already convinced yourself that the only course of action is to replace it (just as soon as your Admiral/Lord of the Treasury/Family Financier will grant you the funds)

If this is you, then I have good news. It doesn't have to be this way.

The Shock Therapy is both necessary and counter-intuitive. The necessary part requires you to part with your the Admiral's hard-earned as you fix up all the dreadful problems with your boat. For me, these mostly concerned the trailer, but when the hours are tallied up, fixing the keel proved just as expensive. Then, there was is the re-wiring and the countless small fix-ups and tinkerings. The counter-intuitive part is that these, or shocks of a similar magnitude, will probably be just as necessary in the Other Boat that you've been hankering after.

Breathe out and allow yourself to think that the Other Boat will be just the same old, slow, leaky tub as yours.

The reformation of mind-habit follows on. If the Other Boat is another slow, leaky, tub, do you really want to go through that agonising process of finding its problems, all over again? At least, with your current boat, you can say that you know where its problems lie.

I write this having taken my old, slow, leaky tub out into Moreton Bay for a race on Sunday. It performed surprisingly badly. I could not get it to point (head upwind) or maintain any speed. The winds were quite fresh (the hindcast reported 10-12 knots, but they felt more like 15) and every time a gust came through, the boat would heel (lean) over to about 40 degrees, promptly round up (stick its nose into the wind) despite my (heroic, or so I thought) efforts on the tiller. Then, it would stall and I would have to bear away and pick up speed again, only for the boat to heel, round up and stall again. I found that letting the mainsheet traveller down to leeward and bringin in the the mainsheet a little helped, because it changed the sheeting angle (the angle the sheet makes with the sail) to a more vertical setting, thus flattening the sail a little. But, there is only so much you can do with a blown-out, baggy sail.

Try as I might, I could not make the upwind leg of the course. In my defence, I was sailing against a rising tide, but the rest of the fleet managed it well enough. My tacking angle (the nearest I could sail to windward) had increased to something like 80 degrees, which made for lots of sailing east and west and hardly any progress north. The highest speed registered on my (almost dead) fish-finder was about 4 knots, which is probably an under-estimate, and well below the boat's hull speed (its design, or optimum speed) of 6 knots.

You have my permission to gasp in derision at these paltry figures. I had to turn around as the fleet passed me on the return leg, and limp back to port behind them. Which took a while because I was much slower than my handicap, even on a reach (which should be the fastest the boat will sail).

However, there were a few positives to take from this.

Firstly, I had confirmed that my the leak in my leaky keel bolt had almost gone. The boat took on less than half a litre of water over five hours in the water, and I could probably reduce the leak further by tightening the nut. (As described in Episode 12, the bolt is not bonded to the epoxy that now encases it in the keelbox, so a bit of tightening will probably do the trick, plus another dollop of Sikaflex, if necessary.)

Secondly, I had met with a Sailmaker the day before, with the intent of replacing my sails and standing rigging. I'll report on this further as the situation develops, but my boat's performance on the bay was typical of old, blown out sails. That is not surprising, because the youngest sail is my main (2007), but it is showing a pronounced fold at the front edge of its battens, and my foresails (especially the rust-marked old jib that I had up on Sunday) are goodness-knows-how-old. Add to that, I have a wire luff and profoundly soft standing rigging. There is no adjustment left in the standing rigging or, not enough to get it guitar-string tight, so it probably needs to go, too. My boat is in need of an overhaul above-decks, and that is why I called the Sailmaker. The condition laid on the approval of funds by the Admiral was that the leaky keel bolt had been fixed, and in that respect, my Sunday outing proved to be a success.

This latest episode in the long saga of throwing-money-into-a-hole-in-the-water gave me pause to think about my OBS. I believe it has helped me come to terms with it, which should content my soul a little more, and test the Admiral's patience a little less.

Upon reflection, I have come to the realisation that most boat ads focus on the obvious - the size of the boat, the number of people it can sleep (if you don't mind sleeping in a ménage à trois à plus) and how nice the paint looks.

Few, if any, ads speak about the state of the sails and the standing rigging. The standing rigging on trailer sailers takes some remarkable abuse because it is regularly dismounted and re-erected, with plenty of scope to get it out of tune, and to wear out the adjusting threads and nuts. The sails, likewise, have to suffer all sorts of inexpert flaking, unrolling and general neglect. Given that the state of the rigging and sails is the biggest factor in how well, or badly, the boat sails, a little inexperience on your part could leave you vulnerable to a prolonged bout of OBS upon the purchase of your first boat.

Where this might help mitigate your OBS is the realisation that boat ads usually demur from sails and rigging for a reason. The spacious-looking, shiny boat that you've feasted your eyes on might actually handle like a bucket of lard because of the state of things above-deck, and the owner is hardly likely to broadcast the fact.

On the other hand, you could get it for a knock-down price and spend the money you've saved on a new wardrobe for your new boat.

Oops, my OBS just kicked in again.

Episode 12 Drips

There are two reasons why this blog has slowed somewhat of late. The first is that I am now gainfully employed, thus reversing the time/money balance that I had when I started it. The second is that it has taken some time to remove a drip.

Regarding the former, I am pleased to report that I am enjoying my new work immensely. It is a happy workplace, and I say that with no irony or sarcasm.

