A crack in the deck!

“There is a crack in the middle of the deck!” Heidi told me as she returned from doing something at the front of the boat. Not a good thing to hear at any time.

We took a long hard look at the crack and decided it could only be something to do with the foot-switch next to it or that the inner foresail was trying to rip its mounting out of the deck which is definitely not something that should happen. We contacted Colin, our favourite surveyor (http://cbmarineservices.co.uk/), and he confirmed that it looked like the deck was giving under the load being applied by the inner foresail. He suggested that the plate under the deck be tied down to the hull or, if that was not possible then, a laminated beam should be added below the deck to spread the weight. Option one was impossible due to lack of space so option two it was.

We are anchored off Huahine, a beautiful tropical island with no boat maintenance firms, no marine shops and little in the way of tradesmen. If they need a house they have a kit shipped from Tahiti and it is assembled here. There is one hardware store, the owner of whom was asking how the project was going by the time we finished.

So we made a plan:

  1. design and build a beam that follows the curve of the deck
  2. epoxy the beam so that it is waterproof and paint it white so it looks good
  3. get the foresail down and packed away
  4. dismantle the inner forestay including the furling system and secure it against high winds
  5. Remove the existing steel plates from above and below deck
  6. repair the crack with resin
  7. install the new beam
  8. reinstall and seal the plates, assemble the forestay and the furling system.

Luckily we knew how to do number 2 & 3 so they should have been easy. It would have been easy if the bolt at the base of the sail wasn’t seized and the allen key hadn’t of broken off trying to remove the offending bolt.

Everything else was learning by doing. We visited the hardware store and found 9mm wood from which we made three “layers” that we then installed above each other to allow them to bend to the correct shape before being screwed together. Heidi is an epoxy and paint expert so the beam was soon waterproof and looking good.

Getting the foresail down and everything dismantled was impossible in high winds and with gusts of 30 knots. But we have time so we worked on other projects and waited a week for the wind to drop. It turned out easier than expected.

Heidi watched a video about crack repair, bought some resin and mended the crack. Unfortunately there was only see through resin on the island but the repair is perfect and will keep the moisture out. When we reach civilization we can worry about color.

We then installed our new beam and, after then waited for the wind to drop again. This morning I opened my eyes and heard “Hey! There is no wind. Come on, let’s do it.” Two hours later everything was reassembled and ready to be tested.

One year of water making. Katadyn PowerSurvivor.

A year ago today, our Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E water maker was finally working. Since then it has produced almost all the water we use. I write “almost” as we are not averse to collecting rain water – mainly for washing and cleaning.

A year ago today, our Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E water maker was finally working. Since then it has produced almost all the water we use. I write “almost” as we are not averse to collecting rain water – mainly for washing and cleaning.

We spent a week away from the boat when we cycled in the Andes but other than that we have been living on board all year. In those 358 days we have produced nearly 4000 liters of water and have given away about 350 liters, so on average we use about ten liters a day. By pre-washing ourselves, our clothes and our dishes in salt water, we manage to live comfortably with that.

The system uses about 60 watts of electrical power and we run it only from wind and solar power. Unlike many of our neighbours, we never have to run our diesel motor or a petrol generator to produce electricity. The water maker is a good “energy puffer”; on days with too much power we can produce more water and on overcast, windless days, less.

The water quality has been good all year. We have regularly given the Seenomaden water and, after over twenty years at sea, they still say it is the best water they have tasted. We have a measuring device which always claimed our water had less than 300 parts per million (ppm) of salt in it. SY Mikado’s meter measured far less so we are not sure of the real value but our guess is an average of about 180 ppm.

Until now (touch wood) the system has run with no problems. We wash out and dry the two pre-filters every few days and occasionally lubricate the piston shafts as per the manual. We have seen black oily leaks from the piston shaft but they are irregular. We asked technical support for suggestions what it could be but received a standard “take it to a dealer” answer. Katadyn still do not appreciate how big the oceans are and how limited their dealer network is in the middle of the Pacific.

We bought a water maker to increase our freedom and that is exactly what it has done. If we want to stay a month on a dry coral reef, that is what we do. If it takes 54 days to cross an ocean, we still arrive with a full water tank. When the neighbours need water, no problem! We always have pure clean water and therefore a meal and a cup of coffee.

Technical bit. The PowerSurvivor has produced an average of 5.40 liters per hour during the last year. The flow rate is dependent on the battery voltage varying between 5.2 (under 12.8V) and 5.7 (above 14V). We have a pre-pump installed below the water line which can pump about 170 liters an hour through the pre-filters.

Power generation upgrade

Warning! Technical article. Lots of data and numbers and not funny.

Last year we wrote about our regenerative electricity production and about our Aquair towed generator which we use as a second wind generator. As long as the wind blew everything was working perfectly but when it stopped (as in Columbia) then we realized that our batteries were no longer working properly and the solar was under-dimensioned especially with our water maker now running. There were even a few days that we had to run the engine and that is awful.

