In the bowels of the boat

Boats have marine toilets. They look a lot like the toilets you are used to on land but work a little differently. You don’t just press a button and empty a days drinking water down the drain. Instead you pump a lever which sucks sea water out of the ocean and uses that to wash everything clean. At the same time the pump empties the contents out of the bowl. There is a switch with which you decide if you would like to empty straight in to the ocean – the preferred solution out at sea – or in to a holding tank on-board – when in a harbour or a bay. The contents of the tank can later be pumped out once you are back out in the middle of nowhere.

Artemis plumbing – with blockages

A great system that is flexible and reliable – until it breaks. The first indication we had that something was amiss was when it became harder to work the pump to empty the bowl. Shortly thereafter the pump to empty the tank began to sound as if it was working harder and then stopped working.

I was pretty sure the problem was a blockage in the outlet pipes as this is a “standard” problem on most boats that occurs every couple of years. I disconnected the outlet from the tank pump and was rewarded with a spume of dirty looking slurry. After that is was “just” a case of bending myself in to the hot, tiny space in front of the toilet, dismantling all the other pipes, beating them on the dock to break the calcium build up, washing them through and re-assembling. Really important was to assure that absolutely everything was very tight as most of the piping is below sea level and a break could lead to a sunken boat. Four hours later, and with Heidi’s help to feed hoses through tight spaces, everything was working again.

Once I had showered off the sweat and the all pervading smell of slurry, I was happy that everything was working. I drew a plan of the system so I would know how everything works next time and searched the Internet for some way to avoid the problem. Unfortunately the expert opinion seems to be that it is just a part of boat ownership so learn to like it.

Bosch power tools

“I wish I had a set of tools like Heidi and Neill!”

How often have we heard this from tradesman that we have had on board? They work on boats all day but arrive with a motley assortment of tools and when they need “something special” they need to go back to the workshop to find it. Or – they borrow ours 🙂

Before we left we bought a set of Bosch power tools and they have definitely been one of our best investments.

Bosch power tools

We charge the two 12 Volt batteries up using the excess power that we generate with wind and sun and most of the time they are plugged in to the torch and vacuum cleaner both of which get used all the time. Vacuuming up dirt is so much better than redistributing it with a brush and a good torch is vital for looking in to the dark corners or searching for Artemis in the night with the dinghy.

We also have two drills, one of which can also be used as a power screw driver, and a reciprocating tool which we can use to saw woods, plastics or metal and use as a sander. Very useful when maintaining a boat with so much wood work.

After sixteen months of use, the power tools are still paying for themselves every day and hopefully will continue to impress tradesman all over the world.

New fridge

Our Rustler had a fridge in the galley (sailor speak for kitchen area). It was a quarter of a century old, badly insulated and didn’t regulate properly. It was slowly rotting the surrounding woodwork and sometimes stopped cooling but still took 60 Watts from the batteries. We decided it had to go.

We ordered a Vitrifrigo TL20 top loading fridge. The manufacturer ignored our emails and the USA dealer quoted three months delivery so we ordered it via Ocean Chandlery. It has a capacity of 20 liters which is plenty for us. The technical data claims it is category A+++ and uses only 28 Watts of power.

Unfortunately Rustlers are hand built boats so nothing is easy. The work top was glued to the cupboards below and ran under the cupboards above. It had to be cut in to little squares before being hacked off. The fridge was also jammed in and held in with liters of insulating foam. Both fridge basin and foam had to be cut out in tiny blocks. New saw blades were needed which involved an 18 km bike ride to the tool shop.

We needed a new work top and Heidi had the brilliant idea of making one from wood stained white and then sealed with epoxy. Not only did she have the idea, she also made it happen – despite the ambient temperature being 15°C above the recommended temperature for working epoxy. The new top looks better than the old one and is more functional and has a fridge fitted and working.

The fridge has now been working for a week and works as hoped. The only “problem” is that it appears to take 36 Watts rather than the advertised 28 Watts. That is a major difference when you are running an autark system as we do.

Anchoring – a complete overhaul

When we bought Artemis, we changed to a Rocna anchor and it has been doing a fantastic job of holding the boat each night – the statistics are here.

