Monday, November 30, 2020

How to turn a 3 hour job into a 3 day one.

With the main domestic batteries requiring replacement I decided that it would be a good opportunity to tidy up the main power distribution system which had grown by stages with items scattered around the battery areas, often in inconvenient places. Also the new batteries are shallower than the previous ones so that the already slightly dodgy and difficult to fit strong-back over them would no longer work.

Of course on a boat things are never as simple as you would like and what I estimated as a 2 day job ended up taking three and my elegantly simple wiring scheme had to be abandoned when I found that the domestic main switch would not comfortably take a single heavy duty, flexible cables to each of the terminals, let alone two. But finally it was finished and with the addition of 3 lashing points, extra wood battens, and a new shelf in the compartment, the batteries are more secure than ever.

The re-done main battery compartment.
The finned box top right is a Galvanic isolator
(AKA a zinc saver) to protect the boat from
Galvanic action when connected to shore power.
Below it are the shunts for the battery monitors.

Naturally I found more work to do, in this case replacing the bilge pump switch that one or more previous owners had rewired multiple times leaving it damaged and with the built in fuse bypassed, not expensive but annoying.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Round GB Equipment issues.

As those who have ploughed through all of my posts or who followed me here or on the Achilles Flickr site as I made the trip will know I had some fairly major equipment problems on my round GB but considering that because of Covid-19 restrictions, I did not have time for a shake down cruise or even a single trip after winter lay up, I had remarkably few other problems.

Major Issues in chronological order of failure:

External Alternator Regulator & Batteries

This one has not been mentioned here or on the Achilles owners forum.

Some years ago a previous owner installed an external voltage regulator for the alternator to give more intelligent and far quicker battery charging, usually a 300 - 400% improvement and I have seen 40+ amps going into the batteries for sustained periods.

After relaunch I noticed that it was showing fault lights that normally indicate wiring problems which I put down to damage when the engine was moved to replace the cutlass bearing last winter. I replaced the first section of the duel negative lines and the fault went away, however that was temporary and the fault reoccurred as I left in July. 

Fortunately the system is fail safe and with the external regulator in fail mode the alternators internal regulator takes over so I was still in reasonable shape, particularly with a fair bit of motoring and with a good contribution from the wind generator, although unfortunately not from the solar panels which did not see much sun after Lands End! 

The 2nd domestic battery bank. The webbing
straps are used with the lea cloths to secure
stores I carry on the starboard bunk. Note the
seriously heavy cable used to reduce voltage drop
even though this bank would be 2nd reserve
for starting.
However the primary domestic battery bank was loosing the first 15% to 20% of its charge very quickly before stabilising. I have 2 domestic banks, one of 250AHr and one of 200 AHr, not ideal but due to space issues they are too far apart to work well as a single bank and they are of different capacities also not advised in a single bank. After my return I did some extensive fault finding including resetting the battery monitors in case that was at fault rather than the battery.

I completely rewired the external regulator initially using very short wires as a check (long ones being a potential problem) and checked connections inside the regulator, voltages etc. but to no avail, the regulator had failed. 

When replaced, the charging side of the problem was fixed and when I checked the failed regulator the reason for my battery problem became apparent, the regulator was set for flooded batteries but the previous owner had replaced them with sealed (VRLA) types, this means that the batteries had been charged too quickly, this causes water loss as pressure exceeds safe limits and gas is released to the atmosphere, being sealed this can't be replaced so the batteries loose capacity and will have to be replaced. 

The main electrical panel prior to adding the final 
few cable ties.

Fortunately the second bank has had very light use, is newer and has not gone below about 75%, and that far only on a few occasions. With the engine starting easily the starter battery also never went low. In both cases much of the recharging was  from the renewable systems or shore power and the batteries appear to be OK, at least for the moment.

