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Dana 24 for sale. One of the last, most desirable, highly modified & VAT paid. Hull number 342 (2005)

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Doolittle sailing at Cannes. Pic by James Taylor This was before the roller furlers were fitted.

Doolittle has been sold

Over half my life has been spent living aboard boats. I make my living from working on them. But it’s time for a change. Time to do something different. So Doolittle is up for sale. She is Dana 342 and one of the very last Dana’s ever made. I bought her new and because of that I had quite a say in many of her details. Being a boat builder myself I was keen to use that experience and knowledge when I had her built.

The Hull. Topsides.

The most obvious difference to most Danas is the fact that her hull is black and she has no contrasting Sheer band. Most of the other Danas have cream hulls and either a green or blue coloured top section. Pacific Seacraft (PSC) do this to make the hull look lower and sleeker but I don’t think that the hull is particularly high in the first place and to my eyes that coloured band serves to make the cabin look higher and boxier than it actually is. Boats are full of design compromises but this was one that I just didn’t like at all so when I ordered Doolittle I asked that the hull be just one colour and not to bother with the contrasting band.

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Doolittle’s amazing hull finish. This was back in October 04 when she had just the day before been removed from the mould. This is an astonishingly good finish and shows not only the high quality of the Dana mould but also the skill of PSC.

Back in 2004 I visited the factory in California and saw her bare hull fresh out of the mould and was amazed at the finish that PSC had managed to achieve. I remember when Don Kohlman (the then CEO of PSC) asked me what colour I wanted the hull and I told him black, he said, ‘Oh no, not black!’ As a boat builder I understood his concern as black will show off every imperfection in a finish. He told me that they spent an extra couple of days polishing the mould in order to get the finish as good as possible. To have a black hull costs more. I paid an extra $2000 for the privilege! But to this day I have not regretted a black hull.

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Doolittle in the boat yard October 2015. Original black gel coat still in fantastic condition. Thanks to great care and the quality of the work done by Pacific Seacraft. There is a reason why these boats are so expensive!

Many people think that a black hull means that the boat is very hot inside but this isn’t actually the case. During the day when the sun is at its hottest, it is also at its highest so its the deck that takes the force of the sun and not the hull. I always wanted a black hull and I do think that Doolittle looks very smart in black and she really stands out against all the other white boats in the world. It gives her a classic and quality look which everyone admires.

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This picture taken October 2015 and shows the superb shine on the original black gel coat.

It’s not so hard to keep it looking good as the hull is polished and waxed every year and has been since the boat was made. She also has full padded hull covers which protect the hull from the elements and incompetent neighbours in the marina. In the ten years that I have owned Doolittle she has never bashed into the quay or been bashed into. One of the advantages of living aboard means that I can keep an eye on her at all times. Considering her age, the hull looks absolutely fantastic.

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This is the plug that I cut out of the transom when I fitted the electrical socket for the shore supply. It is 30mm thick!!! The gelcoat is about 2mm thick. The Dana is one super tough boat!

When I collected the boat I was given some plugs that were cut out of the hull (I still have them) and they demonstrate many things such as the thickness and strength of the PSC hull but they also show the thickness of the gelcoat, the only part of the layup process which was sprayed. One thing you can say about PSC, and one reason why PSCs are such expensive boats is that they do not skimp on materials, not on their quantity nor quality. The gel coat on these plugs is about 2mm thick! No modern boat I have ever seen has such a thick coating.

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To give some idea of just how solid a Dana is, this plug was cut out of the engine instrument panel when I fitted the twist shower in the cockpit. I have seen boat hulls thinner than this and this is from a panel that just holds an instrument panel!

What this excessive build quality means is that there is plenty of gelcoat to polish over the years and even though Doolittle’s hull is ten years old it looks better than many boats not even a year old! If it looks this good after ten years, then I see no reason why it still won’t look excellent after twenty. So long as the hull is polished and waxed each year.

When I bought Doolittle, I was determined to make sure that no matter how long I owned her I wanted to make sure I took the best care of her. It definitely seems to be paying off. With a black hull, there is no hiding a lack of maintenance! If there is a problem you can see it right away. A cream coloured hull is much more forgiving in this respect. It hides damage and neglect much better. A black hull might be a bit more work to keep looking nice but it’s well worth it.

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In ten years I have gone through two tins of this excellent 3M wax paste on Doolittle’s topsides and deck gelcoat.

One thing that may not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye is the fact that there are no skin fittings in the hull sides. What this does is allow a very clean profile look. It’s a small detail but demonstrates nicely PSC’s attention to detail and skill in building a proper boat. All the skinfittings (all solid bronze) exit at the transom where you will find exhaust, bilge and shower outlets. Also on the port side at the top, the Electrical socket for the shore supply. The cable for which is custom made and rope and leather covered. Every detail of Doolittle has been considered. There is also a range of marina plug and socket adapters and a 20 metre extension cable.

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One of Doolittle’s nicest features is her transom mounted name plate. Made from solid teak and hand carved by the renown Spanish artist, Natalia Avarez Garcia. The name plate might look rectangular but in fact the shape is slightly curved and tapered in order for it to look correct in place. It is a small yet much admired touch and so much more pleasing to the eye than a cheap plastic sticker! The above pic was taken when it was new.

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A lovely patina. The name plate as it is now

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Padded hull covers protect the hull from careless neighbours and damaging UV light. Pic taken in June 2015

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Recent pic of the transom and hull covers. Pic taken in June 2015

The Hull. Below the waterline

As with much of Doolittle, even under the water she is unusual. PSC take great care in making sure that Osmosis is never a problem for owners well into the future. For starters PSC us Vinyl Ester resin for the final layer of resin. It is more expensive than polyester resin but also more water resistant. Then on top of this they add no less than four layers of International Interprotect Epoxy Primer to further protect against water ingress. No wonder Osmosis is unheard of on PSC boats and also why PSC offered a ten year hull warranty, something no other boat manufacturer to my knowledge ever did.

As if this wasn’t enough a further six coats of Coppercoat epoxy antifouling was applied. This is a special product that does away with the need to put noxious paint on the hull each year. There is no build up of paint so the hull stays much smoother and the boat sails better and consumes less fuel in the process. It is guaranteed ten years but many boats report 15 years or more and in Doolittles case I have never used a jet wash on the surface and every year I carefully remove and growth or slime by hand to ensure that I did not erode the Coppercoat more than absolutely necessary. I have no doubt at all that there is a good five to ten years left to go with it. Even if it did finally wear off it makes great economical sense to simply replace it with the same as the savings over the years soon mount up.

Coppercoat is much better for your pocket and for the environment! Last year I noticed that the Coppercoat performance was dropping off so I decided to carefully sand the surface down a little to expose fresh copper. This is the first time I had done this as I did not want to sand off any of the product! But it was well worth doing and since then the Coppercoat has been working very well indeed and the bottom has stayed very clean ever since.

There’s not much to say about the hull under the waterline. It’s clean, there is no Osmosis and the hull has never taken ANY impacts. I can count the amount of times the hull has been aground and it is very few and most of those times were in the French canals where the bottom was simply mud. Not that it matters if you do run aground in a Dana but I want to stress the care that has been taken with Doolittle throughout her entire life. Because she was new when I bought her I KNOW everything that has happened to her.

Deck

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This photo was taken in June 2015. As you can the gelcoat is in fabulous condition and the bronze winches and port holes have a lovely patina.

Doolittle’s deck is the standard Oyster gel coat colour offered by PSC as standard. It is a good choice because white is just too much to look at when it is sunny and the slightly cream colour of the oyster is a superb contrast with the black hull and grey teak. All the teak on the boat is bare and untreated. It’s perfectly OK to do this with teak as it contains it’s own oils which protect the wood. With time it simply goes grey and needs very little care. Some owners varnish their Dana’s teak but it’s a lot of work to maintain and if you’re a sailor who would rather be sailing then bare teak is a fine way to go. Personally, I like the look of greyed teak. It gives Doolittle a rugged and purposeful look.

For a new owner who wants varnish, Doolittle comes with a complete set of new capping teak that could be fitted and varnished if required. What is more important on a yacht, is the gelcoat. Wood can be easily changed and green bronze can be polished but if the gelcoat has been left to fade in the sun, no amount of work will ever bring it back to its former glory. Doolittle has been polished and waxed very regularly and even after ten years her gelcoat is in better condition that many boats less than a year old! This is partly because of the high quality gelcoat PSC used but also the fanatical care that I have taken with the gelcoat over the years.

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This photo was taken in June 2015 and is of the cockpit coamings. Not many ten year old boats with gelcoat this good!

There are a few very small scratches and a couple of cracks in the gelcoat, many of them were there right from the start! But it is hard to believe that Doolittle is ten years old as you can see from the pictures.

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The Solara flexible solar panel fitted in 2008  It fits as if made for the sea hood. There is a regulator behind the electric panel. It is covered from the sun when not in use.

In front of the sprayhood and fitting as if made for the seahood is a solar panel made by Solara. It is a special flexible unit putting out 55 watts of power. It cost 800€ and has a regulator which is fitted behind the switch panel in the cabin. It might seem strange but it too has a custom cover for it. But why cover a solar panel I hear you ask?

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Doolittle’s solar panel cover. Just pops on. Pic taken in June 2015.

The solar panel is supposed to have a life of 25 years or more but the simple fact is that the boat is not always at sea, in fact on average Doolittle has spent more than half of most years in a marina. And in a marina there is shore power so the battery charger is filling the batteries so there is simply no need to leave the panel in the sun. My thinking was if one can keep it covered when not using it, it’s entirely possible that it will last 75 years! It was fitted about five years ago and has been no trouble at all and in reality puts in enough power in the summer to power the fridge which isn’t bad at all.

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Venting forehatch allows air to enter even if it’s pouring down. Smoked lexan is very clear and undamaged. This pic taken in June 2015

Apart from the Bomar venting forehatch which allows 8 cubic feet of air to circulate even when it’s pouring with rain, Doolittle’s foredeck and cabin top is exactly like any other. The only real difference is the way the bowsprit platform and anchor assembly is attached.

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This pic taken in June 2015 and clearly shows the much nicer bowsprit arrangement with better access for maintenance and varnishing. The Harken roller furlers were new in 2011.

Some Danas have had bowsprit issues. As the bowsprit is made of a soft wood it is prone to rot if not properly maintained. The standard bowsprit platform is simply placed on top of the bowsprit and bolted through. There are a few issues with this way of doing things. Firstly, it covers the bowsprit making access for maintenance and varnishing almost impossible. Secondly I do not think that any of the holes that were drilled into the bowsprit to mount the platform were sealed in any way at the factory and lastly it just looks awful.

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This pic also taken in June 2015. A close up of the bowsprit.

So I set to changing this. My solution was to cut a section out of the centre of the platform and then bolt it onto the sides of the bowsprit. This makes it sound much easier than it was to do. Like most things on a boat it was far from easy and involved remaking much of the stainless metalwork so that the anchor rollers and anchor would work and stow properly.

Despite the effort it was a job well worth doing. While the platform was off I plugged the original holes from above and below and even varnished inside all the other holes and the new ones as well. This was essential for the longevity of the bowsprit and platform and I am pleased to say that in the years that have followed I have never had any doubt about the structural integrity of Doolittle’s bowsprit or platform. More than many other Dana owners can say with any confidence.

The whole assembly is much better looking too. Instead of covering the capping, now it is clearly visible and the boat looks better for it. The Dana already has a perky sheer and lowering the platform (and consequently the pulpit too) has improved the look of the boat as well. The life lines are lower and their line is much better than before. Not only that but it is also lighter as well. So better access for varnishing, better looks from above, less weight and a cleaner sheer line to boot. Well worth doing.

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This pic taken in June 2015 shows the bowsprit cover. Doolittle has a lot of covers and these have helped to keep her in as new condition. The cover can be used when sailing or anchoring if required.

Doolittle has a 10 kilo Delta anchor. Not a cheap  copy but a genuine Lewmar version. This is completely oversized for the boat but works brilliantly. This is linked to 5 metres of 10mm stainless chain and around 30 metres of 3/4” nylon 3 strand anchor rode. There is also a Fortress anchor in the stb cockpit locker which is sized for use as Doolittle’s main anchor but is normally used as a kedge.

Cockpit

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This photo was taken in June 2015 and shows part of the cockpit.

The Dana cockpit is a great place to be. It is long enough to lie down in and when sailing, the distance between the seats is perfect for your feet to wedge against when the boat is heeled over.

Doolittle’s cockpit is pretty much standard but where she differs to other Danas is that she does not have a massive hole cut into the bulkhead on the starboard side with a big compass fitted. I never understood why PSC did this because it is a wonderful place to sit with your back against the rear of the cabin. With a big compass in the way, it completely ruins a great spot. The same is true of the port side where the instruments are normally placed.

I have a few issues with this compass and instrument placement apart from the fact that they ruin a great place to sit. I think it is criminal to cut holes in boats that cannot easily be repaired or filled in. So when I ordered Doolittle, I insisted that NO HOLES were cut for either a compass nor instruments. In any case having a compass on only one side means that on one tack it is very hard to read anyway and these days who steers to a compass anyway?

Doolittle has a steering compass of course but it is placed centrally and is readable on either tack. But more than this I didn’t want a compass or instruments in the bulkhead because I wanted to be able to fit opening doors in place of the washboards normally fitted and they would not be able to fold back with stuff in the way. Also, times change and instruments evolve. A hole cut today may not work for a new instrument in the future. Far better not to cut any holes at all!

The cockpit has two lockers and a gas locker. The port side locker is massive while the stb locker is big but reduced in size as it contains the 40 litre holding tank, two 105 amp/hr lifeline AGM batteries, bilge and holding tank pumps and diverter valve. Both of these lockers have bronze lockable clasps and bronze hinges. The gas locker is vented and there is a 12volt solenoid which cuts off the gas when not in use operated from inside the boat.

There is a removable Spinlock engine control lever. This is different to most Danas as normally they have a double lever, one for the gears and one for the throttle. The single lever is much simpler to use and does not void the engine warranty as the double lever does. The lever is removable which is helpful. I use the lever for undoing the fuel and water filler caps.

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The engine instrument panel cover. Just one of the many covers on Doolittle which serve to protect her from the elements. Note the strong cast stainless pad eye on the right (one of two in the cockpit) and the bilge pump cover. Cockpit cushions are made from closed cell foam and covered with Beige Chiné Sunbrella fabric with black cherry piping. Pic taken in June 2015.

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The engine instrument panel with cover off showing the new (2014) Ev 100 autopilot. Bottom left is the Whale Twist shower head and 12v and autopilot arm sockets. Pic taken in June 2015.

