Maintenance | Sailing Blog - Technical Hints and Tips - Sailing Television

We're Taking On Water!

After months of lockdown in Panama, we finally set sail from Shelter Bay Marina to head to the San Blas Islands but along the way discover we are taking on water! We pull into Linton Bay Marina on the Caribbean Coast of Panama to make repairs and meet fellow YouTubers from the sailing channel, Parlay Revival.


Zinc Anode - Protection for your Boat

When we launched our first boat, S/V Two-Step, a Classic 37, and started sailing her in the Great Lakes back in the 80s I didn't know exactly what to do about our zincs. I understood we needed one on the propellor and apparently there was one in the engine, but what did they really do? And when should I be changing or inspecting them?

"What the heck is a zinc anyway and why?"

I quickly learned the answer when we later sailed in salt water. At the most basic, if you have a mix of different metals and add salt water you will get corrosion. Without getting too technical, zinc protects other metals on your boat exposed to the harsh underwater environment by being the "most likely to corrode".

Note that Zincs only work when they are electrically connected to the items they are intended to protect. So the prop-shaft zincs are attached directly, as are any engine zincs and our bowthruster zinc. The main zinc below will be set up as part of a ships bonding system and will be connected inside the boat via the long bolts you see below. If you are worried your boat is set up incorrectly you might like the VERY technical description of bonding and lightning ground system here or testing procedure here.


There are a variety of metals on your boat's hull with salt water all around. A typical boat probably has some stainless steel (prop shafts and other components), different varieties of bronze (propellor, thruhulls etc) and possibly aluminum (outboard motor or outdrive components). With these different metals in salt water you get what amounts to a battery action. The different metals have different electrical charges and the most active will corrode - pieces of the metal dissolving and depositing on the less active metals.

The idea of using zinc is that the zinc becomes the anode in this battery and it will slowly corrode away protecting the other metals. We can call this a sacrificial anode since it sacrifices itself to protect the other metals. (Note other metals like Aluminum and Magnesium also can perform this function in fresh or brackish water - see below or this link)

How fast will this happen in salt water? Warm water speeds up this reaction, as does salinity and even pollution in the water. Hopefully your zincs will last at least 6 months, but until you have a chance to check them and find out, it is best to check them after a couple of months.
zinc 6a
Change a Zinc when it is half gone. If you're in for a swim you can check zincs underwater and plan out the next change. The zinc on the engine (if it has one) will be easier since you can check and change it in the comfort of your engine room.

On Distant Shores II we have one large main zinc connected to the bonding system, plus 2 on the prop and shaft, and another up on the bowthruster. Here is the bowthruster zinc compared after 4 years. It has lasted well since there isn't much metal to protect - the bowthruster blades are plastic composite.
Zincs and bowthruster
Our Autoprop has this custom Zinc and I replace it every year.
Zincs - 4 (copy 2)
I also added a "donut" zinc to the prop shaft as extra protection in case the prop zinc fell off. When installing these shaft zincs you need to clean the shaft before attaching the zinc. Then tighten it up and give it a few gentle taps to settle it into place and retighten (just gentle :-)
Zincs - 3 (copy 3)
And what about our first boat in the Great Lakes? Well, fresh water is a much less corrosive environment and corrosion is much slower. But, Zinc anodes do not work well in fresh water. Magnesium or aluminum are recommended, but be sure not to mix anodes. You can check with your engine or prop makers for the correct sacrificial anode for your cruising areas.

Zincs - 2 (copy 3)

It is pretty easy to check and change the zincs - and absolutely important to the underwater health of your boat. The marine environment is hard on metal components, and you need to protect them.

Happy Boating!

Plan your passages around the world with us aboard Distant Shores
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Problems in Paradise - Turning Frustrations into Adventure

Green Turtle Cay05 (copy)

It's been a busy week in the boat yard at Abaco Yacht Services in Green Turtle Cay but on Friday I had to take most of the day off to send out a part needing repair by courier.

Yes. A day.

Sheryl and I like cruising in out-of-the-way places but there is no courier office on Green Turtle Cay so to get to the nearest FedEx office, which is in Marsh Harbour on the main island in the Abacos, I had to catch a ferry ($19 return fare), rent a car ($60 a day) since there are no buses and a taxi ride would be $80 EACH WAY, drive half an hour to town from the Treasure Cay ferry dock to get to the FedEx office in time for the 12 noon cut-off.


It was a pretty straight forward drive to town down the main highway but when I got to the FedEx office in Marsh Harbour they told me I had to go to the customs office at the airport to fill out Re-importation Papers. Good thing I'd left lots of time and had a car.


It was quite a process filling out the paperwork for re-importation and I was conscious that the clock was ticking but the customs officer was a real sweetheart as well as efficient and patient.

A highlight of my airport visit was to be recognized by Bahamian fans of the Distant Shores sailing TV series that Sheryl and I host and produce. Distant Shores airs in the Bahamas on AWE TV every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night on channel 267 and during our time in the islands we've met a lot of enthusiastic viewers at events we've attended and most recently at the phone centre when we went to top up our phone. It makes all the work worthwhile knowing that people enjoy the show!