Having had to rewire (and relocate the rather bigger replacement controller) I took the opportunity of tidying the electrical panel up a bit,
The tidy side of the panel. The red covers keep the
switches for the Digital Voltage Sensitive Relays
(DVSR's) that control charging and battery use
in their default "automatic" modes but allow
 them to be switched off, isolating each battery bank,
and in the case of the Starter Battery set to enable the
DVSR to operate when the engine is not running to
allow charging from shore power. 

primarily to reduce the number of wires going to any one terminal. Unfortunately it still looks a bit of a mess but that is what happens when you do multiple upgrades and have limited space. 

At least it looks OK with the panel (new in 2018) closed.

Fuel Starvation

Due to shifting locker floor boards. This was covered in a previous post so will not be repeated here.

Propeller loss

Similarly this was covered extensively in a previous post.

The failed search for the lost propeller off Stromness marina.

Genoa Halyard

Broken after it wrapped round the forestay whilst the headsail was being furled when I was going from Blyth to Filey, as explained in some detail in the post about that leg of the trip. that was because a previous owner had not installed a halyard diverter when a furling system was installed. 

A mast mounted diverter was installed shortly after I go back to the Hamble and the halyard repaired.

Wind instruments.

This was an intermittent pain throughout the trip until they failed completely, initially I got the radio link between the top of the mast and the controller working by moving tinned food and other metal items further away from the direct path between them, and then by moving the control unit further forward in the boat but in the end the signal became too weak, failing for over 20 hours of sailing coming down from Orkney then failing completely. 

The NiMH battery in the head unit was new last winter and has a service life of 3 - 4 years and it is thought that the fault was in the small solar panel that keeps it charged after what looks like water intrusion. Rather than replace it like for like I have purchased a wired version of the sender that should be far more reliable, unfortunately the cable arrived too late to replace it at the same time as the halyard diverter was installed and it looks like that will not be done until the boat goes back in the water in March..


As was mentioned in a few posts a careless sports fisherman bashed the SeaFeather when I was in Stromness marina although the problem did not become apparent until I was on route from Peterhead to Ethien Haven (Montrose) when the wind instruments gave up the ghost. Although I was initially cautious it appears that my repairs made from the dinghy whilst in Blyth fixed the problem. 

The tube holding the servo blade had rotated at the top joint and by using the blade as a leaver and a very big screw driver to hold the top I got it sorted.

Minor Issues:

Spinnaker Sheets: Twice a flogging cruising chute caused a snap shackle to open, that has happened once before with the symmetrical spinnaker so I have now replaced them with a more up market type which is specifically designed for sheets which will hopefully be more secure and also easier to open when under load. These are double the price of a direct replacement, it was not hard to resist the temptation to buy some of similar size on offer at 10 times the price.

The new Hama top opening shackle, it is based on old and trusted design so hopefully will be more reliable. Replacing the shackle was also a good opportunity to put the sheets through the washing machine without getting into serious domestic trouble metal fittings in a washing machine are not good for domestic harmony even if well wrapped. 

The large ring is to attach the spinnaker guy - single handed and with a big spinnaker I prefer the  traditional 2 sheets & 2 guys rather than sheets + "Tweakers" / Barbour haulers as there is less chance of getting the spinnaker pole in the face whilst gybing and the manoeuvre requires less strength to execute.

Freshwater leak: Some water leaked into the compartment below one of the bunks, that was easily tracked down to a leaking fresh water pump supplying the galley, a complete new pump was only £10 more than a service kit so a new one was installed.

Throttle lever: Failed when coming into anchor at Broadford Bay, Skye when I could not get the engine out of gear, with plenty of room that was no problem, I just cut the engine, did a 360 to slow down before dropping the anchor, I made a quick fix at the time by tightening a grub screw and later cleaned out splines that were clogged with grease and refitted.

Cooker mount: In rough seas the cooker started moving about, the cooker had to come off the gimbles and the bolts securing a pad refitted.

That's it!  The work list this winter is not going to be that long with anti fouling by far the biggest job, probably followed by the battery replacement as I will take the opportunity to tidy up the battery compartment wiring.


Not able to use the cockpit table more than a couple times!


Power wash a couple of weeks before departure.