The engine instrument panel contains the Yanmar panel with rev counter and warning lights, the Raymarine EV100 display head, the twist hot/cold shower head, one 12 volt power supply socket and one socket for the EV100 tiller arm. It is covered by a pop on cover which keeps the sun off when not in use. The EV100 display has a cover as well.

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Many many coats of Epifanes varnish protect and prettify the laminated tiller. Note also the cockpit cushions. There are six in all. This makes it easy to access the cockpit lockers. Pic taken in June 2015.

The original two tone laminated tiller is deeply varnished and always protected by a superb zip on cover.

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The bottom of the tiller cover. Note the wonderful detail of the sewing. This is typical of Doolittle. This pic taken  in June 2015.

Doolittle has a sunbrella cockpit cover which lays over the boom and can be left up even in quite windy conditions. It is perfect for keeping the rain out of the companionway when conditions are nasty. She also has a full summer cover made of lightweight white cotton which covers most of the deck and keeps the temperature right down in the summer. It needs to be taken down if the wind is much over 20 knots. Both covers are supplied with their own custom made bags.

Autopilots

Doolittle has three autopilots. She has Dave, her original Autopilot which is now over ten years old. He has had a hard life but has steered Doolittle through most of her adventures including right the way across the Atlantic, even bare poled for 24 hours during a gale. He suffers a little when the wind picks up and one must reef early to avoid stressing him. But all things considered Dave has worked well and I think the fact that he is still working after ten years says more about how easy a Dana is to steer than how good the Simrad TP30 is! Dave also has a hand made cover to protect him from the heat of the sun and from water. One thing these autopilots don’t like is water!

Then there is Dave 2. He is also a Simrad TP30 which we bought when we bought Doolittle in 2005. He is Doolittle’s back up pilot and has hardly been used. But Doolittle’s main pilot is now the Raymarine EV100 pilot (new 2014). It has the latest 9 axis sensor technology and can steer Doolittle in more extreme conditions so that sail can be left up. The colour display unit is linked to the GPS and can display any amount of info. Between the Tack Tick display, the GPS and the EV100 there is a huge amount of info available. Dave 3 also has a remote control unit for the ultimate in lazy sailing.

Doors

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This picture taken June 2015 and shows the doors in situ. The glass is unbreakable lightly smoked henna lexan. The doors are lockable of course and open all the way to the bulk head thanks to there being no instruments or compass in them as is normal on all other Danas! There is a fixing system to keep them open when at sea.

Originally Doolittle (like all other Danas) had washboards, four of them which is fine I suppose if you don’t use the boat much but a complete pain in the butt if you live aboard! So I set about trying to create something that worked better and came up with the doors you see today. They have been a great success.

In keeping with my horror of making holes I decided that the doors must not spoil the originality of the boat and that if anyone preferred wash boards then they could easily convert back to the original system. (Not that anyone would want to). So I made a frame which drops into the original slot where the washboards went so replacing the original washboards is as easy as undoing two small screws and simply lifting out the entire door assembly.

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An old picture of the doors and frame during construction. Made of solid teak (like the rest of the boat) this frame simply drops into the original slot where the washboards used to go thus retaining the boat’s originality

The added bonus of this system is that it meant it gave a place to put a centrally placed compass that was much easier to actually use along with some instruments. Not only that but it also allowed a seat which in practice is brilliant when you are at sea as you can keep a good lookout from under the sprayhood (dodger) while keeping out of the elements.

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This picture taken June 2015 and shows the Suunto steering compass (has cover and is always on to protect the compass) the tack tick display that is linked by NMEA to the other instruments and GPS and can display any NMEA info. On the right a Garmin GPS unit. No holes in the boat yet a comprehensive set of useful info.

Yet another added bonus, apart from the obvious of being able to get in and out of the boat much quicker was the extra light that comes down below thanks to the two lexan unbreakable windows in the doors. Because there is no compass in the bulkhead nor instruments it means that both doors fold back against the bulkhead without sticking out which means one can lean back against the cabin bulkhead in the cockpit with the doors open or closed! All in all a complete success.

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Even with the boat closed up, the doors let in a huge amount of light so that even on the grimmest days you never feel closed in. The hand made pure wool carpet protects the varnished floor and feels lovely underfoot.

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This picture shows how part of the door frame was hollowed out to allow for an invisible latch system built into the door. Once these two pieces were glued together they had a groove for the latch mechanism built in.

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A close up detail of the top striker in the doors. The locking mechanism is hidden inside the actual door frame.

Since the doors were done many on the Yahoo Dana group have expressed their wish to have something similar on their Dana. Obviously it takes a certain level of skill to create something like this but that is my job so for me at least it wasn’t too hard but it certainly has massively improved the functionality of the boat in the harbour and at sea. One of the best things I did to Doolittle in fact.

Spray Hood (Dodger)

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Doolittle’s companionway sprayhood. The sides can be folded up or removed and the whole can be folded down flat if needed. New in 2012. This pic taken in June 2015.

Another one of the additions to Doolittle that has been brilliant. Normally a Dana has a full width spray hood which runs from one side of the cabin top to the other and while this set up offers a little more protection it does create a lot more windage and drag when sailing up wind. It also makes going forward from the cockpit harder and using the cabin top (staysail) winches very hard indeed. It also requires a hell of a lot of holes to be drilled in the cabin for all the various mounting points.

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Here’s a picture of the spray hood folded down onto the sea hood. The hatch opens as per normal.

By now you will know that I have a horror of making holes in boats, well holes let water in don’t they? so you won’t be surprised to learn that the entire spray hood is fitted to the boat without making one hole in the fibreglass! It is only screwed to the wooden parts which can easily be repaired or replaced if the need should arise.

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This picture shows how the front of the spray hood is attached. Originally this piece of wood did not have the groove in it. I removed it, and made this piece with a groove by gluing two pieces of shaped wood together. What you end up with is a very strong, clean and watertight way of attaching the front of the spray hood using keder tape and without making any holes in the fibreglass!

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Pic taken in June 2015. Unusually clear spray hood glass allows a good look out to be kept whilst sheltering from the elements.

The spray hood has window glass called strataglass which is extremely clear and obviously more expensive too but by now I guess you are starting to see that only the best goes on my boat. It is a little bit stiffer than cheaper plastic window material but the sides of the spray hood unpop and unzip in moments and then the whole thing can be folded down to rest on the back edge of the seahood and doesn’t interfere with the action of the hatch at all.

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This is the spray hood with the sides folded up to let air through. The Phifertex privacy curtain just pops onto the spray hood. Note how all the spray hood fastenings and hinges are only screwed into the wood and not the fibreglass. Pic taken in June 2015.

The stainless hinge was custom made as were the hoops. The material used is Sunbrella black cherry to match the sail cover and other various pieces on the boat. It is very strong and in fact I use it to swing into the boat on a daily basis. It keeps out the worst weather and waves and has been absolutely brilliant. It was replaced a few years ago and like everything else on Doolittle is in excellent working condition.

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Phifertex privacy curtain just pops onto the spray hood. Pic taken in June 2015.

It has a drip flap so that rain cannot drip into the cabin. Onto this flap there is a privacy curtain which simply pops on. It is made of Phifertex and allows air and light through.

Engine

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Pic taken June 2015 shows Doolittle’s 3YM20 engine. Replaced under warranty in 2010 and has only done 700 hours. Vetus flexible coupling, Polyflex engine mounts, a PSS dripless stern gland (new 2015) and a special large bore bronze riser are just some of the mods. Note also the Isotherm 15 litre water heater.

Most Danas were fitted with the Yanmar 2GM engine which had two cylinders and 18 hp. The later Danas including Doolittle were fitted with the latest super efficient Yanmar 3YM series engine. It weighs about the same as the old 2 GM but has one more cylinder so is considerably smoother. It is slightly longer but weighs about the same. When I first bought Doolittle I thought it was a bit over the top, such a big engine in so small a boat but over the years I have come to relate to the decision.

The Dana is a heavy boat and there have been times when I have been welcome of all that power and there is an added advantage that the engine never has to work too hard to push the boat along. The original engine had a load of issues and was eventually replaced under warranty by Yanmar in 2010 so the current engine has actually only done about 700 hours and is barely run in.

Ever since the first oil and filter change I have had the oil analysed by a lab to ensure that the engine is always in the best of health. It costs a little but it is money well spent as it helps to nip any problems in the bud. I can supply these to anyone who is interested. Oil analysis can help identify problems before they arise. It’s an excellent idea to build up a continuous history.

Modifications to the engine and bay are as following. There is a Vetus Bullflex flexible shaft coupling. This is a massive beast and allows the engine to be misaligned upto a few degrees. Not that it ever is. The engine has always been very carefully aligned. Proof of this is the fact that Doolittle still has her original cutlass bearing fitted and there is still no play in it at all.

The original and poor Yanmar engine mounts have been recently changed for Polyflex ones. These cannot come un glued unlike the Yanmar ones and are a much better and safer solution. They are made of polymers and plastics so don’t rust either unlike the Yanmar ones. These were very expensive. The coupling and mounts alone came to well over 1000€!

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Just one of the Polyflex engine mounts. As you can see the engine and bay is immaculate. The engine is filled with waterless coolant. Note the Halyard soundproofing on the right.

Some of the engine improvements are invisible yet important all the same. Perhaps the most important is the exhaust riser. The original cast iron and frankly rubbish Yanmar one has been replaced with an Expensive cast bronze version from Norway. It should give no further trouble. This is an important and necessary modification for the Yanmar engine.

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Special bronze large bore riser replaces the rubbish cast iron Yanmar one.

To help the engine charge better a Balmar 80 amp alternator has been fitted along with a stand alone and programmable regulator. There are spares for the alternator and even another spare regulator. These parts cost well over 1000€. The original 55 amp/hr Yanmar is on board as a spare and has never been used.

The engine has been filled with waterless coolant which stops the engine innards from corroding. It does not expand so doesn’t stress the hoses. It never needs to be replaced for the life of the engine. It was yet another expensive thing but a good investment which should help the engine to last a very long time.

A pump for sucking out the oil has also been fitted which makes changing the engine oil a lot easier than trying to suck it out of the dip stick which is the way you would have to do it if the pump was not fitted. As there is no drain plug on the 3YM even this simple task was very complicated and costly to do.

The engine is also connected to the hot water tank and it will heat it up to extremely hot in about 15 minutes.

The engine has the usual water strainer and filters which are all replaced regularly. The later Danas have fibreglass fuel tanks which do not corrode unlike the alloy ones in most other Danas. In ten years there has never been the slightest issue with water in the fuel or any other kind of fuel contamination. The fuel tank has a gauge on the top of the tank (accessible by lifting the floor panel) and it also has an electrical gauge by the electric panel.

The entire engine bay has been soundproofed by the addition of fireproof 1 1/4”” thick sound proofing by Halyard marine. Again, the best quality product I could find.

The original stern gland and packing was replaced by the efficient and clever PSS shaft system. It is now ten years old and due for replacement at the end of this summer. The new unit has been purchased and will be fitted the next time the boat comes out of the water.

Behind the engine a plywood shelf has been glassed in and an Isotherm 15 litre water tank has been fitted. It is heated by an electrical element or by the engine. The Isotherm is maybe the best quality water heater on the market anywhere. It has a fully stainless tank within a stainless cover. It was fitted a few years ago and should last for many years to come. The 15 litres is more than enough to have two very hot and long showers. It is a very efficient system indeed.

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The very expensive 4 blade solid bronze feathering adjustable pitch prop. Extremely low drag under sail. Extraordinary efficiency and power when motoring. Strong astern power. Very smooth thanks to the four electronically balanced blades. It even has a shock absorber built in to reduce the stress on the prop when going from fwd to astern. Worth every penny.

The propeller on Doolittle is a superb feathering bronze prop made by Variprop in Germany. It is a quality product and works as you would imagine. It cost 3000€ so that should give you some idea of the level of quality. It can be adjusted for pitch in forward and reverse. It just works and it’s one of the reasons why Doolittle sails better than all other Dana’s as there is practically no drag from the prop. It was an expensive addition but the performance gain is large and the piece of mind that comes from having a quality prop cannot be measured.

Sails and rig

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A pic from a few years ago showing Doolittle’s cutter rig. The sails have since been replaced and furlers added but she looks exactly the same today.

Doolittle is cutter rigged and has tan coloured sails made by Ullman sails in the USA. They were new in 2011 and have been very little used since fitting. When not in use they have been removed from the boat, carefully folded and stowed. They are as good as new and have decades of life left in them.

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A pic from a few years back showing Doolittle stonking along down wind, a reef in the mainsail and the staysail poled out. She sails like a train downwind with very little effort.

The white painted aluminium mast is made by Lefiell and has all welded fittings. It is an extremely strong mast with massive fittings. The paint is in excellent condition. The boom is also made by Lefiel and is also painted white.

There is a mast head light, a VHF antenna and an 8db Omni directional wifi antenna with massive low loss cable which enters the boat through a deck gland. There is a 2 watt adapter which is massively powerful and allows Doolittle to capture wifi from as far away as three miles! Also on the top of the mast is a spinnaker bail and a Tacktick wind transducer fitted in 2013. There is a steaming light and a deck light and flag halyards on both spreaders.

At the front of the mast there is a large ring fitted for attaching the 16’ long telescopic whisker pole and there are two Harken winches and a pair of jammers and various cleats. There are two spectra running backstays which are used if needed.

The mainsail has a black cherry cover and the jib and staysail have Tedlar UV protection strips attached. This is a transparent material which is very light and does not add much weight to the leech of the sails.

In addition to the three main sails Doolittle also has an Asymmetric spinnaker which is flown without a pole. It is a fabulous sail made by Momentum in 2008. It hasn’t had a huge amount of use and is in excellent condition.

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Momentum MPS asymmetric spinnaker. Beautifully made. As new condition.

On the cabin top there are the original Schaefer tracks and chariots for the staysail which lead to a pair of solid bronze Meisner 18 STB-15 winches engraved with the name of the boat. These winches are pure quality and extremely well made and very low maintenance. They have no bearings as such, just a special plastic sleeve. What this means is that they rarely need to be taken apart and greased. I do it from time to time but the grease is always good so I just put them back together!

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Just one of the four engraved ‘Doolittle’ bronze self tailing Meisner winches. Come with two bronze engraved handles with lignum vitae handles. Pure class. After ten years they have a superb patina.

In 2011 I fitted a pair of new and very expensive Harken furlers for both foresails. The original sails were hank on and I couldn’t see the point of having them modified as they had done quite a lot of work. It seemed a good idea to replace the furlers and buy new sails to fit to them which is what I did.

