Keel design


Keel design: What’s best?

By Ted Brewer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 4, July/August 2000.

Ted Brewer reviews the ins and outs and ups and downs of keel design

The purpose of a keel,
fin, or centerboard is to provide resistance to making leeway; in effect,
to keep the yacht from sliding sideways through the water due to wind
pressure on the sails. Various shapes of underwater plane have been in
and out of style over the past 150 years.

Fisher full keel
Fisher series Stylized shark fin

The Fisher series, above, shows the full keel typical of Scottish fishing boats. The highly stylized shark fin, at bottom, has extreme rake and a sloping tip chord.

The basic full-keel
shape had the longest run, as it was the standard for bluewater sailing
craft from pre-Roman times to the earliest days of yachting. The deep,
full keel was supplemented in the mid-1800s, for the shoalwater areas
of Britain and North America, by centerboard craft. These cover such
working types as the sharpies, Cape Cod catboats, and Chesapeake Bay
oyster skiffs, to mention a few.

The first truly
modern keel yacht, with a cutaway forefoot and highly raked rudder post,
was designed by Capt. Nathanael Herreshoff with his Gloriana design
of 1891. But it did not catch on for bluewater sailing. Until the late
1920s, the typical offshore yacht, whether cruiser or ocean racer, resembled
a sailing fishing craft in the shape of its lateral plane: a long, full
keel with deep forefoot and fairly vertical sternpost. Such a shape has
the benefits of good directional stability, ease of steering, and the
ability to heave to in heavy weather, all desirable traits for a boat.
However, its faults may include slowness in stays, excess wetted surface
Ñ making it slower in all types of air Ñ and an inefficient lateral
plane shape that has excess leeway, considering its relatively large
area. Typical small yachts of this type are seen today in the Colin
Archer types and the Tahiti ketch and its copies, while replicas of
traditional sailing craft such as Bristol Channel Cutters, Friendship
sloops, fishing and pilot schooners, and similar lovely vessels still
appear in our waters. Fortunately, many of these workboat types have
been developed to the point where the ills of the true full keel have
been greatly reduced. Then the result is a handsome cruiser that sails
quite well and attracts a great deal of attention wherever she drops
her hook.

Successful keel

Full keels
Fin Keel variations

cutaway keel was revived for ocean racing by Olin Stephens in the late
1920s, with his lovely yawl, Dorade, still sailing and winning classic
yacht races more than 70 years after her launching. Her offshore racing
successes finally proved that the full keel was not essential to seaworthiness,
and it definitely detracted from speed and weatherliness. As a result
of its improved performance and handiness, the “modified full keel”
form caught on quickly once Dorade showed the way and became the standard
for the next 35 years. This type of lateral plane is still sailing in
many popular older designs such as the Albergs, the Folkboat, the Luders
33, the Whitby 42, and even some newer yachts.

The modified full-keel
form features generally good handling and directional stability plus
reduced wetted surface, compared to her true full-keel sister. The yachts
can perform well in all conditions and, as they are generally of heavier
displacement than contemporary ballasted-fin boats, they do not give
away much in light air, despite the added wetted area. A yacht with
a modified full keel can sail right up with the best of them if she
is given sail area commensurate with her typically heavier displacement.

In my own work,
I developed a modified full keel, with the rudder set aft and vertically
in the contemporary fashion, in order to improve directional stability
and handiness. Then, to reduce wetted area, the lateral plane is substantially
cut away ahead of the rudder in what some have termed “the Brewer bite.”
The Cabot 36 and Quickstep 24 of my design were early examples of this
form. The size of the cutout depends to a large degree on how insistent
my client is on having a “full keel,” and I try to make the cutout as
large as I can decently get away with. I don’t claim to have originated
the shape, though, as the late L. Francis Herreshoff used a not dissimilar
profile many years earlier in the design of the lovely 57-foot ketch,

Taken to extremes

Like all good things,
the modified full keel was cut away more and more for bluewater and
inshore racers in an attempt to reduce wetted area until, finally, some
designers took it to extremes. This reduced directional stability and
produced craft that were almost impossible to steer in breezy conditions,
broaching with monotonous regularity. I can recall working on the design
of many short-keel 5.5-Meter yachts in the 1960s, and we always said
they were three-man boats with six-man spinnakers! It’s hard to believe
none of them were knocked down and sunk, as they were extremely difficult
to control on a reach or run, and the hulls were pure leadmines, with
3,500 pounds of ballast in their very short keel and only 1,000 pounds
of wood and rig above it!

Olin Stephen’s genius
began another fad in the mid 1950s, the keel-centerboard design. After
Finisterre showed the way, keel-centerboard yawls were built in sizes
from 24-foot midget ocean racers, to the largest offshore yachts, in
order to take advantage of favorable ratings under the CCA rule and
emulate Finisterre’s record of wins. The keel-centerboard hull has gone
out of fashion now, but the type still has merit where a stable, beamy,
shoal-draft yacht is desired with little sacrifice of weatherliness
or seaworthiness. Indeed, the Bill Tripp-designed Block Island 40 and
Bermuda 40 are keel-centerboard ocean racers from the old school and
have been in production for more than 30 years now. These classic yachts
have made many long ocean voyages, including several world circumnavigations
and are first-class bluewater cruisers in every respect.

Here to stay

Squared-off fin
Less extreme fin
Contemporary bulb fin with winglets

At top, a rather squared-off fin, not unlike the Cal 40 keel. In
center, a less extreme fin than the one pictured on Page 13, with
a more parallel tip. At bottom, a contemporary bulb fin with winglets.

The fin shape is
not new either, as ballasted fin yachts were pioneered by Herreshoff
at the turn of the century for inshore racing. Then, due to excesses
and bad design, the shape died out, except for a few one-design classes,
until Bill Lapworth dropped a bomb on the ocean-racing scene in the
mid-1960s with his Cal 40 design. The Cal 40s made believers out of
many yachtsmen who could not believe that a ballasted-fin/spade-rudder
yacht was a serious bluewater ocean racer. After wins in the Trans-Pac,
many East Coast races, and the 1966 Bermuda Race, it became evident
that the fin was here to stay for ocean-going and coastal cruising yachts.
Please note that I do not use the term “fin keel” anymore, as I feel
it is a misnomer. The keel is the structural backbone of the vessel,
and the fin hangs from it. Fish have both backbones and fins; so do

A well-designed
fin, in conjunction with a skeg-hung rudder, can provide excellent directional
stability, handiness, reduced wetted area and improved weatherliness.
The fin/spade rudder combination reduces wetted surface even more. It
may have a little (or a lot) more sensitive helm than a fin/skeg rudder
yacht, but it has one big advantage over it and all other forms of lateral
plane: it can be steered in reverse under power. This can make life
a great deal easier in today’s crowded marinas, as many have discovered.

These are some of
the reasons that we see fins on the great majority of our new yachts
today; they are not simply a fad. There are good fins and bad fins,
of course, and it is not always easy to tell them apart. The shape of
fins over the years has been limited only by the designer’s imagination.
Fins have been set at every angle from the vertical to highly raked
aft. They have been deep and narrow, shoal and long, resembling a shark’s
fin or whale’s tail, or boxy fins similar to the original Cal 40 design.

Major problem

A very deep, narrow
fin can be a problem to haul on a marine railway, so the cruising skipper
should consider haulout ease when boat shopping. A crane or travel lift
is the best method for hauling yachts with extreme fins, but may not
always be available in out-of-the-way areas. There is also the danger
of damage to the shaft or strut if slings are improperly positioned.
Still, the major problem of the high-aspect-ratio fin is structural
strength, as it can impose extreme loads at the point of attachment
to the keel. Indeed, some years ago I was an “expert witness” in a court
case concerning three men who drowned when their yacht sank as a result
of its fin tearing off when the vessel ran aground.

The cruising skipper
would do well to avoid yachts with extreme fins, both for considerations
of haulout ease and structural strength. Fortunately, the heavier, deeper
hull and generally shoaler draft of the typical cruising yacht mean
there is less height available between the bottom of the hull and the
point of maximum draft. So, a longer, lower-aspect-ratio fin is the
only solution. On the other hand, the racing sailor will want a fin
with an aspect ratio as high as the draft rule will allow. Such a fin
is more efficient per square foot, so the area can be smaller and the
wetted surface reduced. In Aero-Hydrodynamics of Sailing, C.A. Marchaj
recommends about 4 percent of the sail area as a good guide for fin
area, and I feel the cruiser should err on the high side, as a small
increase in resistance is preferable to increased leeway. On the other
hand, I have used as low as 1.75 percent area with good results on an
extreme racer with a fin of 2.75 aspect ratio.

Aspect ratios

Fin Tip types
Fin nomenclature
Typical NACA Section

“aspect ratio” is the ratio of the span (depth) squared to the fin area;
that is, my extreme fin had an 11-foot span and 44 square feet of area,
so its aspect ratio was 121/44, or 2.75. If it had a 4-foot span with
44 square feet of area, not uncommon proportions for a cruising yacht,
its aspect ratio would be 16/44, or a low 0.3636.

The aspect ratio
can also be described as the span divided by the mean chord, the average
fore-and-aft length of the fin, and this gives the same result.

A large part of
the resistance of a keel is created by the vortices, similar to miniature
whirlpools that form when the water flows across the bottom of the keel
from the high-pressure (leeward) side to the low-pressure (windward)
side. It requires energy to form those vortices and that energy is then
not available to propel the boat forward. Obviously, the shorter the
keel or fin tip, the smaller and weaker those vortices will be, and
that translates to reduced resistance. This is one reason that racing
yachts usually feature high-aspect-ratio fins with short tip chords.

However, the formation
of vortices can be greatly reduced by using end plates, or wings, to
change the flow direction and eliminate crossflow. My own preference,
for a fin of average span, is for an end plate that is but a few inches
wider than the maximum width of the fin bottom. We tested an actual
yacht with such an end plate on one side only and noted a substantial
improvement in performance when she was heeled so that the end plate
was on the leeward side. Where the draft is shoal and the fin span is
on the small side, then a wider end plate, or even a wing, might prove
beneficial. However, a wide wing can be a structural weakness, particularly
if the boat goes hard aground and has to be towed off, or pounds on
the rocks for any length of time.

Sweepback angles

In the 1970s, I
saw more than one very-high-aspect-ratio fin with tremendous sweepback
angle. This certainly gives an impression of speed but, as Marchaj pointed
out, tank tests have shown that the sweepback angle can be related to
the aspect ratio: the higher the aspect ratio, the more vertical the
fin should be. Indeed, the very-high-aspect-ratio fin on my BOC racer
was set absolutely plumb until a hard grounding set the tip back a quarter
inch or so, the result of taking a yacht with a 13-foot draft through
a channel dredged to 11 feet! Most cruising-yacht fins are of low aspect
ratio, of course, so should have substantial sweepback, up to 57 degrees,
with an aspect ratio of 0.5, according to Marchaj. Although most designers
try, it is unfortunate that obtaining the perfect sweepback angle is
secondary to locating the fin to balance the sailplan, as well as fitting
the ballast at the correct spot for proper fore and aft trim. The taper
ratio (tip chord length/root chord length) also deserves consideration.
Tests on one series of fins showed that a fin with 0.32 taper ratio
was 1 percent more efficient than an untapered fin and had very slightly
less resistance. This is a small difference but cannot be ignored by
the racing skipper. Again, the reduction in drag may be due to reduced
vortices from the shorter tip chord. Marchaj also states that the taper
ratio should be reduced as the sweepback angle increases. However, the
very-low-taper-ratio fins may not be the best solution for a cruising
yacht. The tip chord should be long enough so the vessel can be hauled
on a marine railway with no major problems. Too, on a moderate-draft
cruising yacht, a short tip chord forces the ballast higher, so stability
can suffer.

Lower ballast

Another consideration
in the fin profile is whether the tip chord is sloped down aft or parallel
to the waterline. The parallel tip chord makes good sense. It allows
the ballast to be lower for added stability, it eases blocking up the
boat when hauling and, fortunately, tests have shown that it is also
superior to the sloped tip chord in other ways. Having the aft edge
of the tip chord deeper than the leading edge has no practical effect
on aspect ratio, and such a fin develops less lift and more drag than
one with a parallel tip.

The National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) tested a large variety of streamlined
shapes for lift and resistance and the information on these is available
in a book, Theory of Wing Sections, by Abbot and Von Doenhoff. These
are the shapes that designers refer to when they say their new magic
fin has an NACA section. Generally, the shape selected will be similar
to NACA 0010-34 or 0010-64 series. The leading edge will be elliptical,
as a blunted nose increases resistance while a pointed leading edge
promotes stalling. The maximum width will be about 40 to 50 percent
aft, and the shape will be streamlined to a fairly sharp (but not razor-sharp)
trailing edge. The thickness ratio will be 0.8 to 0.12 of the chord
length, although this may be increased to 0.15 to 0.16 at the tip chord.
There are advantages to having an increase in thickness ratio at the
tip chord, including being able to fit the ballast lower. This need
not mean that the fin is bulbed, though. For example, a fin that is
8 feet long at the root and 5 feet long at the tip may have a 0.10 thickness
(0.8 feet) at the root and 0.15 thickness (0.75 feet) at the tip. The
fin is still slightly thinner at the bottom than at the top, but the
thickness ratio has increased.

Increased resistance

It is not uncommon
to see fins wider than 10 to 12 percent of their length, as the designer
may need to fatten the fin in order to locate the ballast in the correct
spot for proper trim. Very shoal-draft boats may require fatter keels
or fins in order to get the ballast as low as possible for stability.
Still, extra width does increase resistance so there is a tradeoff;
added stability increases performance while a thicker fin reduces performance.
Thirty-five years ago, when I worked for Bill Luders, we tank-tested
dozens of 5.5-Meter models. These very short-keeled 30-foot sloops had
a minimum keel width of 4 inches under the rule, and whenever we tried
a model with a wider keel in order to get the ballast lower, we found
that overall performance suffered.

We also tested a
number of bulb keels on the 5.5 models but they never proved out in
the tank, either, although several different shapes were tried. Then,
in the late 1970s, I tank-tested the model of the new Morgan 38 at Stevens
Institute, first with a fairly fat NACA fin in order to maintain the
desired 5-foot draft, and then with a patented bulb fin that we let
its designer draw up, with no stipulation on draft. The bulb saved only
2 inches of draft but showed so poorly against the NACA fin that the
38 was put into production with the more conventional shape.

The tip shape, viewed
from ahead, may be flat, round, elliptical, or bulbed. Tests show that
the flat, squared-off tip develops a bit more lift to windward and that
the round or elliptical tip has less drag on a run. The differences
are slight but, today, I favor the squared-off tip with an end plate
for yachts of average draft. A vee tip was tried in the 1960s on a few
yachts, but never became popular. Bulbs and wings, often in combination,
are fairly common on contemporary production boats. Usually they are
an attempt to produce a very shoal-draft yacht for use in waters where
the bottom is close to the top and, in those cases, they may make sense.

There is a never-ending
variety of fin shapes and, to be honest, I’m not sure which is best.
Generally, I prefer a fin similar to the old Cal 40, a little shorter
perhaps, and fitted with an end plate. Such a fin provides a desirable
combination of good performance, ease of haulout, and structural strength,
all very important factors for the cruising skipper.

Ted Brewer is
one of North America’s best-known yacht designers, having worked on
the America’s Cup boats,
American Eagle and Weatherly, as well as boats
that won the Olympics, the Gold Cup, and dozens of celebrated ocean
races. He also is the man who designed scores of good old boats . .
. the ones still sailing after all these years.

Quit Horsing Around

Quit Horsing Around

By Steve Christensen

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 1, January/February 2000.

Use a riding sail to steady your boat at anchor

Rag Doll at anchor

Rag Doll at anchor

You’re all settled
in for the night in that well-protected cove, when the wind picks up.
What had been a nice quiet anchorage is now alive with motion as the wind
causes the boats to weave back and forth on their anchor rodes. Your boat
rolls and jerks from one “tack” to another, and you begin to
worry about what all this motion is doing to the set of your anchor. Your
nice quiet evening is now anything but restful.

people call this weaving back and forth “sailing at anchor.”
But my favorite nickname for the activity is “horsing around”
because the image it creates is so descriptive of the motion. And while
the name may sound like fun, the motion it describes can lead to real

causes this phenomenon? For most boats, the center of effort (or windage)
of the topsides and rigging is well forward of the underwater center of
lateral resistance. This means the boat is out of balance while on the
hook, and doesn’t really want to weathercock. Whenever the boat drifts
backward during a gust (or there is a slight change in the wind
direction) the bow will fall off faster than the stern, putting the boat
broadside to the wind. Once that happens, the bow continues to fall off,
and the boat will “sail” away in the new direction, up to as
much as 30 to 40 degrees off the wind, until brought up short by the rode.

Detail of riding sail 1
Detail of riding sail 2

Detail of riding sail above.

seems as if the boat should eventually settle down, given a steady wind.
But in reality, the wind is never steady in either direction or strength
for very long. During the lulls, the boat is drawn forward by the weight
of the rode (creating slack), only to fall back and turn broadside during
the gusts.

Why all the concern?
Well, at the very least, all this weaving back and forth can make things
uncomfortable down below. More importantly, it is quite possible for two
boats anchored side by side to get “out of phase” while sailing
at anchor and actually collide. We witnessed this a few seasons ago while
anchored in Bear Drop Harbor in the North Channel on a day with gusty
25-to-30-knot winds. Two nearby anchored boats began to sheer, on opposite
tacks, and exactly out of phase. The boats kept getting closer and closer
with each tack as the skippers looked on helplessly. A collision was avoided
only when one skipper broke the cycle by letting out more rode.

By far the biggest
concern of “horsing around” is the effect it has on the set
of your anchor. The shock loads on the rode from coming up short on opposite
tacks are practically at right angles to each other, and all this stress
can eventually break the anchor free. Even if the anchor holds, the sideways
motion at the bow can chafe right through a nylon rode in a few hours.

So, if you want to
sleep better at anchor, you need to do all you can to reduce this sailing
at anchor.

But what can you do?
While we’ve never tried it, a couple of skippers we have met swear
by anchoring stern-to. This places the center of effort behind the center
of resistance, and keeps the boat steady. (It also looks really weird.)
The downside is that some boats are not very seaworthy stern-to, and most
companionways are not designed to be very weatherproof from the stern.
So I would worry about being caught in a storm anchored backward, but
in fair weather it seems to work quite well.

Riding, or anchor, sail at stern

best thing you can do to reduce “horsing around” while at anchor
is to use a riding (or anchor) sail. We first learned about riding sails
by reading Steve and Linda Dashew’s The Bluewater Handbook. It seemed
like a good idea, so we had a local sail loft make one for us, and have
used it every night at anchor since. The ability of a riding sail to reduce
horsing around is just amazing and has to be seen to be appreciated. On
that day in Bear Drop Harbor when many of the other boats were sailing
up to 40 degrees off the wind, our riding sail kept the bow of our Ericson
38 to within five degrees of the wind direction. Considering how well
they work, it is surprising that you don’t see more of them being used.
(We’ve only seen one other riding sail in 10 seasons of cruising the Great

Just what is a riding
sail? It’s essentially a small and heavily built mizzen, rigged on the
backstay, and sheeted forward. The added windage of the sail brings the
overall center of effort well aft of the center of lateral resistance.
Now when the boat drifts backward during a gust and the bow begins to
fall off to one side, the effort of the wind on the riding sail quickly
pushes the stern in and brings the boat back head to wind.

A riding sail should
be constructed board-flat, of heavy (4- to 8-ounce) cloth, with a hollow
foot and leech to reduce flutter, and a straight luff with hanks for attaching
to the backstay. Adding full-length battens to the sail is also a good
idea to reduce slatting in high winds. As for size, a good rule of thumb
is to have the sail made about the same size as a storm jib, or from 5
percent to 10 percent of the total sail area. In fact, you can use a storm
jib on the backstay as your riding sail. And for that matter, ketches
and yawls can achieve the same effect by just leaving their mizzen up
(perhaps with a reef or two). But since whatever you use will be left
up constantly while at anchor and exposed to a lot of ultraviolet radiation,
it’s a good idea to have a dedicated riding sail, and not subject your
storm jib or mizzen sail to all that abuse.

How to rig a riding sail diagram

do you rig a riding sail? First, attach a pendant between the stern of
the boat (the top stern rail works well) and the tack of the sail, long
enough to keep the sail well clear over the cockpit. Then attach a halyard
to the head and hoist the sail aloft. Finally, rig a sheet from the clew
to a place on deck amidships, or – better, but more work – run a sheet
to each side of the deck or cabin house. You can leave the sail flying
free like this, but it will tend to slat a bit in high winds. So it’s
best to attach the luff of the sail to the backstay with a number of hanks.

Riding sails may not
be common, but any sail loft can make one up for you. Or you can contact
Sailrite, which markets a basic anchor riding sail kit with a 75-inch
leech, a 58-inch luff, and a 72-inch foot (15 square feet) designed for
boats over 20 feet. It costs between $68 and $73, depending upon the size
of the snaps needed to fit your backstay. This kit was just upgraded to
use Top Gun sailcloth, rather than Dacron. This makes the sail hold up
much longer.

Our riding sail came
from Kent Sails, in Mount Clemens, Mich., and is 150 inches on the luff,
124 inches on the leech, and 62 inches on the foot (26 square feet) with
seven hanks along the luff.

Kent Sails designed
our current riding sail with a fiberglass rod running between the backstay
at the luff and the grommet at the clew. This rod does a nice job of stiffening
the sail, and keeps it quiet in high winds. But more than that, this unusual
design has the interesting feature of holding the clew out away from the
backstay, in much the same way a wishbone boom on a sailboard holds the
clew of the sail out from the mast. With the clew held out taut, you can
swing the sail around on the backstay to point aft, which not only gets
it out of the way of the cockpit, but has the advantage of putting the
sail’s center of effort even farther from the bow, making it even
more effective at keeping the boat steady.

Riding sail pointing to deck diagram

you already have a riding sail with hanks on the luff and would like to
try this arrangement, it’s a simple matter to modify the sail to be able
to point aft. All it takes is a few feet of hollow aluminum rod, a short
piece of webbing, and a couple of sheet metal screws.

First lay out a line
between the luff and the clew, perpendicular to the luff, and mark where
the line meets the luff. Then buy a length of hollow aluminum rod that
is at least 6 inches longer than this line, and slightly smaller in outside
diameter than the clew grommet (so the rod will slide through the grommet).
Using your sail repair kit (you do have one aboard, don’t you?)
sew about 4 inches of 1-inch webbing to the side of the luff at the position
you marked, with enough slack to hold the rod. (The purpose of the webbing
is to keep the rod in position on the backstay.) Then cut about a half-inch-deep
slot into one end of the rod so the end fits over the backstay.

The final step needs
to be done with the sail hanked onto the backstay and hoisted taut. Slide
the slotted end of the rod through the clew grommet, through the luff
web loop, and over the backstay. Then pull the clew out taut, and mark
the point on the rod where it enters the clew grommet. Remove the rod
and mount a couple of sheet metal screws at that point on the rod, which
will keep the clew from sliding down the rod toward the backstay. Next,
cut the excess rod off about 4 inches beyond the screws.

you now place the slotted end of the rod through the web strap, then the
other end through the grommet up to the screws, and finally slide
the slot over the backstay, the clew should be held out nice and taut.
Finally, just rotate the whole sail aft, and add a sheet from the end
of the    rod to each corner of the stern rail. Using rolling
hitches for each sheet makes it easy to adjust the centering of the sail.
And that’s it – you’re done.

Riding sail pointing aft diagram

nice side effect of any riding sail is that it makes your boat easier
to find in a crowded anchorage, as there aren’t too many boats out there
with big white triangles at their sterns. (This has come in very handy
when returning by dinghy from a late evening ashore and trying to find
our boat by flashlight.) Our unusual aft-pointing rig is also very sociable,
in that we usually have at least one sailor in each anchorage stop by
to ask about it. Last summer we even had the skipper of a nearby Alberg
30 so intrigued that he spent an hour trying to construct a similar rig
using his storm jib and a telescoping awning pole. At one point when things
weren’t going too well and the pole fell to deck for the second or third
time (there was no webbing at the luff to hold the pole in place) he good-naturedly
called over, “Look what you started!”

Whether you choose
the traditional forward-sheeted arrangement, or the unusual aft-pointing
rig, I highly recommend you consider using a riding sail to steady your
boat at anchor. Leave the “horsing around” for on shore.


Kents Sails Co.
35942 Jefferson
Mount Clemens, MI 48045

305 W. Van Buren St
P.O. Box 987
Columbia City, IN 46725

Steve Christensen
and his wife, Beth, sail their Ericson 38,
Rag Doll, out of Saginaw Bay
on Lake Huron and spend each August cruising the North Channel . . . with
their riding sail.

The rest of the ratios: On helm balance


The rest of the ratios: On helm balance

By Ted Brewer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 6, November/December 1999.

Hull resistance diagram

As you are
aware, proper helm balance is a very desirable factor on a sailing yacht
and can make the difference between a craft that is enjoyable to sail
and one that has a helm that would rupture a gorilla, exhausting and exasperating
her crew. The ideal vessel will have about 3 to 4 degrees of weather helm
and will still retain a light and easy feel to the tiller or wheel under
all conditions of weather. Excess weather helm, besides being extremely
tiring for the helmsman, adds unnecessary resistance and can make it difficult,
or even impossible, to jibe.

helm is a term that describes a yacht that sails with her tiller, or quadrant
if she is wheel steered, slightly angled to the windward side of the vessel.
This is a vital safety factor, as such a yacht will turn to windward,
head up into the wind, and simply luff if the helm is released. With the
opposite, lee helm, the yacht would turn to leeward and risk a knockdown
or a dangerous accidental jibe.

having 3 to 4 degrees of weather helm improves performance. The rudder
steers the yacht, of course, but it can also provide lift and reduce leeway
if there is a slight weather helm, acting like the flaps on the aft end
of an airplane’s wing, in effect. Conversely, a bad lee helm gives negative
lift, adds resistance to slow the yacht, and can make it difficult or
impossible to tack.

Correct lead offsets side force diagram

weather helm in all conditions of wind is eminently desirable but not
always possible. It is not uncommon to find a yacht with a neutral or
even a slight lee helm in light air changing to a moderate weather helm
as it breezes up. Such a helm is acceptable since leeway in light air
is not a serious problem, nor is an accidental jibe. In any case, such
a helm is preferable to having moderate weather helm in light air that
increases to a bear of a weather helm as the breeze stiffens. Of course,
the helm balance will change as sails are reefed or changed down, but
the experienced skipper will determine which reefed sail combinations
provide the best balance as the yacht is snugged down for a blow.

It must
be noted that a heavy, tiring helm can be mistaken for a strong weather
helm, yet the two can be worlds apart. If the tiller or quadrant is only
2 to 4 degrees off the centerline and the helm is still too heavy for
comfort, then the cause is probably not helm balance but, rather, a too-short
tiller or, with a wheel steering system, a quadrant that is too small
or a wheel of inadequate diameter. These problems are readily corrected.

helm balance is governed by the lead (pronounced leed) of the rig. The
lead is the amount that the center of effort (CE) of the sail plan is
forward of the center of lateral plane (CLP) of the hull, and the figure
is usually expressed as a percentage of the LWL. If the CE is too far
aft, the lead will be small, and a heavy weather helm will result. If
the CE is too far forward, the result is excess lead and a dangerous lee

At first
glance it might seem that the boat will balance well if the CE is directly
above the CLP, in effect no lead. However, the locations of the centers
are calculated from a flat sheet of paper and it is obvious that these
are not the true centers of pressure of a yacht that is heeled and moving
through the water. When the boat is underway, the CE moves forward and
to leeward due to the shape of the sails, the eased sheets, and the angle
of heel. Also, the true hydrodynamic center of lateral plane of the boat
moves well forward of the geometric CLP when the boat is close-hauled,
but moves aft as she bears off. So the true centers are not easy to pin
down except by testing in tanks and wind tunnels. As a result, the designer
will usually work with the geometric centers, some general rules for lead,
plus his own experience and intuition when drawing up the sail plan.

Finding CLP

The longitudinal position of the CLP is simple to locate if you
have a profile drawing of the hull. Copy the drawing up to the LWL on
a piece of tracing paper, cut it out, crease it to stiffen it and balance
it on a pin or sharp pencil. Ensure that the ends do not hang down by
folding it parallel to the LWL a few times as required to prevent this.
Note that it is only necessary to locate the longitudinal position of
the CLP. The vertical position is of no importance in the lead calculation,
although it is necessary for stability work and masting calculations.
In working out the CLP, some designers omit the rudder area, most use
the forward half or third of the rudder area (me), and a few use all the
rudder area. The individual designer will interpret the results based
on his experience.

Calculating sail area

The mainsail area is calculated by multiplying the luff
(P) by 1/2 the foot (E). The foretriangle area is the hoist (I) multiplied
by 1/2 the base (J). See sketch on Page 63 for calculating the areas of
individual jibs and gaff mains and mizzens.

Calculating CE

Locating the center of effort diagram

To find the center of a triangular mainsail (Cm), draw a line
on the sail plan from the mid-length of the boom to the head of the sail
and another from the clew to halfway up the luff of the sail. The roach
is usually ignored, and the center is considered to be where these two
lines cross. For a gaff mainsail, divide the sail into two triangles,
find the center and area of each using the above technique and obtain
the center of the sail by using the formula below or, more simply, use
the geometrical system shown in the diagram.

To find
the center of the foretriangle (Cf), draw a line from the tack point of
the headsail to a point halfway up the mast and another from the masthead
to a point on deck halfway between the mast and the tack. Again, the point
of intersection is the center of the area. With these centers found, and
the areas worked out, the location of the overall CE of the sail plan
is readily calculated. Connect the two centers, Cm and Cf, with a line
and measure its length, L. Then the distance that the CE is from Cf =
(Main area x L)/Total area main and foretriangle (see example at left).

The foretriangle
area and center are used if genoa jibs are to be set but if only a working
jib is carried, its center and area may be used instead. In the case of
yachts with bowsprits and multiple headsails but no genoas (i.e., a Friendship
sloop), it is a matter of choice whether to use the foretriangle area
and center or work out the overall center and total areas of the individual

In any
case, the areas of light sails – such as fisherman staysails, mizzen staysails,
main topsails, etc. – are ignored when working out the overall sail area
and CE. Some designers use half the mizzen area in the calculation of
the overall CE of yawls and ketches. However, I feel this may be an error
which could result in insufficient lead since it tends to result in a
CE further forward than if the actual mizzen area is used.

you have the CE and the CLP, it is simple to mark them out on a sail plan
of the boat, measure the distance between them, and calculate the lead
as a percentage of the load waterline (see illustsration above). However,
even leading authorities do not always agree on the proper amount of lead
to give different types of yachts. I suggest the reader take with a grain
of salt anything they read about lead in the otherwise excellent books
written by Chapelle, Kinney, Baader, or Henry and Miller. The problem
is that hulls and rigs have changed greatly over the years, and the definitive
leads given in these books do not take into account the variables of hull
form, beam, rig height, etc. in contemporary yachts. These have changed
drastically, and they all affect the amount of lead required to obtain
a balanced helm.

Calculating areas of Jibs and Gaff mainsails diagram

example, Kinney states that a schooner requires a 5 to 7 percent lead;
Baader recommends 3 to 5 percent. Yet our 1960s Ingenue schooner design
started life with 10.5 percent lead and still had to have her bowsprit
lengthened to correct excess weather helm. Baader suggests 4 to 6 percent
for a “beamy, long, keel yawl and ketch,” and our beamy, long,
keel ketch Traveller III balanced beautifullywith 22.5 percent lead. The
second edition of Kinney’s work did come close with a 20 percent recommendation
for a ketch but with Baader’s 4 to 6 percent lead, the Traveller III would
have had an impossible weather helm. Kinney also comes close in suggesting
a 14 to 19 percent lead for sloops, but I’ve had a yacht with 17.5 percent
lead develop such a heavy weather helm that we had to move the mast a
foot forward.

a number of factors affect the amount of lead required for a balanced
helm, and these factors simply cannot be taken into account by any table
that simply says “a ketch requires x-percent lead.” Consider
two yachts, otherwise identical except that one is heavily built and has
a 35 percent ballast ratio, the other is lightly built and has a 50 percent
ballast ratio. In a stiff breeze, the more lightly ballasted boat will
heel to a greater degree, her CE will move farther to leeward, and the
luffing moment will be higher than that of her heavily ballasted sister.
The more tender hull will require greater lead in order to maintain a
reasonable weather helm.

consider two identical hulls with exactly the same sail area but one has
a low, broad rig, and the second has a tall, high aspect ratio rig. The
yacht with the tall rig will heel more in a breeze and her CE will move
even farther to leeward due to the height of the rig. Thus she will need
more lead in order to eliminate excess weather helm. There are many other
factors that affect lead and some of these are noted in the chart on Page

Locating the center of a Gaff sail diagram

of these factors will seem to contradict each other. Wide beam creates
a stable hull, but it also tends to result in full waterlines forward.
A narrow beam may mean a tender hull but also fine forward waterlines
as a rule. Obviously a certain amount of interpretation and experience
is required when designing a hull/rig combination so each new design has
to be analyzed, and the sail plan must be designed to suit. A rough estimate
of the percent of lead necessary can be obtained by starting with a figure
of 14-15 percent and adding 1 percent for each characteristic of the boat
that falls into the Lengthening column and subtracting 1 percent for each
characteristic in the Shortening column in the table above. This is not
a very scientific rule to live by, but the whole issue of helm balance
and proper lead really comes down to intelligent guesswork based on previous
experience. There is no sure way to pin it down any closer than that.

examples: A narrow (-1%), heavily ballasted (-1%), long keel (+1%), shoal
draft (+1%), yawl (-1%) with fine forward waterlines (-1%) and a high-aspect-ratio
rig (+1%) works out to a required lead of 13-14%. A beamy (+1%), lightly
ballasted (+1%), short keel (-1%), deep draft (-1%), sloop (+1%) with
full forward waterlines (+1%) and a tall rig (+1%) works out to 17-18%
lead. In either case, these leads may be too small and our tendency today
would be to use a slightly longer lead than derived as above, but never
a shorter one.

In that
regard, Bill Luders taught me that it was very unusual to find lee helm
on a modern hull and that most yachts could stand even more lead than
they had. I quite agree. A modern beamy hull can stand quite a long lead
but a too-short lead will result in a severe weather helm every time.
Bill also felt strongly that the mast location in regard to the keel leading
edge was as important as any consideration of lead. Bob Perry and I have
discussed this and are in general agreement that locating the mast in
the area where the fin of a modern fin-keel sloop or cutter meets the
hull will usually result in a good helm. I must say that in my 40 years
in this business, only one of my designs developed a lee helm and that
was a boat with less than 11 percent lead. We had to shorten the bowsprit
and cut some area off the aft end of the centerboard to correct it; very
unusual indeed.

Using the helm to offset wind direction diagram

Correcting an uncorrected helm

The designer is fortunate. If he finds in the
design stage that a boat has insufficient lead, he can simply pick up
his eraser and move the mast, lengthen or shorten a boom, even add a bowsprit
if necessary. The owner of a boat with a bad helm is not so lucky, for
the cure is going to require more than an eraser or a fresh sheet of paper
on the drawing board. It can mean a costly stay in a boatyard!

If your
boat does have a problem, first calculate the actual lead and compare
it to the designs of other yachts of similar type to ascertain if you
truly have a lead problem. I suggest this because poor balance can be
caused by warped rudders, skegs, and centerboards, and even by baggy sails.
I even came across one production boat that had good balance on one tack
and poor balance on another because her fin was not fitted perfectly down
the centerline of the hull and, as well, was not vertical when the hull
was at rest! These problems are usually hard to discover and even harder
to correct, but examine the yacht carefully in any case. If the helm problem
is not a result of one of the above aberrations, then you can try to alter
the lead by making one or more of the following modifications.

Factors affecting lead

Shortening lead
keel (fore- and aft-dimensions)
Deep draft
Narrow beam
Fine forward waterlines
Stable vessel (heavily ballasted)
Low-aspect-ratio rig Two-masted rig
Lengthening lead
Long keel (fore- and aft-dimensions)
Shallow draft
Wide beam
Full forward waterlines
Tender vessel
High-aspect-ratio rig Single-masted rig

To correct weather helm (lengthen lead)

  • Reduce rake of mast or even plumb it up
  • Move mast forward
  • Move headstay tack forward, adding or lengthening a bowsprit if necessary
  • Shorten foot and/or hoist of main
  • Recut mainsail flatter, or buy a new main if the old one is blown out
  • Decrease mizzen area by shorter boom and/or mast
  • Move centerboard aft if feasible
  • Increase rudder area slightly, but be careful as you can overload the

To correct lee helm (shorten lead)

  • Increase mast rake by lengthening headstay, shortening backstay
  • Move headstay aft, or shorten bowsprit
  • Move mast aft
  • Lengthen boom and fit larger mainsail; ditto with mizzen
  • Adjust main to greater fullness
  • Move centerboard forward, if possible.

that cannot be corrected by the above changes will probably require a
major rig change or an alteration to keel shape, rudder, skeg, etc. In
such cases, the advice of a competent yacht designer should be sought.

The result
of your changes and experimenting should be a weather helm of 2 to 4 degrees,
and that, in turn, will result in your boat taking on a new life as regards
handling ease and even performance. It is well worth some tinkering, especially
if you have developed arm muscles like Popeye from fighting a runaway
weather helm.

Brewer is, simply put, one of our favorite people and a terrific naval
architect. Seems like this should be enough.

The Comfortable Cruiser

The comfortable cruiser

By Bob Wood

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 1, January/February 2000.

Controlling your environment makes you a better, safer sailor

Dressed for foul weather, dreams of easy sailing

As a person to whom quality time and time aboard are synonymous, I often
daydream of idyllic passages through tropical seas with steady trade winds,
puffy white clouds, and sun-sparkled wave tips at my back. Moments later,
reality returns to find me clutching a warm coffee mug and watching my
steaming breath join the rest of the condensation coating a frigid cabin.
Or it finds me pondering, with burning eyes, the flies gathered on the
mainsail during a windless, steamy August afternoon.

We need to cope with an amazing range of temperatures and conditions over
the course of a typical boating season. Moreover, we do it in a comparatively
Spartan way, without a basement full of extra equipment. We do our best
to cope with this temperature range for two basic reasons: comfort and
safety. A sailor preoccupied with discomfort is going to be at a disadvantage
when decision-making time suddenly arrives.

Basically, we must address two environmental issues while boating; how
to stay warm when it’s cold, and how to cool off when it’s hot. Let’s
look at the mechanics involved and then take them in turn.

Heating and cooling are two sides of the same coin: the physics of heat
transfer. When heat is transferred from place A to place B, A will get
cooler while B gets warmer. There are three ways that heat is moved around:

  • By conduction, when your hand touches a hot stove, directly transferring
    the stove’s heat.
  • By convection, when fan-blown air delivers heat from the stove.
  • By radiation, when the hot stove’s surface or its flames emit infrared
    waves that warm the objects that absorb them.

Those are warming situations; but keep in mind that if you were the stove,
they would be cooling situations . . . different sides of the same process.
To stay comfortable, our human efforts are directed at either enhancing
or reducing the transfer of heat.

Staying warm

Types of heaters

There are several ways to combat cold. Each of the following five basic
types of marine heat generation has advantages and disadvantages.

Electric heat is quick, inexpensive to install, very easy to start
and adjust, requires no exhaust venting, and doesn’t add moisture to a
boat’s already moisture-laden atmosphere. It is also impossible to use
away from the dock without running a generator. Electric heat must be
carefully designed to prevent shocks and fires. And, finally, not all
marinas provide sufficient power to run these heaters. There are electric
furnaces with blowers and air ducting to efficiently heat the long skinny
interiors of boats, but many medium-sized boats can do quite well with
a portable, fan-assisted electric heater. If your home port is north of
the Mason-Dixon Line, dockside electric heat represents a good investment
for chilly mornings and evenings, often extending a season by two or three
months. When buying a portable heater, make sure that it has:

  • a three-pronged safety plug;
  • a thermostat that shuts it off at the desired temperature;
  • a tip-over sensor (if it’s portable) that shuts it off should a wake or other sudden motion knock it over; and
  • a ground-fault interrupter (GFI) or receptacle. In fact, all alternating current-powered appliances aboard should have, or be plugged into, a GFI.

Those precautions, along with sensible and prudent operation, will make
electric heat an enjoyable convenience.

Solid-fuel heaters have the advantage of burning a wide variety
of readily available fuels such as charcoal and wood. They produce a quiet,
dry heat and sometimes a nice ambiance if the fire is visible. The price
is also moderate, and they can be used under way or while you’re swinging
on the hook. On the downside, they do require venting, and their smoke
can foul sails or topsides. They take the longest of all heaters to begin
producing heat, and a bag of charcoal is not the cleanest item to be rattling
around in a locker. Finally, burning ocean driftwood can create mildly
corrosive smoke that hastens your heater’s demise. Still, solid-fuel heaters,
with their warmly glowing flames, rank second of all heating types with

Propane, butane, and compressed natural gas (CNG) are gas fuels
with some commonalities. They are quick to produce heat and difficult
to fine-tune; they will work at the dock or under way; and they are clean-burning.

Most require venting, and I would advise against those that don’t on two

First, some of the catalytic types that don’t require venting are designed
for a semi-open space with plenty of fresh air moving through . . . and
moving the waste products out as well.

Second, the combustion process for gas fuels produces a lot of water vapor
that will be deposited in the dark cold corners of your boat unless it
is vented outside with the other fumes.

There can also be a definite fire hazard when you use a portable catalytic
heater in your boat, especially while under way. I would caution against
doing it. Period.

CNG is lighter than air and will, therefore, not settle in the bilges
like propane could. CNG is also much harder to find than propane wherever
you sail. Propane is quite safe when it’s installed with properly isolated
storage bottles, a correct solenoid shut-off valve, systematic maintenance
of the lines, and a good gas-detection alarm. If you already have propane
for your galley, it may make sense to use it for heating, also. Permanent
marine propane heaters are more expensive than solid-fuel ones, but less
expensive than liquid-fuel heaters.

Liquid-fuel heaters are primarily kerosene- and diesel-fuel heaters.
They are the benchmark by which traditionalists rate all others. They
provide a steady source of low-cost heat while under way, on the hard,
and all points between. If you already have a diesel-fuel galley stove,
you probably don’t need a heater, since the stoves I’ve been around warm
a cabin very well.

The heaters require venting, and the smoke can stain sails over a period
of time. They are also among the most expensive of the different types
of heaters. Since they require gravity-fed or pressurized fuel, a special
tank is sometimes the easiest way to install the system.

Lastly, your cabin can get smoky if fluky winds swirl fumes from the stack
back around the mandatory open hatch or port. A diesel-fuel heater is
for hard-core sailors who rejoice in the glitter of frozen halyards. Serious

Alcohol heaters are portable and inexpensive, but not in the same league
as kerosene/diesel types. Their flame is difficult to see, increasing
the possibility of burns, and they pump lots of undesirable water vapor
into the cabin air. It’s hard to recommend them for boating purposes.

Hot-water radiators. This last heat source is probably the least
used. Radiators produce heat from the water used to cool your inboard
engine. These are not often seen on sailboats, despite the fact that many
a voyage transforms our wind yacht to a displacement-powerboat-with-mast.

Radiators work only when the engine is running, which allows powerboats
to make good use of the free, quiet heat. They produce a dry heat with
no venting required, no fire danger, or smell. They begin providing heat
within minutes of the engine’s being started, and are easy to adjust.
Most installations are custom-made and, therefore, can be expensive. The
radiator preferably uses the heat-exchanger fluid since it’s hotter, but
raw cooling water can be used – although a broken hose or fitting could
flood the cabin.

Humidity’s effect

Humidity, or water moisture in the air that you’re heating, makes a difference.
The more water moisture, the more heat that air can hold. Dry air requires
a higher temperature to be comfortable. Since most heat sources do not
add water vapor, the air becomes drier as it gets warmer. Unless you have
the perfect boat with bone-dry bilges, chain stowage, lockers, and bedding,
you probably won’t have to worry about over-dry air while bobbing on the
waves. The exception would be heating while hauled out during sub-freezing
winter weather; then a pan of water boiling on the stove might help.

Circulation – air layering

The numbers game

are formulas for converting watts to Btu (British thermal units),
determining resistance to heat loss (insulation factor), and number
of tons of air conditioning needed. But forget the numbers; boating’s
wide array of types and conditions make them impractical. Your electric
heat will be limited to what your marina can provide: typically
enough to run a 1,600-watt heater at 110 volts.

With care, this will keep a saloon and one stateroom comfortable
down to around freezing . . . remembering that comfort is a relative
term. Any requirement greater than that in size or temperature is
going to require a fuel heater. Heaters made for permanent marine
installation will advertise figures in Btu output, but basically
they’ll be good for boats up to about 45 feet and temperatures down
to 300F. Dealers in marine air conditioners will help you figure
your cooling requirements based on climate, boat insulation, and
installation location.

