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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

Raymarine EV100 Tiller pilot review

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Borrowed this pic from Raymarine. It shows the colour display and the EV 9 axis sensor.

Today I sea trialled the EV100 Tiller pilot and although I have only so far tested it on a flat sea under motor I have to say I am hugely impressed. It was a real joy to see the wake behind the boat which was straight as an arrow. This is the first time I have seen this on Doolittle. In the same conditions the TP30 would still have the boat weaving slightly. What else is good? The drive arm hardly moves. This is a massive improvement over the TP30 because one of the things that always annoyed me was the amount of unnecessary movement it used to make along with an annoying noise. The EV100 hardly moves and even when it does it is very quiet. The wireless remote is a fine accessory. I sat at the bows and happily changed course with it. Obviously this is hardly a comprehensive review but what I have seen is very hopeful.

Long gone are the Gain and SeaState that we’re used to. Replaced by a simple choice of three settings, Leisure, Cruising and Performance. I tried all three but I found that the Leisure setting held a near perfect course only deviating a couple of degrees. In Performance mode the pilot was a little more active and the course was held to within one degree which is pretty damned impressive. It will be interesting to see how this works with wind and waves. At one point we had some swell to deal with and the boat was rolling quite a lot yet despite that the tiller never moved. That kind of thing would have upset the TP30 for sure

No longer do you need to do a compass calibration by going round in slow circles although you can if you want. If not, the unit just does it itself automatically. You can lock the calibration later so the pilot doesn’t try to do it again. Right from the start the display was showing a compass reading which seemed almost bang on compared to the ship’s compass. I wasn’t expecting the compass to work straight out of the box with such accuracy. There is a dockside wizard which you need to run before seatrials but that is all. All that does is push the helm one way and ask you if it pushed it the right way and if it did you press ‘continue’ and that’s the pilot set up! In my case it didn’t push the helm the right way as I have the drive arm on Stb where as it should be on port. You could switch the polarity on the motor if you wanted to swing it around but since it is so easily done in the display I did that.

The drive arm is the same one that Autohelm have used for years. They no longer offer the GP unit which had a better (Swiss made) motor for longer life but you can still get your standard drive arm modified. To do that it has to go back to Raymarine. I was quite keen to do this until they told me how much it would cost. A shocking £1000!!! So I don’t think I’ll bother. Not quite sure how they justify such an enormous sum unless the motor is gold plated and studded with diamonds.

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The same old drive arm that Autohelm has sold for years. At least getting spares for it should be easy enough.

I don’t know how important it is but adjusted the rudder angle (the angle of the tiller from one side to the other) which default setting was 30 degrees. I reckoned it was actually about 33. I also adjusted the hard over time from the 4 sec default to 5.4 seconds which is what I timed it at. This is all in the instructions. It probably would have worked just fine on the default settings but I can play with this at a later date and see if it makes any difference to anything. There are settings for Sail boats, fast sailboats, motor boats etc and you can change the characteristics of the pilot by selecting a different type of boat. But for now I have followed the instructions to the letter and told the pilot it is steering a sailing boat.

The display is very nice with a very bright colour screen. The interface is pretty straightforward and simple to use. The display has a few settings for viewing with different colours, red for night time and of course the screen can be dimmed as well. You need to cut a big hole (about 3") to fit the display which is a bit of a shame. I fitted the display in the engine instrument panel. When I ordered Doolittle I asked Pacific Seacraft to fit the engine panel as far to one side as possible. I’m glad I did because there was JUST enough room to fit the display next to it. I also managed to fit the TWIST shower and two sockets, one for the new pilot and a 12 v supply which also powers up the TP30 which I shall keep for when/if the EV100 dies. Although they offer a 2 year guarantee which is extendable to three years for free if you register online. Not bad.

The installation was made much easier by the fact that the EV Unit (compass) can be placed anywhere above or below decks. I installed most of it (computer, wireless base station etc) behind the engine panel in a space which is used for nothing else. The EV unit lives in a locker far from electrical or magnetic interference. All the components are waterproofed but putting them somewhere that is always dry can’t hurt either.

The wiring up of the components is not straightforward although Raymarine have attempted to simplify the system with colour coded connections. The problem comes from wanting to have the wireless remote and an NMEA 0183 input to the pilot. Perhaps it is harder on my boat because I do not already have a seatalk system, only a Tacktick system (now owned by Raymarine but not seatalk) so it requires some complicated additions to make it all work.