In 2012 I got fed up with the original Genoa tracks and cars. They never slid well and had to be adjusted manually. A right pain in the butt. So I replaced them with a low friction Harken ball bearing system. What a massive improvement. Now a simple tug on a rope allows the adjustment of the jib sheet lead. This was an expensive system to fit but it was worth every penny.

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New Harken tracks and genoa chariots. Note the jamb cleat welded to the stanchion which allows for easy car adjustment from the cockpit. A massive improvement over the original system. An expensive addition but so worth it. Pic taken June 2015.

At the same time, I removed the stanchions and had them all modified to allow the furler lines to run through them. It was the neatest way to do this. Normally one needs to fit rollers and guides which never look very nice. This is a much more elegant solution and I am pretty sure you won’t see many boats with this ridiculous level of detail.

In addition to the guides for the furling lines there is also a small cleat welded on which is used to tie the furling line to and there is also a small jamb cleat on the outside of the rear stanchion which allows quick and easy adjustment of the jib chariot. It was all a lot of work fitting the furlers and associated ropes and guides but it has been well worth it. The end result is very tidy and extremely functional.

Another addition is a back stay adjuster made by Wichard. Yet another ridiculously expensive part but the back stay is super important and one wouldn’t want to lose any part of it so I decided to buy a slightly larger one than absolutely necessary but it was a good choice as it suits the scale of the boat and adjusts easier as it is not stressed.

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Wichard back stay adjuster. Meant for a bigger boat. This expensive bit of kit won’t ever give any trouble! Pic taken June 15.

There are another pair of Meissner 18 STB-15 self tailing bronze winches in the cockpit, they are also engraved with the name of the boat, as are the two solid bronze winch handles with the boat name also engraved in them as well. These are expensive winches but they have never given a moment’s trouble and have gone a lovely green colour with age.

Attached to the backstay chainplate is a special stainless fitting which allows the fitting of a mizzen mast. This was an experiment which worked well and all parts needed will be supplied with the boat. there is a two part carbon mast and an old sail which drops onto the fitting on the transom. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

Doolittle is very well set up for sailing in all conditions unlike many boats whose rigs are not as sorted as hers. Many a time we have out sailed much bigger boats simply because her rig is so optimised and sorted for all points of sail and wind strengths.

The mainsail has three reefs although I have never needed the third one! The battens were placed in the leech parallel to the boom at my request. This makes it easier to flake the mainsail on the boom. This is typical of the attention to detail that has been lavished on Doolittle.

How the boat looks is as important as how functional it is. Doolittle is first and foremost a sailing boat but she is also very nicely finished in most areas.

Interior

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A very cosy and welcoming interior. Doolittle has teak cabin sides unlike many of the later Danas which have white cabin sides. Prebit LED lights spread a lovely glow or can illuminate fully the interior with a total of 8 gold plated lights!

Doolittle has many special features and modifications that are visible from the outside but perhaps some of her best features are down below. Doolittle is brighter down below than most Danas thanks to her doors with large windows in them. Before when the boat was closed up it felt a bit oppressive down below. Now it’s possible to close up the boat even on the grimmest days and not feel penned in.

Perhaps the most noticeable change compared to most Danas apart from the doors is the companionway box which takes the place of the original steps. The steps were fine for getting in and out of the boat but they took up a lot of space in the galley and served no other purpose. On a small boat I believe it is important that everything does more than one job to maximise efficiency. The companionway box is a classic example of this.

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Doolittle’s unique and practical companionway box. Divided into two sections, one for rubbish, one for recycling. Removable step and a nice space under for shoes. Whole box simply lifts out for access to the floor.

On most boats there is no where to put your rubbish and this always annoyed me so the box is primarily a place to put trash but it is divided into two sections, one for rubbish and one for recycling. Of course you don’t have to use it for that if you don’t want, you could simply have a double sized bin! The tops of the step have the original non slip surface flush fitted and they also have hidden hinges. The entire box just lifts out for easy cleaning or for access to the fuel tank under the floor.

The companionway box also has a removable step should the need ever arise and there is now a large space for shoes. The box takes up less space than the original steps so there is more room to work in the galley. It’s a small thing but it really makes a difference. The old steps also used to rattle when the engine was running. The new more solid box does not and that is a great relief!

The only real visual difference between Doolittle and other Danas is the cupboard behind the fridge. Normally PSC made a special shelf dedicated to plates but this seemed to me a terrible waste of space and a very hard area to clean so I asked that they make this cupboard with a door instead. This is a much more practical arrangement altogether.

Other than this, Doolittle has an interior much like any other late model Dana with the excellent unzippable headliner and oiled teak wood work. Things one cannot see are the latex cushions throughout, an extra that I chose at the time which has proven to be excellent. Even after ten years of living aboard the seats and bunks are still springy and extremely comfortable. Doolittle uses a faux leather for the coverings in a nice red colour called Salsa. The seats always have throws on them so they do not show much wear considering the use they have had.

Doolittle has a teak and holly floor which has never seen the light of day. It has always been covered. What that means is that the floor looks like new despite its age. There are not many ten year old boats were near perfect wooden floors in them. Doolittle has a very expensive Moroccan pure wool carpet custom fitted which adds even more comfort and luxury. In the winter there is an special heating element which fits under the carpet. Getting up in the winter is a delight. Bare feet on pure wool is a luxurious experience!

There is also a small 400 watt heater that hooks on under the hanging locker. This and the RugBuddy under the carpet provide more than enough heat during the winter. Much of the cabin has extra neoprene insulation which keeps down condensation in the winter and keeps out the heat in the summer. Under the front bunk there is also a special layer which allows air to circulate under the mattresses.

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One of Doolittle’s 4 prebit dimming gold plated down lights. Fitted to custom made solid teak surrounds. Note the excellent headlining which unzips for access.

In 2014 all the cabin reading and down lights (x8) were replaced at great expense (over 1000€!) with gold plated Prebit led lights. They all dim and are touch button. The hand painted glass shades throw a delightful colour on the oiled teak. You can read more about them here. They are extremely bright (if you want) yet consume very little power. Best of all, being gold, they are easy to clean and not likely to corrode or fail unlike the original lights!

Doolittle has an Isotherm fridge fitted and it is simply brilliant. It uses very little power and yet can even make ice cubes. It uses a special seacock to cool the gas and what this means is that any heat produced by the fridge does not find itself in the cabin like most systems. Nor does it make much noise. The compressor is fitted to a custom made shelf under the sink in the galley. It was extremely expensive but has been absolutely brilliant proving that you really do get what you pay for. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

Doolittle came with a Force 10 two burner stove, oven and grill. It’s a superb bit of kit and apart from having to replace the knobs and the sparker unit it has been as good as gold. Here’s a recent article I wrote about it. Even after ten years of constant use, thanks to the great care we take over it, it is still in fabulous condition and in perfect working order. There is a wooden top which lives behind the stove that can be placed on top as an extra work surface.

The table which seats four slides out from under the bed and locks into the compression post. There are large lockers and cupboards all around. The hanging locker has been divided by the addition of shelves but these just drop in so if you wanted the full depth of the locker back it’s easily done. Under the bed there is a huge locker and another one above the foot of the bed. Storage space is not lacking on a Dana!

The electric panel by the companionway has been completely remade in solid teak. The original one had a voltmeter but that has been replaced by more switches and a stand alone BEP meter which shows the levels of the Diesel and water tank (with option for adding another for the holding tank) but also volts and amps in and out so you can monitor the electrical system.

Behind the fridge there is the original 12V control panel with breaker switches and also the Mains power panel, made by Blue Sea Systems which has breaker switches and also a dimmable meter which shows volts and amps.

Toilet and head

Doolittle’s head compartment is now fitted with a solid bronze Reinstrom German toilet. Unlike the original Grocco (as fitted to most Danas) this toilet is the Rolls Royce of heads. It costs nearly $2000 and comes with spares. The shower compartment has been modified so that one can actually shower in there without water falling straight out of the room into the cabin. The sink has a pull out shower head which replaces the original hand pump tap.

The original cheap white toilet hose has been recently replaced by Trident hose which is the best and most expensive that money can buy. Thanks to its construction it does not leach nasty smells which is why I bought it. It also remains flexible so it can be removed easily for cleaning if required.

Conclusion

That’s about all I can tell you about Doolittle and her condition. She is VAT paid so what that means is if you are not an EU citizen you can use and leave Doolittle anywhere in Europe without worrying about a time scale. She can stay in Europe for as long as you want. VAT cost about $15,000 at current exchange rates.

Doolittle also comes with a rather spectacular and unique sailing dinghy which is very hard to put a value on but if I had to make one for a client it would surely be $10,000 as there is a months work involved! It was designed and made to fit perfectly on Doolittle’s foredeck and has a cover to protect it from the elements. It rows and sails too and comes with all the necessary parts. It can be assembled on land or in the water. It rows and sails beautifully and will get massive attention everywhere you go.

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The Stasha Tweed. Made from teak and covered with epoxy coated Flax. It is made from two halves and nests on the foredeck. Here’s an article all about it.

Doolittle would be the perfect yacht for an American couple who want to explore Europe and the Mediterranean, with the VAT paid there are no time restrictions on how long the boat can stay in Europe.

In addition to the seas of Europe Doolittle can also do canal trips and this is a massive bonus and a true delight. Read a little about one of the trips Doolittle has done in the French canals.

Doolittle is for sale for $120,000 which may seem like a lot but when you consider that a new Dana, if you could buy one, would cost upwards of $150,000 for the basic boat, and if you consider Doolittle’s fantastic condition and very high spec and the fact that she is VAT paid AND comes with a nesting hand made sailing dinghy then she compares very reasonably with other recent Danas that have come up for sale.

Doolittle has crossed the Atlantic once and has covered about 15,000 logged miles. She has visited three continents and many countries. She’s a brilliant boat and has been a good comfortable home for all that time. After spending more than half his life living aboard, the author and his partner want to try something new. Here is a unique chance to buy one of the best cared for and most beautiful Danas to be found anywhere in the world.

Should a prospective owner require I would consider delivering Doolittle to the East coast of America although that experience should really be for the new owner! Although I am asking $120,000 I am willing to discuss this with anyone who is seriously interested in becoming Doolittle’s second owner.

If you want to know more about the Dana 24 then please read this very long article that I wrote. if after reading that and this post and you still have questions! Then please contact me. Doolittle is currently UK registered and moored nr St Tropez France. Viewing by appointment.

info (at) woodenwidget.com

Cheers

Benjy

Categories
boats

Rheinstrom Y3 Aluminium Toilet review

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The Rheinstrom Y3. The lever makes pumping very easy and keeps the shaft straight minimising seal wear.

Normally I wouldn’t write about a boat toilet but when I tried to research this toilet I could find no reviews or any comments of any kind. This is very strange because Rheinstrom obviously make a very nice product and they have been doing so for over 50 years. No company that lasts that long can be selling rubbish. Then consider that Rheinstrom is a German company and it looks like being a quality bit of kit.

The toilet on Doolittle was a Grocco HF. It is certainly a better toilet than most of the offerings on the market today and a new one will set you back about 600€ and because it is made in America it’s not the easiest toilet to service and get bits for. It has a bronze base which is something but it is let down by the plastic pump assembly which either breaks or becomes unreliable and needs constant attention. To be fair it has done ok. It coped for eight years of two people living aboard.

I almost missed Rheinstrom during my research for a better toilet than I already had. At first glance these toilets don’t look pretty having a very functional and practical look. However in place it is a great improvement over the Grocco. There is something about solid trustworthy well considered engineering. That in itself is enough to make such a mundane object almost attractive.

There’s a lot to like about the Y3. The pump can be fitted on either side which could be helpful if you were left handed or short on space. The entire toilet (apart from the bowl) is made from metal. They do two versions of the same toilet, a bronze one and an aluminium one. The alloy version is half the weight of the bronze one at 8 kilos it’s surprisingly light.

It’s made from high quality aluminium and then deeply coated with an easy to clean protective hard white plastic finish. It’s been very well considered and is very nicely engineered. Unlike the Grocco which needs a whole host of screwdrivers and different sized spanners to dismantle, the Y3 uses the same size stainless Allen key for most of its fastenings.

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Quality castings. I like way it is possible to remove the pump without disturbing the big outlet. Stainless Allen key heads for most of the fastenings keep things simple.

The pump action is very smooth. It has a relatively short stroke but a wide pump body. Even the main base piece has a large internal diameter making this a hard toilet to block. Not only that but it should not need such regular servicing as the Grocco did as it has been designed to minimise wear in all areas. The piston pump rod has a machined guide to keep the rod from wearing the top seal. To help this, the pump uses a lever rather than a handle connected directly to the rod as most toilets do.

Even the dry/flush lever on the side has been well thought out. It is made from a cast piece of stainless and is very elegant but the sealing system is very thorough and a vast improvement on the Grocco which often leaked at this spot. The required O ring is NOT supplied in the toilet rebuild kit which is ridiculous. I called Grocco and they told me to just go to the nearest hardware shop and buy one, they only cost pennies. Well, if they only cost pennies, WHY DON’T YOU SUPPLY ONE IN YOUR REBUILD KIT?

Despite the short stroke, the toilet requires less pumps than the Grocco. The Y3 requires 7 full pumps for every one metre of piping. The Y3 is available with two bowl sizes, small and large. I chose the small version which is about the same size as the Grocco one. One of the things that was good about the Grocco was its small size. The head in Doolittle is not massive and I didn’t want to fit a large toilet and the small Y3 is not much bigger than the Grocco so it fits in very nicely. I was even able to get it to sit a bit further back too so actually there is more space in the head than before.

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The Y3 in place on ‘Doolittle’ Of course the mounting holes were different and the aft outboard coach screw needed cutting down a bit but otherwise it was a straightforward swap. None of the hoses needed moving or cutting.

The toilet lid is a standard plastic covered MDF affair with plastic hinges. It’s not beautiful but neither is it offensive. It is at least easy to clean. If the Y3 has one failing it’s that it’s not going to be the easiest toilet to clean with all those bits and pieces on it. I also question the wisdom of using Allen key heads because they can fill with liquid. Maybe it is possible to get plastic caps for them. But these are issues that might be applied to almost any toilet with a pump.

I bought a rebuild kit which cost about 80€ which is expensive but even the seals and O rings are of excellent quality. It’s not much more than most other kits from other toilet manufacturers. The toilet itself cost about 800€ which is a lot but it is a good product and if you want quality then you usually have to pay for it.

