These pages have a motley collection of practical stuff for boats. It all comes from hands-on stuff on our boats that gets tested in the real cruising world and on those wet salty passages where you find out what works and what doesn't.
KISS keep it simple stupid
If you wander around the boatshow as I did this year, you could be forgiven for thinking that somewhere between the good old days and the glittering arrays on the stands at the boat show that we seem to be missing the point about going sailing and cruising. The basics have got mixed up with the toys that have a by-line like ‘essential for every cruising boat’ or ‘don’t leave port without one’. Its all for your convenience and you would be a fool not to have one on board.
There is a grand complication between the salesman’s patter about the integrated, PC or Mac compatible, talking to the instruments, gee-gaw that you must have and that simple old fashioned concept of capturing the wind in those white things and gliding over the sea to a destination.
In fact most of the equipment we need is low-tech and it needs to be reliable. We run all sorts of complicated gizmos in Skylax: a couple of chart-plotters, integrated instruments and autopilot, radar, lap-top navigation and routing software, all sorts of stuff. The nub of it all is whether you need to continually be repairing all this stuff or whether you keep cruising and repair or replace a piece of equipment when you can. I see all sorts of boats stuck in a harbours around the world waiting for a spare part or replacement gear. In fact most of what we need to keep these sailing dinosaurs going is simple basic stuff and a lot of what enhances cruising is low-tech or at best intermediate technology.
KISS. Below are some simple things that make your cruising more enjoyable and also some caveats on things we use.
CREDIT CRUNCH BLUES
When this happens you need some Bhuddhist calm. Stewie with Corinthian and the keel after Hurricane Ivan in Grenada 2004.
So what to do for this sailing zen. Well quite a lot really. We are cutting back on items that we deemed essential for the
From my Mediterranean Cruising Handbook
2. Oil level.
3. Fresh water coolant level.
4. Raw water cooling inlet is open.
1. Oil pressure gauge or oil pressure warning light.
2. Raw water is coming out of exhaust (unless a dry
1. Pulley belt tension. Normally belt should depress
14mm (0-5”) at slackest but check with manual.
2. Raw water inlet strainer.
3. Gear-box oil.
4. Inspect fuel filter. If there is water/contamination in
the bowl then run off until clean fuel comes
• check battery switch is on.
• check battery switch is on engine battery or
• check voltmeter or battery condition meter or
check specific gravity of electrolyte with hygrometer.
• Turn a light(s) on and when you try to start
the engine if the light(s) dims excessively the battery is low.
• ignition circuit faulty. Bridge the battery and
switch terminals on the starter motor - if the
engine cranks there is a problem in the ignition
circuit. Check for loose wires or connections.
• solenoid sticking (doesn’t click). Tap solenoid
gently with a small screwdriver head. Don’t hit it
hard as modern solenoids have delicate electronic
• starter motor sticking (solenoid makes a solid
click but starter motor doesn’t turn). Try tapping
starter motor case gently with a small wrench.
Note engine may be seized so be gentle.
· starter motor defective or ring gear worn.
· try to turn a small motor by hand either with
engine starting handle or by pulley belts. If it
doesn’t turn over it is seized. For large engines try
lifting decompression levers and turning over. In
any case of a seized engine seek help. Engine may
be heat-seized, may have a major mechanical
failure, or may have water in the cylinders.
· batteries low. Turn a light (s) on and if it dims
when you try to start the engine the batteries are
low. Check battery switch is on the engine battery
or reserve battery. Recharge batteries.
· engine cold (unlikely in the Mediterranean Tropics and in the
summer). Follow glow plug procedure if fitted.
• check throttle lever is half or more engaged,
check fuel level in tank. Check fuel tap is open. Some engines like the throttle to be wide open on starting, but throttle right down once started.
• visually check fuel lines and connections for a
• check for ‘diesel bug’ in the tank and fuel filter
(system must be totally purged of fuel if ‘diesel
bug’ is evident in any quantity).
• loosen injector connection nut and turn engine. If
no fuel spurts out check fuel line, filter(s), and
tank for obstructions. Bleed engine.
• check air supply is unobstructed. Often there are
ducts in a cockpit locker or elsewhere that may
have been accidentally covered.
• check air filter. Clean if necessary.
• check fuel lines visually. Check for ‘diesel bug’ or
water in the fuel filter. Clean fuel supply and
• if there is white smoke there may be water in the
· check air supply is unobstructed and air filter is
· check propeller is unobstructed. Plastic or rope
may be fouling the propeller. A bread knife or
other knife with a serrated edge is good for cut
ting away rope or plastic. Engine must be turned
off; ensure no-one goes anywhere near the
• if there is excessive white smoke the head gasket
may be blown.
• if there is excessive blue smoke the piston rings
may be worn or stuck or the valves and guides
may be worn or stuck. Major mechanical repairs
will be necessary to remedy the fault.
• if there is excessive black smoke under normal
loads the injectors, high pressure fuel pump, or
timing may need attention. Try bleeding in case
one injector is out. Otherwise consult for more
specialised attention. Injectors and high pressure
pumps are finely tuned pieces of equipment.