The boat was filthy a month after being cleaned and despite scrubbing the waterline on a couple of occasions and some work by the diver when the prop was being fitted there was weed and crud all over the place. I was seriously disappointed with the stupidly expensive top of the range anti-fouling I used last winter and will revert to the merely seriously expensive one I have used in previous years. 

Update: The after haul out it became apparent that the antifoul had done a decent job well under water but the boot line and a few inches below were heavily fouled as was the rudder - places where the sun gets to.

A related issue was weed attaching above the antifouling, partly this will be due to the boat being heavily loaded with fuel, water food etc. and partly due to the boat having put on weight over the years with more batteries and a bigger engine but I suspect it is also partly due to the "boot line" (the white strip of antifoul), being a bit lower than is should be and I will move it up a bit this winter.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Summary of the Round GB trip, statistics and itinerary.

A Satellite track of the trip as far as Holy Island when 
I switched the Iridium off to save a months subscription.
The very wiggly line to Ireland is a tracking error and I 
forgot to switch the IridiumGo on crossing to Peterhead
hence I appear to go overland.

About 400 pictures from the trip are available here. Its best to follow this trip in sequence from here.

Stage 28, The Downs to The Hamble.

After sleeping for most of one tide I left The Downs at 05:20 for another long leg. I got off to a cracking start with a F4-5 wind a bit south of west and I made well over 5 knots under easy sail for comfort and to make life easier for the wind vane steering although it was now working well.

Approaching Dover.

The wind was initially kind to me veering to the NW but lighter at F3-4 and I made excellent time past Dover, after which the wind dropped and became rather variable and at 10:00 I put the engine on south of Dungeness, still making good time.

The weather gods had not yet done with me, the inshore waters forecast was for winds from the west or north west force 3 or 4 occasionally 5, a good offshore sailing breeze promising a fast and comfortable sail and that was consistent with both the ECMWF and GFS weather models. But at about mid day the wind increased from the south west initially about F4 but rapidly building to at least a solid force 5. 

At the time I was over the Shingle Bank east of Beachy Head although, unlike the next bank inshore, this bank is not flagged on the chart with the warning "[waves] breaks" a very short sea quickly built up and were almost breaking, although not that high the near vertical wave faces meant at best I was making 3 - 3.5 knots and frequently only 1 or 2 as the waves pushed the boat back sending spray and solid water over the bow, showing that a rubber sealing strip on the forehatch had come adrift letting several pints of water into the forepeak, not dangerous but annoying.

The situation was not tenable and potentially dangerous with shoal water to leeward, so I headed out to sea, the change in angle made things easier even with the waves getting bigger as they were further apart.

Avoiding rough water over the Shingle Bank.

On several occasions I tried to get back onto a direct course but that was just too uncomfortable until I was 3 miles south of my planned route (and getting close to the shipping lanes) and the wind had moderated to a strong F4. The ride was still very uncomfortable until I was west of Beachy Head, about 20 miles from where it all started, and remain uncomfortable until level with the Grampian wind farm, a further 15 miles. 

I stayed offshore of my planned route to give an additional safety margin from the Owers Bank and the banks off of Selsey. By dawn conditions had improved dramatically with the wind coming round to the west and dropping considerably leading to a pleasant trip through the Solent in the early morning. The timing had worked out quite well and instead of anchoring to await until mid day for the tide to slacken through the moorings I was able to just slow down to make use of the slackening of the rate about 3 hours after low water and I was safely on the mooring at 09:45.

Job Done.

129 nautical miles in 28 hours 25 minutes.

Post to the owners forum sent in real time from the sunny patio of the RAFYC just after getting ashore in response to congrats from Achilles owners:

"Thanks all, first I need a beer (on its way), food (ordered), then to dry out the boat, I hit some nasty sea when the wind changed and I was on the Royal Sovereign banks, not the ones that break, after taking a lot straight over the bow I found a sealing strip on the fore hatch had vanished and water was coming in, a few pints I would think.


The good news was the car started after being there for just over 2 months.

Better news. The beer has arrived.

