Monday 22 September 2008

Radar Reflectors for Sailboats

A cruising yachtsmans' worst nightmare is being run down by a merchant vessel, particularly at night, far offshore. Statistics however, show us that this is far more likely to happen close to shore in busy shipping lanes where the density of these large vessels is much greater.

A radar reflector therefore, is a piece of equipment that all cruising sailboats should have. Recent tests have shown that they are not necessarily that effective, see article on May 2007 archives.

Nonetheless, a reflector permanently installed high in your rigging is an additional item that can assist in alerting approaching shipping that you are in the same quadrant of water as they are. Many other factors come into play such as has the other ship recorded your presence? is there a watch in their radio room at the time? is your boat heeling? etc. All of these could hinder the chances of the other shipping seeing you.

There has been much written about a tragic incident near the Isle of Wight in August 2006 between the yacht 'Ouzo' and a large P&O ferry. The collision or near collision resulted in the sinking of the yacht and the drowning of the three crew. As the yacht itself has never been recovered, this incident remains a mystery of the sea. However, it was known that 'Ouzo' did carry a radar reflector - whether it was in position at the time is not known. There is an interesting report you can read on

Fully effective they may not be, but under the heading of any additional equipment that can alert an approaching merchant vessel, having a reflector clamped to your cap shroud above the top spreader is best seamanship practice and no cruiser should put to sea without one.

They come in two basic shapes - one is made up of segments(octahedral) which can be assembled and hung in the rigging - not ideal for long passages. The other, and to my mind, the better option for cruisers is the tubular type which you can clamp on to your upper shroud and leave in position permanently. I positioned mine on the starboard cap shroud above the top spreader.
There are a number of manufacturers making these reflectors andyou can view the range at any quality chandler. You can appraise them initially on the internet where you will find illustrations and prices for your local market.

Obviouisly radar and more recently AIS(Automatic Identification System) would be part of a modern day Cruisers 'onboard package', but that is another subject.

You can read more about night navigation, radar and near misses in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana' downloadable from my website

Thursday 11 September 2008

Cardinal Marks for Sailors

Sailing recently with friends in southern waters we came upon a cardinal mark which created a major debate.

All being old hands, we all had definite opinions on this particular mark and would not be easily swayed to anothers' opinion!

It was close to the coastline and marking out a hazard of rocks near to a 'current powered' electrical generator tower installed in the channel. Because of the limited space, and without a very close scrutiny, this mark could be interpreted in several different ways.

This in fact is what happened, and the argument was still raging when the mark disappeared out of sight around the point. Eyes now looking forward to the next stage of our journey the offending mark was promptly forgotten!

However, it is a reminder that these cardinal marks are there for a purpose and it is good seamanship and practice to make ourselves totally familiar with the four types of cardinal marks.

The word cardinal comes originally from the four cardinal marks on the compass, rotating in a clockwise fashion, North, East, South and West.

The chart to the right illustrates this buoyage system very well.

Note the yellow and black banding denoting the difference between North, East, South and West.

For night recognition the white flashing lights also the face of a clock/watch e.g. North is a continuous single flashing light, East is three flashes(3 on the clock), South is six flashes(plus a long flash so it is not confused with West) and West is nine flashes(9 on the clock face).

When you have decided which mark it is you are looking at, you then have to determine where the hazard is, or alternatively, where the safe water is.

This is easily remembered by whichever mark it is, the safe water is outside of it - e.g. North - water to the North is safe, East - water to the East is safe, South - water to the South is safe and West - water to the West is safe.

Waterproofed cards showing this bouyage system are generally available from any recognised chandlery.

Keep one on board at all times posted to a bulkhead by your navigation area.

You can read more about buoys and bouyage systems in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana', downloadable from my website

Sunday 7 September 2008

PBO Rigging

Whilst we are on the subject of rigging let's have a brief look at the 'new kid on the block' of rigging. PBO (polybenzoxazole) has been around for almost ten years now, but to date has largely only been used on high tech and very expensive racing yachts. It has shown up on some smaller racing boats but in the main, because of its cost, it has been a big boat item.

Like Formula One motor racing it has had rigourous testing under the most severe conditions and come out the other end measuring up with some major benefits to all sailors. And, like motor racing these benefits will trickle down to be used more widely as the costs tumble and are more affordable to the average sailor. This is already occuring and ultimately the price of pbo rigging will be comparable to wire strand and rod rigging.

Weight aloft is always an issue, hence the much wider use today of composite materials for masts. The less weight aloft, the better the righting moment of your boat. The same philosophy applies to pbo rigging as a major weight saving can be gained - this can be up to seventy percent over standard riggings.