But there is more to anchoring than just the anchor. There is:

  • the anchor
  • the chain
  • the anchor winch with it’s gearbox and motor
  • the switch that you press to work the motor

The all important switch rusted and fell apart in Grenada but we managed to clean it up and put it together so that it worked (mostly) until friends brought a new one to the Grenadines. The new one fitted perfectly after we modified it a bit.

repairing the anchor winch
Continue reading “Anchoring – a complete overhaul”

“Anchor Pro” app

Last week we wrote about how often we used our Rocna anchor and relied on it. Maybe just as important is an anchor watch program or App that lets you know when the anchor is not holding.

When we anchor we set our position in the Android app “Anchor Pro” We tell it where the anchor is and how much chain we have out. It immediately starts to monitor our position relative to the anchor. If we move outside the radius we have defined, the batteries on the tablet run low or it loses GPS signal, it lets out a very loud alarm.

The app is very easy to use but loaded with clever options. Really useful is the ability to define only a segment of a circle as being “OK”. Here in the Caribbean the wind comes from the east so you can anchor “a little bit closer” to an object to your east and then input a larger radius to the west than to the east.

Also nice is that when you leave the boat with the tablet you can switch the app off and, on your return, tell it to use the old position. You can also switch on the “heatmap” view and see all the positions that have been logged. A nice tidy grouping (as shown here) suggests that you are holding well and can enjoy a run ashore.

Anchor Pro showing the heatmap

A well set anchor, a good mattress and this app are our secrets to a good nights sleep.

Review of our Rocna Anchor

When we bought the boat we knew we were going to be spending as much time as we could at anchor. The most beautiful places in the world don’t have marinas or pontoons. Real freedom relies on a solid dependable anchor.

Before we left Scotland we installed a new 20kg Rocna anchor. Rocna recommended a 15kg anchor for our size and weight of boat but the extra 5kg is nice to have on board. The anchor is attached to the chain with a Kong connector.

In the last year we have spent 240 days at anchor. Often the pilot book has written that an anchorage has bad holding or that the anchor may need to be set a few times. Once – in Spain – we had problems setting the anchor because the bottom was a mass of weed. And only once it has not held when set and that was very strange. We anchored in Friendship Bay, Bequia and the anchor held perfectly all night. The next morning we started to drift and didn’t stop. Unfortunately we didn’t dive on the anchor when we set it to check if it was really set and in to what. We just pulled back and checked the chain tensioned.

So the numbers are:
– set 239 times from 240
– held 239 times from 240

In Spain, in a thunderstorm we once had 30 knot winds blowing us in all directions. We only had 20 meters of chain out as we were in a protected fishing port and the weather forecast was 5 knot winds from the west. We were being blown in circles and the anchor held us through it all. As you can see on the anchor watch, we swung within a 30 meter radius and the tablet was in the middle of the boat so the anchor was turning over and resetting within about five meters. Impressive!

anchor watch after the Spanish thunderstorm

Having watched a lot of people anchoring over the last year, it is obvious that a lot of badly set anchors are more a “crew problem” than an “anchor problem”. We regularly see big white charter catamarans sail to a point, stop and dump twenty or thirty meters of chain on top of their anchor. I am not sure that even a Rocna would help much if set in this way.

Marking the dinghy

Our insurance policy states that our dinghy needs to have an “identifiable mark”. When we bought the boat, the dinghy already had “Artemis” written on it in three places so Heidi brushed up the lettering a bit and we sent a photo to the insurance.

Here in the Caribbean everyone says “always lock your dinghy up!” and “don’t write the boats name on the dinghy!” The logic being that when your dinghy is on the beach, the bad guys know your boat is empty. We explained this to the insurers who agreed and said they would never mark the dinghy with the boats name (?)

Even the police lock up their boats in Martinique

Half a day with Acetone and Heidi’s work had been destroyed. Now we had a naked dinghy and needed an “identifiable mark” that had nothing to do with the boat but clearly said “It’s ours!” Sounded a bit contradictory.