A boat has a lot of nooks and crannies, is poorly insulated (compared
to a house), and usually has a single point of heat. If a fan isn’t used
to push the air around, the nooks and crannies and outer surfaces stay
clammy while the air immediately above the heat source becomes uncomfortably

Unless those on board can levitate to the 720F air layer, everyone is
going to be miserable – cold and clammy from the knees down, and feverish
from the shoulders up. A fan is essential for heating comfort. Small,
low-wattage fans can be mounted in passageways forward and aft to immensely
improve the main fan’s function. Layering is good for clothes, bad for
cabin air.


An airtight heated cabin is an invitation to disaster. At the very least,
you’re inviting headaches, as the oxygen content is depleted by fuel-burning
heaters. Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels increase, aggravating
the stale conditions. Moisture from respiration and perspiration has no
place to go to, except onto exposed surfaces. It will cake your sugar
and salt into unusable blocks. You need to have a hatch, porthole, or
Dorade vent partly open, even if it’s below freezing and snowing sideways.


The opposite of an airtight cabin are drafts so bad that a candle or lantern
can’t stay lit. This is unworkable, because all the air that you’re heating
is leaving. It’s going to take a lot of fuel to raise the temperature
if you’re heating the entire Western Hemisphere. You don’t need all downwind
hatches open . . . maybe just one, or a half of one.


Don’t overlook the value of dressing for temperature rather than changing
the temperature for your dress. It’s quite possible to be comfortable
at 550F or cooler temperatures with warm boots, hats, and gloves. You
lose the most heat from not wearing headgear . . . a warm hat and scarf
are probably worth 50F of cabin temperature by themselves. You’ve heard
it before, but dress in layers: a layer closest to the skin that will
wick moisture away, then a bulky insulating layer or layers to hold body
heat in, finally an outer layer that’s wind-resistant, to reduce loss
of heat by convection or drafts. If you typically sail in colder weather,
have boots large enough for two pairs of socks and make the outer layer
a pair of good-quality wool . . . wool retains heat even when it’s wet.

Keeping cool(er)

For many sailors, comfort means any way to stay cool on hot days. For
some, staying cool is synonymous with air conditioning, but there are
other approaches.

Air conditioning

Marine air conditioning is much like marine electric heat; it works well
with shore power, with gen-set power, or with an extremely long extension
cord. For powerboaters, there are air conditioners that work from a power
take-off on the engine. Like radiator heating systems, the engine has
to be running for power take-off systems to operate. Air conditioning
accomplishes at least four things: it cools the air, creates air movement,
removes excess moisture, and filters some airborne particles.

It also requires a well-sealed cabin to be effective, and a compressor
location with plenty of fresh-air circulation to take away the heat. Systems
can be on the pricey side, but if you’re lying alongside the dock at West
Palm Beach for an extended stay in July, life as we know it suffers without


Air circulation helps in reducing the effects of uncomfortable heat. It
promotes the evaporation of perspiration, which lowers our body temperature
and makes us smile. If your boat is swinging on the hook, or otherwise
moored on a windless day, circulation is spelled f-a-n-s.

For a very few dollars (less than $10) mail-order suppliers such as Northern
Hydraulics or Harbor Freight often sell small, surplus, 12-volt box fans
that draw less current than a light bulb. You may even find some that
have hinges, so they fold against a bulkhead when not in use. Having two
of them in the main saloon and one in each stateroom is not overkill,
andyour batteries won’t go dead in a day, either.

For best results, aim them directly where people will sit (or lie) at
about chest level. They make a big difference and also help during the
frosty season for distributing your heater’s munificence. If you run your
engine about an hour a day, your batteries will never suffer any undue

Under way or on any windy day, circulation is spelled h-a-t-c-h-e-s. The
more, the merrier. The bigger, the better. Opening ports are nice but
usually too small, and their insect screening further reduces the airflow.

Ideally, on a good old boat of about 35 feet, there should be two hatches
in the cabin overhead, one above the galley and one above the seating
area. There should also be an overhead hatch in each stateroom. All of
this is in addition to opening ports.

Incidentally, I don’t like forward-opening hatches in the V-berth area
or anywhere else. Boarding seas will quite likely carry them away if they
catch them undogged. Trawlers, whose foredecks are much higher, fare much
better with forward-opening hatches.


Hand-in-hand with circulation goes ventilation. On hot sultry days, you
need fresh air below, unless you’re running the air conditioner. Seasickness
is not eliminated by fresh air but it sometimes helps. And fresh air always
helps those who are aboard with the seasick victim. Fresh air also means
keeping engine room air separate from cabin air. Even in a spotless engine
room without exhaust leaks, engines get hot and fill the air with lubricating-oil
fumes and bilge fumes. They need lots of fresh air and ventilation, but
not via the cabin.

There is one particular no-win situation: running downwind under power.
It’s much better to bear off a few degrees than to suffer the exhaust
fumes in the cockpit and cabin, no matter how good your ventilation is.


Our natural cooling systems depend on the evaporation of perspiration
(sweat) to reduce body temperature. The moisture for sweat is carried
by the vascular system. If you don’t drink sufficient water, your blood
doesn’t have as much to give the skin, and you’re going to feel warmer.

Drinking lots of liquids on hot days helps our cooling systems. Taking
salt tablets helps the body increase the vascular volume, thus more liquid
is available for the skin. For those of us on the far side of 39, perspiration
is generally reduced. We therefore really appreciate any additional cooling


Increased humidity slows our rate of perspiration evaporation, and thus
our cooling off. You will feel more uncomfortable at 900F and 90 percent
relative humidity (RH) than at 900F and 50 percent RH. Aside from cranking
up the air conditioning or heading for the clubhouse, combating high humidity
requires shade, air movement, and loose-fitting clothing.


The value of shade is often underestimated when you’re trying to cool
your boat. A Bimini top is wonderful for the cockpit if the sun is directly
overhead. Short side-panels dropping down from the Bimini about a foot
will increase its shade area by at least 50 percent and won’t noticeably
reduce the ventilation, especially if the panels are made from weighted
screening. Lastly, consider a Bimini extension over the cabin roof. Shading
this area will definitely make the cabin cooler and help the air conditioner.

Bob Wood

Bob Wood learned to sail on small O’Days more than 30 years ago. He has owned an odd assortment of sailboats and sailed them in waters from the Florida Keys to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and from New York’s Finger Lakes to Colorado’s and Idaho’s impoundments and reservoirs.

Fuel and Water Filters

Fuel and water filters: Simple insurance policies

By Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1999.

Picture a hot, windless Sunday afternoon as you power home on a
glassy sea. Suddenly your engine slows and stops or overheats. Today
of all days! You really did not need this, and it could have all been

Fuel filter cross-section diagram

How? By installing and maintaining filters to clean the fuel
and water systems you and your boat need to operate successfully in a
water environment. Filters come in many types and sizes and are
custom-designed to serve a specific purpose. Many sailors tend to
ignore the mechanical side of their vessels and assume the attitude
that, "It’s a sailboat; it should sail, right?" Well yes, but the
wind does not always blow in the desired direction or with the
desired velocity. In times of need, our mechanical friends on board
make the difference between a reasonable end to a cruise, no matter
how long or short, and a long wait on a hot and windless sea.

Filters fall into three groups. Required, for fuel and engine
cooling water. Desirable, for engine oil, potable water,
refrigeration cooling, and seawater uses. Cosmetic, for air and sound
filtration. Let’s take a detailed look at each type available for
today’s vessels.

Pre-tank filters

Fuel filters can be defined as pre-tank, primary, and secondary. A
pre-tank filter would be a funnel type that provides basic filtering
of the fuel as it is poured or pumped into the tank. This type of
filter is very basic but very valuable. They range from a plastic
funnel with a screen in the bottom to catch dirt, leaves, and large
contaminants such as bits of plastic, to the more sophisticated Baja
filter. The Baja filters are aluminum funnels designed for cruisers
who travel remote cruising grounds such as the Sea of Cortes,
adjacent to Baja California in Mexico, where fuel is scarce and
supplied in used 55-gallon drums of dubious origin.

Baja filters have two extremely fine stainless steel mesh
screens to trap fine particulate matter (sand, dust, etc.) and a
water-resistant filter to keep out a large majority of water that may
be present in the fuel. The filters are really designed for diesel
fuel but will assist in filtering gasoline. The Baja filter protects
your tank from water-loving bacteria and helps prolong the useful
life of the onboard primary and secondary filters.

Primary filters

Primary filters are the off-engine filters, usually added as
after-market equipment to your fuel system. Their manufacturers have
names like Racor, Fram, Sierra, and Groco. The filters come in single
or multiple units, in-line or independent mount, spin-on element or

Filters are sized in accordance with the projected fuel flow
per hour required by a specific size engine. Diesel engines, because
they return unused fuel to the tank, will have a larger flow rate in
gallons per hour (gph) than equivalent gasoline engines but will
consume less fuel per hour. The filter must be sized for the flow
rate, not the consumption rate, of the engine. The gasoline engine
either burns or discharges as unburned all fuel fed into it.

A rule of thumb for sizing filters for gasoline engines is 10
percent of maximum horsepower equals gallons per hour (gph). My 30-hp
Atomic 4 gasoline engine has a potential maximum gph of 10% x 30 hp =
3 gph. I don’t think the engine will ever burn this amount as it
never runs at peak power but, theoretically, it could. My primary
filter is a Racor 200 series turbine with a 15 gph flow rate.
Overkill? Sure but it works all season long.

A diesel engine flow rate is horsepower x 18% = gph, thus a
30-hp diesel would have a theoretical flow rate of 5.4 gph.

A filter that is oversize for the projected gph will work and
last longer than an exact gph filter. A filter that is too small
(less than the calculated potential gph) may restrict fuel flow and
cause engine performance problems. With filters, bigger – within
reason – is better.

The newest type of fuel filters is the spin-on canister type
which looks like the familiar spin-on oil filter we use for our
automobiles. They are very differenton the inside, however. Spin-on
filters are commonly chosen for gasoline engines, while spin-on and
turbine type filters are commonly used on diesel engines. The larger
diesels usually use turbine type filters. Pure fuel is more critical
to diesel engine operation as the injectors of a diesel are
particularly sensitive to particulates in the fuel.

Spin-on elements are easier to change out than turbine units,
and when you change a spin-on element, you renew the whole filter. In
turbine units, you can change the paper element and still have
particles and water in the filter if you do not completely
disassemble and clean all parts of the unit. Some of the fine
contaminants in the fuel of my Atomic 4 adhered so tenaciously to the
turbine vanes they required scraping to remove. Is it any wonder we
need good filters when the contaminants in our fuel harden up like

Filters come as filters alone or as a combination filter and
water separator. Three-stage filters have a turbine section for large
particles or gross amounts of water, a coalescing ring to trap the
remaining water, and a micron element to remove fine particles.
Filters are classified by microns. Different engines have different
micron requirements. Racor’s standard filter size is 2 microns for
their spin-on type filter/water separators. Their turbine type has
elements that can be interchanged between 2, 10, and 30 microns. A
common combination is a 10-micron primary filter and a 2-micron
secondary (on-engine) filter.

If we use a Baja filter when we fill up the tank and still
have water in the tank, where does the water come from? Since boat
fuel tanks are vented, regular air interchange between the atmosphere
in the tank and the external atmosphere takes place. A cycle is
established in each tank when the air heats and expands during the
day, and excess air is expelled through the vent line. When the
ambient air cools, the air in the tank contracts and sucks in
external air to equalize the pressure. The air that is sucked in is
cool and damp, bringing moisture into the tank. This moisture
condenses on the exposed interior of the tank forming droplets which
fall into the fuel and settle on the tank bottom in the form of water.

If we never introduced water from contaminated fuel into the
tank, we would still have some water in the tank from the
condensation process. A good way to reduce this air interchange is to
keep the tank topped up with fuel, thus limiting the air space
available in the tank and minimizing atmospheric condensation.

In an effort to keep operating even with a plugged fuel
filter, boats with larger engines may have multiple primary filters
piped in such a manner that one filter may be used in the system
while the other filter is being cleaned. This setup is more common to
power boats and trawlers than to sailboats, but has definite merit.
Multiple filters can be piped together as Primary A, Primary B, and
so on. Finer and finer filtration is possible as the fuel passes
through each stage. Usually single filters are designed to clean the
fuel down to 2 to 10 microns (a micron is one one-thousandth of a
millimeter). Filters are manufactured down to two microns so a
multiple filter system could commence with a Primary A at 30 microns,
Primary B at 10 microns, and a Primary C at 2 microns. At 2 microns,
the fuel is very, very clean. Commercial firms that advertise that
they "polish" your fuel use this multiple filter approach plus a
centrifuge for a complete cleaning.

When considering a multiple filter system, remember that two
filters piped in parallel to a common manifold will have a combined
gph of the capacity of both filters, e.g., two 60-gph units will
equal 120 gph. Three 60 gph filters piped in series (Primary A, B,
and C), will have the gph of the single unit which is 60 gph.

Before we leave the primary filter discussion, let’s talk
about filter maintenance. The best way to determine the state of
cleanliness of a primary filter is to install a vacuum gauge on the
discharge side of the filter. The gauge shows how hard the engine is
having to "suck" to pull fuel through the filter. The higher the
vacuum, the dirtier the filter and the greater the need to replace
the element and clean the filter unit.

Racor makes a vacuum gauge that replaces the tee handle on
the top of their turbine filter. This makes for a very neat
installation. Individual vacuum gauges on single or multiple filters
may be teed into the discharge line of each filter to reveal the
state of the filtering element. The other ways to determine when to
change a filter (other than vacuum gauges) are more subjective. A
good method is to rely on running hours to set a time to change
filter elements. This can be anywhere from 50-hour intervals to 200
hours depending on how careful you are in providing clean fuel. This
is where the Baja filter will help extend the life of the primary and
secondary filters.

If you do not use a pre-tank filter and put a load of
contaminated fuel in the tank, a brand new filter may only last five
minutes. Use a pre-tank filter or know, for sure, you are pumping or
loading clean fuel. When I was a kid and worked at a fuel dock in
Oyster Bay, New York, Gulf Oil provided off-pump, in-line gasoline
filters in an effort to assure clean, waterless fuel. One of my daily
jobs was to check the large storage tanks with a long rectangular
wooden combination fuel gauge smeared with water finder paste to see
how much fuel we had and if it had any water in it. Some ports today
are not as careful about providing clean fuel. Even fuel purchased at
the local gas station may not have an in-line filter and may give you
a good dose of water.

Secondary filters

Pre-tank fuel filter location drawing

Assuring clean fuel to start with is your best guarantee of
trouble-free engine performance. After the fuel has passed through
the pre-tank and primary filter stages, it flows to the engine and
the secondary filter. The secondary stage may be as simple as a
screen in the intake line of a gasoline carburetor or another
canister-type filter mounted directly on a diesel engine. The
secondary filter on my Atomic 4, which is equipped with an electric
fuel pump, is in the bottom of the fuel pump itself and is a fine
nylon screen on a round plastic frame. I recently received a
communication from Don Moyer of Moyer Marine recommending the
addition of an in-line filter between the fuel pump and the
carburetor. Compared to a 10-micron primary filter, my screen is
pretty coarse, but then this is a gasoline engine, not a diesel.

The engine manufacturer normally provides the secondary fuel
filter, sized to the engine. Other than carrying a spare element or
having a screen you can clean, there is little to be done with the
secondary element. If the primary filter system is efficient in
cleaning the fuel, the secondary system should be trouble-free except
for an annual maintenance. Remember, clean fuel is the lifeblood of
your engine. Take care to purchase a high quality marine (not
automotive) type primary fuel filter and learn how and when to
maintain it. You’ll really be glad you did when you are powering home
over a hot or cold windless sea.

Engine overheating

In our second problem scenario, the engine overheats. The probable
cause is trash in the seawater intake or strainer or a failed water
pump impeller. Most sailboat engines are seawater cooled, either
directly by seawater circulation or indirectly through a heat
exchanger. The seawater enters the hull through a through-hull intake
with a perforated round bronze screen over the outside or a
rectangular finned through-hull. It is possible for the screen or fin
to plug up with foreign debris or marine growth, but if the engine
was running cool when you left the mooring and suddenly overheats,
the problem is probably elsewhere.

I once chartered a sailboat in the Bahamas. I left the dock
under power, and within five minutes the engine overheated. The
problem was marine growth on the seawater strainer. The boat had not
been properly maintained. On my own Pearson, I routinely check all
the through-hulls with a mask and snorkel. Zebra mussels, barnacles,
and even oysters love the cozy atmosphere of a through-hull

If it is not the through-hull, then where? The next step is
the seawater strainer. This strainer should be installed in the
seawater intake line between the seacock and the downstream
distribution. I say downstream distribution because it is possible to
use the seawater intake for more than one purpose, but that’s fodder
for another article. The seawater strainer should be as large as
practical. The larger it is, the more trash it can hold before
becoming clogged. Groco makes a fine line of bronze and Plexiglas
seawater strainers. Some other manufacturers are Puritan, Par, Vetus,
and Forespar.

A pre-sail checkout should include making sure the seawater
strainer is clean. A few minutes’ work will assure a trouble-free
trip. I realize it is a pain to crawl into the bilge to check the
seawater filter, but it is worth doing. I know it’s time to diet when
I cannot easily climb into the cockpit seat lockers to check out the
seawater filter. (Something about the ratio of sun to beer intake,
according to my wife.)

Finally, if it is neither of the above, check the seawater
pump impeller. Old impellers tend to throw off their blades, which
then get caught in the engine cooling system and block the water
flow. The only defense against this is to replace the impeller
annually. Globe/Barco impellers are made of niprene, which is an
elastomer combining properties of rubber, nitrile, viton, and
neoprene. The impellers are self-lubricating. They are used by the
U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and are sold by marine outlets. Carry at
least one spare impeller, if not two.

If you change your impeller every season, or at least inspect
it, you will know which tools are required and how much time it will
take. On some engines, it is fast and easy, and on some it takes
several hours. (Editor’s note: We remove ours during winter layup and
lubricate the housing with Vaseline or water pump grease when we
reinstall it.)

Water filters

Racor Water filter

Next let’s look at filters we need for our health and well being.
Consumable water is a requirement for all manner of life on earth,
sailors included. The concept of fresh water in our homes and on our
boats is sometimes a misnomer. Scientists studying pollution
worldwide are coming to the conclusion that water quality and
quantity around the world is in serious decline and will constitute a
major problem in the 21st century for the developed and developing
countries of the world. Bacteria and toxins, along with chemical and
hydrocarbon contaminants, endanger all of our earth’s water.
Antiquated water treatment facilities are ill-equipped to handle
today’s level and type of pollutants. Many of the new breeds of bug,
especially cysts like Cryptosporidia cannot be effectively removed
from the water supply. If this is true of the municipal water supply
of the United States, consider the out islands and other remote
locations. Even rainwater can pick up contaminants from the
atmosphere on its way to the earth.

Now consider the water on board our good old boats. It may be
anything but pure and fresh. It may taste of the bilge, smell of
fiberglass, look like mildew, and carry particles of unknown origin.
We need to take care of this most precious commodity. Remember, a
person can live without food for more than 30 days but cannot live
even five days without clean water.

We can have clear, sweet, clean fresh water on our boats
through the care of our freshwater tanks and the use of filters to
cleanse the water of many of its impurities prior to use.
Pre-tank water filters are the equivalent of the Baja filter,
which is used as we fill our fuel tanks. The least we can do in this
regard is to use a funnel with a fine mesh screen to remove any
solids that may be present in the water and, of course, to carefully
select the source of our water in the first place. The best we can do
is to use a pre-filter such as General Ecology’s Dockside Pre-Filter
to keep dirt and sediment out of our freshwater tanks.

Letting the water in the fill hose run for a short while will go a
long way toward assuring that we are getting fresh water from the
supply, rather than the water in the hose. Water that has been
sitting in plastic hoses will usually add an unpleasant taste to your
water supply unless you have a special potable water hose made to
eliminate the problem. Even if you do use a special hose, unless you
can hook up to the hard piping of the source there may still be
conventional plastic hose between your hose and the water source with
the associated taste problem.

Water will also contain dissolved chemicals and contaminants
that cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled but are not good for humans.
These can be parasitic cysts, solvents, and other nasty critters and
substances. Pre-filters will not remove these contaminants. Our water
tanks provide an almost ideal breeding environment for these nasty
substances to grow and multiply. Fungi, Giardia cysts, amoebic cysts,
microscopic worms, larvae, and other undesirable creatures and plants
thrive in this environment. The problem is exacerbated by taking on
water from different sources. Various water supplies contain
different pollutants which can "gang up" to create problems they
would not normally cause by themselves.

We are usually our greatest enemy in the fight for clean
water. We fill the tanks at the beginning of the season and use the
water sparingly during our time aboard. Weekend to weekend the water
sits in the tank and "grows" things. We don’t want to waste our water
supply and dump it every week, and we can’t clean the tank every
week, so, what to do?

The first step in assuring a clean, sweet water supply is to
find a supply that is sweet to begin with. We are going to use a lot
of water to clean up our onboard supply. Next, we add 2/3 cup of
bleach (sodium hypochlorite) diluted in one gallon of sweet water for
every 10 gallons of tank capacity. Fill the tank to the brim with the
mixture and let it sit for 24 hours. Dump all of the water and start
over, this time add one quart of white vinegar for every 5 gallons of
tank capacity, fill to the brim again, and let it sit for 48 hours.
Then dump it – all of it.

Next, fill the tank with sweet water with no additives, let
it sit for another 24 hours and dump it. Refill the tank adding one
teaspoon (1/6 oz.) of sodium hypochlorite for every 10 gallons of
water. The water in your tanks should now be sweet and clean. This
procedure is time-consuming but not hard to accomplish. The hardest
part will be assuring you have completely drained the tank at each
stage of the cleaning process. (Editors’ note: If you have any
physical reaction to water with bleach in it – a sore throat, for
example – keep flushing until you don’t, and then don’t add more
bleach. We have experienced problems with bleach, even in minute
quantities, in our drinking water.)

The bleach should have killed off any mold, mildew, or other
bacteria in the tank. It will not kill cysts and parasites, but we
will handle them with our onboard filters. The vinegar will
neutralize the bleach taste and fiberglass smell. The series of
rinses will remove any particulate matter leaving a clean water

Be sure, when you are accomplishing the above, that you flush
the supply lines from the tank to the fixtures, as these sometimes
enable things to grow. Pulling water through the system for all
treatments will accomplish this for you easily. You need not pull all
the water through the system. Pull till it runs clear, then dump the
rest. As the water is not hydrocarbon contaminated, it can be pumped
overboard through the bilge pump system.

Our water supply is now back in business, and all we need is
a final treatment to remove those things we cannot see but will hurt
us. We need a high-quality water filter between the tank and the
outlets. Water filters range in design from UV (ultra violet) water
sterilizers such as Water Fixer to in-line carbon filters similar to
units we would use in our homes. There are sediment filters, taste
filters, softeners, odor filters, and Structured Matrix technology
that combine the capabilities of several types of filters. The
Seagull IV System has an ultra fine submicron filter layer to remove
all visible particles combined with a molecular sieving and broad
spectrum absorption layer which removes chlorine, organic chemicals,
specific pesticides, herbicides, solvents, taste, smell, and color.
The final layer of the filter works by electrokinetic attraction
removing small positively charged particles of the larger
contaminants by attracting them to the negatively charged surface of
the filter to remove colloids and other even smaller particles than
those removed by the microfine filtration layer. By the time the
water has passed through a filter of this type, it is probably purer
than the tap water we have at home.

The cost of these filters runs from $30 to $500. You
definitely get what you pay for, but for most of us a good annual
tank cleaning and a $30 carbon filter will meet all of our
requirements. Water purifiers are available if the quality of water
you receive in a foreign port is in doubt. Purifiers can be used in
conjunction with other filters to clean up most potable water
problems. Remember, the water you take on must be potable. The
world’s best filter cannot make contaminated water safe to drink.

The filter you have on board will need to be serviced once a
year, preferably in the spring when you flush the tank after the
winter layup. This usually means pulling the old cartridge and
installing a new one at a modest cost.

The best way to assure a clean water supply is to exercise
diligence in selecting the source of supply in the first place.
Protecting your own and your family’s health are worth all the effort
in cleaning your water supply.

The fore and aft rig

The fore-and-aft rig

By Ted Brewer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 2, March/April 2001.

While economics favor the sloop, other rigs have much to offer

Sunshine, a 33-foot gaff sloop drawing

Sunshine, a 33-foot gaff sloop with a bowsprit

The history of the fore-and-aft
rig is a fascinating one. It is particularly interesting when you realize
that two of the earliest fore-and-aft rigs, the lateen sail of the
Middle East (Egyptian feluccas and Arabian dhows) and the Chinese junk,
have remained largely unchanged over the centuries and are still in
use in the areas where they began.

21-foot catboat drawing

21-foot catboat

in the West, the fore-and-aft rig has been under constant development:
from the
dipping-lug rig
based on the old square sails
to standing lugs, gaff rigs, and finally to “leg o’mutton” sails,
spritsails, and the modern Bermudan rig. And, of course, the rig
is still being developed with newer materials, fully battened sails,
vangs, in-mast reefing, sprit rigs with wishbone booms, and so forth.

will note that I use the term “Bermudan” rather
than “Marconi.” The reason is that the rig first
became more widely known in the late 1600s after reports reached
of the good performance of the small sloops of Bermuda. So I prefer
use the island name, rather than call it after a radio mast that
was not invented until 200 years after a Bermudan rig first caught

42-foot sloop drawing

Sandingo, a 42-foot sloop

Gaff vs. Bermudan

The gaff rig and the Bermudan are the two major rigs today. Each has its
advantages, but truly they operate on different planes. The racing sailor
and the average yachtsman stay with the Bermudan rig, while the gaff is
favored by a few diehards and is used, of course, for character boats and

gaff rig does feature a lower center of effort for a given
sail area and so develops less
moment. This is partly
offset by
the heavier weight of the spars, but the weight of the gaff
comes down as the sail is reefed. Furthermore, a quick “reef” can
be achieved in a squall by dropping the peak halyard to scandalize
the sail and immediately reduce the effective mainsail area
by 30 to 40 percent. The gaff sail itself is slightly more effective
offwindthan the Bermudan as it presents a flatter area to the
breeze and, in addition, the gaff can be fitted with a vang to reduce
twist. More
important to the serious cruising sailor is that the gaff rig
is simpler and cheaper to set up, less sensitive to bad tuning,
and generally
simpler to repair if something goes wrong at sea.

42-foot double-headsail sloop drawing

42-foot double-headsail sloop

The gaff rig hasn’t had
the advantage of the development that has gone into the Bermudan rig in
the past 50 years. The British designer, J. Laurent Giles, showed the gaff
rig the way over a half-century ago with the lovely 47-foot gaff cutter
Dyarchy. Her single-spreader rig supported a tall, wooden, pole mast with
an unusually large main topsail’s luff rope sliding up into a groove. Despite
Dyarchy’s success, this did not stir interest in further development unfortunately,
so the gaff rig of today is little changed from that of a century ago with
the exception of synthetic sails and, possibly, aluminum tube spars.

The contemporary, highly
developed Bermudan rig, with its lighter spars, higher-aspect-ratio sail,
inboard chainplates, close jib-sheeting angles, and so on, has much the
better windward ability. Also the development of the spinnaker and (more
importantly to the cruising sailor, the asymmetrical spinnaker) has more
than offset the gaff rig’s advantage downwind. A major feature of the Bermudan
rig, of course, is that a permanent backstay can be fitted, adding to safety
and reducing the need for running backstays.

these and other reasons, such as rating handicaps and manufacturing
economy, the
Bermudan rig is vastly in the
majority today for
cruising and racing, while new gaff-rigged craft are
few and far between.
Still, the gaff rig finds favor with those who love traditional
craft andreplicas of the working sail of yesteryear.
I’ve been fortunate to have been commissioned to design
wide range of gaff-rigged yachts,
from 25-foot catboats and Bahama sloops to 70-foot schooners,
and I know that our waters would be very dull indeed
if the gaff rig ever
vanished completely.


In the 1960s, the Royal Ocean Racing Club of Great Britain
developed a handicap rule that estimated the efficiency
of the various




Handicap (%)

sloop or cutter
Bermudan yawl
Bermudan schooner and gaff sloop
Bermudan ketch and gaff yawl
Gaff schooner
Gaff ketch


37-foot triple-headsail sloop

37-foot triple-headsail sloop

effect, the rule said that a gaff ketch rig has only 81 percent of the
efficiency of a
Bermudan sloop
or cutter
the same sail
area, but that was with other things being equal.
not always the case, and it is obvious that a gaff
ketch with a well-designed
hull and a slick bottom can sail circles around a
poorly designed Bermudan sloop with ratty sails and a rough
bottom. Also, the cruising sailor
must consider that efficiency is not necessarily
handiness or safety.
Safety in cruising is having sufficient windward
ability to claw off a lee shore in a gale, but only
if the
rig can be
by a short-handed
crew. If a sloop’s sails are too large for
the crew to change or reef under storm conditions,
then you have no safety and would be
better off with a divided rig with its smaller sails
and greater ease of handling.


the 1980s, the cat rig was limited to small character boats, usually
gaff-rigged, and designed
along the
lines of the Cape
Cod model.

29-foot sloop drawing

29-foot sloop

Now we have beamy fin keel/spade rudder
Nonsuch catboats in sizes to
36 feet, spreading over 700 square feet in one
huge sail. I know from racing against them that these
new catboats
sail well to
certainly much better than the old gaff-rigged
cats, but how
much of
that is due to the rig and how much to the modern
hull design is open to question.

Cat rigs

The cat rig is certainly suitable for coastal cruising,
with an eye on the weather, but I don’t
consider any single-masted cat rig, not even
the most modern, to be a true bluewater cruiser.
Someone will
cross an ocean on one, probably has already;
oceans have been crossed in all manner of small
craft, from rowboats to sailing canoes . . .
just not with me aboard!

Sloops and cutters

The sloop rig and the cutter are almost indistinguishable today. If the
boat sets only a single headsail, she is a sloop, of course.

46-foot cutter without bowsprit

Blue Jeans, a 46-foot cutter without a bowsprit

With or without
a bowsprit, if the mast is set well aft, abaft 40 percent of the waterline
length, and the boat carries two or more headsails, she is a cutter. Confusion
arises when a boat has her mast located forward but sets several headsails.
Many will call her a cutter but she is, in reality, a double-headsail sloop.
Even with a short bowsprit she’ll be a sloop unless the foretriangle is
larger than the mainsail.

The sloop and cutter
are the most efficient of all rigs. Indeed,
a sloop with a self-tending
jib would
be as easy
to handle
as a catboat and a better all-round performer.
The single-headsail sloop
has a slight edge over the double-headsail
as the staysail is
not an easy sail to trim for maximum performance.
Properly set
up, either rig is simple to handle, and with
modern (and very expensive) gear they are
suited to cruising
up to 50
feet or more.

An important point with
cutters and most double-headsail rigs is that running backstays are required
to properly tension the staysail stay. Often, you’ll find an intermediate
shroud fitted, running from the point where the staysail stay intersects
the mast to a chainplatejust abaft the aft lower shroud.

38-foot cutter drawing

Kaiulani, a 38-foot cutter

The angle this
shroud presents with the mast is far too small to tension the staysail stay,
so all it really does is add undesirable mast compression. On many designs
I have fitted a heavy tackle to the lower end of the intermediate shroud
so it can be left set up as an intermediate in light air and, when it breezes
up, brought aft as a runner, properly tensioning the staysail stay and reducing
mast panting at the same time. Don’t cross an ocean without one!

It should be noted that the
most efficient setup for a given sail
area is a sloop
with a large
mainsail and a
The big
150-percent masthead genoa jib beloved
of modern racers
only pays off under handicap rules that
do not penalize the extra
area of
the overlap.
In class racing where every square foot
of sail area is counted, such as the
5.5-Meter class,
the rigs
quickly settle down
to using the largest
permissible main and the smallest jib
to make up the allowed
area. Such a rig can make good sense
for the coastal cruiser also, as
it simplifies handling. The main can
be quickly
reefed when it blows,
eliminating the need for a headsail change.
Tacking with the smaller jib is much
easier on a husband/wife
than handling
a whopping
big genoa. Such rigs were once common
but are now out of style in this era of masthead


52-foot yawl drawing

Julie, a 52-foot yawl

Despite the efficiency of the single-masted
rigs, my own preference for bluewater
cruisers over
40 feet
is a divided
rig, the yawl
or ketch. A true yawl has the mizzen
set abaft the rudderpost and the
sail area
about 10 to 15 percent of the total.
It’s a useful rig wit

some of the advantages of both the
sloop and ketch. It is almost as
weatherly as a sloop and, like the ketch,
set an easily handled
mizzen staysail to increase area
in light air or jog along under jib and
mizzen in a blow. At anchor, if you
leave the mizzen set with a
reef or two, the boat points quietly
into the wind and no longer sails
around its mooring. The yawl’s mizzen
must be strongly stayed so the sail
can be set to balance the jib in
heavy weather and, in
a real gale, to keep the yacht head-to-wind
with a sea anchor off the bow. It’s
difficult to design a yawl today,
though, as the rudders on contemporary yachts
are usually so far aft that you’d
have to tow the mizzen in a dinghy
for it to be abaft the rudderpost.


44-foot ketch with small mizzen drawing

A 44-foot ketch with a small mizzen

The ketch has her mizzen forward of the rudderpost, and the sail area is
comparatively larger than that of the yawl’s mizzen, up to 20 percent or
more of the total. As a result, the ketch is slower and not as weatherly
as the yawl because the large mizzen is partially backwinded by the main
when beating to windward. The answer is to design ketch rigs with a smaller
mizzen, closer to yawl proportions. This makes a good compromise rig with
some of the advantages of both. The mizzen mast can be well stayed, and
the mizzen sail is not so large that it unduly affects performance.

the ketch and yawl can be balanced
under a wide variety of reduced
sail combinations in a
blow and,
to many cruising
thishandiness more than offsets
the loss of a
fraction of a knot to windward.
Both rigs can be built in smaller sizes,
of course. I’ve owned a
22-foot ketch and 22-foot, 25-foot,
and 30-foot yawls. Still, it is
generally considered that over
40 feet is the
proper size for the rigs,
although I would not dismiss them
in smaller sizes for extended bluewater
cruising. The versatility and handiness
of yawls and ketches can more than
make up for an extra day or two
at sea on a long voyage.

By the
way, there is no such rig as
a “cutter-ketch” but
I’ve heard a Whitby 42
called that when one is fitted
with a
bowsprit and double headsails.
The term makes about as much
sense as
calling a Maine Friendship a “cutter-sloop.” The
correct term is simply a ketch
or, if you wish to be exact,
a double-headsail

double-headsail ketch with bowsprit drawing

Miami, a double-headsail ketch with a bowsprit


The schooner rig is rarely seen today and, to my knowledge, there have been
only two schooners in production in North America, the beautiful Cherubini
44 and my own little 32-foot Lazyjack (see January 2001 issue of Good Old
Boat). The usual schooner is set up with one or more headsails, followed
by a gaff foresail set on the foremast and either a gaff or Bermudan mainsail
on the mainmast. The staysail schooner replaces the foresail with a staysail
between the masts. Nina, a famous old staysail schooner, was winning silver
from her first trans-Atlantic race in 1928 to her last Bermuda win in the
late 1960s.

A few schooners have
been built with Bermudan
sails on both
masts. My
Ingenue design
was a CCA rule-beater
this type,
a lot of silver in her day
and beating many larger yachts
when the wind
was free.
Still, although
the schooner is fast
the wind,
she is not as weatherly as
the sloop
or yawl. A schooner can be
a handy rig for cruising,

70-foot schooner drawing

Tree of Life, a 70-foot schooner

A well-designed schooner can
beat slowly
to windward in a blow with
her foresail set and is well
suited to
handling in
adverse weather
by a
short-handed cruising
Schooners have been built
as small as 20 to 22 feet, and
Murray Peterson designed
many traditional beauties
in the 30-foot
range. The rig is best suited
to larger craft, generally
40 feet
or more,
but if
you like the
rig and want a small schooner,
go for it.

When I started in this business more than 40 years ago, the waters
were dotted with schooners, ketches, yawls, cutters, and sloops of
all types, sizes, and colors. Today, unfortunately, rating rules
and the economics of modern mass production have decreed that the sloop
rig is the way to go. Over the years, the factories have turned them
out by the thousands, usually with blue trim or, like the bathtub
my home, all white with no trim at all. As sailors, we have lost
much of our heritage, and our waters are a great deal less interesting
a result.


Tanks A Lot – Epoxy Cure

Tanks A Lot, Part 3

By Norman Ralph

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 1, January/February 1999.

The epoxy “cure”

One of the most annoying
problems that can occur on a sailboat is a leak in the diesel fuel tank.
If you don’t have the time, expertise, or courage to attempt to
repair it yourself, you can always arrange to have your boatyard repair
it. But you can do it yourself, if you are willing to try.

If your boat is
constructed so that tank removal is possible without major disassembly
of the interior, make the repair with the tank removed. The repair will
then be fairly straightforward. Since most diesel fuel tanks are made
of aluminum or black iron, a welding shop can repair either material
with relatively little expense. First remove the inspection cover and
thoroughly clean the interior of the tank. While you’re at it,
inspect it for pitting and other potential future problems. If the tank
doesn’t have an inspection cover, now would be an excellent time
to install one. If you ever get bad fuel or have a sludge buildup in
your tank, you will be glad you have access to the interior of your
tank to clean it.

If you cannot remove
your tank or don’t have an inspection port, let me walk you through
my experience in repairing the fuel tank on our boat Bluebonnet, a Valiant
32. During the second year of a multi-year refit I was doing on the
boat in our back yard, I became aware that diesel fuel was seeping into
the bilge. We had bought the boat in Texas and had it trucked to our
home in Missouri, where I was repairing extensive blisters and bringing
the boat back to her former glory.

At first I pushed
the leak out of my mind, since I was involved with other work on the
boat. However, when the smell wouldn’t go away I decided that
it would have to be fixed. The Valiant 32 has a 47-gallon aluminum fuel
tank that is mounted aft of the L-25 Westerbeke diesel engine under
the cockpit sole. Due to its size, the only way to remove it would be
to remove the engine first.

Even then, removing
the tank would have been questionable because offshore sailboats tend
to have small, narrow companionways. I decided to repair the tank in
place. The first step was to empty the remaining fuel from the tank.
This was accomplished by pumping the fuel into five-gallon cans.

Squeezing into the
starboard cockpit locker, I found that I could lie next to the fuel
tank and work. I had 10 to 12 inches of clearance between the top of
the tank and the cockpit sole. In the flat area on the top of the tank,
I cut a 10-inch square hole with a right-angle drill and a sabre saw
to give access to the interior of the tank. If you have removed your
tank and are installing an inspection port, make sure the location will
be accessible when the tank is re-installed. I removed the fuel gauge
sending unit and set it aside. Then I cleaned the inside of the tank
using rags first and solvents later.

During this process,
the engine access panels were removed and a high volume fan circulated
air throughout the area. I wore a respirator at all times. There was
evidence of pitting in the aluminum in the lowest part of the tank,
and one of the largest pits was paper thin. To repair the leak, I called
Gougeon Brothers of Bay City, Mich. For blister repair on the hull,
I had been using their West System epoxy and fillers.

I had called them
before with other questions and found them to be very cordial and knowledgeable.
I was told that they had used epoxy to repair fuel tanks with excellent
results and was given instructions about how to proceed. With special
attention to the pitted areas, I gave the entire interior of the tank
a final cleaning with acetone to remove any oily residue. I mixed some
epoxy and hardener with some filler to make a putty the consistency
of peanut butter. This was worked into the areas where the pitting had
occurred. After this cured, I sanded the area smooth. Then I lightly
sanded the entire area with number 100 emery cloth and wiped it down
with acetone. Using a disposable brush, I coated the interior with epoxy
and hardener.

I then purchased
a piece of 3/16-inch thick aluminum, 12 x 12 inches. I drilled three
holes on each side H inch in from the edge. I centered this plate over
the hole, scribed the top of the tank, and center-punched the holes.
Then I drilled holes and tapped the top of the tank for G x 20 aluminum
bolts. Aluminum bolts were available, and I used them to prevent corrosion.
I cut a piece of gasket material to size and fitted it. Before the cover
was bolted in place, I checked the fuel gauge sending unit and verified
that it was working, then I installed it and replaced its gasket. I
bolted the cover in place and used an RTV gasket compound that I purchased
at an auto parts store.

After two years
of service, including a trip down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway,
I have been very pleased with the repair.

Dream Boat

Diamond-in-the-rough, perhaps, but how rough?

By Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 1, Number 2, August/September 1998.

What to look for when buying your Dream Boat

Sailboats side by side

In the nautical lexicon, it seems these three words – good old boats – always go together. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing designs from the boards of
America’s greatest naval architects – Alden, Alberg, Gillmer, Herreshoff, Rhodes, Sparkman & Stephens and many others are now well along in age and, like old debutantes, in need of a face and structural lift.

When, in our wanderings, we find an older boat, a fiberglass boat which appeals
to our hearts, our spirits soar, and a smile lights our faces and then fades.
It fades when we consider the work and cost associated with the required plastic
surgery. But need it fade?

Let’s assess our new love and evaluate the potential under the layers of grime.

The earliest fiberglass sailboats were built from designs originally intended
for wood construction. The beam was narrow and the overhang long the waterline
short and the interior small but the beauty is there.

A Herreshoff H-28 is still a Herreshoff, in wood or glass. A Hinckley Pilot
is still a Stephens’ design, Seawind a Gillmer, Cape Dory an Alberg, Bounty
a Rhodes, and a Pearson Countess an Alden.

Start with the basics

To evaluate our find, let’s start with the basics.

The earliest fiberglass hulls were thick and sturdy, approaching the originally
designed wood thickness. The resins, until 1972, were of a formulation that
resisted blistering. So the hull, barring physical damage, should be sound.

This is not necessarily so with the decks and cabinhouse. Take off your shoes
and walk on every horizontal surface; dig your toes in as you walk. If there
is a soft spot or delamination, you’ll feel or hear it. A crackling sound or
a soft feeling will tell you of a problem. Don’t panic. Make a note of the location
and keep looking.

If the boat is out of the water, next check the underwater gear. The older hulls
– Triton, Ariel, Reliant – all had wood rudders with bronze shafts and strapping.
Age, electrolysis, and marine life may have eaten holes in the wood or bronze.
It can be fixed. Keep going.

Check mast, rigging, sails

The mast and rigging are next. The spars were usually wood or heavy-walled aluminum.
Unless rotted, the wood can be reglued and the aluminum painted. The problem
with the rig will be the standing rigging.

Most standing rigging will be stranded stainless steel wire with swaged fittings.
There is no reliable way to evaluate the condition of rigging wire until it
starts to break. To check for breaks, put on leather gloves and wipe all wire
rigging with a paper towel. The paper will catch on the broken strands (called
“fish hooks” for a good reason) and flag the break. This sure beats using your
ungloved hand and marking the break in blood.

If you can’t be sure the wire is in good condition and has been replaced within
the last 10 years, plan on replacing all standing rigging. Check each swage
fitting by cleaning with metal polish and using a magnifying glass. Check for
cracks or corrosion.

Just one fitting failure can bring your rig down. The cheapest way to replace
standing rigging is with new wire and swages. The more expensive alternative
is to use new wire and reusable fittings. Consult your budget and make notes.

Running rigging, sails, and all canvaswork can be evaluated visually. Raise
all sails and check their shape. Are they baggy or stretched, do they set poorly
under wind pressure? Try the poke test. Ask the owner for permission to hold
a small section of the sailcloth in one hand and see if you can push your finger
through it. If it gives, or if you make a hole, the cloth is deteriorated. This
is probably due to ultra-violet rays from long exposure in use or just from
being uncovered on the boom.

Sails will last a long time if properly cared for. They can be re-cut for better
shape a whole lot cheaper than they can be replaced. Used sails can be bought
from any number of sail brokers or lofts. Sometimes new sails are available
at 50 percent of the original cost, if they were ordered and not picked up.
Check your budget and your intended use. I’m not a racing sailor, so my old
sails are fine for cruising use. The added speed from new sails is not worth
the cost for me.

What about woodwork?

With one exception, the ondeck woodwork can be replaced or sanded down and refinished.
The 37-year-old teak on my Ariel is still serviceable. The former owners never
cleaned it, so they did not wear away the soft wood between the grain as happens
when harsh chemicals and hard scrubbing are used to clean the wood.

The exception on deck wood is teak decks. The usual method of fastening teak
to a fiberglass deck is to screw the teak directly to the fiberglass below.
The teak is 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick and more of a veneer for looks than for a
structural deck. The soft wood between the grain is worn away by the elements,
people’s feet, washing, gear dropping on the deck, and other impacts. Over time,
the deck gets so thin that the bungs covering the fasteners fall out, and the
fasteners begin to work loose.

If the decks are very worn, and the bungs covering the screws are popping off,
you will most likely find delamination underneath and a very large job ahead.
Think about whether you’re willing to tear it all up and fill all those holes
or just take a chance. Either way, it will be expensive in the long run.

