Rig­ging a Vic­to­ria 26

Nic Comp­ton out­lines the real cost of re­comis­sion­ing a bar­gain boat that had spent six years ly­ing un­used in a barn

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

How much do you re­ally have to spend to ren­o­vate a barn­find project boat?

It’s fair to say we had no idea what we were tak­ing on when we bought our Vic­to­ria 26 in a dusty barn just out­side Bas­ingstoke in March 2018. The boat had been out of the wa­ter for six years and, while I had done my own out-of-the-wa­ter sur­vey, there were cer­tain things that could only be tested once the boat was in the wa­ter. So, af­ter a month’s work sort­ing out the ob­vi­ous cos­metic is­sues and fixing var­i­ous en­gine prob­lems, cour­tesy of Avo­cet Ma­rine in deep­est, dark­est Devon, we flung the re­named Ronja into the wa­ters of the River Dart and hoped for the best.

In the event, it all came to­gether with­out any ma­jor mishaps and we headed down­river to our new moor­ing off Dit­tisham with con­sid­er­able ex­cite­ment.

The 20hp Beta en­gine purred like a con­tented tiger, us­ing only a frac­tion of its po­ten­tial power to push us down­stream. Even our first sail, made more event­ful by un­ex­pect­edly strong winds off Dart­mouth, went rel­a­tively smoothly. It was only in the fol­low­ing weeks, as we worked our way through the boat, that the prob­lems be­gan to emerge. Af­ter all, a boat doesn’t sit un­used for six years with­out devel­op­ing some ail­ments.

The first and most ur­gent prob­lem was the leak­ing heads – which we dis­cov­ered dur­ing our first week­end on board. I as­sured my wife, Anna, it must be the fresh wa­ter in­take leak­ing onto the cabin sole, al­though her sug­ges­tion it was the dirty wa­ter out­let was prob­a­bly nearer the truth. Worse still, when I tried to pump the re­sult­ing wa­ter out of the bilge, the bilge pump leaked too. Con­clu­sion: rub­ber seals per­ish if left out of the wa­ter for too long, so we should have fac­tored in new seals for all the pumps, along with a raw wa­ter im­peller for the en­gine.

It wasn’t a big deal though, and I duly or­dered the ser­vice kits on­line: £50.34 for the RM69 toi­let and £40.74 for the Hen­der­son Mk5 bilge pump. I then spent a day or so on board dis­man­tling both items and fitting the new parts. The bilge

pump worked per­fectly right away, but imag­ine my dis­ap­point­ment when I put the heads back in and it still leaked! The prob­lem turned out to be the out­take pipe which had stiff­ened ei­ther due to age or lack of use – another pos­si­ble ca­su­alty of her time on land. A quick so­lu­tion was to cut the pipe back, stick the end in boil­ing wa­ter to soften it, be­fore shov­ing it back on as best I could and tight­en­ing with a ju­bilee clip.

Even with the out­take fixed, the flush pump still lacked suc­tion, and I even­tu­ally worked out the in­take was leak­ing very slightly too – just enough to lose suc­tion. A few turns of the ju­bilee clip fixed that, but it was clear all the pip­ing would need to be re­placed in due course – an in­ex­pen­sive but fid­dly job.

I next turned my at­ten­tion to the rig. One of the big un­knowns when we bought the boat was the in-mast furl­ing main­sail. Had I done my re­search prop­erly, I’d have found that the Easyreef furl­ing sys­tem and Maxi Roach main­sail retro­fit­ted to the boat in the late 1990s have a de­cid­edly mixed press: peo­ple ei­ther love them or hate them. I had no ex­pe­ri­ence of in-mast furl­ing so went into it a com­plete in­no­cent – or per­haps more like a lamb to slaugh­ter.

In fact, al­though the main­sail had got into a tan­gle a cou­ple of times dur­ing our first brief out­ing, on both oc­ca­sions it was due to user er­ror rather than any in­trin­sic fault of its own – once the loose genoa hal­yard got wrapped up in the sail as it furled and another time a de­funct jam­mer locked with­out me notic­ing. Over the weeks that fol­lowed, that sit­u­a­tion stayed con­sis­tent: used cor­rectly, the in-mast furler worked per­fectly ev­ery time, and any prob­lems were al­ways my fault. The sys­tem was a bit stiff to start with, but

‘One of the big un­knowns when we bought the boat was the in-mast furl­ing main­sail’

even that im­proved the more it was used – or per­haps more ac­cu­rately, the more we got used to it.