Our solution is a generic email address that is now “permanently” marked on the dinghy and which passes any mails received on to both our email accounts. In addition, any one who writes to us on this address gets an autoreply with a thank you and our mobile phone numbers. The address has nothing to do with the boat or us so the potential thieves can spend an enjoyable evening looking for a fictive boat called “Soseies”. Hopefully if the dinghy is stolen and discarded some one will contact us. If not, at least we have complied with the insurance policy.

Amazing what good solutions we can work out when we have so much time to think about the problem. And thank you Gremmel lending us the generic address.

Stinky generators

We have written so much about electricity, solar panels, wind turbines and towed generators that you are probably bored with reading about it. But our neighbour here in Le Marin has a petrol generator on the deck of his boat and so each day, when he switches it on to charge his batteries we are SO GLAD that we don’t need one.

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His decks are covered in fuel canisters and containers of oil, the thing is loud and he seems to spend half of each morning running and servicing it. We are sure he has a freezer, microwave, wide screen TV and air conditioning running. No matter what he is feeding electricity in to, it can’t be worth the noise, smell and trouble of having a stinky generator on board.

A Parasailor for Christmas

On Christmas Eve while sailing south towards the Cape Verde Islands we were becalmed. Two hundred miles off the coast of Africa the wind dropped completely and left us drifting at half a knot with the current. Alone on the Atlantic, we dropped the sails and went to sleep bobbing on the swell.

On Christmas morning we were woken by a light wind heading our way so we set the genoa and tried sailing with that while we ate breakfast but the wind was much too light and the sail flogged so it was time to finally unpack our christmas present – a Parasailor.

We first came across this downwind sail while in Spain. Stuart, from parasailor.co.uk, was also in Ayamonte and gave us a demonstration of the sail out on the river We were impressed; Shane said it was just what we needed and Stuart agreed to deliver it to the Canary Islands so the next morning we ordered a huge orange and black version.

Stuart delivered the sail as promised and also flew out from the UK with a bag of goodies to set the sail up for Artemis. Twice he came out with us and drilled us in hoist sail, jibe sail, strike sail, hoist sail, strike sail, … At the end of the second day we both had back ache and sore muscles.

So on Christmas Day it was finally time to hoist and rig the sail with no Stuart. The bad news was we were hundred of miles from anywhere if we needed help. The good news was we had another ten hours of daylight to get everything working and a few hundred miles of open water with no one in the way. To add to the fun there was the typical Atlantic swell rocking the boat and we had to do everything while clipped on to the boat with our safety lines. We tidied away the jib, rigged all the lines, brought the Parasailor on the foredeck, struck the Genoa, hoisted the sail in its sock, opened the snuffer and – were sailing. We only took ninety minutes from “OK let’s do this!” to “Yippee, we are Parasailors!”

In the last nine hours the apparent wind has varied between two and seven knots but we have an average sailing speed of 4.8 knots and no flogging sails. We are both happy with our Christmas present.

Aquair towed generator

When we bought Artemis there was an Aquair generator at the bottom of one of the lockers. Getting this working again has been on the “todo list” since we left but was never priority number one as we mostly have enough power from the wind generator and the sun. Now however, with a few long journeys ahead of us, the time had come to get it plugged in and earning its keep.

The generator is designed to work as either a towed generator or a wind generator. The basic housing is the same and you change out the wind vanes or the towed propeller as needed. We currently have it affixed to the stern of the boat and operating in “water mode”.

A long rope is attached to the axis of the generator and streamed behind the boat. At the far end there is a torpedo shaped weight with an integrated propeller. As we sail along the propeller turns the rope which drives the generator.

The Aquair produces a 12 volt output so we have it connected it straight in to the battery. Originally we thought we needed a regulator but recently a long time user of the system rightly pointed out that if the onboard systems are using roughly the same as the generator is producing, then you can’t overcharge the batteries. With our fridge switched on we use roughly the three to four amps that are being generated.

Above about 12.7 volts our house batteries and engine starter battery automatically switch together so we then have over three hundred amp-hours of capacity. Even if the generator was to produce six amps, that would still only be a charging current of 2%. I doubt if the batteries would even notice it.

Forty eight hours after leaving port, we still have three fully charged batteries and a cold fridge. It looks like the towed generator is the perfect complement to our solar and wind systems.