Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Practical Boat Stuff 4: Widgets & lateral thinking


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 Ďessential for every cruising boatí or Ďdonít leave port without oneí. Its all for your convenience and you would be a fool not to have one on board.

There is a grand complication between the salesmanís 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.

Outboard theft
Water pump impellers
What did we ever do without cable ties?
The easy 'Eric' syphon method
Loo matters
And another use for an umbrella


Outboard theft

From the Skylax blog 08-05-08

Before we left Colon a week ago a couple of outboards were stolen off yachts in the flats anchorage. Both of them were lifted up on davits and the outboards chained on with 8mm stainless chain. The outboard thieves have taken to carrying bolt croppers to cut chain and cable. Here in Portobello Iíve just been talking to the unfortunate Mario off Valuda who had his outboard stolen a few days ago. It to was chained with 8mm stainless chain to the dinghy which was tied on to the back of the boat. He found the dinghy ashore minus outboard so the thieves were obviously not interested in the dinghy.

Itís standard practice here in Panama and in quite a few other places I can think of to lift your dinghy up out of the water alongside the boat and use cable or chain to lock it on. This seems to work better than davits though itís not the complete answer. In risky areas we quite often lift the dinghy with outboard right up onto the foredeck and then lock it on. Alternatively we hoist the outboard up onto itís mount on the pushpit and then just put the dinghy sans motor on the side or on the foredeck. Since we sleep aft we should hear someone trying to break the padlock and cut the cable to get the dinghy off the pushpit. To my knowledge none of these guys have boarded boats to steal the outboard off a dinghy.

We do have a slight advantage in that the thieves seem to be after outboards over 10hp so a smaller 5hp like ours is less at risk. I know several cruisers here that have sanded the Ď1í off a 15hp to make it look like a 5hp.

While the locals get all the blame itís sometimes your fellow cruisers you need to keep an eye on, sad as that may be. In Isla Grande we waved cheerily to a young couple returning to their boat in the anchorage. We got a surly look as a reply and a half-hearted wave. Soon after they departed to a green steel boat anchored inside the reef-bound harbour. I didnít think too much of it until we went ashore and wandered around to the harbour. The young couple were energetically loading bits of boat equipment from the steel boat, which looked neglected but seaworthy, into their dinghy. They returned to their own boat after dark and loaded all sorts of gear onto their boat. Now their may be a perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but their behaviour did seem furtive and they left early in the morning the next day. Still I didnít notice any spare outboards lying around the deck.


Water pump impellers

From the Skylax blog 14-05-09

Water Pumps

If you have an old Yanmar 4JH like mine, the water pump is in the most inaccessible place going. Itís tucked under the alternator and just in front of the starter motor. Plus there is an engine mount adjacent as well. Getting two hands into this space is a nightmare and involves contortions that leave me with aching muscles for days.

Anyway the impeller needs to be changed so I got the backing plate off and managed to semi-insert a puller to get the old impeller out, or at least part of the way out until I could get a screwdriver in there to lever it the rest of the way out. Not recommended practice I know.

Now the big problem is getting the new impeller in when the space is so enclosed that it is impossible to get fingers around the impeller to bend the blades the right way and fit it in (clockwise, clockwise clockwise Rod). And then I had my Eureka moment. Iím sure others have had it too. I put a cable tie around the impeller, bending the blades the correct way, and then slid it half in. The outside casing pushes the cable tie outwards and then off and bingo: one impeller on.

Now I just hope that raw water pump is working when we go in the water.

And this photo doesn't come close to showing how inaccessible the water pump least on later Yanmars they put it in a more accessible position.


With the cable tie - now that works a treat in that tiny little space.


What did we do without cable ties?

From  the Skylax blog 29-05-09

Cable ties just get used for more and more things on Skylax. We have used them for the usual things and some unusual and quick-fix solutions as well.

1.   Of course to tidy up cables in the bilge and under head-lining. Just make sure you get rid of the cut-off tails so they donít clog limber holes in the bilge.

Around things like the prop shaft you really need to make sure cables don't get caught up. Years ago I was delivering an old steel schooner to Greece and on entering Kos harbour was surprised, no I was sh****** myself when the Morse control disappeared into the bowels of the boat with an almighty bang and the engine shuddered to a halt. Once we had the anchor down I went below to find the gear and throttle morse cables had been laid along the prop shaft and inevitably the shaft had collected one of the cables and wrapped it around the shaft at speed, pulling the whole morse control out of the plywood plinth. Anyway that was just the start of our troubles on that delivery ...

2.   Use a cable tie instead of seizing wire to make sure shackles stay done upÖNope, they havenít chafed through yet.

Locking the mainsheet shackle

3.   Use coloured cable ties to mark the anchor chain. You can make up your own colour-coded system but we use the colours of the spectrum Ė you know, Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain. In practice the cable ties have never been a problem on our vertical Lofrans winch. Ties on the 0-40 metres commonly used chain last around a season, ties on 40-80 metres last two seasons. Some of them may get chomped off on the sea bottom, but there will be enough left to identify the length of chain out.

4.   We have used them for emergency repairs between the mainsail slide and mainsail when the original ties (both sewn tape and plastic clips) have failed. On Skylax we will often put two cable ties in for a repair. While you are rocking around on passage using cable ties is a lot easier than anything else and has got us safely through the Strait of Gibraltar with a 40 knot levanter on the nose.

5.   Use them for attaching dodgers and the like.

dodgers on Skylax

7.   Use them to make Luís cheap alternative to store bought backstay spacers for the SSB aerial. See Luís Radio Page.

8.   Iíve used them to hold the wooden boom on Tetranora together after a glue failure Ė from Aden to SE Asia. Now I always carry some super-size cable ties (the big ones can be re-used) for any similar emergency repair that might be needed.


The easy 'Eric' siphon method

From the Skylax blog


The ĎEricí siphon method

Long ago when I was in Cochin en route to Malaysia and sucking on a tube to get a siphon going, I met Eric Lambert heading the other way. He expressed amazement I used this awful method. Just put a tube down the pourer to the bottom of the can and the other end into the fuel filler, get a shorter bit of tube and a bit of rag to make the pourer airtight and then blow. The pressure forces the diesel into the long pipe and starts the siphon.

In the picture below Lu is blowing into the breather on the fuel cans we have on Skylax with the pourer pipe kept airtight with the bit of rag, but the principle is the same. So easy and no yucky taste of diesel.


Loo matters

From the Skylax blog Jan 08

Loo matters

I'm sure most of you new men out there sit on the loo to have a pee at sea. For the unreconstructed put a bit of elastic shockcord/stretchy/bungee cord across the top to hold the loo seat up. For anyone sitting the shockcord also keeps the loo seat top from banging on your back when the sailing is a bit bouncy.



And another use for an umbrella

From the Skylax blog 01-01-10

On Skylax we needed to replace the top and bottom of the drum on the roller reefing which involved taking out some fiddly screws and bolts. Trouble is if any of them dropped out Ökerplink Öinto the waters of the marina and odds on we didnít have replacements in our not inconsiderable box of stainless nuts and bolts.
Peter on Sayonara suggested we put an umbrella upside down under the bow and so we did. Of course we didnít drop anything but without the umbrella we would have.


Create a Free Website