After my visit to customs I had to do some repacking of my package but I got to the FedEx in time for the deadline with the package ready to go. The part is now winging it's way to overseas and launch of Distant Shores II is delayed for another few days.

Since by now it was lunchtime I rewarded myself with lunch of stewed grouper with peas and rice and coleslaw, a Bahamian favourite, at a recommended local family restaurant. Might as well make the best of things :-)


And since I was in town I made a few other stops for supplies I couldn't get on Green Turtle Cay spreading the cost of my trip to the couriers.

People often ask us, “What do you do all day lazing around on your boat?” Well, this is an example of how things that are simple at home or in major centres can be a whole day exercise when you’re exploring small paradisiacal places.


It's just part of the cruising life and sometimes the price of paradise. But approaching these occurrences with a sense of fun can turn an unexpected frustration into an interesting adventure and make for an entertaining day out.


How to Find a Good Boatyard while Cruising

The boatyard at Abaco Yacht Services, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Recently Paul and I made a change to our cruising plans for the summer. The freedom to be flexible and completely change your plans while cruising is one of the appeals of the sailing lifestyle. “Make a plan and stick to it” doesn't always serve you when cruising. You may be held up by weather or break-downs, friends may recommend a great destination you hadn't considered but that now you want to sail to or perhaps you realize you want to spend more time in the place that you already are. Maybe a work opportunity comes along that you want to take advantage of.

Our original plan for this summer had been to sail north from the Bahamas to explore more of the east coast of the U.S., but for various reasons we decided to extend our time in the Bahamas and store the boat there for a few weeks while we flew home to complete a work project. Once the decision had been made, we then had to find a place to safely store the boat in the Bahamas for a few weeks during July and August while we were back in Canada.

The Bahamas are located in the hurricane belt and July and August are smack in the middle of the hurricane season (June to November). We needed a really secure way to store the boat that met the criteria for hurricane coverage by our yacht insurance, Pantaenius Yacht Insurance who we have insured with for many years. We also needed to have easy access to an airport since we were flying home.

We were in George Town, Great Exuma, when we made the decision to leave the boat in the Bahamas. There is an international airport there plus good hurricane holes nearby on Stocking Island where you can rent a hurricane mooring from Kevali House Marina or St. Francis Marina. However all the hurricane moorings were fully booked.

Boatyard_1 (copy)
Stocking Island showing the hurricane holes to the right

The next option was to leave the boat in the water at Marina Emerald Bay, part of the Sandals resort on Great Exuma just north of George Town, but although this marina is a great place to stay short-term it doesn't offer full protection from surge. Many of our friends store their boats there but we just didn't feel confident leaving Distant Shores II there during hurricane season. We depend on our boat for our livelihood so any damage or loss would seriously affect us. Generally when we leave the boat for more than a couple of weeks, we prefer to haul the boat out of the water and dry-store it. That way we're not worrying about it taking on water and sinking, lines possibly chafing or some other boat hitting it.

So now we had to find a good boat yard that met our requirements.

First we put out a call on VHF radio asking for recommendations on the George Town Cruisers Net, a gathering of cruisers via VHF radio that meet every morning to share information on weather, boating topics and local events. Since we were there is low season, most of the cruisers in the area were visiting from Florida so didn't have experience storing their boats in the Bahamas but general knowledge seemed to be that the only reliable yards for dry-storage during hurricane season in the Bahamas were in the Abacos, the most northern group of the Bahamas, although no one could provide specifics.

We then went to the internet to do some research, asking for recommendations on Facebook groups and cruisers forums. We also searched on “boatyards in the Bahamas” and found many references to a couple of yards in the Abacos. I also found several cruisers blogs that discussed dry-storing their boats in the Bahamas. The consensus seemed to be Abaco Yacht Services on Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos was a good choice.

Checking our cruising guides, this yard was mentioned and recommended.

We then took a look at the location via Google Earth as well as our charts and verified that the yard was situated in a secure protected location. In fact, we realized that we had seen the yard on a previous cruise through the Abacos and had been impressed by the cleanliness and orderliness of this yard.

We called for rates and availability and booked a haul-out conditional on approval by visual inspection when we arrived. I had a few additional questions and when I had to leave voicemail my call was always answered promptly. The receptionist also gave me good advice on booking our flights home. Very helpful.

Abaco Yacht Services also met a few of our other criteria – we could stay on our boat while working on it in the yard (although they did have air conditioned accommodation available on site which we decided to take advantage of), we could do our own work on the boat (bottom paint needed to be done when we returned) and the boat yard was close to two airports – Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour.

So in early July we sailed north through the Exumas to Abacos and anchored off the town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. It was an easy dinghy ride over to the yard and when we headed up to the office one of the yard staff immediately came over to see if they could help us. This showed friendliness and customer service but also attention to security. Both good.

Distant Shores II preparing for haul-out at Abaco Yacht Services

As we recalled, the yard was spotless and well organized. There was a locked gate, shower facilities, no derelict boats. Work was being done on well-blocked boats. We spoke to a couple of cruisers who were working on their own boats there and they all who had good things to say about their experiences keeping their boats there.

