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Sailboat Safety

. . . we thank God with our whole hearts!

Our last night on the water before returning home yesterday was in the location where we have consistently had difficulty getting an anchor to set.  The bottom is so soft, and the soft muck so deep, that it’s like trying to set an anchor in Kleenex.

Up Mill Creek in Solomons Island there are many beautiful anchorages surrounded by lovely homes and gorgeous boats. The entire waterway is a sight-seer’s paradise, but we always have anxieties when we anchor anywhere in this long, winding creek or any of its branches. Let me just say now, that we we’ve never dragged. No, that hasn’t been the problem. Our problem is always getting a “feel-good” about the anchor set. We’ve tried as many as four times for one set, then been nervous all night that we would drag. In the past, we’ve never had weather that truly tested the set. Monday night was a different story.

Red arrow marks our anchorage.

Red arrow marks our anchorage.

I deployed the primary anchor, and we took the set very gradually.  We probably took ten minutes to deploy and back down on it, gradually increasing the engine rpm to 2500 in reverse. We deployed the second anchor 90 degrees to starboard of the first, paying out lots of scope for both, allowing the second anchor to hang by itself, gradually backing down on it up to 2500 rpm as well. Then I balanced the length of the rodes so that each would pull evenly.

What happens after deploying two hooks is that the boat oscillates, swinging from one rode to the other. There is still a doubled safety factor, as it is much more likely that one hook will hold if the other drags, each one acting as backup for the other.  However, I do not get the effect of two evenly holding hooks because with my current gear, I cannot shackle the rodes together and pull from both concurrently. I am going to look into this, though, as it seems to me that pulling on both anchors with the same force would offer more security at anchor.

However, Monday night I was confident with the set of both anchors. . .  until midnight when a series of lines squalls blew through the area. In minutes, the wind had gusted to at least 40 mph and was exerting much, much more force on the ground tackle. I went on deck and secured the bimini, tied off a couple of halyards that were slapping, then watched the motion of the boat and carefully noted our location in the anchorage, visually measuring against fixed points on land. All seemed secured. Throughout the storm I rose and checked our position, and was assured each time that we were holding our own. Finally the squall abated, and I went soundly to sleep, rising about 0700. In the morning light, I noted that our position was perhaps 30 feet down-wind of where we had anchored, so we did indeed pull through the anchor set, but not by much. Both anchors were still holding, though the lines were nearly parallel now – separated by perhaps 20 degrees instead of 90. Had the storm lasted all night, we might have been in trouble, eventually dragging down onto a bulkhead, pier, or undeveloped part of the shore. But we were okay. It’s worth noting that the strong winds died off after a couple of hours, but the breeze never failed completely: we still had 8-10 mph in the morning, and the hooks were holding fine.

For our ground tackle I have two 13 lb Danforth anchors with 20-foot chain leaders and 100-foot half-inch line. My second anchor stows in the cockpit locker, and it’s rode stows beside it in a canvas bag. The primary anchor stows on an anchor platform with the rode stowed in the chain locker below. It is possible that 10 – 30 more feet of chain (total of 50 feet) would improve holding on the primary rode, and I’ve given that a fair amount of thought. This is impractical with the secondary anchor due to the stowage and transport from stern to bow. It’s awkward enough with only 20 feet of chain due to its weight. 50 feet of chain would be unmanageable unless I reconfigured the stowage to launch from the stern. This would involve creating another chain locker in the transom, installing another hawse-pipe and thinking through a launch-and-retrieval system for the hook. It is also probable that a different kind of anchor would be more effective than the Danforth, although these anchors are often praised for their ability to hold in soft mud.

Finally, I need to develop a means to shackle both rodes together at a single point, then attach a snubber to that point and lead it to the bow cleat through port and starboard chocks. The challenge is to develop a system that is quickly deployable, quickly retrievable, and completely secure.  Sounds like a study in knot tying is in the future for me.

Please feel free to comment on any ideas you have about deploying two anchors on three-strand rode, shackling together, and leading a snubber to the bow.