More when I have time, in a bit of a rush at the mo as the wife is going in for a minor op tomorrow, postponed due to the virus. Only just found out."

Stage 27, Lowestoft to The Downs.

Getting across the Thames estuary can be problematic with many sandbanks that move about, commercial shipping and, like much of the east coast, few harbours that can be used at all states of the tide and few anchorages usable with an onshore wind. Also sailing the route, especially single handed, can be difficult and hard work if the wind is not favourable due to many turns and limited space needing many tacks.

The answer is to go well outside, its actually the shortest route but time and speed critical, potentially tiring and through some narrow lanes. You just have to bite the bullet and use the engine as much as necessary to keep up with the schedule whilst staying in the lanes and avoid getting over tired from frequent tacking, sail changes etc.

The next imponderable is where to go to, Dover is an option but a bit far, I would certainly arrive in the dark and my latest information was that the section of the marina outside of the lock gate was not available (a couple of days later I got a belated notification that it had reopened).

Ramsgate is an obvious alternate but again I would be arriving in the dark, it is a little complicated to enter and I have not been there since 1979 when we recovered the half tonner "Green Dragon" there after a steering failure off of the Texel (Holland) during the 1/2 Ton world championships, sailing that far in those waters without steering would probably not be an option today!

So my plan was to anchor in the Downs just north of Deal, this area has long been a traditional anchorage for sailing ships waiting for a fair wind through the Dover Straits and down the channel. To get a bit more shelter from strong tides and a likely brisk wind I chose an area known as the "Small Downs" close into the shore and the Royal St George's Golf Club, one of the clubs that hosts the British open.

After a short delay waiting for commercial traffic entering Lowestoft I set off a little after 07:00, the start time, as usual in the UK, determined by the tides, in this case leaving at slack water just as a strong south running tide got going. 

A nice westerly wind, about F4-5  made for good and quick sailing, it moderated to F3 by about 10:30 but I was still able to make 4 knots through the water. Around mid day the wind perked up again but started to head me and at 13:30 I started to motor sail down a narrow route reserved for small boats and until 19:30 I was alternating between sailing and motor sailing, mainly motor sailing after 16:00.

Having had adverse tide on and off from early afternoon (the tides in the Thames estuary are a bit complicated due to the flood coming from the north and south) by 20:00 there was a strong (2 - 3 knots) tide under me and I hastily revised my planned route inside the Goodwin Sands, the original was not intended to be followed in the dark, near low water on a spring tide and rather bigger safety margins were advisable around the buoys and banks.

Track (red) inside the Goodwin Sands to the anchorage.

Even with the engine throttled back it was a quick ride needing some very careful pilotage, identifying buoys well ahead of time which was not always easy with so many of them not all of which were on-route, and ensuring that the tide did not carry me onto them on a dark night, the autopilot helped.

I arrived at 22:30 to anchor, the anchorage was a little uncomfortable and the holding was  not good, fine initially but after the tide turned the anchor started to drag but reset quickly with a burst of power from the engine. The same was happening next morning, not enough to set off the anchor alarm but I could hear the anchor scraping over hard ground again, only a few metres, but I was just about to leave so did not reset it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Stage 26, Filey to Lowestoft

This is a long leg complicated by windfarms, gas rigs, sandbanks and strong tides in fairly restricted waters towards the end. 

The start was at a reasonably civilised 07:00, much earlier and I could have arrived in Lowestoft, a commercial port I would be going to for the first time, in the dark. Again there was much ducking and diving to avoid lobster pots which extend several miles with a few extending well off of Flamborough head.

Flamborough Head

With light winds, mainly from the south east, there was a lot of motoring, initially with a moderate sea left over from the previous gales but that was largely gone by the evening. To start with everything was pretty straightforward with minimal other traffic apart from wind farm support and construction traffic that was not generally close enough to require evasive action.