We quickly confirmed our booking and proceeded to book our flights home. Haul-out went smoothly and efficiently and we left feeling confident our boat was in good hands while we were away.

There are many reasons you might want to find a good boat yard when you're out cruising – to have maintenance or repair work done to your boat; to haul-out to check the hull, propellor or to clean the bottom or, like us, to dry-store the boat while you fly home for a few weeks or months are examples.

Distant Shores II with keel retracted moving through the boat yard

Here are the steps we recommend to find a good boat yard.

1. Clarify Your Criteria
Before you begin your research get clear on the reasons and criteria for needing a boatyard. In our case it was location, the cost, the ability to liveaboard in the yard and work on the boat ourselves, a secure place to store for hurricane season and proximity to airports. Other things to consider are does the yard have the ability to lift your boat? In France when we needed to have our mast taken down to travel through the canals we discovered that the two popular yards offering this service couldn't handle a mast our size. If you are planning to have work done do they have the proper qualifications to carry it out? If yes, will there be a language barrier that may cause problems. Get really clear on what you need and want to avoid disappointment and frustration.

2. Ask for Recommendations by Friends or from the Cruising Community
This is the best place to start for first-hand experience whether you do it in person via email , VHF net or other method.

3.Check Online
Blogs, articles, forums/groups, and wiki sites are great sources of information. Post your questions and follow up on the info provided.

4. See What Cruising Guides for the Area Recommend
Cruising guides are written by experts. See what they recommend to cross-reference your other research on boatyards available. Email them with your questions, if possible.

5. Contact the Yard(s)
Once you have narrowed down the options, contact the yard(s) you are considering based on your initial research and confirm that they can meet your criteria. Take this opportunity to ask your questions and clarity any concerns.

6. Ask for Rates or a Quote
It's good to get information on rates in writing and be sure there are no unexpected additional charges. Check on methods of payment accepted, whether a deposit is needed or if payment is required up-front.

6. Do a Visual Check
Before committing to a boat yard, do a visual check if possible. Is the yard, clean, tidy, and well-organized? Is their attention to security? If you're having work done check for certificates showing qualifications of the technicians. Are their tools organized or rusty and disorganized? Talk to boaters who have their boats in the yard at the time for their opinions on the boat yard.

7. Make a Reservation

Once you feel confident that the boatyard in question meets all your criteria, book your reservation and prepare your boat for haul-out.


Servicing Your Winches

Why service your winches? Here is one item on deck that can outwardly appear to be in good shape and actually be ready to fail. And when it fails it could easily injure a crew-member, or worse!

I have met a number of sailors who are not aware of this danger, and have never serviced their winches. I think they should be serviced at least once a year, more often if they have taken a wave over them or if you have any indication they are not working properly. We know many cruisers who never service them and that is a real serious accident waiting to happen. It shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to do all of them.

taking apart winch
Now admittedly winches can be a bit daunting if you have never taken one apart before. The first time you open up a winch it seems to have a number of gears, and bearings and other bits, so it is important to be organized here. Keep diagrams or instructions for your particular winches handy - I sometimes photograph the winch as I take it apart to help reassemble. I have now put the Lewmar manual up on our plotter so it's nearby as I service it.
servicing winch video
Set up an area to lay out the parts to organize them and make sure nothing goes overboard!
servicing winch parts
Remove the top and check the main bearings. They will likely need cleaning and then a light coating of the winch manufacturers recommended grease. If the winches have been neglected this step could take longer. I clean the bearings with mineral spirits and a toothbrush in a bowl. We want to remove the old grease and replace with a light coating of new grease. Gears receive the same treatment but be careful NOT to get any grease in the area of the pawls (see below).

I think the most important element in servicing the winches are the pawls. These are small ratcheting mechanisms that allow the winch to turn one way but not the other. A single speed winch will have one set (of two pawls), a 2 speed winch will have 2 sets. So a typical 2-speed winch will have four pawls. It is the pawls that can cause the injuries with a winch. A broken spring, or a little sticky grease and some dried out oil will mean the pawl won't move freely. In the event that one of the pawls has got stuck and is not clicking out properly, the winch will still work fine. But only one pawl is now working. So if that second pawl sticks the winch will spin backward - spinning the handle too if it is left in place.
inserting pawl
Check the springs are in good condition - replace if not perfect - and that they are moving freely. Most important never to get grease in this area it can stick the mechanism - they just need a light machine oil.
using light oil to lubricate winch pawls
Now the whole thing goes back together. Check that the pawls are moving freely, bearings spin easily and all looks as it should.
Refer to the diagram as you reassemble and make sure there are no parts left over when you have completed this winch :-)

Move on to the next winch… it will be easier now you know how your winches work!