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I finally had time and inclination to address my furler and headstay.  Good news: I was able to disassemble the entire mechanism.  I was also finally able to expose the entire lower headstay fitting. My method was a bit unconventional, but much more effective than trying to disassemble the last piece of headstay foil – a task I’ve found completely impossible in the past. The problem with the foil is that it’s at least 20 years old, fastened together with SS screws into the aluminum extrusion, and regularly bathed in saltwater.  The SS and aluminum have become “uni-metal” – so corroded and frozen together the only possible remedy would be to drill out the screws. This is a perilous procedure with the thin aluminum extrusion. So having a good 18 inches of room to slide the stay and fitting up the extrusion before being stopped by the extrusion linking piece, I simply cut off 3 inches of extrusion.  This exposed the entire fitting and 2 inches of wire.

Here you can see the link at the left side of the frame.  The stud fitting on the end of the wire won't slide past this link, and thus won't slide out of the extrusion.

Here you can see the link at the left side of the frame. The stud fitting on the end of the wire won’t slide past this link, and thus won’t slide out of the extrusion.

Here's the end of the extrusion (just to the right of where the other photo ends.  You can see the 3 inches of extrusion I cut off - in 2 different little sections.

Here’s the end of the extrusion (just to the right of where the other photo ends. You can see the 3 inches of extrusion I cut off – in 2 different little sections.

As you can see in the photos, I can now cut off the eye fitting at the top of the stay and use the wire as a messenger for the new rigging wire.  I now have room below the extrusion to install a Sta Lock fitting.  Once the wire is led through the extrusion and fittings installed, I’ll be able to reassemble the furler, and it will be ready to reattach to the mast and stem. I’ll build the stay, reassemble the furler, and stow the assembly on deck for transport across the creek when I haul out in December, then reattach when the rig is down for other work and inspection.  The upshot is, I’ll be able to retain the furler without converting back to hanked on sails, though having sails that hank on is still attractive to me. . .

For anyone’s curiosity, and my own documentation of the furler assembly, here are photos of it in various states of being taken apart.

All together here.

All together here.

. . . in this order. . .

. . . in this order. . .

Here's the eye swage at the top.  Will be replaced with a mechanical fitting.

Here’s the eye swage at the top. Will be replaced with a mechanical fitting.

Stored along our fence while awaiting parts to rebuild.

Stored along our fence while awaiting parts to rebuild.

An interesting discovery regarding clevis pin sizes and eye-fitting dimension: pin size at the stem is 5/8″ for the furler, but the old original stay was 1/2″.  And of course, the stem fitting accepted 5/8″ too – that’s a heavy cast aluminum part.  Why the change?  More curiously, the masthead pin was 1/2″ for the furler, but 5/8″ on the old stay. . .  Huh?  Did someone in the rigging shop get confused?

Here’s a bit more serious question:  Should both fitting eyes be 5/8″ since both masthead and stem are sized for that? I’ve read that pin and hole diameter should match.  I’ll have to do some more research before I order and size replacement parts.  I do know this: the furler as installed lasted 20-plus years with the pins sized as noted.

And finally, as far as I can see, the current headstay and fittings are in perfect shape. It’s the stuff you can’t see that’s the most worrisome: work-hardening, internal corrosion, broken filaments inside the extrusion.

 

The deed is done, but not without surprises.  Good news – I’m alive and unhurt, and didn’t have a panic attack.  Here’s how the trip shaped up:

Strapping into the chair, loading the pockets (didn’t need the canvas bags after all). was just a bit of organizing, mostly done already because of the work I’d done yesterday.

Strapping in.  I didn't use the safety harness either, though I wore it.

Strapping in. I didn’t use the safety harness either, though I wore it.

I tied a bowline into the bosun's chair rings, then attached the shackle to the rings too.  This was a secure arrangement that had no chance of slipping or failure.

I tied a bowline into the bosun’s chair rings, then attached the shackle to the rings too. This was a secure arrangement that had no chance of slipping or failure.

Ended up feeling completely secure in the chair, so I didn’t tie a halyard onto my harness.  On deck, I briefed the process and work list with my crew (Ruth, and my friend Frank from down the pier).  Then stepped into the line ascender. . .  and went no place.  Turns out the jaws were one size too large (though I had tested it before – tension causes the line to stretch and thin) to grip the line effectively. I’ll have to install a new cam cleat on it that works with smaller line.  Instead, I ascended the old-fashioned way, with Frank on the winch, and me scooting up with hands and legs as he cranked.

At the spreaders getting ready to work.