The EV100 uses Raymarine’s latest protocol the SeatalkNG system. The wireless is Seatalk1 so one must buy a converter block ($100). It’s easy enough to wire up as the connections simply plug in to it. The NMEA is a bit more complicated as it first has to be converted to seatalk before it can work. This also requires another interface to do that ($200). I wired it all up on the table before installation to check it worked and also to get a better feel for how it goes together. It was quite shocking to see how many wires, cables and connectors there were.

At first I could not get the thing to work so I called Raymarine in the UK who were extremely helpful and we soon discovered why it wasn’t working. If you have not plugged into a blue socket you must fit the special blanks instead. Once I did this it all started working. So, not the simplest system to wire up since you need three power supplies, one for the NG converter, one for the Seatalk connector and one for the computer. But it was all made much easier by the fact that I could stick it all in the same place at the back of the boat. No need to dismantle the boat to feed wires through impossibly small conduit! Bonus.

Next I’ll have to connect up the NMEA Interface and feed the pilot with that info. They suggest that the pilot is fed with speed info from the log or at the very least SOG from the GPS. It helps the pilot to know what speed the boat is doing. It makes sense to me. Also the display can be programmed to display any number of NMEA info, from wind speed to depth so that’s useful too.

Next a sea trial with wind and waves and then I want to try and get it to steer to the wind as well. I’ll update this report when I have done that but I’d like the boat to be clean before I do that and since I didn’t haul last year it most certainly isn’t. I might even try one of the many steering patterns that are built into the EV-100 such as a figure of 8 or a cloverleaf just because I can!

 

Update July 2014

 

Well I finally got to try the EV100 in the real world. One thing is certain, the EV100 holds a fantastically accurate course. In fact it’s too accurate! What I mean by that is the pilot is working very hard to keep the boat on course. And this is on the lowest ‘leisure’ setting.

When it’s working hard, the drive is also noisy. Much noisier than the Simrad TP30. If it didn’t work so hard it probably wouldn’t matter but with its constant back and forth it gets extremely annoying and in fact if you are near it you cannot hear someone asking you something. It’s that loud. It’s a bit of a disappointment to be honest.

On day two of our sailing trip, headed downwind in 20 knots of wind, waves building the drive suddenly burst. So we put Dave (our ancient TP30) on instead and were amazed at how much quieter he is than the EV100. A very large difference. Maybe the Raymarine is ten times louder than the TP30. Is this just because the TP30 uses a belt drive whereas the Raymarine uses cogs only? Or maybe there was a problem with the Raymarine drive and working hard brought it to light.

I wrote to Raymarine of course and heard the usual, ‘We’ve been selling these units for 15 years and they are very reliable’ etc. Well the EV100 is supposed to be automatic. It is supposed to calibrate itself and set its self depending on the sea state and as I was already on the lowest setting I didn’t see what I could do to slow it down. The instructions are not very helpful and in fact had no mention of the fact that if you manually turn on the Calibration lock setting you get further menus where you can in fact adjust the rudder damping! I wish I had known that before. I only found this out from the very helpful chap at Raymarine. Who also explained why changing the hard over time can also affect the performance.

Here’s what he said: The hardover time will influence the  rudder gain and increase or reduce the amount of rudder for a given off course error, changing the damping will reduce sensitivity and switching between Leisure and Racer will affect the response levels.

The manual simply says this:

After setting your Hard Over Time, observe your autopilot’s behaviour and if required, make small adjustments to the Hard Over Time value until a satisfactory result is achieved.

As you can see that is not very helpful at all. It’s almost as if the people writing the manual didn’t know how it worked either so decided to be vague and ambiguous instead. Perhaps for most people the new system works perfectly and doesn’t need any adjustment. However, I am not most people and it is extremely rare when a product works perfectly right out of the box.

When the drive burst it was working a lot but there was very little pressure on the helm so even like this I would not expect a drive designed for boats much bigger and heavier than mine to explode after just 12 hours use, certainly not when you consider that the TP30 costs half as much and Dave is ten years old and has steered the boat for 2000 hours even for 24 hours as we ran bare poled before a gale and right across the Atlantic Ocean. As I said I was disappointed when the new pilot turned out to be noisy and then burst, but not altogether surprised.

When I took the drive apart I immediately noticed that the four (plastic) cogs that fit around the motor’s brass drive cog had all been ruined by their pins smashing through them. The nice man at Raymarine has promised to send me some replacements to a friends and we will collect them from there in due course.

Now that I am able to change some settings I have hope that I will be able to get the system working properly and only moving when needed and not all the time! I don’t suppose there is much I can do to shut it up. I could try an insulated cover but I think there may be a problem with the drive. When it fell apart, the recirculating nut came unscrewed from the shaft. It may have been this that caused the problem in the first place. Maybe it just wasn’t tightened enough at the factory?