· turn off auxiliary equipment: refrigerator/radar/
lights/radio to take any alternator or mechanical
compressor loads off the engine.
• check water inlet. Is the sea-cock open? Is the
hose to the water pump intact? Is the inlet water
strainer clear of obstructions?
• is the water inlet blocked on the outside? Plastic
or weed can easily be sucked onto the inlet and
• water pump. Check impeller. Check pulley if
applicable. Check for other mechanical defect.
• check coolant level.
• check fresh water system plumbing for defects.
Some engines are self-bleeding and after turning over the engine for a bit the fuel system will bleed itself. Some are not. Check manufacturer’s handbook for advice.
• quick bleed (never recommended but we all do it,
though it doesn’t always work). Ensure throttle lever
is engaged. Back off injector nut (on fuel supply
line) while turning the engine over by hand or on the
starter motor until only fuel comes out (no air
bubbles). Tighten nut while still turning engine
over. On a four cylinder you may get away with
doing only two injectors. Do a full bleed later.
lot of modern engines will self-bleed. Yanmars are particuarly good at
this. Just turn the engine over a few times and it will probably chug
into life. New engines with software controlling the fuel supply can
have problems in the hardware or software. On some you can bypass the
hardware controlling fuel. We did this for a Volvo in the
• full bleed. In order bleed the low pressure fuel
pump, high pressure fuel pump, and each injector in
turn until only fuel comes out. Try not to spill diesel
everywhere by putting rag waste under connections
and in the engine bilge.
1. Water in the fuel.
2. Blown head gasket.
3. Air in fuel.
Black smoke may mean
1. Improper injection, timing, or high pressure fuel
2. Overload. It is common for a bit of black smoke on
start-up but once warm the engine should be backed
off from excessive revs which produce black smoke.
3. Air starvation or filter/turbocharger problems.
Blue smoke may mean
1. Mechanical defect, commonly worn or stuck piston
rings and/or valves and guides.
2. Too much oil in crankcase. Check oil level.
Complete socket set, metric or imperial depending on
Set of open-ended or ring spanners, metric or imperial.
Large adjustable spanner (big enough for the propeller
nut and sea-cocks).
Medium and small adjustable spanners.
Medium and large mole-grips.
Medium pipe wrench.
Set of Allen keys.
Set of normal and Phillips screwdrivers.
Pliers - normal and needlenose.
Set of feeler gauges, metric or imperial.
Brass bristle wire brush.
Suggested minimum engine supplies
WD40 or equivalent.
Insulation tape and self-amalgamating rubber tape.
Selection of stainless steel jubilee clips.
Silicone sealant. Petroleum jelly. Gasket goo (for emergency gasket repairs).
Top-end gasket set (or at least a head gasket).
Several impellers for raw water cooling pump.
Pulley belts as required for engine.
Injector sealing washers.
O-ring kit (as required).
Spare engine key.
More extensive engine spares kit - add:
Spare injector or nozzle.
Injector liner and washers.
Water pump spares kit.
Lift pump diaphragm.
1. Run the engine to operating temperature. Drain or
pump out the engine oil. Refill with fresh oil. I’ve tried various oil pumps from the straight pump-out ones (hard work), electric oil pumps (good, but prone to giving up), and vacuum pumps like the one opposite (the best solution I’ve found).
2. Drain the raw water cooling system. Flush through
with freshwater. The easiest way to do this is
usually to stick a hose in the water inlet or remove
the inlet pipe and stick it in a bucket which is
refilled by the hose. Run in 50-50 water-antifreeze
mixture at the end to coat waterways. Drain
system including low spots. Plug the water inlet
with oily rag.
3. Drain freshwater cooling system and replace with
water-antifreeze mixture as per handbook.
4. Drain water-trap box in exhaust. Clean up anti-siphon valve and make sure the siphon hole is not blocked up with crusty salt bits. Plug exhaust with oily rag.
5. Remove and grease waterpump impeller with
petroleum jelly. Leave it out to replace on launching (don’t forget).
6. Check any anticorrosive zincs and replace if nec
7. Clean fuel filters and drain water out if necessary.
8. Grease any appropriate points, not forgetting the
9. Spray WD40 or oil into inlet manifold and turn
engine slowly (without starting) to coat cylinder
10. Turn engine to compression stroke.
11. Fill fuel tank to avoid condensation.
12. Wipe engine with an oily rag or a mixture of
petroleum jelly dissolved in petrol or spray with
WD40, to avoid external corrosion.
13. Clean engine compartment. Be careful not to leave
oil and diesel in the engine bilge.
14. A custom-made winter cover for the deck or the
whole boat will repay the investment by keeping
the sun and dust off the boat while it is laid up. In
many yards there can be a fair bit of dust blowing
around and when it settles and then it rains, the
result is later baked by the sun to a red-clay finish.