Pbo rigging can be up to fifty percent stronger and all this comes at only a slight increase in windage as the pbo available guage is a little heavier. I believe most yachtsmen would be happy to sacrifice that in favour of the benefits.

The effect of weight aloft is magnified by its height above the yacht's Vertical Centre Of Gravity (VCOG). For every 1kg saved in the midpoint of the rigging approximately 5kgs can be saved off the counter balance of the keel. Thus for an average 60' yacht saving 100kgs on the rig using PBO gives a further saving of ½ tonne in the keel.

In simple terms PBO rigging gives you a lighter, stronger, safer rig. In practical terms PBO gives you the edge.

The Swan 601 to the right is pbo rigged.

Special fittings, deck, spar and spreader fittings are also now available for the pbo rigging.

These products are currently being manufactured by several companies and there is a very interesting article on this high tech system on the Navtec website. Google up PBO rigging and you will find it available in PDF format which you can download if you wish. Another good article is on Sailing site.

Some text made available courtesy Navtec and Colt.

You can read more about wire strand and rod rigging adventures and how we fixed them in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana', downloadable from my website http ://

Monday 1 September 2008

Sailboat Rigging Maintenance Check

The first day of Spring has arrived in this part of the world and true to the suggestion it is a gorgeous day - blue sky dotted with a few white puffy clouds, gentle breeze wafting through the trees and 21 degrees celcius - thoughts turn to being on the water and sailing.

For a happy and fault free season of sailing, one of the areas we must check and inspect is the rigging of our boats. There are very few things that will ruin a sailing trip faster than a failed rig and if it is serious the consequences may even end in tragedy.

So it is critical that our rig is inspected, checked and any faults or failures found, repaired immediately.

The following article is an extract from BoatUS Seaworthy magazine:

Whenever a mast tumbles overboard, the two seemingly obvious offenders are the mast itself—the aluminum extrusion—and the wire stays and shrouds that support the mast. In practice however, these are rarely the culprits. The offenders, in most cases, are the tangs, turnbuckles, and chainplates and the smaller, but no less significant, screws, bolts, terminal fittings, clevis and cotter pins that hold everything together. These can be inspected in a couple hours or less. All you need for an inspection is a magnifying lens, a mirror, some toilet paper, your fingernails, a boatswain’s chair, and a pair of reasonably good eyes. Click here to download the Rigging Checklist in PDF format.

Fittings: Whenever you inspect a fitting, look for obvious problems like rust and distortion and use the magnifying glass to find smaller cracks. Rust, especially rust that you can feel, and even slight distortions or cracks should be considered serious, and the component replaced. Use your fingernails to feel for cracks and check the thinnest part of the fittings extra carefully, as this is where failure is most likely to occur. If a fitting has been painted (a bad idea), strip off the paint.
Chainplates can corrode and fail either above, within, or below the deck. Corrosion at the chainplate above may have been only detected by removing the toggles to inspect around the eye. The chainplate above failed within the deck, where salt water had leaked down and initiated crevice corrosion where hidden from view.

Chainplates: Turnbuckles and chainplates must be angled so that loads are in a direct line with stays and shrouds. Toggles, which act like universal joints to allow movement in all directions, should be used with turnbuckles but they cannot be relied on to compensate for a misaligned chainplate. A chainplate that is not aligned has a tendency to work until it eventually breaks. Besides eyeballing the shroud/chainplate alignment, misalignment is sometimes indicated by damage to the surrounding gelcoat. If chainplates are bolted to a bulkhead, as is often the case, inspect the bulkhead for signs of weakness—discoloration, delamination, and rot. Chainplates are highly stressed, and will work and cause leaks where they come through the deck. Water can then enter the bulkhead and eventually cause it to rot (see Anatomy of a Dismasting). Probably the best, although maybe not the prettiest, place to secure a chainplate is to the outside of the hull. Chainplates that are only bolted to flanges under the deck, and are not secured to a structural member down below, are the least desirable installation.

