SAIL - - March 2018 Vol 49, Issue 3 - with Tom Cun­liffe

Hooking up an au­topi­lot to your emer­gency tiller; elec­tri­cal fit­tings—size mat­ters; dump your main­sail early; prac­tice makes perfect when it comes to im­pellers


Here’s a use­ful so­lu­tion to the ques­tion of run­ning a wind­vane self- steer­ing gear with wheel steer­ing. Lead­ing the steer­ing lines di­rectly to a tiller has al­ways seemed a better an­swer than to a drum on the wheel. If you have wheel steer­ing and wish, for these pur­poses, that you had a tiller in­stead, why not dig out the emer­gency tiller and use it as a ded­i­cated self- steer­ing unit? If the tiller’s as good as this one on my Ma­son 44, not only will the gear work better, it will also re­move any wear to the wheel sys­tem, with all its wires and pul­leys, for the length of a long ocean pas­sage. Mak­ing a smaller tiller specif­i­cally for this use could be even better.


I wish I’d had a dol­lar for ev­ery time I’ve cob­bled to­gether an elec­tri­cal fit­ting with a “that’s good enough” shrug. An old ship­wright once taught me that “good enough is not good enough” for boat­build­ing, but I’ve tended to for­get that when it comes to wiring. A typ­i­cal case is where the ring ter­mi­nal on a bat­tery ends up too big for the bolt or stud. Many of us will make do by jam­ming it down with a washer and hope for the best. I learned re­cently what thor­oughly bad news this can be. For a start, if the ring doesn’t fit prop­erly on its bolt, the con­nec­tion will be com­pro­mised. Far worse, though, is that a bad con­nec­tion can gen­er­ate heat—some­times enough to start a fire. No more cob­ble-ups at the bat­tery, thanks very much.


It’s been said with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that gen­tle­men don’t boast about how windy it was, but the shape of my en­sign in the photo will give well-in­formed read­ers a fair idea. They will also note that I’m on a near-dead run. The sea is build­ing and, how­ever care­fully I steer, I’m vul­ner­a­ble to a gybe. Some ac­tion must be taken to defuse the main­sail. Ei­ther a pre­ven­ter is rigged or the sail has to come down. A pre­ven­ter is dandy, but some­one will have to go for­ward to or­ga­nize it and, once rigged, the boat is com­mit­ted to the wind on a par­tic­u­lar side of the stern. By com­par­i­son, “head­sail only” has a lot go­ing for it. The wind must be kept slightly off dead aft so the sail sets sweetly, but gy­bing ceases to be an is­sue. And be­cause the yacht is now ef­fec­tively in front-wheel drive, she is a lot eas­ier to steer too. So bite the bul­let down­wind and dump the main­sail in good time. Look­ing at my en­sign, things are only go­ing to get worse, and they did.


En­gine raw-wa­ter pump im­pellers don’t last for­ever. Even if they are not de­stroyed by run­ning the en­gine dry fol­low­ing a block­age, they still de­te­ri­o­rate with the years. If you’ve never had to change one, try in­stalling the standby part when the boat is safe on her moor­ing, then buy a new spare. You might be sur­prised by what you dis­cover. Some impeller changes re­quire a fresh gas­ket each time. Do you have one? Does your screw­driver fit those ma­chine screws hold­ing the cover plate on? Did you lose a screw in the bilge? It’s so easy to do! If so, can you reach it? Per­haps you should carry a cou­ple of spares? All vi­tal ex­pe­ri­ence when you have to do the job heeled over on a dark night.

It should be pos­si­ble to run wind­vane con­trol lines to your emer­gency tiller in­stead of the wheel

“I re­ally wish I’d dumped the main­sail”

A com­mon sit­u­a­tion. The ca­bles prob­a­bly pre­date the bat­tery: so do their ter­mi­nals mea­sure up ac­cu­rately with the bolts se­cur­ing them?

Learn to love your impeller

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