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Update 26/12/2013

Sometimes looks can be deceptive. The quality engineering and well thought out design that I saw in the Y3 when I first installed it has now been seen for what it is. Basically the toilet is well designed but it is let down by some details that render the toilet unusable and worse than that the company are as useless as a chocolate fireguard. They either do not understand what I am trying to tell them or they do not care. Either scenario is not good.

Soon after I got the toilet the dry/flush lever would spring back and the toilet would lock. The only way to flush to toilet was to hold the lever down with one hand while pumping with the other. You can imagine that this soon got so boring I decided to take the thing apart and try and improve it.

It looks pretty simple inside although there seems to be no actual mechanism that ‘locks’ the dry/flush in place. It seems that it is only the friction of the lever that stops it moving but this is a piss poor system. On the Grocco, there was a cam that pressed against the valve when flushing dry. It was crude and the action was rough but it never caused the toilet to not flush.

The lever on the Y3 needs to be held in place with loctite, hardly a clever engineering solution really. Well, in the end I did manage to get the toilet to work with one hand by tightening up the dry/flush lever but this made it rather stiff. This worked for a while but then it started leaking by the lever.

So I took it apart again. Or tried to. In the time since I last dismantled it the bolts had all seized. Well, no surprise really since they are stainless bolts in aluminium. Clearly Rheinstrom do not bother to put any kind of anti corrosive paste or any other kind of system. This is pretty poor really since a mix of metals like this will corrode in no time unless treated. I read on a forum that one poor sod had a problem after five years and by then the bolts had completely seized to the point that he had to throw the toilet away.

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This should be one piece, not two. Too flimsy to last.

In taking it apart the bronze part that operates the valve in the dry/flush lever broke. So that was helpful. NOT. Fortunately I had a spare so I fitted it but the toilet would not work afterwards. I inspected the shape compared to the old one and they were similar but not the same. So some bending helped but the old problem was back. The lever would not hold in the ‘dry’ position and required two hands to flush again.

So I took it apart AGAIN. In the end I came to the conclusion that the casting that the bronze piece goes through was not the right shape and was stopping the lever from going far enough. So I had to damage the powdercoat paint to do this so no doubt it will corrode even faster now. However I did manage to get the toilet working better but it does beg the question, why the **** don’t Rheinstrom do this, or at least test their toilets before sending them out? It should not be the customers job to modify a new toilet because it has been badly machined.

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The reason why the dry/flush lever won’t stay put is because it is not able to move enough. I had to file away a load of metal by the pointy bit so that the other end would lie in the correct position

There’s more bad news I’m afraid. Every few weeks the lever starts to rust and leaves rust stains all over the toilet pump. It is not the easiest toilet to clean so this is really annoying. It probably has something to do with the fact that the lever is not polished and has a rough finish.

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Big bubble of paint in the base, just under where the bowl fits.

Then there’s the bubbling paint in the bottom of the base where the bowl attaches. Two nice big bubbles of paint where it has come unstuck from the alloy. This is just one year. Not good enough. So I started to have a look around and guess what? Yep, you guessed it, paint is bubbling up all over the place. Now I should mention that we shower in the head and that means that the toilet is soaked in fresh water a few times a week so should not corrode as there is no salt water anywhere near it (except inside it) and it even gets a chamois down as well. The toilet is well cared for and maintained. There is no reason for the paint to be bubbling already. That’s just rubbish.

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Loads of paint flaking off. I believe it is because of careless casting preparation. If they just rounds the sharp edges a little before coating…This corrosion looks like it was already under the paint before it flaked off.

Yes, there’s more. Apart from the fact that the spares kit only contains one O ring for the dry/flush lever and considering the size and cost it just seems extremely stingy to not throw in a few. The larger O rings for the pump body itself are too big an make fitting the pump almost impossible. This is just bad engineering pure and simple.

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O rings should not be a loose fit in the groove. This makes refitting the pump almost impossible without damaging the O ring. Just not good enough.

So although the Rheinstrom Y3 aluminium looked promising to start with it has been nothing but trouble and a great disappointment. Considering that it cost almost 1000€ it’s nothing short of disgraceful. A Jabsco for a third of the price would give less trouble than this.

I have written to Rheinstrom many times but their response is always very tardy and pointless, asking questions like ‘is my toilet installed under the waterline’ as if that is the reason why the dry/flush lever won’t stay in place! Really. If you want my advice, steer well clear. These toilets are rubbish. They look great, seem well engineered but are let down but poor details, bad finish and a complete lack of understanding from the manufacturers. I asked them many times to explain to me how the dry/flush lever was supposed to work because I couldn’t make any sense of it but they would always avoid answering me suggesting they don’t even understand it. Not good.

Conclusion:

Hard to clean, goes rusty, paint bubbles off, dry/flush lever won’t stay down on its own and needs two hands to flush toilet, bolts not fitted with any sort of anti corrosive paste, internals needed filing down and parts adjusted to get it to work. O rings in spares kit wrong size. Overpriced. Terrible after sales service.

On the plus side it has not yet blocked.

Update 24/3/14

Finally got a reply from Rheinstrom. Bless them. They seem to want to help which is kind of surprising considering what a complete pain in the arse I have made myself to them. Here’s the story so far.

They decided to send me a Y2 bronze pump in the interim so that we at least had a toilet that was working. This was very nice of them although the inlet pipes are a larger diameter so I had to buy new hoses and faff about for a few hours fitting it. Pleased on the one hand that they are trying to help but pissed off on the other because here I am taking this fecking toilet apart. Again.

Anyway. The new Y2 pump in and for a while we had a nice toilet. They dry/flush lever is a far better design with a cam so that it holds the lever properly. The Y3 should have had a system like this. Much better. It also flushed well.

However. You knew that was coming didn’t you? The machined finish on the pump shaft is very rough and the noise the pump makes as the shaft rubs on the seal is really quite something. Now some might say that this isn’t really a problem and it’s true, if this was all that was wrong I might live with it. After all it should be much better in six months or so as the shaft polishes up. In the meantime we have to put up with a very noisy toilet and no doubt a seal that will wear prematurely. But I don’t really care about any of this. It’s a temporary pump until I get mine back. I mention it only because it is a good demonstration of shoddy quality control.

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Extraordinary. This Y2 model has been installed successfully in boats for over 25 years yet look at this. After just two months of use the lever arm handle is cutting through the brass sleeves and making this mess. This is just one day’s dust. Play is getting worse.

The next thing that happened is that the lever arm started to get some play in it and now is laying down brass dust on top of the pump on a daily basis. Now this toilet is only two months old. There are only two of us and neither have bladder issues so it’s not like it gets a hiding. It gets used that’s all so it’s surprising to see this kind of thing so soon.

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Well, now I understand the problem. This thin walled stainless handle is cutting into the bolts. See below. This is poor engineering.

On inspection I found the problem. Despite Rheinstrom telling me that the Y2 has been in production for 25 years without any problems here is a problem that smacks of yet more dodgy quality control. I think I know what has happened. No doubt it wasn’t that long ago that Rheinstrom did make really good bogs but over the years some materials have changed and perhaps they had not properly considered the implications. Clearly the people who assemble the toilets are not engineers. Any engineer worth his salt would have brought an issue like this to his boss’s attention rather than risk it going out the door with a faulty design.

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Here is one of the brass sleeves. As you can see the lever arm has been chomping away at the soft brass. It’s a ridiculous design. If I sold a toilet with such a poor system I would die of shame. The long length of the lever arm makes this system even more hopeless.

The brass bushings in the lever arm are a classic case in point. It all looks proper, nice stainless bolts into a brass sleeve to act as a bearing. Great. But then what do they do? They fit a stainless tube lever arm with such thin walls that they soon cut into the soft brass making shavings and introducing play which will only get worse with time. This is just piss poor. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than that. I’m not a trained engineer but even I know that’s not going to work. The mad thing is, so do Rheinstrom. The Y3 does not have this problem because it uses plastic inserts in the lever arm which have sufficient bearing surface to actually work.

Soon after the toilet became hard to flush and the water would come back into the bowl. I soon found the problem when I found the weight that normally lives on the bottom seal in the bottom of the bowl! The weight is riveted on so either it corroded away, broke or was not done properly in the first place. Yet another demonstration of poor quality control. Of course I had a spare but I had to take the toilet apart yet again!!!!

So what are Rheinstrom doing? Well apparently they have redesigned the dry/flush lever so it stays in place and have addressed the issue of the undersized O ring on the lever as well. I am still waiting to see what they have come up with. To this day, despite asking repeatedly no one will tell me how the lever was supposed to work, nor what they have done to make it work. Have they done this only for me? Or did they realise the design was flawed and are doing something about it? Who knows, they just won’t tell me.

So this is not the end of the saga. At least Rheinstrom are trying and I am grateful for that but I do hate being treated like a moaning idiot when what I see is iffy design and shoddy quality control that needs addressing. I have spent enough of my valuable time taking this bloody toilet apart so I for one will be more than happy to have a working Y3 again. And if that doesn’t work I’ll have to ask for my money back and get a Jabsco like everyone else. They might be cheap and plasticy but they work and spares are easy to find and change. There’s little wonder it’s one of the most popular boat bogs in Europe.

 

Update 10/6/2014

First I have to applaud Rheinstrom for sending me yet another new toilet even if it was the wrong one. Yes, once again they have proved they do not care or are incompetent. Or both. My toilet was aluminium and they knew this yet they have sent me a bronze toilet which is twice the weight.

I took the toilet apart keen to see what modifications they had made and was not really surprised to see that they had done practically nothing. The bronze part of the dry flush lever had one edge very slightly rounded off. I couldn’t imagine what that would do except stop the seal from closing properly.

So yet ANOTHER day of my life spent fitting the new toilet which of course has exactly the same problem as before. The dry’/flush lever springs back immediately and locks the pump so you still have to hold it in position. But now it’s worse because as suspected the seal no longer works and even when flushing dry some water still enters the bowl.

Then the screw that holds the dry/flush lever came unscrewed. At this point I had not even used the toilet in anger. On inspection there was no trace of Loctite which simply means they didn’t put any on the screw so of course it came loose.

They have done nothing about the O ring being too small. I waited months for this toilet only to discover that they have done practically nothing and what they have done doesn’t even come close to solving the problem, if anything it has made it worse.

It’s a real shame as there is so much that is good about the toilet. It is well cast, well painted (except that they don’t round off sharp edges on the castings before coating) has a nice action and works well as a toilet. But it all amounts to nothing with the other faults it has. It is just pathetic. Every other toilet I have ever seen (including the Y2 they sent me) has a locking dry/flush lever and so they should have because if a toilet is left with the lever on the flush setting, water could syphon back into the bowl and sink the boat!

No doubt they tested the toilet before they shipped it but only on their completely unrealistic test rig. Without the correct resistance that a normal set up provides they will never get a proper idea of the forces acting on the toilet.

They have told me that they have sold thousands of these toilets and have never had any trouble before. They seemed to think that the reason the handle had play in it was because of the excess force that my system has. What excess force? There are no restrictions in the system other than the usual slight bends and syphon break. There can’t be more than 1.5 metres of pipework and that is considerably less than some boats I have seen. What’s more the toilet action is very smooth, hardly any resistance at all.

So after over a year of being messed around, I still don’t have a properly working toilet and this one is twice the weight. Rheinstrom are ignoring me. They clearly blame me for the wear on the handle on the Y2 although anyone can see that sharp edged stainless steel will destroy brass in no time. They clearly do not understand the problem with the dry/flush lever on the Y3 or maybe they understand all this perfectly well but are incapable of solving the problem. So I have now given up on Rheinstrom. They are as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

I will come up with a system myself to hold the dry/flush lever in the dry position. Then I will be able to loosen the screw that holds the lever and that will take the strain off the tiny O ring and that might mean that it doesn’t start leaking in a few weeks as the others have done. Then, maybe just maybe I will have a toilet I can use without being annoyed every time.

 

Update: 14/6/2014

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Here is the solution I came up with to stop the dry/flush lever from popping back when pumping the bowl dry.

Two tabs are held by two of the mounting screws and a 2.5 mm stainless wire is bent to have a kink in it. It is spring loaded so always pushes against the lever.

Perhaps not the most elegant solution but at least you no longer need two hands to pump out the toilet. Ridiculous that it is left to the customer to come up with a working solution. Perhaps others with a Y3 don’t mind that the lever needs holding but this is the first toilet I have ever seen which does not have a mechanism in place to lock the lever in the ‘dry’ position. It is possible to screw up the lever so tight that friction alone holds it but this leads to premature O ring wear and as the O ring is ridiculously small it just gets ripped to pieces in no time.

The spring system allows less force to be used on the lever making the toilet easier to use and hopefully allowing the O ring to last a reasonable amount of time. At least now I don’t have to be reminded of this stupid fault every time I use the toilet. Now if I can just stop the lever from rusting and if the paint doesn’t flake off or bubble like it did before I will have a nice toilet on my boat.

As I said before, there is much to like about the Y3. I like that the pump can be removed without taking the outlet pipe off. The O ring sealing system for the pump is clever so long as the replacement O rings are not too large. The pump lever has plastic bearings so is unlikely to wear like on the Y2. So long as the weight doesn’t drop off the pump flap like it did before it pumps very well and tackles anything you throw at it.

It’s a shame that Rheinstrom don’t care about all these issues. Maybe I have been unlucky but everything I have seen smacks of a poor understanding of basic engineering principles. I find it hard to believe that I am the only one to have had these issues and if I am the only one then Rheinstrom should have been able to sort them out for me instead they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

Categories
boats

Thoughts on fitting an under deck autopilot

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The Garmin GHP 12 Autopilot system. On the left the compass, next the ‘Brains’ and the display unit.

My Pacific Seacraft Dana 24 uses a Simrad TP30 tiller pilot which copes most of the time but just can’t cope when the conditions worsen or the boat is a bit over canvased. What this means in reality is that we tend to reef early to keep ‘Dave’ happy when we could be sailing faster if we had a more powerful autopilot. Since no one makes a serious tiller pilot I have recently been thinking about fitting an under deck pilot even though it would be far from an easy installation.

My first thoughts were that it could be possible although extremely difficult and even if a unit could be fitted it would use too much power. However, after much thinking and research I now think it is doable and feasible even. A system like this will be complicated to install, it will add weight and it will consume more power than the tiller pilot. That’s the down side. On the up side we get half the cockpit back and would even be able to lift the tiller up out of the way while sailing or motoring. The TP 30 is also noisy and its sounds can be irritating when quietly sailing. An under deck unit would be almost silent.

Because the unit is hidden under the deck it is not going to get wet and does not need to be placed on the tiller each time you want to use it. It would be much more powerful and able to cope with heavy tiller loads and unlike the TP30 could be adjusted in many different ways to maximise the performance and power usage.