Our Lewmar winches are beautiful pieces of engineering and very reliable! Check out Lewmar here

Safe Sailing

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Outboard Motor repair with Pocketknife

Is there a Honda agent near here?
Oops, managed to shear off the fuel cut-off lever on our little Honda outboard. Here we are in paradise and now we can’t get around to explore these gorgeous islands!! Where is the nearest agent for Honda?
Nearest agent will not be available over Christmas and will not have the part in stock so I will try to fix it myself.
Removing the cover we see the actual valve appears intact but is back in under the air filter. So it appears to still work but can’t be reached with the cover in place.
Checking the casing I find it is made of a soft plastic and my pocketknife (Gerber multitool) easily whittles an expansion to the slot where the lever used to protrude.
I test this a couple of times to get the hole just big enough for my finger to reach in.
Finger or thumb can now reach inside to pull the stub of valve-lever over from open-close-open.
Practice this new operation a few times!
Back in Business!! So we do have a working outboard to explore paradise!

Sail Away! Excerpt - Electrical System Problems

A number of years ago Sheryl & I wrote a book called
Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising
This book went on to sell nearly 11,000 copies and we are happy that so many people have told us the book helped them fulfill their cruising dreams!

I checked this morning on Amazon They have 4 "new condition" copies on sale from $153-$363 - Yikes!!!

The book has been out of print for some years now but we are starting a project to update it! Here is an excerpt from the Outfitting section...


The most common electrical problem, especially in saltwater, is corrosion causing a bad connection. This problem is not confined to wet bilges and areas where saltwater leaks onto and actually touches the connections. Even the salt air holds sufficient moisture and salt to start corrosion on terminals.
Different metals react to this corrosive environment in different ways. Plain copper wire, for instance, is susceptible to corrosion -- it turns the characteristic green of copper roofs. The best wire for use on a boat headed for saltwater is “tinned, stranded copper wire”. Stranded copper wire refers to the fact that a large number of fine strands of wire are run together inside the insulating core. This means the wire is much more flexible and less likely to fatigue and break if bent repeatedly. (Single strand wire commonly used in houses should not be used!) Tinned copper wire has a fine coating of tin on the outside of each strand and this is far more resistant to corrosion than plain copper. Any projects where gear is added to a boat should be done using tinned copper wire if possible.
A surprising amount of marine electrical gear comes with regular copper wire. I usually solder these bare connections before doing anything else. Even if I am not installing a new pump right away I lightly twist up the exposed strands and melt a drop of solder onto the wire. It protects it while waiting in the locker to be installed.


Many boats are wired up with crimp connections and I believe this is the best solution to the question of how to connect two wires. Experience on Two-Step and Distant Shores has shown that these connections last well BUT only when the wire being crimped is tinned first. If you don’t have tinned copper wire then it is best to protect the ends of the wires first by soldering them before crimping, when adding equipment. Then crimp a connection onto the wire and get a much better connection between the wire and the crimp fitting. Use closed end crimp connectors since they are more reliable in the event of a connection becoming loose.
Caution: Do not use acid core flux solder on any electrical connections. It will cause failure when least expected! Use rosin core solder only.
If the boat’s original wiring involves regular untinned wire with crimp connections, check any connections in damp areas and make sure they are watertight. You might be able to slip an insulating piece of heat shrink tubing over the terminal or wrap with self-amalgamating tape to protect them.
Battery connections
Incidentally, a copper wire that has gone green will not accept solder until it has been cleaned first -- I sometimes pull the strands between a piece of fine sandpaper a couple of times to clean them.

When the cats away... plumbing!

When the Cats Away... the mice will do plumbing projects!

I am missing Sheryl as she has flown home for a couple of weeks...

However this also means I can get to a couple of the more disruptive boat jobs. And one of the most disruptive jobs is servicing the heads (that’s toilets and plumbing in land-speak). Not only does plumbing mean I have to open up floorboards and various lockers, find the spare parts and generally make a mess, it also means a certain amount of cursing and blue language as I run into unforeseen problems.

What plumbing job doesn’t involve unforeseen problems? Well we do try our best to foresee difficulties and plan the needed parts.

Todays job involved overhauling the macerator pump...
  • spare parts kit for the macerator
  • spare macerator
  • wiring connectors to wire the new pump in (shown below installed with red shrink tube)

Why have a spare macerator if I also have a spares kit? Well my plan was to be able to quickly disconnect the pipes to the macerator, then just swap in the brand new pump. I have rebuilt these pumps before and I know it will take an hour or so. The plan was to be able to do that rebuild later at my leisure, and put the rebuilt pump back in my spares locker.
It was just as well. The swap went quickly, I added the wiring quick-connectors on the new pump, took out the old pump, fitted the hoses in place and the swap was done in just a few minutes with minimum cursing.

Then I surfaced for air and took the old pump out on deck to rebuild it....

Oops, opening up the old pump I see it has 2 broken bolts in it (out of 4). There are two shorter bolts and 2 longer bolts that hold the motor to the pump assembly. One of those 2 longer bolts is broken, and the spare kit just gives you the 2 shorter bolts. I should have know this since I have used this same pump on Two-Step for years, and those bolts are the main weakness of this pump. Anyway, no excuses, today I pop around to Island Water World to see if they have the bolt studs. Then I can finish the pump rebuild and put it back in my spares kit.

Thank goodness I had the whole spare pump otherwise it would have left an unpleasant mess until the parts could be sorted out.