At the spreaders getting ready to work.

Arriving at spreader-height, I seized the shrouds to the spreaders with wire.  I was getting ready to simply tape the boots in place, when Frank suggested I take a precaution against UV damaging the tape and releasing the boots.  He recommended  lashing them on with waxed twine, then taping. That’s what I did, but needed a supply run via the flag halyard for twine and bee’s wax.

Bee's wax and twine arrived via flag halyard.

Bee’s wax and twine arrived via flag halyard.

After slotting the port shroud, I found it difficult to set the starboard side with arm power alone.  Legs are stronger than arms, and longer too.  Worked just fine.

Prehensile feet.

Prehensile feet.

Shroud seized to spreader with ss wire.

Shroud seized to spreader with ss wire.

Boot lashed with waxed twine.

Boot lashed with waxed twine.

Taped in place.  I dont' tape the bottom of the boot - this allows rain water to drain and air to circulate.

Taped in place. I don’t tape the bottom of the boot – this allows rain water to drain and air to circulate.

Done with spreaders and shrouds, I moved up one foot, and installed a bulb in the deck lamp.  Ruth tested the circuit and we determined that worked.  It’s missing a lens, knocked off by a random halyard slap at one point, so I put a piece of rigging tape across the lamp, hoping that would make it more difficult to knock out in the future.  It really needs a wire cage, or guard to protect it.

After a short break, it was on to the masthead.  Here I installed new blocks and halyards, un-installed an old block I didn’t trust and the halyard that ran through it.  I disconnected the top end of the old headstay with luff extrusion attached.  I knotted the old halyard through the eye, and let it down on deck, where Ruth and Frank caught it.  What I discovered regarding fitting sizes is the topic of another post.  Very interesting, to say the least.  I have questions that need researching, because while there appeared to nothing inherently unsafe about the hardware, I didn’t expect it to be (mis)sized the way it was.  Perhaps my expectations are wrong, here.

Removing the old headstay.

Removing the old headstay.

All work at the masthead was finished, excepting for inspecting the fittings.  I carefully inspected everything, and discovered a cracked tang on the starboard cap shroud.  Since port and starboard tangs are attached with the same bolt (through the mast), it is not possible to safely replace the fitting with the mast upright.  The rig has got to come down this winter.

Installing new blocks and spin halyards.  The tang just left of the line and my hand is the one that's cracked.  Right at the bolt hole is a hairline crack that bisects the hole.

Installing new blocks and spin halyards. The tang just left of the line and my hand is the one that’s cracked. Right at the bolt hole is a hairline crack that bisects the hole.

Ultimately, it appears that all of this could have been done with the rig on the ground, but I didn’t know that.  Anyway, there was very little expense besides time, that was wasted.  Just an 1.5 hours in the bosun’s chair installing gear that had to be replaced anyway. I also now have the advantage of working on the furler at my house instead of the boat yard. I have not had the rig down in 4.5 years, and it turns out that was one year too long.  Should have had it down last winter and thoroughly gone over it all, especially considering that I’ve had a couple of little rigging problems this year.  I think a thorough going over could have averted those alarming situations.  Fortunately there was no damage due to failure.  And here’s the lesson: I just have to spend the money to pull the rig every fourth year. This is the safe and common-sense way to proceed.

 

Tomorrow is the day, at least for Part I.  I spent an hour today figuring out exactly what I’m going to do up there, organizing supplies, tools, and procedures.

Supplies

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Seizing wire, spreader boots, rigging tape, ring and split pins, deck and steaming bulb, 2 halyards, 2 new blocks.

New 70' halyards.  Had to measure 4 times before I started getting the same length of line consistently.  Then cut entire length (140') in half.

New 70′ halyards. Had to measure 4 times before I started getting the same length of line consistently. Then cut entire length (140′) in half.

Tools

Essential tools.  Piece of material under the pocket knife is emery cloth for polishing 12vdc light contacts.

Essential tools. Piece of material under the pocket knife is emery cloth for polishing 12vdc light contacts.

Canvas buckets to the rescue:  Tool bag on left, supplies on right.

Canvas buckets to the rescue: Tool bag on left, supplies on right.