One of the main problems with tiller pilots is that they are always situated right at the back of the boat and because the compass is inside the pilot it cannot react as quickly as a compass paced more forwards and at a lower level. It’s true that the TP30 can use a remote compass but that doesn’t disguise the fact that it is noisy and not very powerful. Read a review of the TP30 here

Is it even possible?

This discussion is about the possibility of fitting an under deck pilot to the Pacific Seacraft Dana 24 (read a review here) although many of the same principals will apply to most small yachts.

The first thing we need is a tiller arm mounted on the shaft under the deck to link to the autopilot drive unit. But how to attach a tiller arm to the rudder shaft? In order to do this, the rudder log (the fibreglass tube that runs from hull to deck level) would have to be cut down. So, drop the rudder about a foot and cut it down about 4" or 5" down from deck level. Then a stern gland would need to be fitted to the log much like the engine shaft in order to ensure that water cannot get into the boat. Even cut down the rudder log would be well above the waterline so it is possible that a gland could be dispensed with but fitting one would be the right thing to do.

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This is the rudder log. It will need to be cut down to allow the fitting of an aft facing tiller arm. Cutting the log will weaken the boat but since the Dana is so over built and the gas locker is moulded in just next to it I doubt it will be a problem!

The tiller arm would then be mounted above the gland facing aft on the rudder shaft. I have found a company Jefa who make lovely alloy arms that will never break. Now, because the rudder log is no longer attached at the deck we have weakened the structure and are now relying solely on the bronze deck fitting to take the strain. This is no problem as it is ridiculously over engineered. Recently I have noticed some play at the top of my rudder and sometimes it makes a clicking noise as it moves. So what it really needs is a nylon bearing instead of a metal to metal loose fit.

Jefa Alloy Tiller lever

A typical Jefa arm. Made of solid Alloy, not cast. It splits apart for fitting. This model shows a slot for locking the arm in place but this won’t work on the Dana as the rudder shaft is a hollow tube. A different system for locking it on must be found.

The deck fitting would need to be removed and machined out to accept a nylon (or delrin or whatever would work best) bearing that could be easily replaced when worn.

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This is the ridiculously oversized rudder guide. It will need to be removed and machined out to accept a bearing. This will make it very smooth and quiet and take any slight play out of the system.

So now we have a tiller arm. The battle is half won. All we have to do now is connect a drive unit to it. Sounds simple doesn’t it. Well it isn’t. Most drive units are only designed to move the helm 35 degrees either side of straight ahead making a total tiller arc of 70 degrees. Obviously this is enough for any boat when actually steering the boat when under way but the Dana has a very large tiller movement and in fact, when reversing every bit of that movement is required. This is a problem.

There are solutions but they are all compromises and it all comes back to the tiller arc. The way to increase the arc is to attach the drive unit on the tiller arm closer to the rudder. This will give us enough movement so that when we are mooring and need the full sweep of the rudder we can have it. But there is a down side to this and that is that it will reduce the power and torque of the drive considerably. But this need not be a problem as most drive units (even the smallest ones) are very powerful and even with their power reduced by half would be at least twice as powerful as the TP30.

If it were only that simple. Unfortunately as well as reducing the power you speed up the movement of the drive unit so the corrections to the helm would be very sudden and it is possible that the boat would over steer and the pilot would not be able to catch up and no amount of adjustment would help.

A delicate balance needs to be found. Thankfully physics comes to our aid and immediately rules out certain types of drives. The most common type of drive seen is a linear drive either electric or hydraulic. It’s basically a cylinder with a powered rod that moves back and forth. The problem is that even if you moved the attachment in close to the rudder the drive unit would not be able to articulate with the extreme angle needed on the Dana which I have measured to be 60 degrees either side of straight ahead! Almost double the standard amount.

So linear units are out. What’s left? Well Jefa do some lovely drive units but they are heavy and expensive and use about 4 amps an hour on average which is too much for a small cruising sail boat. This unit has to mount close to the tiller arm and that means there would be an additional 12 kilos right at the back of the boat which is not ideal.

Here is the Jefa autopilot unit. Very strong, beautifully made and compact. Sadly also very heavy at 12 kilos. It also uses a lot of power. The clutch alone takes 1.4amp/hr making this unit a bit of an overkill for a 24 foot boat!

Now I was running out of ideas. Luckily I came across the Octopus cable drive unit from a Canadian company. In fact Simrad offer the exact same unit as a drive option on their autopilots so that must be a good sign. The unit weighs about 4 kilos and can be placed up to 6 feet away from the pilot. It is not as powerful as the Jefa unit but still adequate for the Dana. The plus points of this kind of unit are many.

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The Octopus Type RS for sailing boats. Allows remote mounting and a lighter weight. It uses a flexible cable to ‘push/pull’ the rudder. This is the most likely candidate so far.

Most autopilot systems need a rudder feedback unit installed but the Octopus unit has it already built in. This simplifies the installation considerably. Thanks to the push pull cable it can be fitted either vertically or horizontally well forward of the rudder keeping weight out of the stern. Plus it uses considerably less power. Average consumption should only be a couple of amps at most. Obviously the less work the pilot has to do the lower this figure will be.

 

The Autopilot brain

Having solved the tiller arm and drive issues we now have to decide which autopilot to use. Most pilots can be set up to work with any drive so you have a large choice. Personally I do not like the look of the Simrad autopilots or their displays and I have vowed never to have a Raymarine product on board my boat ever again there are fewer companies to choose from but there’s still a fine choice. There’s B&G, Jefa make one, Coursemaster from Australia do a range. There’s the French company NKE who supply most of the French racing boats but my favourite so far is the Garmin unit. It has a colour screen and many options to change all the settings to maximise the efficiency of the package.

This unit has a separate compass that can be placed in the optimum site for best performance, a separate CPU and the display. The display can be placed next to the engine controls to keep from cutting holes for it elsewhere. It will be a minor inconvenience to have to reach down to start and stop the autopilot but that’s about the only down side although there is a wireless remote control option which would make the unit even easier to use and offers the ability to steer the boat from the foredeck or from up the mast if solo and navigating through coral reefs. It has a range of 45 feet.

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The Garmin colour screen. It has different settings for day and night viewing.

The new pilot will enable tacks and gybes to be adjusted to suit the boat among other features. But best of all it will be powerful enough to leave a bit too much sail up if we feel like going fast and it will steer the boat better when it’s surfing down waves in a gale. The unit will be kept dry and this will ensure that it lasts a long time. The added bonus is that we get back one half of the cockpit which is normally taken up by Dave and his ugly cable.

 

Conclusion

There is a lot to be said for the TP30 tiller pilot. It does steer the boat most of the time using very little power. We would be lost without it. The down side is that it is not very adjustable and it is always in the way and out in the elements and when the conditions worsen it starts to struggle.

An under deck unit will work better, be more adjustable and able to steer the boat even in extreme situations. Being under the deck it is protected from the elements and this will ensure a good reliability. On the down side it weighs more, probably about 10 kilos all said and done and we’d surely keep Dave and Dave 2 as back ups anyway. The autopilot is the most essential bit of kit on the boat after the sails! It will use more power but because the unit is so adjustable it can be tuned so that it can keep the boat on course with the minimum of tiller movement.

Obviously it’s a costly item and I don’t suppose there will be much change from £2500 but that compares to the cost of a decent wind vane. It’s also quite a mission to install but I think it would be worth it in the end. It is at least possible. In any case when was anything worthwhile easy?

If anyone has any thoughts, comments or questions I’d love to here them.

Categories
boats

Modifying the Pacific Seacraft Dana’s bowsprit platform

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Doolittle’s modified bowsprit platform with Delta anchor (22lbs) in place.

There’s no doubt about it, the Dana is a fabulous boat and Pacific Seacraft built them well. However, one must not forget that the Dana is a production boat and as such she has her fair share of compromises. One of these compromises is the bowsprit platform.

As a platform and a housing for the anchors and the pulpit it works well but it could have been done differently. Of course, I understand why PSC did it that way. They did it like this because it is easy to make and fit.

So what’s wrong with it? I suppose the biggest problem is that it is placed on top of the bowsprit and bolted through. This does mean that it is strong but it covers most of the bowsprit and that means that it makes it very difficult to varnish and maintain the bowsprit. Since there have been some reports of rotting bowsprits it makes sense to find a way to have the same features while offering better accessibility to the bowsprit for maintenance.

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Much slimmer platform when bolted to the sides of the bowsprit and not bolted to the top. Less weight and windage.

It’s my belief that the majority of rotten bowsprits stem from the fact that they are extremely difficult to see and maintain. If something is hard to look after it tends to get neglected.

The main reason I modified my platform was because I am not a fan of the CQR anchor and wished to use a Delta instead. The problem is that a Delta won’t stow properly on a standard platform as the flukes of the anchor strike the underside of the bowsprit. In order to make the Delta fit correctly it is necessary to not only lower the platform but also to modify the anchor roller.

You might think that this is a lot of work just to allow the fitting of a certain anchor but we spend a lot of time at anchor so the need for the right ground tackle would have been justification enough but in fact there are a whole host of advantages to going down this road.

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The much slimmer new platform, now bolted to the sides of the bowsprit and not to the top as before.

The platform is basically taken off the top, a centre section (the width of the bowsprit) is cut out of it and then it is bolted to the sides of the bowsprit. This reduces weight right at the bows of the boat and that is always a good thing. After all, the bowsprit and platform is a massive and very heavy assembly so any weight that can be removed from it pays dividends in performance.

Also by placing the platform on the sides, it reduces windage as the bulk of the platform is massively reduced. There is an aesthetic component too which is that the teak capping where it meets the bowsprit is now visible where as before this nice nautical feature was completely hidden by the platform. The aft end of the platform also needs to be cut away to match the shape of the hull and the capping. See below.

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The back end of the platform will need to be cut at an angle to allow it to go in the right place. Three bolts hold the platform to the bowsprit. There are no bolts at the back end. It does mean that there is a little flexibility in the platform but it is held strongly enough with the other bolts so it’s not a problem. I also replaced the two thinner infill pieces with one wider piece of teak as they would not go back on well without looking too fussy.

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The underside aft of the platform showing the wood cut at an angle. There is no need to attach the platform to the hull at this point but you could use sikaflex if you wanted a bit of extra stiffness.

Does lowering the platform and the pulpit affect anything else? No, in fact it helps. I always felt that the life lines went up too far at the bows but by lowering them they look much better and follow the sheer of the boat much better.

Aesthetically, the whole bow of the boat looks better and less bulky. Even lowered the lifelines are still higher than at any other part of the deck and to my mind the whole thing just looks right.

The best part is that the top of the bowsprit is now visible and much easier to get to and maintain and varnish. It just looks so much better.

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The bowsprit is now fully visible and much easier to get to for varnishing. Plus it looks much better all round. The Metal plate with the holes cut in it for lightness is to protect the varnish and bowsprit from damage caused by deploying and retrieving the anchor.

There are a few other small advantages as well that may apply. For example the lower platform allows the jib furler to be attached without using an extra toggle. I can’t be sure about this and it may only apply to the Harken furlers that I fitted but I suspect that with the platform in the original position the furler drum would foul against it. With the platform lower, this is not an issue.

The staysail chainplate originally bolts to the top of the platform but with the platform bolted to the sides of the bowsprit it must be bolted directly onto the top of the bowsprit instead. This has the effect of making the inner forestay longer. Since the Harken furlers (which I have fitted to both stays) require that the stay be cut down by a couple of inches, it meant I did not have to cut it down! If you already have furlers fitted or do not wish to fit them you will have to either get the inner forestay made longer or add a toggle to extend it slightly.

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Staysail chainplate now bolts directly to the top of the bowsprit. Before it was bolted to the top of the platform. Its position is unchanged, just lower and uses the same holes. Note also the way the capping is now visible right up to the bowsprit. Before this nice feature was hidden.

Removing the platform is straight forward although you will find that PSC never skimped on sealant thus getting some of the bolts out can be hard work. The easiest way is to use washers and nuts to gradually wind the bolts out. It takes a while but is the easiest way and does no harm to the woodwork.

In order to get the platform off one needs to remove the lifelines that attach to the pulpit and unbolt it. The electric cable for the nav lights will need to be disconnected. You may have to cut the cable inside the boat and reconnect it later.

The bowsprit will have holes in it which will need plugging since the new mounting holes will be through the side. This is not a big deal.

The first thing to do having removed the platform is to cut out the centre section to the thickness of the bowsprit and cut the aft end to the shape of the bows. There is no need to remove the pulpit but it might be easier if you do. In any case the pulpit does not need to change its position on the platform.

Once this is done the platform can be temporarily clamped in place on the sides of the bowsprit. The height is determined by ensuring that the top of the platform is flush with the top surface of the bowsprit. The platform will be bolted through by three long bolts (studding) with dome nuts and washers through the athwartship sections. (see pics). Check that the original life lines are still the same length. There is no need to modify the lifeline length. You may find that the whisker stays interfere with the underside of the platform at the forward end of the sprit. Cut small grooves if necessary to clear them.

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Placing the platform on the sides of the bowsprit means that small grooves may need to be cut for the whisker stays.

Place the holes centrally in each athwartship section. First drill a 1” hole about 3/4” deep for the dome nuts. Then drill right through to the bowsprit. This is the tricky bit. I suggest drilling into the bowsprit an inch or so (or as far as you can with your drill bit) on both sides. Then remove the platform and making sure that the drill is perpendicular to the bowsprit carry on drilling about half way through the bowsprit. Do this from each side so that the holes meet in the middle. If you lack confidence you could set up a drilling jig to ensure that the drill bit cuts straight without wandering. It’s not too crucial if the hole ends up a bit enlarged as you try to find the hole on the other side as the sides of the bowsprit will be covered by the platform.

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The bolts that clamp the platform to the bowsprit have recessed dome nuts. This isn’t absolutely necessary of course, they could be left proud.

Once this is done I highly recommend varnishing the holes you have drilled. The easiest way is to drag a varnished soaked rag through the holes. Repeat until the holes are well saturated. The varnish will seal the holes and help to stop water getting in. Not sealing the holes is surely the main reason that Dana bowsprits rot in the first place but as I mentioned before the Dana is a production boat and if PSC took the time to everything to such a level they would be so expensive no one would ever buy one!

Now the bowsprit can be bolted on using new threaded studding cut to the appropriate length and tightened up. Now that the platform is bolted on you can reconnect the lifelines.

The deck gland for the nav lights should be moved from the top of the capping. I placed it un the side of the hull and plugged to holes where it was fitted.

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The deck gland is now placed on the hull and not on the top of the capping. This should be better as water cannot ‘stand’ on the gland as it could before reducing the chances of the gland leaking.