Fatigue and crevice corrosion broke this pair of threaded terminal fittings along the crevice between the lock nut and the turnbuckle body, illustrating why disassembly of the turnbuckle is necessary to inspect hidden trouble spots most likely to fail.Turnbuckles Open turnbuckles are easier to inspect and don't retain moisture, which encourages corrosion. Closed turnbuckles retain moisture in the barrel and have of a tendency to freeze up, but they also are better at retaining lubricant. Turnbuckles should be wiped clean and lubricated at least once a year; more often if they are open or are adjusted frequently. Teflon is better for lubricating turnbuckles than oil or grease because it doesn't hold grit that abrades the threads. Oil or grease, however, are certainly better than nothing. Most turnbuckles are tightened by turning the shank or barrel clockwise. Incidentally, you should never stress your rig by over-tightening the turnbuckles. If the turnbuckle squeaks stop tightening—this is a sign of over-tightening and poor lubrication. If you boat has open turnbuckles, be sure to leave at least 3/4" of thread visible in the barrel and replace the old cotter pins. A cotter pin should be large enough to fit snugly into the hole and long enough to be bent half way back around. Rigging tape should then be wrapped around the pin to protect your sails, fingers, toes, etc. Many closed turnbuckles can't be cottered and rely instead on locknuts. Experts warn that over-tightening the locknuts places too much stress on the threads.

Terminal Fittings: Cracked swage fittings are not only the most common kind of rigging failure, but also the most visible. This one should have been noticed and replaced long ago.Most sailboats rely on swage fittings at the terminals, but these fittings are not necessarily the most reliable, especially in warmer climates where they have a history of failure. Swage fittings are made by compressing a tube onto the wire under great pressure, a process that must be done exactly right to assure a strong bond. If the swage has to be pressed several times (a bad practice) before the wire is secure, there is an increased chance that the swage has been weakened and could crack. There are other types of terminal fittings, such as Noresman and Sta-Lok, which are more expensive and less common than swage fittings but are highly touted by many sailors for their durability. Norseman and Sta-Lok fittings can be installed or repaired by the boat owner—an obvious advantage, especially for making emergency repairs on long cruises. Careful inspection of all terminal fittings is a must. Cracks are usually microscopic when they begin, so use your magnifying glass. Also, you can sometimes feel a crack with a fingernail that cannot be seen. Cleaning the fitting with metal polish helps brighten the fitting to make inspection easier and using one of the three-part spray products on the market also helps you see cracks. The latter are highly touted by their manufacturers but they are not infallible. The first part cleans the fitting; the second part is a dye that penetrates the crack; and the third part is a developer. The dye, incidentally, can stain gelcoat, so be careful. Terminal fittings, especially swage fittings at the deck, are prone to rust where the wire enters the swage. Rust indicates a serious problem and the swage and possibly the wire should be replaced. Some skippers like to use gel or wax to prevent water from entering the swage. While this may be effective for a while, it probably won't keep water out for long and could very well trap water inside, encouraging corrosion.

The Mast and Boom: Welds and Rivets Aluminum welds on the mast and boom should be inspected, especially where there may be a lot of stress. Look at the ends of the welds first, as aluminum welds fail from the ends of the weld inward. Welds that are not done correctly have sharp edges and crevices which encourage corrosion. Any welds that are cracked or badly rusted should be rewelded immediately. Rivets should be examined, and any that are loose or missing should be drilled out and replaced with the next-larger size. Also, if one or two rivets holding a cleat or gooseneck are loose, it is a good idea to replace all of the rivets with the next-larger size, not just the ones that are missing.

Galvanic Corrosion: Bubbled paint, especially near a fitting as in this photo, signifies corrosion underneath and should be inspected immediately. Galvanic corrosion occurs when stainless steel or bronze fittings—cleats, tangs, winches—are installed metal-to-metal on an aluminum mast. Every few years, mast fittings should be rebedded with zinc chromate paste, polysulfide, teflon, nylon, or tufnol (plastic) to protect the mast from galvanic corrosion. Silicone does a good job of protecting the mast, but the fittings may be difficult to get off later. And in a pinch, Rolf Bjelke aboard the steel ketch Northern Light in the Antarctic, used a plastic coffee can lid to bed a halyard winch. If a mast is painted, look for bubbles near fittings, which indicate corrosion. On an unpainted mast, look for white powder and pockmarks around fittings. Some powder, which is oxidized aluminum, is normal on an aluminum mast and is usually not significant. But heavy concentrations of powder, bubbles and/or pockmarks, especially deep pockmarks, indicates a serious problem that threatens the integrity of the rig. Contact a rigger or surveyor if you suspect a problem.