Let’s go below

Open up all the hatches, cupboards, and drawers. Use a flashlight and a fine
ice pick. Poke any discolored areas for rot. Check the area where bulkheads
are bonded to the hull. Has the fiberglass tape pulled away from the wood? Has
the mast step sunk into the keel? How about the keelbolts? Most, but not all
of the earlier fiberglass boats, had encapsulated ballast. Some had lead or
iron exterior keels. Check the bolts for corrosion. They will all look rusty,
but determine if they have lost material. Are the nuts octagonal or rounded
off? Hit the nuts gently with a small metal hammer. If you get a clear “ring,”
they are salvageable. A dull sound means deterioration. Check the “floors” or
supporting beam around the keelbolts. Are they discolored or soft? That fix
is expensive.

Operate all the seacocks. They should open and close and be a nice bronze color.
Yellow is brass. Pink/purple is bronze from which electrolysis has leached the
zinc. In either case – yellow or pink – replace them.

Shine a light at as much of the hull-to-deck joint as you can to check the seam.
See if there are any signs of leaks. Did water get in around the bolted fittings?
Look for water stains. Investigate all deck hardware from underneath. Is it
adequately bolted with a backing plate? A wood or fiberglass plate is nice,
an aluminum plate is better, and a large stainless steel plate is tops. Carbon
steel is OK, but it must be coated to resist rust. Carbon steel was seldom used
in fiberglass yachts.

Check ports and hatches for operation and leaks. The aluminum port light on
my Ariel fell apart in my hand when I tried to fix a leak.

Evaluate the systems

Finally, check the electrical, mechanical, and piping systems. The electrical
system may need breakers to replace old fuses or new wire and/or fixtures. Are
the running lights legal? The rules have changed over time.

The engine is a whole subject unto itself. If it runs, it is a plus. If it does
not, a replacement may cost more than the boat is worth. Price replacement engines
before making a decision.

Check the shaft and Cutless bearing for wear. If it moves up and down, replace
the bearing. This is a big job, but not an expensive one, with the boat out
of water.

An old Atomic 4 can be rebuilt and serve for years. These engines are simple
and can be made reliable with upgrading. You are safe if care was taken to keep
the fuel system in tight shape and you use your nose to check the bilge before
each start. Blowers are required, but the nose is infallible. Diesel engines
are really nice, but they’re expensive as a new or replacement system.

Check all tanks. Fuel tanks can leak and be almost unremovable. Water tanks,
if fiberglass, can encourage the growth of various things and cause the water
to taste terrible. Tanks can be cleaned out and repaired, but it is a labor-intensive
job. As an example, you may have to remove the engine to replace the fuel tank
or remove the cabin sole or V-berth to replace the water tank. Unless you are
independently wealthy, you really don’t want to ask a boatyard to do the work.

Take a final look all around. I hope you’ve been taking lots of notes. Find
a quiet place to review your findings and decide if the boat of your dreams can become your Dream Boat.

Back To Top

Common-sense boat buying

by Bill Sandifer

As a young adult with a wife and one child, I wanted a sailboat in
the worst way. As with everyone at that stage of life, money was a
problem. But I took my last $1,500 and made an offer on a used wood
catboat “subject to survey.”

I’d owned boats all my life and had actually built several.
Still, I was not trusting in my own abilities and felt I was doing
“the prudent thing” in engaging a professional marine surveyor to
protect my investment.

The surveyor inspected the boat, noted nothing wrong except,
“the cockpit flooring will probably leak, ought to cover it with
plywood,” and picked up his fee. Blinded by the “professional
report,” I bought the boat.

It was only on a hard beat in the middle of Long Beach Sound
that the knots began to fall out of the “knotty pine” wood planking.
Using the anchor rope to plug up the holes, I was able to reach shore
with my wife and young daughter.

I never could find the surveyor to ask him about the problem.
It was probably just as well, as I had visions of sending him to sea
in the very same vessel he had pronounced “seaworthy.”

The moral of the story? I ignored my own capabilities and
common-sense judgments in favor of a “professional opinion.” If I
would have taken the trouble to carefully inspect the hull myself, I
would have seen the knotty planking, rejected the boat and been saved
from a potentially life-threatening situation.

Any person who wants to buy a boat must like the water, have
seen other boats, and have a good idea what type of boat is best for
him. If a person takes his abilities to think, talk, observe, and
reason and couples those abilities with common sense, that person can
assess a boat’s condition on his own.

Basic common-sense questions should be considered: Is the
boat clean? Does it look good? Does it do what it should do? For
example, does the engine start easily and run well? Do the sails look
good without wear? Do they raise and lower smoothly? Finally, is the
owner/broker being honest? We all can sense when we are being conned
or “sold a bill of goods.”

Three old cliches come to mind. “Handsome is as handsome
does.” “If it looks right, it probably is right.” And, finally,
“Buyer beware.” All three can be applied to any boat and will go a
long way to assure the prospective buyer a successful purchase.

Having said all of the above, does this mean that a person
should not hire a marine surveyor? Certainly not! Once a prospective
buyer has applied his own common sense to inspect the vessel in
question and decided in favor of the boat, then a surveyor should be
called in to apply his detailed knowledge of marine design and
construction to assess specific details about the boat.

As a person employs an accountant to do his taxes, a doctor
to tend to his ills, and a mechanic to repair his car; a surveyor
should be hired to assess and value the potential purchase. But only
after the buyer’s common sense tells him or her, “It’s just what I
want and in the condition I want it.”

A surveyor provides verification of the judgment already
arrived at by the purchaser and simply points out the more technical
points that need attention and are beyond the purchaser’s own

In selecting a surveyor, use common sense, ask for
references, ask to see reports on previous surveys, and, finally,
don’t abdicate your responsibility in favor of the surveyor. Use
common sense.

Improve your dodger

Get a grip: Improve your dodger

By Don Launer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 2, March/April 2001.

Handholds are an easy and inexpensive way
to increase your security afloat

Simple canvas dodger

Dodgers are not necessary – that is, if you’re a masochist
or a Spartan who enjoys being hit in the face with water from every
wave when beating to windward or developing windchill in the off-seasons.
Since I’m neither a Spartan nor masochist, I wouldn’t
do without my dodger. I find it an indispensable accessory for creature
comfort. It provides protection from the spray, wind, rain, and sun
and prevents downpours from entering the cabin when the companionway
hatch is open.

For all of the obvious
advantages of a dodger there is one glaring, and potentially dangerous,
disadvantage. If you have to go forward
when the seas are kicking up and the deck is bucking like a bronco,
the trip around the dodger becomes hazardous. There are no handholds
except for the low lifelines; you can’t clip your safety harness
onto the safety line until you’ve made it around the dodger;
and the shrouds are usually too far forward to be of any use. For any
member of the “over-the-hill gang’ like myself, especially
when sailing solo, the risk and insecure feeling is compounded.

a) Marking the handle position on the fabric

The obvious answer is to have a handhold available. I recently installed
handholds on our dodger, and it has increased our sense of security

The stainless steel tubular
frame that is an integral part of dodgers provides the mounting spot.
I used streamlined stainless steel handles
manufactured by AFI Industries. They’re made from bent stainless
steel tubing with 2-inch-long by 1/4-inch threaded studs at each end.
These handles are widely available in 12-inch, 18-inch and 24-inch
lengths from West Marine, BoatU.S., and many other catalog and retail
marine-supply stores.

The first decision is to determine what length handles suit your
installation. Try a simulated trip around the dodger to find the best
height for
a handhold, then at that spot measure the distance between the two
diverging frame members. The figure closest to one of the three sizes
is the one you want. Remember that by just moving the handle a few
inches up or down, a fit can be obtained.

Burning a hole through fabric with a soldering gun

b) Burning a hole through the fabric at the marked location

After purchasing the length
closest to your needs, place the handle on the Sunbrella fabric and
slide it up or down until the 1/4-inch mounting studs are directly
over the centers of the stainless steel tubing beneath the fabric.
Check this position with a level, or have someone away from the boat
look at the position of the handle to see if it is at an aesthetically
pleasing angle, then mark where the threaded studs touch the fabric.

Now loosen the dodger fabric so it is away from the frame. Most of
the fabrics used for dodgers are made of acrylic material, such as
Sunbrella. The hole for the threaded studs of the handle can be made
through these synthetic fabrics with a hot soldering iron, a heated
screwdriver, or even a heated nail. The hot tool melts its way through
the acrylic fabric with surprising and disconcerting ease, like the
proverbial hot knife through butter. As the hole for the stud is made,
the fabric ends are simultaneously sealed to prevent unraveling, in
the same way the end of a nylon or Dacron line is sealed with a hot
iron or flame.

Marking the frame through the hole in the fabric

c) Marking the stainless steel frame through the hole in the fabric

Now replace the dodger cover and tension it to its normal position.
This is important, since the stainless steel tubing will be held in
this final position by the handles. Mark the stainless steel tubing
through the holes you have made in the fabric. Pull back the dodger
cover and drill 1/4-inch holes in the dodger’s tubular frame
at these marks.

The cover now goes back on again, and the handhold studs
are put through the fabric and frame. The 2-inch-long studs on the
handle will probably
protrude too far on the inside, and you may want to cut them off to
make them shorter. As always, when cutting a threaded bolt, put a nut
on before cutting. After cutting, removing these nuts helps to clean
out the thread where the cut has been made.

Drillinga hold through the frame

d) With the fabric removed, drilling 1/4-inch holes through the frame

Two rubber gaskets come with each handhold. When installing the handle,
these should be between the handle and the fabric, cushioning the contact
as well as making the hole watertight. Although 1/4-inch stainless
steel washers and nuts also come with the handles, you might want to
consider using stainless steel wing-nuts on the inside rather than
the nuts supplied. This makes disassembling the dodger simpler and
faster, with no tools required. These wing-nuts are available at nearly
every marine-supply store.

Now do the same
for the other side of the dodger, and your job is completed. The
whole project
shouldn’t take more than an hour or two.

Mounting handles and gaskets Using wing-nuts on the inside to ease disassembly

e) Mounting the handles and rubber gaskets, and f) Using wing-nuts on the inside of the dodger to make disassembly easier.

The first time
I used my new handles in a seaway I wondered why I hadn’t done this
long before; they solve the problem perfectly. And I discovered
that as an added benefit, the handles stiffen up the whole dodger
frame remarkably. Installing handholds on your dodger is an upgrade
and safety
project that is well worth the small time and expense required –
and may pay off in unknown dividends sometime in the future.


Soft Dingy – Hard Choice

Soft dinghy? Hard choice!

By Bob Wood

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 3, May/June 2000.

Check the pros and cons before you decide which tender is right for you

Rubber dinghy waiting near shore

The age-old question of what dinghy is best will never find a
universal answer. Each boating situation has too many variables to
recommend a “one-dinghy-fits-all,” but it is possible to list the
advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Traditional dinghies

With a history predating the larger boats and ships they serve,
hard-hulled tenders or dinghies have much to offer the recreational

They are durable. Made of fiberglass or wood, a well cared-for dinghy
will last as long as the boat she serves. Combating the tar or
creosote souvenirs collected from wharves is not a problem for them;
paint removers or solvents that could attack soft dinghies can be
used with impunity. Their ruggedness extends to another common
occurrence: being tied to a barnacle- or mussel-encrusted wharf
piling results in mere scratches, whereas an inflatable would be

Similarly, a hard dinghy can be dragged onto a rocky beach, or
scraped over a reef, without the catastrophic failure many
inflatables would suffer. Tiny salt crystals wage an unseen war
against an inflatable’s seams, weakening and abrading them with each
movement of the boat, while their fabric ultimately degrades from the
ultraviolet rays of sunlight. Neither of these affects a hard
dinghy’s structural integrity in the least.

They are versatile. Their skegs, small keels, and sometimes
centerboards, provide directional stability, dramatically reducing
wandering, leeway, and sideways skittering. This important advantage
is the basis for their multi-functionality, making them a joy to
operate with any form of power: paddling, rowing, motoring, or
sailing. Rowing through a chop from your anchorage to the public dock may take three times as long in a smooth-bottomed inflatable … and it may be impossible if a good breeze is lifting the nose.

Better value

Fiberglass dinghy

They are relatively inexpensive. Traditional fiberglass dinghies
start at prices well below those of good-quality inflatables. With an
indefinite lifetime, as opposed to the very finite five-to-10-year
lifetime of inflatables, traditionals are usually the better value.
However, handmade wooden dinghies can easily cost as much as an

They’re beautiful. There is really no comparison between the looks of
a classic lapstrake sailing skiff and an inflatable. A skiff’s
timeless lines and graceful sheer bespeak generations of nautical
tradition, while most inflatables are strictly utilitarian. The hard
dinghy is often an aesthetic extension of the boat she tends; an
impossible feat for an inflatable unless the mother yacht is a

Versatility, durability, economy, and beauty. Can there possibly be
any other attributes for this type of dinghy? Very definitely. In
addition to everything else, they are (or can easily be made)
unsinkable. Hard dinghies should have flotation built into their
seats, bows, and/or gunwales. A hard-shelled dinghy will be safer
aboard the mother ship during a blow if it is inverted and made fast
securely. Its V-shaped or rounded hull will help press it down, while
its rigidity prevents it from flexing and lifting to catch the wind .
. . an inflatable idiosyncrasy.

One last advantage, small for some but large for me: my pets seem to
prefer a solid dinghy. They balk at giving up the security of a
larger boat for the squishy uncertainty of an inflatable. A minor
point, but coaxing a sizable dog to shore for his morning ablution is
not an option; it’s a necessity, and cooperation is appreciated in
foul weather.

Inflatable dinghies

Inflatable dinghy being unfolded

Despite the advantages of traditional dinghies, there are significant
reasons for having an inflatable as your boat’s tender. If there
weren’t, you wouldn’t see a majority of yachts with them.

Inflatables are the hands-down choice when it comes to variety.
Especially suited to mass-production methods, with all the attendant
savings and compromises, inflatables are commonly made from polyvinyl
chloride (PVC), neoprene rubber, and coated nylon. They can cost
anywhere from $75 to as much as a sizeable yacht. They can carry one
person on a still pond, or 20 people through fierce rapids, and they
can weigh anything from five pounds to one ton.

They can have smooth bottoms, inflated bottoms, or rigid bottoms made
of wood or fiberglass panels. There are more manufacturers, models,
and retail outlets than you will ever find for traditional dinghies.
If you’re a comparison shopper, you’ll be in heaven sorting through
the endless choices among inflatables.

Inflatable assembled

Inflatables have outstanding stability. Stand up in a traditional
dinghy (if you can) and put half your weight on the gunwale. Or, try
climbing aboard after swimming. You’ll either be perilously close to
swamping, or treading water as the dinghy turns turtle. Try the same
thing in a modest eight-foot inflatable, and you can stand there all
day. Stand there fishing, stand there handing bags of groceries
aboard, or stand there off-loading small children. Inflatables are
unbeatable when it comes to being safe and docile, as opposed to the
tippy traditional types.

Inflatables have a large carrying capacity. Pound for pound, or per
foot of length, inflatables can carry almost twice as much as
traditional dinghies. This is a critical feature on smaller yachts.


Inflatables are soft. If you do find yourself flipped into the water,
a hard dinghy can seriously injure you in the capsizing. The
inflatable will dunk you but not knock you out. The same softness
will not mar your big boat’s topsides while you are anchored, nor
will it keep you awake by banging against the hull. Your deck or
cabintop will be gouge-free if you carry an inflatable aboard during

Inflatables tow well. A traditional dinghy is a constant concern
under tow. The bridle arrangement, the length of the tow line, and
the dinghy’s position on the stern wave are all critical. An
inflatable placidly slides along in the wake, while the hard dinghy
tends to hunt back and forth, slowing a smaller yacht. At worst, an
inflatable will flip over when being towed in a crosswind. A hard
dinghy can turn from a dinghy to a submarine if pooped, flipped, or
filled with spray and rainwater. If you’re lucky in those instances,
you’ll merely have some anxious shoulder-wrenching moments pulling a
few hundred pounds of deadweight aboard after killing the engine and
dropping sail. If you’re unlucky, the slamming force of a diving
dinghy can rip out your towing cleat, leaving it and dinghy to
disappear in the stormy night.

Inflatables stow like no traditional dinghy can. Any tender, hard or
soft, when lashed on deck or towed, is vulnerable to damage from
weather, other boats, sunlight, and bird droppings. A pure
inflatable, however, can be deflated and placed in a quarterberth or
cockpit locker. For offshore work, this is the preferred method, as
boarding seas can sweep a deck clean despite the best tie-down
efforts. This portability also means your inflatable can go home with
you after the boating season to be washed, repaired, and stored, thus
extending its useful life.

Achilles inflatable Boston Whaler dinghy

Left: An Achilles inflatable speeds through the water.

Right: The smallest of the Boston Whaler line moves its passengers between boat and shore.


Zodiac Cadet dinghy Walker Day dinghy

Left: A Zodiac Cadet moves effortlessly through an anchorage.
Right: The Walker Bay dinghy is suitable for sail, oars, or motor.


Chesapeake Light Craft Eastport Pram

The brand-new Chesapeake Light Craft Eastport Pram comes as a kit and is put together using stitch-and-glue methods.

Double duty

Rigid-hulled inflatable on top of the car

Inflatables are versatile in their own way. They serve double duty as
tender and life raft. Even full of water, they provide survival
buoyancy. With an emergency abandon-ship bag, they can literally save
the day. Inflatables also make luxurious freshwater bathtubs during
summer rainstorms. Most inflatables are relatively lightweight, which
means they can often be carried up a beach, rather than dragged
ashore or tied to a dock.

There are also boats that attempt to offer the best of both worlds.
These are the rigid-hulled inflatable boats, or RIBs. They have a
conventional fiberglass hull with superb directional capability, plus
inflatable air chambers along the sides that provide buoyancy and
stability. Larger RIBs can have steering consoles, Bimini tops, and
even radar arches. They can handle large outboards and safely attain
speeds in excess of 30 or 40 knots. These boats carry large payloads
and, with a cover to protect occupants from the elements, may just be
the ultimate tender or lifeboat.

Rigid-hulled inflatable in the water

Yet, there are tradeoffs that prevent RIBs from dooming traditionals
and inflatables to extinction. RIBs are more expensive than the other
types. Significantly more expensive. They are heavy and require
davits or some other lifting device. Because of their weight and
size, most are suitable only for larger yachts. I’m aware of no RIB
that can sail. With a rigid hull they give up the deflating and
stowing advantages of inflatables. Nor, because of their large air
chambers, will they ever have the pleasing aesthetics of the
traditional tender. Still, would I have one if a magic genie offered?

Your dinghy can be a constant source of pride and satisfaction,
enhancing your time on the water. It deserves considerable thought
and research in the planning stages. In addition to reading the
glossy ads and promotions, talk to owners of each dinghy type and, if
possible, borrow it for a row or sail. Ask them about durability,
maintenance, and any problems they’ve had. Finding the right one for
you is part of the wonderful journey.

Bob Wood

Bob has owned an odd assortment of sailboats and sailed them in
waters from the Florida Keys to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and
from New York’s Finger Lakes to Colorado’s and Idaho’s impoundments
and reservoirs.


* Traditional tenders
Bauteck Marine Bauer sailing dinghies

Chesapeake Light Craft dinghy kits;

Dyer Boats/The Anchorage;

Edy & Duff Fatty
Knees dinghies;
Glen-L dinghy kits

Porta-Bote folding boats;

Trinka Dinghies-Johannsen Boat Works

Walker Bay Dinghies;

* Inflatable tenders
AB Inflatables

Achilles Inflatables

Apex Inflatables and RIBs

Avon, Bombard, Sevylor, and Zodiac
Marine Inflatables and RIBs
410-643-4141 &

Caribe Inflatables and RIBs



Quicksilver Inflatables (Mercury Marine)

Sea Eagle Inflatables

Seaworthy Inflatables (BOAT/U.S.)

What’s more

The following specialize in inflatable boats, offering multiple product lines and valuable expertise:

Inflatable Boat Center
Portland, Oregon

Inflatable Boat Specialists
Ventura, California

End The Dinghy Dilemma

End the “dinghy dilemma”

By Susan Peterson Gateley

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 2, March/April 2000.

It’s quick and inexpensive to stitch together
the one that suits you best

Homebuilt dinghy
Dinghy fitted on boomkin

Susan’s first homebuilt dinghy fit on the afterdeck and boomkin of her 23-foot sloop, Ariel. She says, “I carried it back on the boomkin (well lashed) in some fairly rough water. Once in a while, when we heeled, the ends would dip in, and the dink would try to launch itself. The roughest crossing we ever made with it on deck we had a few honest seven-footers. We were on a beam reach to a close reach, and the dink behaved fine. The biggest problem was on a run with following seas and heavy rolling.”

Dinghies are a mixed
blessing. They are a “must” for cruising, allowing you the option of anchoring
out in a quiet cove or in a busy harbor when all the docks are full, and
they are wonderful for entertaining the kids in a quiet anchorage. A dinghy
also makes cruising safer, since you can use it to carry out a second
anchor on a windy night, or to kedge your cruiser off, if she is not too
inexorably grounded.

However, finding
a good dinghy that meets your needs and desires is no simple task. An
ideal dinghy in our view was one we could sail, row, or tow, while being
stable but still fairly lightweight. It also had to be narrow enough
to fit on our 32-footer’s foredeck. (As a good old boat, she’s not too
beamy.) We soon concluded that the only way to get the dinghy we wanted
was to build it ourselves.

Where and how to
transport the dinghy while you’re under way is a common cruisers’ dilemma.
Small motherships all too often lack space to carry a dink on board.
Towing it leads to frayed painters and nerves and the occasional embarrassment.
More than one cruiser has managed to wrap a prop shaft up in a lovely
bundle of dinghy painter while working into a strange harbor.

Limited deck space,
especially on good old boats of 30 feet and less, prompts many sailors
to opt for inflatables. These skippers reason that their blow-up boats
can be easily deflated and stowed compactly. The only thing is, they
usually aren’t. It’s too much of a pain to disassemble and re-assemble
the darned things every day. So they end up dragging astern just like
hard dinks.

Inflatables have
a couple of drawbacks, too, when compared to rigid dinghies. In my opinion,
the worst is their utter dependence on outboards. In anything more than
a light breeze, your standard inflatable rows like a wet noodle. The
stubby little oars are so short you can’t manage more than a dainty
little snatch at the water with the oar tip at best. And the bulky blow-up
boat presents ample sail area to the wind, making manual propulsion
in anything more than a light breeze problematic at best.

Build your own

One solution is
to customize your own dinghy to fit the available deck space aboard
your cruiser. With new materials and techniques, even amateur carpenters
with five thumbs can manage a fairly serviceable and completely watertight
dinghy. Thanks to epoxy and fiberglass cloth, it should prove fairly
durable, too, given normal usage. And those assorted sticky-goos and
cloth coverings allow you to slide by with something far short of the
perfect bevel. Three or four winter weekends in the basement with a
minimal tool kit (that should include a circular saw and an electric
drill for speed’s sake) will produce a very serviceable custom-made
plywood dinghy.

Second dinghy, bow
Second dinghy port side

Susan’s next dinghy was one she and husband, Chris, built using the stitch-and-glue method. Plans for this one, a D4, are offered by Jacques Mertens.

My first custom-fitted
dinghy was an Itty Bitty pram (shown at left), designed many years ago
by master naval architect William Atkin. He wrote that, inch for inch,
you get maximum carrying capacity in minimum space with the basic boxy
pram. By flaring the sides outward sharply, you gain additional carrying
capacity and stability in a very small dink. Putting as much rocker
as the quarter-inch plywood will tolerate greatly improves rowing performance
and seaworthiness of prams.

I built my tender
several inches narrower than the usual beam of most production dinghies.
This allowed me to jam the 7-foot 7-inch pram onto my 23 footer’s afterdeck
and boomkin, between her rudderpost and backstay. If a small tender
is still too big for available deck space, another alternative is to
build a two-piece dinghy. Each piece is a discrete watertight entity,
and each will float independently. By joining the two halves with a
latch or hinge arrangement, you end up with a more-or-less regular-sized
dinghy. (Phil Bolger carried this folding boat idea to an extreme a
few years back with his folding 30-foot schooner.)

Downloaded plans

Thanks to the rise
of the stitch-and-glue technique so well promoted by Harold (“Dynamite”)
Payson and others, almost anybody can craft a watertight dinghy. This
was the method we used recently to build the dinghy pictured above.
We used plans downloaded off the Internet for a tender called the D4
Dinghy, whose creator supplied dimensions for the bottom and side panels
of plywood. This eliminated any tricky lofting steps. The D4 tender
plans were developed by Jacques Mertens, who operates a website called
Boat Plans Online. Mertens has been selling marine supplies and books
online since 1986, when he operated from a bulletin board via Fidonet.
Today, he offers plans for several small tenders, including the D4,
whose plans were downloaded by more than 80,000 people last year.

After cutting out
the sides and bottom of plywood and the stiffening athwartships bulkheads,
the stitch-and-glue method of building requires that you drill approximately
two million holes, spaced about three inches apart, near the edges of
adjoining plywood pieces. Then you stitch your boat together, using
bits of copper or steel wire three or four inches long. We twisted the
wires together on the outside, giving the developing dinghy a distinctly
prickly aspect. The next step was to build up a fillet of epoxy putty
along the inside joints between the bottom and the sides and the bulkheads.
A light bulb worked well for shaping and smoothing the fillet of putty.

Dinghy diagram

For more on the stitch-and-glue method of boatbuilding, email: Jacques Mertens at or visit his website at
The postal address is Mertens-Goosens Inc., 2032 Old Dixie, Ste.
3, Vero Beach, FL 32962. The book Building New Instant Boats, by
Harold Payson, also contains information on stitch-and-glue building. It’s available through Jacques’ website.

After this had set
up, the developing hull was quite rigid. We then clipped the excess
wires off the outside and faired out the joints externally with more
putty before applying 3-inch biaxial cloth tape on the seams for strength.
The seams were glassed on both sides and now, even with just two bulkheads
in place, the developing dinghy hull was stiff and strong.

Prone to checking

Ultimately, we also
covered the entire plywood exterior with a fine-weave, 3-ounce cloth
to increase the dinghy’s
durability. We also tried to seal all exposed edge grain with epoxy
resin. Fir plywood is very prone to checking and

and we thought that covering the dinghy’s bottom and sides might extend
its life as it sat upside down through
the summer. My previous pram of painted plywood had to have a new bottom
installed after only four years of daily use to and from a mooring and
being left upside down on the dinghy float between trips. The epoxied
and painted stitch-and-glue hull has weathered well to date after a
full year of upside-down exterior storage.

Dinghy assembly

The finished D4
pram proved highly satisfactory as a tender and sailing dinghy. I found
it more stable to step down into than a friend’s Dyer dinghy, and it
seems to tow well in a Lake Ontario chop of up to, perhaps, four feet.
Best of all,
when it gets really rough, we don’t have to tow it because it will fit
on our foredeck.

Susan Peterson
Gateley (featured in the January 2000 issue of
Good Old Boat) has written
two books about boats she has known. Ariel’s World and Sweet Water both
feature her good old 23-foot 1930s vintage homebuilt sloop. She now
sails Lake Ontario with her husband, Chris, on
Titania, a 32-foot Chris-Craft,
and gives sailing lessons with a Lippincot Lightning. Both are circa
1968. Visit Susan’s website at

Honey, I tossed out the cooler

Honey, I tossed out the cooler

By Karen Larson
Illustrated by Dave Chase

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 1, January/February 1999.
This and other cooking aboard articles are also available in the Good Old Boat Galley Book.

Digging through the cooler

Sailor and writer Webb Chiles is credited with saying something to
the effect that when the engine in his boat died he was set free – no
maintenance chores, no need to get fuel, no more worries associated
with whether it would run or not.

I am married to a refrigeration engineer who was prepared to
design the onboard refrigerator to beat all refrigerators, but the
choice to live without an icebox during a recent vacation set us free
in ways we hadn’t expected. There was no need to run to civilization
in a quest for ice. We had no worries about the quality of the food
left on little ice or concerns about what must be eaten soon because
it surely must have been thawed too long. And we didn’t have to run
the engine to keep a refrigerator alive.

Above all, our icebox was no longer a bottomless cubicle, the
purpose of which seemed to be storing ice and little else. It became,
instead, a marvelous vast storehouse for flour, spices, and canned
goods. It offered stowage space the likes of which I’d never had on
our bilgeless racer/cruiser.

The biggest freedom was in the escape from civilization. We
generally take our vacation cruises to the north shore of Lake
Superior and Isle Royale National Park. In that part of the world,
marinas and facilities are not handy. Civilization is usually at
least a day’s sail away. With ice melting in about six days, our
stays in the wilderness were limited to about four days at a time or
longer if we went without once the ice was gone, but planning for the
transition is a bit challenging.

To avoid the awkward stage, we had proposed two
possibilities: build a refrigerator or learn to live without ice. We
chose to try the sans ice approach first. We may never again consider
the alternative. Our diesel engine thanks us for making this choice,
since it won’t have the wear and tear associated with running a
couple of hours a day for the sake of cold food. And we’ll avoid the
need to return to civilization in search of fuel to power the engine
that keeps things cold so we don’t need to return to civilization to
buy ice. (If that isn’t a Catch-22, what is?)

My first major adjustment, as provisioning officer onboard
Mystic, was in cooking to avoid leftovers. At home I thrive on making
large batches – pots of spaghetti for example – so I can freeze the
excess for later use. Frozen blocks of spaghetti sauce and other
mass-produced meals also helped when we were living with a cooler.
They served as “ice units” until thawed. Then we ate them. On board,
with an ice chest for food storage, I couldn’t cook by the potful,
but saving leftovers to eat another day was not much of a problem.

With our changed lifestyle, however, I began buying the
smallest cans and jars and thinking critically about how much rice or
pasta to cook. It’s a science. You don’t want to go hungry, but on
the flip side, you don’t want to encourage overeating. And you
certainly don’t want to throw food away. We found, fortunately, that
leftovers easily last one day, so when I miscalculated, we polished
off the rest the following lunch or dinner. Some leftovers worked out
nicely as omelet filling for the next day’s breakfast.

Eggs don’t need ice

Omelets require eggs, of course, and we typically think of eggs as
something requiring refrigeration. In her book, Cooking on the Go,
(from 1971 and unfortunately out of print) Janet Groene argues that
many foods do not need refrigeration:

“Because we have roomy refrigerators at home, we get in the
habit of chilling many items that can be kept safely without
refrigeration. Cheeses and sausages traveled the world long before
the days of refrigerators or ice lockers.

“Of course you keep fresh meats chilled for safety, but we
have kept cooked meats for second and even third appearances on our
table. Packaged bacon doesn’t last more than three days in warm
temperatures, but well-salted pork and slab bacon, as well as cured
hams, date back hundreds of years before the discovery of electricity
— it really isn’t necessary to go without many of the items you keep
refrigerated at home.”

Groene notes that not too long ago people packed fresh farm
eggs in salt, where they kept for a year. In three and a half weeks,
we never had an egg go bad onboard Mystic, although I was skeptical
at first. There are a number of actions you can take to help eggs
last. One set of routines deals with sealing the shells. These
involve smearing them with shortening, Vaseline, or salad oil. Other
people swear by dipping them exactly two seconds in boiling water.
Another set of routines involves keeping the inner membrane moist by
turning the eggs regularly. Mother hens do this on the nest. Just to
be safe, I decided to grease the shells with Vaseline AND turn them
every day. It’s possible that either method would have been enough.

We are not big egg eaters at home, typically, but we left for
vacation with nearly four dozen eggs, since I planned to use them in
baking, hard boiled in salads, and in omelet making.

In the beginning I was cautious and tested each egg before
using it. People who have lived without refrigerators suggest that
you crack each egg into a separate container and not directly into
your frying pan or bowl full of ingredients, so if it is bad, you can
toss just the egg and not the rest of your meal. Even before breaking
an egg, you can test it in a glass of water. If the egg has developed
gas and floats, it’s bad. If it sinks to the bottom of the glass,
it’s good. It’s a bit like testing for witches in Salem. If she
floats, she’s a witch and has to be burned at the stake. If she
sinks, what a pity. We’ll let the record show that she wasn’t a
witch. This time-honored test works better for eggs than people.

Cheese tricks

Refrigerators and coolers are also nice for keeping cheese. How do
you go three weeks without cheese, we wondered. As it turns out,
grated parmesan can last, as can cheese that comes in wax. In her
book, The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew, Lin Pardey talks of
long-life processed cheese that can last up to two years without
refrigeration in sealed containers, and of other wonders, such as
canned cheese.

Lin probably led the way for all of us who have tried the
non-refrigerated lifestyle. Not that she did so on purpose. She
appears to enjoy cooking, and she and Larry both prefer fresh foods.
So Lin prizes her well-insulated cooler on Talesin. Unfortunately the
Pardeys’ icebox runs out of ice on long passages and at anchor, just
as ours does. As a result, Lin wrote The Care and Feeding in 1980 and
republished it with new information in 1995. It’s a terrific
reference for anyone provisioning for a long trip or planning to do
without ice.

Lin reports that waxed cheeses keep perfectly for up to two
months at temperatures below 55 degrees F. Unwaxed cheese, she says,
“should be wiped lightly with vinegar and then wrapped in plastic
wrap and stored where it will not be bumped around too much.” She
also discusses storage of feta and hard cheeses in oil.

I read Lin’s book after we returned from our trip, however I
had heard that cheese stored in olive oil will keep, so I tried that.
I kept chunks of cheddar and havarti for three weeks in containers
full of oil. The Tupperware container leaked and was a mess to store,
but a jar with a tight lid worked very well. This process offers a
nice way to store oil for cooking, too. The cheddar lasted well,
while the softer havarti turned very mushy before we returned to
civilization. Hard cheese is the key for this storage technique. Lin
mentions in her book that cheese becomes “creamier” as it ages with
this technique. I’d second that opinion. Lin’s directions for storing
cheese are more elaborate than mine and sound like a process worth
trying. She also mentions the concept of waxing your own cheeses and
of the “drunken Stilton.” All of this is in the chapter she titles
“Day 37” and should be in either version of her book. The Pardeys’
books were available from the Good Old Boat Bookshelf.

Baking aboard

Baking bread aboard

The next obvious problem with life without an icebox is what to do
when the bread turns blue. Over the past year or two we’d
experimented with onboard bread baking. We’d cooked bread in our
pressure cooker, pan-fried Indian fry bread, and baked a couple of
yeast loaves. We make muffins regularly, but creating good bread was
a bigger challenge. I wasn’t crazy about the taste of the
pressure-cooked bread, and baking yeast loaves seemed messy and
time-consuming. This year, however, I came armed with 40 pounds of
white and wheat flour (twice as much as we needed, it turns out) and
a number of new yeast recipes. The second recipe we tried turned out
to be such a winner that we never tried another one. It simplified
the risings and didn’t seem so messy somehow. It was a mock French
bread from the James Beard Cookbook, and we liked it so much we’ll be
cooking our own bread with all that extra flour this winter even
though Minneapolis abounds with wonderful bread shops. (Recipe is below.)

With each baking I made two small loaves. The first we
consumed almost in its entirety straight from the oven. There may not
be anything better than warm bread, and we reveled in the luxury of
having it. The other loaf lasted a couple of days. Now that we’ve
discovered this easy bread, we may leave the dock with fewer loaves
of the store variety. We prefer those we can cook ourselves, and the
vacation lifestyle seems to encourage the breadbaking routine.
Marilyn Palley (wife of Reese Palley) recommends a book called, Fast
Breads! by Howard Early and Glenda Morris.

Bread recipe

(from The James Beard Cookbook, 1959*)

  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 5-7 cups flour
  • (one egg white, if desired)
  • Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm
    water in a large bowl. Add sugar and salt and dissolve them.
    Gradually add flour.
  • Turn out on a table and knead. Cover with the bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes. Knead.
  • Let it rise in the bowl for another 1-2 hours until it’s double in bulk. Knead.
  • Form into two loaves (French-style long ones, round ones in an oven-proof bowl, regular pan loaves, etc.). Sprinkle the bottom of each container with cornmeal and place the bread on it. You don’t need to grease these pans. Slash the tops of the bread and spread with an egg white, if desired. Let the bread rise another five minutes.
  • Place in a cold oven and turn it on to 400. It should cook in 35 minutes. (In reality, with our boat oven, we turn the temperature on about halfway, whatever that setting might be. Then when we think about it, we turn the temperature up all the way. We remove the bread when it looks done, but it probably takes longer than 35 minutes.)

*My copy was purchased in the 1970s, but I guess it is a bit of a relic.

Meat or meatless meals

Meat is another issue for the sans-cooler cook. While we don’t eat as
much meat as we used to, we weren’t ready to go without. Canned
chicken and ham are available on the grocery store shelves in small
tuna-sized containers. I also found small containers of corned beef
and tiny little hams, canned shrimp and crab meat, salmon, and fish

There are a number of spreads along the lines of deviled ham
and chicken. And of course there are small canned hot dogs
(masquerading as sausages), Spam and other “delicacies.” I also
planned to supplement our supplies of meat with completely acceptable
no-meat pasta meals. Jerry wasn’t so sure he’d find even the
occasional vegetarian meal to be all that acceptable. There’s nothing
quite like being held captive a day or two from a grocery store and
learning there’s nothing on board you like to eat. He may have feared
this new “adventure” to be a ruse of mine to take a few pounds off
him when he would be unable to defend himself. (See article below for
his thoughts.)

I had just finished reading Don Casey’s book, Dragged Aboard,
in which he makes it seem like anyone is capable of canning meat. I
was inspired by this and shared the book with Jerry, who went on a
dedicated hunt for a larger pressure cooker – one capable of doing
canning. The small one on our boat was not up to the task. In the
days of microwaves, instant meals, and grazing, pressure cookers are
becoming a thing of the past. Small ones, such as our boat pressure
cooker, were available, but large ones may be disappearing from the
North American scene along with buggy whips.

Jerry’s search began with Target and K-Mart, where the small
ones can be found, and moved to an upscale home cooking specialty
store, where a sweet young clerk asked in all innocence, “Pressure
cooker? Is it an electric appliance?” and led him to the toasters and
coffee makers. Once he found the pressure cooker section, there were
only small ones and another clerk who asked, “What do you do with one
of these anyway?”

The obvious answer, for anyone who grew up with a mother who
used one frequently, is you blow up your kitchen with these devices.
It seems we all have fear-of-pressure-cookers tales to tell. Perhaps
that’s why they’re falling from favor these days. Jerry finally
landed a full-sized canning pressure cooker at the Fleet Farm store,
a chain in our part of the country that caters to farmers, truckers,
and other independent types.

By now, however, we were only a couple of weeks away from the
start of our vacation, and wewere in the usual pre-trip blitzkrieg of
vacation preparations and work project wrap-ups. I was no longer
interested in canning additional meat for our trip. One evening we
invited Jerry’s younger daughter over for dinner, and I prepared a
pork roast and simultaneously baked a couple of turkey thighs for use
in the next night’s meal. Jessie is a marvelous pitch-in gung-ho
daughter, and before the evening was over, the three of us had canned
the remaining pork roast and turkey as a great group activity. We
left for the trip with 11 half-pint jars of the best canned meat we’d
ever tasted. Next year we’ll do more of this and include cubed beef
and hamburger.

Mayo’s not untouchable

We hear so many stories about mayonnaise and are likely to be
confused by them. I’m no expert on the subject, but my current level
of understanding is that if the stuff is kept pure, it can last.
Mayonnaise mixed with other foods must be kept cool, it would seem.
And you shouldn’t “contaminate” a jar of mayonnaise by sticking a
utensil back in there after it has been in contact with other food.

We have heard of some people getting small packages of
mayonnaise from fast food places for their boats. That works, too. We
bought small squeeze bottles of mayo, and one lasted two weeks. It
was emptied before it began to smell or cause any concerns. Unopened
jars of mayonnaise sit on grocery store shelves for months. As it
turns out, they can do the same once they’re opened, as long as other
food doesn’t come into contact with the mayonnaise. I’d love to
understand why this is so and will welcome further dialogue on this
subject for our Mail Buoy column.

Milk is a problem

Cold milk only lasts a week or so. If it isn’t kept cold, the number
of days diminish dramatically, of course. I like milk. As an aging
woman, I need to drink it or get my calcium in some other form. So I
missed this on our vacation. I bought powdered milk, which we used in
cooking, but I used it on cereal twice and never again. I never drank
it straight. Jerry can happily drink that stuff, and I really wanted
to be able to do so also. But life’s too short. I ate cheese and took
my vitamins. I’m told that UHT (ultra heat-treated) milk is a
passable substitute, but I don’t have any experience with it (and it
doesn’t appear to be available in the U.S.).

The following information is from Michael Greenwald’s The
Cruising Chef Cookbook, an excellent cooking resource I’ve just
discovered (Paradise Cay Publications, 1996.):

“Pasteurized milk takes up precious space in the refrigerator
and spoils within a few weeks. Long life, ultra heat-treated milk is
an unrefrigerated product which comes in a paper box. It tastes as
fresh as pasteurized milk, contains more vitamins, and lasts six
months without refrigeration. It comes in half-quart and quart
(liter) boxes which are slightly more expensive than refrigerated
milk. This product is hard to find in the USA but is the most common
way of buying milk in many parts of the world.”

Margarine lasts well

Butter and margarine are also part of the non-cooler cooking
equation. I had read somewhere that stick margarine, softened and
repackaged in plastic tub containers, keeps well without cooling.
This is true. I had feared that it would turn into liquid gold
without the help of an icebox, but it did not melt. Toward the end of
our vacation, when we did a touch-and-go in civilization for diesel
fuel and a pumpout, I was able to buy a few groceries at a camping
store. We were running short on margarine, so I bought a couple of
sticks of butter. I repackaged these sticks in the margarine tubs,
and the butter lasted as well as the margarine did.

Fruits, vegetables suffer

By the end of three weeks, we were left with apples, oranges,
grapefruit, potatoes, onions, garlic, and cabbage. We also had a
large assortment of canned fruits and vegetables. The other fresh
fruits and vegetables had long since vanished, and even the apples
and oranges had seen better days. I had read about a West Marine
product called Evert-Fresh bags, which keep certain fruits and
vegetables fresh longer. These bags were particularly recommended for
lettuce. The lettuce must be absolutely dry when placed in the bag,
however. Unfortunately I shop at one of those stores which tries to
impress shoppers with a fine-mist spray on the leaf lettuce and
spinach. Even when I’m not provisioning for a trip, I hate that
“blamed” mist.

I waited until the last day possible to purchase the fresh
foods for our trip and wound up at home trying to dry out the leaf
lettuce and fresh spinach. Something halfway, but not completely, dry
went into the Evert-Fresh bags. The result was that these foods
didn’t last as long as they might have in a fresh-air environment.
Wiser now, I will try this again with improved drying on our next

Ice for drinks? Come on!

Cold drinks aren’t terribly important to us. We didn’t miss ice for
our drinks, since we don’t tend to put ice in them anyway. However,
Lake Superior stays cold all summer long. The 50-degree water is an
excellent cooler for cans and bottles, if we choose to use it that
way. We found that storing cans next to the hull below the waterline
was enough for us.

We did meet one cruising couple traveling with a freezer, who
offered to give us some ice, since they felt so sorry for us. But I
had to turn down the offer. What could we do with a small supply of
ice, when our cooler was already filled with bags of flour? Another
pair of friends who anticipated seeing us on that vacation had just
gotten their cantankerous refrigerator to work after several years of
frustration. They were so self-assured now with their working freezer
that they threatened to sail by pummeling us with frozen Brussels
sprouts. This wasn’t pity. This was revenge Š perhaps because we had
chosen the easy way out.

No big deal, really

Living without the cooler was not the challenge I had thought it
would be, but I wasn’t alone in believing that we were facing a
tremendous lifestyle change and challenge. When buying supplies at
the grocery store one day, my collection of purchases looked a bit
unusual, so I mentioned to the clerk there that my husband and I were
going off into the wilderness for three and a half weeks without
refrigeration or a cooler. The clerk was so impressed you’d have
thought we were heading off to scale Mt. Everest without gear.

But in fact Jerry and I were just going back in time to
great-grandmother’s day Š to a time even before the ice man came
around from door to door Š back to a time when people canned and
prepared food for the seasons when they wouldn’t have any. Most of
these people never had the luxury of sailing off to remote places in
sailing yachts and living from the stores they had aboard. (Even the
menus of the sailors of the same time period were far from grand.)
Their lives seemed hard and uncompromising, while we experienced the
best vacation we have ever had. There were no hardships. We were
better off without the trappings of civilization because we didn’t
experience the tyranny of ice or endure the rattlings of the engine
in order to keep a refrigerator going. Great-grandmother never had it
so good.

Back To Top

No cooler? What did you EAT?

by Karen Larson

Perhaps I can share a few menus – not recipes – I’m all for simple,
uncomplicated onboard meals. I don’t go along on sailing trips as the
galley slave. I want to be on deck sailing and sightseeing, not below
creating gourmet delights. My ideas were culled from those who’ve
been there and done that: sailors Cathy and Dan Haupert, sailors Ken
and Pat O’Driscoll (who introduced us to cold pasta salad even though
they were using a refrigerator), sailing writers Reese and Marilyn
Palley, author Janet Groene, and world cruising women who communicate
on a listserver I subscribed to. Next year I’ll incorporate meal
ideas from Lin Pardey also.