If you are the type that whiles away your hours attending work culture seminars and inventing ever more inclusive code-of-conduct documents or wall-slogans proclaiming company values, you may take offence at my elaboration, which is precisely why you should read on. On one Friday afternoon, not so long ago, my boss decided that it would be a good idea to celebrate another colleague's ethnicity by Walking Like an Egyptian to the song of the same name by the Bangles. Unlike the band, he had not the hair and unexpanded mid-riff, but gave it a decent tilt. I was celebrating my first win (a $50K flood study for a town in regional NSW, thank you very much) with a glass of unsullied Talisker Single Malt at my desk, and asked my Egyptian colleague, as both the object of the boss's exertions and in his capacity of being a leading light in the company's cultural committee, what he thought. His reply, "Go f*** yourselves, I'm off for the weekend", was well received by all, including my boss. Now, I'm sure that the Politically Correct Thought Police would consider this a scenario worthy of its most serious attention but, as I mused into my deliciously aromatic whisky glass whilst pausing between emails, context is everything. In any case, I believe that the Politically Correct Thought Police are probably more worthy recipients of my colleague's admonition than I.

The latter is another episode in the seemingly never-ending saga of my recalcitrant keel.

As readers of this blog might well know, my keel swings on an M20 stainless steel bolt or keel pin. The bolt passes through both sides of the keel box, which sandwich the keel in between. The keel comprises about 210 kg cast steel, and exerts considerable forces on the keel pin, especially when it is levered up into position for retrieving the boat (replacing it) onto its trailer. The keel and pin were up the task, but the holes in the sides of the keel box were not. That was probably because they were simply drilled through the timber keelson beams either side of the keel box, and thirty five years of heavy wobbling had worn the holes into ovals, which then leaked.

I had thought that I only needed to inject copious quantities of Sikaflex (which starts out as a sticky goo, and sets into a rubbery solid) into the bolt-holes to seal them. At the end of my last day-sail, the bucketful of water I bailed out from the bilges proved me wrong. The day sail was, in fact a Sunday afternoon race around Green Island. I started well before everyone else, and finished well after them, but the miracles of handicapping awarded me a bottle of wine for third place, which compensated my mood greatly after mopping out my very soggy bilge.

Having taken sage advice (from an experienced bloke with another old trailer-sailer), I decided on a proper fix for the dripping keel pin bolt-holes. This comprised taking out the keel pin, coring out the timber around the old bolt holes, placing pre-drilled stainless steel plates over the holes, replacing the pin, filling the void with epoxy resin, and sealing it all up again.

The stainless steel plates took a couple of weeks to fix up, mainly because I asked a colleague to cut the sheet and drill the 20mm holes as a favour (i.e. unpaid). The stainless sheet itself came from Bunnings, but I was reluctant to get an expensive 20mm cobalt drill bit to drill the two holes needed in it. Because it was a favour, the plates took over a week to come back to me, but they were properly cut and drilled.

Back to the boat, I found that a 40mm core drill did a good job of getting through the GRP outer layer and removing the timber from the keelsons. Some of the timber came away as black crumbs, which was not a good thing, so I kept removing it until I got to some competent timber. After trying various methods for cleaning out the hole, I found that a small diameter wire brush on my power drill did a good job, especially in removing the black, crumby wood. I did the starboard side first, allowed it to set, and then did the port side second.

I also didn't want to bond the keel pin to the epoxy, because, at some point, I would have to remove it again. I needed a tight fit, and decided on wrapping the bolt with parcel tape, sticky side out, because it was thin and impervious. This proved to be tricky because the length of bolt shaft available for parcel-taping was only marginally wider than my fingers, and because of the tape's penchant for picking up all the loose bits of dirt it could find in the vicinity.

Finally, I drilled two 12mm diameter holes vertically through the keelson beams through which I could pour the epoxy resin.

A quick note on the epoxy resin; though it was viscous, it had no surface tension. In layman's terms this meant that it oozed slowly, but easily worked its way into the tiniest holes and cracks. Though this is a good thing for filling all the voids it could find in the timber keelson beams, it also meant that it oozed through the masking/painter's tape I'd stuck around the steel plates to try to keep the epoxy in the cast. I even got some drips in between the keel box and keel, which I only discovered later in the form of a small puddle atop one of the members of the trailer. My 12mm vertical holes proved their worth in supplying a reservoir that kept the cast topped up as some of the liquid epoxy escaped from the sides and bottom.

After leaving the boat a week, I returned, cleaned up the tape and escapee epoxy and launched the boat. Thankfully, the big drip had been reduced to the tiniest smidgen, which I then fixed up by stuffing the head and nut of the keel pin bolt with liquid Sikaflex before tightening the bolt for one last time, or so I hoped.

I took advantage of the boat being off the trailer by replacing the bunks. The old bunks had come with the trailer, and were cut in a semi circle, but they didn't fit well, which meant that the weight was concentrated on one of the ends. I cut my new bunks to cradle the hull and allow the boat to slip off the back during the launch. Better cradling meant less stress on points of the hull if and when I finally got to transport the trailer sailer some distance by road.

The new bunks were made from one 40*190 treated pine beam, topped off with teflon strips. I got the bunks in place, but decided against drilling the 12mm holes to fix them because the rain and my chorded power drill made for quite a hazardous combination at the open boat yard where I was working.

Austral 20 keel pin renewal, showing new stainless steel plate starboard side. The Sikaflex is just visible as the black goo around the washer

Austral 20 keel pin renewal, showing new stainless steel plate on port side. The Sikaflex is just visible as the black goo around the washer. Also the 12mm filling hole is just visible in the keelson beam vertically above the keelpin bolt.

Austral 20 trailer showing new bunk on port side (front of boat to left)

Episode 18 Pole, Son of Pole and Twin Poles

This is not a blog about Polish men, its about building a contraption for stepping* the mast safely. (*Yachtie phrase, meaning getting the...