When the cats away the mice will play (with plumbing parts!)

Boatyards - The Zen of Haul-out

Before enlightenment man chops wood and carries water.
After enlightenment man chops wood and carries water.
Zen Proverb

So it is in the boatyard. Annual maintenance must be done and we have the choice if we will enjoy it and make the most of it... or not. Here in the St Maarten Shipyard we are enjoying being hauled out.
Of course we could also just pay someone to do the work and come back when they are finished, which we have done from time to time... but I like getting up close and personal with the hull, at least every year or so to see what it going on down there. Any fittings that need replacing? Anything we might have scraped coming through the French canals and forgotten about? Any problems with rudders or prop? Any zincs corroding faster than they should? I like the sense of accomplishment of a job well done.

Here are some thoughts on maximizing the productivity and enjoyment of the "Zen of Haul-out"...

Finding a good yard

We always look for a yard wher
Bottom Corals
e you can do work yourself, and also have reasonably priced options if you want help with jobs. I like to see a tidy yard with a well maintained travel hoist. Ideally there are some local facilities close at hand, such as a place to buy supplies and provisions, while hauled out. St Maarten Shipyard excels on all fronts. They have a crane and sealift both in good condition, a very knowledgeable and helpful staff, and a tidy yard. They also have a very nice restaurant on the premises (Boca Marina with great chef!) and of course they are in Dutch Sint Maarten so they have access to the best chandleries in the Caribbean.


The bottom of our Southerly 49, Distant Shores II, was very grown up with coral and worms so we definitely had to update the antifouling despite it just being 8 months old. The Cruiser Uno (one coat one season) which served us well in European waters doesn’t seem to be able to handle the high fouling here in the warm waters of the Caribbean. We are going to give one of the local favourites a try. I am planning 2 coats of "SeaHawk Islands 44 Plus" and another around the waterline. It’s an ablative paint so it will come off when scrubbed, and it can handle being left hauled out for hurricane season. I will report back next year after it has done a cycle here in the tropics.

In case you are wondering, all this growth came off with the pressure washing - a benefit of the ablative paints, I think. Then we asked the yard to do a quick sanding to get rid of the last of the barnacle bases - it took just 2 hours to get back to a smooth hull.

Gelcoat touchup

We had a couple of small chips in the gelcoat from a run-in with the dock in Morocco when the catwalk we were attached to on starboard side broke lose in a gale, and another at the bow from the anchor swinging around as we brought it onboard too quickly one time. Working on this kind of thing is possible while in the water but is much easier when hauled out. I always carry a pot of gelcoat that matches our hull so we can do quick repairs. Otherwise the hull is still in factory perfect condition - she is just 3 years old after all and the gelcoat is perfectly glossy/shiny. In the 3 years we’ve owned her we have gone through nearly 300 locks travelling through Holland, Sweden, Scotland and France but didn’t put a scratch on her in that time! Well maybe a couple of "scuffs". Easily repaired and buffed out.


The modern cruising boat has a number of zincs. We have a big hull zinc, a specialized zinc on the "Autoprop", another I have added on the shaft, a zinc on the bow thruster, and small zincs protecting the fridge and freezer heat exchanger plates. Your boat may have others. Some places are more corrosive than others - we always found zincs disappeared quickly in the southern USA Intracoastal Waterway. In northern climes they seem to last longer.

Bottom Checkup

Taking a closer look at the "wet side" of your boat is worth a bit more time during the annual haul-out to maintain a fully seaworthy bottom. Is anything out of the ordinary? How much play is there in the shaft and stern bearing? Will the bearing need replacement soon? Any barnacles stuck up the thruhulls? I also take a few pictures of any details to help me remember how it looks down there when we’re back in the water and to plan for future jobs. I also take pictures during the lift so I can show the next boatyard how to lift her safely.

Other projects

If you have other bigger projects the haul-out can be a good time. Many installations are safer in the boatyard since you don’t lose a part dropped overboard. I can get out the sander or power tools and not worry about annoying the other people in the marina or anchorage. A boat yard is the proper place to get your boat in shape for the sailing season ahead.


It’s fun, this cruising life... and the enlightened cruiser enjoys it all - even time in the boatyard!

ARC Report - Backup Systems

Update 2014

Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC 2014 edition) is getting underway tomorrow Sunday November 23) and I know everyone there will be scurrying around with last minute jobs, enjoying the last parties and getting ready for the start line tomorrow morning. It is a VERY exciting time and Sheryl & I wish all the participants Fair Winds and Smooth Seas. We did the ARC in 2012 and thought it would be worth republishing summary of how systems worked for the boat in our “quite windy” running of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

ARC 2012

Before the start of the ARC in Las Palmas everyone was working on their boats and getting them ready - trying to prepare for all the conditions we would encounter in the 3000 mile crossing. Getting all the boats systems up and in top condition and preparing for all the contingencies. Trying to anticipate what could go wrong and how would we deal with the problems?
Mast Inspection ARC
Here is a very un-scientific summary of how well systems, and backup systems, worked for boats on the ARC 2012.