That is the basic procedure for the modifying of the platform itself. If you are using a CQR you may not need to do any more. If you wish to fit a Delta then unless you want the shaft of the anchor poking up through the hole at an angle you will have to lower the starboard bow roller. I left the port roller at the original height as I often use that for mooring lines in the Med.

For this you will need to modify the original brackets as shown in the pictures. The edges of the new brackets need to be well rounded or the anchor warp or chain will snag as the boat tacks at anchor making it very hard to pull in unless the chain is dead ahead.

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This is the stb bracket which had to be completely remade. The only part which remains is the axel for the anchor roller. It has been lowered considerably to allow the shank of the Delta to rest under the bowsprit without touching and to allow the shank of the anchor to lay almost flat on top. Note the bar welded onto the front edge of the bracket. This is needed so that the chain or rode can be brought back on board when raising anchor without it snagging.

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Here is a close up of the stb bracket. The axel is below the level of the bowsprit and so that needs supporting as the possible forces here are quite large. See the picture below for details.

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This picture shows the inboard side of the Stb bow roller. The axel is ‘locked’ in place by having a groove cut in it and a ‘C’ shaped piece of stainless which fits into the groove held in place by a couple of threaded bolts. This stops any lateral movement.

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The port side anchor roller. This is left at the original height using the original bracket. The end of the axel simply goes into a hole drilled into the bowsprit and that has proved more than strong enough as it goes in a good inch or so. Washers were placed either side of the roller to ensure that it never grips the woodwork, nor damages the varnish.

And that is about it really. Below are a few more images that may help with positioning etc.

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On Doolittle, the platform starts 2 and 1/8” behind the back edge of the bronze end fitting. It may be that each Dana is slightly different so use this measurement with caution.

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This picture shows the position of the athwartship pieces of the platform in relation to the top of the bowsprit. I made it 7/8” on Doolittle. It may be different on other Danas.

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One of the best advantages to this modification is that it is now possible to make a cover to protect the bowsprit from the sun. Admittedly it is somewhat elaborate but with poppers doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to fit.

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The bowsprit cover in place protecting the varnish. Being made of Sunbrella it is able to breathe and being of a light colour it keeps the heat off the bowsprit too reducing the amount it can move.

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Another shot of the new platform showing how the Delta lies almost flat on top.

Categories
boats

Between Two Seas (Traversing the Canal du Midi by yacht)

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A typical Canal du Midi view. All photos on this post: Leica M9 Summilux 21mm

The Canal du Midi is more than just a convenient way to get from the Med to the Atlantic by boat, it is also extremely beautiful and despite its age, most efficient. The max speed in the canal is just 8 kmh and with about 20 minutes per lock the average speed works out at about 4 kmh which is no more than a pleasant walking pace. You might think that you’ll never manage to do the 400 kms of its total length at that speed but even taking it relatively easy it can easily be done in two weeks.

If you love nature, peace and quiet, culture and history you will love the Canal du Midi. It was built 350 years ago and you will be amazed at the way it works. It really is a very impressive piece of engineering indeed and not a day went by when I did not reflect on the imagination and the foresight of the people who had the courage to make it happen all those years ago.

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Most of the locks on the Canal du Midi are oval like this one. It works on the same principal of an arch. The idea being that it stops the lock walls collapsing when there is no water in them to support them.

The Canal du Midi was originally designed with commerce in mind and it was used to transport such commodities as wine, grain and fuels  using barges pulled by horses. These barges, or Peniche as they are called in French were originally made of wood but more lately in steel. There are very few wooden ones left and almost all of the peniche on the Canal du Midi have been converted to house boats or tripper boats. Today the Canal du Midi is no longer used for transporting goods.

The way the French solved the many issues of just how to take a waterway through the whole country is fascinating. At the summit, some 650 feet above sea level are three lakes which feed the canal with the water that it needs and even today the canal is rarely short of water thanks to this. Along almost the entire length of the Canal du Midi were planted trees. These trees serve many purposes. The leaves provide shade from the southern French sun so that the horses did not over heat and reduce evaporation from the strong Midi summer sun but more than that, their roots hold the banks together and the leaves that fall line the canal bed and help to waterproof it.

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Every now and then we’d come across a line of dead trees like these.

Most of the trees today are plane trees which were planted about 150 years ago to replace the original trees which were mostly fruit trees. Today the trees are under threat from a fungus which is killing them off at a disturbing rate. I asked many of the lock keepers (eclusiers) about it and received a different answer each time. Some said that the fungus came over during the war in the wooden cases that the Americans used to hold ammo but however it got here the results of the fungus are clear to see in the many dead trees along the way. Quite how the fungus is passed from one tree to another is not clear either.

Some eclusiers said that the fungus is in the water, others said that it was caused by people tying up to the trees and then spreading the disease when they subsequently tied to another tree further down the way. However this doesn’t  seem very likely as many of the trees that are affected are on corners and in other places where it is very unlikely that anyone has ever tied to them. More likely is that the fungus is carried in the water. This is born out by the fact that after the summit at Toulouse headed towards the Atlantic most of the trees are fine as the fungus cannot climb beyond the summit as the flow of water is always downwards. Some said that it was the spikes that people use to tie their boats to the banks and in many of the locks in affected areas there were pots of disinfectant that you are supposed to wash your spikes in before using them somewhere else.

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In the round lock at Agde.

There were occasional signs at the effected areas instructing canal users not to tie up but since no one really knows what to do about it, all the measures are somewhat half hearted. It seems that the only remedy is to replace the trees with a more resistant species. The problem with this is that the old tree needs to be removed which in itself is no mean feat as many of these trees are a century and a half old and are a good 100 feet high! And the entire tree, roots and all needs to be removed before a new tree can be planted. One lock keeper said that it costs about 1000€ to replace one tree and if this is true the cost of doing so along the entire 400 km length of the Canal du Midi equates to one massive and hugely expensive project. I estimated that there are about 400 trees per one km so as you can see this could be a serious problem.

One wonders how the government will be able to justify such a huge expense when the canal is no longer used by commercial traffic. We paid just 66€ for a months stay in the canal which is nothing at all. It’s not the dues from the pleasure boats that will raise the money to replace the trees.

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Just one of the many narrow and low bridges on the Canal du Midi. Maximum air draft is 3 metres.

In an effort to reduce the cost of running the Canal du Midi many of the locks have been automated whereas before, every lock had a resident eclusier. The VNF (Voies Navigables de France) who run the Canal du Midi and the other canals in France have also managed to delegate much of the maintenance of the canal banks to another department who have created a fabulous cycle lane that runs the entire length of the canal and I’m delighted to say that not one day went by when we did not see a number of cyclists using the pathways.

According to many sources the Canal du Midi attracts 10,000 boats and two million visitors annually. I don’t know where they get those figures from but I would be amazed if there were that many boats in or using the Canal du Midi. The Canal du Midi is a UNESCO site but will this be enough to save the canal? An estimated 210 million € is needed to replace the trees.

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Chugging across one of the many aquaducts on the canal This one carries the canal over a river.

Anyway, enough of the sad news. It is my hope and belief that the Canal du Midi is too important and too beautiful for it to ever fall into disrepair. One way or another the trees will be replaced and it will go on for another 350 years at least. Let’s talk about the nice things.

If you love birds you will love the Canal du Midi. Because you are chugging quietly along you do not disturb the birds who nest in the trees. A sharp eye, a good pair of binoculars and a bird book are all that needed. In the two weeks we were in the canal we saw over 10% of all the bird species in France. That’s over 50 species!

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The mad and slightly hectic 7 lock ‘staircase’ at Bezier. This section is the busiest of the entire canal. Note the two ‘bumper boats’ on the right.

There are a lot of birds of prey in the canals and we once saw a buzzard swoop down to the surface of the water and grab a fish. Another time we saw a parent feeding a chick in the nest, and another we saw a buzzard fly down to the water’s edge and take a drink. We saw herons (grey, night and purple) we even got to see a Roller fly into its nest hole in a tree. One morning we were woken by the wonderful call of a Golden Oriole.

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Leaving the tunnel at Malpas. This tunnel was dug entirely by trained badgers.

Asides from the stunning bird life there are also all sorts of other creatures such as dragon and damsel flies, fish in the canal, frogs, water snakes and butterflies.

If nature’s not your thing then there are no end of fabulous and historic sites to see since the canal runs through some spectacular towns along the way, each with its own regional speciality. We stopped in Carcassonne where we had a genuine cassoulet. Where ever possible we always like to sample the local fare.

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A strange metal sculpture with a head made from a camping gaz bottle for sale at one of the locks.

So you fancy having a go? What kind of boat is best? Well, you can do the trip in a yacht with the mast down but if you draw more than 4 feet or 1.2 metres you may have a few problems. They say that a boat drawing 150 cm can make the trip but we draw 120 cm and we had some moments that were touch and go. At the entrance to the Canal du Midi at the Etang de Thau we were skimming the bottom. We could feel the boat rise up and slow down. A load of throttle saw us get by but I don’t think a boat drawing more than us would have managed. There is no shortage of water in the canal, at least there was not this year (2012) as there had been a lot of rain. All the sections of the canal were as full as they could have been but despite that the waters were shallow. I guess that the canal needs regular dredging now that the peniche no longer pass through.

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The amazing fortified Cité of Carcassonne.

We did the trip in a yacht but if I was going to do this again I would prefer a motor boat with rubber fendering all over. The biggest problem we had was getting to the bank when we wanted to stop. There is depth in the centre of the canal but it shelves quickly at the sides and we just couldn’t get close enough to tie up. Fortunately there was usually a dedicated waiting pontoon outside every lock that was built out away from the bank a little and this is where we generally stayed.

When we first did the canals I fendered the boat up completely and had fender boards the lot. This last time we just used the boat’s normal fenders placed only on the port side which was adequate if we took care. What I would suggest is as many fenders as you can get and put a fat ball fender on each corner then you should have no problems. A fender board would be a good idea especially if it can double up as a boarding plank. That way you can moor close to the bank and still get ashore.

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Doolittle tied up for the night on a pontoon outside a lock. Navigation ceases at 19-00 so you are assured of a quiet night.

You’ll need spikes to drive into the ground if you plan to tie up along a bank. But make sure you clean them in the tubs provided at each lock to prevent spreading the fungus that is killing the trees. A pair of ropes twice the length of your boat will be more than adequate for the Canal du Midi. Use old lines as they do get quite scuffed and dirty when rubbing on the lock walls. Other than that you need no special equipment.

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A triple staircase lock. Unusually the eclusier left all the gates open so as the water entered it rushed down. Click on this image to see it bigger. It was a bit scary although there wasn’t as much turbulence as you might have imagined.

There are numerous Halte Nautiques along the way which cost about 5€ a night and often have water and electricity and other facilities such as showers and Internet (wifi). Fuel was hard to find and existed only in Toulouse as far as we could tell. Mind you economy was good with the engine barely above tickover for most of the time. We stocked up on most food before we left and only needed to top up the supplies from time to time. Most French towns and villages have a small shop or a market where you can get good stuff.

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Picking wild cherries from the many trees along the banks (June) These cherries were excellent. We picked over a kilo and a half in all.

In all there are over 100 locks to negotiate between Agde and Bordeaux. About half of them are going up and about half are going down. Each lock raises (or lowers) the canal by about ten feet, although some of the locks do slightly less. Like most things in life going down is easier than going up. It is certainly easier to descend in a lock than to ascend as there is no turbulence so it’s all very mellow. There are tricks to make going up easier though and one of those is to make sure you are at the back of the lock. Often if we were with other boats we would let them go first. ‘How kind’ they must be thinking. Those English are so polite. Ha! Little did they know.

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Lovely rainbow at dusk.

A yacht with a keel is far more susceptible to being thrown around when a lock is filling and often it depends on the lock keeper. Some seem to operate them with more understanding. Some just open all the valves all at the same time and that can make it interesting. Even the most violent locks were not really a problem. Here’s how it works.

As you approach a lock (when ascending), drop a crew member off on the bank. There is usually a pontoon a few hundred metres before all the locks.  The crew member then takes the lines which are throw from the boat. The lines are placed around a bollard and dropped back to the crew member/s on the boat. We usually used the same bollard for both ropes. In other French canals there was usually a ledge and a staircase just outside the lock where a crew member could be dropped off when entering the lock but there are no locks like this on the Canal du Midi. When going down you enter a full lock so you don’t need to drop anyone off.

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Very strange to be motoring through a city. This is Toulouse.

The lock keeper will close the doors behind you using their remote control. This is a recent introduction. Before the eclusier had to stand in the same place and press buttons. Now they are free to roam. Whether this is safer is debateable as often the eclusier would simply open the sluices and bugger off. They would return some minutes later to let you out. I asked about the remote control units and discovered that they are neither waterproof nor do they float! I thought this very strange considering the environment they are used in.

All the locks are the same and yet different. What I mean by that is, sometimes they have a ladder on the left side, then all of a sudden it will be on the right. Sometimes there are poles that you can tie up to inside the lock, sometimes not. The bollards may be in the same place in each lock or they may not. You can be sure that as soon as you have got used to them being a certain way they will change when you least expect it.

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A night time view of the canals. A four minute exposure. Note the movement of the stars and the calmness of the water.

Another new feature is the beeping of the doors when they open or close. This is probably a safety issue although if I lived in one of the old lock keeper’s houses which are often rented out by the VNF I would probably try and disable the annoying beep. I wonder why it’s always such an annoying sound. Why can’t they program it to play the sound of birds or cows? It seems so out of place in the tranquillity of the canals.

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Twist the rubber hose that dangles over the water to set up the next lock.

Many of the locks are now automated. They are operated by a rubber pipe that hangs down over the canal that you must twist as you pass. Then you will see the lights change at the lock. When the light is green you enter. Nothing happens until you press the green button inside the lock. Then the doors close and the lock fills or empties. Simple and effective. Not once did we have a problem with any of the locks.

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Another night time resting place.

Navigation in the summer is from 09-00 to 19-00 hrs. The manual locks are closed for an hour at 12-30 for lunch. The automated locks don’t stop for lunch however.

You have to pay to use the canals. We paid 66€ for a month. The tariff is calculated by the area of your boat. Considering that you can stop anywhere, this is the only cost apart from fuel so it represents extremely good value for money in my opinion. Less than 3€ a day seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable sum.

You’ll need to buy a vignette to prove that you have paid and thankfully this can now be done via the VNF website vnf.fr The site is in English but you’ll still need to use your brain a bit as the translation leaves something to be desired!