The real prob­lems lay with the roller-furl­ing genoa. This had seemed ex­tremely stiff and tem­per­a­men­tal on our first out­ing and af­ter a cou­ple more short sails had seized up al­to­gether. I per­suaded my wife to winch me up the mast us­ing a friend’s tree climb­ing har­ness (we hadn’t got a bo­sun’s chair yet) and dis­cov­ered the de­flec­tor – the block that holds the hal­yard away from the top of the foil – had bro­ken off the mast and was catch­ing on the foil, tan­gling ev­ery­thing up. When we low­ered the sail, I also spot­ted that half the ball bear­ings in the swivel were miss­ing, which ex­plained why it had been stiff in the first place.

Lofty prob­lems

These would have been mi­nor prob­lems to deal with had the mast been down, but hav­ing to climb up and down 30ft while the boat was on a moor­ing turned a quick job into a ma­jor or­deal. Had I tested the rig while the boat was still in the boat­yard, as I’d orig­i­nally planned, life would have been much eas­ier – but then I wouldn’t have learned how to climb a mast on my own. There are only so many times you can ask fam­ily and friends to winch you up a mast, and even­tu­ally some­one lent me their Top­climber Solo sys­tem which was a rev­e­la­tion.

Once I got the hang of it I was shoot­ing up and down the mast in min­utes, feel­ing much more se­cure than I ever have in a bo­sun’s chair. The trick, for me, was to only use the short leg strap, which is the fast ‘gear’, and keep the other leg free to steady my­self against the mast.

Riv­et­ing the de­flec­tor back onto the mast was quickly done – even if I did have to redo it when I de­cided my first at­tempt was too loose – but re­plac­ing the ball bear­ings in the Ro­to­stay swivel was another mat­ter. In the­ory, you just have to loosen the grub screw and the whole thing un­screws and opens in situ and you can pop in the new Del­rin ball bear­ings, eas­ily avail­able from var­i­ous on­line shops. But of course, af­ter 28 years’ use, the stain­less steel grub screw was com­pletely

seized in the alu­minium cas­ing (one rig­ger told me he’d never known one come out in­tact). To make mat­ters worse, the allen key snapped, leav­ing a nasty stub, and I fool­ishly tried to drill that out with a recharge­able hand drill. Big mis­take.

Fickle foil

Even­tu­ally I re­alised I’d have to de­tach the foil (and there­fore the forestay), slide the swivel off and take it to an en­gi­neer to have the grub screw drilled out. That’s eas­ier said than done on your own at a moor­ing, but even­tu­ally I rigged a spare hal­yard as a tem­po­rary forestay, de­tached the forestay at the top of the mast and low­ered the foil down onto the deck – only to dis­cover the swivel wouldn’t slide off the end of the foil! The whole thing is a sealed unit held to­gether by the swage at the top of the forestay, so the only way to get the swivel to a me­chanic was to take the whole foil ashore – all 35ft of it.

By now we were run­ning out of time to have the boat ready for our planned first cruise dur­ing the May half-term. So, rather than wait for the af­ter­noon high tide, I bor­rowed a pad­dle board from my lo­cal boat­ing club and bal­anced the foil be­tween my skiff and the board. The whole con­trap­tion was slightly awk­ward to steer, but I man­aged to get it ashore with­out crash­ing into any­thing. Once ashore, the me­chanic took one look and told me he couldn’t drill the grub screw out be­cause I’d made such a mess of it with the bat­tery drill.

Un­daunted, I con­tacted the lo­cal rig­ger, just a few yards up the road, who hap­pened to have a cou­ple of old Ro­to­stay rollers which he can­ni­balised to make one good one (with stain­less steel bear­ings this time!).

The day be­fore we were due to leave, I found my­self up the mast for the sixth time in as many weeks, fitting the foil back on. While I was at it, I slack­ened the forestay and tight­ened the back­stay, to get rid of a slight for­ward bend in the mast. I also made sure the mast was cen­tred athwartships by count­ing the num­ber of threads show­ing in the shroud bot­tle­screws and mak­ing sure they were the same on each side. By the time I’d fin­ished, the whole set up looked much bet­ter than my first at­tempt, and I spun the roller furl­ing full of hope. It caught on some­thing right away. Look­ing up, I saw the spare hal­yard was catch­ing on the roller furl­ing swivel. I flicked it out of the way be­hind the spreader, and the roller furl­ing

worked per­fectly. Was that the prob­lem all along? We’ll never know, but in any case I wouldn’t have risked a ma­jor sea pas­sage with those miss­ing bear­ings…

We spent the night on board on the Sun­day, and early Mon­day morn­ing mo­tored down to Dart­mouth to fill up with wa­ter, be­fore head­ing off to­wards Sal­combe. In­cred­i­bly, even though Anna and I had been to­gether for 10 years and I’ve sailed thou­sands of miles on dozens of dif­fer­ent boats, this was our first cruise to­gether. I had a feel­ing that if this trip went badly, we might never sail to­gether again, so I’d scru­ti­nised the Met Of­fice web­site to check the weather at half term.