Electrical Power systems

On this year’s ARC many boats reported problems with their electrical power. A number of boats had a malfunction with the main generator but were able to recharge the batteries from the engine. However most engine alternators produce less than you hope. The modern yacht does consume a lot of power. Similarly wind generators often do not work well when sailing downwind. And even the biggest solar array produces less than the typical modern boat uses on a passage. People with power problems had to turn off fridges, turn off autopilots (so crews were exhausting themselves hand-steering for thousands of miles !!!) and otherwise conserve power. The worst cases were boats that lost their engines and had no other way to generate power. In this case they finished the passage with no power left, in the dark!

What is your primary method of generating electrical power? Most of the larger ARC boats have a separate diesel generator, and many of the yachts less than 45 feet rely on the engine’s alternator to recharge the batteries. Some also have a reasonable capacity to generate electricity from Solar panels or Wind generators.

A number of people I spoke with did not know how much power they use. Many boats do not have a decent way to calculate how much they are adding/subtracting from their batteries. A quality power monitoring system is a must! Its essential to know how much power your boat uses on a passage. Refrigeration, autopilot, lighting, Nav instruments are all big users on passage and running 24-7 adds up! Some of the boats had left the cold northern European waters and were surprised how much more power the fridge consumed in a hot climate. Others just hadn’t done the math or worked out what they would need.

If you have a quality amp-hour meter such as Mastervolt’s Mastershunt - it will show what power you are using at any moment, total used since last full charge and other info such as the percentage of charge you have left in the batteries. You can use this to help estimate the power you will need for a passage. For more information on how to calculate an electrical budget click here.

On Distant Shores II we are using almost 300 amp-hours per day on passage. This mean we need to run the generator 3 hours per day to put it back in. If the generator quit we would need to run the engine 4-5 hours a day for the equivalent power. We could also cut back by shutting down our freezer and/or fridge, turning off our plotter etc and would reduce power use by probably 50%.

If your backup power is solar panels, you may find it will not cover typical power requirements while on passage. But it is a great backup system with the main drawback being much lower production on the cloudy days we had, especially at the beginning of the crossing this year.

Whatever you do - consider your power requirements carefully, and plan a backup strategy to generate power in the event your main system goes down.
Autopilot helm

Steering systems

Self-steering systems and autopilots were another area where ARC boats had a number of issues. Heavy conditions in the first week broke quite a few wind-vane steering systems. Quite a few boats found themselves hand-steering when they had an electrical problem and had to save power. On Distant Shores II we have a Raymarine autopilot connected to a robust Lewmar drive unit. It steered flawlessly the whole way right up to the finish line! The boat, a Southerly 49, is quite easy to steer with her twin rudders and has a well balanced helm so the motor isn’t straining and doesn’t draw very much power.
Here is a video showing the Raymarine Autopilot steering in some pretty big seas.

Sailing Systems

Sails, masts, downwind poles and other sailing systems were perhaps the area where most ARC boats had done the most thorough preparation and had thought out what to do in the event of problems. Only one boat I know of lost their mast and had to divert to the Cape Verde Islands for repairs. Although we saw many broken boomvangs, torn sails, and other rig problems on the dock in St Lucia, everyone seemed to have had a strategy and was able to continue on without too much difficulty. For more info on rigs and rigging see my previous blog below...
ARC Wing and wing


Many ARC boats were relying on water-makers to provide water for the crew. Compared to the average cruising boat with 2-3 crew onboard for an ocean crossing, the ARC boats had 5 or more - and this means providing more water for the crossing. A 37-footer with 7 crew, and a 40-footer with 9 on board will need quite a lot of water.

On board Distant Shores II we carry 545 litres of water, and had just the three of us (me, Sheryl and friend, Matt Heron) on the passage. I have installed manual foot-pumps at the galley and in the aft-heads, which we use at sea, and turned off the pressure water system for the crossing. This helped us easily conserve water, and also meant that if a leak developed in the system we wouldn’t dump all our fresh water! In the event, it was great having the foot-pumps. We did save water without feeling constrained and arrived at the finish with more than a third of a tank remaining. We switched the pressure system on whenever we needed it (when having showers for example) but mainly left it off for the passage.
satphone CU


A number of boats had engine problems - the most major issue being a propellor drop off, to simply being unable to get the motor started. But everyone with this problem was able to sail right up to the finish line and then accept a tow into the marina.


Many boats had problems with various communications systems - but since everybody had backups of some form, no one was seriously inconvenienced. For example, our SatPhone stopped receiving EMail for 4 days, but we were still in touch with nearby boats over the radio and we could also make phone calls so reports could still be filed, and the Yellowbrick tracker kept on working fine.

Update 2014

Communications upgrades! Probably nothing has changed so much in the last two years since our ARC 2012 as communications. New Satellite phones, the Iridium Go, Inreach and other devices have all come online. If anyone has tested these out please chime in with your thoughts and experiences.

