Our experts have the answers on rigging queries, electrical grounding, mainsail design and VHF quirks
STATE OF STANDING RIGGING
Q: I have a 1974 Aquarius 23 that I am fixing up. I am wondering if I should replace the standing rigging no matter what, or if I can just check it over. I think that it is original, but I am not sure. It seems from what I have read that I should at least replace the wire, but I am wondering about the turnbuckles, tangs, chainplates, etc. I will be sailing on small lakes for the most part. — Peter Ellis, Tappan Lake, OH
DON CASEY REPLIES
Where you will be sailing should not influence your decision. A sudden rigging failure can bring down the mast in a heartbeat with the real risk of serious physical injury or worse no matter where the boat is. Even if the crew escapes unscathed, repair is likely to be more costly than prevention would have been. Finally, aside from this “pay me now or pay me more later” aspect, a niggling concern that the rig might not be secure will surely compromise the mental tranquility that sailing, particular the kind of sailing you anticipate, can otherwise deliver.
It is just good seamanship to inspect every component of the standing rigging of a new-to-you boat. That means fasteners, tangs, end fittings, wire, turnbuckles, toggles, clevis pins, chainplates and even attachment points. If the wire shows noticeable rust, particularly a spiral line, replace it. If it is bright, grip a cotton ball tightly around it and slide the ball the full length in both directions. A broken strand will snag the cotton, typi- cally flagging the break with a bit of cotton fiber. A single break condemns all of the rigging wire, not just the shroud or stay with the break.
The most common rigging failure happens at swaged end fittings, but rarely without having clearly exhibited impending failure for some time. Careful inspection with a $10 illuminated jeweler’s loupe can provide reassurance or reveal cracks that will condemn the rig. The same brightly lit and magnified inspection is appropriate for all of the other stainless steel rigging components. Polishing the steel before inspecting it will deliver a more reliable result.
Stainless steel suffers from environment, not age, so there is little reason to replace rigging components that do not exhibit corrosion, cracking or distortion. That said, the only downside to replacing a rigging component that does not need replacing is spending money you do not need to spend. By contrast, the result of not replacing something can be extremely unpleasant, made worse by your knowledge that it was avoidable. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
WHAT’S WITH THAT LUG?
Q: I have a boat with a “normal” shore-power connection protected by the usual AC breakers that runs only the on-board 120-volt outlets and the battery charger. I’m now adding a small (400w) inverter at the nav station for the two items that need charging while we are cruising: my laptop ( less than 100 watts) and the cordless drill (also less than 100 watts). The DC wiring for the inverter is straightforward, and there will be no additional outlets, just the ones on the body of the inverter; however, the inverter has a separate “ground” stud. I assume that this provides AC grounding for the three-wire receptacles. My question is: where do I attach the wire from this ground stud? To the DC negative? To the ground wire on one of the shore power outlets? Direct to the bus bar adjacent to the engine block? — Dan Rawson, Bridgeport, CT
NIGEL CALDER REPLIES
This is a grounding lug for the case of the inverter. All marine battery chargers and inverters with metal cases should have a grounding lug like this. It is designed to provide a path back to battery negative if there is an internal short to the case. In theory it may have to carry up to the full possible DC input amperage to the inverter, which means the grounding cable should be the same size as the DC negative cable to the inverter (although boatbuilding standards do allow the grounding cable to be one size smaller than the DC negative cable). On powerful inverters, the grounding cable ends up being a large cable that in practice is frequently omitted. The inverter will function fine without it, but the installation will be a little less safe (and also non-compliant with boatbuilding standards) if the cable is omitted.
WHY A LOOSE-FOOTED MAIN?
Q: I guess these are a couple of esoteric questions, but here goes. Given that many of today’s racing sailboats are carrying loose-footed mainsails, why do many cruising boat still carry mains connected along the length to boom, and how and why did sailmakers ever start attaching sails along the entire length of the boom in the first place? — Conner Jenkins, Seattle, WA
BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES
Attaching the foot of the mainsail to the boom goes all the way back to the early days of sailing when it seemed to make sense to attach it to the boom just as the luff was attached to the mast—a time when there was also very little adjusting done to the outhaul. More recently, however, sailors have demanded some way to add shape to the mainsail when the conditions got lighter or they turned to sail downwind, and sailmakers came up with what they called a lens-foot, which was a lens-shaped piece of light sailcloth that attached the foot of the sail to the boom. When the outhaul was tight the lens collapsed and the foot of the sail was tight; when the outhaul was eased the lens allowed the foot of the sail to ease away from the boom thereby adding some shape to the bottom of the sail (while the sail was still attached to the boom). Back in the day, many racing rules called for the foot to be attached. But over time, and with better equipment, it became clear that keeping the foot attached was a waste of time and loose-footed mainsails became increasingly popular. It’s much easier to adjust the sail for a better shape and less to snag or go wrong. As a result, these days more and more boats, both racing and cruising, are opting for loose-footed sails.
STRANGE CHANNEL NUMBERS
Q: I just installed my new Icom M-330 marine VHF radio down at the nav station, and it works great with my masthead VHF antenna. However, the Coast Guard, on channel 16, recently asked all sailors to switch to Coast Guard channel 22A for an urgent storm warning, and my 22A came up as “1022” although I could hear them loud and clear. What’s with the strange numbers? — Bob Hinkley, Panama City, FL
GORDON WEST REPLIES
Coast Guard channel 22A is an example of an old USA simplex use of an International duplex channel for shore stations. That is what the “A” means, same as with channel 79A, a popular channel for sailing events. Here in the United States, your radio has 15 of these “A” designators. However, new VHF radios, like your Icom M-330, also have a menu item to toggle between either the old A indicator or the new internationally recognized “10” before the channel number, such as 1022, and 1079. Regardless of how you switch between the two readouts, your radio will be transmitting and receiving on the same correct channel. s
Keeping a close eye on your standing rigging is part of good seamanship
DON CASEY HAS WRITTEN MANY BOOKS AND ARTICLES ON MARINE MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS
NIGEL CALDER IS AN AUTHOR AND EXPERT ON BOAT SYSTEMS AND DIESEL ENGINES
BRIAN HANCOCK IS A SAILMAKER, WHITBREAD RACE VETERAN AND CREATOR OF GREATCIRCLESAILS.COM
GORDON WEST IS AN ELECTRONICS EXPERT WHO SPECIALIZES IN RADIO COMMUNICATIONS