The Cover-Up

It’s the things you don’t check that’ll get you, as An­nie Dike found when her boat’s rud­der post came loose

SAIL - - Boat Works / Upgrades - Roger Hughes comes up with a nifty mod­i­fi­ca­tion to help him cover up his dinghy

The rig­ma­role of stretch­ing a cover over a dinghy in choppy wa­ter prior to hoist­ing it on davits can be­come a very wet busi­ness if you’re not care­ful. Lean­ing right over ei­ther end, try­ing to stretch a cover over the bow and stern pods can quite eas­ily re­sult in a head-first dip in the drink. Be­lieve me, I know from ex­pe­ri­ence.

My schooner’s dinghy is a 10ft RIB, so at least it has a solid floor to scram­ble about in. Soft bot­toms are not as sta­ble, so the chance of slip­ping over­board is greater.

To fit the dinghy cover I first had to lean per­ilously over the stern to fit it over each rear pod. This was a com­par­a­tively easy op­er­a­tion com­pared to the bow, be­cause the cover was loose. Even then, just one rogue wake from a pass­ing mo­tor­boat—it’s al­ways a pass­ing mo­tor­boat, isn’t it—and I had to hold on for dear life to pre­vent my­self slip­ping head­first over the stern.

I would then ma­neu­ver the cover to the bow, keep­ing ten­sion on it to pre­vent it wash­ing off the stern pods and I would have to start all over again. The cover then had to be stretched over the bow by lean­ing right over to hook it as far un­der­neath as pos­si­ble. The prob­lem all the time was that I was get­ting in the way of the cover my­self. With the cover fi­nally hooked over both ends I then had to grab the hoist­ing lines hang­ing from the davits and pass them through the front and rear grom­met holes in the cover and hook them to the wire strops on the dinghy.

I then had to scram­ble out from un­der the cover to climb up the stern board­ing lad­der. If the wa­ter was choppy this op­er­a­tion was ex­haust­ing, and ev­ery time I per­formed this balanc­ing act, and es­pe­cially af­ter fall­ing in—twice—I swore there had to be a bet­ter way. At least it was then an ef­fort­less job to hoist the dinghy to the top of the davits using my home-made elec­tric winch, which pulled it up in about 20 sec­onds.

I con­sid­ered cut­ting the cover in half to make sep­a­rate bow and stern sec­tions, then zip­ping them to­gether when both ends were in po­si­tion. But try­ing to at­tach two halves of a zip is dif­fi­cult enough on land for my old hands, never mind in a lurch­ing dinghy with wet fin­gers. Still, think­ing about zips set me on the right path.

I had our lo­cal can­vas man sew two zips 4ft 6in inches apart from one side of the cover to

the mid­dle, which gave me a siz­able “flap” in the mid­dle of the cover.

With the flap open the cover eas­ily stretches on both ends of the dinghy be­cause I’m no longer in the way, and I can sit com­fort­ably on the seat to ef­fort­lessly con­nect the davit hoists. I can then eas­ily climb up the stern lad­der and hoist the dinghy. It is then a sim­ple mat­ter of sim­ply zip­ping up the flap—job done!

As an ad­di­tional thought, I had small loops fit­ted on the ends of the zips and on the other side of the cover. I also tied lengths of thin blue cord to the out­board loops, so when the dinghy is on the davits I can hook the dan­gling cords with a boat-hook and thread the ends thought the loops in the zip. Pulling the cords tight holds both sides down and stops the mid­dle of the cover from blow­ing about in a wind.

When we need to stow fend­ers or mooring lines in the dinghy, it is also now an easy mat­ter to just un­zip the flap, stuff all the fend­ers in, then zip it up again.

This is a mar­velous mod­i­fi­ca­tion, well worth the $75 I paid to have two zips fit­ted to the cover.

Fi­nally, look­ing at the pic­tures ac­com­pa­ny­ing this ar­ti­cle, you may think, “Why has he got a flap on both sides of the cover?” This is a fair ob­ser­va­tion, and the an­swer is: be­cause the can­vas man stitched the first set of zips on the wrong side of the cover, so I took it back and him do it again. I there­fore got two flaps for the price of one!