So, while in Panama, we rebuilt and rewired things again.

The HRDi controller from Marlec regulates the power from the wind generator and can optionally work as a controller for 160 Watts of solar panels. It works but lacks an absorption phase during the charging which is not good for the batteries. Additionally only 12V modules can be connected which is not enough to allow the MPPT (max. power point tracking) to function efficiently early and late in the day or when the sky is overcast. We bought a Victron Energy SmartSolar 30/100 which has a three phase charging algorithm and can deal with a higher voltage. Really nice is the Bluetooth connection which allows us to see the actual and historical data on the smartphone.

the blue line in this screenshot from our data logger on 5. Feb. shows the controller working perfectly. Bulk, absorption and float. (All times are UTC and we are UTC+5 so sunrise is about twelve.)

We doubled our solar power by buying two new 80 Watt panels from a Chinese electrical store. With four panels rated at a total of 320 Watts, we could connect two strings of two panels and thus double the voltage available to the controller.  All four panels are mounted and wired above the cockpit and nicely hidden from below by the bikini sun cover.

Our batteries were sourced by Ardfern Yacht Center two years ago and, according to the manufacturer, were unsuited for use in a regenerative energy system. They were not deep cycle batteries and were not helped by the few times we ran them nearly empty. The lack of an absorption charge phase in the controller also shortened their life. We bought three deep cycle marine batteries – two for the services and one just to start the engine – manufactured by East Penn. They have a great document that describes which charging voltages to use and a competent and quick customer support who actually answer emails and wrote that we should use a float voltage of 13.8V and absorption of 14.7V.

Information_SignThe batteries are Deka DC31DT Marine Master manufactured by East Penn. Their data sheet for regenerative systems is online here. Gabriel Schneck is their great customer support person who helped us.

In Panama the system worked well despite us being anchored facing north and thus with shadow on the panels. Sailing south to Ecuador we produced 1400Wh of solar power one day and the next day – with absolutely no sun – 360Wh but our average after 33 days is about 700Wh. Each wind generator produces an average per day of about 200Wh and when on passage the towed generator produces between 150 and 800Wh depending on our speed.

Screenshot from Android App. Per Bluetooth we can see what is happening in the system. In real time and as a daily summary.

The first month suggests that we are now self sufficient in electricity and therefore also water production. Another piece of freedom.

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”

A new motor for Artemis

Those of you who follow our adventures may have noticed that, even though we own a sailing boat, our engine is a recurring theme. (repairs, a working engine, a hole in the water) We really try hard not to use the engine and are quite successful in keeping down the engine hours but when you need the engine you need it now. We have bad memories of drifting off Mallaig or Rhum with a none functioning engine and don’t want to try that again off a coral reef.

Since Gran Canaria the engine has been overheating after exhaust gases push the coolant out. Two guys in Tenerife looked at it but didn’t really have much idea so disconnected the fresh water heater.

In Martinique we went straight to Mecanique Plaisance because every one says they are “the people”. The technician came out to us at anchor and ran a few tests before declaring the heat exchanger (salt water to fresh water) dead. It was leaking internally so exhaust gases were pressurizing the fresh water coolant.

The engine is a three cylinder Yanmar (3HM35F) and as old as the boat (1992) which means spares are about as plentiful as rocking horse droppings, something else will be going wrong soon and it leaks a bit of everything all the time. We accepted the technicians opinion that a new engine made more sense.

They had a suitable engine with gearbox (3YM30AE) in the shop and Christoph (the technician) had time on Thursday and Friday so we agreed to be on the dock at 08:30 on Thursday for him to start.

Obviously every one was working on shipyard time so “08:30” was late morning, “an hour” was half a day and “finished on Friday” meant Saturday but whatever. The work looks professional and the motor works. And we don’t actually have any appointments the next few years.

The new motor is also a Yanmar. It is tiny compared to the old one, feels a bit more powerful and looks much much less rusty. It also has a three year manufacturers warranty and spare parts available worldwide. Sounds like fun.

A hole in the water

People say that “a boat is a hole in the water that you throw money in to.” After a few weeks in Tenerife, I fully understand what they mean.

Off Lisbon the genoa halyard broke and the local rigger explained that a lot of things had been rigged wrong in Scotand and needed correcting. In Tenerife we had a rigger (Nordest from Santa Cruz) make the necessary changes. New genoa furler and forestay. Complete rebuild of inner forestay. Improvements to the Vang. And it all cost money.

The team from Nordest in Santa Cruz

The engine had begun to pressurise the coolant and overheat so a diesel fitter came and eventually localised the fresh water heater as the problem. We have bridged the heater in the cooling system and paid another bill.

After 4000 miles and the rigging problems, both foresails needed some tender loving care so they both disappeared off to the sailmakers loft for a week. Needless to say he needed paying.

We needed a few changes to the electrical systems. The parts had to be ordered and flown from all over Europe to the Canary Islands. Luckily Neill could do this work himself but the components had to be paid for.