Maststeps: Whether it is stepped on deck or on the keel, the base of a mast—a maststep—should be the same material as the mast. Because water that is outside the boat usually finds its way into the bilge, a mast that is stepped on the keel is especially prone to corrosion when the boat is used in saltwater. A rigger in Maryland likes to tell the story about an owner who complained that the stays and shrouds that couldn’t be tightened. He thought they had stretched. It turns out that the maststep had corroded so badly that the mast was "sinking" into the bilge. A mast that is stepped on deck can cause problems if the load isn't supported properly down below. This is sometimes a design problem, but most often it is because a bulkhead or support stanchion has failed—shifted, rotted, delaminated, etc. Look down below for indications of movement, including jammed doors, broken bonds, and splitting wood. A sagging cabin top is a strong indication that adequate support isn't being provided. Besides corrosion, maststeps can be damaged when the mast is cocked to one side and the heavy compression load is not evenly distributed. Indications of uneven compression load include cracking and/or crushing of the mast's base. The problem can be avoided by keeping your rig tuned—adjusting the stays and shrouds to make the mast straight. If the base of the mast has already been damaged, don't despair, it can either be cut down slightly and restepped or, if the problem is more serious, the damaged portion can be cut down and an extrusion added. Either way, the boat should not be sailed until a rigger is contacted and the problem has been corrected.

Inspecting Aloft: Most people have a natural aversion to hanging from a rope at the top of a swaying mast. If possible, inspect your mast while it is unstepped. If you do go aloft, make sure there are experienced hands below to hoist you up. A snap shackle, if one is used on the halyard, can be made safer by taping the lanyard to prevent its accidentally opening. Also, if the boat is in the water, you'll want to moor it where it won't get tossed around by a passing boat wake.

Stress cracks often form at bends of fittings, such as the under side of upper T-ball terminals. Zero in with a magnifying glass to detect cracks and discoloration before they fail (below).

Take tools: screwdrivers, pliers, a small hammer, lubricant, the mirror, extra cotter pins, and rigging tape. Put them all in a tool pouch or boatswain’s chair with tool pockets and Velcro flaps. Whenever possible, use lanyards on the tools. The only thing worse than making the crew haul you up and down the mast getting tools you forgot is to drop a tool on someone's head. (You can also help the grinder's morale by using your feet and hands to help hoist yourself up.) First stop is the spreaders. (While you're working, have the tailer cleat-off the halyard.) Make sure the ends of the spreaders bisect the shrouds at equal angles and are secured properly to prevent slipping. Skewed spreaders have been responsible for many dismastings.

Tape or spreader boots, used on the spreader ends to prevent damage to the sails, should be removed temporarily so that the spreader ends can be inspected and the connection tightened as necessary.

Some skippers paint the top of the spreaders, even aluminum spreaders, to reduce damage from sunlight. This is a necessity with wooden spreaders, unless you go aloft every month and add a coat of varnish. Remember, you can't see the tops of the spreaders from down below. Like their counterparts the chainplates, fork tangs, used to secure the shrouds to the mast, should be angled so that loads are in a direct line with stays and shrouds. Cotter pins should be taped so that they don't shred flailing sails or snag a halyard. Shrouds that use "T" terminals should be examined for stress cracks where the bend occurs and for elongation of the slot. Either problem indicates the shroud or fitting should be replaced. The last stop, before you begin your descent, is the masthead. If you are even slightly acrophobic, the masthead can be a very scary place. Avoid looking down. The mirror (remember the mirror?) is especially useful for inspecting fittings at the masthead that would otherwise be inaccessible. Look at the halyard fittings, especially the sheaves, which wear over time and can be crushed or split by the strain of the genoa.

Wind indicators and radio antennas should also be checked for loose mounts and connections. On the way down check the rivets and/or screws used to secure the mast track. Replace any that are missing or suspect.

Standing Rigging: Stays and Shrouds
This is what 1x19 wire looks like at the upper headstay terminal fitting after it has been twisted back and forth a few times from "halyard wrap". Even slight damage from minor episodes warrants replacing the wire.

Stays and shrouds should have some "give", but not too much, when pressure is exerted with the palm of your hand. A stay that is too tight feels rigid. A stay that is too loose feels limp. Make sure any necessary adjustments are done evenly so the mast doesn't get cocked to one side. And adjustable (mechanical or hydraulic) backstays should be slackened when not in use. Remember, turnbuckles should have sufficient thread inside the barrel --at least 3/4" - and cotter pins to prevent their coming loose. (Be sure and wrap fresh tape around the cotter pins when you're done.) Wire should be inspected for broken strands or "fishhooks" by wrapping some toilet paper around the wire and running it up and down. If the paper shreds, the wire is nearing the end of its useful life and should be replaced. Check the wire where it enters the swage fittings for rust, which also indicates weakened wires that should be replaced.

reproduced courtesy

The above article illustrates the importance of this pre season check and the maintenance steps you can take yourself. Another excellent article is in the July 2008 issue of Yachting Monthly - not available online as yet.

The image at right shows you a basic rigging kit. A pair of binoculars is also useful. You can lie on your back on the deck and get a good look at the masthead - of course, this is for ongoing maintenance following your pre season check.

You can read more about rigging adventures and how we tackled them in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana' downloadable from my website