Typical breakfasts included omelets, cereal with blueberries
or bananas (early in the trip while we still had the fruit and before
I decided that powdered milk is not a beverage fit to ruin good
cereal and fruit), pancakes, eggs, French toast, oatmeal, and coffee

Typical lunches included ham, tuna, or chicken salad
sandwiches; pasta salad; grilled cheese sandwiches and soup; peanut
buttersandwiches; and leftovers. Canned spreads worked as picnic food
when we wanted to leave the boat and spend the day exploring. Wary of
taking a pre-made chicken salad or similar mayonnaise-based lunch
along for a day in the sun, we ate strange spreads from small cans.
These are adequate, but not exciting. The best is the deviled spread,
but variety in all things mundane is best. They all got dull and
downright boring after several similar lunches. But they fueled our
bodies, and the sights we were able to take in while unattached to
the mother ship fueled our souls. It’s a tradeoff.

Dinner presented more variety. We had salad in the beginning,
fresh broccoli for a while, and an endless variety of ways to cook
potatoes. Canned vegetables picked up where the fresh food left off.
Dinners included mashed potatoes with the meat we canned; pasta with
beef and broccoli; chicken with rice and spinach; stuffed cabbage
using canned corned beef; pasta with sauce (small jars of marinara,
alfredo, clam and other sauces are available in the stores); and
corned beef and cabbage.

I got creative with cold pasta dinners. Some of our favorites
included pennette rigate pasta with canned corn, olives, canned
shrimp, chicken, or no meat at all. After one such meal, Jerry vetoed
the use of canned crab for this, but others might like it. I did. All
this went well with whatever else I had to throw in. Carrot slices,
hard-boiled egg slices, and artichoke hearts work, too. We mixed
these ingredients with oil and vinegar dressing. I bought several
small jars of prepared salad dressings for variety, but preferred the
oil and vinegar styles best. Mayonnaise would work, too.

We made a scalloped potatoes and ham recipe in the pressure
cooker that has been a real winner for two years now. We tried some
prepared rice packages: curry, saffron, stir fry rice, lentils and
rice, black beans and rice, red beans and rice, and so on with our
canned meat or with canned sausages (a.k.a. hot dogs). Salmon fish
cakes mixed from canned salmon and mashed potatoes were a big winner.
The possibilities were endless.

Jerry (ever the engineer) suggested several years ago for our
standard two-week vacations that I create full menus on a spreadsheet
and then sort this by item to determine how much of each item to buy.
It’s far more organized than I would have been, but it worked very
well. However, when asked to share our provisioning lists with fellow
sailors, I realized how hyperdetailed our food preparations appeared
to be.

This year’s longer trip helped me understand for the first
time what planning must be like for a much longer voyage without
reprovisioning stops. Although I did create daily menus, I didn’t
live by them. I had so much variety aboard in our food lockers that I
cooked serendipitously Š more like I do at home. It starts with,
“Let’s see, it’s somehow gotten to be dinnertime. What needs to be
eaten? What is fast to prepare?” And finally, “What would we like to
have tonight?” I often referred to my onboard menu lists for
inspiration, but I was able to manage the use of fruits and
vegetables, eggs and potatoes, leftovers and partially used cans of
things more effectively without the constraint of a previously
prepared menu.

This is how we’ll go in the future. Menus will guide my
shopping and help inspire my cooking, but daily meals will be planned
at the time of the meal. That might be called “just-in-time menus.”
I’ll keep the food lockers supplied as I would at home, and meals
will happen when they happen. From now on, we will not bother with
the hassle of ice for our weekend trips. We won’t take a cooler full
of ice and a few perishables back and forth to the boat. Even for
weekend trips, we have been set free.

Back To Top

You what? Tossed out the cooler?

by Jerry Powlas

The first time Karen suggested that we spend a whole vacation without
ice, I talked her out of it. I had visions of a very unpleasant
couple of weeks eating some of my least favorite foods — all from

I’d been a refrigeration engineer for about 29 years, and I
had some strong ideas about what kind of refrigeration system should
be installed in our C&C 30. I’d been designing the system in my head
and on paper for about five years. I wanted something with less than
half the run time of currently available systems, because I knew that
once there was a refrigeration system on board, it would dramatically
increase the energy budget. I’d heard horror stories of boats that
have to run their engines one, and in some cases, two hours a day to
keep that little tiny box cold. I didn’t want the noise, wear, and
fuel consumption. The design that I came up with was complicated and
unproven, and it would add 70 to 100 pounds to the weight of the
boat. Even doing all the work myself, the parts would not be cheap.
Although I targeted much higher efficiency, the boat’s upgraded
electrical system would be taxed to about the reasonable limits of
its capacity. I had put off building this monster for five years. Ice
is really simple, and 70 pounds of it holds our icebox for six to
seven days. We’d have to live on the boat forever to pay off the
refrigeration system with the savings in ice.

The problem was that we really wanted more range on our
vacations. We wanted to go out and stay out for more like a month
without having to resupply anything. We’d solved most of the problems
in doing that by the time Karen suggested going iceless the second
time. She was more insistent this time. She wanted to do the research
for an article, she said. That did it; I caved in. Well, almost caved
in. I rushed out and bought a pressure canner and quickly canned some
pork and turkey before we left. These meats proved tasty, and I will
can more for next season, but frankly we didn’t need them.

We ate very well for more than three weeks without any ice or
refrigeration. The food was good. I enjoyed all the meals except one,
which is probably better on average than I do ashore. From a systems
standpoint, Karen solved the problem with the lowest-cost,
lightest-weight option. The design five years abrewing in my head
didn’t compare with zero weight, zero cost, and good meals anyway.
Karen truly had set us free.

I was so impressed with what she had accomplished that I
suggested that we get rid of the refrigerator at home. It is a noisy,
poorly designed thing that just might last forever out of sheer
nastiness. She thought that might be going too far.

Moderation in all things, I guess.

Cooking Fuels

A clean look at the “dirty” half dozen

By Theresa Fort

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 2, March/April 2000.
This and other cooking aboard articles are also available in the Good Old Boat Galley Book.

Pros and cons of the six main fuels for galley stoves

When it comes to choosing a marine stove fuel there is rarely anyone completely
happy with the choice. All fuels have a “dirty” side to them, and some
sides are deadly as well. Alcohol is heating-impaired. Kerosene is maintenance-dependent,
and a mess if spills occur. Diesel is hot and has sooting problems. Electricity
is power-hungry and generator-dependent. Compressed natural gas (CNG)
is explosive and expensive, as well as hard to find. And what about liquefied
petroleum gas (LPG)? The potential for a massive explosion aboard your
good old boat gives LPG both a deadly and a “dirty” side.

After talking to more than 30 marine stove owners about their fuel and
stove choices, I learned that, like me, almost every one of them had learned
to cook and live with whatever stove and fuel came with the boat when
they bought it. But, even though it was chance that decided it, most owners
were happy with their stoves and fuels.

As the years go by, however, good old boats need refitting. We may need
to replace our stoves. Then when it comes to fuels, choosing one of the
dirty half dozen is unavoidable, and this time it won’t be chance that
decides. We are wrestling with this decision aboard Lindsay Christine,
our Mercator Offshore 30. Our propane stove is more than 20 years old.
And it looks it, at least what you can see of it, because most of it has
rusted away. In the hopes of making the “right” decision, I did extensive
research and asked many boaters about the marine stoves and fuels they

What follows are some pros and cons of marine stove fuels from my own
research and some advice from the experts – other stove owners – to help
you decide which is the best choice for you.

Heat vs. cost

Heat Content of Marine Stove Fuels
significant unit
5,000 Btu

The heat output of fuels is determined by test. The table on the next
page shows approximate heating values – approximate because, with the
exception of electricity, all of these fuels are mixtures, and their exact
content varies from source to source.

One Btu, or British thermal unit, is the amount of heat energy needed
to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F, starting at 60°F. One
Btu is also equivalent to 252 calories, and 1 calorie is the amount of
energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1°C.

The Btu/lb. column in the table offers a way to compare all fuels (except
electricity) with each other. Btu/lb. would only be a significant figure
of merit, however, in cases where the major consideration was the weight
of the fuel load. If you are doing a serious weight comparison, you will
want to include the weight of all parts of the cooking system, including
the tanks, plumbing, and stove.

Most sailors will care more about the cost and availability than about
the weight difference. The column showing Btu per significant unit is
provided to show the heat content of the unit of measure in which the
fuel is normally purchased.

The cost per 500,000 Btu shows how significant the difference is between
various fuel costs. For purposes of comparison, 500,000 Btu may be taken
to be (very roughly) the heat required to cook for four people for 90
days. If you live aboard your boat, multiply that figure by four for an
estimate of annual cost. If you sail in a northern climate on weekends
and get in a two-week vacation, your annual fuel requirement will likely
be only about half of the 500,000 Btu shown.

Generally speaking, the cost difference between these fuels for weekend
sailors is not significant enough to be the reason for changing fuel types,
because the cost of new equipment is high relative to the cost differences
between fuels. Liveaboards and long-ra nge cruisers may find the cost
differences more interesting.

Fuel availability

of Fuels
the U.S.
the U.S.

Here is a table showing the availability of fuels – excluding electricity,
since electricity is generated by using another fuel. I used the word
random to describe the availability of CNG in the U.S. because, even with
a long list of available stations, I had great difficulty finding a place
that really did refill CNG cylinders in Florida, where I live. But I’ve
been told it’s much easier to find in other parts of the country where
EPA standards have forced the use of CNG as a motor fuel and where natural
gas is a common fuel for heating.

Auto-ignition temperature

The table on the next page shows the characteristics of fuels, also excluding
electricity. It gives the auto-ignition temperature of each fuel. This
is the temperature at which a fuel will automatically ignite without a
spark or flame. The flash point, on the other hand, is the temperature
at which the fuel will ignite when there is oxygen and a spark for ignition.

Stove fuels one by one


Denatured alcohol can

Alcohol fuels for stoves are generally composed of ethanol, methanol (added
as a denaturing agent), methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and water. The exact
percentage of these components varies rather widely from one supplier
to another. Nigel Calder, in his book, Boat Owner’s Mechanical and Electrical
Manual, states that the best fuel for stoves is ethanol. For practical
purposes, this would be a fuel like Tru Heat, which is 92 percent ethanol,
5 percent water, and 3 percent methanol. It has only trace amounts of
other compounds, such as methyl isobutyl ketone, ethyl acetate, and rubber
cement. In contrast to this fuel, Soot-Free, the fuel endorsed by Origo
for use in their stoves, is not a high-ethanol-content fuel. Soot-Free
contains roughly 71 percent ethanol and 20 percent methanol, as well as
methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and water.

You can also buy suitable fuel in paint and hardware stores labeled as
“denatured alcohol.” Kleen Strip is one brand that notes on the container
that it is suitable as a shellac thinner and as marine stove fuel.

One test Nigel suggests is to pour a sample of the fuel into a clean (oven-proof)
dish and burn it. If there is any residue after the fuel is completely
burned, it’s unsuited for use as a stove fuel. In addition, stove-fuel
vendors will send you a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for their products
listing the chemicals in the fuel by percentage.

Alcohol has been advertised to be the perfect environmentally correct
fuel because it is mostly produced from renewable resources (plant matter).
It is a relatively safe fuel because of its low volatility. This makes
it safer than other fuels in the closed environment of a boat. Alcohol-stove
owners like the fact that there is no hauling of heavy and cumbersome
storage tanks, that fires can be extinguished just by adding water to
the fire or fuel, and that it is a clean-burning fuel.

But it’s not the perfect fuel. Some people say the sweet smell of burning
alcohol makes them nauseous. It’s more expensive per Btu than all the
other alternatives except CNG, averaging $9 a gallon across the U.S.,
and its availability is irregular outside of the U.S. and Canada. The
price of alcohol outside the U.S. is also quite high.

There are two basic types of marine stoves that use alcohol as a fuel,
pressurized stoves and non-pressurized stoves. Each has advantages and

Pressurized alcohol

I chuckled as I read LaDonna Bubak’s description of lighting her
pressurized alcohol stove. She sails her boat out of Portland, Ore., and

“(First you) have to fill a small tank, pump it up to pressurize it .
. . preheat the burner by allowing a puddle of fuel to develop, light
it, jump back so flames don’t singe eyebrows, extinguish (any) flaming
curtains, etc., then, when the puddle-flame almost dies, you turn on the
burner and hope it catches.” A lost memory flashed into my mind. It was
my first and only attempt to light the pressurized alcohol stove aboard
our Catalina 22. As flames shot up above my head and within reach of the
cabintop, I heard the kids approaching. They were arguing about whose
idea it was to have lunch aboard Gypsy Rose. Trembling, I made sure the
burner was off, then nervously searched for something with which I could
extinguish the flame. There was no water. Gypsy Rose was in our driveway.
I found a pot lid that had fallen on the cabin sole in the confusion of
the flare-up. The fire went out as I covered it. I took a deep breath.
Amie arrived first with Alex close behind, full of spit and vinegar.

“Mommy, tell Amie that I thought of it first! Here’s the soup . . . ”
Then there was silence as they both watched me pack up everything and
start to close up the boat. “Mommy, are you OK?” I vowed never to light
that stove again as I replaced the tarp and walked back to the house.
I had no idea that this experience was almost normal for lighting a pressurized
alcohol stove until I talked to other boaters about their stoves.

A few of the boatowners I questioned were happy with their pressurized
alcohol stoves, but the majority were looking to replace them. Many were
not comfortable using the oven because of concerns with priming and flare-ups.
A few owners commented on being bothered by the sickeningly sweet smell
of the alcohol and the paleness of the flame, which makes it almost impossible
to see in bright light.

The real danger of flare-ups seems to come from failing to light the burner
on the first try. After the first try, the burner may not be hot enough
to sufficiently vaporize the fuel by the time all the fuel in the priming
cup has been burned. So the chef opens the control knob to allow more
fuel into the priming cup, and the fuel ignites sending flames sky high.
While the burner was not hot enough to vaporize the fuel the first time,
it was hot enough to ignite the liquid alcohol added again. If the stove
is gimbaled at the time of lighting, flames can splash onto other parts
of the boat and the cook. According to Optimus International, the best
advice is to let the burner cool off before filling the priming cup with
fuel again.

Pressurized alcohol stoves are not maintenance-free. The customer service
department of Kenyon Stoves explains that severe pulsing of a burner or
a glowing red cap during operation are caused by dirt and scale buildup
in the filter and burner body. The burner should be stripped of all removable
parts, cleaned, and rebuilt.

With Kenyon alcohol stoves, a wick in the center of the burner is lit.
Pressure builds up in the burner as the available fuel heats up, causing
alcohol vapors to be released into the burner to be used. Regardless,
most alcohol burners work in the same way and require the same maintenance.

One stove owner, known as “Captain Key West,” from Key West, Florida,
commented that he thought the bad press about pressurized alcohol stoves
comes from the fact that they need to be maintained to work well, especially
after many years of use. He writes, “I think many people disenchanted
with alcohol stoves may have based their opinions on only having used
poorly maintained stoves. I used to be surprised how alcohol stoves got
a bad “rap” since mine worked great for many years before it started getting
“fussy.” Now, I realize many users are not aware that these stove are
not maintenance-free. They buy a used boat, never can get the stove to
work right, then complain about how poor alcohol stoves are. They’re not
listening to their stoves which are begging for maintenance!”

I know I never gave my pressurized alcohol stove a chance after that first

Non-pressurized alcohol.

of the five liquid or gaseous marine stove fuels
Toxic to skin
Toxic to lungs
Specific gravity
lighter than air
Flash Point
Luminous flame
gas &
other hydrocarbons
gas, petroleum
coal, shale

Non-pressurized alcohol stoves are quite popular. The Origo brand stoves
have helped to keep alcohol in fuel-option lists for boaters. All non-pressurized
alcohol stove owners I questioned are happy with their stoves. Some even
commented that they cook faster than pressurized alcohol stoves and claimed
speed close to propane. But the fuel is expensive.

These non-pressurized stoves use a wicking action to deliver fuel to the
flame, instead of pressure, making them very safe, with no flare-ups.
The fuel is stored in canisters under the cooktop. The canisters contain
nonflammable wadding with a shield-type cover that closes over the canister
to extinguish the flame, somewhat like cooking with Sterno.

These stove users/experts seem to agree that non-pressurized alcohol stoves
are the way to go if you are interested in using alcohol as a marine stove
fuel. In fact, two of the pressurized kerosene stove owners are switching
to non-pressurized alcohol with their next refit.

Safety considerations (alcohol)

While it is true that alcohol fires can be put out with water, sometimes
the water displaces the alcohol, and the fire continues to burn.

  • Fill the fuel tank no more than three-quarters full to allow space for
    increased air pressure.
  • Before lighting and throughout the burner’s use, pressure in the storage
    tank needs to be around 7 pounds per square inch (psi).
  • Once you have successfully lit the burner, run it on a low setting until
    the burner gets really hot; then it can be adjusted for your cooking.
    Turning the valve all the way open will put out the flame, because there
    is a cleaning needle that comes out when you turn the knob all the way
  • Never refill the priming cup or stove while the burner is on or even
    hot. The alcohol in the container may ignite.
  • Clear the area above and around your stove of any flammable objects,
    including your eyebrows, before priming your stove.

Special hints (alcohol)

Tru Heat stove alcohol bottle

  • Experienced users of alcohol stoves recommend that you use heavy cookware
    to reduce the scorching that can occur if the burner has a hot spot.
  • On pressurized stoves, cook and bake using a strong flame to reduce
    chances of the flame’s dwindling and being blown out.
  • Most owners agree that it helps to use the stove manufacturer’s fuel
    because it burns more cleanly.
  • One owner uses a contact-solution bottle to hold alcohol for the priming
    process. It give you better aim and more control over the amount released.
  • Pressurized alcohol stoves can be converted to kerosene by replacing
    the burners. As a caution though, one stove owner commented that he was
    witness to one such conversion exploding aboard a friend’s boat. Make
    sure the conversion is done correctly.
  • Several owners use small bicycle pumps with pressure gauges to pressurize
    the fuel tank to the proper pressure. Ferenc Maté’s book, Shipshape: The
    Art of Sailboat Maintenance, explains the use of a bicycle pump for pressurized
    alcohol and pressurized kerosene stoves. He suggests getting rid of the
    pump that came with the stove and finding a valve from a bicycle tube.
    Solder this valve into a washer and use the nut that came with the tank
    to thread it into place with a small rubber gasket between.
  • Dan Spurr, in his book, Upgrading the Cruising Sailboat, recommends
    putting a pot on the burner when priming. It will partially contain the
    flames and provide a darkened area which enables you to see the flames

Compressed Natural Gas

There’s a lot of technical merit to compressed natural gas, but its popularity
has never developed. Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons – mainly
methane (CH4) – and is produced from gas wells or in conjunction with
crude-oil production. It’s a very clean-burning fuel and burns hotter
than alcohol. It also has an advantage over LPG in that it is lighter
than air. So it is a much safer gas. Any leaks tend to rise to the cabintop
and escape through any point that has an opening to the outside. But vapors
could still build up in areas of the cabin that have poor ventilation,
so care should be taken to have good airflow aboard. I know of one boatowner
who has had trouble-free use of his CNG stove for the last 16 years.

CNG’s disadvantages are much the same as LPG’s. It’s a highly volatile
gas stored under pressure, much higher than LPG. CNG is stored at 2,250
psi, compared to LPG’s 150 to 180 psi. The cylinders are heavier and more
cumbersome because CNG requires a thicker-walled tank. The tanks also
require recertification periodically. CNG also costs more per Btu than
LPG. I found the price of a refill in Florida to be between $10 and $16
for 84 cubic feet.

But the biggest drawback seems to be the lack of availability outside
the U.S., as well as in some areas within the U.S. A special quick-release
fitting can be bought through Corp Brothers, Inc., to allow you to fill
your tanks from a utility-company or automobile-station pump, when found.

Safety considerations (CNG)

A good-quality, spark-proofed alarm and sniffer should be installed aboard any boat with a compressed natural gas stove.

  • CNG cylinders should be stored away from the cabin in self-contained
    storage lockers that are vented overboard above the waterline, with venting
    at the compartment’s highest level. Or they may be stored outside on deck.
  • Cylinders should never be painted a dark color. In direct sunlight a
    cylinder could absorb enough heat to cause it to rupture.
  • CNG and LPG cannot be interchanged without modification to the stove.
  • CNG burned in LPG stoves will produce only about half of the designed


Stove fuel container

Diesel is a high-energy fuel that is not volatile. It does not give off
flammable fumes, and it is inexpensive and available worldwide, especially
in areas of commercial fishing. There are pressurized and non-pressurized
diesel stoves. Pressurized diesel stoves are operated much like kerosene
and alcohol stoves. Non-pressurized “drip pot” diesel stoves use a metering
valve to deliver fuel to a drip-pot-style combustion chamber. The burner
can be fed by gravity or by a pump. The drip-pot-type stoves are quite
popular on commercial fishing boats and aboard yachts in northern regions.

They are known for producing a dry heat because they draw in moist air
from the cabin for combustion and expel it through the chimney as flue
gas. For boaters living in cool climates most of the year, this means
a warmer and drier boat. Drip-pot diesel stoves can also be used to produce
hot water when a water coil is added to the stove. Another advantage is
the fact that you will only be using one type of fuel if your auxiliary
engine is diesel.

A downside for drip-pot diesel stoves is that they tend to heat the cabin
as well as the food. They are slow to warm up and cool down because they
are made of heavy cast iron. With a constant oven temperature of 350°F,
a cabin can get quite warm in the tropics. Sooting and down drafting can
also be problems when a drip-pot diesel stove is not properly adjusted
or if poor-quality fuel is burned. Installation of the drip-pot variety
can be quite difficult just because of the weight of the stove itself.
And, because of their weight and the chimney required, drip-pot diesel
stoves cannot be gimbaled. It would be best to install one athwartship.
Since the flue removes combustion products from the cabin, the build-up
of carbon monoxide gases is not a concern as long as the stove is working
properly and outside make-up air is brought into the cabin.

Special tips (diesel)

The key to being happy with your diesel stove is to learn how to operate
and adjust it. Understanding how your stove works, and adjusting it properly,
will save your sails (as well as the rest of your boat) from soot. Jeannie
and Jack, aboard their Columbia 50, Terri Knot, had terrible sooting problems
with their diesel stove on their trip to Alaska. After several phone calls
to the manufacturer, they were finally able to adjust it properly. They
are pleased with the heat it generated while cruising in the cool north.
But Jeannie commented that it would have made the trip more enjoyable
if they could have worked out the stove’s idiosyncrasies before their

  • Filtering your diesel fuel with a “Baja” filter will increase the efficiency
    of your stove and reduce sooting. If you don’t have a very fine filter
    of this type, you can also filter fuel to some extent using panty hose.
  • If you are planning on cruising in tropical climates with a diesel stove,
    consider bringing along a small cook-top that uses an alternate fuel –
    such as propane, butane, or alcohol – to reduce heat in the cabin.
  • Diesel stoves will burn cleanly with sufficient draft. Make sure your
    flue is the proper length and diameter. It is important that the flue
    be installed without any bends to restrict the air flow. Make-up air must
    be allowed into the cabin for the stove to have proper draft.


For those boaters who have an alternating current (A/C) generator, or
who find themselves close to shorepower quite often, electricity may be
the answer. It is highly efficient, there are no problems about storage
and fumes, and the fact that you may already have shorepower aboard your
boat makes it easy to install. If your electrical cooking appliances include
a microwave, it will speed up cooking times, helping you to use less energy.
It will also conserve vitamins during cooking, and it will not heat up
the cabin. Because electricity is a dry heat, it will also mean a drier
cabin, something that helps with all boats.

But, if you will be relying on a generator to power your stove, there
will be an increased need for diesel or gas, depending on your energy
source. Increased use of your generator also means increased wear and
maintenance, increasing the total expense of this type of fuel. The noise
of having to run the generator or engine each time you use your electric
appliance can also be a disadvantage.

Special tips (electricity)

  • Make sure all wiring is accessible so you can check for corrosion periodically.
    If some of the wires are hidden or difficult to get to, it will be a tedious
    job to find the cause of a malfunction.
  • Proper maintenance of your generator is a necessity when relying on
    electricity for your cooking. Consider having a small back-up stove aboard.
  • If you will be running your generator in quiet anchorages, consider
    anchoring farther away from other boaters. It will go a long way toward
    improving relationships with those who are living without generators.
  • Try to combine stove needs with battery charging to enable you to run
    the generator less frequently.


Kerosene can

Kerosene, also called paraffin outside the United States, is a colorless,
thin oil. It’s less dense than water, and it’s made of a mixture of hydrocarbons
commonly obtained from the fractional distillation of petroleum. As with
alcohol, there are pressurized kerosene stoves and non-pressurized kerosene
stoves. Pressurized ones function much like pressurized alcohol stoves.
Kerosene burns hot – much hotter than alcohol. It is inexpensive and widely
available in the U.S. as well as overseas.

Eric Freeman, who sails Blackguard, an old Seawolf ketch, in northern
Washington state, commented that kerosene is easy to find, being available
anywhere jets fly. Kerosene is not as volatile as alcohol and can be easily
stored. Because kerosene – like alcohol and diesel – doesn’t have to be
under pressure, it is easy to be aware of how much fuel you have left.
A well-maintained and properly running stove is odorless and soot-free
without any flammable fumes to worry about.

But kerosene stoves can be hard to light. These stoves require priming
with alcohol, a tricky business. They can also have a sooting problem
if the burners are not adjusted properly. They can smoke liberally when
firing up and smell terrible. Spills take a long time to evaporate and
can be a problem because they will soak into cushions and be a fire hazard
for a long time.

Non-pressurized kerosene stoves are often discussed with diesel drip-pot
stoves since they are so similar. Kerosene can be burned in a diesel stove
and is the cleaner of the two in that application. The advantages and
disadvantages of non-pressurized kerosene stoves are the same as those
for diesel stoves. Like diesel stoves, kerosene drip-pot stoves cannot
be gimbaled and are usually made of heavy cast iron with a flue.

Special tips (kerosene)

  • It’s important to buy the best-quality kerosene possible to reduce the
    chances of clogged burners. Good-quality kerosene is colorless and as
    clear as good drinking water.
  • You can check the quality by burning a small puddle in an ovenproof
    dish. Any gooey remainders mean a poor-quality fuel for your stove.
  • Filter your kerosene through a “Baja” filter to eliminate particulates.
  • Keep a small spray or squirt bottle of alcohol (like a contact solution
    bottle) close by to use when priming the burner.

Liquefied Petroleum Gas

LPG is a gaseous paraffin hydrocarbon, extracted from crude petroleum
or natural gas, containing propane and butane. Most LPG produced and sold
in the U.S. is primarily propane. It seems to be the fuel choice for a
large number of marine-stove owners, especially international cruisers.
They seem drawn to it because it is cheap, burns hot and clean, and has
world-wide availability. I found the average price to fill a 20-pound
cylinder was $10, which lasts our family of four an average of three months
while traveling. But, it has some major drawbacks that can make it a very
dangerous fuel to have aboard.

LPG is highly explosive and heavier than air. Any leaks in the system
can go undetected, sinking into bilges and creating a very dangerous situation.
And, on stoves without thermocouples, it is too easy to leave a burner
on accidentally after the flame goes out, leaving an explosion waiting
to happen when the cook goes to re-light a burner.

Thermocouple-controlled solenoid valves control the flow of gas on some
stoves. When heated, the dissimilar metals in the thermocouple generate
electrical current that causes the solenoid valve to open. When the thermocouple
cools, it does not generate the electrical current and thus the valve
closes, cutting the supply to the burner. This is why, upon lighting your
burner, you need to hold the valve open for at least 30 seconds to allow
the metals to become warm enough to generate the electrical current which
will hold the solenoid valve open.

LPG (as well as CNG) requires constant vigilance in its use and storage
on board. All crewmembers should check and re-check to make sure all switches
and shut-off valves are in the proper position. LPG’s high volatility
also creates a transportation problem. Transporting cylinders to be re-filled
can be difficult. The thick-walled cylinders are heavy and cumbersome.
These cylinders, like CNG cylinders, have to be re-certified after several
years. The date of the next re-certification should be stamped on the
cylinder. Due to safety concerns, many buses and taxis will not allow
usually outside of town in order to reduce loss of life and property should
there be an explosion. This makes them difficult for cruisers to reach
without transport.

Though propane and butane are usually lumped together and called LPG for
simplicity, they have a few differences.


This gas liquefies at higher temperatures than propane
does. At extremely low temperatures, butane’s evaporation rate will be
so low that the stove will not operate. But butane can be stored in a
propane container.


In extremely cold conditions, propane can be used
when butane would fail to evaporate. Propane can be used interchangeably
with butane. But propane cannot be stored in butane cylinders because
it has a higher cylinder pressure.

Safety considerations (LPG)

Stove Fuel Survey Results
Fuel Happy Safe Feel limited
in use
High fuel
No: 3
No: 3
No: 2
No: 1
No: 0
No: 0
No: 5
No: 3
No: 0
No: 0
No: 1
No: 0
No: 0
No: 0
No: 1
No: 0
No: 0
No: 0
No: 2
No: 0
No: 0
No: 14
No: 15
No: 0
(pressurized only)
No: 1
No: 0
No: 3
No: 0

For excellent instructions on the proper installation of an LPG system,
read Chapter 14 of Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical

  • It is a good idea to install a good quality sniffer that will sound
    an alarm when vapors are detected. But be sure it is spark-proofed so
    that turning it on will not ignite any vapors already present.
  • LPG cylinders should be stored away from the cabin in self-contained
    storage lockers that are vented overboard above the waterline, with venting
    at the compartment’s lowest level. Or, they may be stored outside on deck.
  • Cylinders should never be painted a dark color. In direct sunlight,
    a cylinder could absorb enough heat to cause it to rupture.
  • Install a lighted manual switch at the stove with a solenoid valve to
    shut off the gas at the tank when the stove isn’t in use.
  • LPG cannot be interchanged with CNG (compressed natural gas) without
    modifications to the stove. Propaneburned in a CNG stove will produce
    extremely high flames and dangerous overheating of the appliance.
  • When re-filling cylinders outside the U.S., make sure the LPG has a
    smell to it. It is not safe to have LPG (or CNG) aboard if it is odorless.
  • Be careful not to have your cylinders filled beyond 80 percent capacity.
    There should be two weights stamped into your cylinder, the empty weight,
    called tare weight, and its net fill weight, the safe weight of LPG that
    can be added. Upon weighing your filled tank, it should not weigh more
    than your tare weight plus your net fill weight. If it has been overfilled,
    some of the gas will need to be vented carefully away from flames and
    sparks. An overfilled cylinder is a terrible danger aboard your boat.
    Increases in the ambient temperature could cause a rupture of the cylinder
    or could cause liquid LPG to be pushed into the low-pressure lines, a
    very dangerous situation that would ruin, at the least, an oven’s thermostat.

Special tips (LPG)

Debbie Lyons shuts off propane

Debbie Lyons, reaches through the portlight to shut the propane off at the tank aboard Rhiannon.

Having an easy shutoff valve close to the storage cylinder helps reduce
dangers. Aboard Rhiannon, Debbie Lyons, of Seattle, stores her propane
cylinder on deck near an opening portlight over her sink. She only has
to open the portlight to shut off the propane right at the tank. She shuts
off the propane at the cylinder as her cooking is completed and when the
flame dies, signaling that all the propane has been used in the lines,
she turns off the burner. Before lighting, as a double check, she makes
sure that all burners are turned off first. (Make sure the portlight will
not allow LPG to drain into the cabin if there is a leak at the cylinder.)

Hunting for leaks is required maintenance for propane stove owners. It
is a good idea to periodically apply soapy water to all tubing connections
in your installation. Bubbling signals a leak that should be immediately
fixed. Also use your nose for finding leaks. As with CNG, an odor has
been added to LPG. Never use a flame to test for leaks.

To check the level of your propane tank, boil a cup or so of water and
pour it on the outside of your propane tank. Right afterward, feel for
the level of much cooler propane in the cylinder.

Propane and CNG are serious materials to have aboard a boat. The ABYC
(a voluntary boat construction standards organization) recommends that
the following label be placed near LPG fuel tanks:


  1. This system is designed for use with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)
    only. Do not connect compressed natural gas (CNG) to this system.
  2. Keep cylinder valves and solenoid valves closed when boat is unattended.
    Close them immediately in any emergency. When on board, cylinder valves
    or solenoid valves shall be closed when appliances are not in use. Keep
    empty cylinder valves tightly closed.
  3. Close appliance valves before opening cylinder valves.
  4. Test for system leakage each time the cylinder supply valve is opened
    for appliance use. Close all appliance valves. Open, then close, cylinder
    supply valve. Observe pressure gauge at the regulating valve and see that
    it remains constant for not less than three minutes before any appliance
    is used. If any leakage is evidenced by a pressure drop, check system
    with a leak detection fluid or detergent solution which does not contain
    ammonia and repair before operating the system.
  5. Never use flame to check for leaks.

At the end of the ABYC standard on LPG systems is the following note:

  1. Never use flame to check for leaks!
  2. Never use solutions containing ammonia. Ammonia, which is present
    in soaps and detergent, attacks brass fittings. Undetectable at first, in a matter months these fittings may develop cracks and leaks.

Ammonia which is present in some soaps also attacks copper tubing in the
same way. In fact, it is the copper in the brass that is attacked by the

Watch out for CO

With electricity as the exception, it’s important to make sure that the
galley has sufficient oxygen to keep the stove working properly. A deficiency
of oxygen causes any fuel to burn improperly, resulting in an output of
carbon monoxide, rather than carbon dioxide.

For this reason, a carbon-monoxide detector is a worthwhile investment.
We have one aboard our boat that saved our lives in Alaska. One night
after having hot cocoa before bed, we accidentally left the pilot light
in our oven on. Even with a cracked hatch, there was not enough oxygen
inside the cabin. We were slowly awakened when our CO detector went off,
releasing a mind-boggling blare of noise that just barely woke my husband,
Chuck, and me. The kids were sound asleep with the detector right above
their heads. We were able to get the kids and ourselves out of our cabin
in time, with only headaches to complain about. The fresh air never felt
better. Now we make sure the CO detector always has a good battery.

Decisions, decisions

In Jimmy Cornell’s book, World Cruising Survey, the most popular cooking
fuel was LPG. In fact, 138 boaters chose LPG with the other fuels barely
showing up: 17 others chose kerosene; two chose diesel; one chose alcohol;
and two chose electricity. LPG was the most popular choice among the people
I talked to, as well. But I found many more owners who chose alcohol than
Jimmy did. This is probably because I talked to coastal cruisers and weekend
boaters. I also talked to only 32 stove owners. For what it’s worth, refer
to the chart of my findings on Page 53.

Which to choose?

After weighing all of the pros and cons of the dirty half-dozen, I still
haven’t made up my mind about which to choose. But our plans for cruising
outside the U.S. have ruled out CNG and alcohol. And electricity won’t
work aboard our boat without a generator. LPG is at the top of our list,
but I hesitate because of memories of singed arms, flames in my face lighting
our oven, and waking up to our carbon monoxide detector blaring. All these
are memories from forgotten pilot lights and burners not turned off completely.
It makes me gun-shy. I know the safety mechanisms on the new LPG stoves,
as well as a proper installation, will take care of those problems. But
should I choose to have our family depend on that?

Then there’s kerosene and diesel to consider. Decisions, decisions. Maybe
we could buy a new good old boat with a stove already installed so I could
leave this decision to chance. Maybe I’ll make Chuck decide.

Theresa Fort

Theresa Fort
and her family of four have lived and cruised aboard
Lindsay Christine, a Mercator Offshore 30, since 1995. In another life long, long ago and far away, Theresa was a home economist with a specialization in consumer education. After receiving her BA in home economics at the University of Montana, she went on to become a master food preserver with the co-operative extension office in Montana.

Building your own classic hatch

Building your own (leakproof!) classic hatch

By Armand Stephens

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 6, November/December 2001.

When Mary and I bought our 1965 Alberg 30 we knew that replacing the forward hatch was going to be one of many projects. Down below there was no indication that the old hatch was leaking, but it was certainly an eyesore when viewed from on deck.

A classic hatch

One day at the Oakland Yacht Club we saw a very beautiful all-wood sailboat
that had an extraordinarily beautiful butterfly hatch made of teak and glass.
We know that the classic butterfly hatch has a nasty reputation of leaking
like a sieve, so we decided to design and build a hatch that captured the beauty
of the old butterfly hatch but had the integrity of a one-piece unit.

Regrettably, the Alberg 30 hatch
opening was neither a square nor a rectangle, but a trapezoid shape. This
required a lot of hand-filing on the box joints.
Any boatowner who has a square or rectangular hatch opening will find the job
much easier, but building a "sacrificial goat" experimental hatch
out of pine is still a good idea. Who needs to ruin eight board feet of teak
at $15 per board foot?

This project cost about $200 to build and took us 24 hours to construct. It
was worth every dime and every hour.

Steps 1-3, cut to size Steps 4-7, assemble top
Steps 8-10, mounting hardware
Step 11, special notes

Armand is a retired
schoolteacher (high school woodworking). Immediately after they retired,
he and Mary bought
Quest, their Alberg 30, and spent 10 months
bringing her to a better-than-new state. They’ve sailed on San Francisco
Bay for more than 30 years. That’s Armand in the photo at top.

Good Old Catboat

Good old catboat

By Stuart Hopkins

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 5, September/October 2001.

Marshall Cat Sanderling

Before the refit: Dabbler as a Marshall Cat Sanderling.

At an age when many sailors retire, sell the house, move aboard, and go
cruising, my wife, Dee, and I built a house, sold the boat, moved ashore
for the first time in 25 years, and started a business.

But we didn’t walk inland with an oar over our shoulder; we “retired” on
the shores of the Chesapeake, just to keep our options open. And while
we learned about hammers and saws, we were each privately thinking
about all that Chesapeake water. When we started talking about it,
we discovered we knew exactly what kind of “retirement” boat
we wanted:

<i>Dabbler</i> after the refit

One of a kind: Dabbler following the “transmogrification”

  • Very shallow
    draft (2 feet or less) to give us access to little-used marshy headwaters
    and other unspoiled Chesapeake niches, let us moor in our local creek,
    and use the primitive launch ramp there.
  • Courageous sail
    area for the bay’s light summer air but on a divided rig for easy reduction
    in squalls and breezy weather.
  • Accommodations
    for short cruises, with emphasis on staying out of the sun and bodily
    comfort generally, including good ventilation for summer and a wood
    stove for winter.
  • Inboard power (for all those rivers).

we knew of no such boat. But we had recollections of encounters with
a couple
of little catboats – Marshall 18 catboats,
called Sanderlings – that impressed us with their abilities
and possibilities. We saw one in the Gulf Stream, in reefing weather,
making no more fuss than our deep-water ketch. We knew one in the Bahamas
that could explore wherever we could take our sailing dinghy.

In magazines, we found photos of Sanderlings and defaced them with
sketches and doodles. Encouraged by the ease with which a pencil transformed
the little daysailer/overnighter into our idea of a comfortable, handy
pocket cruiser, we decided we could work the same transmogrification
on a real Sanderling, substituting a Sawsall, epoxy, and plywood for
the pencil.

Original Marshall 18 diagram

Original Marshall 18 Sanderling.

Marshall 18 <i>Dabbler</i> after refit

“Transmogrified Marshall 18,” also known as Dabbler.

Sketch of revised interior

Sketch of revised interior

All we needed was a lonely, battered, decrepit (cheap!) edition of
the design to operate on. Since Sanderlings have been in continuous
production since the early 1960s, this would surely be possible.

Right off the bat,
we found her. The voice on the other end of the phone in Florida
said “Hull and deck sound . . . otherwise not
too good.” No trailer. No equipment. No motor. Suspicious sponginess
in plywood components like cockpit and bulkheads. Old sail. Built in
l966. Cheap. Just our meat.

A terrifying round
trip on I-95 landed this econo-prize in our driveway. Dee (a woman
to Brixham trawlers, Gloucester schooners, and deep-water
yachts) stifled her reaction when she discovered we couldn’t
even sit upright below! Instead, she went to her studio and began some
serious sketching and doodling. I (a sailmaker) rigged the boat where
she lay on her trailer, and backed off a few yards to imagine how she
would look as a yawl.

While mulling over
several schemes, we took a mattock and removed almost 200 pounds
of bad plywood
cockpit seats, sole, and waterlogged
foam, right down to a naked hull from the companionway aft. This made
it easy to plan for an engine installation, tankage, storage, and comfort.
The finished job included a lucky bargain – a 10-horse Kermath
that had lain for many years, mothballed, in a local boatbuilding shop.
We had no interest in sharing an 18-footer with a diesel. This smooth,
quiet antique went in without problems.

A cutout in the
solid glass “deadwood” ahead
of the rudder (Sawsall job) accommodated the stern bearing and prop.
We measured
for the beds by suspending the little engine in place from the boom.
With an 11-gallon aluminum tank, blower, and electrics, we were beginning
to look forward to poking up rivers and creeks in style.

We replaced the original benches with a U-shaped cockpit surrounding
the engine box and introduced a bridge deck with big lockers and more
lockers aft. We dropped the sole several inches for more leg room.
Under the seats, outboard, was space for bins and sailbags held in
place with removable fiddles.

Our more comfortable and useful cockpit (worked up out of CDX and
epoxy) weighed about what we chopped out. A few pigs of lead ballast
were removed to compensate for the motor.

We launched the Dabbler (named after the mallards that dabble in our
local creek) for some cruising with a local club. The inboard and new
cockpit were a great success, but otherwise the experience confirmed
our opinion that we wanted to replace the single big sail with a divided
rig. And after a few nights cramped below, we could hardly wait to
haul her out, grab the Sawsall, and take the lid off the sardine can.

Doghouse cum main saloon

<i>Dabbler</i>'s modified interior

Dabbler‘s modified interior.

Removing damaged interior

Demolition: out come 200 pounds of rotten and waterlogged cockpit.

New removable windows

Dabbler‘s removable, waterproof, polycarbonate windows.

Some of our bold,
even arrogant, sketches evolved from a doodle for a dodger. Why not
make the dodger
rigid and cut away the aft part of
the cabintop so the hardtop effectively encloses a greatly enlarged
cabin? Why not provide standing headroom for the mate (5′ 5″),
with a little “galley” on the new bridge deck? Why not
have full sitting headroom on comfortable chairs aft of the bunks?
Why not fit removable windows and screens? Why not extend the roof
far enough aft to provide shade and spray protection for the helmsman?

A mockup in cheap 1/8-inch luan ply (which later served as templates
and as a building mold for the final construction), proved there was
no reason why not.

A few minutes of surgery liberated about 90 pounds of cabintop and
bulkhead. Immediately, we could test with our bodies the thesis expressed
on paper. Proof we could sit upright, surveying some lovely, lonely
anchorage from the comfort within, spurred the work.

The house was designed to join the existing structure across the cabintop
a few inches forward of the original hatch opening with an epoxy filet;
outside the cabinsides and cockpit coamings, with a 2-inch overlap,
were epoxied and throughbolted.

We turned our backs on the local lumberyard for the deckhouse project
and ordered expensive 3-mm okoume marine ply to be laminated in place
over the mockup to lock in the heavily cambered top and curved front
and create the eyebrows that trap the removable polycarbonate windows.
All the construction was done in a corner of my small sail loft between
sailmaking jobs. We barely got it out the 8-ft wide doors! It dropped
in place as neat as a cab on a pickup. Final weight was less than what
had been removed with the Sawsall.

The new effective
interior includes the bunks (as original), our “easy
chairs” (cheap but comfortable plastic swivel-bottom fishermen’s
seats) port and starboard, the bridge deck, comprising “galley” with
gimbaled kero stove to starboard, solid-fuel cast iron Pet to port,
and the forward half of the cockpit. At anchor, if desired, the fitted
Sunbrella aft closure snaps in place, enlarging the “interior” to
include practically the whole boat. In cold or wet (and on the mooring)
the large screened opening in this closure is covered with a vinyl
window. Otherwise, the screen liberates the breeze that comes in the
forehatch and opened doghouse windows.

Eventually, controls
for the main and roller-furling jib were brought into the house to
cleats on the shelf formed by the little bit
of cabintop inside. Raising, dousing, and reefing the main are all
done from “below” standing up! Ditto deploying and furling
the jib. What joy! Which brings us to:

The rig

New cabintop takes shape

The new cabintop takes shape in the sail loft.

New deckhouse, bridge deck lockers

Dabbler‘s deckhouse is in place, the engine box removed, the bridge deck lockers installed.

There is no novelty in the cat yawl rig. The aim is to easily have more sail area when you want it and less when you want it in order to balance the boat under almost any condition. We have about 25 percent more sail area in the three working sails than the original cat rig. From the comfort of the cockpit, we can set a mizzen stays’l, and be flying 375 square feet. In races, we have been able to astonish the locals with five sails.

The new rig satisfied all our expectations. Sails can be adjusted
to tame weather helm (a notorious fault of catboats) or dropped (instead
of reefing, notoriously difficult in catboats) to suit the breeze.
In gradually increasing wind, the mizzen might come down to lighten
the helm. In a squall, we drop the main and stay in comfortable control
under jib and jigger. Under this rig, she will go to windward in 15
or 20 knots with just a little weather helm, broad reach with almost
neutral helm, and selfsteer indefinitely downwind with the mizzen broad
off and the jib flattened in.