That said, I have never used the out­board flap, although I sup­pose when the plas­tic zips even­tu­ally per­ish in the hot Florida sun, as they surely will, I can just turn the dinghy round and use the other flap. Af­ter all, on boats it’s al­ways good to have a backup, isn’t it? s

Can you list the things you never want to see on a boat? A fire, per­haps? Win­dows shat­ter­ing from light­ning, wa­ter spew­ing from…any­where? I can now add one more to my list: move­ment in the rud­der post. On Day 3 of a five-day pas­sage from Pen­sacola, Florida, to Cuba on our 1985 Ni­a­gara 35, my part­ner, Phillip, and I dis­cov­ered our rud­der post was mov­ing athwartships— about a half-inch to port and star­board as the boat ca­reened across the Gulf. Why? How? You might be ask­ing. Be­cause our boat was not ad­e­quately built up at this high-pres­sure point. Did we know this be­fore we shoved off ? Sort of. It turned out to be a com­bi­na­tion of a poor de­sign, some hid­den sloppy work (a “Fri­day af­ter­noon job”) and a lit­tle ir­re­spon­si­ble boat own­er­ship on our part that forced us to haulout, drop the rud­der and in­stall some re­in­force­ment.

Why do we some­times put off these im- por­tant jobs? Be­fore head­ing off­shore you check the rig­ging, the sails, even the keel if you’re hauled out. Still, we some­times think to our­selves: “I should re­ally re­build that furl­ing drum” or “Maybe I should check that rud­der bear­ing.” But then you don’t. And then you’re off­shore, and it’s too late. One of the main rea­sons, I think, is be­cause we’re afraid of what other prob­lems we might find when we get in there: a bad de­sign or sloppy re­pair that may have been caus­ing hid­den leak­ing or some other kind of da­m­age over the years. But then again, isn’t that the very rea­son to get in there?

Now, hav­ing dropped, dis­as­sem­bled and re­designed our rud­der post as­sem­bly, where I once saw only a mag­i­cal sys­tem that some­how steered the boat, I now know how all of the com­po­nents work, how to check and ad­just them and how to grease the ones I didn’t know needed greas­ing. We’ve also gained a much bet­ter gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of our rud­der sys­tem that will help Phillip and I in­spect and main­tain its in­tegrity go­ing for­ward. Did we also uncover some other prob­lems while we were in there? Of course! Cue the B.O.A.T. reel!

PROB­LEM NO. 1: A Bad De­sign for the Rud­der Bear­ing

While most of the sys­tems on the Ni­a­gara 35 are over­built and well de­signed, for what­ever rea­son, the rud­der post bear­ing is sim­ply not. De­spite the thou­sands of pounds of force on the rud­der be­ing mag­ni­fied at the ful­crum where the post comes up through a bear­ing in the cock­pit floor, the only thing hold­ing it in place are three ¼in bolts. Now, with an ad­di­tional two nuts on each (our up­side-down-in-the­lazarette fix on the way to Cuba), they were vis­i­bly smash­ing the ½in fiber­glass floor, mak­ing an al­ready weak joint even weaker. It is sim­ply not a strong de­sign. Did we know this? Kind of. When we were hauled out two years prior, Phillip and I had jacked our rud­der up and rebed­ded the bear­ing af­ter we no­ticed it had been leak­ing. As we were do­ing so, Phillip (as the rud­der as­sem­bly was still a magic mys­tery to me then) also no­ticed it seemed like a weak de­sign—three rather small bolts through a mere half-inch of fiber­glass to han­dle the mag­ni­tude of the ex­treme force from the rud­der.

The thought—we should re­ally re­search that—came to mind, but we didn’t do it. Had we, we would have dis­cov­ered many other owners were sim­i­larly dis­ap­pointed with this rud­der bear­ing de­sign and were tak­ing steps to re­in­force it. One Ni­a­gara owner, for ex­am­ple, af­ter see­ing the same fright­en­ing move­ment in his rud­der post dur­ing a sail across the At­lantic to the Azores, in­stalled a large, solid plate on top of the cock­pit floor to help spread and share the im­mense load on the rud­der post bear­ing.

With this idea in mind, Phillip there­fore had a solid 8in-by-8in stain­less steel plate ma­chined to support and re­in­force it un­der­neath the cock­pit floor. While we talked at length about mak­ing it in two pieces that would fit around the rud­der post, we wanted as much in­tegrity as pos­si­ble, so we de­cided on one solid piece that we would have to drop the rud­der to in­stall. It proved to be the right de­ci­sion, since it was dur­ing our rud­der drop we also un­cov­ered sev­eral prob­lems that were turned into pow­er­ful re­designs with the help of Bran­don and his hard­work­ing team at Per­dido Sailor in the Pen­sacola Ship­yard.