Tuning the Rig

Update: 2016 - Checking the Rig

We have now sailed Distant Shores II across the Atlantic Ocean 3 times. Before and after each crossing I do a rig inspection (and annually as well). Today in the BVI I went up to the top to have a look…
rigging-check-sailboat - 1
Before the 3000 miles downwind from Canary Islands - Cabo Verde Islands - Caribbean this November, we added this chafe protection to the spreader tips. Its a common problem with today's popular swept-spreader rigs that the mainsail chafes on the spreaders when going downwind. We added these foam covers (actually for plumbing to cover pipes) and they absorbed some of the chafe. Now I'll take off the covers again.

When we arrived in the Caribbean we had our favourite sailmaker (Kenny in St Lucia) add chafe protection to the mainsail to try and reinforce the sail at these chafe points.
rigging-check-sailboat - 2
Another chafe problem we tackled was where the lazy-jack lines run down to the sail cover. They used to run through the stainless fittings here, but they chafed badly. This time I tried these new Low Friction Rings made by Antal. I lashed them in place in Las Palmas and they now show zero friction after 3000 miles. COMPLETELY cured the problem.

After Crossing France 2012

We had the mast down as we went through the canals and just put it up a couple of weeks ago, so I have been checking it and tuning it up ready for the miles ahead. Here are some thoughts on "care and tuning" of the rig...


I regularly go up the mast to check it over, and since we just put the mast back up, I have checked it carefully. The rig is arguably the most important system on the boat, and regular care is needed to keep it in tune and working properly.
mast inspection
I look carefully at the standing rigging, spreaders, masthead, checking running rigging as well. On my way up I stop at the spreaders, radar and anywhere there are fittings to check! This also provides a break for the person winching you up!


Putting the mast back up means you have to tune the rig - basically setting the tension up on the shrouds and stays to the correct specs. If you have never done this before, having a professional rigger help out might be a good idea. But you can follow along and it will be a good idea to get to know the rig yourself - as the captain you are responsible and its got to be best to know about this important system.

Our mast is made by Selden, and they have an excellent guide that helps new owners to become familiar with their rig. Although it concentrates on Selden products it is also a great overview of tuning and managing any modern mast. Here is the PDF link

Under Tension

Setting the proper tension on the shrouds is one of the trickier parts of tuning. I have seen "experts" who claim to just give a wire a tug and know if the tension is correct. Possibly they have an ability to judge this, but I know I can’t. Instead I got this lovely "Loos" gauge that measures tension in different wire diameters up to 10mm (which is our upper cap shrouds).

Loos CU
Simple to operate, you position the gauge on the wire with the two white rollers at the bottom. Then pull the rope to hook the clip around the wire. This puts a tiny bend in the wire and you read the tension off the pointer (below you can see the pointer is on the high end of the scale - at 50). The number corresponds to a tension for your diameter of wire. In this case "50" means 1360 kilograms - 16% of our 10mm wire’s breaking strength (from the image above).


It is important to clean and lubricate the turnbuckles before adjusting them as they operate under tremendous pressure! We don’t want to grind grit into the threads. I thoroughly cleaned the turnbuckles using white-spirit and a toothbrush to get in the threads. Selden have a recommended rigging lubricant. In the past I used lanolin.

Test sailing

With the rigging set up its off for a test sail checking everything with 15-20 degrees of heel. I needed to increase tension just slightly on the intermediates (which I did at the dock). Then tape up the turnbuckles to prevent getting anything caught in the split pins, Ready to get going!!
up mast

Do you dream of sailing the Bahamas?


Getting Ready to Cross Oceans

We are getting Distant Shores II ready for her first Transatlantic Passage coming up this fall!

The French Canals trip was wonderful and the previous 2 summers exploring Scandinavia, Scotland etc were excellent as well. But now we are looking to get back to the warm weather! So the next couple of months will involve heading south to Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, Madeira and the Canary Islands. And will involve getting ready for an Atlantic crossing.

Although we have done this route before (crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean in Distant Shores Season 5 and Cruising with the Shards), we haven’t done any long passages with the new Southerly 49. The longest to date on Distant Shores II is 220 miles, and this passage will be roughly 3000!
Passage Plan
We will leave the Canary Islands in late November to avoid hurricane season in the Caribbean. Arriving in the Caribbean before Christmas. Definitely do not plan a specific arrival date. We made this mistake last time and couldn’t enjoy the last few days of light wind sailing since we were trying to meet a deadline. And if you have additional crew onboard, try to plan their return flights and schedule to allow a flexible arrival date.

Downwind Sailing
Of course the boat must be ready for anything for an ocean crossing. But the likelihood is that there will be many miles of running downwind. We have a downwind pole and will carefully go over this before to make sure all is in order. I am adding a foreguy for the pole and will cover this in a future blog. We will also look over the rig carefully for chafe. We haven’t sailed much downwind with the 49 yet. Sure we have sailed 10-15 hours at a shot but this upcoming passage might involve 10-15 days on one tack - and in breezy conditions!! Chafe can definitely add up! Looking over your boat you must plan for many many hours of sailing on the same point of sail.
DSII downwind
Spare Parts
Purchase all the spare parts you need well in advance. Travelling around Europe the past 2 seasons we haven’t been as self-sufficient as we normally are. We could order pieces and get them in a few days. I will be planning a much more extensive spares list. Engine parts, electrical spares, rigging and sail repair. We had all this on our previous boats but must rebuild the spares lockers for the new boat.