Win­dow of op­por­tu­nity

Sure enough a per­fect ‘win­dow’ ap­peared, show­ing east­erly winds for four days, turn­ing westerly on the Fri­day. Not only that, but the first day was sup­posed to be sunny!

And so we found our­selves drift­ing down­wind in Start Bay with the genoa set – I wasn’t go­ing to risk set­ting the main­sail yet – en­joy­ing the first day of our first cruise as a fam­ily.

This was what I’d hoped for: the kind of sail­ing you al­ways imag­ine but which ac­tu­ally hap­pens all too in­fre­quently. What’s more, even un­der re­duced rig the boat was per­form­ing sur­pris­ingly well, eas­ily over­tak­ing a wooden 24-footer and keep­ing up with a much big­ger boat.

With the cur­rent in our favour, we came in close to Start Point and, as we hit the fa­mous tidal race, un­furled the main­sail to steady the boat. We didn’t risk tak­ing the short cut be­tween the head­land and the rocks, even though the sea looked flat calm there.

Even down­wind, the main­sail added a good knot of speed, so we kept it up for the rest of the pas­sage, even­tu­ally clock­ing up 5.8 knots tack­ing to­wards Sal­combe.

Once there, we picked up a vis­i­tor moor­ing in the main har­bour and, in a bid to keep ev­ery­one happy (not least our long-suf­fer­ing dog), headed straight for a well-earned ice cream and pad­dle on the per­fect sandy beaches of East Portle­mouth. Across the way, Sal­combe was buzzing as only Sal­combe can on a sunny Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day, with a crazy va­ri­ety of boats – quite a change from our sleepy moor­ing on the Dart. And no won­der: we counted 200 in­flat­a­bles and RIBs moored next to the main pon­toon when we went ashore that evening.

The fol­low­ing day was windy and rainy – per­fect for wan­der­ing around Sal­combe and buy­ing some kit from the chan­dlery on Is­land Street – in­clud­ing a swim­ming lad­der, which I spent most of the af­ter­noon in­stalling. We also dis­cov­ered the joys of Sal­combe li­brary: a sin­gle room in the his­toric Cliff House (right next to Sal­combe Yacht Club) with stun­ning views of the har­bour, which is a haven of orderly calm and quiet – fel­low sailors with chil­dren take heed.

It was grey the fol­low­ing day, but the gen­tle east­erly breeze promised an easy sail down the coast to New­ton Fer­rers, so we headed out any­way – first un­der en­gine, then un­der genoa and then, a lit­tle at a time, un­der main­sail too. This busi­ness of let­ting out the main­sail a lit­tle at a time to suit the pre­vail­ing con­di­tions, and the pre­vail­ing crew, would have been un­think­able with a con­ven­tional slabreef­ing main­sail, where vary­ing the sail size is a chore. And of course I could do it all from the com­fort of the cock­pit, which pleased my wife.

‘The gen­tle east­erly breeze promised an easy sail down the coast to New­ton Fer­rers’

Sail ex­per­i­men­ta­tion

Even­tu­ally, we had both sails fully out, and I was able to ex­per­i­ment with chang­ing the shape of the main­sail, eas­ing the out­haul to give it a fuller shape. You can of course do this with a con­ven­tional sail, but it’s likely to re­quire a lot more ef­fort and, if the sail is at­tached to the boom, it won’t be very ef­fec­tive. In prac­tice, I’ve rarely both­ered do­ing this on my pre­vi­ous boats, un­less sail­ing a dinghy, so it was fun to have another toy to play with.

While I was fid­dling with the sails (as is my wont), some­thing far more im­por­tant was hap­pen­ing at the back of the cock­pit. Anna had taken the helm as we headed out of Sal­combe and, as we sailed peace­fully on a broad reach, she set­tled into the boat’s gen­tle rhythm. It wasn’t the idyl­lic sunny sail­ing weather I had hoped for, but there was some­thing supremely rest­ful about sail­ing with a gen­tle breeze on your star­board quar­ter and a big grey sky over­head. Per­haps it helped that we were sail­ing past all our favourite coastal haunts: Hope Cove, South Mil­ton, Thurle­stone, Ban­tham, Big­bury – all those places we usu­ally drove down long wind­ing coun­try roads to get to, sud­denly laid out side by side and plain to see.