PROB­LEM NO. 2: A Won’t-Budge Bolt in the Steer­ing Quad­rant

The Per­dido Sailor guys whacked. They tugged. They cursed. They ap­plied heat, an im­pact driver, more heat, more curs­ing. The thing would not budge. While the other three bolts that had se­cured our quad­rant around the rud­der post for 30-plus years had fi­nally let go af­ter the sixth round of hot hate words, the fourth and fi­nal bolt would not give up the ghost. Thirty years, alu­minum next to stain­less steel will do that. Did they have Tef-Gel in the 1980s? I’ll be hon­est, I don’t know. But that bolt was laughing at us. The Per­dido Sailor guys even­tu­ally had to cut the head off, ham­mer the quad­rant apart, drill the stub­born bolt out, then drill four new, larger holes to house four larger, stur­dier bolts— this time slathered in Tef-Gel!—to re-mount the quad­rant to the post. Alas, with the quad­rant off, and the rud­der out, we also found yet an­other prob­lem. It was at this mo­ment, Bran­don in­tro­duced me to the “Fri­day af­ter­noon job” idea.

PROB­LEM NO. 3: A Wonky Rud­der Hole

In fact, it’s a com­mon say­ing at the yard. Any sloppy work they find in the man­u­fac­ture process, they chalk up to a sloppy ship­builder do­ing a piss-poor job on his way to the week­end.

Sorry Hin­ter­hoeller, but the hole your Fri­day af­ter­noon guy cut in our cock­pit floor for the rud­der post can only be de­scribed as wonky. “It’s not even sym­met­ri­cal,” Bran­don noted, so much so that the gap this hole allowed around our rud­der post was def­i­nitely con­tribut­ing to the athwartship move­ment we were see­ing. For­tu­nately, even though this was an al­ready­cut hole that could not be cut again, Bran­don had a so­lu­tion. Bolt the rud­der post bear­ing in up­side-down, Six-10 the gap, and then pop it out be­fore the Six-10 was fully cured to cre­ate a per­fect, flush fit for the rud­der post. Now, “all the com­po­nents work as a sys­tem,” as Bran­don ex­plained, to hold the rud­der post firmly in place.

Again, while it was a pretty ex­ten­sive project, the knowl­edge Phillip and I gained from dis­as­sem­bling, re­design­ing and re­assem­bling our en­tire rud­der and steer­ing sys­tem will def­i­nitely give us more peace of mind as we sail our boat south to the Caribbean this com­ing sea­son. As for our fel­low sailors, I hope adding the en­tirety of the rud­der and steer­ing sys­tem to your “I re­ally should check that” list be­fore head­ing off­shore will help save some of you a costly prob­lem like this. Know­ing how the many dif­fer­ent sys­tems on your boat op­er­ate is half the bat­tle. In­spect­ing them and beat­ing a fail­ure to the punch is equally im­por­tant, all the more so since it’s very likely some­thing will still go hay­wire at some point, and you’ll have to fix it. Prob­a­bly on a Fri­day af­ter­noon. s An­nie Dike and her part­ner, Phillip, cruise Florida, the Ba­hamas, and the Caribbean on their 1985 Ni­a­gara 35 and will com­plete their first At­lantic Cir­cle this year. An­nie is an au­thor, speaker, blog­ger and film­maker at havewind­will­

The cov­ered dinghy now has two zip­pered “win­dows” that al­low easy ac­cess

Get­ting the cover on was inevitably a balanc­ing act

The bow of the dinghy was es­pe­cially hard to reach; at­tach­ing the bri­dle to the davits was also a chal­lenge

With the zip­per flap it’s pos­si­ble to stand in the boat while putting the cover on

Bran­don (left) and Phillip re-in­stall the rud­der to­ward the end of the project

The in­ad­e­quate re­in­forc­ing in the cock­pit sole around the rud­der bear­ing was plain to see

The prob­lem came to light at sea, of course, forc­ing the au­thor and Phillip to search for a so­lu­tion

The hole for the rud­der bear­ing was over­sized, so the bear­ing was bolted in up­side down and the gap around it filled with Six-10 epoxy resin

One bolt se­cur­ing the quad­rant had to be ground off

A stain­less plate was ma­chined to strengthen the area around the rud­der stick and pre­vent fur­ther move­ment

(From left) The bear­ing was re­moved be­fore the epoxy cured: note how big the gap was; the com­pleted re­pair, with the stain­less steel plate bolted in place—there will be no more move­ment from that rud­der­post!

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