An unexpected but welcome bonus is that when anchored by her long
snout, the windage in the house and mizzenmast makes her lie to the
wind like an arrow, whereas catboats are known to wander restlessly
at anchor.

Engineering was
fairly straightforward. The main boom was raised (to clear the housetop)
and shortened (to
clear the mizzen). Sawsall holes
accommodate the mizzen mast, bowsprit, and bumpkin. The latter can
be removed for trailering, and the ‘sprit just clears the towing
vehicle. But we would make it retractable, if we had it to do over.

The new spars are Schedule 10 aluminum pipe, fitted with tapered douglas
fir inserts to complete the finished lengths and help fool the eye,
while providing meat for sheaves, eyebolts, anchor rollers, and so
on. The mizzen steps easily by hand. It can be temporarily relocated
to a special hole in the foredeck (which doubles as the anchor rode
deck pipe) where it serves as a gin-pole for stepping the main.

Finally, the sailmaker gets into the act. Since my business is making
traditional sails, the suit for the new rig presented no unusual difficulties.
We chose Egyptian Dacron for a good color scheme, and because it has
a nice, moderately soft hand. The full battens may look modern, but
Nat Herreshoff used them on a little cat yawl of his own way back when.
They help flatten and control the very-low-aspect main and make it
stack neatly in the lazy-jacks. This is also ideal for the mizzen,
which must be kept very flat when sailing and when left standing at
anchor. A half-wishbone sprit boom controls mizzen shape on all points
of sail. The jib furls on its own braided Dacron luff rope, which acts
as a forestay.

Would we do it again?

<i>Dabbler</i> out cruising

Dabbler out cruising with first mate Dee Carstarphen. The transmogrification accomplished standing headroom with a great view through large windows.

It was exciting work making dramatic changes, spiced with moments
of delicious anticipation and delicious satisfaction when we got what
we hoped for. The final product is a great, very small cruising machine,
in which we have prowled both shores and many tributaries of the bay,
sailing in comfort and safety, holding our own with bigger boats in
fair weather and foul (we take shortcuts), yet coming to anchor in
the marshes, while the bigger boats tough it out with the crowds.

In between all the fun, we had the grubwork of any restoration: things
like removing 25 years of bottom paint; repairing centerboards and
rudders, coamings and rubrails; cleaning, sanding, and refinishing
everything; rebedding everything.

We might have been spared much of this work if we started with a younger,
well-maintained hull. But who would take a Sawsall to a Bristol-condition
late-model boat, even if they could afford it? Much better to do surgery
in good conscience when the patient is already teetering on the brink.

Would we do it
again? Well, ah . . . actually, we are doing it again. It’s
the fault of a friend who had a Marshall 22 catboat (twice the displacement
the l8-footer, but only 6 inches more draft). He
had an epiphany of some kind and all at once wanted to move to the
mountains. His house sold out from under him before he had a chance
to advertise the boat. Would we . . . as a favor . . . at a distress
price . . . ?

“She’s 30 years old,” he said, “but basically
sound, except for a few little things . . . ” She’s got
that solid old pre-blister hull, but rot in the cockpit and splits
in the rail. Corroded through-hulls and rusted-up steering system.
Busted hatches. Tired sail. And, believe it or not, you can’t
sit upright below! Just our meat.

No reason why not
to take a Sawsall to the poor old dear and transmogrify her a little.
has already made a sketch of what we think she’ll
look like.

After a false start
in life as a journalist, Stuart left Chicago aboard a 30-foot ketch,
and stayed afloat for 25 years. His wife, Dee Carstarphen (a founding
member of the Seven Seas Cruising Association) had an even longer
career on the water. They now live near a Chesapeake Bay creek just
deep enough for catboats. In his retirement, Stuart is a full-time
sailmaker, specializing in traditional small craft sails. Dee is
the author of four illustrated nautical books, including Narrow Waters,
reviewed in the September 1999
Good Old Boat.

Dabbler‘s favorite rendezvous, where Stuart and
Dee like to “astonish the locals (with Dabbler‘s sailing ability)” is the Turkey Shoot Regatta, held
each October on Virginia’s Rappahannok River. Stuart says, “Dabbler’s
tiny cabin is adorned with three little brass plaques,
each indicating her participation in a Turkey Shoot. We
were always the smallest boat in the fleet. Every participant
gets these plaques. The T-shirts you have to buy!”

Boats in
this event must be of wood or of a classic design 25
years old or older. Last year’s winning boat
was a 1970 Irwin 38, sailed by Wayland Rennie. This year
Hal Roth will serve as honorary chairman. And for the first
time the event will include restored skipjacks (see January
2001 Good Old Boat for more about skipjacks) in the race.
All proceeds go to the Northern Neck Hospice.
Want to know more? Yankee Point Sailboat Marina: 804-462-7018 or

Catalina Yachts

Catalina Yachts: One big family

by Steve Mitchell

You may not be able to win the war, but you can win occasional battles. Regardless
of the odds, you must fight! Now’s the time to meet your opponent.

Call the Woodland Hills headquarters of Catalina Yachts in California, and
one thing strikes you right away about the choices the telephone answering
system offers you. One option is for Frank Butler. That’s rare access
in today’s hectic business world, but it shows what makes Catalina unique
– the constant guiding hand of Frank Butler, who founded the company in

Catalina 22 hull #1, 1970 Catalina 22, hull #1, sails in the One of a Kind Regatta on Lake Michigan in 1970. The crew, from left: Rod Mortenson, Beattie Purcell, Lee Buffum, and Herbie Mortenson.

stories are legendary among Catalina owners. Call the factory about a
warranty item, and chances are you’ll end up speaking with Frank himself.
Why such access? “I’ve always been that accessible,” he says.
“It’s the only way to be in this business.” Catalina is the
largest sailboat manufacturer in the United States. That means Frank Butler
has a lot of customers to keep happy, something he obviously relishes.

Born in California
in 1928, Frank joined the Navy and attended college before beginning his
working life in the engineering field. “I was hired as an engineer
in a government facility, and they found out I had lied about having five
years’ experience. They called me in several months later when they found
out, and I admitted it was true. I then told them either they could fire
me or give me a raise. I got the raise.”

He continues,
“I’ve always had a love for engineering, and drawing came very easily
to me. Working with my hands always came more easily to me than schoolwork.”
Frank went on to start Wesco Tool, his own machine shop, and became a
supplier of component parts for the aircraft industry. “I did a lot
of work with that industry,” he says. “I’d often go to plants
and work with the engineers, help them with designs, or help with engineering
problems when they asked me to.”

Late start

By the late
1950s Frank was sailing dinghies for relaxation. “I was 30 before
I really took up sailing,” he says. While it was a late start in
life compared to most boatbuilders, it opened up a chapter in what was
to become Frank Butler’s life’s work.

he wanted something larger than a dinghy so his growing family could enjoy
sailing together. Says Frank, “The first boat I bought [for the family]
was a Victory 21.” But his first boatbuying experience wasn’t a good
one. The builder was strapped for cash, and when Frank arrived to pick
up his boat on the appointed day, neither the boat nor the owner was to
be found. He quickly assessed the situation and basically began to build
the boat himself with help from some of the builder’s employees, all but
commandeering the plant until he finished it.

made him think he could build a boat? “I never even thought about
it,” he responds. “It was either that or lose my money.”
Despite that initial experience, Frank made a loan to the builder. When
the builder couldn’t pay back the loan, he offered Frank some tooling
and materials to build other boats, which Frank accepted. He had the boatbuilding
bug and couldn’t resist the challenge. He founded a company he called
Wesco Marine in 1961 and began building small sailboats. He later changed
the name to Coronado Yachts. He still owned Wesco Tool as well.

of the first people he hired in 1962 for his fledgling boatbuilding company
was an Irishman named Beattie Purcell. “I met Beattie through a mutual
friend,” Frank says. “He had the sailing experience, and I had
the manufacturing experience. He and I worked well together. But in those
days we all did everything – manufacturing, sales, marketing. It didn’t

Sharon Day, Gerry Douglas, Frank Butler

Catalina’s Three Musketeers: Sharon Day, Gerry Douglas, and Frank Butler.

Tremendous growth

happened to be in Canada at the time. I came down and started working
for Frank at Wesco Marine long before there even was a Catalina Yachts,”
Beattie recalls. “I started off building small boats with the fiberglass,
and then I got into rigging. We were building a 14-footer and a 21-footer.
We started off pretty small but grew tremendously. Fiberglass was in its
infancy and just took off. We definitely started at the right time. I
also started sailing in different regattas for Frank to promote the boats,
which worked out well.” In line with the notion that everyone did
everything, Beattie also designed the letterhead for the stationery and
the exterior sign on the building.

also had Wesco Tool at the same time,” Beattie continues. “We
started in Burbank, but we got bigger and had to move to another location.
Frank was a busy man running both businesses. But he has great insight,
and he listens to people.”

The first notable
boat design was the Coronado 25 in 1964. States Frank, “I designed
it, and a fellow helped me with the tooling for it. The Coronado 25 was
the first boat to have a full pan liner in the hull. Before that, manufacturers
built components and dropped them into the hull, like a wood-shop approach.
It was expensive and more time-consuming.

got the idea for the pan liner from Lockheed and how they built planes.
I saw lead molds at Lockheed for airplane parts and thought, Why not apply
that to building boats?” Frank remembers.

They fired him

In a move
typical of other early sailboat manufacturers, Frank sold Coronado to
the Whittaker Corporation in 1968. The business relationship lasted one
year. He says, “I didn’t agree with the corporate strategy of running
a boat manufacturing facility. I wrote them a letter about some things
I didn’t agree with, and they called me in and fired me. But that was
all over long ago. I was right, as it turns out. We’re all good friends

As part
of the separation agreement with Whittaker, Frank had a non-competition
contract for two years and couldn’t build boats, except for the smaller
ones for which Whittaker hadn’t bought the rights. He took a trip to Europe
and also built a marina in Oxnard, Calif., that Beattie ran for him for
a while. They continued to build the smaller boats, such as the Coronado
15, the Omega, the Super Satellite, and the Drifter. “We wanted to
change the name of [the Coronado 15] to make it obvious the boat wasn’t
built by Coronado Yachts,” says Beattie, “but couldn’t because
the class association wouldn’t let us. Frank always liked the names of
islands – Catalina, Coronado, Capri. We had thought of the name Catalina
and liked it. That sort of clicked.”

moved back home to Ireland for a while, but his boatbuilding days weren’t
over. He remembers, “I was in Ireland, and Frank called me to say
that he was forming Catalina Yachts.” That one phone call is all
it took for Beattie to return to work for Frank. “One of my first
jobs for Catalina was to fly to Hawaii. Some people there were having
trouble with the rigging for their Coronado 15s, and I was able to help
them out.”

Most popular

Catalina 22, first boat in 1970
Catalina 22 diagram

The Catalina 22, the first boat introduced by the company, in 1970.

“I had started building boats in 1961,” Frank says of founding a new company, “so I had eight or nine years of experience at it by then.
Things were much easier than in 1961.”

His first design in 1970 was the Catalina 22, the boat he had wanted Whittaker
to build. The C-22 turned out to be one of the most popular sailboats
of all time, with 15,500 built. He also came out right away with the Catalina 27, another popular cruiser. The Catalina 30 followed in 1976.

According to
Beattie, “The C-22 just took off. We couldn’t build them fast enough.”
Beattie has the distinction of being the first person to sail both the
C-22 and the C-27.

In the
early boats, Frank used what is called the shoebox design to join the
hull and deck. In this construction technique, the outer lip of the deck
fits over the lip of the hull like the top fits on a shoebox. “I
felt the shoebox design was more rigid, and it’s basically leakproof.
It’s a very good way to build boats. We might have a problem in one out
of a thousand boats with a hull leak, and even then it’s usually something
else leaking.”

such a high demand for his boats, Frank had to expand his manufacturing
capability. An East Coast plant made sense because of the high cost of
shipping boats to the East Coast from California. States Beattie, “Frank
sent me east to look for another plant. The shipping costs were killing
us. I found a small fiberglass plant in South Carolina that had closed,
so we bought it and started building C-22s there. Then we began building
C-27s there as well.” The year was 1973.

Almost threw him out

Beattie credits a fellow named Wilbur Pokras with much of Catalina’s marketing success in the east. “Wilbur was our representative for setting up dealers on the East Coast, ” he says. “He did a great job for

Wayne Miskiewicz, now general manager of Maryland Marina, in Baltimore, remembers
Wilbur very well. “Wilbur was the East Coast rep for Catalina and set us up as a dealer in 1970 or so. He showed up trailering a C-22 he had put in the Annapolis show, and he wanted us to buy it. We almost didn’t become a dealer. I almost threw him out of the office at first. But we wound up buying the show model and becoming a dealer. Selling the C-22 was amazing. They all but flew out the door.”

He continues, “Frank Butler is the Henry Ford of the boating industry in a sense.
He’s very serious about offering a good boat at a good price. Since he
was the warranty coordinator, he could spot trends with problems and fix
them right away. He’s very hands-on, maybe too much so at times. Frank
took [the warranty coordinator role] on as a method of quality control,
and was effective in that way. Frank is quite an interesting guy. He had
no one to answer to but himself.” By 1977 even the South Carolina
plant was too small to handle the East Coast demand for Catalina Sailboats.
“One day Frank called me,” says Beattie, “to go to Fort
Walton Beach, Florida, to look at property for a larger plant. It all
worked out, so we moved the plant from South Carolina to Florida, where
we could build even bigger boats.”

Unprecedented demand

Wayne says
about those days in the sailboat market, “Catalina had trouble meeting
production demands, and the dealers were put on a quota system. People
were so happy with their boats that they came back and bought their second,
third, and even fourth boats from us. The company just grew so rapidly
it was amazing in those days. Until we had the huge downturn in the market,
used boats often cost more than new ones. Used boats were appreciating
throughout the entire product line because demand was so high for new

He continues,
“One good thing about Catalina is that it doesn’t change designs
every year. They would come out with a good design and hold onto it. Hunter
was our biggest competitor in those days, but it changed models every
couple of years. Catalina had a chance to work out production problems
with a long run, but not Hunter.”

years later, the company needed an even larger plant on the East Coast.
In 1984, Frank purchased Morgan Yachts, based in Largo, Florida. Beattie
helped move the Florida plant to Largo. “We were growing so fast,”
Beattie remembers, “and Morgan Yachts was all but down the tubes.
It was a great chance to buy a bigger plant at a good price and to get
the Morgan name.” Among other large boats, the Largo plant turned
out 50-footers for the Moorings charter group. Today it produces C-47s
in shifts that run six days a week.

retired from Catalina Yachts in 1994 after spending more than 30 years
working for Frank Butler. “I enjoyed it. Frank was a good guy to
work for. We used to race against one another in Satellites and had a
great time doing it. It was good fun starting up a company like that,
it’s interesting all the things you have to do. Frank knows the way to
go. He always has. He has great instincts.”

Advertising change

For many
years, Catalina was the largest sailboat manufacturer that did no national
advertising, a terrific economic advantage compared to its competitors
in an industry where spending 6 to 10 percent of the retail price of a
new boat on advertising and marketing is not uncommon. Given a changing
and much tighter market, Frank had to change to keep Catalina’s name in
the forefront of the industry. “When we went from medium-sized boats
to larger ones, I thought I needed to advertise. It was better for the
product and better for the consumer to know more about our products. It
was something I felt I had to do.”

late 1980s saw a tremendous depression in the boat market caused by an
economic recession and by the 10-percent luxury tax the federal government
placed on new boats costing more than $100,000. Because few of its models
exceeded that cost, Catalina was not affected that much by the luxury
tax. But the economic recession that saw so many boatbuilders go out of
business made for hard times at Catalina as well. How did the company
survive when so many others didn’t? “I’m somewhat conservative, ”
Frank says. “I knew that what goes up must come down. I tried to
be prepared as best I could. It was tough, no doubt about it. We just
got through it.”

At Maryland
Marina, Wayne Miskiewicz saw the downturn coming. “We stopped selling
new boats in 1988,” he says. “It was just a business decision
we made. We still sell used boats today, but not new ones. But if we were
to decide to sell new boats again, it would be Catalinas. They’re the
best product for the money today.”

Weathered recession

Catalina 27, second boat, 1971
Catalina 27 diagram

The Catalina 27, the second boat, introduced in 1971.

One can
make the argument that Catalina’s product line, and philosophy of providing
“the most value for the dollar in the industry,” as Frank puts
it, made the difference in weathering the recession that drove other sailboat
manufacturers out of business. Many manufacturers had the bottom drop
out of their sales volume; but Catalina’s business, while also falling
off, didn’t drop precipitously. The factories stayed busy, and Catalina
did not lay off one worker during that time.

to Sharon Day, Catalina’s national and international sales manager, “We
had to tighten our belts, but when we were making money we were able to
put some of it away for times like that. With the slow market we were
able to increase our inventories of boats so we were ready when the market

Keene, president of Edson International, seconds the notion about Butler’s
instincts. Says Keene, “He has the uncanny ability to know the real
value of something. He’s as honest as the day is long, a guy who speaks
his mind. You know where you stand with him every minute of every day.
But he also has quite a sense of humor. He’s a great kidder, and you don’t
always know when he’s joking. For example, one time he said to me that
he was going to put all my competitors’ gear on his boats. I nearly had
a heart attack before he told me he was joking.”

of Will’s first sales trips for Edson around 1980 was to visit Frank in
California. “I was scared, absolutely petrified of meeting him. He’s
a big, gruff guy on the outside, especially if you’re a vendor. I was
this kid taking over the business from my father and had a lot to prove.
Frank suggested a change in a piece of gear, and I took the suggestion
back to my boss, who also doubled as my father. He said, ‘We just invested
a lot of money in that design. Make him like it.’ Well, I lost Frank’s
business on that one.”

Team approach

Will continues,
“We ended up building a mock-up of the C-30 cockpit and shipping
it to California so Frank and Gerry Douglas could see how it all would
work together. Our competitor also had trouble delivering on time, so
we soon had their account back. It took us 18 months and a lot of hard
work, but we did it.”

enjoys working with Catalina because of the team approach Frank uses.
“He will call me up and say, ‘We have a problem,’ and ask, ‘How can
we solve it?’ ” Will says. “He works with you. He’s always very
even, whether it’s our problem or his, or a combination. We’re small potatoes
compared to the size of Catalina Yachts, and Frank knows we have limitations,
but he expects us to deliver, too. Even if we make some dumb mistakes,
which we have, Frank and I will talk about it, and then he’ll say, ‘OK,
let’s get going here.’ He’s great to work with.”

considers Frank to be a mentor, in addition to being a customer. “Frank
told me once that when sons got into the family business, the business
usually failed.” Will took the words of advice to heart, as something
to work on. “I’m still in the process of proving him wrong on that
one,” he says. “But I probably won’t be able to do that until
the day I retire.”

To what
does Will attribute the success of Catalina Yachts, besides the obvious
presence of Frank Butler? He responds, “The boats are a reflection
of the people behind them. Frank’s employees are the best and are very
loyal to him and the company. They make good, honest, affordable boats
– good sailers with smart layouts. Just look at the number of people who
got into this sport because of Frank’s affordable boats.”

Largest manufacturer

Frank is
quick to point out that sales manager Sharon Day and Gerry Douglas, head
of engineering and design, are a big part of the success of Catalina Yachts.
They really have had more to do with the success we’ve had than anyone
else.” Both Day and Douglas now are corporate officers and part owners
of the company.

has been with Catalina for 26 years. “We’re the largest sailboat
manufacturer in the United States, but we aren’t run by a large corporation.
So we can keep closer tabs on our customers, to make sure they like our
products. I think the boat owners like sharing the company’s success because
they like being part of the Catalina family. And family is the backbone
of our company. Everyone who buys a boat is a part of our family. We especially
treat our dealers that way. Lots of them have been with us since Day One,
and we appreciate that. They are our front line with our customers, after

continues, “Going to a boat show, we not only sell boats, but we
also get to see and talk to our customers. Many of them we see at the
shows every year.” The face-to-face meetings with customers provide
valuable feedback for their likes and dislikes, which leads directly to
improvements in the product line.

it like working for Frank Butler? “He sets the pace for us,”
she says, “and that’s non-stop. Frank keeps things moving. He’s perpetual
motion, and has a tremendous amount of energy. It’s an entirely different
feel in the office when he’s there compared to when he’s not. He’s a fantastic
man to work for. His heart is in the right place.”

Lots of overlap

Sharon describes
Frank, Gerry Douglas, and herself as the Three Musketeers. “We have
tremendous rapport together. It’s a good mixture. Even though we all have
our own roles, there’s lots of overlap in what we do, and lots of lunchtime
meetings. Sometimes things may get heated, but by the end of lunch we’re
all back on good terms, and all three of us are heading down the same

his perspective, Gerry sees two big advantages of Catalina’s boats: they
can be fixed, and parts are readily available. “Our boats are 100
percent rebuildable, depending upon severe damage, of course,” he
states. “And parts are available from the factory for all our boats
no matter how old. This makes older Catalinas excellent project boats
for people looking for a good boat to rebuild.”

He points
out that “we put the decks on much earlier in the manufacturing process
than other builders. This is a big advantage to our customers because
it means everything inside the boat came through the main hatch. There
are no captive tanks or bulkheads. The customer can take out everything
in the boat with hand tools. Catalina is unique in that respect. Most
builders put the deck on much later in the process.”

He continues,
“Our hull liners are designed to distribute loads. Bulkheads don’t
bear chainplate loads, for example. Those loads pass on to the liner.
That’s important to know because so many of our owners have modified their
boats extensively. Our owners tend to be hands-on people. It’s easy to
replace things, and you seldom have to cut anything to get a part out.”

Rare features

to Gerry, another Catalina strong point is its customer-service department.
“We have good people owners can talk to about technical issues. That,
combined with the availability of parts, is rare in this industry. It
makes buying older Catalinas easier. Our boats are good for extended cruising
because they have a solid foundation of good, laminated parts.

boats are excellent choices for rebuilding because they are relatively
heavy for their length. We still use heavy, hand-laminated, solid glass
hulls. We’re probably the only builder who fi bs on displacement on the
light side. This philosophy of durable, rebuildable boats is designed
in. It’s not by accident,” he says.

Loyal owners

Catalina 30 diagram, 1976

The Catalina 30, the third boat, introduced in 1976.

Should Catalina
owners want resources for projects, all they have to do is turn to Mainsheet,
a quarterly magazine published by Jim Holder in Midlothian, Virginia.
“Frank and I have been good friends since 1970,” Jim says. “He
asked me to put this magazine together 17 years ago to pull all the newsletters
of the various associations into one magazine. I’m the editor and publisher,
and Frank is listed as the managing editor. We receive quite a bit of
technical assistance from the factory, primarily from Gerry Douglas, who
reviews all the material for technical accuracy. Frank is the only manufacturer
who does this sort of thing. It’s a unique magazine in more ways than

Jim, “The magazine is basically written by the owners. They send
in all the articles for their projects and such to editors for each association.
Those editors send the articles to us to help keep things organized. So
it’s really written by the owners for the owners. It glues all the association
members together. The magazine helps people improve and enjoy their boats
– to have fun. That’s the object of the magazine, and of Catalina Yachts
as well.”

He concludes,
“Frank has always pushed Catalina Yachts as a family. Mainsheet is
one vehicle to keep the family together through communication. People
who own Catalinas are very loyal, and most of them move up to another
Catalina. They also know that Frank is really good about warranty work
and that he doesn’t want anything happening to his boats he doesn’t know
about. It’s Frank’s one-on-one attitude that makes the family aspect happen.”

is Frank Butler’s favorite design, of the many he has built? “I have
seven children. That question is like asking me which is my favorite child.
I can’t say. Anyone who ever asks me that question never gets an answer
from me. My boats are like my children. One might be for the ocean, another
one for near shore or for racing. I love them all.

C-22 and C-30 were both extremely well received. We also have sold a lot
of 27s. The 36 just passed 2,000 built earlier this year. We’re selling
a lot of 42s and larger boats. For example, right now we’re building 47s
at the rate of three a month.”

no doubt that, as Beattie Purcell puts it, “The C-22 was the boat
that really put us in the market in a big way. We were building five of
them a day in California in the early days. Used ones were going for more
than a new one because people couldn’t get new ones fast enough.”
Concludes Beattie, “The 22 is a good sailing boat, stable, family

continues, “You should always try to upgrade your product line. You
always need to have something more to offer in a new boat. Otherwise people
will just buy used ones.”

Good relations

When asked
if he sees Hunter and Beneteau as his biggest competitors, Frank responds,
“Yes they are, but really I think all [sailboat manufacturers] are
my competitors. I love competition, I really do. You’ve got to know your
competition. I check them out all the time, not just at boat shows. I
have good relations with our competitors. We all get along fine.”

To this
day, Catalina designs all of its boats in-house and has its own engineering
department. Two notable exceptions are the C-27 and C-30. “An outside
person designed the hulls for those, and I did the interiors and the decks,
” says Frank. “I try to do what our customers need or want.
We try to work around that concept. There’s no one better than your customers
to help you constantly change and improve. Our dealers also are very important
to us. We get lots of input from them. And we are always working on new

Catalina Yachts employs more than 700 people building boats in three locations,
two in California and one in Florida. It has about 500,000 square feet
of manufacturing space. The line includes Catalina, Capri, and Morgan
sailboats, Nacraand Prindle catamarans, and a 34-foot powerboat sold as
the Islander 34. “We purchased that mold when Pearson went out of
business,” says Frank. “It’s the only powerboat Catalina currently

Capri sailboats are the performance-oriented daysailers developed in the Capri Sailboat Division. Current models range from 8 feet to 25 feet. “Capri is our small-boat division under Catalina as the main structure,” Frank says. He notes that several Capri models have very active class associations around the country.

Bright future

What does
the future hold for Frank Butler and Catalina Yachts? When asked how long
he expects to run the company, he says, “I enjoy it so much. It’s
really in the hands of the good Lord. That’s one question I can’t give
you an honest answer on.”

to Frank, Gerry Douglas and Sharon Day most likely would supply the continuity
to keep Catalina Yachts going as it always has, providing “a lot
of boat for the money,” as most sailors put it.

Catalina Yachts has a bright future given the thousands of loyal customers
sailing its products around the world. The international class associations
for the C-22, C-25, C-27 and C-30 are among the largest sailboat groups
in the world. Log on to the Internet, and Catalina sites are among the
most numerous and busiest to be found. As Max Unger, the treasurer of
the International Catalina 30 Association, puts it, “The success
of these independent associations emphasizes not only the great number
of boats built, but also the family atmosphere created by the owners that
keeps us sailing together.”

word family probably best describes Catalina Yachts these days. It’s a
family comprised of many loyal employees and thousands of loyal customers.
And the undeniable head is Frank Butler. He wouldn’t have it any other

not working at his job for the federal government or singlehanding his
1989 Pearson 27 in the Annapolis, Md., area, Steve is a part-time freelance
writer. He writes for a variety of business and boating publications.

Capsize – how it happens

Planning for an unplanned inversion

By John Vigor

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 3, Number 6, November/December 2000.

Capsize: how it happens, and what you can do to survive it

When Isabelle Autissier’s 60-foot racer capsized in the Southern
Ocean, it sent a chill of fear through the sailing community. Sailors
don’t like to think of capsize. But here was a big, well-found boat,
a Finot-designed Open 60 Class flier, wallowing upside down in huge
frigid swells, with her long thin keel jutting toward heaven. It was
a bizarre and frightening sight.

Autissier was lucky. She was taking part in the Around Alone race, so
her million-dollar boat was equipped with emergency satellite
transmitters, position recorders, and lots of other equipment that no
normal cruiser is likely to be able to afford or fit on board. She
was eventually rescued in a wonderful feat of seamanship by Giovanni
Soldini, a fellow competitor.

So what went wrong? And could it happen to you? It depends where you
sail, but if you sail out of sight of land, whether at sea or on a
lake, the answer is yes, it could. And you should always be prepared
for it to happen. The good news is that most yachts of classic
proportions will survive a capsize. Unlike Autissier’s extreme
design, they will right themselves, although some might take longer
than others.

You can form a crude idea of what went wrong with Autissier’s boat by
imagining a long plank floating in the water. It doesn’t care which
side is up. It’s happy floating either way up. That’s Autissier’s
boat. Now imagine a plank with a heavy weight attached along one
side, so the plank floats on edge. If you turn it upside down, the
ballast quickly pulls it back again. That’s your normal yacht design.
Autissier’s racer was shaped too much like a wide plank – too beamy
and too light to recover from an inverted position, despite the long
heavy keel. It’s one of the paradoxes of naval architecture that an
excessively beamy boat, while hard to capsize in the first place, is
unseaworthy if she is inverted.

Furthermore, a light, shallow, beamy boat capsizes more easily than a
narrow, deep, heavy boat because she offers the seas more leverage to
do their work, and because she is quicker to respond to the upward
surge of a large swell.

Planing hulls

Designers create racing boats like Autissier’s because that shape
gives them the ability to plane at high speeds. In other words, they
deliberately sacrifice seaworthiness on the altar of speed, and the
boats rely on the skill of their crews to keep them upright.
Unfortunately, singlehanders have to sleep now and then, so they
can’t be on watch all the time.

While it’s true that a good big boat is less likely to capsize than a
good small boat, there is no guarantee that even the largest yachts
are immune from capsize. It’s not the wind that’s the problem. It’s
the waves.

Tests carried out at Southampton University in England have shown
that almost any boat can be turned turtle by a breaking wave with a
height equal to 55 percent of the boat’s overall length.
Even if you don’t like to think about it, you know in your heart that
it’s a reasonable finding. It means your 35-footer could be capsized
through 180 degrees by a 20-foot wave. Even a 12-foot breaking wave
would roll her 130 degrees from upright – from which position she may
turn turtle anyhow.

And if you imagine you’re never going to encounter a 20-foot wave,
think again. Waves of that size can be generated in open water by a
40-knot wind blowing for 40 hours. And a 12-foot wave is the result
of a 24-knot wind blowing for 24 hours. Plenty of those around.

Large waves are formed in other ways, too. A current flowing against
the wind will create seas that are much larger and steeper than
normal. And the old stories about every seventh wave being bigger
than the rest have a basis of truth, although it’s not necessarily
the seventh wave. It could be the fifth or the ninth. The point is
that wave trains occasionally fall in step with each other at random
intervals, literally riding on one another’s backs, to form an
exceptionally high wave. We call that a freak wave, but it’s actually
more normal than we care to admit.

Bigger waves

Scientists calculate that one wave in every 23 is more than twice as
high as the average. One in 1,175 is three times bigger. And one in
300,000 is four times the average height. They may be far apart, but
they’re out there, and many big ships have been lost to them.

John Lacey, a British naval architect, put forward an interesting
proposition after the 1979 Fastnet Race, in which 63 yachts
experienced at least one knock-down that went farther than 90 degrees
and remained upside down for significant periods.

He explained that the old International Offshore Rule for racers had
radically changed the shape of yacht hulls by greatly increasing the
proportion of beam to length, which gave them more power to carry
sail without the need for additional ballast. It also gave them more
room below, of course.

But the flatiron shape of the hull made it very stable when it was
inverted. To bring the boat upright again would require about half
the energy needed to capsize the yacht in the first place, Lacey

“Since the initial capsize may have been caused by a
once-in-a-lifetime freak wave, one could be waiting a long time for a
wave big enough to overcome this inverted stability,” he commented.
Autissier’s experience bore out that prophetic statement. Her boat
was still upside down when she abandoned it.

Lacey did some more sums and figured that a narrower cruising hull
with a lower center of gravity than a typical IOR boat would require
only one-tenth of the capsize energy to recover from a 180-degree

“It therefore seems, in my opinion, that we should tackle the problem
from the other end, and design yachts for minimum stability when
upside down,” he concluded.

Deep-vee cabin

His recommendation is not likely to be taken too seriously, but he
certainly does have a point. You could make an inverted yacht
unstable with narrow beam, a very deep keel with a lot of weight at
the very end of it for righting leverage, and a deep-vee cabintop, or
at least one that was narrow on top and broad at deck level. For the
same reason, flush-decked yachts should be avoided, because they’re
likely to be much more stable upside down.

But as in everything to do with sailboats, there are compromises to
be made. Deep narrow hulls might recover quickly from inversion, but
as sailors discovered a century ago when they were all the rage,
they’re lacking in buoyancy. They’re also wet, and they have very
little accommodation.

Two basic design features probably govern the probability of capsize
more than any others. The first is inertia and the second is the
shape of the keel.

Inertia is not generally well understood, but it’s the first line of
defense against a wave impact. In simple terms, inertia is resistance
to change. The inertia of a moving boat works to keep her moving on
course, even though other forces are trying to halt or divert her.
The inertia of a boat at rest resists any sudden attempt to start her

Obviously, because inertia varies with mass, a heavy boat has more
inertia than a light boat, so a wave hitting her from the side is
going to get a slower response. Light-displacement boats are more
likely than heavy boats to be picked up and hurled over by a plunging

Narrow beam is a help, too, because the force of a breaking wave is
concentrated nearer the centerline of the yacht, where it has less
overturning leverage.

Spreading weight

The way weight is distributed on a boat also affects its inertia. A
wide boat with a light mast and a shallow keel will respond very
quickly to every wave with a lively, jerky motion. A boat with a
heavier mast and a deeper keel has its weight spread out over a
greater span, and it’s more difficult to change its speed or
direction, so the force of a breaking wave may be dissipated before
it has a chance to overturn the boat. Inertia, incidentally, is what
keeps a tightrope walker aloft. It’s contained in that long stick. If
you push down on one side of it suddenly to regain your balance, it
almost bounces back at you. It will subsequently move slowly away,
but you can recover it with a long gentle pull as you lean the other

A long, old-fashioned keel resists sudden rolling simply because it’s
difficult to move anything that big sideways through the water. A fin
keel, with its meager surface area, is much more easily moved when
it’s stalled; thus, the boat to which it’s attached is more easily
overturned. But a fin keel that’s moving through the water acquires
much more stability, which is why fin keelers should be kept moving
in heavy weather.

Capsize screening formula

The maximum beam divided by the cube root of the displacement in cubic feet, or
Maximum beam (feet) = less than 2 3÷Displ/64
The displacement in cubic feet can be found by dividing the displacement in pounds by 64. The boat is suitable for offshore passages if the result of the calculation is 2.0 or less, but the lower the better.

Although there are design factors that improve seaworthiness (usually
at the expense of speed and accommodation), and although there are
tactics you can use in a storm to minimize the chances of
overturning, no boat is totally capsize-proof. That is not to say
that every boat is going to capsize, of course, even the ones most
likely to. After all, hundreds of yachts cross oceans every year
without mishap. But prudent sailors keep the possibility in mind and
do what they can to forestall any problems and to lessen any damage
resulting from an inversion.

Large forces

If you have never given any thought to inversion, the results of a
capsize can be devastating, not only on deck but down below as well.
Not many people realize what large forces are involved in a capsize,
especially the head-over-heels capsize called a pitchpole. It’s not
just a gentle rolling motion. The contents of lockers and drawers can
be flung long distances in the saloon, and you could easily find
yourself standing in a state of disorientation on the overhead in a
seething mess of battery acid, salt water, clothing, ketchup,
mayonnaise, diesel fuel, paint thinner, knives, forks, and shards of
broken glass. There will be no fresh air entering the cabin to
dissipate the fumes. And it will be dark because your ports will be
under water.

So, first things first: presuming you haven’t been injured by flying
objects, can you lay hands on flashlights? Were they stored safely in
a special place that you can reach without having to shift a wodge of
soaked bunk mattresses? Is there one for every member of the crew?
Are the batteries fresh? You may not stay upside down for long. But
if you’re unlucky, like Isabelle Autissier, you will find you need a
flashlight more than anything else on earth.

There are some other things you should think about before you ever
set sail. And there are some precautions you can take.

Avoiding capsize

  1. Avoid heavy weather. “The most dangerous thing on a boat is
    an inflexible schedule.” Thanks to Tony Ouwehand for this observation.
  2. Avoid taking large waves abeam, particularly breaking waves.
  3. When caught in heavy weather:
    1. Heave to.
    2. Run (down wave) using a drogue to keep speed down to 3 to 5 knots.
    3. Use a sea anchor from the bow or a series drogue from the
      stern. (Practice rigging and deploying these in moderate conditions.)

The rig

  • Is your rig as strong as possible? Will it withstand the tremendous
    forces of a capsize?
  • Do you have a plan to free a toppled mast from alongside, where it
    can batter holes in your hull? Have you ever thought how difficult it would be to cut the rigging, even with a decent pair of bolt cutters,
    on a slippery deck that’s suddenly rolling viciously?
  • Do you have material on board for a jury rig? Have you thought about
    how you would use it?
  • Will your radio transmitter’s antenna come down with the rig? Do you
    have a spare?
  • Will your EPIRB start working automatically because it’s been under
    water – whether you want it to or not?

The cockpit

  • Are your cockpit lockers waterproof? Can you imagine how quickly
    you’d sink if one of them was open at the time of capsize?
  • Do your companionway hatchboards lock in position? Have you ever
    thought how much water would get below if one or more fell out as you
    turned over?
  • What have you done about waterproofing the cowl vents for the engine?
    Those are huge holes in what would become the bottom of the boat.
    (The same goes for Dorade boxes, incidentally. Each one is a
    potential three- or four-inch hole in the bottom. Fit them with deck
    plates for sea work, on deck and down below.)
  • If you’re in the cockpit when the boat capsizes, will you be attached
    by a harness? Will you be able to free yourself if you’re trapped
    under water and the boat stays inverted for some time?

The anchor locker

  • If the anchors and chain are not fastened down securely they could
    bash their way through the locker lid and cause all kinds of havoc.
  • Is your self-draining deck anchor locker waterproof? Many aren’t completely sealed at the top, where wires for pulpit-mounted running lights come though, and would let in water.

The engine room

  • Is your engine mounted securely enough to withstand a capsize? I know
    of one boat in which the engine was hurled from its mounts during a
    pitchpole, causing great destruction.
  • What if the engine’s running during a capsize? Could you switch it
    off quickly, with everything upside down? Would the oil run out?
    Would the fuel drip out of the tanks? Are your breathers inside or
  • Are the batteries fastened down firmly enough? Can you imagine what
    damage they could do if they got loose? And will they drip acid if
    they’re upside down? (Newer batteries – gel cells and AGMs will not
    spill acid when inverted. -Ed.)

The galley

  • Can you turn the stove off? If there’s a smell of gas, can you deal
    with it? Have you made sure the galley cupboards can’t fly open
    during a capsize and turn the saloon into a sea of broken glass and
    chip dip?
  • Can you lay hands on a fire extinguisher quickly? It could save your life.

The saloon

  • Have you figured out a way to keep all those loose tops in place in
    the saloon – the boards that cover access to storage under bunks, the
    bilge boards, and so on? Some boats have inside ballast, and many
    have heavy objects, such as storm anchors, stowed in the bilges. Make
    sure they stay there, because if they get loose they can come
    crashing through the overhead (your new “floor”) and sink the boat
    very quickly.
  • Make sure your bunk mattresses will stay in place, too, otherwise
    they will greatly hamper your attempts to get around.
  • Have you figured out a way to pump bilge water out of an inverted
    boat? Think about it. It’s not easy.

Book racks

  • Most books could escape from their racks during a capsize and become
    potentially harmful flying objects. Have you solved that problem?

Important documents

  • The ship’s papers and your own personal documents should be in a
    watertight container in a secure locker, one that is not too high up
    in the boat because that’s where the water will be when you capsize.

There are many other systems and pieces of gear on a boat that could
be affected by a capsize. When you use them, think inverted. Imagine
what would happen if they got loose. Invent ways to keep things in
their places during an unplanned inversion. Don’t ever imagine it’s
wasted work. It’s one of the unspoken rules of the sea that if you’re
prepared, the worst is not likely to happen. If you’re not, you’re
bound to attract trouble.

More on the subject

Tami Ashcraft wrote a compelling story of the realities of inversion
and its aftermath in her book, Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of
a Woman’s Courage and Survival at Sea
, reviewed in our May 2000 issue. John Vigor goes into more depth about preparation for
capsize in his book, The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat.

John Vigor

John Vigor is a professional journalist. The author of The Practical
Mariner’s Book of Knowledge, The Boatowner’s Handbook, Twenty Small
Boats to Take You Anywhere, and The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat, he
has worked for major newspapers around the world and is a frequent
contributor to leading sailing magazines. He has sailed for more than
40 years in boats 11 to 40 feet in length and logged some 15,000
miles of ocean voyaging. In 1987 he and his wife, June, and their
17-year-old son sailed their 31-foot sloop from South Africa to the
U.S. John’s books are available from the
Good Old Boat Bookshelf.

Fitting Bronze Portlights


Fitting bronze portlights

by Armand Stephens

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 4, July/August 2001.

Swap your old plastic windows for salty new ports

buying our old 1965 Alberg 30, Mary and I knew that part of the
renovation program would be the replacement of the old fixed windows
with operating bronze portlights. Alberg 30 with new ports
There were several reasons for
this, and not the least was good evidence that the old windows
The old Plexiglas was scratched, and someone had already replaced
three of the small windows with bronze portlights. “Why only
three?” we wondered. Mary and I also thought that the bronze
portlights would give our old boat a “salty” look.

We ordered our portlights from Marine Depot in Chino, Calif. The small
portlights cost $160 each, and the very large ones were $280 each. We
had the portlights in hand before starting this project.

Remove old lights Attach Plexiglas to outside with tape Fiberglass in old opening

Left: Remove old fixed lights and grind a large bevel. The sharp edge of the bevel should be paper thin. Middle: Cover Plexiglas with mold release and attach to outside of boat with tape. Paint gelcoat onto inside surface. Right: fiberglass in old opening.

Removing the old fixed windows was easy and probably made easier because
we were not trying to save any of the old window parts.

I have spent many
hours working on my boat, and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed
every minute
of it except for the grinding of old fiberglass.
I don’t care what kind of dust mask, cap, or goggles you put on,
a certain amount of ground up fiberglass will find “home” under
your armpit or down your underwear! Let the itching begin.

Grinding a 3-inch bevel around the old windows was a nasty job using
a body grinder with 36-grit sandpaper. Plexiglas was coated with paste
wax and attached to the outside of the window opening, wax side facing
in. We used duct tape to secure the Plexiglas. Then we mixed up gelcoat
and brushed it onto the wax-coated Plexiglas. Next were three layers
of fiberglass cloth and resin. Fiberglass mat was then used in alternate
layers with the cloth.

Cut new opening with jigsaw Paint interior and drill bold holes Look like they've always been there

Left: Fill in low spots with epoxy filler. Cut new opening with portable electric jigsaw. Center: Paint interior and drill bolt holes to secure new portlight. Caulk around the portlight and install portlight with bolts. Right: Go sailing and enjoy your new ports, which look as if they’ve always been there.

This process continued until the old window opening was flush with the
surrounding cabin wall. We used 80-grit sandpaper to even out the surface.
We removed the wax-coated Plexiglas and cut out new oval openings using
a portable electric jigsaw.

We painted the inside of the cabin before installing the new portlights.

May you have good views and fresh air through your new portlights.

Armand is a retired schoolteacher (high school woodworking). Immediately
after they retired, he and Mary bought a 1965 Alberg 30 and spent 10
months bringing
Quest to a better-than-new state. The Stephens have been
sailing on San Francisco Bay for more than 30 years.

Resources for ports

Beckson Marine, Plastic parts for ports

Bristol Bronze, Bronze port glass retainers (non-opening

New Found Metals, Bronze and stainless steel ports


Rostand RI, Inc., Bronze opening ports

Taylor Made Systems, Aluminum, stainless, and plastic
opening ports and replacement parts, flat and curved tempered
safety glass



Brewer by the numbers

By Ted Brewer
Illustrations by Ted Brewer and Mike Dickey

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 4, July/August 1999.

What’s the meaning of all those numbers used by yacht designers?

The terms and ratios that follow are used by all yacht designers, so it’s
a good idea to have an understanding of them if you are considering buying
a boat or having a custom design created. You may need to work out some
of the ratios for the boats you are considering for purchase from the
available information, but the formulas are simple and can be handled
by an inexpensive scientific calculator. The one I use in my design business
is a Sharp EL-520, almost old enough to vote, and it cost less than $25
new many, too many, years ago.

Basic weights and measures

Beam diagram

Length: Designers and builders have different ways of expressing
length. Length On Deck (LOD) is the true length, omitting rail
overhangs, and is the honest way to describe the length of a boat. More
usually, you will see it as Length Over All (LOA), which may be
the LOD if the builder is honest but often includes rail overhangs, anchor
sprit, bowsprits, and even boomkins if the builder is trying to sell a
“larger” boat. Length on the Waterline (LWL) is an important figure
to know, as it more closely represents the usable size of the yacht than
LOD or LOA, and it is a necessary figure in some of the other calculations.
LWL is the length of the vessel as measured from the bow ending of the
waterline to the stern ending. It should not include any rudder tip that
may stick out past the aft end of the hull proper. Over the years, the
LWL will increase as the yacht sinks into the water with the added weight
of stores and equipment.