Order of Work

  • At spreaders:re-slot cap shrouds and wire/seize in place
  • install spreader boots

2.  At Steaming/Deck Light

  • Replace bulbs and test while aloft

3.  At masthead

  • Attach new blocks, tape shackles/circular retaining pins
  • Rove new line through blocks.
  • Use one new line as temporary headstay
  • Attach other new halyard to harness as safety line (another deck helper tends this line)
  • un-attach old spin halyard
  • un-attach furler/headstay and lower to deck
  • Check fit of old (original) stay to hardware for match
    • pin size conflict at stemhead leaves doubt that masthead hardware matches
  • Visually inspect all fittings

4. Descend to spreaders and inspect all fittings.

Already done

Un-attached furler from stemhead, and secured to rail.  Attached old spin halyard to bow pulpit for temporary headstay.

Old furler secured to pulput, removed from stem.

Old furler secured to pulput, removed from stem.

Final Photo - is this where we got the term "poop deck?"  Birds have been doing me wrong!

Final Photo – is this where we got the term “poop deck?” Birds have been doing me wrong!

This is not an original idea – I found it on a sailnet forum post, and the guy who posted it copied from someone else.  Regardless, it’s dead simple, very effect, and it only costs about $30.  Rather than writing a bunch of words that are obviated by the photos, I’ll just post the photos.

DSC_3603

DSC_3604

DSC_3605

Made of .5″ plywood, it incorporates strap eyes for line guide/retainers, and a cam cleat to grip the line.  Feet go in the windows.  Slide the board up the line and stand up.  Your helper on deck follows your backside up the spar with the halyard attached to the bo’sun’s chair.  He cleats off, you sit and slide the ascender up again.  Repeat until destination achieved.  When descending, hold one side of the jaws open.  This allows you to climb a standing line made fast and taut parallel to the mast.

Note that the fasteners’ ends are pointing toward the climber, and not the spar.  This keeps the screw ends from scratching the paint or anodized finish on the mast.

I think most of us could get up the mast like this, regardless of age.  Take your time, rest often.  Take a bottle of water up there with you.  There is no hurry, and things done deliberately without hurry are done more safely.

I installed new deck hardware back in May of this year in preparation for a rigging project.  The original idea was to ascend the rig, drop the headstay to the deck, build a new stay then climb the mast again and install it.  But there were things to do before I would go up the mast, and one of them was replace the worn out deck hardware through which the line passes.

The second item in preparation was to replace the halyards.  I researched the aging characteristics of the StaSet X line that I use for halyards, and it was obvious that the line was plenty strong, even after 7 years’ service, to support my weight.  But I wanted a comfort factor that the old line wasn’t going to provide.  New line for halyards was called for.  The final crippling of my standing rigging as a result of having the steel wire come out of the spreaders kicked me out of procrastination mode, and I ordered the line.  About the same time, I noticed an area of chafe where the main halyard passes over the masthead sheave.  So it was time to replace halyards, and now I have no guilt over being wimpy about going up the rig with new line.

300 feet of 5/16 Sta Set X.

300 feet of 5/16 Sta Set X.

I ran the new line up the mast today.  I sewed the new line and old line together at the ends, then covered the seam with duct tape, so it wouldn’t catch in the sheaves at the masthead.  When connected and smooth, I simply pulled on the old line until I had new line in my hands.

Tools for installing new halyards: sail repair needle, heavy nylon "squidding line," and duct tape.  A pocket knife is useful too.

Tools for installing new halyards: sail repair needle, heavy nylon “squidding line,” and duct tape. A pocket knife is useful too.

Line ends sewn together.  This makes a strong attachment that won't let go.  I wouldn't trust tape alone.

Line ends sewn together. This makes a strong attachment that won’t let go. I wouldn’t trust tape alone.

Seem covered with duct tape.

Seem covered with duct tape.

So I’ll soon be ready to go aloft.  I need to collect my supplies, assemble my tools, and make a list of things to do while up there (and carry it with me).

In the next post, I’ll detail the design and construction of the halyard ascender that I put together. This is a device that enables me to ascend the mast by standing up and sitting down.

I have some things to do in a bo’sun’s chair, but I hate going aloft, and I’ve been putting it off under various pretenses. I can’t put it off any longer. Check out the photo below to see what happened while sailing with my father-in-law today.

See anything wrong with this picture?

See anything wrong with this picture?