A very busy radar picture of a new wind farm east of the Wash,
There were 4 operational wind farms within 20 miles plus gas
and oil rigs. The green triangles are AIS returns from work boats

That changed, big time, as it became dark as a large number of freighters and passenger ferries converged on a choke point between Cromer and the Dudgeon wind farm. 

Dodging shipping off Cromer.

The approach to Lowestoft.

Things were fairly fraught for a while as ships were coming from multiple directions,  I was very glad of the AIS showing their name, heading, speed and critically the bearing from me - a steady bearing being bad news! - as well as a computed closest approach which is useful but without knowing the rate and direction of the bearing change you don't know if you are going a safe half mile behind or a decidedly unsafe half mile in front and many of the ships were passing far closer than that, which sometimes required brief discussions on the radio.

This was quite a drawn out process as the tide was against me so I was only making two or thee knots over the ground. 

As the day broke I was close to land but before I entered the home leg inside the Scorby Banks a survey vessel requested I make a diversion to give them a clear run so a couple of miles were added to the trip.

The tide had now turned and I made quick progress down the channel making 7 - 8 knots over the ground.

I arrived at 09:30 to find Tony, owner of a sister boat "Red Marlin" waving to me from a vacant pontoon and ready to take my lines. Thankfully although very tired I made a good 3 point turn and berthing so did not have to make any excuses and then repeated the feat when asked to move to a smaller berth to make room for a larger boat :-). 

We had lunch in town and a light dinner in the excellent Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. Thursday, Tony returned to his berth further up river and I had a rest day before undertaking two more challenging legs. Lunch and Dinner at the RNSYC were the culinary highlights of the trip.

Sunset from the RNSYC pontoon, the club house back left.

135 miles in 26.5 hours.

Stage 25, Blyth - Filey

I finally got away from Blyth at 01:00 on Monday morning (the 31st), the early start after a few hours sleep was to get the benefit of two favourable tides and one adverse rather than the reverse. I also had to press on as more strong winds were forecast for late Wednesday and Thursday and I wanted to be in Lowestoft before it arrived.

The sea was still running quite high, especially a few miles out when still close inshore so I moved an extra mile offshore which improved matters somewhat. The wind was about force 3 from the north west, my wind sensor had packed up again, this time permanently, so all wind strengths and directions from here are on are estimates. 

Fortunately work I had done in Blyth to the wind vane steering to realign the servo blade had done the trick and although perhaps not 100% it was working well enough to steer the boat to the wind direction, at least in moderate conditions. I will need to refine that when I get it home or send it back to the maker. To be on the safe side I will not trust it to work in all conditions and relative wind directions so will have to be particularly cautious setting out if conditions look "iffy", I will also load additional diesel at Lowestoft so that in a worst case I can motor home using the autopilot.

What happens when the halyard wraps
round the forestay.
I was able to sail much of the way but more problems happened  a few miles north of Whitby when the wind went light and I attempted to furl the headsail so as to motor and it stuck half in and half out. A good deal of struggling later I had it free but the halyard broke when I re-tensioned it so the sail had to come down to be re-hoisted on the spinnaker halyard. A good job it happened in light winds as getting the sail off in a strong wind is difficult at best, I know I have done it.

It turns out that whoever installed the furling system (well before I bought the boat) failed to fit a "halyard diverter" required when the angle between the halyard and forestay is less than 10 or 15 degrees as it is on the Achilles, they only cost  £10 - £20 and a couple of rivets, now I'll have to fit one with the mast in the boat and have a new eye put on the shortened halyard.

The last 30 miles was a combination of sailing and motor sailing, the last couple of miles through the largest dense collection of lobster posts I have ever seen, I lost count of the number of course changes I had to make to avoid getting one round the prop, I have no desire to test the rope cutter!

Filey Brig going its thing protecting the bay.

Filey has no harbour but a natural stone barrier know as the "Brig" gives protection from the north although the water inside was quite calm the heavy seas from the last few days did result in some small waves coming in and with the tide circulating around the bay holding the boat broadside to them all night it was quite uncomfortable, however being tired after the early start I slept through it.

Filey at 06:30

74 miles in 15.5 hours.