Beam: This is the greatest width of the hull and is often expressed
as Beam (Max). Beam WL is the width at the LWL and is very useful
to know but is not readily available, as a rule.

Draft: This is the depth of the hull from the waterline to the
bottom of the keel or fin. Like the LWL, it will vary with the weights
of fuel, water, stores, and the equipment added over the years and is
usually somewhat more than the original designed or advertised draft.
When you run onto a 4-foot-deep rock in a boat with 3-foot 9-inch draft,
it is always nice to know that it may not be your fault.

Displacement diagram

Displacement: If you weigh the boat on a scale, that is her actual (not advertised) displacement and the weight of sea water she will displace when afloat.
Most designers figure displacement when half loaded (the boat, that is,
not the designer) with stores, liquids, and crew.

Displacement can be expressed in pounds, long tons, or cubic feet; one
ton = 2,240 pounds = 35 cubic feet of sea water, at 64 pounds per cubic
foot. Fresh water weighs only 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, so a boat taken
from sea water to fresh water will sink into the water and increase her
draft slightly. For example, a boat weighing 7,500 pounds will displace
117.19 cu. ft. of sea water or 120.19 cubic feet of fresh water. The difference
is 3 cubic feet, so if her waterline area is 150 square feet, she will
sink 3/150 of a foot (about 1/4 inch) when she is moved from salt to fresh
water. This is truly insignificant for most sailors, unless you are skippering
a 90,000-ton tanker.

J, I, P, E: These are letters you see on the sail plans of many
modern cruiser/ racers and denote the rig dimensions. As you’ll see on
the illustration on the next page, “J” is the length of the foretriangle
on deck, from the mast to the headstay. “I” is the height of the foretriangle
from the sheer to where the headstay intersects the mast. “P” is the main
luff and “E” is the main foot. Yawls and ketches will also have Pmiz and
Emiz to show mizzen dimensions.

Centers and areas

Center of buoyancy diagram

Center of Buoyancy (CB): Often called Lateral Center of Buoyancy
, this is the center of the underwater volume of the vessel and
can be expressed as a distance abaft the forward end of the LWL, abaft
midships, or as a percentage of the LWL from the bow end. If the boat
is to float on her LWL, the Center of Gravity (CG) must be in line
vertically with the CB, both fore and aft and athwartship. If the two
centers are not in line, the boat will change trim and so change her underwater
shape, until the new CB lines up with the CG.

If your boat is floating perfectly in trim and you add 100 pounds of davits
and dinghy aft, for example, you will move the center of gravity of the
boat aft. The vessel will sink by the stern and the bow will come up until
the underwater shape changes enough to move the CB over the new CG.

The same applies athwartship. With luck, the CB and the CG are both on
the centerline of your boat, so she floats level without any heel angle.
When you move to the starboard rail, you move the CG off centerline to
starboard, so the boat will heel until the change in underwater shape
moves the CB vertically above the new CG.

Center of Flotation (CF): The CF is the center of the waterline
area and is the pivot point about which the boat changes trim, much like
the pivot in the center of a teeter-totter. On normal sailing hulls, the
CF is somewhat abaft the CB and, like the CB, is expressed as a percentage
of the LWL, or a distance from either the bow end of the LWL, or from
amidships. Of course, as the boat changes trim, due to added weight at
one end or the other, the LWL shape changes, so the CF will move slightly.

Center of Lateral Plane (CLP): Also called Center of Lateral
Resistance (CLR)
. These indicate the center of the hull’s underwater
area as viewed from the side. The CLP is readily found by tracing the
outline of the underwater hull on paper, cutting it out, and balancing
it on a pencil, as illustrated below. Some designers omit the rudder area
when finding the CLP; others use half the rudder area.

Center of Effort (CE): This is the center of the area of the sails.
The CE is usually determined using 100 percent of the foretriangle area,
omitting the overlap of genoa jibs. On some boats that do not carry genoas
the CE may be calculated as the center of the working sails. Both the
CE and the CLP may be shown on sail plans and the CE will be forward of
the CLP by a distance known as lead. The lead (pronounced “leed”) is essential
to provide a balanced helm and the amount of lead is based on certain
characteristics of the vessel. I’ll discuss helm balance in detail in
a future article and explain the need for lead.

Waterline Area: This is the area of the LWL, usually expressed
in square feet. It is not always easily obtained but can be calculated
roughly for a sailboat by the formula: .67 x LWL x Beam. It is more accurate
if you have the Beam WL rather than the Beam (Max), of course. Knowing
the LWL area is essential in working out some of the following calculations.

Seven Calculations

Fineness Coefficient diagram

Fineness Coefficient (Cf): Also called the Waterplane Coefficient,
or Cwp.
The Cf is a figure derived from: LWL Area/(LWL x Beam WL).
As shown in the illustration on page 70, the lower the Cf, the finer the
hull at the waterline. Typical sailboats have a Cf of .65 to.68

Pounds Per Inch Immersion (PPI): The weight required to sink the
yacht one inch. It is calculated by multiplying the LWL area by 5.333
for sea water or 5.2 for fresh water. The PPI usually increases as the
hull sinks into the water as the LWL area is also increasing due to the
shape of the hull above water.

Moment to Trim One Inch (MTI): The MTI is the moment, expressed
in footpounds, that will change the fore-and-aft trim of the yacht one
inch. For a displacement hull, the MTI is, roughly (but close enough for
all practical purposes), .35 x WL Area2/Beam WL. For example, your
boat has an LWL Area of 165 square feet and a Beam WL of 8 feet. Your
MTI is .35 x 1652/8 = 1,191 ft-lbs, say 1,200 for rough figuring.
Now you hang that 100-pound dink 18 feet abaft the CB. You have added
1,800 ft-lbs of aft moment, so your boat will trim 1800/1200 = 1.5 inches
down by the stern. However, the boat does trim about its Cf and, as that
is usually abaft amidships, the stern will move less than the bow. You
might find that she trims 5/8 inch down by the stern, and 7/8 inch up
by the bow, making a total trim change of 1.5 inches.

Wetted surface diagram

Surface (WS):
This is the area in square feet of the underbody of
the yacht, including the fin, rudder, and skeg. A boat with a large WS
will have more surface friction than a boat with lesser WS and be slightly
slower, given the same sail area, due to the greater resistance. This
is most important in light air as, at slower speeds surface friction is
the primary cause of resistance.

Speed/Length Ratio (V÷square root symbolL): This is the speed
in knots divided by the square root of the LWL. For example, a 25-foot-waterline
sailboat moving at 5.5 knots would be at a square root symbolL of
1.1. while a 400-foot-LWL destroyer traveling at 22 knots also has a square root symbolL of 1.1. Both vessels would develop about the same resistance per ton of
displacement as they are both running at the same V divided by the square root of LL.

The limiting speed for a pure displacement hull is a square root symbolL of 1.34. Above this speed, the stern wave moves aft so that the stern
loses buoyancy, the hull squats, and great additional power is necessary
for a small gain in speed. In truth, the typical cruising sailboat probably
averages a square root symbolL of about .9 to 1.0 and only gets
close to 1.3 when reaching in a stiff breeze. Tender boats may never get
above 1.2 since crewmembers ease sheets when the rail buries!

The modern beamy, super-light ocean racer can have a stern wide enough
to resist squatting and the stability to stand up to a breeze, so it often
achieves speeds well above 1.4, but that is semi-planing, and the boat
is getting lift aft due to its speed. My BOC 60 design exceeded 20 knots
at times, a square root symbolL ratio of over 2.6, but those are
very specialized yachts, definitely not good old boats!

Prismatic coefficient diagram

Coefficient (Cp):
This is a figure that relates the fullness of the
ends of the underwater hull to the area of the midship or largest station.
The sketch below will explain it better than words can. The Cp is the
percentage of the original shape that remains after the hull is carved
out. The more that is cut away to “carve” the hull, the finer the ends
and the lower the Cp, and vice versa.

The proper Cp for a hull depends on the intended speed and is related
to the speed/length ratio square root symbolL . The correct Cp for
various square root symbolL are as follows:

square root symbolL Cp
1.0 and below .525
1.1 .54
1.2 .58
1.3 .62
1.4 .64


Selecting the correct Cp for a sailing yacht depends on her speed which,
of course, varies with the winds. For an inshore racer primarily in light-air
conditions it might be wise to go to a .525 Cp, while an allround cruising
yacht would benefit from a higher Cp, say .54 to.55, and an ocean racer
from a yet higher Cp, perhaps .56 to.57. In any case, it is best if the
Cp is a bit on the high side, since the penalty for having too high a
Cp at low speeds is less serious in performance than having too low a
Cp at high speeds. The high Cp should be achieved by fullness aft, not
forward, as full bows have an adverse affect on performance.

Half Angle of Entrance: This is the angle, measured at the LWL,
between the hull centerline and the actual waterline shape. Fine angles
are desirable for good performance but can be overdone, creating a wet
boat in a seaway. Angles below 19 to 20 degrees would be considered fine,
20 to 24 degrees is fairly usual for a cruising yacht, and angles of 25
degrees and above are considered bluff bows today but were fairly common
in the ’60s.

Ratios for evaluating speed, comfort, and safety

Sail Area/Wetted Surface Area Ratio (SA/WS): The sail area/wetted
surface area ratio is simply the sail area divided by the area of the
hull that is below the LWL. It should include the keel and rudder areas.
This frequently neglected ratio is the major determiner of boat speed
in light and medium air. In these conditions, wave-making resistance is
minimal and surface friction is the primary drag component. ratios below
2.0 indicate poor performance in light air. Ratios of 2.2 to 2.4 predict
good light-air performance, while a ratio of 2.6 would indicate a boat
designed specifically to sail in very light wind. Wetted surface is a
difficult number to obtain, but the concept is important.

Sail Area/Displacement Ratio (SA/D): The SA/D ratio is the sail
area in square feet divided by the displacement in cubic feet to the 2/3
power, or SA/D cf.666 Ratios below 14 are suited for motor
sailers, from 14 to 17 for ocean cruisers and from 16 to 18 for typical
coastal cruisers. Ratios over 18-20 are seen on racing dinghies, inshore
racers, and ocean racing yachts. The more extreme screamers can have very
high SA/D ratios indeed. My 60-foot design, Wild Thing, had a SA/D ratio,
based on 100 percent foretriangle, of well over 30, depending on her displacement
at the moment. Her displacement could vary widely as she could carry 8,000
pounds of water ballast in tanks on the windward side.

Displacement/Length Ratio (D/L): The D/L ratio is a non-dimensional
figure derived from the displacement in tons (of 2,240 lbs) divided by
.01 LWL cubed, or, Dt/(.01 LWL)3. It allows us to compare the displacement
of boats of widely different LWLs. Some examples of various D/L ratios
follow, but are generalities only, as there is often a wide range within
each type.

Boat type D/L ratio
Light racing multihull 40-50
Ultra-light ocean racer 60-100
Very light ocean racer 100-150
Light cruiser/racer 150-200
Light cruising auxiliary 200-250
Average cruising auxiliary 250-300
Heavy cruising auxiliary 300-350
Very heavy cruising auxiliary 350-400


Storm, a wonderful 27-foot LWL sloop on which I raced with Bill Luders
many years ago, had a D/L ratio of 386, very heavy by today’s standards.
However, Storm was 39 feet LOA, and when she heeled to a breeze her long
ends would increase her sailing LWL, thus reducing her D/L ratio to a
more reasonable figure when we were beating to windward. If she picked
up 3 feet of WL, her D/L ratio dropped to about 281 – a significant change
and one that made her a very competitive racer in the 1960s.

Capsize Screening Ratio (CSF): Some years ago, the technical committee
of the Cruising Club of America came up with a simple formula to determine
if a boat had bluewater capability. The formula compares beam with displacement,
since excess beam contributes to capsize and heavy displacement reduces
capsize vulnerability. The formula is the maximum beam divided by the
cube root of the displacement in cubic feet, or B/3square root symbolDISPL
cf. The displacement in cubic feet can be found by dividing the displacement
in pounds by 64, of course.

The boat is acceptable if the result of the calculation is 2.0 or less
but the lower the better. For example, a 12-meter yacht of 60,000-pound
displacement and 12-foot beam will have a CSF number of 1.23, so would
be considered very safe from capsize. A contemporary light displacement
yacht, such as a Beneteau 311 (7,716 lb, 10-foot 7-inch beam) has a CSF
number of 2.14, and a Dufour 38 (14,300 lb, 12-foot 7-inch beam) comes
in at 2.07. Based on the formula, while they are fine coastal cruisers,
the latter two yachts may not be the best choice for ocean passages.

Comfort Ratio (CR): This is a ratio I dreamed up, tongue-in-cheek,
as a measure of motion comfort but it has been widely accepted and, indeed,
does provide a reasonable comparison between yachts of similar type. It
is based on the fact that the faster the motion, the more upsetting it
is to the average person. Given a wave of X height, the speed of the upward
motion depends on the displacement of the yacht and the amount of waterline
area that is acted upon. Greater displacement, or lesser WL area, gives
a slower motion and more comfort for any given sea state.

Beam does enter into it as a wider beam increases stability, increases
WL area, and generates a faster reaction. The formula takes into account
the displacement and the WL area, and adds a beam factor. The intention
is to provide a means to compare the motion comfort of vessels of similar
type and size, not to compare that of a Lightning-class sloop with that
of a husky 50-foot ketch.

The CR is: Displacement in pounds/(.65 x (.7 LWL + .3 LOA) x B1.333 ). Ratios will vary from 5.0 for a light daysailer to the high 60s for
a super-heavy vessel, such as a Colin Archer ketch. Moderate and successful
ocean cruisers, such as the Valiant 40 and Whitby 42, will fall into the
low-to-middle 30s range.

Do consider, though, that a sailing yacht heeled by a good breeze will
have a much steadier motion than one bobbing up and down in light air
on leftover swells from yesterday’s blow. And remember that the typical
summertime coastal cruiser will rarely encounter the wind and seas that
an ocean-going yacht will meet. Nor will one human stomach keep down what
another stomach will handle with relish, or with mustard and pickles for
that matter! It is all relative.

We’ll tackle lead and helm balance in a future article.

Bowsprits, Bumpkins, and Belaying Pins

Bowsprits, bumpkins, and belaying pins

By Donald Launer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 6, November/December 2001.

Tried and trusted old fittings give character to modern yachts

Dolphin figurehead

you remember when all sailboats had wooden spars, manila lines, galvanized
fittings, and cotton sails, chances are you have problems with your waistline,
your hairline, and the number of teeth you can call your own. Those of
us who fit this category have a special feeling for those sailboats of
our youth, but those fond memories don’t include the maintenance
involved in boats of that period.

When people see our
schooner sail by, they see a boat from the turn of the century: a schooner
rig with bowsprit, figurehead, bumpkin, belaying pins, wooden blocks,
bronze portholes, lazy-jacks, and a graceful sheer. Yet she’s only
21 years old, with fiberglass hull, aluminum spars, and modern conveniences
throughout – a modern version of a small Down East schooner of
the last century. She’s one of the breed sailors call "character
boats," befitting her skipper. Boats such as this are the "rediscovery"
in fiberglass of traditional cruising boats, such as schooners, catboats,
Friendship sloops, and other designs from the past.

Bumpkin, short boom in the stern

the conscious mind is thinking, "She looks dated . . . slow,"
sneaking into the subconscious are thoughts of coastal trading, Tahiti,
and the whole mystique of other times, faraway places, and nostalgia.
But traditional beauty doesn’t necessarily mean being impractical.


Take the bowsprit,
for example. On our schooner it provides a sailplan longer than the boat’s
hull. With a lower center of effort there is less heeling, and more sail
can be carried. This translates into drive power.

When tied up at a
mooring buoy in an area with wind, current, and tide changes, a "bull
rope" from the tip of the bowsprit can prevent the hull from striking
the mooring buoy. This bull rope consists of an extra line from the ring
of the buoy to the tip of the bowsprit, with just enough tension to keep
the mooring buoy away from the bow.

Bowsprits traditionally
found homes on cruising boats, but then for several decades they were
abandoned. In the last few years, a resurgence in the use of bowsprits
has occurred in reproductions of old designs as well as in the racing
classes that allow them. With a bowsprit, more of the headsail is free
from interference by the main, and in fresh winds the center of effort,
which is farther forward, reduces weather helm and pressure on the rudder.

Belaying pins

many racing boats, the bowsprit is made retractable, either into the hull
or along the deck, and unguyed carbon-fiber bowsprits are now emerging
on the scene.

Our solid teak bowsprit
provides a perfect platform on which to sit and watch the bow wave or
the dolphins. Besides, without a bowsprit where would we put the figurehead?


A millennium before Christ, the Egyptians carved the heads of deities
on the bows of their ships, and the Romans, Greeks, and Phoenicians carried
on this tradition, dedicating their ships to their gods and goddesses
in the hope of ensuring safe voyages. The "dragon ships"
of the Vikings were adorned with menacing snarling dragon heads carved
from oak which were intended to terrify the raiders’ victims and
to guard against evil spirits at sea. The power of figureheads was thought
to be so great that at one time Iceland insisted that foreign ships remove
them before entering her waters.

Captain Bligh reported
that the Tahitians were fascinated with the figurehead on the HMS Bounty
(see photo on Page 48). He described it as "a pretty figure of
a woman in a riding habit," who was lifting her skirts over the
seas with her right hand as she looked ahead of the ship. This painted
likeness was the first representation of an Englishwoman the Tahitians
had ever seen. Bligh wrote: " … and they kept gazing at it for

Bounty figurehead replica

Above, the replica of the HMS Bounty figurehead stands as a proud lookout on a reproduction of Captain Bligh’s Bounty, built in 1960 in Nova Scotia.
Below, while admiring the figurehead on Delphinus, the author’s granddaughter, Jenny, becomes a figurehead in her own right.

Young girl with Dolphin figurehead

Although a century
or two ago figureheads became merely ornamental, many American commercial,
and even Naval, ships were still sent to sea with elaborate carvings at
their bows. The frigate Constitution was launched in 1797 adorned with
a bust of Hercules. But Hercules was not up to the foray with the Barbary
Coast pirates at Tripoli, where the figurehead was destroyed.

Our schooner, Delphinus,
is named for the constellation of the dolphin and, therefore, sports a
carved teak figurehead of a leaping dolphin beneath her bowsprit (pictured
at left above). It serves not only as a decorative appendage, but also
as a bowsprit brace. It’s a great hit both on the water and at
dockside. It seems to have a special attraction for children.

As enlightened sailors,
we know our figurehead is purely decorative, yet sometimes there’s
the feeling of a "presence" at our bow, guiding us through
foggy and unfamiliar waters.

Belaying pins

Another rare item on sailing vessels nowadays is the belaying pin. The
closest most sailors come to them is during visits to the tall ships or
when watching a deck fight in an old pirate movie. Who would think of
using them on today’s craft? They’re out of fashion, impractical
and archaic . . . and I love them.

In the olden days,
belaying pins were made of hardwood, usually locust, and sometimes bronze,
iron, or brass. They were used to secure and store lines, particularly
the running rigging. Securing a line to a belaying pin is the same as
to a cleat. The added advantage is the speed and ease with which a line
that is belayed, or made fast, can be released. When the pin is pulled,
the line falls to the deck in an untangled flaked-out pattern, ready to
run freely.

Belaying pins are
used to provide increased friction to control a line by taking a single
round-turn and one or more "S" turns around the pin. This
is to "belay" the line. When a single hitch or slip-hitch
is added to the belayed turns, the line is "made fast" (see

The large sailing
ships of yesteryear frequently set their belaying pins in holes in the
"pin-rail," which was fixed inside the bulwarks or incorporated
as part of the bulwark or main rail as in the photo below. Short pin-rails,
fastened to the standing rigging are called "pin-racks,"
and around the mast on deck, rectangular or U-shaped racks, called "fife-rails,"
are used to make fast and store halyards. A variation of the fife-rail
is used on modern sailboats, where the mast pulpit is combined with a
small pin-rack. A "spider band" was sometimes fitted around
the mast a little above deck level, with holes for the belaying pins.
This was sometimes called a "spider hoop" or "spider
iron." Stanchion-mounted pin-racks are used for storing coils of
line and are both decorative and utilitarian.

For the do-it-yourselfer,
belaying pins can be turned out on the most basic of lathes from brass,
bronze, or scrap hardwood. But remember, those metal ones don’t
float! With today’s teak prices, it’s nice to know that
those teak scraps can be turned into beautiful belaying pins for onboard
use or home decoration.

Our schooner is rigged
in the old Grand Banks manner with no sheet winches. To attain mechanical
advantage, multiple-part block and tackle is used for each of the sheets.
This presents the problem of long coils of line ending up in the cockpit
due to the 4:1 block ratio. This would be a colossal spaghetti pot if
it weren’t for the pin-racks we’ve installed, not for belaying
as such, but rather as an attractive and practical way of keeping our
sheets out from underfoot.

When I built our
schooner, I added belaying pins because they "belonged"
on a schooner with traditional lines, not because I had ever used them
before. Now, I couldn’t imagine sailing without them. As well as
being useful, they add that needed touch of character. And they’re
good for dispatching that fish you caught on the lure trailing astern
or for fighting off pirates.

The bumpkin

Bumpkin knots

And, oh yes,
the bumpkin (sometimes called boomkin or bumkin). This is a short boom,
frequently V-shaped, extending from the stern, to which the backstay or
mizzen sheet block is attached. When used for the backstay, along with
an associated bumpkin stay, it allows for a longer mainsail boom and frequently
eliminates the need for running backstays. It provides a more practical
lead angle for the mizzen sheet for a ketch or yawl. On our schooner,
the mainsail extends all the way to the stern of the boat, with the bumpkin
keeping the permanent backstay well out of the way (see photo).

For years we looked
for a retirement boat that would fill our specs until we happened to stumble
across our little schooner design from the board of Ted Brewer. It meets
our needs completely, and seems appropriate for our vintage years. When
we sail by with everything up, people turn to watch or take pictures.
With that gray-haired and bearded character at the wheel, they probably
think it’s an apparition from the past. After all, how often do
you see a small schooner with bowsprit, wood blocks, figurehead, belaying
pins, and bumpkin?

Don is a Good
Old Boat contributing editor. He holds a USCG captain’s license
and is a frequent contributor to boating magazines. He built his traditionally
rigged schooner from a bare hull and keeps it next to his home on a waterway
off Barnegat Bay on the New Jersey coast.

Blister Bottom

Singing the boat bottom blisters blues

By Brian Cleverly

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 5, September/October 1999.

Whether a cosmetic or structural issue, a thorough investigation of any blister problem is warranted

A good looking hull

often ask whether gelcoat osmosis problems – generically called "blisters"
– are just cosmetic blemishes or a source of damage to the hull laminate.
Since I recently completed a blister repair job on Second Wind,
a 1979 Cal 2-25, and began another on Can Do II, a 1971 Ericson 27, I
put pen to paper to present my findings, methods, and opinions for others
contemplating such work. Not all blister problems are as bad as those
recounted here, but I do feel strongly that a thorough investigation of
any blister problem is warranted in the long run.

While researching the causes and effects of blisters, I found more than
one explanation of the cause and many opinions as to whether they actually
damage laminate. The most common explanation of the cause of blisters
is that polyester resin (gelcoat) is susceptible to osmosis, and the absorbed
water reacts with any solutes remaining in the laminate to create an acidic
solution. This solution is under pressure and causes the gelcoat to blister.
Certainly, any solution present is acidic, but I’m not certain whether
it causes laminate damage.

With regard to effects, there are those who claim that, given time, the
solution will attack the laminate, while others are adamant that the effect
is simply a "cosmetic" issue. In my opinion, both arguments
are correct. It seems to me that the laminate problems on Second Wind may well have caused the blisters and were not caused by the blisters.
More about that later.

Gelcoat removal

Gelcoat removed

Blisters filled

Second Wind‘s progress: during gelcoat removal (note holes in blue gelcoat); with the gelcoat removed (note light-colored voids); blisters and voids filled and roughly faired (note large filled area at the waterline).

However on Can Do II, the gelcoat in a number of areas was actually starting to lift off
the laminate. The first layer of laminate could be easily peeled off for
a distance of 1/4 inch around the larger blisters. In fact, some of the
larger blisters were surrounded by rotten laminate which extended through
the entire thickness of the hull. This was most evident in one area of
the encapsulated keel. I eventually drained four and a half gallons of
salt water from the keel housing! Obviously Can Do II had laminate damage, but was it a result of the blister reaction or of extremely poor lay-up in the first place? I am not able to answer that question.

I feel that blisters should be looked on as potentially damaging, and
it is dangerous to make a statement that they are just a "cosmetic"
nuisance without having first removed all the bottom paint and carefully
inspected them.

Survey says

When I purchased Second Wind, I relied on a year-old survey regarding
the condition of the underwater portion of the hull and my own observations
for the rest of the boat. The surveyor stated (I added the highlighting
for emphasis): "The majority of the hull surface below the waterline
shows extensive osmotic blistering. The blisters are approximately 1/4- to 1/2-inch in diameter. Several of the blisters were punctured.
The punctured blisters emitted a foul smelling, sour liquid. Some of the
blisters appeared to have formed over a dark colored fairing compound, indicating the hull may have had previous blister repairs. The
blisters, opened and probed, showed no involvement with the underlying
glass laminate."

I called the surveyor and questioned his definition of "extensive."
He told me that meant around 200 or so blisters on the hull.


Once I had Second Wind in my yard, I was able to confirm that
the reported blisters had not worsened. There were, however, signs of
additional blistering. The bottom paint was very thick, old, and in need
of complete removal.

Since I had read a number of favorable reviews of the Peel Away product,
I decided to give it a try. After experimenting on a few small patches,
I found I could apply it in sufficient thickness (1/8 inch) by laying
it on using a 6-inch paintbrush and that between 8 and 12 hours working
time was sufficient to soften the paint. The softened paint was easily
removed with a wide-blade putty knife.

For those who
have not seen or used Peel Away, it is a paste that, once applied, is
covered with a plastic material and left to work for a period of time.
If it is left too long, it will dry out and become nearly impossible to
remove. I have heard that it will not work very well at temperatures lower
than 70oF. If you do decide to use it, experiment with small test areas
to determine the working time needed. Also keep in mind that it needs
to be applied thickly. Use too little, and it will dry out before the
paint is softened.

When the paint is softened sufficiently, you can peel off the covering
while lifting the paint with a putty knife. This results in the paint
staying on the covering but, as I found, the removed material will get
very heavy, so it is best to have an extra pair of hands to assist with

The Peel Away people market an excellent spray liquid for residue removal,
but I found that the household 409 cleaner was equally as good at a fraction
of the cost. I also found that household waxed paper was as effective
a covering as the original plastic product, with the added advantage of
lower cost and, due to its narrower width, being much easier to use.

Once the paint was
completely removed, I was astounded at the number of small blisters that
had been uncovered. There were thousands! I popped a number in one area
and realized that there would be so little gelcoat left after popping
all of them, I would be better off to completely remove the underwater

Gelcoat removal

Having made the decision to remove the gelcoat, I was left with the question
of how to accomplish the task. I contacted a company in a neighboring
town that used a Gelcoat Peeler, but they were not interested in doing
the job unless it was in their yard (50 miles away). None of the local
sandblasting outfits had experience with gelcoat removal, so I was left
with the final option: doing the job myself.

First I tried a high-speed 6-inch orbital sander using 100-grit disks.
Then I changed to 80-grit and finally to 50-grit. It didn’t take too long
to realize that that method was slow and dirty and that I would be spending
a lot of money for disks. Next I tried a 6-inch rotary sander which was
too heavy for the overhead work. Then I used a 4 1/2-inch rotary sander,
using 36-grit disks. This was faster than the orbital, but it was also
extremely easy to accidentally grind into the laminate.

So what to try? Chemicals? I left messages on the Internet and didn’t
receive any replies specifically about chemical removal. My local marine
supplier said, "Nobody chemically removes gelcoat." Browsing
in my favorite hardware store, I noticed Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy
Remover. The words "epoxy remover" caught my eye, and I decided
to purchase a pint can and give it a try.

What I found was that it would soften the gelcoat, so it could be scraped
off. It worked within two to three minutes, but when left on longer, the
active ingredients evaporated and the gelcoat rehardened. The only problem
was that the gelcoat was not softened to its full depth. I found that
most areas required two applications, with some requiring three. I also
noticed that if any of the chemical reached the laminate, it ate into
it. So I decided to stop applying it once I could see signs of the laminate
through the blue gelcoat. The scraper I used was one of those long-handled
paint scraper jobs that have a replaceable four-sided blade.

Armed with this knowledge, I set about removing the bulk of the underwater
gelcoat. This went much better: no noise, no dust, just a pile of dried
up scrapings to clean up. One item I caution about here: while it does
not actually harm or mark the skin, if you get any of the chemical on
your bare skin, it really lets you know with a severe burning sensation.
If you use this preparation, make sure you are well covered or, as I did,
keep a bucket of water handy to wash in. Why didn’t I cover up? It was
early summer and above 90°F.

The final film of gelcoat was removed with the orbital sander, using 50-grit
disks. This proved to be an easy task as, even though the gelcoat had
hardened again, it was not as hard as it had been, and it turned to dust
easily. During the removal, I noticed:

  • The gelcoat was
    in two distinct layers: an outer white layer and an inner blue one.
  • Three out of 10
    blisters larger than 1/2-inch diameter contained liquid.
  • One out of 100
    blisters smaller than 1/2-inch diameter contained liquid.
  • The blue layer
    contained a huge number of perfectly round holes that were not the result
    of visible blisters in the white layer. I’m not certain whether these
    holes would have eventually resulted in blisters, but I am inclined
    to think they would. The only other explanation for these holes is that
    they were a result of improper lay-up originally. Even if this were
    so, I still think they would be prime candidates for future blister
Hull sealed with epoxy

Fairing mix applied

First coat of tinted epoxy

Six coats of tinted epoxy

Second Wind‘s story continues: sealed with penetrating epoxy; the final fairing mix applied with notched spreader; first coat of tinted epoxy; and the results of six coats of tinted epoxy.

To recap, the chemical
removal process was probably no faster than sanding or grinding, but it
was easier, cleaner, and cost less. The main benefit was that, in the main,
I hadn’t destroyed the fairness of the hull, a very important factor. Now
that the laminate was bared, I cleaned it thoroughly using a high-pressure
water sprayer.


Careful inspection of the bared laminate revealed a few areas where it was
slightly damaged and a disturbing number of areas where voids were visible
just under the first laminate layer. A lot of these voids were directly
beneath areas where the larger blisters had been. The presence of a void
is immediately obvious when looking at bared laminate. Good laminate is
usually a uniform dark color, and voids stand out as a much lighter color.
The color is lighter where the void is closer to the outer layer.

One void that did not have blisters above it was in the keel housing. Its
position was at the lower portside leading edge, 18 inches up from the bottom
and 1 inch aft of the leading edge. It extended aft for 6 inches and was
3/8-inch deep. The most disturbing thing about this void is that I spoke
with another Cal 2-25 owner who found the same void in his keel housing.

All that was nothing when you consider the many voids, although small in
size, at the waterline around the full circumference of the hull. I make
the observation that these voids were a result of improper original lay-up
based on the fact that they were all under the outer layer of laminate.

Perhaps the worst of these voids was in the shape of a sideways T, 14 inches
long on the horizontal, 8 inches on the vertical, and approximately 1 1/2
inches wide, right where the original surveyor had detected a patch of high
moisture content. I probed this area and found it contained the dreaded
acidic solution.

I carefully cut away the top of this void, washed it out, and inspected
it further. It was 3/16- to 1/4-inch deep, and the laminate surface was
glossy. This tells me that this void was an air bubble, a result of improper
lay-up, which probably always contained an amount of unevaporated solute.


Using a small bullnosed stone mounted in a drill, I ground out the few areas
of laminate where blisters had left their mark and opened up the remaining
void areas with the 4 1/2-inch sander and 36-grit disks. Then I pressure-washed
the hull again and left it to dry out for a full Sacramento summer with
its 100°F heat and low humidity.


That fall I applied two coats of a thin, penetrating, epoxy to the hull.
This serves (by capillary action) to seal any bare fiberglass ends and
to close any minute indentations in the laminate. I let this coating fully
cure for two weeks. Then I sanded the hull with the orbital sander, using
100-grit disks. This sanding is required to give the epoxy coatings that
follow a firm-toothed base on which to adhere. It also serves the purpose
of highlighting any areas which are not fair. The opened voids were tapered
out and filled with epoxy and layers of bi-axial plus mat fiberglass material.
I filled areas in need of fairing with an epoxy-microballoon-silica mix

After curing and sanding down these areas, I carefully inspected the hull
for fairness. I filled areas that still were not fair with the putty mix,
using a notched spreader. The purpose of using a notched spreader is so
that when you use a long-board to sand them fair, you are only sanding
the ridges. This saves a great deal of sweat. You are then left to fill
the valleys with putty, up to the top of the ridges. A final touch-up
with the long-board, and you are done. There is one field of thought that,
to build up thickness and assist in fairing, you should plaster the hull
with fairing mix and then long-board the whole thing. Fortunately, because
I was careful in removing the gelcoat, the hull was generally fair and
required little additional filling work, so I didn’t fully coat it with
fairing compound.

Closing up

Blisters before paint removed

Blisters after paint removed

Opened blisters after gelcoat removed

Blisters in keel housing

After five coats of epoxy

Can Do II‘s progress: blisters before the bottom paint was removed; blisters after the bottom paint was removed; opened blisters after the gelcoat was removed; blisters in keel housing (note holes through laminate and damaged laminate around the blisters); and finally after five coats of epoxy.

Due to the thickness of the original gelcoat, I was unsure about how many
coats of epoxy would be needed, but I decided on at least five. Using
two people, with one rolling and one tipping, we were able to do one coat
of epoxy in less than two hours, by which time the first areas had set
up enough so we could immediately apply another coat. I applied nine coats
of epoxy. This allowed me sufficient leeway for a sanding to provide a
key for the final finish.

Each of these coats was tinted white. I varied the tint amount for each
coating. This made it much easier to see where I was placing the new coating,
otherwise there is a very real possibility that you will miss areas with
subsequent coatings.

Though it probably
wasn’t really necessary, I then applied two coats of Interlux 3000/3001
barrier system. This was done just to minimize the possibility of future
problems. While epoxy is not as susceptible to osmosis as polyester is,
it is not impervious, and the 3000/3001 reportedly has additional solids
(platelets) to assist in osmosis prevention.

Materials used

The following is not meant to be a recommendation of one product over
another; it is purely a list of what I used and the reasons for doing

All epoxy products were from System Three in Seattle. I used their Clear
Coat product for hull sealing and their Laminating Epoxy for all other

I evaluated West System products and, while I could not fault them, I
decided on System Three mainly because of price, delivery, and the recommendations
of some yards in my area. Another reason for choosing System Three was
their claim that subsequent coats of epoxy would chemically bond to the
under layer if applied within 72 hours. This certainly was a big consideration
as, otherwise, I would have been faced with occasionally sanding between

I also evaluated some of the lower-cost epoxy products and rejected them
because I felt they were lacking in solids for this kind of job. The System
Three product has certainly done all I’ve asked of it and seems to be
very forgiving with regard to very small variations in mix ratios. I also
used a microballoon-silica mix from System Three because it was easy to
have them include it in epoxy deliveries.

The silica I used was West System Colloidal Silica (cab-o-sil), which
I obtained locally. Silica, by the way, prevents sagging of the mix and
provides greater strength. However, if you use too much of it, you are
in for a hard time in areas where sanding is necessary. I took advantage
of this fact to apply a layer of epoxy-silica mix to the keel bottom.
It definitely resulted in a strong, hard, surface. But it was a bear to
sand to shape.

The fiberglass cloth I used was Knytex, a bi-axial/chopped strand material,
23-ounce weight, which I purchased locally. It has the advantage of bulk
(mat) plus strength (bi-axial). The three layers are sewn together and,
because it is not woven, it results in a reasonably smooth finish.


To quote
from System Three’s The Epoxy Book: "Blister repair, being an inexact
science, is one where you pays your money and takes your chances."
The extent of the chances is entirely up to you and your willingness to
do the job correctly. I am still unsure whether blisters cause laminate
damage or if blisters are a direct result of poor laminate lay-up. Either
way, I would strongly urge you to carefully inspect blistered areas. It
is not sufficient to simply correct those that are visible through the
anti-fouling layer. Where you have some blisters showing, there is a good
possibility that there are many more covered by the anti-fouling.

My good friend, Bob Larsen, (Dutchtreat, also a Cal 2-25) has reminded
me that his boat had some blistering when he purchased it. When the bottom
paint was removed, there were thousands of very small, less than 1/8-inch
diameter, blisters. Bob had the gelcoat lightly sandblasted. This opened
all the blisters. He then thoroughly cleaned them, skirted the hull with
plastic, and allowed it to dry out.

He next filled all
the blisters with two-part fairing compound, sanded them fair, and applied
five coats of Interlux 2000/2001 barrier system. He reports no sign of
recurring blisters in the two years since he did the job. The job was
completed over five months of off-season weekends. So, fortunately, not
all blister problems are as bad as the ones I encountered. It is a matter
of inspection to decide the severity of the problem. Inspect for blistering
immediately when the boat is hauled. If left to dry out, many blisters
will disappear, only to re-appear once the boat is back in the water.

Periodically remove all the old bottom paint. Check for small cracks in
the gelcoat. If any are found, you can be assured that there are small
blisters that have drained through the crack. Be wary of using a sand
blast process to remove the bottom paint. Prior owners of Can Do II had
used blasting, and the underwater gelcoat was so thin in places that I
initially thought it was just a coat of paint.

Any concentrated areas of blistering may indicate laminate voids and damage.
I recommend that you remove the gelcoat in that area and carefully inspect
the laminate.

If you do have a blistering problem and intend to correct it, make sure
you allow sufficient time for the hull to dry out. Also make sure you
sand the hull properly before you apply any barrier coating. Failure to
do so will certainly mean you have to redo it in a very short period of

Never has the old saying, "If you don’t have time to do it correctly
now, how will you find time to redo it later?" had more meaning than
when it comes to the job of blister repair.

Brian Cleverly runs Anzam Yacht Refurbishing in Sacramento, Calif. When
not working on client boats, he buys insurance write-offs for refurbishing
and eventual resale. An Australian national, Brian learned to sail while
working in New Zealand.


repair was cheap. . . all things considered

By Norman Ralph

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1999.

A bad case of blisters made the boat affordable;
were the expensive part

Bluebonnet awaits launch

Bluebonnet appears to be at peace in her
rural setting as she awaits her launch date.

It all started innocently
enough. It was mid-October of 1990, and we were going to Texas anyway to
visit cousins in San Antonio and then on to the Clear Lake area near Houston.
I had seen ads in sailing magazines for Valiant Yachts and noticed their
facilities were located in Gordonville, Texas. We would be going right by
on Interstate 35 and thought it would be great to visit the factory. I had
read about Valiants and their reputation as offshore cruising boats and
had admired their looks from afar. A letter to Valiant brought a prompt
response and invitation to stop by.

We were taken on a tour of the factory by Stan Dabney, who, with his wife,
Sylvia, was working at the factory while their Valiant 40, Native Sun,
was being repaired after being damaged in Hurricane Hugo. They were among
the founders of Valiant. (That story was related by Sylvia in the September
1998 issue of Good Old Boat.
) We were very impressed with the boat and
the factory operation. If we were "rich instead of good looking,"
as the saying goes, we would have signed up to buy a new Valiant 40 on the
spot. But as I was cheated on both counts, we couldn’t afford even the used
ones we saw among the brokerage boats there.

While touring the facility, we noticed several used Valiants on jack stands
with the gelcoat stripped. Stan explained they had been purchased to be
refurbished during the slack season but the area had suffered severe flooding
so repairs on these boats had been put on hold.

Freedom in the yard

Freedom in the patching stage

Freedom after repainting

Freedom was affordable because of the blisters on her bottom, topsides, decks, and cabintop. The photos show the boat in the yard in Texas, in the patching stage, and after repainting.

After thanking Stan for
his time, we headed for San Antonio. As we traveled, we debated and schemed
about how we could manage to own a Valiant. Our present boat was a Pacific
Seacraft Flicka. Since we have bigger dreams than bank account, we had purchased
her and refurbished her with the goal of doing some cruising. However I
am over 6 feet tall and Jeanette, my wife, is almost 5 feet 10 inches. We
soon found that the Flicka was wonderful for short trips but too confining
for an extended cruise. I would be able to take an early retirement within
five to seven years, and we had set a goal to find a boat we could have
ready to cruise by then.

In Clear Lake, we looked at a used Valiant 32. It was completely disassembled
in the midst of being refurbished. It was for sale "as is." Looking
back, the asking price was not out of line, however I did not feel confident
in my ability to put something back together that someone else had taken
apart on his word that all the pieces were present.

While we were there, we kept thinking of the Valiant 32 we saw in the boatyard
at Cedar Mills in need of repair and refurbishing. Perhaps they would sell
it to us "as is." At Jeanette’s urging, I called Stan with that
question. We reached an agreement on price and told him we would be stopping
by on our way back to Missouri in a couple of days to examine the boat and
close the deal.

Her name was Freedom. She had a white hull with a dark blue stripe below
the caprail and a red bootstripe above the waterline. We decided immediately
that the boat would be repainted the same colors. In honor of my wife’s
native state and the state where we found her, we would name her after the
state flower of Texas, Bluebonnet. The interior was in very good
condition, though it needed cleaning and new upholstery. The exterior, however,
was going to need a lot of work; it had blisters everywhere, not just on
the bottom. Stan explained that the previous owner of Valiant Yachts, Uniflite
of Bellingham, Wash., had constructed their Valiant sailboats and Uniflite
powerboats for a time in the late 1970s with a polyester resin that had
a fire retardant additive. The additive caused the boats to blister badly.
Uniflite dropped the fire retardant additive in the early 1980s, but by
that time it was too late. Due, in part at least, to the blistering problems,
Uniflite was sold. The new owner was not interested in sailboats and sold
the Valiant name, molds inventory, and so on to Rich Worstell. He moved
the manufacturing operation to Texas in the mid-1980s.

Stan and I made a complete inventory of the boat, its rigging, sails, and
equipment. He furnished us a copy of the owner’s manual and gave us the
history of the boat. We determined what materials we might need from the
factory and purchased them to be shipped with the boat. We signed the papers
for the boat and headed home.


Arriving home, we made arrangements to have the boat shipped to our back
yard. We lived outside Kansas City, Mo. We purchased five jack stands with
the boat. We used four at a time. The fifth one allowed us to move a stand
in order to work in the area where it had been. In preparation for the boat’s
arrival, I purchased three pressure-treated plywood sheets and two pressure-treated
4 by 4s. I also made three sturdy sawhorses to hold the mast.

It was early December when the boat arrived. The sawhorses were spaced out
evenly, and the crane picked the mast off the boat and set it on the sawhorses.
Then it picked up the boat. We spaced the plywood sheets and 4 by 4s under
the keel. Then we arranged the jack stands. The plywood and 4 by 4s prevented
the keel and jack stands from shifting due to rain or the spring thaw.

Winter weather made working on the boat impossible, so I spent the time
purchasing the necessary materials and tools to start in the spring. The
boat sat next to my workshop where I had access to an air compressor and
air orbital and jitterbug sanders. I also had an electric palm sander. I
found that a Dremel tool was indispensable for opening blisters. I removed
the teak hatchboards and replaced them with plywood, so I could refinish
the boards later. I did the same with the large opening hatches on the cabintop
and foredeck. They were made with teak frames, and as all the exterior teak
had been allowed to weather to a rough gray, the hatches needed to be disassembled,
refinished, and have the Plexiglas rebedded.

Cabin blisters

Blisters patched

Blisters repainted

Blisters will continue to appear and need patching each year but never again in the numbers which Norman faced to begin with. Cabintop blisters before, patched, and after.

I also did some research
on the Valiant blistering problem. I discovered that instead of osmosis
blisters caused by water penetrating the gelcoat from the outside and setting
up a chemical reaction in the laminate to cause blisters, these blisters
are caused by the fire retardant not having kicked with the polyester resin.
This retardant then slowly wicks its way through the laminate to the surface
and forms blisters under the gelcoat. These blisters will show up on the
bottom, topsides, decks, and cabintop. They seem to be more evident in warm
climates and waters. The retardant seems to wick itself to the surface when
the laminate is warmest. Boats sailed exclusively in the cold waters of
the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were very slow to develop blisters.

Through the advice of friends and from observations at the factory, I used
West System epoxy products for the repairs. I used their epoxy and fillers
and purchased several of their booklets and a video on fiberglass repair.
The folks at Gougeon Brothers were very helpful and informative the few
times I called them with questions about a particular phase of the project.
The total cost of the epoxy materials, including resin, hardener, fillers,
additives, cloth, masks, acid brushes, stir sticks, sandpaper, and so on
was about $1,100. (See sidebar on Page 13 for a breakdown of expenses.)