Also the casing does not align properly. Maybe this is not enough to effect the arm going in and out but it could mean that the O ring is not sealed correctly all the way around and it may mean that it is not completely water tight. I will probably send it back after the season and get them to replace the whole unit.

A comment or two about the display and its interface. The display is very nice and it is excellent to have extra info on another screen. But there is no easy way to adjust the screen for night time use. Yes, there is a red/black setting for using at night but the display brightness does not dim. That has to be done manually. So not only do you have to change the display once to get the night time setting but it needs adjusting again to lower the brightness. It just seems very clunky to me.

Also, another thing I did not discover until it was explained to me is that there is an option under diagnostics called ‘about pilot’ when you select this option it shows just what you would expect, the Version number and the serial number. But in fact this page can scroll and stupidly enough, once you select the up/down button to scroll the page, a small tab appears on the right! Now if that tab was always there, one would know that the pages scroll. I know it’s a small thing and I know that had I studied the instructions more carefully I would have learned this but it just stops the interface being intuitive.

The overall feel that I am getting is that this product needs some serious refining. It’s a great idea and I’m sure that they have got the basics right but it is crude, the interface is clunky, the instructions vague with far too much emphasis on the system just working perfectly straight away. Also having to use NMEA to seatalk to seatalk NG is just daft.

I’ll update this again soon and hopefully by then I will have some more positive news to impart! Until then…

 

Update Aug 2014

The nice man from Raymarine sent me a few spare planet gears to fix the drive. I used Loctite on the shaft so hopefully the drive won’t burst again. I also used plenty of silicone grease when I assembled the drive in an attempt to make it quieter.

The good news is that the drive is working fine and I have a working autopilot once more.

Since rebuilding the drive I have had plenty of opportunity and some good varied sailing conditions to really test the EV 100.

On the plus side, the EV 100 is able to steer my boat at high speeds whereas with ‘Dave’ the Simrad I always had to reef early or he would be unable to keep up and have us weaving all over the place. This is very welcome and encouraging. Admittedly the pilot still works hard and is still very noisy.

Although the pilot is supposed to learn the boat and adapt I do not feel that this has been happening. Even turning down the rudder damping all the way to its max setting of nine has not stopped the pilot working hard when the sea is up a bit. That said the boat steers a good course.

One can supposedly adjust the hard over time to help as well but despite trying a lot of different settings none seemed to make a difference as far as I could tell. So the only real settings you can change are the rudder damping and basic response modes.

The pilot seems to work best on the lowest ‘Leisure’ setting. with the rudder damping set at 9. However this setting is no good for sailing on a flat sea as the boat drifts way off course before making any adjustments.

There are some very annoying things about the EV 100 and one of them is that you cannot adjust the parameters without putting the pilot into standby! So someone has to take the helm while you adjust the pilot. This is hopeless. Even my Simrad allows on the hoof adjustment of all the important settings.

Even more annoying is the brightness adjuster. The short cut button to access this is actually on the standby button itself so if you want to adjust the screen brightness, something you might want to do a lot, you will first put the pilot in standby. So you will need to get back on course afterwards and press auto to re engage the autopilot. Brilliant.

So where am I? Luckily I still carry the Simrad tillerpilot which is quieter and still works better than the EV 100 in most conditions. The EV 100 is great for when it is rough and windy as it can keep the boat on course and of course one minds the noise a lot less when it is noisy and windy.

One day sailing with 15 knots of wind, all sail and a flat sea the EV 100 was able to hold a steady course but I had to set the rudder damping at 3 and despite being set on ‘Leisure’ would insist on small movements the whole time although the boat would probably sail itself in those conditions anyway.

I’m not sure what is to be done. My man in Raymarine is on holiday for a while. Maybe the software needs updating. Maybe there is some way to adjust the rudder damping to suit my boat better.

I also feel that although the EV 100 is supposed to recognise roll, it does not seem to. Sailing upwind on a flat sea, the pilot doesn’t move much if at all but when a passing boat makes waves and we roll, the pilot goes crazy when all it has to do is NOTHING. Maybe the ‘roll’ sensitivity can be modified in the software. This would also help when it is rough as most of the movement is roll. The boat tracks extremely well with its long keel so it’s not as if it is coming off course as it rolls.

So to date: It works well though moves far too much and is way too noisy but can cope when conditions are rough and windy. This is already a massive improvement on ‘Dave’ but it needs more refinement and adjustment. The interface is a big let down. Not being able to access important settings when in Auto mode is hopeless.