If I remember correctly, last time I set up the rig I used zip ties to hold the cap shrouds onto the spreaders. Looks like this might be a bad idea. As I’ve discovered in other applications, they get brittle after prolonged UV exposure.  I had actually forgotten I’d done this. So we were out having a brisk sail today, hard on the wind, and I noticed that the lee cap shroud was looser than I remember. Really slack, in fact. I didn’t think we were putting that much strain on the rig, though we were heeled at maybe 20 degrees with the sheets hardened up. Then I looked to the windward cap shroud, and realized it had slipped the groove in the spreader.  I immediately dropped the sails, and we motored back to the marina. So sailing is off the schedule until I go up the mast and do what I need to do, which is:

  • Drop the head stay/roller furling gear
  • Build new head stay (then install on my second trip aloft)
  • check all the rig at the mast-head
  • attach two new blocks and halyards on the masthead bail
  • re-slot the cap shrouds into the spreaders, and secure with SS wire (no more zip ties)
  • attach new spreader boots
  • replace the deck lamp in the steaming light fixture

And I’ve made a decision:  I’m probably going to eliminate roller furling.  I have an old Harken 00 furler, that I have tried to take apart in the past (to no avail).  If I can’t get it apart this time and thread a new headstay wire up the luff extrusion I’ll do away with it completely.  The furler is really too old (maybe 20 years) to hope that it can be made to work again.  It might be possible, but I have my doubts.  I know for certain that the headstay hasn’t been changed during the time that furler has been on the boat, so it’s absolutely due.  It makes me nervous to watch it pulse as the wind and surface chop cycle it with pressure and release.  All I can think about is the wire at the terminals work-hardening as it cycles like that.

Having said that, it must not be too big a risk, as you rarely see boats with broken or failed headstays and broken masts, and you rarely hear of it happening.  Still, I’m confident that I’m pushing the limit on this headstay wire.  I’ve thought about this change a lot, and it’s been a difficult decision.  Roller furling is so incredibly convenient that I hate to give it up.  On the other hand, I like the idea of the simplicity, flexibility, and bullet-proof-ness of hanked-on sails and bare wire.  It’s also not a minor fact that to replace the furler is pretty pricey.  And while many sailors would consider roller furling an essential, I see it as a convenience.

Pros of roller furling:  Incredibly convenient.  Never leave the safety of the cockpit to deploy or douse sail.

Cons of roller furling:  Added windage.  Can’t check the wire easily at the terminals.  Extra running rigging.  Furler can foul or jam, if not adjusted correctly.  Sail stowed on headstay can deploy in high winds, and threaten rig if not secured.  Changing sails can be time-consuming.  Reefing headsail not extremely effective beyond 20-30 percent.

Cons of hanked-on sails:  Safety concern – leaving cockpit to deploy or douse.  Less convenient to deploy or douse.

Pros of hanked-on sails:  More flexible sail area management.  Rigging wire is exposed for easy inspection.  Better sail shape with smaller/larger, specialized sails for various wind strength.  Simple to maintain, no mechanism to jam or fix.  Less windage.

How to manage with hanked-on sails: I’ve thought about this quite a bit.  There are ways to make hanked-on sails much more convenient.

  • Store on deck in an acrylic canvas bag:  This solves the stowage while doused, and allows me to leave the sail on the headstay.  The halyard actually supports the bag when the sail is stowed so that it doesn’t rest its bottom on deck.  When ready to deploy, the bag is unzipped, halyard shifted to head, and sheets clipped on the clew.
  • Use a down-haul for dousing:  This is a line that attaches to the halyard shackle and can be led down through the sail hanks (or not).  Passes through a turning block on the stem head fitting, and is led back to the cockpit.  When dousing sail, the halyard is released and the sail is pulled down with the line.  Gathered to leeward side with the leeward sheet taut, it can be gasketed with line at a convenient time without fear of escaping until then.
  • Build headsails with reef points.  This is an old idea that works well, though has fallen out of favor.  No reason why a headsail can’t have reef points.  And as we know, reefing a sail like this provides a very well-shaped sail.

So there it is.  I’d love to hear from some of you about this idea of no roller furling, reefed headsails, or anything else I’ve mentioned in this post.  Except, please don’t beat me up for using zip ties on my cap shrouds – I’ve already delivered the beating myself.

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