The project begins

I started on the repair in spring 1991. The blisters on the hull above the
waterline and on the deck and cabintop had not been opened. I opened and
flushed them with water and left them to dry while I concentrated on the
bottom. I filled the blisters with glass cloth and epoxy resin and faired
the boat with epoxy resin mixed with fillers to make a putty the consistency
of peanut butter. The bottom had some large deep blisters, while the topside
blisters were just under the gelcoat. I left the bottom exposed to allow
the hull to dry out, and I did not cover the bottom with a barrier coat
until September the following year.

This was not highly skilled work, but it was time-consuming. At times I
felt intimidated by the unending number of blisters. A lot of the blisters
were dry; nothing was in them but a pocket of air under the gelcoat. Apparently
the fire retardant had wicked to the surface and formed the blister. Then
the porous gelcoat allowed it to evaporate. Since I was working full-time
at my job, I spent afternoons after work on the boat project. Often 30 to
45 minutes a day was all the time I had. This was sufficient to sand down
the previous day’s work and mix and fill in more areas.

The bottom received its barrier coat over the Labor Day weekend in 1992.
Most of the repair work had been a one-man job, but the barrier coat required
the additional efforts of my wife and our son. The hull must be close to
air temperature before you begin to apply the barrier coat. If it has cooled
overnight, it must be allowed to warm up, so no condensation will form on
the hull. The barrier coat consisted of one coat of clear epoxy followed
by six coats of epoxy with West System #422 barrier additive and a final
coat of epoxy with #425 additive. The #422 is an aluminum powder that increases
the epoxy’s resistance to water absorption and makes it more abrasion-resistant.
The #425 is a fine copper powder that provides a backup to bottom paint
and is extremely abrasion-resistant. The epoxy is applied with a foam roller,
and someone follows around with a foam brush to tip off the bubbles which

When the first coat is applied, you start on the next coat as the first
one has started to kick, usually in 30 to 45 minutes. You keep going around
and around taking turns with the different tasks. You have to work fairly
fast on a hot day, as the epoxy will have a short pot life. If you don’t
finish in one day, you must wash the hull with clear water and a "scrubbie"
and dry it with white paper towels. An excellent booklet, Fiberglass Boat
Repair & Maintenance, is available from Gougeon Brothers. It is a must
for anyone who works on fiberglass boats. (As a side note: the last time
we had the boat hauled, in Sept. 1997, I buffed the bronze prop and coated
it with epoxy resin with the #425 copper additive. I had some of the additive
on hand, and the intent was to prevent barnacle growth on the prop. If it
works I’ll pass that information on through Good Old Boat’s Mail Buoy column.)

After we covered
the bottom with the barrier coat, I concentrated on the topsides, cabin,
and deck. I repaired the damaged teak caprail and replaced the starboard
teak rubrail.

The many small blisters
filled with epoxy filler on the hull at times looked like zits on a teenybopper.
Upon the recommendation of Gougeon Brothers, we gave the topsides two barrier
coats of epoxy: one clear and one with the #422 additive. Looking back,
I would not coat the hull above the waterline with epoxy, because the blister
problem on a Valiant is from within, not from moisture coming from the outside.
I painted the hull with Interlux Brightside one-part polyurethane paint
with a brush. I did not have an enclosure large enough nor the experience
to spray it with a two-part polyurethane such as Awlgrip or Imron. I have
been very pleased with the result however, and touch-ups and repairs are

Related projects

Bluebonnet being launched

Bluebonnet in the water

Bluebonnet was launched July 27, 1994, in Grand Rivers, Ky. Spared from an early retirement, she will squire Norman and Jeanette Ralph in style for theirs.

After repairing the blisters and filling in the holes where the old depth
and knot instruments had been, I painted the deck, cockpit, and cabintop
with the same paint. I added a flattener to the white to reduce the glare,
masked off the non-skid areas, and painted them light gray with a commercial
non-skid powder added. As some areas of the non-skid had been removed to
repair blisters, the grit in the paint gave it an even look. The two-tone
look is very pleasing to the eye.

I sanded the exterior teak, except for the hatches and Dorade boxes, and
gave it several coats of Sikkens Cetol. I varnished the rest of the teak
and covered it with Sunbrella fabric. An annual topcoat of Sikkens keeps
the teak looking great.

As I discussed in the January 1999 issue of Good Old Boat, I also had to
repair a leak in the diesel fuel tank. In addition, I made a turtle, or
hood, for the companionway sliding hatch. The Valiant factory wanted $500
for one, and I had the materials on hand anyway. I made a female mold, lined
it with waxed paper and laid up the hood with epoxy and cloth. The top has
a core of plywood. On a table saw, I made cuts in the plywood halfway through
lengthwise and 1 inch apart, and then I turned the plywood over and cut
it on the other side, staggering the cuts so the piece was very flexible.
I coated the plywood with epoxy resin and laid it in the mold, adding more
fiberglass cloth on top of it. After the hood came out of the mold, I trimmed
and faired it, then painted it to match the cabintop. I added teak trim,
and it turned out very nice. As the material was already on hand, all I
had invested in it was the time.

The holding tank was a rubber composition bladder under the V-berth. I replaced
it with a solid tank I made of 1/4-inch plywood and epoxy, using the stitch
and glue technique. The tank is covered with glass mat and cloth inside
and out and has a baffle inside for extra rigidity. It has an approximate
capacity of 20 gallons. (More on this subject in a future issue of Good
Old Boat.)

The boat had a tiller, but it was broken and delaminated. I could have ordered
one from the factory, but as I was making everything else, I decided to
make one. I bought some ash and mahogany lumber and ripped it in the table
saw in strips 1/4-inch thick by 2 1/4 inches wide and 4 feet long. I built
a jig using blocks of wood on a scrap piece of plywood. I bent the alternating
strips of ash and mahogany around the blocks of wood in a pattern that matched
the old tiller. When I was satisfied with its shape, I screwed the blocks
onto the plywood. Then I removed the strips and covered the blocks and plywood
base with waxed paper. I brushed epoxy resin on the strips, placed them
in the jig, and clamped them in place with woodworking clamps. When the
epoxy had hardened, I removed the tiller, shaped it with a belt sander,
and varnished it.

The standing rigging that came with the boat seemed to be in good shape
but was of undetermined age, so I felt it should be replaced. I considered
buying the wire and Norseman or Sta-lok fittings and doing the work myself.
However I ended up having a rigging shop do the work for less than what
it would have cost me. I had the top ends swaged and the bottom ends fitted
with Sta-lok fittings. The rationale was that the bottom end usually goes
bad from moisture running down into the swage. The sealant in the Sta-lok
would prevent this and when a problem does occur, the repair can be done
at deck level.

When I pressurized the water system, I found that the copper water lines
had not been winterized properly and had split in several places under the
cabin sole. I had to find all the split sections of copper tubing and cut
them out. I inserted flexible plastic hose in place of the missing sections
and clamped them with hose clamps. It required several attempts to pressurize
the system to find all the leaks.

Blisters were cheap

When it came to upgrading the equipment and outfitting the boat, it soon
became obvious that the cost of blister repairs had been very modest in
comparison. The costs of the new cabintop winches for the halyards and mainsheet,
new running rigging, new ground tackle, new depth sounder, and new knotlog
added up quickly. The list went on and on. When I painted the spars, I replaced
the wiring in the mast. The old wiring seemed to be usable, but with the
mast on sawhorses, why not? All in all, we spent about three times as much
on replacements and upgrades as we spent on the blister repairs. As there
was no rush in purchasing the equipment, we tried to find it on sale. We
were successful in this for the most part.

By Memorial Day of 1994, Jeanette was asking when the boat was going to
be finished. We set a goal for the third week in July. A date was set to
have the truck come and pick the boat up and take it to Kentucky Lake near
Paducah, Kentucky.

We wanted the boat documented, and the staff at the Valiant factory handled
it. We were thankful for this, since only they could have traced her ownership
to satisfy the U.S. Coast Guard.

We launched her July 27, 1994, at Green Turtle Bay in Grand Rivers, Ky.
That day will always be fresh in our memories. At the end of February of
1995, I took early retirement in order to spend time living on and sailing Bluebonnet. We spent several months on the boat and in the fall of
that year, we sold our home, put our furniture in storage, and motored down
the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay. From there, we sailed along
the Gulf Coast to Mandeville, La., on Lake Pontchartrain. The trip covered
more than 900 miles, and the boat performed flawlessly. The engine did not
use any oil. Raw water pump impeller replacement was the only problem. We
have purchased a home in Mandeville and sail the boat on the lake and on
the gulf.

Lessons learned

Would we do it all over again? Yes! Would we do it the same way? No! There
are many things we would change, but that is all part of life. You learn
by doing, and as you learn you try not to make the same mistakes over again.
To a couple who had been sailing a 20-foot boat on inland lakes, a 32-foot
boat seemed like the Titanic. However after we sailed her and got used to
sailing on the gulf and living aboard for longer periods, we got to thinking
that maybe a Valiant 40 would have been the "perfect boat." However Bluebonnet is comfortable, easy to sail, and so pretty we wouldn’t
want to part with her. Besides, no boat is big enough for everything you
want from a practical standpoint. You have to make choices and learn to
compromise. I have a theory that, as your boat doubles in size, the things
you want on it square.

Bluebonnet stern

We have continued to upgrade her. We added a Bimini, refrigeration for the
icebox, and a new propane galley stove (a happy cook is a happy boat). There
was a new dodger that was worth its weight in gold on the waterway in November.
There was the new mainsheet traveler system. The old one had frozen bearings
and was an orphan when it came to parts. And there was a roller furling
system and a larger headsail. This past spring I installed Whitlock rack-and-pinion
pedestal steering. All these additions have made the boat more comfortable
and easier to sail. As you get older, this becomes more important.

When we went looking for a boat to cruise on upon retirement, we wanted
a boat that would not restrict our dreams. We wanted a boat that would take
us safely anywhere we wanted to go. We feel that we found and have such
a boat. Whatever it is that keeps us from sailing off to the islands or
New Zealand, it won’t be Bluebonnet.

Are the blisters fixed permanently? No. They won’t be fixed unless the gelcoat
and several layers of laminate are completely removed and replaced with
cloth and epoxy to completely seal in the retardant. Otherwise the retardant
will continue to wick to the surface and form blisters or find a pinhole
in the gelcoat and weep out. The blisters are not big maintenance items.
Part of the annual spring maintenance is to open the few blisters that have
cropped up and flush hem out with water. Then along with general cleaning
and topcoating the teak, I fill in the blisters, sand them down and give
them a coat of paint. A nuisance, yes, but as Stan Dabney told us, "Kiss
those blisters. Without them, you couldn’t afford the boat."

Cost breakdown tells the tale

The following is a breakdown of the expenditures for bringing the
boat back to her former glory. They are broken down into two sections:
the cost of blister repair and the cost of upgrades, not including
the upgrades added after launching. The amount of upgrading you might
want to do would depend on the size of your bank account. There are
always new bells and whistles to buy for your boat, and you can always
convince yourself that you need them. A major source of materials
I used in the repairs was Jamestown Distributors in Jamestown, R.I.,
for epoxy products, paint, acid brushes, rubber gloves, tongue depressors,
and so on. I had previously purchased a Sailrite sewing machine and
sewed all the canvas covers for the boat. I later used the machine
to convert the headsail to roller furling.

West System
epoxy and hardeners, 15 gallons, used about 12 gallons (1991 & 92 prices)
West System
fillers and barrier coat additives
West System
6-ounce glass cloth: 15 yards, 60 inches wide
Brightside one-part polyurethane paint
and Sikkens Cetol
New teak
caprail, two pieces from Valiant
New teak
rubrail, one piece from Valiant
Miscellaneous (Sandpaper, masking paper, acid bushes, stir sticks, etc.) $125
Total $1,540

Bottom paint:
Not a blister repair cost, nor an upgrade,
but still necessary to get the boat ready to launch: Interlux
Micron CSC 4 gallons


Upgrades and replacements
Four new
Barient self-tailing winches for cabintop, 2 two-speed and 2
single-speed for halyards and staysail sheets. Old ones were
in good condition, but we wanted self-tailing. On sale when
Barient discontinued sales in U.S.
depth sounder and knotlog: $285 each
Delta plow anchor
New England
nylon anchor rode 300 feet @ .36
5/8-inch nylon line for docklines, etc., 300 feet @ .33
10 x 28
fenders 6 @ $30

Additional to rewire the mast
Coax $80
14/2 triplex
– tinned 100 feet
14/3 triplex
– tinned 100 feet
to rewire mast

Exide #SP-30H gel-cell batteries 3 @ $120

New lifelines
(I did them myself, price includes cost of the tool)
New standing
rigging (swaged top and Sta-lok bottom)

Total upgrades and replacements

These prices were current in 1991-1994. Although the totals
may differ today, the ratio of repair to upgrades and outfitting
costs is valid. If you could find a blistered Valiant that was
fully equipped with up-to-date equipment, the boat would be
an even greater value. If you didn’t have the skill, inclination,
or facilities to work on the boat yourself and had to pay a
boatyard to do the work, it would be questionable whether the
project would be practical.

Vigor’s Black Box Theory

Vigor’s Black Box Theory

By John Vigor

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 4, July/August 1999.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …

is it that some sailors go quietly about their business, consistently making
quick, safe, and satisfying passages, while others lurch erratically from
port to port amid a series of catastrophes? Is it luck? No, it’s the Fifth

I first stumbled across the concept more than 30 years ago, when I was a newspaper
reporter in Durban, South Africa. One of my early assignments was to cover
a speech by a visiting American yachtsman and scientist, a talk he called
“The Fifth Essential for Successful Yacht Voyages.” He talked about it for
a full half-hour, but never once mentioned what the Fifth Essential was. “I’m
not superstitious,” he said, “but I am not going to name it. I’ll leave that
to you to work out.”

He listed the first four essentials in this order:

  1. A well-found ship
  2. A good crew
  3. Adequate preparation and maintenance
  4. Seamanship

Mighty Neptune

As he wouldn’t name the Fifth Essential, he could only describe how it worked.
He offered some well-documented examples of how it had affected the lives
of yachting pioneers.

We soon got the idea. Take Joshua Slocum, for instance. During his circumnavigation
he was chased by a pirate vessel off the coast of Morocco. He cracked on all
sail, but the pirates were still bearing down on him. Determined to give a
good account of himself, he ducked down below for his rifle. Suddenly a squall
hit the Spray. When his little vessel was under control again, he glanced
back and saw that the squall had dismasted the pirate ship, which lay wallowing
in the wreckage of its spars.

Then there was Harry Pidgeon, who sailed twice around the world singlehanded.
On one occasion, when a change in wind direction set his yawl, Sea Bird, sailing
toward the coast while he slept below, the boat ran aground on the only sandy
bay in tens of miles of rocky coastline. Furthermore she had to pass over
a rocky ledge at the entrance to the bay. Had it been low tide when Sea Bird sailed in so confidently, she would have gotten no farther. As it happened,
Pidgeon was able to refloat her, refit her, and carry on.

Over the years I noted the same theme recurring in talks with such splendid
seamen as Bernard Moitessier, Jean Gau, and Eric Hiscock. In fact, I expect
all of us who have sailed for any time have had similar experiences – and
thanked our lucky stars at the time. But it isn’t luck, really. There’s much
more to the Fifth Essential than mere chance.

In 1986, when I started fitting out my own 31-footer, Freelance, for a voyage
from Durban to the United States, I reduced the Fifth Essential to a simple
system of accident prevention. In the Freelance corollary to the theory, every
boat possesses an imaginary black box, a sort of bank account in which points
are kept. In times of emergency, when there is nothing more to be done in
the way of sensible seamanship, the points from your black box can buy your
way out of trouble. You have no control over how the points are spent, of
course; they withdraw themselves when the time is appropriate. You do have
control over how the points get into the box: you earn them. For every seamanlike
act you perform, you get a point in the black box. Points come in so many
ways it would be impossible to list them all. But I can send you in the right
direction. Let’s say you’re planning a weekend cruise down the coast, and
time is precious. You have been wondering for some weeks if you ought to haul
out the bosun’s chair and inspect the masthead fittings. It has been a couple
of years since you checked everything up there, but it would mean delaying
your departure by an hour, maybe more, should you have to change a shackle
or something.

If you finally give in to the nagging voice inside you and go aloft, you earn
a point in the box. If you don’t take that trouble, your black box will stay
empty. If you sniff the bilges for fumes before pushing the starter button,
you’ll score a point, just as you will for taking a precautionary reef at
nightfall or checking the expiration date on your rocket flares. Thinking
and worrying about what could happen is also a good way to earn points – if
the wind started blowing into your quiet anchorage at 40 miles an hour and
the engine wouldn’t start, or whether you should put a couple of reefs in
the mainsail before you climb into your bunk, just in case.

No matter how good your seamanship, there are times when there is nothing
left to do but batten down the hatches and pray. If you have a credit balance
of points in the box, you’ll be all right. People will say you’re lucky, of
course. They’ll say a benign fate let you get away with it. But we know better.
That luck was earned, maybe over quite a long period.

Not that there’s any room for complacency. If an emergency drains all the
points from your black box, you must immediately set about replacing them
by tending to your boat, your crew, and yourself in a seamanlike way and by
practicing extra caution for as long as seems right.

It may seem unfair that you cannot check your credit balance in the black
box, but it’s just as well. If I knew I had sufficient points to get me through
a weekend, I might not bother to go up the mast before setting out. Not knowing
keeps us on our toes.

In practice, however, your conscience will be a good guide. Have you put off
changing the engine oil for the umpteenth time? Does the port navigation light
still need a new bulb? Be careful. You may be running low on points.

In the same way, your conscience will tell you when you have credit. You will
glow with that quiet sort of confidence that inspires crews and makes for happy voyages.

Birth of Fiberglass Boats

The Birth of Fiberglass Boats

By Steve Mitchell

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 6, November/December 1999.

Despite the popular notion today, fiberglass and plastic resins were not
“new” technology in the mid-1950s, nor was Clinton Pearson the first person
to use them to build sailboats. This begs the question: who did build the
first fiberglass sailboat?

Pearson Vanguard

Jeff and Nancy
Larson enjoy their 1965 Pearson Vanguard, Nordhavn, the 32-foot big sister of the Triton. The Vanguard was introduced in 1962.

According to Dan Spurr, editor of Practical Sailor, and the author of a
forthcoming book on the history of fiberglass sailboats, Heart of Glass,
“It probably was a fellow named Ray Greene in Toledo, Ohio. He built a fiberglass
and polyester sailboat in 1942, probably a Snipe. So a sailing dinghy was
the first fiberglass sailboat.” After a pause he adds, “But you have to
watch your terms.”

It turns out there were several earlier boats made of fiberglass and various
plastic resins, but most of them were too brittle for practical use. Dan
says it was the development of polyester resin that started the fiberglass
boat revolution. In part, this problem of terms revolves around the separate,
but parallel, developments of fiberglass and plastic resins.

The ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians made glass, and are said to have used
glass fibers as decorations and to reinforce pottery. (To add to the many
coincidences of the history of fiberglass boats, the Phoenicians were the
master shipbuilders of their day. One can only imagine what they could have
done with fiberglass construction.) Through time, many other civilizations
made glass strands, primarily for decoration. In 1870, John Player developed
a process of mass-producing glass strands with a steam-jet process to make
what was called mineral wool for insulation. A patent was awarded to an
American named Herman Hammesfahr in 1880 for a type of fiberglass cloth
also woven with silk.

Fiberglass experimentation continued into the 1920s, with the first actual
fiberglass fibers we know today being made in 1932 – by accident. A young
researcher for Corning Glass named Dale Kleist was trying to weld together
two glass blocks to make a vacuum-tight seal when a jet of compressed air
inadvertently hit a stream of molten glass. The resulting spray of fine
glass fibers turned out to be what researchers had been trying to make for

In 1935, Corning Glass joined forces with Owens-Illinois, which also had
been experimenting with fiberglass, to develop the product further. The
word “Fiberglas” (note only one “s”) was patented in January 1936, and the two companies merged to become Owens-Corning in 1938. Research showed the
glass fibers to be light, yet very strong. On an equal weight basis, a strand
of fiberglass is actually stronger than a strand of steel.

Development of plastics began in the mid-1800s, in part due to a challenge
from a billiard ball company to find a new material to replace ivory for
its chief product. Patents were awarded for a variety of plastics by the
late 1800s. Research speeded up in the 1920s, and again with the approach
of World War II, due to the shortage of many natural products. Carlton Ellis
of DuPont was awarded a patent for polyester resin in 1936. The Germans
furthered the manufacturing process of this early polyester by refining
its curing process. Early in World War II, British Intelligence stole these
secrets and turned them over to American firms. American Cyanamid produced
the direct forerunner of today’s polyester resin in 1942.

This early polyester resin quickly ended up in a number of manufacturing
hands. Owens-Corning had been experimenting with fiberglass cloth and resin
combinations to create structural elements for airplanes. By 1942, the company
was turning out fiberglass and polyester airplane parts for the war effort.

Back in Toledo, Ray Greene, who had studied plastics while a student at
Ohio State, had been working with Owens-Corning on fiberglass composites.
He had made composite boats as early as 1937, but was searching for just
the right plastic to use for boats. He received a shipment of the polyester
resin in 1942 and produced a daysailer.

Others followed suit. Dan says, “B.B. Swan made a small fiberglass catboat
in1947. Carl Beetle built fiberglass boats at a GE plant in Pittsfield,
Mass. He exhibited his fiberglass boat at a show in January 1947.”

The first sailing auxiliary made from fiberglass appeared in 1951. “It was
called the Arion, a 42-foot ketch.” states Spurr. “It was a one-off design
by Sidney Herreshoff. Then Fred Coleman’s Bounty II came out in 1956.”

Dan goes on to explain that Ray Greene was not finished either. “He formed
his own boatbuilding company and produced a 25-foot Sparkman & Stephens
design in 1957 called the New Horizon,” says Spurr. “He built 175 of them.
That was a pretty good number of boats, and right before the Triton, too.”

Tom Potter, the driving force behind the Triton, agrees. “Ray Greene did
bring out a fiberglass boat before we did, at least what you would call
the first sailing yacht,” he says. “It was kind of an odd looking boat,
though. The Triton certainly was the first mass produced boat that sold

Bill Shaw also acknowledges Ray Greene as the first to build a fiberglass
boat. “And I worked at Sparkman & Stephens when we designed the New Horizon,” he says. “I remember Ray Greene very well.”

How the Pearson cousins came to be viewed as the fathers of the modern fiberglass
industry is not clear, given the many boats that preceded the Triton. Nevertheless,
it was the Triton that captured the buyer’s heart – and pocketbook – in
1959. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Preparing For The Big Blow

Preparing for the Big Blow

By Don Launer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 5, Number 3, May/June 2002.

Don’t wait until it happens; get your boat ready now

Hurricane Gloria (color)

Photos above and below taken during Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

Hurricane Gloria (B & W)

My first memory, as
a small child, was being in the middle of a hurricane in the North Atlantic.
It was the 1930s. Our family was returning by ship from a European vacation
in the days before radar and weather satellites. One day before arriving
in New York, we blundered into a hurricane that was moving up the East
Coast. Portholes were knocked out of the side of the ship, and our deck
was awash with about two feet of water in which our suitcases sloshed
about in our cabin. The ship almost didn’t make it. At the New
York pier, dozens of ambulances were waiting for passengers who had broken
arms and legs or skull fractures.

June of each year marks the
official beginning of the hurricane season. Even though most hurricanes
spawned in the tropics don’t find their way to our shores, strong
cold fronts and their associated thunderstorms can also have devastating
winds – frequently of hurricane strength. No matter where you live,
storms are a fact of life. While our property on land is vulnerable to
the winds and storm surge, our floating property is even more vulnerable.

If you heard a radio announcement
that a major storm would hit your area within 24 hours, would you have
a plan of action for taking care of your boat? The majority of boatowners
don’t. The time to plan for the onslaught is not when you hear
the announcement; the time is now.

Sunny-day preparations

Many precautions can be taken when the weather is clear and calm. Begin
by checking that your deck-cleats are adequately through-bolted, with
substantial back-up plates. Are the cleats large enough to take large-diameter
storm lines, with more than one line on the same cleat? Will the chocks
handle these storm lines when they’re encased in chafing gear?
Do you have large-size mooring lines made up to the proper length with
eye-splices that will fit your cleats? Do you have fenderboards if you
will be tied to a dock or canal wall? All these chores take time, and
when a storm is approaching, time is one thing that’s in short

When that storm is expected

On sailboats, one of the most important things is to reduce windage by
removing all the sails, especially roller-furling headsails, and certainly
the dodger. Even seemingly innocuous halyards create wind resistance.
A 1/2-inch halyard going to the top of a 50-foot mast presents
4 square feet of resistance to the wind. Booms that can be easily removed
can be stowed in the cabin. On small sailboats, unstepping the mast is
a good idea. Anything on deck that can’t be removed should be lashed
down firmly. Vulnerable antennas should be taken off, and plastic compass
and instrument gauge covers should be removed or secured with duct tape.

Remove boom to reduce windage

Removing the boom to reduce windage and checking the mooring.

Checking the mooring

If it is at all possible,
boats should be removed from the water and stored on land. An MIT study
after Hurricane Gloria found that boats stored ashore were far more likely
to survive than boats in the water. If a boat is stored on land it should
be well above any possible storm surge and not stored in high-rise storage

You have to prepare for more
than the wind. In tidal areas, the storm surge – that sudden rise
of water level due to the combination of low pressure and onshore winds
– is usually responsible for most of the damage. In addition, open
boats must take into account the huge amounts of rainfall that accompany
hurricanes, nor’easters, and thunderstorms. Is your open cockpit
self-draining with nothing loose that can clog the drain? On boats without
self-draining cockpits, is the battery charged so that the automatic electric
bilge pump can handle the job?

Hurricane holes

Rivers and man-made canals usually provide good "hurricane holes"
if the boat must remain in the water. In natural hurricane holes, the
shallower the water where the boat is anchored, the better, since this
provides a better scope ratio for your anchor line. The bottom composition
is of great importance, with a sandy bottom giving the best anchor set.
Survey the shoreline around a hurricane hole. If your boat should drag,
will it end up on a sandy beach or on the rocks?

If there is no time to find
a snug harbor and your boat has to weather a storm at anchor, the best
anchoring bottoms, in descending order of holding, are: sand, clay, hard
mud, shells, and soft mud. Needless to say, the larger the anchors and
the more anchors deployed, the better. A BoatU.S. test found that embedment
type anchors – those that are screwed into the bottom –
are the most likely to hold.

Boats in canals usually survive
better than boats at a marina, provided they’re tied properly and
protected from pounding canal bulkheads. A boat kept in the middle of
a canal has the best chance – however this requires cooperation
from property owners on both sides of the waterway. During Hurricane Andrew,
one boatowner tied his 26-foot powerboat in the center of a canal using
eight 3/4-inch lines, creating a spider web, with his boat as the
spider in the center. The boat survived without a scratch. Boats fastened
to the bulkheads of canals didn’t fare as well, due to pounding
from wind and waves. If you plan to moor your boat in the middle of a
canal, remember that this can block access to others who have yet to arrive,
so the final tieup probably cannot be done until the last minute.

More fendering

Boats secured to a canal bulkhead should employ additional fendering.
Usually inflatable fenders just don’t do the job, since it’s
impossible to keep them at the right location, and they frequently collapse
from pressure or abrasion. It’s a better idea to make up fenderboards
well in advance, so they can be hung on the sides of the boat to help
protect it from pounding. In addition, one or more anchors deployed out
into the waterway will help take some of the strain off the fenders.

One of the biggest
problems when a boat is kept at a bulkhead or in a marina is the boat’s
hull rising above short bulkhead pilings due to the unusually high water
level during the storm surge, from the wave action, or from both. When
this happens, the boat is frequently impaled on the piling. Properly installed
floating docks make fendering and mooring easier. Pilings high enough
to be well above the rubrail of boats during the height of the storm surge
are a necessity. Wide slips, with pilings at their outer ends, are also
a big advantage in securing a boat that must weather the storm in a marina.

Aftermath of Hurricane Edouard, 1996

Aftermath of Hurricane Edouard in 1996

In a slip or at a
dock, the bow of the boat should face in the most unprotected or open-water
direction since this offers the least wind and wave resistance and reduces
the chance of waves flooding the cockpit. Boats that have bow-eyes to
winch them onto a trailer should make use of them as a strong fastening
point. Dockline lengths must be long enough to allow the boat to rise
to the maximum-expected storm surge (or beyond) and to make it possible
to run mooring lines to the farthest point possible. Unfortunately, long
line lengths usually mean that a boat in a confined slip has a good chance
of rubbing the pilings due to line stretch. Fenderboards are a big help
in this situation.

All cautionary material written
about storm survival stresses that you should not try to ride it out on
your boat if going ashore is an option. I certainly would not suggest
that staying with your boat at a marina – even if allowed –
is a good idea. Having said that, I must say that twice I have done just
that. When Hurricane Belle moved up the East Coast in 1976, I tended the
docks at a New Jersey yacht club where my boat was berthed. I adjusted
and moved lines on my boat as well as those on other boats I could get
to until the storm surge and waves began washing over the docks. Six boats
at the yacht club went to the bottom, but my boat survived without a scratch.

In September of 1985, my son,
Tom, and I tended lines and weathered Hurricane Gloria aboard our schooner
in a slip in a marina off Barnegat Bay on the New Jersey coast. On both
of these occasions, line tending and adjusting prevented our boat from
sustaining any damage.

Nylon mooring lines

Using chafe protection 1
Using chafe protection 2

Using chafe protection

When a big blow is moving your way, large diameter lines should be installed
in place of, or in addition to, the normal mooring lines.

Nylon mooring lines
are the material of choice, since they provide both strength and a shock-absorbing
effect against sudden strains. The downside of this shock-absorbing protection
is that these nylon lines s-t-r-e-t-c-h. At a mere 200 pounds of force,
a 1/4-inch line, 20 feet long, can stretch four feet or more. Under the
same force, a 1/2-inch line of 20 feet will stretch only about one foot.
The rule of thumb is that a good-quality nylon line will stretch 25 percent
of its length at 50 percent of its breaking strength. This stretch factor
must be taken into account when you are setting up storm lines so that the
stretch caused by wind and wave pressure won’t allow the boat to
pound the dock, the pilings, or an adjoining boat. Remember, larger diameter
equals less stretch. Double the diameter and you cut the stretch to one-quarter
(the stretch is inversely proportional to the square of the diameter). Also,
larger-diameter lines are less likely to fail from chafing.

An unexpected finding by MIT
after Hurricane Gloria showed that many nylon lines that were angled across
a chock failed internally when the core melted from the friction created
by repeated stretch cycles. Most high-quality nylon lines are treated
with a lubricant to reduce this type of failure, but this lubricant dissipates
with the aging of the line. Another little-known quality of nylon line
is that when wet it loses about 15 percent of its strength (which returns
when the line has dried out). Since we are most concerned with strength
during storm conditions – when the line is wet – this is
another item to factor into the equation of storm-line size. It’s
also important to know that for lines of equal diameter, a braided line
has more strength than a 3-ply line, and colored line has slightly less
strength than fibers that have been left natural.

Mooring precautions

Helicopter after Hurricane Bob, 1991

After Hurricane Bob in 1991

For those boats that weather a storm on a mooring, there are special considerations.
Most yacht clubs and marinas prescribe the equipment used on a permanent
mooring, so the underwater portion of a mooring is usually beyond the
control of the boatowner. However the pendant, or pendants (there should
be at least two) – from mooring to boat – should be checked
carefully. Since they go through the bow chocks at a sharp angle, they
are especially subjected to stress and abrasion, and extra chafing protection
is necessary.

When Keith and Gloria Lyman
had their boat on a mooring in the Hudson River during a nor’easter,
it broke away and went on the rocks. "Although the mooring and
pendants were in good condition, there were sharp corners on the bow chocks
that eventually sawed through the chafing gear and pendants," Keith
recalls. As a chafe-preventer, heavy canvas is good insurance. Plastic
or rubber hose is not as good because it can cause the mooring line to

This brings us to the question
of nylon line quality. There is a wide range of nylon lines, with the
cheaper nylon stretching more and having considerably less abrasion-resistance
and internal lubrication – so don’t skimp here. It’s
much cheaper buying high-quality line than buying a new boat. Insurance
companies estimate that up to half of the boat damage due to Hurricane
Andrew, which hit Florida in August 1992, could have been prevented with
adequate docklines.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you protect your own boat, frequently
it’s the careless boatowner near you whose boat is poorly tied
or breaks loose who can be the cause of your damage. When one boat damages
another under these Act-of-God catastrophes, insurance companies seldom
hold one owner liable for damage to another’s boat. The damage
to your boat from the negligence of another owner is the same as if it
were your own fault.



Rubrail just 2 feet from top of the dock pilings

Don Launer reports that during one nor’easter the rubrail of his schooner was just two feet from the top of his dock pilings

To help prevent the
problem of inadequately tied boats, many marinas and yacht clubs specify
minimum line diameters for docklines. It’s a rule designed to counter
stupidity. It wouldn’t hurt to encourage this policy in all marinas
and yacht clubs, and boatowners should see to it that it is enforced for
their own protection. A corollary to this rule should be the requirement
of larger-sized and additional lines when a storm is predicted.

For sailboat owners, there
is another consideration. When sailboats are in adjacent slips there is
the possibility that the boats will roll "out of sync" and
as they do that their masts and rigging will foul each other. These impacts
can eventually break shrouds and drop a mast on deck, in the water, or
on another boat. It would be nice if there were always a powerboat in
slips between sailboats to prevent this from happening, but it’s
not a perfect world.

Roller-furling jibs

The worst knockdown we’ve ever had – a 90-degree one –
occurred several decades ago in the relatively benign waters of the Intracoastal
Waterway. With a thunderstorm approaching, we anchored our 26-foot sloop
off-channel and battened down the hatches. I took special care to furl
our roller-furling jib as tightly as possible – so tight, in fact,
that there were not enough turns on the furling drum to roll it up completely.
This left a handkerchief-sized section of jib out. When the squall-line
of the thunderstorm hit, the winds, as measured on shore, clocked over
75 mph – hurricane force. We were safely inside the cabin when
suddenly we heard a loud "snap," and our world turned sideways.
The wind had grabbed the small section of jib, and the plastic clam-cleat
that held the furling line was unable to hold. The furling line ran through
the cleat, melting all the teeth, and the genoa came out fully.

What had we done wrong? First,
there should have been enough turns on the furling drum to allow the jib
to be tightly and completely furled, with two or three turns of jib sheets
to complete the job. Second, although clam cleats are frequently convenient
while sailing, they should not be relied on in storm situations.
A few years later we observed the same thing happen to another boat in
the yacht club where we were weathering Hurricane Belle. Although we survived
the hurricane with no problems, the boat whose genoa unfurled at the height
of the storm sustained severe damage.

We may have a very
calm season, but if The Big Blow comes, will you be ready?

Big Beds On Small Boats

Big beds on small boats

By Donald Bodemann

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 6, November/December 2001

Spoil yourselves and get a really good night’s sleep while aboard

The finished bed, and Cheryl

Have you
ever wondered what you have to do to get a boat with a decent-size
bed? My wife, Cheryl,
and I searched for six years for the perfect
cruising boat. The number-one criterion was that it must include a
bed we both can be comfortable on and thus get a good night’s

You might be imagining a pair of sumo wrestlers trying to crawl into the V-berth of a Catalina 22, but excessive width is not the issue.
The problem lies in my height of 6 feet 3 inches. It seems that unless
you’re looking at something like a $250,000 Hunter 450 Passage
with a palatial aft stateroom, you will be hard pressed to find a small
or midsize cruiser with a bed adequate for a couple which includes
at least one large person, especially if your budget dictates that
you look only at older boats less than 40 feet long.

The frameworkFramework gets covered

The Hunter 27 project came first and was such a success that Don did it all over again with the next, and larger, Hunter 33.

The standard land-based bed is approximately 76 inches or longer,
and if you measure the king- or queen-size mattress that most of us
sleep on these days, you will find it to be 80 inches or longer. But
when it comes to berths in the average older sailboat, 74 inches is
more often the norm.

Cheryl and I came
to this conclusion: if you can’t buy one,
make one. On our last boat, a lovely 1980 Hunter 27, all the berths
were inadequate, so we decided to make what we call “the Big
Bed Mod.” This entailed converting the saloon area, with its
two opposing settees, into one large bed. This cabin arrangement is
fairly common in boats of this size and smaller. It lends itself nicely
to a modification of this type.

First we needed
a way to span the distance between the two settees. Our Hunter had
two pieces
of teak trim to hold the settee cushions
in place. I’ll call these “side rails.” The five
new braces that span the center and support the middle of the bed I’ll
call “stringers.” Some folks have made similar beds utilizing
stringers with metal hooks on each end that hook on the top of the
existing rails.

A few problems

I considered this
method but there are a few problems, as I see it. The first is I
like my
interior wood to be varnished and to look good.
Placing metal hooks on the rails repeatedly and then loading them with
my 200-pound weight and my wife’s weight (no, I won’t
go there, but you get the picture), these rails would definitely take
a beating. I decided to rout pockets into the rails for the stringers
to rest in.

Portside leeboard folded flatPortside leeboard extended

Bed complete

Deja vu all over again: the Hunter 33 project. The photo at top shows the portside leeboard folded flat for stowage. This board can be secured vertically to make a sea berth. It is extended in the center photo. And the bed is complete in bottom photo.

When examining the existing 5/8-inch x 3 1/2-inch rails, I realized
there was not enough wood to rout a pocket for a stringer that would
be big enough to support the anticipated weight. My solution was to
make new, larger, rails that were a little thicker (one full inch)
and deeper (approximately 5 inches). I used mahogany since it is a
wood that is similar to teak and, at least for me, much more available
and therefore cheaper.

After the rails and stringers were in place, we measured the spanned
area and cut a piece of 3/8-inch plywood to lie on top of the frame.
I then cut the plywood in half, making two matching pieces that could
be stowed when not in use.

The final step was to make cushions which fill in between the settees.
For this we turned to our local upholsterer. He did a beautiful job
and even found some outdated brown plaid that generally matched the
original plaid used by Hunter when building these boats. The two cushions,
along with the stringers, are easily stowed in the V-berth when not
in use, and the two pieces of plywood fit perfectly under the existing
settee cushions when not in use.

Cheryl and I took a two-week cruise to Long Island Sound last summer,
and we slept wonderfully with all the comfort of home. This was no
small feat, considering we are both spoiled rotten with a king-size
waterbed at home. If sleeping onboard is something you endure, rather
than enjoy, consider making a Big Bed Mod for your boat.

Don is a certified
ASE Master Auto Technician and an amateur musician (bass and 6-string
guitar) who also designs, builds, and flies giant-scale
radio-controlled model airplanes and has a private pilot’s license.
Flying got expensive, so he bought a Sunfish, then an O’Day
17, then a Catalina 22, then a Hunter 27, then a Hunter 33 . . .

Bad Pox

Out, out, bad pox!

By Jack Owen

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 5, September/October 1999.

"The shock of discovering bubbles on your boat’s
bottom is merely the prelude to a prolonged pain in the assets."

Boat pox, osmosis, or blisters . . . call it what you will. Most fiberglass
boatowners prefix the blight with a salty expletive deleted. The shock
of discovering bubbles on your boat’s bottom is merely the prelude to
a prolonged pain in the assets.

Parnassus, my beamy Montego 25 sloop, was built by Universal Marine
in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1980. That was just about the time I had sworn
off boat ownership in favor of crewing aboard OP (other people’s) craft.
But last year I lapsed. My reaction to a 40th school reunion in a room
filled with geezers jockeying for parking space for their walkers propelled
me to recapture the spirit of adventure I vaguely recalled from my youth
. . . that of owning a boat.

The sticker price of Parnassus removed most of the lumps from under
my mattress. And the discovery of a badly blistered bottom has siphoned
off the balance.

Twenty years ago the annual haulout to scrape, sand, and bottom paint
an earlier boat was a week-long project. My land-lubberly lifestyle during
the interim had not exposed me to the blister blight, which apparently
hit its zenith a decade ago when fiberglass, the panacea for all boat
hull maintenance woes, mutinied.

Today, many boat owners
– including me, now – are aware of the cancerous reaction of water collecting
under the hull gelcoat to create an odoriferous vinegary bubble of acid
formed when moisture – from the ocean outside, or bilge water inside –
reacts to solvents, resin, or additives in porous pockets beneath the
gel surface. Those voids, perhaps no bigger than a pinhead, may have been
created by just one speck of dust in the builder’s boatyard – so you can
imagine the possibilities. Or perhaps it was the failure of boatbuilders
to totally resin-soak every last fiber of chopped strand mat between the
gelcoat and woven-roving laminated layers. That inner skin of chopped
matting supposedly prevents the woven roving pattern from emerging on
the surface of the gelcoat, making the hull look like a floating waffle
. . . whereas the surface of a blistered bottom – once the pustules have
been pricked – resemble the pocked face of the moon.

Unfortunately, the aesthetics of what, primarily, would be the boat’s
profile under the waterline, is a minimal problem compared to the dire
predictions of fiberglass layers de-laminating, structural failure, a
cracked seeping hull, and death by drowning.

All this and much more, I learned from leather-skinned liveaboards and
margarita mariners lined up at the boatlift as Parnassus was hauled
out last June. After that, the boatyard manager, Jason Sprague, told me
my carefully estimated haulout and bottom job bill would have to be revised
upward . . . somewhere near the stratosphere.

A professional labor/cost guesstimate, quoted in one of the many magazines,
newspapers, and books about blisters I devoured researching the repair
process, projected a $350-plus-per-foot price tag. That included peeling
the bottom to the first layer of woven roving, re-glassing, fairing, and
barrier coating, then repainting the bottom with anti-fouling bottom paint.

Forking out the best part of $10,000 to float my boat, was not an option.
Fortunately, Old Slip Marine, Riviera Beach, Fla., is a "do-it-yourself"
yard. UN-fortunately, despite abbreviated classes at the Eastbourne Technical
School, England – 40 years ago – my handyman skills would make Rosie the
Riveter blanch. But, faced with a boatyard hourglass dumping dollars by
the day just for storage, I was shocked into becoming a semi-shipwright.

Jason explained the yard’s procedure for curing the ills, after waltzing
around Parnassus with a moisture meter which pegged off the scale
(25 percent) from the keel to the rubrail. The moisture meter indicates
how much potential liquid is trapped under the gelcoat, poised to provide
more blisters.

The blisters needed
to be popped then ground off down to the roving. Ideally, Jason said,
the hull should be professionally peeled to the roving. Then the boat
should sit and dry out until water drained out or evaporated, and the
moisture meter lowered to about five percent. To encourage that, the hull
should be pressure washed with a hot-water machine.

Estimated time: two to three months! Florida in the summer is not the
most pleasant place in which to don full protective dust-suit, mask, head
sock, and filter-respirator. All this prior to entering a still-air cavern
created by the environmentally-correct tarpaulin-shrouded hull of Parnassus in which to begin grinding.
During the summer of 1998, while Florida went up in flames, boatyard temperatures
and humidity readings competed to break the 100-degree barrier. It was
a tad nastier under the tarps, where the grinder created intrusive toxic
dust clouds of multi-layered old bottom-paint, gelcoat, and fiberglass.

Parnassus' rudder with blisters
Rudder with blisters marked and dated

Parnassus in Phases One and Two. The first shots show the blisters shortly after Parnassus was hauled out. The second set of shots show Parnassus with blister locations, dates and moisture meter readings marked.

There were more than 100 blisters, from pinhead to half-dollar size, for the grinder to eviscerate. I circled a dozen locations with a waterproof felt-tipped marker and marked them with date and moisture meter readings. Twice during the next two months, her hull was pressure washed with hot water to encourage the trapped water and acid to seek the surface.

After two months, no new blisters appeared, but there was barely any downward movement in the moisture meter readings. According to some experts, the hull must be totally dry before repairs can begin. On the other hand, there are those who have little faith in moisture meter results and prefer to patch and plop dinged hulls – wood or fiberglass – after an eyeball, feel, and balance determination.

The balance part of the equation is weighing whether the Band-Aid approach or boatyard advice method will leave a positive-dollar balance in the old bank account. Like all things connected with boats, it’s a compromise.

We opted to work within
the guidelines offered by the boatyard boss, plus snippets garnered from
old salts in their slips, marine hardware store employees – most working
to keep their own boats afloat – and published pundits, from boating journalists
to marine surveyors.

The following list of procedures worked for Parnassus and, today, knock-on-wood, she’s blister-free and floating.

Parnassus is my getaway
floating island, whether she’s tied up at the slip, moored in the lake,
or day-cruising when wind, tide, and time allow. There are no plans for
any solo long-distance bluewater voyages, ala Joshua Slocum or Robin
Lee Graham, in her future. She was designed to perform under MORC (Midget Ocean Racing Club) rules and as a comfortable family cruiser. There may
be moisture in her hull adding to her weight and slowing her down, but
whether she’s cruising downhill with a following wind at seven knots or less, we’ll be out on the water . . . sailing.

And a pox on all blisters!

The Process

At the time boat is hauled and pressure washed, the blisters will be most
apparent. Mark them before they drain or deflate. Wear protective goggles
when popping and scraping them. The liquid is often under pressure, and
a squirt in the eye can be harmful.