“I love be­ing out in na­ture like this,” said Anna. “If sail­ing is like this, I think I like it.”

It was a qui­etly mo­men­tous mo­ment. Fi­nally, af­ter years of me bang­ing on about the joys of sail­ing, Anna was fi­nally ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that plea­sure for her­self. If she’d said she’d won the Lot­tery, she couldn’t have made me hap­pier. Would it last? Only time would tell, but it was cer­tainly an aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning.

Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing the chan­nel into New­ton Fer­rers – a fun chal­lenge on a clear day, though it might be tricky in bad weather – we moored up on the vis­i­tor’s pon­toon, which was empty apart from another cruis­ing yacht which joined us later. It so hap­pened that there were three chil­dren on board that boat, and they had brought all the gad­gets we were miss­ing – in­flat­able ca­noe, pad­dle board, fish­ing lines, etc – so the kids made fast friends and van­ished for the next 24 hours. Who needs an iPad when you’ve got a river to ex­plore?

We had thought of head­ing into Ply­mouth the fol­low­ing day, but when I woke up at 5am know­ing there was 6 hours of east­go­ing tide to come, I de­cided to ‘go with the flow’. I got up, qui­etly slipped the moor­ing lines and mo­tored out of New­ton Fer­rers, with the rest of the fam­ily still fast asleep down be­low. Per­haps on some level I was recre­at­ing the count­less oc­ca­sions my par­ents had done the same thing when I was a child, and re­mem­ber­ing how much I loved snug­gling down in my bunk while the en­gine throbbed re­as­sur­ingly.

What I hadn’t counted on was the thick fog, which com­pletely hid the dan­ger­ous Mew Stone rocks ly­ing off the har­bour en­trance as well as the all-im­por­tant church tower which I needed to give me a safe course out. I was just con­sid­er­ing my op­tions, when the tower ap­peared briefly out of the fog – prov­ing what a good choice of land­mark it was – and I man­aged to get a bear­ing, which con­firmed it was safe to turn south-west

and head out to sea.

Lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity

I mo­tored on my own for the next two hours, see­ing only about 30 yards ahead and, as I fought off the over­whelm­ing feel­ing that we were sail­ing in cir­cles, I was re­minded how the sea can play tricks with the mind (the sub­ject of my most re­cent book, Off the Deep End, as it hap­pens!). It was a re­lief when the fog lifted a lit­tle and Bolt Tail ap­peared off the port bow. By the time the fam­ily fi­nally emerged from their slum­bers, Bolt Head was clearly vis­i­ble to port, al­though Start Point re­mained shrouded in mist un­til we’d nearly passed it. As the sound of the foghorn faded mourn­fully be­hind us, we were treated to one of those sub­lime glassy calm morn­ings, mo­tor­ing home across Start Bay.

I took it as a sign of suc­cess that none of us was des­per­ate to go ashore af­ter we picked up our moor­ing, and we could have hap­pily spent longer on board.

There were still plenty of jobs to be done – as wit­nessed by the fact that our ‘To Do’ list was longer at the end of the cruise than at the be­gin­ning – but we’d found no ma­jor flaws to make us re­gret buy­ing such an un­known and untested boat. Even the de­ci­sion to put her in the wa­ter so quickly was, on bal­ance, a good one, as it brought to light the im­por­tant is­sues in a real and im­me­di­ate way.

The fact we had all en­joyed sail­ing the boat dur­ing a rather rainy week in May was also en­cour­ag­ing – a sunny week in Au­gust should be even bet­ter.

For now, then, we have no re­grets.

LEFT Ap­proach­ing Sal­combe, just be­fore a gust hit and we reached our top speed (so far!) of 5.8 knots

ABOVE Sail­ing out of New­ton Fer­rers – the swim­ming lad­der has been raised since this photo was taken!

This is the life... Nic Comp­ton’s fam­ily have quickly grown to love sail­ing on their Vic­to­ria 26 Ronja

Along­side the vis­i­tors’ pon­toon at New­ton Fer­rers where the kids be­friended the neigh­bour­ing boat

Nic scaled the mast with a tree-climb­ing har­ness to fix seized roller reef­ing

View from the top: Nic at the mast­head

RIGHT Mo­tor­ing out of New­ton Fer­rers on a foggy morn­ing

This is when Anna de­cided she liked sail­ing, on a beam reach off the South Hams...

Sail­ing off New­ton Fer­rers again – try­ing to keep off the sand bank while we took some pic­tures!

Swim­ming lad­der bought in Sal­combe was in­stalled in an af­ter­noon

A good sup­ply of books bor­rowed from Sal­combe Li­brary kept the au­thor’s chil­dren amused

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