The cover will also prevent UV damage to fittings
From the Skylax blog 19-02-09
Its a gas gas gas
Getting cooking gas around the world
We’re talking cooking gas here. One of the problems that doesn’t usually get a lot of thought when arriving in a new country is how easy, or not, it is to get gas bottles filled. In a significant number of countries you effectively need to get a new gas bottle that conforms to the regulations in that country so you can have gas on board. The reason for that is that to get an old bottle certified can be next to impossible and even if you manage it, the cost of certification will often be more than the cost of a new bottle.
cookers will run happily on propane or butane. Propane cookers running
on butane will give out slightly less heat than when on propane, but
for the most part you won’t notice the difference. Butane is stored at
a lower pressure than propane so you should never fill a butane bottle
(such as Camping Gaz bottles) with propane. In lots of places,
have a new bottle then there is the matter of connecting it. The
fittings for bottles in different countries vary and the chances are
that you will not have a fitting for the local bottle. We have just
bought the kit that
in NZ at the moment and we have bought a new bottle there ($NZ50)
because they won’t fill any bottles we already have. The regulator to
fit on the top of the bottle would cost $NZ40 so we have saved that
much already, or should I say it’s gone towards the
All the components of the kit are sold separately so the thing to do is get in touch with Will Hayward at the email above and tell him where you are going. We have the ‘world’ kit and the marinised regulator which comes out at:
Universal gas system.
The adapters in the kit 4018 @ £85.99 connect to one end of a 22" or 33" high pressure hose 4017 @ £10.99 the other end of the hose connects to our 4006 bulkhead mounted regulator @ £20.99 which has a 1/2" BSP low pressure outlet.
There are six adapters in the kit.
20mm clip on
Primus swivel valve
Camping gaz swivel valve
BSP male Propane pol.
NPT male pol
G4-8 left hand EU
2 X Stainless steel spanners.
I wrote this in response to a letter in one of the yachting magazines which stated that a watermaker was an essential bit of equipment for ocean passages. At the time we were waiting for spares to arrive for our watermaker. The magazine obviously decided to file it away, presumably in the file called rubbish, as it didn't appear. Perhaps the contents didn't fit in with the ethos of flashy yachts equipped to the gunwhales with complicated equipment.
While a watermaker is a useful bit of kit on board, it is not essential and large numbers of yachts make long passages without one. There are drawbacks to watermakers.
Water on a long trip is liquid gold and you need to hoard it. On a three week trip from the Red Sea to
You can justly ask how smelly were we at the end of the trips? Well not that bad. Watching the water consumption you do get to shower now and again, but there is no way you are going to shower every day without very large tanks or a watermaker. Most people don’t and the saving grace smell-wise is baby wipes. We always have large economy packs on board and a wipe over with several of these does a pretty good job. Moreover they can be used when the boat is too uncomfortable to shower which is more often than you think, especially crossing to the
While a lot of yachts carry watermakers, it is not necessary for a long trip – after all yachts were crossing oceans long before watermakers were around. And they are not always reliable as per my comments above. In most places in the world you can find water and you can also collect rain to augment your supplies. Either let the main down a bit so it has a bag at the bottom and after it has been washed off for a bit to get salt and silt out of it, lower the boom a little (or tighten the kicker) and use a large funnel with a piece of hose to collect it in a jerrycan or directly into the tanks. One idea I saw in a NZ magazine is to fill a pastic bag with water and use it as a dam to direct water directly into the tanks off the side decks - once they have been washed clean. And anyway in an age where water poverty is going to become THE issue, perhaps we need to learn how to be frugal with our water - on land as well as at sea.
Atlantic squall - with rain!
The great bottled water myth
Sitting around Levkas reading proofs, well actually when I take a break for a cappuccino in the internet café on the waterfront, I see all the mini-buses bringing in new people to the charter boats lined up on the quay. Along with bags, food, beer and wine and other things, the new charterers unload pack upon pack of bottled water and struggle on board to load the boat down to the gunwales with it. Even if W C Fields said, ‘I never drink water because fish shit in it’ or something like that, I bet he had ice in his drink.
It is a curse of these seas that they are peppered with empty plastic water bottles bobbing around, washed up on beaches and casually disposed of ashore. Even if they are taken ashore to be disposed of they invariably end up being burnt on a rubbish dump somewhere releasing all sorts of toxic compounds into the environment. Plastic bottles are mostly made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), but also contain traces of plasticizers, phthalates, anti oxidants, heavy metals, fillers, and anti-static agents. PET can be recycled, but not by burning it in an open air rubbish dump. And for what?
Here are the reasons why it is pointless to carry all that bottled water on board – APART from the very obvious matter of pollution in the sea and on the land.
Water in another country will have some benign bacteria of a slightly different strain to that your gut is used to at home and maybe it will cause a slight tummy upset or a mild dose of the runs for a day or so. Your gut will then adapt to the ‘foreign’ bacteria and you won’t experience any more problems in the normal course of events. And you get to eat ashore.
So don’t buy all those bottles of water. It is an affectation you can do without. And you will be doing yourself and the environment a favour as well.
While local water is often perfectly OK to drink, in some places it is heavily chlorinated. We use a Brita water filter jug to filter water for tea and coffee and fill water bottles to go in the fridge for drinking water. It gets rid of any taste in the local water, especially chlorine, and costs very little compared to bottled water.