A grinding wheel should be used to smooth the cavity created by exposing
the blister pocket and to fair it down at the edges to allow epoxy filler
to meld with the contour of the hull. Sanding with coarse-grit paper does
not do the job efficiently.

Drying out
The blisters are visual indications that pockets of acid exist under the
gelcoat. But there may be more latent moisture seeping from water tanks
or bilges within the boat, trickling through or trapped between layers
of fiberglass, moving toward the gelcoat. A two- to three-month drying
out period is a prudent step to take.

Wash down
To encourage chemical liquids within the hull to leach to the surface
and to speed up the drying-out process, hot water washdowns are recommended.

Blisters on the bottom

Blisters marked

The most widely touted method for patching blister damage, because of its ease of application, is the West System brand of epoxy products. However, the yard manager at Old Slip Marine claimed fewer customer complaints and a higher success rate when his experts used the Interlux two-part InterProtect Watertite compound. One can contains the base materials, a cream-colored putty-like gook, the other a blue paste containing the curing agent catalyst which binds both elements into a steel-hard set-up finish. The mix is two-parts cream to one-part blue.

Cowboy, the resident yard helper for the past decade, demonstrated the proven consistency, eyeballing amounts, texture, and color until the combination turned aquamarine. He advised only mixing sufficient material for about 20 minutes of work – depending on the temperature of the day. The approved boatyard palette is an ordinary piece of packing-box
cardboard. A wooden tongue-depressor is used for mixing.

Once the fill has set up, sand the entire hull (80 grit) to level out patched
blister cavities and rough the surface in preparation for the barrier and
bottom coats. Tip: least used is easiest removed. Because we were too liberal
in applying the mixture with a putty knife, when it set up solid as steel
on the hull surface, it added hours to the time needed to sand the fill
down fair.

Scrub the hull down, using a stiff-bristle brush and hot soapy water
to rid the surface of dust and any dormant chemical residual. Interlux recommends
using their fiberglass solvent wash 202. However, when we tried it, our
workgloves dissolved, the linen-rag disintegrated, and our hands looked
like bleached prunes.

Barrier coat

We skipped the next step: applying a barrier coat of Interprotect 2000E/2001E
which re-seals the hull and replaces the gelcoat. Although we had more than
100 blisters to repair, more than 80-percent of the original hull finish
(gelcoat) remained intact and unblemished. If, as the experts say, blistering
is formed where voids exist under the gelcoat because the water is trapped
under the skin, we reckoned the integrity of her hull – after almost 20
years – would survive a little longer.

Bottom paint
We opted for Fiberglass Bottomkote ACT antifouling paint, based on the local
knowledge of the boatyard manager. Old Slip Marine has been a family-operated
business for more than three decades and is familiar with the barnacle build-up
potential of a variety of gunkholes, marinas, and slips in the area. The
reputed advantage of ACT as a soft paint permits the surface to wash away
by water movement over the hull constantly exposing fresh and effective
biocide. It also eliminated bottom paint buildup and, I hope, will require
less sanding to prepare the hull at the next haulout. We shall see.

Parnassus was named for one of the twin mountaintops in Greece, sacred
to the Muse. Her oft-deflated tender is the party animal
Bacchus. Jack Owen
is a freelance writer and out-of-print bookshop owner on the poor side of
the lake from Palm Beach, Fla. He has crewed on corporate stinkpots and
has owned/ disowned several disastrous ragbags. He is a leading contender
for the newly created "Hard Aground Club" annual award for personally
visiting each of the sandbars in the Lake Worth Lagoon.

Atomic 4

Atomic 4: Smooth, worth another look

By Jerry Powlas

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 1, Number 1, June/July 1998.

Diesel envy? Take another look at
the gasoline engine that came with your good old boat

An Atomic 4 engine

If you own a sailboat, there
is a good chance that you recognize the Atomic 4 engine by name, even
if you don’t have one in your boat. If you have a gasoline auxiliary engine
in your boat, chances are it’s an Atomic 4. Many good old boats have them;
there were about 40,000 Atomic 4s built, and about 20,000 of them are
still pushing sailboats around. While common, these engines are also controversial.

Most respected authors who write about sailboat engines say if you don’t
have a diesel engine, you should get one. They caution that it will be
expensive to convert, but counsel that it is necessary. This point of
view is so widespread, we don’t know of any production inboard auxiliary
sailboats offered today with gasoline engines. Indeed, to our knowledge
there is no gasoline engine in production that would be a good candidate
for this application.

Marine architect Dave Gerr and Practical Sailor editor Dan Spurr are respected
authors who take the other tack. They point out that it may be difficult
to justify the cost of converting from gasoline to diesel.

If you have a reliable Atomic 4, the best advice is to keep up with the
routine maintenance and enjoy it. If you’re having problems, your options
are to repair it, get another used or rebuilt Atomic 4, or replace it
with a diesel. Four interesting factors should be considered in making
your choice:

  • the safety of gasoline and diesel fuels the economics of ownership the problems of maintenance
  • Reliability

Safety first

We have been told that one quarter of a
cup of gasoline evaporated into the correct amount of air will explode with the destructive force of six sticks of dynamite. It makes you think.

Before you become overwhelmed with fear and diesel envy, however, take
a walk down your dock, and ask a few diesel sailboat owners if they
have engines for their dinghies. The truth is that just about every
cruising sailboat has at least a quarter of a cup of gasoline aboard
regardless of what the main engine fuel is. All of us have to be very careful with gasoline.

Automobiles have a good, though not perfect, safety record with gasoline.
An automobile engine compartment is like an upside-down bowl. Leaking fuel and vapors fall down – out of the engine compartment and away from the car. In addition, cooling air from the radiator helps ventilate the compartment. We have never seen a production automobile engine compartment that was enclosed at the bottom. Although it might be desirable to do so to reduce drag, it simply is not worth the risk.

Marine inboard engine compartments are also shaped like a bowl, but
the container is right-side-up. The problem is caused by gasoline vapor
being heavier than air, so it tends to fall to the bottom of the bowl,
where it can be ignited by sparks or flames. This is a major concern
for any vessel that carries gasoline.

From a safety standpoint, we must consider that most small power boats
use gasoline, and most sailboats carry gasoline for their dinghies.
Your safety will be enhanced if you know how to handle this fuel and
adhere to very strict and thorough safety measures to prevent fire and
explosion aboard your boat. Taking out your Atomic 4 will not greatly
enhance your safety though, unless you also remove your dinghy fuel
and perhaps your stove fuel as well.

Economics next

How do you use your boat? It is best to
buy a boat suited to doing what you do most often. It is probably a
mistake to buy a globe-circling bluewater cruiser if you sail weekends
with an annual two-week vacation. A coastal cruiser is better for this
kind of work. This reasoning applies to your choice of engines as well.

Don Moyer, of Moyer Marine, is a notable advocate of the Atomic 4. He
points out that a lot of older boats are being purchased by young buyers.
Many of these starter boats are “project boats” built in the
early days of fiberglass. Some are boatyard queens that are being brought
back from near-terminal neglect. They don’t cost a lot of money to buy,
but they will often require a great deal of owner labor to put them
back in shape. Many of them are smaller coastal cruisers, and many have
Atomic 4 engines. The engine is enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Click here to read more about Don Moyer.

It’s difficult and unreasonable to convince these buyers that they should
pay for an engine swap that may double the dollar investment in their
boat. The Atomic 4 burns about twice as much fuel as a diesel will burn
to go the same distance. On the other hand, how much fuel will a sailboat
use in a year? If you motor out of your marina and set sails, it is
hard to go through a tank of gas in a year of weekend and vacation sailing.
If you motor in calms and very light air, you will burn a little more.

Last year, we estimate that we motored Mystic, our C&C 30,
400 miles on summer weekends and a couple of two-week vacations. Without
being too precise with the math, it would cost $75 per year more to
feed an Atomic 4 than to feed our diesel. If an engine swap costs $3,000
to $6,000, the payback in fuel savings might take 40 years. And those
were used diesel prices. New diesel swaps go for roughly $6,000 to $9,000.

Like fuel efficiency, an argument about operating hours between major
overhauls favors the diesel. The cost of a major overhaul probably would
not favor the diesel but is more difficult to compare. More importantly,
both engines will run so many hours between overhauls that it is difficult
to be certain that either one will need an overhaul before a boat is
sold. The resale value of a boat may be greater if it has a diesel,
but there are still buyers for both. If the Atomic 4 is in good health,
the economics simply are not there for some owners of coastal cruisers
to convert to diesel before the engine needs to be replaced.


Atomic 4, side view

Mark Bressler is restoring Horizon, a beautiful
Tripp 30 designed by William Tripp Jr. When he bought the boat, the
engine had no compression to speak of. He determined that the exhaust
valves were stuck. Because the engine had been unused for a long time,
he feared other corrosion problems and replaced the original Atomic
4 engine with a used one that he located at a boat show.

He upgraded the replacement engine with electronic ignition and a higher
capacity alternator. He also installed a raw water filter “big
enough to grow fish in” and replaced the jacketed exhaust with
an injection elbow and a waterlift muffler. He also plans to add an
oil filter system and fresh water cooling. (The boat is presently operated
in Lake Superior where Mark does not think the raw water cooling will
cause much corrosion, but he has plans to someday use the boat in the

We asked him about routine maintenance. He said you need to change the
oil and make sure the engine gets good, clean fuel. This much will be
required by any diesel. Mark also said it is necessary to change the
plugs once in a while, but this task is not difficult, and the electronic
ignition makes the engine less fussy about plugs. What Mark didn’t say
was that among shade-tree mechanics and do-it-yourselfers, gasoline
engine repair skills are more common.

The routine maintenance on either type of engine is not particularly
difficult. Bacteria can grow in diesel fuel and will cause trouble if
it is not filtered out before reaching the injection system. On the
other hand, gasoline engines require occasional spark plug replacement.
In addition, the breaker points and condenser will have to be replaced
occasionally, if the engine does not have electronic ignition. And while
we are on that subject, it is worth mentioning that we have convinced
more than one reluctant Atomic 4 to start by simply wiping a clean cloth
between the points. It makes electronic ignition seem like a good upgrade.

The availability of parts is another matter. Both Alan Abrahamsson of
Old Lyme Marina and Don Moyer of Moyer Marine were cautious when asked
about availability of parts. Certainly, routine maintenance parts are
abundant. Major repair parts, such as blocks and camshafts, are available
now but may not be forever. Mark Bressler is keeping his old engine
for spares.

The BoatU.S. catalog shows 20 common Atomic 4 repair items, including
gaskets, ignition, and pump parts. The Alberg 30 Web site: shows an extensive listing of spare parts
and where to obtain them. The parts in this list are cross-indexed to
several sources.

Both Old Lyme Marina and Moyer Marine sell maintenance parts as well
as major replacement parts – such as blocks, cams, and cranks – but
these large components are salvaged from other engines. The future availability
of major parts is influenced by the fact that the tooling to efficiently
make these parts no longer exists. At present, good salvaged parts can
supply the demand. Don points out, however, that as younger buyers put
more older boats back in service, this picture could change.

There is no cause for panic at the moment. If the estimates are correct,
40,000 engines were built, and 20,000 are still in service. They can
draw on the other 20,000 for spares.

Tom Stevens of Indigo Electronics offers a broad selection of upgrade
parts for the Atomic 4. An electronic ignition, oil filter system, fresh
water cooling system, electronic fuel pump, and high output alternator
with a smart regulator are available. Indigo also offers a crankcase
vent system that works on the Atomic 4 and the Palmer P-60 4-cylinder
gasoline engine. The electronic ignition, in particular, enjoys an excellent
reputation. Tom started his accessory business by designing an electronic
ignition for the Atomic 4 – which did not always start as easily as
he would have liked – in his own Tartan.

Old Lyme Marina and Moyer Marine both sell rebuilt engines. These are
high-quality engines that have been completely torn down and gone through.
All components in these engines are inspected, evaluated, and replaced
as necessary. They can be expected to give many years of reliable service.
They list in the same price range as a used diesel. For many sailors,
they may be the best option, because they truly “drop in,”
while any diesel conversion will probably be more complicated and involve
additional expenses.

Reliability and other aspects

The Atomic 4 has been criticized for not
having a center main bearing, and indeed no modern high-compression
engine is built today without a center main. In fact, some modern 4-cylinder
engines have five mains instead of two or three. The Atomic 4 is not
a high-compression engine however, and evidence suggests that it was
a well-designed engine. Very likely, the designers knew that the center
main would add several inches to the overall length of the engine and
chose not to make it longer if they could solve the problem another

Don has seen little evidence of broken cranks and recently sold off
a “basement full” because they were outlasting the blocks.
Alan says that cranks do break but the problem is really associated
with the condition of the exhaust systems of the boats. He says many
early exhausts were jacketed systems with a cooling jacket around the
exhaust pipe. If the exhaust pipe corroded enough to leak, water from
the jacket would enter the engine and get into the cylinders. If you
have this type of exhaust system on your boat, it would be advisable
to check it frequently for corrosion and, at the first suspicion of
trouble, replace it with a properly designed waterlift muffler.

Don points out that with any of the water-cooled exhaust systems, it
is important to close the cooling water seacock if the engine is going
to be cranked any period of time without starting. These situations
include the first start after launching in the spring, compression testing,
and any case of hard starting. The point is that the raw water pump
keeps pumping water into the exhaust system, and there is no combustion
exhaust to blow it back out again. In this situation, the exhaust system
can fill up and drain into the engine.

Naturally, as soon as the engine starts, the seacock must be opened
immediately to prevent the exhaust system for overheating.

At Old Lyme Marina, Alan says they sell all their remanufactured Atomic
4s with the Indigo electronic ignition upgrade, and he has never seen
one fail. As noted earlier, you can always wipe the points once in a
while, but if you like an engine that starts dependably, this upgrade
might be very attractive.

Alan also suggests that in boats where the fuel tank is higher than
the carburetor (the common arrangement), it is worthwhile to shut off
the fuel valve from the tank when the engine is not in use so if the
float gets stuck, the carburetor will not overflow.

Another potential problem mentioned on the Alberg 30 Web site was the
possible failure of the mechanical fuel pump diaphragm. If this part
fails, the engine will get fuel in the oil. An indication of this failure
is a strong gasoline smell on the dipstick. An electronic fuel pump
is available to eliminate this failure point.

The short of it is that the Atomic 4 is not a particularly unreliable
engine in its original form, and there are modern upgrades to make it

To put the issue of reliability in perspective, it should be understood
that few, if any, marine engines are as reliable and maintenance-free
as modern automobile engines. In the case of older marine engines this
statement is particularly true. Sailors should become familiar with
their engines and be prepared to spend time learning about and maintaining

Two other “aspects of use” are noise and availability of fuel.
Although newer diesel engines are quieter than they used to be, the
Atomic 4 is a very quiet and smooth engine. Depending on the replacement,
there may well be more noise and vibration with the diesel. We have
seen comments to this effect in some class newsletters. Also, because
the majority of pleasure boats are gasoline-powered motor boats, gasoline
is more readily available in some areas. Have you ever seen a public
fuel dock that had only diesel?

Good reasons to convert

Case study:

“Proper” care and “feeding” of your Atomic

When John Vigor learned that we were going to write an article about
the Atomic 4, he offered the following sea story:

He once raced on a 33-foot light displacement sloop named Diana
K from Africa to South America. She had a gasoline engine – not
an Atomic 4, but rather a British Ford. The engine was fueled by
gravity from a tank under the cockpit seat. John thinks that an
accessible fuel shut-off valve between the tank and the engine would
have been valuable.

On the return trip in the Roaring Forties, the boat ran into rough
weather that lasted for weeks. The vessel was shaken so severely
that gasoline from the tank forced its way past the float and into
the engine. By the time the crew realized there was a problem, half
the fuel was in the oil.

The crew removed the diluted oil, but did not have enough oil to
replace it. So as they entered port at Capetown, they made up the
difference with salad oil and margarine. They used the engine cautiously,
and did not damage it. (We are not recommending this brew, only
reporting that it worked once for a short time.)

We are not sure what happens if you shake the Atomic 4 violently
for weeks without starting it, but John’s suggestion of a shut-off
valve may be good insurance. Most boats have a fuel shut valve,
but they are not always accessible.

The Atomic 4 is a good engine, but in some
cases owners may want to consider the diesel alternative.

If you convert to a diesel, the range of your boat for a given amount
of tankage will be roughly double. If you sail offshore or in remote cruising
areas where fuel is not readily available, this can be an important consideration.

If your boat is fairly large and/or valuable, you may find the diesel
option more appealing. Larger boats can effectively use the power of a
four-cylinder diesel and may have more room for one in the engine space.
Trading from the Atomic 4 to a four-cylinder diesel will not be as much
of a comedown in smoothness. If your boat is quite valuable, you may not
find the cost of conversion to diesel to be such an unreasonable percentage
of the total investment. In some cases the diesel may even be an expectation
on the part of your boat’s next buyer.

If you are going on an extended cruise where fuel costs may become a significant
part of your budget and where you may expect to do an unusually large
amount of motoring, a more efficient engine has a better chance of paying
for itself. The inland waterways of the East and Gulf coasts are examples
of places where a sailboat engine will see many hours of use.

There are several manufacturers making diesel engines intended to replace
the Atomic 4. Westerbeke, which bought the line from the original manufacturer,
sells both three- and four-cylinder engines for this purpose, and Kubota
offers at least one 25-horsepower model that has been known to fit. These
engines may or may not be drop-in replacements. Dimensional details should
be checked very carefully. Remember that it is not necessary to match
the 30-horsepower output of the Atomic 4. It was installed in a lot of
boats that could not use anything like the full power it can develop.
Determine your actual horsepower requirement by calculation.

Most diesels have a reduction gear, while many Atomic 4s did not. That
means that a larger propeller may be required, and it may need to spin
in the opposite direction. That is not all bad, but the tip clearance
between the prop and the hull needs to be kept in mind. It is beyond the
scope of this article to give all the considerations of converting to
diesel; suffice to say that it is not always simple and straightforward.
There are several good books on the subject, and there are yards that
do repowering which can be valuable sources of information.

The bottom line

Even though the Atomic 4 went out of production
about 20 years ago, it is still being extensively used in older sailboats.
It is well supported by rebuilders and parts suppliers, and it is well
known among repair people. In many cases it is logical to repair it or
replace it with another one rather than converting your boat to diesel.

The Atomic 4 is a well-designed good old engine for our good old boats.

Refueling safety is key to living with gasoline

by Jerry Powlas

Stringent safety measures should be taken by any boat carrying gasoline.
If your dinghy runs on gasoline, as most do, you have a boat carrying
gasoline. A few ounces of gasoline will make all the trouble you need. Whether the other 20 or 30 gallons on board are diesel or gasoline won’t make too much difference.

Kristen Chambers, Senior Project Administrator at the BoatU.S. Boating
Safety Foundation provided Good Old Boat with statistics on fire-related
boating accidents reported to the United States Coast Guard. She also
provided excerpts from Seaworthy, a loss prevention newsletter that
goes to sailors insured by BoatU.S.

The information provided by the Coast Guard does not distinguish between
gasoline and diesel accidents, but for 1995 and 1996, 79 incidents of
fire were reported. Of these, 61 involved ignition of spilled fuel or
vapor, 15 were categorized as failure to vent, and three were categorized
as fuel system failure. It is likely that the cases classed as “ignition
of spilled fuel or vapor” were cases involving gasoline, since
it is very difficult to ignite diesel fuel in this way.

Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling offers a somewhat
elaborate procedure for refueling a boat. It may seem overly complicated,
but perhaps not when you consider that most accidents involving fire,
in the statistics noted previously, were caused while fueling or in
the first few minutes after fueling.

The basic idea behind refueling safety is to get all the liquid fuel
into the tank and to dissipate all the fuel vapors before making any
sparks or fire. Condensed somewhat, the Chapman version makes these

Before you fuel

  1. Before you fuel, inspect the fuel system, particularly the fuel fill and piping. A lot of trouble is caused by broken deck fittings or associated
    piping and hose. Look also at the place where the fuel fill hose and
    vent hose connect to the fuel tank. These locations are often below
    the fuel level after refueling.
  2. Shut down anything that can make a spark or flame, and close up your
    boat. Fuel vapors are heavy and will “spill into low spots.”
    Remember that when you take on 20 gallons of fuel, you will displace
    and emit roughly 20 gallons of fuel vapor.

When you fuel

  1. Make sure you put the fuel into the fuel fill. If you don’t do the
    filling yourself, watch to see that this is done. People have been known to accidentally put fuel into fresh water and holding tanks. Other holes
    that you would never consider – such as fishing rod holders and fresh
    air vents – have also been the erroneous receptacles for gallons of
    fuel. Don’t delegate this task.
  2. To avoid static charge buildup, make sure the nozzle is in metal-to-metal
    contact with the fuel fill. Don’t use plastic funnels. Take portable
    containers off the boat to fill them. Remember, too, that the fuel is
    probably coming out of a ground tank and is colder than it will be later;
    leave room for expansion in all tanks and containers.

After you fuel

  1. Stow portable tanks so they cannot be upset, no matter how violent
    the motion of your boat gets.
  2. Ventilate your boat using your bilge blower. Ventilate until all
    the fumes are out, generally at least four minutes. Since heavy vapors
    will “pour into” low spaces, use your nose to sniff for fumes
    in the lowest spaces on the boat.
  3. Do not start up and leave the fuel dock until you are sure you have
    no problem vapors and all the fuel went into the tank(s).

If there is a spill

Open the battery switch. It’s a good idea to open it anyway during fueling
so fewer circuits are live and capable of causing sparks. Don’t turn
on the bilge blower in this case. It could make a spark or add enough
air to fuel vapors to make them explosive. Get the crew off the boat,
and don’t make any sparks or flames while cleaning up.

Finally, consider the spaces where you store all your fuels. Spaces
that store fuels should ideally be vented overboard at the bottom of
the space, in much the same way that propane is stored.

This next part is controversial. It represents Good Old Boat magazine’s
opinion. We had no problem finding disagreement with our opinion; we
offer it here anyway.

We suspect that the design of many boats did not anticipate the need
to store portable gasoline tanks. This may be particularly true of some
boats with diesel engines since we are told that diesel-powered boats
are not required to have ignition-proof components in the engine space. In our own observation, we see that the majority of boats have gasoline-powered dinghies, and we almost never see gasoline tanks lashed down on deck.
One industry authority told us (when reviewing this article) that the
improper stowage of portable gasoline tanks aboard sailboats is not
a problem, but we know that many good old boats really have no safe
place below decks to store portable tanks.



Hooking … for a good night’s sleep

By Jerry Powlas

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1999.

The wind had shifted overnight. A sea was starting to run into the
anchorage from the exposed direction, so we decided to leave. We
finished the breakfast dishes and pulled in the “off-duty hook.”
Karen motored up to the windward hook. I snubbed the rode as she went
over it. It broke out; I pulled it in and stowed both anchors and rodes. I was still humming cheerfully to myself when I closed the
starboard cockpit locker over the storm anchor and sat down to finish
my tea.

A lot had changed since we started hooking with “little”
Mystic. In the beginning I didn’t hum much, and my tea would have
gotten cold before I got the anchors stowed.

It took me a while to get interested in anchoring. The first
serious anchors in my life weighed 22 tons. A single link of the
all-chain rode was more than a strapping young sailor could lift. I
honestly never doubted that such gear would “take the ground” and
hold a 22,000-ton cruiser securely.

I still was not worrying much about anchors years later when
I raced my Flying Scot. Class rules said we had to carry an anchor,
so I did – the smallest one I could get away with. There was no
mention of chain in the rules, so I didn’t carry chain. It would have
added weight, and I never once considered the possibility that I
would actually anchor that little daysailer anyway. She was drysailed
from her lift and only on race days.

Then we bought Mystic, maybe 10,000 pounds in cruising trim.
Suddenly I had a serious interest in anchoring. We had enough
anchoring adventures during the first season to learn the questions.
It took several more seasons of experimenting to learn some of the

Things change

Anchoring by equilateral triangle

In among islands and against the shore where most anchoring is done,
the wind direction may vary during the course of an evening. By
sundown, when we most often anchor, the breeze is frequently off the
land – not necessarily the prevailing wind direction of a few hours
earlier nor the direction of the predicted shift. Anchors are
normally set to the existing wind at the moment of anchoring. It’s
the easiest thing to do. At least the boat will tend properly to her
anchor for a while, but often the wind will be from another direction
by morning.

If there is a tidal current involved, the odds are it will
have changed direction by morning. Some sailors rely on their anchor
to reset itself when it is pulled out of the bottom and dragged in a
new direction. Most of the time an anchor will do that, but not
always. Slash, debris, rocks, weeds, and even heavy clay and mud can
prevent an anchor from resetting. We figure our odds of a reset are
about as good as our odds of getting a set in the first place: good,
but not good enough.

Laying anchors on the bottom

In those early days, we were never blown ashore nor out to
sea because of an anchor that failed to reset. We learned that cold
fronts and thunderstorms always have a wind shift associated with
them. We had our anchor drag because of these shifts, but we were
always awake and able to respond quickly. We reasoned that Neptune
was trying to tell us something, and if we didn’t heed the message
delivered in daylight, we were sure to get one in the wee small
hours. We started experimenting with alternatives, looking for a
better way.

Use two anchors, mon

The anchoring method that follows is a variation of Bahamian mooring,
which may be defined simply as using two anchors off the bow. The
beauty of this method is that as the boat swings with wind and tide,
she hangs from one anchor, then both, and then finally the other
anchor in tending through a 180-degree swing. Any wind direction can
be accommodated. As with so many aspects of sailing, it is the
details that determine the success or failure of this method.

The simple case

Most of the time it is this simple: Drop the first anchor, fall back
downwind about seven times the depth, and set it. Drop the second
anchor off the stern. Pull in about half of the first rode and set
the second anchor by hand pulling from the bow. Put equal lengths of
rode out for both anchors. Use a rode length roughly equal to the
distance between the two anchors in the bottom.

We normally anchor in 14 to 16 feet, and let out 100 feet of
rode for each anchor. That gives us roughly a 7:1 scope, which works
well for the kind of anchors we use. We want our anchors about 100
feet apart on the bottom. By dropping off the stern and setting from
the bow, we give the second anchor some distance to set and some
added scope. After the first anchor sets and the engine stops pulling
astern, the boat will spring forward on the elasticity of the rode.
To get it to the bottom before the boat moves forward, drop the
second anchor just as the prop stops. Then, to keep the rodes out of
the prop, it is better to pull the boat forward without the engine.
If the engine must be used to move forward, control both lines to
keep them out of the prop. Note: both anchors are deployed without
using the dinghy. Nothing in this method requires rowing an anchor
out to deploy it.

When simple’s not enough

Anchoring patterns

In more challenging situations, it is good to understand how your
boat can move when Bahamian moored; it is also important to
understand the direction and magnitude of the loads on the anchor

You can see in the illustration that in a single anchor
mooring the boat is free to move within a circle with a radius
roughly equal to the length of rode that is out (ignoring scope and
three-dimensional considerations for simplicity).

With a single anchor, it is necessary to make sure that, if
your boat swings toward shore, you will have enough depth. This
requires anchoring farther off to allow for the swing. Even so, there
is always some guesswork in making this allowance, and sometimes it
would be nice to go closer to shore.

Closer to the shore

Note in the illustration that with a Bahamian moor, the boat is only
free to move within the common zone of the intersection of the two
circles. With this arrangement, when you drop the first anchor up
against the windward shore, you are as close to shore as you are
going to get. The anchor to leeward will not allow you to get any
closer. Knowing this allows you the option of going in closer to
shore when there is an advantage to doing so. Considering the example
above of anchoring in 14 to 16 feet of water and letting out 100 feet
of rode, if you choose, you could anchor in 7 feet of water and let
out 50 feet of rode (vessel draft and tide permitting).

Anchoring in closer quarters

Because she is constrained within the common zone of the intersection
of the two circles, your boat will not swing over as much area, so
you can anchor in closer quarters. Using the example above, instead
of the area within a 200-foot diameter circle, your boat will be
restricted to a bloated diamond shape that is 100 feet across the
short dimension and 173 feet across the long dimension. This is
substantially less than half the area of the alternative circle. By
knowing that the longest dimension of the diamond is perpendicular to
the two anchors, you can lay them to best advantage in close quarters.

Restrict your swing more

Boat swings when anchored

There are two more ways you can reduce the area of your swing.
Remember you have the option of going in closer with a Bahamian moor.
If you were to anchor in 7 feet and let out 50 feet of rode, you
would swing inside of a diamond only 50 by 87 feet. Have a care for
the tide and the regularity of the bottom, if you cut it that close.

You can also anchor, as in the first example, initially
letting out 100 feet of rode so the anchors are about 100 feet apart
in the bottom, and then you can shorten both rodes to something less
than 100 feet. (See illustration.) This works well enough but has
drawbacks. If you shorten both rodes to 75 feet, you will only have
5:1 scope. If you shorten the rodes to 58 feet you will be at 4:1.
Depending on the kind of anchors you have, this may or may not be
beyond their limit. In our experience with our Fortress and Viking
(both aluminum fluke-style) anchors, 7:1 is conservative, 5:1 is
workable, and 4:1 might not be such a good idea. Always go with “conservative” when you can. There are some obvious variations of this
method that are not recommended. One obvious way to restrict the
swing of your boat is to put in two anchors widely spaced and then
pull in all the slack so the boat is fastened to a straight line made
up of the two rodes. Don’t do that. There will be no problem as long
as the boat is pulling along the line between the two anchors,
directly on one anchor or the other. However, if the boat were to
pull in a direction perpendicular to the line between the two
anchors, it would have infinite mechanical advantage until the lines
stretched, the anchors dragged, or something broke.

To give you a sense of how this works, look at the
illustration. With the anchors 100 feet apart, 100 feet of rode let
out to each anchor, and the boat pulling perpendicular to the axis
through the anchors, there is an equilateral triangle formed. Each
leg is 100 feet. With the boat pulling 1,000 pounds force on the
combined system, the pull on each anchor rode is 577 pounds, or
slightly more than half. If you haul in enough of each rode to make
the angle between the two rodes go from 60 degrees – as in the first
case – to 120 degrees, the pull on each rode will be 1,000 pounds
when the boat is pulling 1,000 pounds on the combined system. This
may seem like cheating, but it gets worse. If you could make the
angle between rodes 150 degrees, the pull on each rode will be 1,932
pounds. And as we said, if you could pull all the rode in to make the
angle between the rodes 180 degrees, the pull on each rode would be
infinite. That won’t last long in reality, because something will
give, and the angle will increase. We recommend that you use the
equilateral triangle layout where possible and always limit the angle
between rodes to less than 120 degrees. Within these limits, the pull
on any rode is never larger than the total pull from the boat.

Anchors set 100 feet apart

Another variation we do not recommend is to let out more rode
than the distance between the anchors, for example, letting out 200
feet of rode when the anchors are set 100 feet apart. This will
increase your scope, but it will also allow the rode from the
“loaded” anchor to lay over, and possibly foul, the unloaded anchor.
By limiting the individual rode lengths to the distance between the
anchors, the rodes never quite lay over and foul the anchors. Even
with the equilateral triangle arrangement we prefer, a strong bottom
current might be able to wash an anchor’s own rode over it and so
foul it. In areas with very strong currents, pulling in some rode
might be helpful to prevent this.

A few small details

We usually anchor in the lee of the land. We put in our smaller
anchor first. The larger anchor is set to seaward. It has more chain
with it, and is more likely to set when pulled by hand. A blow from
the direction of shore puts less of a load on the anchors because the
shore blunts the effect of the wind, and there are no waves. Our
smaller anchor handles that direction. A blow from seaward puts more
load on the system, having more wind and waves, so our larger (storm)
anchor is set in that direction. Set the bigger anchor against the
bigger load.

If the bottom has a very steep slope, you may be confronted
with setting the second anchor in fairly deep water, perhaps 25 feet.
If that happens, don’t worry so much about the anchor scope, which
would theoretically be 4:1. The sloping bottom will work in favor of
the situation, making the effective pull on the anchor quite parallel
to the bottom, which is all that a long scope accomplishes.

Ways to rig the anchors

Ways to rig the anchor, version 1

We have not tried this technique with a wide range of anchor types
and rodes. We use a Viking and a Fortress, both aluminum fluke
anchors similar to a Danforth in shape. The smaller Viking is on six
feet of chain, and the Fortress FX 16 (sized to be a storm anchor) is
on 15 feet of chain. We have not tried to do any of this with an
all-chain rode, but we can’t think of why it would not work.

We first tried using a 200-foot line with thimbles at both
ends, tying it off in the middle at the boat. That works fairly well,
but translates into a lot of line to move, pile, and stow. We have
found a much handier alternative. Omega Pacific makes a hardened
steel carabiner that has the proper working strength for our
anchoring system. We use 1/2-inch nylon double braid and 5/16-inch
proof coil chain. We use carabiners to connect the anchors to the
chains and the chains to the rodes. We use two 100-foot rodes with
thimbles at each end and a third line (which need not be very long
for anchoring) to connect the two rodes to each other and to cleat
off on deck.

Ways to rig an anchor, version 2

This rigging allows the boat to swing on the anchors without
the rodes twisting up. (See photo.) What little twist there is, we
can untwist when we bring the junction of the three lines aboard. We
originally got these carabiners to use with our sea anchor. We didn’t
want to spend too much time on the foredeck with shackles,
marlinespikes, safety wire, and wire cutters while the boat was
pitching in a large sea. We thought it better to have rigging that
could be worked with one hand. We rig our sea anchor to the anchor
rodes and can let out 600 feet of line because the “short line”
described earlier is really a tied-off 400-footer, with the remaining
380 feet of it packed in a cotton laundry bag stored below. The
carabiners are the key to making up this rig in a hurry in heavy
weather conditions. They also allow the two anchors to be rigged and
put over or retrieved and stowed more easily. All parts of the system
can be broken down quickly without tools because of the carabiners.

The corrosion resistance of the carabiners is an issue. They
are certainly fine for use in fresh water. We have used them on Lake
Superior without a problem for several years. Salt water is another
matter. We have learned that these fittings are used for towing
underwater research equipment in saltwater service but are not used,
to our knowledge, for ocean anchoring.

We contacted the manufacturer, Omega Pacific, and asked them
if they had any plans to make a more corrosion-resistant carabiner
for marine saltwater service. Bill Griggers, marketing manager,
explained that the existing carabiners are made from hardened steel
with a high-quality zinc chromate/gold plating. They have stainless
steel rivets and springs and are considered adequate for freshwater
service. He noted that Omega Pacific is developing a line of
all-stainless steel carabiners for marine use. We asked Bill to tell
us when this product is on the market. There are galvanized anchor
shackles available that are strong enough, and less costly, but they
are not as handy.

There you have it. Two hooks put in properly will contribute
more to a good night’s sleep than a hot cocoa, a roomy bunk, and a
thick mattress. Happy hooking.

Five Year Plan

Budget Boating

By Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 5, Number 4, July/August 2002.

Here’s the five-year plan that rescued a $1,200 boat

A boat in the barn

Not so long ago I did not have a cruising boat, but I wanted one badly.
My wife understood and said, “Take the $2,500 we’ve put away, and
buy a boat.” You may not believe that $2,500 will buy a cruising
boat, but it did. I got a great boat plus money.

How is this possible?
I began with a search for all of the cheap boats in the newspapers
and looked at every one. It was discouraging. I contacted a local
yacht broker, who said, “What do you want for $2,500? I told him
I wanted a Pearson Ariel. He said he might have one for sale and
to call him the next day. When I called, he offered to show me the
boat. He said it had been raced hard and was not in good shape, but “What
do you expect for $2,500?”

When I saw the
boat it had a frozen Atomic 4 engine, loads of sails, deteriorated
deck and maststep, and what felt like a shark-bitten rudder, but
it was an Ariel, and it was floating. I bought it for $1,200 “as
is, where is.”

But I had to move
it within 48 hours to clear the slip. I removed the plugs, filled
the cylinders with Marvel Mystery Oil and waited 24 hours. I then
bought a new battery and returned to the boat with a mechanic. He
was not very optimistic but was willing to try to start the engine.
When we spun it over without plugs in the cylinder, it sprayed Mystery
Oil all over the engine room, but it was freely rotating.

A new electric
fuel pump, a little carburetor cleaning, and the engine came to life.
I backed out of the slip and motored home towing a dink with a dependable
outboard “just in case.” It was never needed. Once we were home I
developed a five-year plan for the boat resurrection. Notice I did
not say restoration. That is too ambitious. It was a resurrection.

Surprise profit

First, to raise money for the boat, I sold most of the sails through
a used-sail broker. I received $1,500 for them, which surprised me.
Now I had a profit of $300 on the purchase price. Of course I promptly
spent that, plus $500, on a bottom job. I dropped the rudder by digging
a hole in the yard and took it home for epoxy repair.

The five-year
plan starts with finding the boat. Vessels like this are usually
shunted to the back of the yard and neglected. You have to find the
owner and make a deal with him and also with the yard owner to obtain
free and clear title to the vessel. This will not be easy. The boat
owner will see a way to make some money and rid himself of a liability,
and the yard owner will want payment as he has been “storing the
yacht” for a long period of time. Your job will be to make a deal
with the yard man to move the boat once you have title free and clear
of any and all boatyard liens. Next you’ve got to convince the owner
to give you title to the vessel for something like $1,500. This can
be done, but it requires great diplomacy.

There is no question
of making an offer subject to survey. In a case like this, you have
to be your own surveyor. The owner of the boatyard will probably
not, for safety and liability reasons, let anyone board the boat,
so you will have to survey her with your eyes and fingertips.

One potential
problem is ice. If the boat has lived through winter weather on the
hard, water will have gotten inside. There must be an open hull drain
or through-hull to let the water out, but some probably remained
and froze. Make sure it did not split the hull somewhere. Through
careful observation of the outside of the hull, including the bottom
of the keel, you should be able to tell if there is a problem or
not. If it froze and split the hull, the boat will not sail again
without a lot of help. This should affect your future plans for the
boat and the amount you are willing to pay for her. Enough said.

First year

Many people start out these resurrections with lots of enthusiasm and
little money. They decide to “do it right,” and try to make the boat “like
new.” After a time, money runs out, the enthusiasm wanes, and the
boat is once again a derelict. With good planning and a little patience
this does not have to happen. What is needed is a five-year plan
with definite, practical goals for each year.

It doesn’t take
long to make most boats weathertight and to get them floating. Pretty
and glossy no, but usable yes. The object is to have a useable boat
to enjoy, not one sitting in a yard to be worked on ad infinitum.
The boat may only need a coat of bottom paint, a good cleaning, and
a motor to be able to be used as a power launch. The professional
mechanic and a battery for my motor cost $300. Old but good, these
Atomic 4s. In the first year I had a boat good for picnics, beach
runs, and quiet times on the water. Get the boat back in the water
and enjoy it. Don’t try to accomplish too much at the expense of
no fun for the first year.

One of the first
things you must do is be sure the boat is watertight and safe to
operate while it is still out of the water, assuming you bought her
in the yard. All below-the-waterline valves should be operated, greased,
and tested. One way to test the valves “in the yard and on the hard” is
to disconnect the old hoses attached to the inside of each through-hull

Attach a 54-inch-long
hose (one foot longer than her potential draft in cruising trim)
on the inside of the valve. Suspend the open end of the hose vertically
and tie it off so it stays put. Fill the hose with water and go around
to the outside of the hull and observe the through-hull. If water
is seeping out, the valve leaks and needs to be adjusted or replaced.
If there are no leaks, go back inside and slowly open the valve.
The water should run out. Close the valve, dry the outside of the
through-hull, and try again. If it is still dry on the outside, chances
are the valve is good. Move on to the next one. Once you have checked
all of the seacocks, replace the old hoses with new ones, and you
should be ready to go. Since my boat was purchased in the water,
I left all of the above until I hauled her out in the yard.

Good cleaning

Once the valves have been checked or replaced, it’s time to move inside.
First in importance is a good cleaning, followed by removal of all
old, non-working, or broken items. This includes the old direct discharge
head and all of its hoses and fittings. It is no longer legal anyway,
and you really do not want to pollute. The valves should have been
tested previously, so all you need to do is close and cap them off
on the inside. I have found that PVC pipe caps from the local hardware
store plus some Teflon tape works well. Replace the head with a Porta
Potti or similar. Even if only temporary, this will work fine for
limited use.

The other thing
to check is the rudder tube and the top bearing. Check the bottom
bearing for excess movement and play. If necessary, drop the rudder
heel shoe and insert a bushing to take up the space and restore the
smooth movement of the rudder. If there is no top bearing, consider
adding an Edson rudder stuffing box to the top of the glassed-in
rudder tube. It is well worth the little effort and moderate cost
involved. I installed mine in one easy day of work.

Before you start
to use the boat, you need to register it and get good life jackets,
anchor and rode, and other U.S. Coast Guard-required equipment. All
except the registration can be purchased inexpensively at a marine
discount store. A Danforth-type anchor has worked for me and is not
overly expensive. The idea is to get the boat in use again, not to
make it perfect. In most states, the department of licensing oversees
the titling and registration process. You can register at your local
county auditor’s office or at subagency branches of the Department
of Motor Vehicles.

The cabin trunk
windows may leak, and you will probably have to redo the entire interior,
but for this year the boat is ready to provide on-the-water enjoyment
as a power boat. Your family will really enjoy the boat and think
you’re wonderful for finding this great boat.

Second year

What you do and when you do it needs to be determined by you and your
pocketbook, but for year two and beyond a practical plan would be
to check all of her blocks and deck fittings. Check the deck hardware,
cleats, chocks, blocks, and the rest. Check the maststep and chainplates.
Verify that the standing rigging is good, grease the turnbuckles,
and check out the mast, particularly the mast base. I had to support
the mast (it was stepped) with a jack and a 4 x 4 just to keep it
upright so I could power the boat home.

Older boats usually
have oversized (by today’s standards) bronze turnbuckles and through-bolted
chainplates. The chainplates need to be unbolted and pulled for inspection,
but they are probably fine if they’re bronze. If they’re stainless
steel, give them a really good inspection. Use new bolts to reset
them and caulk under the chainplate covers with a removable caulking.

The masts and booms
of this era are oversized by today’s standards, too, and probably
need only to be cleaned. Be sure to clean and lubricate the sail
track before you step the mast. A product called Fast Track works
well. I almost replaced my old mast track with one of the newer slide-in
tracks before I tried Fast Track. I learned to grease the luff groove
twice a year, and the main went up and down easily. Remove the spreaders,
inspect each end and replace if necessary.
Rebolt them if that is the way they were attached. The cast-aluminum
spreader bases are not of the same high quality as the mast, and they
may crack over time. Try cleaning them up really well to be sure they
don’t have a crack in them. There is a product on the market called Dye
Check. You can find it in welding supply houses. This is good for checking
spreader bases, swage fittings on standing rigging, and the stemhead

Lots of sails

It will not be a problem to find good used sails for her if you need
them. Used-sail brokers and your local loft will have lots of listings.
Allow about $900 for a good used main and jib. This is for a 26-foot,
sloop-rigged boat. Even if it exists, the old running rigging will
be useless. Plan on about $250 for new halyards and running rigging.
For the Ariel, we chose 3Ú8-inch low-stretch Dacron for all
uses. Anything smaller, while strong enough, is too small for my
hands. The mainsheet and jibsheet can be similarly sized.

Our Ariel had
winches, which only need to be cleaned and greased, but the operations
that sell used sails generally sell used winches also. Size l0 self-tailing
would be nice, but you can use size l0 non-self-tailing if the budget
demands it. You don’t even need winches if you are willing to luff
up into the wind, set the sheets, cleat them, and then fall off.
You can live that way for a while in order to use limited resources
for other priorities.

Since I am taking
the liberty of listing my priorities, the rest of them would go something
like this:

Happily sailing your new boat

the ability to power away with a clean boat.

the ability to sail.

By the third
add the ability to picnic aboard, which calls for an ice
chest and a Porta Potti.

In the fourth
, start the rebuild. Begin with the interior, first the
V-berths (easy) and work aft to the galley (hard due to the drawers).
Next, the main deck (new grabrails, lifelines, anchor roller, varnished
tiller, rubrails, and so on). The Ariel had an original teak tiller
that might have cleaned up enough to be varnished, but it was easier
to replace it with one from a marine discounter. Finally, replace
the old Plexiglas in the portlights if it’s crazed or frosted.

In the fifth
you’re ready to outfit for cruising (sun awning, lights,
water tank, sun shower, and so on).

By the time you
are at year five of a five-year plan you should have had a lot of
fun already. We used the boat every year and did not notice that
we were lacking for anything. I accepted the boat’s limitations and
worked to improve her slowly as money and time allowed. What was
important was the fun we had, the peace of a quiet sail, and the
thrill of a brisk reach.

When five years
had come and gone, the Ariel was once again a boat to be proud of.
More than anything I was proud of myself for finding a derelict and
recreating the swan hidden under the dirt all these years. There
is no better satisfaction than saving a wonderful sailboat to sail
another day, month, and year. It is worth doing, and the boat will
return the favor with safety, peace, and tranquility.

You can afford
a small cruising boat on a small budget and have a lot of fun and
satisfaction in the bargain. Good hunting!

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