You also need to have a certificate of competence from the RYI which must include the ‘Inland Waterway’ category. These days you have to take a Cevni test. All details can be found on the RYI site. You can do a practice test before taking the actual one. It couldn’t be easier really although the costs soon mount up. What is interesting is that you do not need the Cevni test to get a vignette, nor will anyone ask for it along the way! In the five times over the last decade or so that we have ‘done’ the canals no one has ever asked to see my CoC. This time we did have a check up on our vignette which surprised the lock keeper as he told us he had never known anyone bother.

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Idyllic is the word. Beautiful.

The only problems you are likely to have is when grass cuttings get into the water strainer and stop the water cooling the engine. Before you set off make sure you practice cleaning out the strainer. We got so good at it that we could cut the engine, shut the seacock, clean the strainer, open the seacock and get the engine going again all before the boat ran out of momentum.

The very best advice I can offer above and beyond all the boring practical stuff is that you MUST make an effort to speak French. Your entire experience will be VERY different if you do try. The French have a reputation for being arrogant but I can assure you this has not been our experience. Everyone, without exception was friendly and helpful and I am convinced this is because we speak French. If you can’t speak French, don’t worry. No one expects you to learn another language in a week but at least learn a few basic words like; Bonjour and Merci and when asking for help try and do it in French. When I first began I learned how to say ‘I don’t speak French very well’. The French always greet each other before asking a question so make sure you say hello first. Carry a small dictionary or phrase book at all times and whip it out at every occasion. They will be so impressed with your willingness to learn their language that they will bend over backwards to help you.

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The lock keeper’s house at the last lock on the canal where it enters the River Garonne. Note the tide gauge on the front of the building. This door at the bottom is already 5 metres above the normal level of the river. The highest it has been reaches the top of the stairs!!!! That’s 13 metres above normal levels. It is simply impossible to comprehend that amount of water.

I can’t stress this enough. Your whole experience in the canals will largely depend on you making an effort to speak French. It’s to your benefit.

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Passing through the ‘bridge of death’ as I call it. We were spat through at over ten knots such is the current!

You don’t have to have your own boat as you can hire a ‘penichette’ from any number of boat hire companies in all the canals. The canals are a very mellow place to be. Sometimes you need some patience and it does not pay to be in a hurry. You need to chill out and take what comes. If the lock keeper tells you that the lock is broken and they don’t know when it will be fixed. Simply tie up your boat and read a book, go for a walk or a cycle ride.

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Plenty of water this year. A typical view of the lock doors from the boat.

When you consider just how crowded the world is these days and how fast and hectic, it may come as a surprise that the canals can be so quiet and little used. No matter what your age I would heartily recommend a canal trip as a holiday.

Here are some helpful links to get you started.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_du_Midi

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/770/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/13/canal-du-midi-under-threat

Categories
boats

Variprop 4 blade prop review

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Variprop 4 blade feathering prop in feathered position.

Finally got to fit the new prop that had been sitting around so long I was considering nailing to a bulkhead for all to admire. After all, this prop is a beautiful thing. German engineering. What more do you need to say? Of course it is expensive, anything made with quality materials and machined to a high standard is always going to cost more. It is a shame though that now it’s fitted no one can see its beauty.

This cannot be a full review as the prop has only just been fitted and only used for a relatively short time but I have used it enough to be able to report on its character and operation  when fitted to a Dana 24.

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Beautiful engraving on the prop body. Leica M9 and Visoflex

The first prop was the original 15” 2 blade prop as fitted by PSC. It worked ok going forwards but couldn’t stop the boat at all and that’s no good in a crowded marine with a wayward 4 ton boat! Next up was the kiwiprop which all said and done was a disappointment. You can read more about what I thought of that here.

Unhappy with the Kiwiprop it seemed that the only way forward was to stump up for a 4 blader prop. The idea being, with more area, pitch can be reduced to stop cavitation and the dia. reduced to keep the blade tips further from the hull. In theory it should also be smoother and more powerful than a three blader.

Fitting the new prop was easy as it comes completely preassembled and greased up ready to fit. The pitch (which is adjustable) was pre set by the factory. The nut is tightened and a couple of locking screws hold it there. Then the anode is fitted. job done.

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The pitch adjustment situated at the boat end of the prop. Pitch can be adjusted as little or as much as you want and as all blades are linked, they remain always in perfect alignment.

The first thing I noticed when we motored away from the quay was a hefty bias to the helm. If I let go the tiller, the boat turns to the right fairly dramatically. This is no problem as Dave the autopilot can deal with that but I am surprised how strong the pull is.

This prop is so much smoother than the Kiwiprop. probably because there are more blades but also because each blade is electronically balanced at the factory. You can feel the difference. Vibration has been seriously reduced and the annoying way the tiller used to ‘wobble’ when motoring has disappeared.

Although the pitch was supposed to set at the factory so that the engine will produce max revs at hull speed, the best revs I can do are 2900 leaving 700 rpm I can’t use. However this is how I prefer to set the pitch anyway as it means much lower revs at cruising speeds. At 2000 rpm Doolittle now does 5.3 knots and at 2200 it does 5.6 which is very good.

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Beautifully machined. Almost too good to fit!

It’s early days yet but for some reason the new prop seems to make the engine more economical. I will confirm this after a few fill ups.

Sea trials revealed a strange noise at high revs. It sounds like a twin engined prop plane taking off. Quite odd. However even flat out the engine now sounds like it is running well and smooth even if it is revving high. Before I never liked to run the engine at high revs with the Kiwi as it felt unpleasant with the vibrations and roughness.

Naturally I tried a crash stop from top speed and here the Variprop got confused. I am sure the blades rotated into reverse position but for some reason they have no bite for a moment or two and seem to thrash the water with much noise and vibration but little effect. Once the blades bite however the boat stops well, though not as well as the Kiwiprop, who’s stopping power is awesome as the pitch is set so course in the astern position.

Of course I can try adjusting the pitch in astern but I think I will live with it for now and see how i get on. Sometimes the excessive pitch on the Kiwi overloaded the engine so at least if the pitch is finer now the engine can always produce the power needed without effort.

I have only had the occasion to manoeuvre the boat in a marina once so far but I had no trouble getting in and the prop did exactly what I needed it to. The neighbour even commented saying ‘that was very neatly done’. Well, I do have a lot of practice moving boats but having a prop that does what you expect it to do is very helpful.

Prop walk has been almost eliminated which may interest many people. Personally I like a bit of prop walk, I find I can spin the boat in tighter confines. Maybe if I adjust the pitch in reverse I can get the prop walk back. I’ll keep you posted on that later.

Sailing seems the same as the Kiwi. Drag is practically non existent as far as I can tell. Although it has 4 blades to the Kiwi’s three, they are very fine whereas the Kiwi’s blades are quite fat. When sailing, you need to stop the shaft spinning in order to get the blades to feather. With my engine, I just put the gearbox in astern with the engine off. Once the prop stops spinning, the blades feather easily.

There is still some noise between 1600 and 2000 rpm but as other Dana owners have reported cavitation noise at similar revs it must be due to the shape of the hull and the prop aperture rather than the prop itself. I may be able to reduce this some by setting a finer pitch. However it is still much quieter than the Kiwprop installation was on my boat.

When engaging forward gear there is a clattering noise that can be heard, give the engine just a few revs though and it passes quickly. It does not do this in astern. I wrote to Variprop to ask about this. They tell me that it is quite normal. What I am hearing are the plates of the built in shock absorber which is always compressed in astern. Fair enough. So long as I know what it is.

Going from forwards to astern or back again is very smooth and quiet, obviously the shock absorber is doing its job.

Conclusion

Not a cheap product but I believe you get what you pay for and the Variprop is no exception. It is beautifully designed and made. With its large blade bases it should last for many years.

It is easy to adjust the pitch forwards or aft. It is quiet and smooth in operation. It works very well in both directions and has very little drag when sailing.

Maintenance is a simple greasing job annually and a change of anode. the anodes cost about 35€ each which is expensive compared to other props.

The only down side is that clatter when you engage forwards but as this is not a fault of the prop and it soon passes, it’s not really an issue.

A lovely bit of kit.

Categories
boats

LED lighting comes of age

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An LED replacement for a normal bulb. Very high tech, warm and bright. 18-LED Tower Type 1142

Ever since I have had a boat I have been excited about the idea of using LED lights because of the tiny amount of power that they use. When you live on a boat the most trivial things can become important. Ordinary light bulbs are effective and bright but they don’t last long, consume a lot of power and get so hot that they damage the lamp fittings and are a potential fire hazard.

Do the maths. One 20 watt incandescent bulb takes almost 2 amp/hrs of energy out of my house battery. You don’t need to understand electricity to realise that if my battery has a capacity of 100 amp/hrs, and in reality only half of that can be used so we are down to a capacity of 50 amp/hrs, in just 100 hours one small light bulb would flatten the house battery!

When you then consider the need for navigation lights, normally on all night when sailing and further consider that one bulb is rarely enough to adequately light a yacht interior and it’s easy to see how in just a few hours, normal light bulbs can take it out of even a big battery.

What this means in the real world is that the boat’s engine will need to run more often to charge the depleted batteries. The more you run an engine, the more it wears out and the sooner it needs servicing. Being able to reduce the power that even a humble light bulb takes is very helpful and also saves you money and helps to reduce pollution.

At about the turn of this century, LED bulbs started to make an appearance but those early attempts were not up to much. On the plus side, they did not get very hot and they did massively reduce power consumption but that was because they were not even as bright as a candle.

It was much worse though, not being very bright was only part of it. They were expensive too, didn’t last as long as the maker’s claimed, shed a ‘cold’ and unfriendly light and had a very narrow beam so were only really good for very direct lighting needs. It’s not surprising that there were not many takers.

By about 2005 things were looking up, there were more and more companies on the Internet making all sorts of claims. The most common was that the bulbs would last 50,000 hours. When you do the maths, that works out to be about 6 years of continuous use. The bulbs were still a bit cold but they were starting to be bright enough to consider using them to light my boat.

My first foray into the LED bulb world was through a company called Dr Led. I bought a few through West Marine when I was in the States. They were not cheap and frankly they were not very good. Their beam was narrow, they were cold and not as bright as I had hoped. They were OK for reading with when on night watch as the narrow beam and feeble output did not disturb your off watch mate in the opposite bunk.

Sadly after just a few months I thought I was going blind but it turned out that the bulbs were fading. I had a spare new bulb I had not used before and did a test using the light meter on my camera. The old bulbs were two whole stops down on the new one. I do not know how one is supposed to calculate this but they looked about half as bright. This was only after a few months. Soon after some of the bulbs in the cluster died and eventually there were only a few working and they became as good as useless.

I wrote to Dr Led to complain and they admitted that they had had a few problems but they now had a better bulb that was made in America that was guaranteed to only lose half it’s brightness after 50,000 hours. This obviously made a mockery of their previous unconditional claim of 50,000 hours clearly printed on the packaging.

They were willing to sell me the new bulbs at a discount but I refused. If they wanted me to test them for free, that was one thing, but after the poor performance of their previous bulbs I had no interest in spending any more of my hard earned cash on more of the same. Not impressed. Suffice to say I have not bought from Dr Led since. West Marine finally reimbursed me for the bulbs.

The next company I tried was called Super Bright LEDs. At the time their website was pretty simple as they did not have a very big choice of bulbs. What they did have was a small square LED with 9 of the latest type of high power bulbs on it. The colour was ‘warm’ and the spread quite wide. They were much cheaper than the Dr Led versions at about $20 each. I bought a few and was impressed. They were not bad at all but still not as bright as I had hoped.

They didn’t get hot though and they were so thin that I was able to double them up in the overhead lights to get more output. This worked quite well but they were still not anywhere near as bright as the original 20 watt halogen bulbs that were fitted. Still, we could live with them as they did actually light up the boat and took very little power.

The problem was that at the time they didn’t really offer any ‘bulb’ types that could be simply swapped for normal bulbs in our other lights and the ones they did were not very good so I modified some of the overhead bulbs to work. It didn’t look very pretty but they were not bad.

Then recently I decided to have another look at Super Bright LEDs site and see if there was anything better. Their site is now rather confusing as the selection of possible bulbs is mind boggling and this is not helped by LED bulb’s brightness being described by Lumens. This is all very well but what does it mean? It is a shame that they do not tell you what the equivalent brightness would be in normal watts.

Instead you have to trawl through their exhaustive range of bulbs to work out which is best. This took me some time I can tell you! I enlisted help from Super Bright LEDs and in fact their range is so confusing that even their customer support got it wrong. Finally I worked out what bulb was the brightest. It has 15 leds and a Lumens of 160 or about double that of the 9 bulb versions I had before. This is the brightest they make so I bought a few at less than $20 a pop.

Then I discovered that they now made double contact bulbs with the same kind of LED so I bought a few of those too. They only have 110 Lumens but are very small and neat. Again, about $20.

So how do they compare to incandescent bulbs? In brightness, I would have to say that the 15 bulb overhead bulbs are about as bright as a 15 watt bulb where as the 18 bulb dual contact bulb replacements are as bright as a 10 watt bulb. It would be nice if they were brighter but they consume so little power that it’s no problem to put as many on as you like.

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This is the 15 bulb G4 overhead LED G4-WHP15-DAC

To give you some idea of just how much less power they consume, when we had 20 watt halogens in the 5 overheads and 20 watt bulbs in the 4 reading lamps we could suck a staggering 15 amp/hrs out of the batteries, now with all 9 LED lights on, it’s not as bright but we only draw 1.5 amp/hrs which is nothing at all.

So all in all I am very happy with the new lighting aboard. The latest bulbs are very warm, almost too warm. They have a nice spread of about 120 degrees but best of all they do not get hot and they consume very little power.

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I know it’s an awful picture but this was taken at night, hand held! using a Panasonic Lumix camera and NO flash. This demonstrates nicely just how well just one 15 bulb LED illuminates the head.

For your information, here are the G4 overhead bulbs

G4-WHP15-DAC

Here are the double contact bulb replacements

18-LED Tower Type 1142

For more information, contact Superbrightleds.com An excellent company in my experience. I have bought twice and each time the bulbs arrived very quickly and was exactly what I ordered. For some reason I am never charged import duty or VAT even though the bulbs come from the States. Bonus.

We used the 9 bulb versions for almost two years with very little fade so these newer ones should last for many years.

Also Superbrightleds claim that the bulbs are environmentally friendly. I don’t quite know how they work that out, perhaps it is when compared to other types?

Good luck!

Categories
boats

Fender socks

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There are two trains of thought concerning fender socks. There are those who do not like them because they believe that dirt builds up on them and then damages the finish on the hull. There are others who believe the opposite.