We had a watermaker on the Southerly 42 and quite liked having the freedom of (virtually) unlimited water. We still carried lots of spare water in case of a breakdown, but definitely enjoyed many nice showers ... we will be investigating adding a desalinator this fall.
DSI comms CU
On both previous boats we had an SSB radio. We haven’t added one on Distant Shores II ... yet. And we must look into a satellite phone. It might be time to add that as well. Although I am sure there is still a place on a modern sailboat for the SSB radio. Here’s a link on communications I did in 2010...

More to come in the next weeks... exciting!!

ps. Please forward this blog link to anyone you know who might be interested or planning a trans-ocean passage! Welcome onboard!

In Search of the Maintenance-free Boat

The last few weeks we have been cruising the Chesapeake Bay and run into a bunch of cruising sailors. Many of them are on their way south for the first time. Besides a bit of nervousness and excitement about the voyage ahead (most are heading for the Bahamas this winter) a common theme is boat maintenance. Living and traveling full-time means things tend to break more often and delays often result. We met one “great-looper” who had spent 2 unplanned years in the Chesapeake Bay while his generator and main ships engine were replaced!!

Here are a few strategies we have picked up or developed over 20 years of cruising to keep maintenance-related delays to a minimum.

  1. Plan to be handy - All boats will need maintenance. Old or new power or sail. Upgrade your skills in areas you are weak in. If you don’t understand electrical systems, take a course or study one of the many excellent books. Buy some good tools. If you normally depend on a friendly local mechanic to service your boat you might find it is not so easy to find reliable help as you travel.
  2. Keep ahead of scheduled maintenance. At least when you’re getting to know a new boat it makes sense to do maintenance on a recommended schedule. For example, buy a rebuild kit for the head (toilet) and install it. You will feel more comfortable knowing you have done it and you may learn if there are any additional spares to keep in stock. With our Jabsco head I also keep sets of the joker valves in addition to a complete rebuild kit.
  3. Build up a spares kit. This is the heart of the deal for reducing maintenance delays. If you have the parts you need before you need them, and know how to put them in, you could be looking at a 10 minute delay instead of a 4 day delay while you wait for parts. We have a whole locker full of parts on Distant Shores and a separate bin just with engine parts.
  4. Keep adding to the spares kit. Experienced owners can be a good source of info. Those who have had the same equipment as you have on your boat will know what spares they have needed.
  5. Keep adding to your tool kit. A good basic tool kit can do most things, but there is often no substitute for the right tool. The job can be oh so quick and satisfying if you have the right tool in your toolkit when you need it. An example is the propellor puller I built some years ago. I also built a cutlass bearing puller so if we were in the boatyard I could easily pull the prop, shaft and cutlass bearing out in less than an hour. Now we have the new boat I am again adding to the toolkit for her new systems. An example is the nice little impeller puller I recently bought. The raw water impeller on the Yanmar now comes off so nice and easily. (the old Volvo impeller came off easily anyway so I didn’t need a puller).
  6. Get familiar with your boat’s systems. Over the years I have serviced the Barient winches on Two-Step many times. I knew just how they worked and just where the pawls tended to stick after time. Now with Distant Shores we have Lewmar winches. So before they were really meant to be serviced I got out the manual and opened one up to see how it worked and how it differed from the Barients. When it was time to service them I knew what I would find.
  7. All boats benefit from preventative maintenance. This could mean fixing things before they break, and even servicing things before the manufacturer’s recommended service interval. Not to make too fine a point but marine toilets can be a good place to do early preventative maintenance. Better to service it when you choose than when there is a problem :-(
  8. Older boats can need much more maintenance as systems age. But new boats will need regular preventative maintenance as well. Read over the owners manuals of the various systems and see what is recommended. Even if a winch is working fine - why not take it apart and see how it looks inside. Order a set of spares for it before you need it. We often carry spare pumps as well as rebuild kits for the pump. It is often quicker to replace the pump and then rebuild the one you have taken out.
  9. Do not buy an old “Fixer-upper” if you aren’t a proficient handy-person. We have met a number of new cruisers who buy a 20-30 year old boat and are then surprised the maintenance is so much effort. Although a 30 year old fiberglass hull can be in great shape, its systems could all need replacing. A 30 year old engine may be hard to get parts for, the electrical system could need complete replacement and so could the rig and sails. If the owner has just fixed things as they actually break, you could be inheriting a much bigger project than you planned. Even in this economy there is nothing for free...
  10. Make maintenance fun! Sounds silly but if you can learn to enjoy boatwork then you are more likely to get to it early. It is a very rewarding feeling to see YOU have maintained / improved / serviced the systems on your boat. The boat will work better, there will be less delays in your cruise and you will have that sense of pride that you did it yourself!

Well there you are... 10 basic hints to enjoy a trouble-free cruise.

See you out on the water!


(Here’s the perfect time to change the zinc on the bowthruster ;-)
Perfect time to change bow thruster zinc