The last two days we have sailed from Tenerife to Gran Canaria and back to test that everything is working. The boat sails like a dream and the motor seems to be working. Now we are hoping that we have finished with repairs and improvements for the next few months.

Hopefully next week we leave for Cap Verde and a few months with no major bills.

Monitor Windvane rebuild

I have mentioned that we have a windvane on board. This is an amazing device that just uses wind power to steer the boat. It is a she and she is called Ciara and she has been steering for a large part of the last two thousand miles. She was built in 1995 and while she still works she was a bit creaky and had a lot of wear in everything.

We originally planned a rebuild in south England but the UK agent went on holiday while we were there so just gave us a load of parts and tried to sell us a new system for thoudands of pounds.

Finally in Portugal we had time to dismantle the system and service it. The UK guy had told us it took about four hours if everything went well. It didn’t go well. Two parts were so corroded together that we ended up grinding and cutting them apart. Not good! We had to order new parts from California. Luckily Scanmar have an amazing emloyee called Suzy who told us what we needed and got it all out the same day. Fedex took a few days to get all the parts to us and the portuguese government charged us taxes and VAT.

With all the parts laid out in front of us we slowly rebuilt everything and with three pairs of hands got it all together and working with no play in the system. Difficult but satisfying. We then carried it back to the boat and reattached it. The final piece was having to make a rope loop with my first ever long splice. Not pretty but it worked first time.

Tomorrow we are off to see if it works at sea.

[29.09.18] it works! Quieter than before and seems to hold the course better than before. We are all agreed it was worth the work.


Obviously on a sailing boat you don’t have a connection to the grid. Almost as obvious is that you have devices that use electricity. The result is that you have to generate your own power and use less than you produce.

The diesel motor needs electricity to turn the starter and also generates electricity when it is running. It first charges its own battery (B2 in the diagram) and then uses anything left over to charge the services battery bank (B1). This means that the service batteries rarely get a good charge from the motor especially as we try to avoid running it and prefer to be a sail boat. Most sailing days we mange less than an hour of “motor boating” and at anchor it is always off.

Electricity generation
Electricity generation

We have a wind generator mounted on the stern and two 80 Watt solar panels mounted one on each side of the cockpit. All this produces a long term average of 2A day and night – so 48Ah a day. The solar produces more than the wind but the wind often blows when there is less sunlight.

So on the incoming side of the batterys we have 2A. And on the outgoing side we have:

  • Fridge (uses 6A)
  • Heating (about 5A)
  • Navigation equipment (2.5A but loads more with radar on)
  • VHF radio (0.5A)
  • PC, 2 tablets and 2 phones
  • Power tools
  • Lighting
  • Various pumps.

The trick is to minimize the use of any and all devices and charge them when there is power available.

The fridge cools best at night (when the ambient temperature is lower) so we cool that for about 6 hours a night and use up about ¾ of what we produce. The heating has been off since Scotland. The navigation equipment only gets switched on when absolutely necessary and the radio is on when we are at sea. The PC is rarely unpacked.

Tablets, phones and tools are charged up (as far as possible) when the system is fully charged. We have USB and power tool power packs to “save” extra power.

The tablets are the real “workhorses”. They have our charts on them, navigation software installed and the anchor watch (to check if we are drifting at anchor). Together with Google, we use them to blog, organise our photos, read books and communicate. They do all this while using next to no electricity. The phones are our “communication centers” and just as energy efficient.

All the lights are LED and the pumps very rarely run.

Right now the system is working and we don’t miss the electricity bill.


Our two foresails can be rolled in or out depending on the strength of the wind. More wind needs less sail so as the wind increases we can roll more foresail away and thus keep everything under control.

The mainsail needs to be lowered to reduce its size. This is called reefing and initially appears a little more complicated. Basically you have reefing lines that you use to pull a part of the sail down and then to keep them tightened down. The methodic is:

  • turn up wind to take the air out of the sail,
  • take up the weight of the sail and boom on the topping lift – line specially for this,
  • release the downhaul – line that pulls the main sail down,
  • pull in reefing line while gently releasing main halyard – the line that pulls the mainsail up,
  • release the topping lift,
  • re-tension the downhaul,
  • turn back downwind.

It sounds like a lot to do but we can now have a reef in a few minutes after deciding we need one. This is however definitely a case of “practice makes perfect” and we have now have plenty of practice.

reefing lines and the downhaul
reefing lines and the downhaul

While crossing the Bay of Biscay we broke the first reefing line. It was already damaged and Heidi is really strong 🙂 In La Coruna we bought a new line and yesterday we replaced it. Our first reef is a “one line reef” which means you only pull on one line and it cleverly pulls down on both ends of the sail at once. That sounds simple but makes the actual mechanics much more complicated. The line runs backwards and forwards and round pulley after pulley. Trying to get the new line in without losing the ends or breaking anything was a real challenge and Neill needed a piece of chocolate to recover once it was done.

But today, when the wind got up, everything worked perfectly.