As far as I am concerned there is no doubt that fender socks are not only useful, they are essential if you want to protect your top sides from chafe. My experience is that fenders with socks on do considerably less damage than fenders without but there are many reasons why you might consider socks for your fenders.

For a start, they can make a bunch of ugly, stained fenders look great. Nothing looks worse than a boat with tatty fenders. A boat with fender socks just looks better. It is a sign that you care about your boat and that is important because other people will treat your boat with more respect when they are coming alongside. No one cares when they are coming alongside a tatty old boat but they do take more care when your boat is clean and tidy.

Fenders get hard with age and when they get hard they can do a lot of damage. I have seen a fender eat through a cover and the wood behind it because it was old and hard as rock. By covering your fenders you are protecting them from the sunlight so they will last longer and stay softer.

There’s more. Without fender socks, fenders can make a lot of noise on a windy day when they are swinging about and ‘bonking’ against the hull. With fender socks they are much quieter. Fenders without socks often squeak and squeal when up against another boat or the quay. Fender socks do away with this annoying problem.

If you are selling your boat, a set of clean matching fender socks will show the potential buyer that you care about your boat and don’t mind spending money on it. It will make the boat look so much better and make it worth more. Some even go to the effort (and cost) of having their socks embroidered with the name of the boat. The only advantage to this that I can see is that no one is likely to steal them, unless of course the thief’s boat has the same name as yours!

You can buy fender socks in all shapes, sizes and colours. The most common are the stretchy terry towelling sort that come in most colours and are easy to fit. However, they soon fade in the sun and have an annoying habit of riding up the fender. After a couple of years they will probably be rotten and have holes in them. They offer good protection and look smart but not for long. They are not cheap and if you have 6 fenders as I do then it might cost you as much as £100.

If you want really long lasting looks and protection then it is best to make your own. Enter Boat Blanket. It is a thick and fluffy polyester material that looks a bit like the soft half of Velcro just a lot thicker. It is not very stretchy so  socks made from it need to be made to measure. It comes in black, blue and beige colours and is, I am informed, easy to cut and sew but to mark it you’ll need a soap stone pencil or taylor’s chalk.

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My talented other half made these fender socks for the boat. The top has a stainless eye in it where the rope is passed. It stops the hole enlarging over time and just looks really good. A professional finishing touch. They are not cheap however and you’ll probably need a sail maker to press them in for you. I paid about £40 to have 6 pressed in.

The sides and the bottom of the socks are split making it very easy to fit them to the fenders. The Velcro hooks catch on the Boat Blanket making a very neat and tough join. The Velcro grips tenaciously so there’s no chance it can come undone. It also makes the socks easy to adjust for a snug fit. The Velcro is protected from the sunlight so should last many years.

There is a simpler and cheaper way to make fender socks from Boat Blanket but it doesn’t look quite as nice. Here’s a video from Sailrite that shows one being made. The Boat Blanket costs about £10 a square yard. We only needed about 4 square yards in all. So these smart fender socks cost about the same as the terry towelling ones but should last much much longer.

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I am very happy with the socks, they are very soft and will not damage the gelcoat. The Boat Blanket is quite thick so the fenders are quiet but best of all it is a vast improvement on the old faded and torn terry towelling ones they replaced. They just look so smart. Result.

Categories
boats

VHB tape from 3M for bonding acrylic windows

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Teak companionway doors on ‘Doolittle’ with lexan glass held in with VHB tape.


If you don’t like making holes or using messy sealants perhaps what you need is VHB tape by 3M. You might think that this is a new technology but 3M have been selling it for over 25 years and now offer a bewildering choice for hundreds of different applications, from joining aeroplane wings to building entire houses. It is a double sided sticky tape made from acrylic foam and using it is simplicity itself. Ensure the surfaces are clean, lay the tape, peel off the backing paper and bring the two surfaces together. The bond increases the longer it is in place.

It seems unaffected by UV or heat and works so well and is so easy to apply you think there must be a catch. Well of course there is. You guessed it, the only thing wrong with VHB tape is the price but when one considers how long and messy it usually is bonding windows with runny sealants, the time saved easily outweighs the cost issue. The finished result is very tidy and there is no cleaning up to do afterwards at all.

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Trying to work out which tape to use to bond polycarbonate plastic to wood wasn’t easy as there are almost 40 products to choose from but in the end I worked out that their Multi-Purpose conformable Acrylic was the best choice as it bonds most materials. VHB needs to be applied in temperatures above 15 degs C but they also make a special tape for low temperature applications down to 0 deg C which is what I chose.

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Because the tape is grey, it matches the aged teak well and becomes almost invisible.

It is available in black, white, grey and even clear versions in widths from ¼” to 1”. I planned to leave the teak untreated so I chose grey tape in the hope that it would not be seen once the wood had aged. The roll I bought was 1.55mm thick and 1/2” wide with the 3M code of 4957F. This was the perfect width for attaching the windows and it was easily able to follow the curve in the woodwork without kinking.

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View of the inside of the doors showing how neat the VHB is.

The windows have been in place for 4 years and the tape shows no signs of letting go it’s tenacious grip and the doors are still as water tight as ever. I applied a couple of coats of varnish and let it dry well before I stuck down the tape but I suspect it would have worked just as well had I stuck it to the bare wood. I just hope I never have to replace the glass as I have no idea how I will get it out without breaking the doors!

If you want to know all the technical details and choices available, click here

Still more info from 3M, click here

And finally, a very silly video showing the remarkable properties of 3M VHB tapes over conventional mechanical fastenings.

Categories
boats

Yawl rig for a Pacific Seacraft Dana 24

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This is a Photoshopped picture of Doolittle to see how she would look with a tan coloured mizzen sail.

It was Laurent Giles who said: Your sailing yacht can never be better than a skilful compromise between conflicting considerations. This elegant sentence so sums up yachting and is timeless, no matter how we progress, how much materials and science improves it is always true. Yachts today have highly evolved compromises to suit the modern sailor. Time is short and the modern sailor just wants to step aboard and set off. If conditions aren’t perfect he always has the engine to get him back in time for work on Monday.

Sadly this is pretty much the norm these days, here in the Med seeing yachts with only their mainsails up (or often no sails at all) and all motoring along when they could be sailing. I think the problem is that these modern boats are too compromised. To keep costs down only a simple rig can be acceptable and that means a sloop. It is no surprise that this is the most commonly seen rig. Deficiencies in hull design (from creating double cabins all over the place) can be overcome by the latest autopilots. Sure, these boats will perform well up to a point but if you want to actually sail in the direction (more or less) that you want to go more than just occasionally, you’ll need to improve the standard set up.

A surprisingly effective way to improve a modern sloop is to convert it into a yawl. In the old days this meant seriously modifying your boat to take a second mast and it’s associated rigging but a yawl rig can be easily effected using modern materials. Many yawl critics say that the extra weight and windage of the mizzen mast outweigh the benefits of the sail in the first place, it can even cause the boat to pitch more. This is why it is unusual to see yawl rigged yachts under 40 feet. An efficient mizzen sail for a yawl should be about one quarter the area of the mainsail or about 10% of the working sail area. Since the Dana’s mainsail is 150 sq feet in area, something around 35 sq feet would be appropriate. The working sail area of the Dana is 350 sq feet and this also suggests an area of about 35 sq feet.

Using a carbon mast from a windsurfer as a mizzen mast for a small yacht makes a lot of sense. At just 2 kilos it’s not a lot of weight aft. Since it is so strong and stiff, it needs no stays which reduces weight and rigging. It also means that it does not have to be a permanent feature on the boat. The mast is in two pieces which simple slot together so stowing the set up when not in use shouldn’t be too hard. If you have a small sailing dinghy, well you now have a mast and sail for it!

Having removed the arguments for not having the second mast, lets consider some of the issues that using a carbon mast entails. Although the mast is very stiff it will still bend with the wind in it. So long as the sail can be properly controlled for twist a small amount of bend will have little effect on the efficiency of the sail. Further more, the ‘bendability’ of the mast allows the sail to be completely flattened for when it is used as an anchor sail. Usually mizzen sails are cut very flat to cope with a wide range of uses. Using a windsurf mast gives back sail shape and thus usable power.

Since I have a horror of making holes in boats, where possible I will always try to find another way. This was particularly important as the yawl rig was really a fun experiment using an old cut down jib as a sail. I had no idea how well it would work, if at all. If it was a failure the boat could return to being a cutter again with no trace of the mizzen mast at all. As it turns out the mizzen mast has brought so many advantages that I can’t imagine life without it. The one annoying thing about it is that when it is in place we cannot step off the back of the boat but as the system can be dismantled in a couple of minutes it’s not a problem.

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Very strong mizzen mast bracket bolted through existing back stay chainplate

The biggest problem was how to sheet the sail. Often yawls have bowsprit aft (bumkins) but they need attaching to the boat and it adds complexity. A more interesting (and hole free) method is to use a boom at an angle so that the force is almost equal between the foot and the leech of the sail. This system needs two sheets which work well until the wind is aft of the boat but the mizzen would come down anyway if the wind was from aft. By using the boat’s telescopic boat hook as a boom it means that no extra weight is added to the boat. Boom (boat hook) is fitted to the sail with a shackle at one end, the boat hook is fitted through a grommet attached to the mast where the sleeve of the sail is cut away. A 3 to 1 purchase tightens the boom and allows the sail to be completely flattened.

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This picture shows the bracket that fits between the two halves of the pushpit, held in place with stainless clamps. The mast is held against the bracket by using the original life line. All this can be removed if needed.

The intention originally was to achieve two things. I did not care if the sail was so small it was unlikely to make the boat go faster, what I really wanted was to stop the boat sailing at anchor and to see if it would help it to hove to, something that has not been managed with a Dana. The High freeboard and bowsprit combined with the cutaway forefoot just pushes the head down. The Dana doesn’t so much hove to but rather sail badly and slowly to windward, it’s a hard boat to slow down. As it turns out this little scrap of cloth has exceeded all my expectations. I am delighted and amazed at the difference it has made especially considering that the area has been calculated at just 32 sq feet, about 10% smaller than recommended.

At anchor, the boat just sits facing the wind, the sailing has absolutely stopped. This is good news as the anchor rode would chafe on the bobstay every time the boat ‘tacked’, so now there is less wear and tear (and noise) on the boat. In addition the sail reduces rolling and damps down the speed of the roll, it’s quite noticeable. Basically anchoring has just become even more enjoyable. The benefits just keep coming, don’t you hate it when you are down below and the sun comes right through a port hole and lights you up. Well now as the boat moves so less one only needs to cover the one offending porthole and if you have solar panels it is so much easier to orientate them to the sun when the boat is more stationary. When leaving the anchorage the mizzen helps again. Simply put the engine in gear and bring in the anchor as the boat very slowly moves forward. Even without the engine, getting up the anchor is made easier by having the rope properly on the roller and not at some steep angle to it as the boat tacks one way or the other.

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Here is the experimental rig in use. Note how the bend in the mast flattens the sail so it doesn’t flap.

Thanks to the high freeboard, bowsprit and cut away forefoot, the Dana doesn’t hove to well. Even a staysail and mainsail is too much sail forward. It won’t hove to with only the main either so choices are limited. A great shame as I believe being able to heave to one of the best things a sailor can do when it’s all getting a bit much. The theory is that the sails and rudder are set up to oppose each other which makes the boat sit at about 45 degrees to the wind and waves. Most traditional boats hove to perfectly. The ideal situation is the boat sitting at about 45 degrees to the wind and very slowly forereaching. Like this the boat should slip almost sideways and in doing so creates a ‘slick’ on the weather side of the boat. The slick is a crucial component of heaving to as waves are more likely to be encouraged to break and lose much of their force before they hit the boat. Being sat like this can also be surprisingly comfortable despite truly horrendous conditions. With a mizzen, the Dana can now hove to in a text book fashion, slick and all. Simply by adjusting the sheeting angle of the mizzen, the angle at which the boat sits into the wind can be set. The mizzen would need to be reefed for much stronger winds.

The Dana is a fantastic boat, lets get that straight right from the off. It might have been one of the last ever boats designed without the aid of a computer but the guy who designed it had a lifetime of experience to put into it. All Bill Crealock’s boat are excellent but personally I believe the Dana is his master piece. It does everything so well, is no slouch, is very seaworthy and unbelievably tough but there are moments when I cannot find the right combination of sails for the moment and then we’re faced with motoring which we are loathed to do if we have any kind of wind. The problem is mainly one of weight. To get a 4 ton plus boat to move over nasty short waves, you need power from the rig but not too much or it becomes a mad roller coaster ride leaping from wave to wave as you go much too fast. Very exciting if you like that sort of thing I suppose and the boat couldn’t care less but I just prefer not being thrown around and getting wet.

So imagine my surprise when one breezy morning we tried the mizzen with just the staysail and the boat was away, slipping through the waves with a delicate and competent ease that belied the fact that we only had about 100 sq feet of sail up. Further more there was no need for an auto pilot. The boat just steered itself in a perfect straight line at about 40 degrees to the wind. Closer than I could have pointed in those conditions with the normal sails up. The course the boat steered was better than any auto pilot and certainly better than I could have done. Not once did we get wet and we didn’t take much longer to get there than we would have done using the other sails. Here is a really relaxing way to sail. Really most pleasant.

As an actual working sail the mizzen can’t be said to offer much in the way of more speed. It doesn’t help the boat point any higher or go any faster to windward. Downwind it needs to be taken down so that the boat doesn’t steer wild. In perfect conditions with the wind on the beam, there might be an extra half knot of boat speed to be had but that’s not what the Yawl rig is about.

Asides from all the advantages mentioned above, the mizzen has one more fabulous card up it’s sleeve. It can be used as a sail for steering. Our modern day reliance on electronics comes at a great cost. Instead of learning about our boat and the way the sails interact and create drive, we simply hit the ‘Auto’ button on the pilot and it does all the hard work for us. Imagine though that the pilot packs up, how would you steer your boat in the desired direction? There are many ways to make even the simplest of boats sail themselves but having a mizzen can be a real bonus. Many very famous boats were yawl rig. Dorade, Olin Steven’s masterpiece won the Fastnet. Gypsy Moth and of course Slocum’s Spray were all Yawls. One of the main reasons why the Spray was able to steer herself was the mizzen sail.

The Yawl rig was firstly an invention by fishermen to keep their boats facing the wind while hauling their nets. Later it was used as a way to get free sail area in racing yachts but I contend that using modern materials that a Yawl rig still has a valid place today regardless of how you use your boat and it can even make you a better sailor with a better understanding of how your boat works. For many modern boats, the easy conversion to a Yawl rig is as the saying goes, a no brainer!