I will update this in the weeks to come and I try to get the EV 100 working quietly in all conditions.

 

Update 11 August 2014

 

Yet more exciting sailing to gain more knowledge of the EV 100. Again it has steered us downwind with a reef in the main and the staysail poled out in 25 kts with no trouble at all. That said it does this with a lot of fuss, almost as if the pilot is trying to justify itself by moving so much.

There seemed to be more roll however and that I believe is due to the fact that the pilot is over steering the boat. A boat travelling at 6 knots will change direction fast and it will heel over, then when it goes the other way it will do the same, each time adding to the roll. A curious thing happened at one point.

The pilot crashed. It brought up an alarm saying the speed data had been lost but in fact all the fields were replaced with dashes so something serious had gone wrong. What was amazing is how the pilot just stopped making noise, we started to roll less. In fact the drive was hardly moving at all, just making small gestures every now and then and yet it kept the boat on course. This was in 25 kts of wind from behind and fairly large waves too. It drifted about 7 degrees off course either side but that is more than acceptable under those conditions.

What it does prove is that the boat is capable of being steered in a straight line, even over waves with very little input from the rudder. So why is the pilot working so hard?

Personally I’d like to see a special menu that contains adjustments for all the parameters such as sea state, rudder gain and damping, roll, pitch and yaw. Then the three modes (leisure, Cruising and Performance) would make perfect sense.

I have since been in touch with Raymarine who have asked me for info on the version I have and the deviation (5%) how this will help I do not know but one has to be patient in these cases.

Also I tried the autotack function but cannot make it work at all. The boat turns initially well but then straightens up so barely manages to come through the wind. As far as I can tell the boat did not turn an equal distance from one tack to the other. My Tack Tick wind indicator on the top of the mast appears to be set correctly, with no more than a degree or two off so it seems unlikely this is it. I tried this a few times, on both tacks and with the same result. I thought it was because the rudder damping was set so high but I tried other settings with the same result. Also it seems the auto tack option is only available in Wind mode. I suppose I am meant to use the Autoturn function instead when steering to a compass course. In an attempt to simplify things it is actually more complicated.

This dumbing down of interfaces is all well and good if the system works as intended but when it goes wrong there are no adjustments to be made.

Although I think changes should be able to be made to the pilot without having to go into standby first the man from Raymarine thinks it’s safer not to. I think it’s ridiculous myself. An autopilot that can’t be adjusted on the hoof? That must be a first. I guess they’re working on the assumption that the pilot will just work and that there’s no need to address this issue.

So that’s where we are at the moment. Conclusion: It works better and quieter when it crashes but I have not managed to discover how to make it crash so until it happens again I can’t experiment further. When working normally it over steers regardless of the setting, rudder damping etc and because of that it wears the drive unnecessarily, makes noise, uses more power and makes the boat roll. That said, it does hold a good course, even if the boat is over powered or badly trimmed. This is good although it comes at a price.

I’m really not sure what Raymarine can do but even if they can’t make it work any better I will be able to live with it. I can use Dave for most of the time but if it’s windy or rough and I need more power and better course holding then I can use it. I’m thinking a good compromise would be to buy another TP30 and wire the motor direct and let the EV100 power that. At least it would be quieter!

Surely more to come soon….

14/8/14

Some more thoughts.

 

It always amuses me to read about a new product. Here’s what Raymarine say about the new EV100 pilot:

No calibration required!

Engineered for simplicity, Evolution autopilots eliminate the need for complicated set up and calibration. Once Evolution is installed, getting started is as easy as switching the autopilot on.

Thanks to the intelligent EV sensor core, the autopilot automatically evolves and adapts to your vessel’s steering characteristics without any user adjustments.

Well that’s not been my experience. Nice idea though. Or rather, maybe it has evolved and adapted to my vessels characteristics, it just hasn’t done it very well!

Evolution AI™

The culmination of Raymarine’s 30 years of autopilot expertise, FLIR Systems research and development, and advanced aerospace guidance technology, Evolution AI™ control algorithms deliver a new level of accurate autopilot control.

This innovative breakthrough in autopilot intelligence enables Evolution autopilots to perceive their environment and then instantly calculate and evolve steering commands to maximize performance. The result is precise and confident course keeping, regardless of vessel speed or sea conditions.

Hmmm…

I have recently discovered that the Interface Raymarine use in their displays is called LightHouse. Well it needs work. It could do with a way to reduce the brightness without having to put the pilot in standby first, or having to navigate through the menus to find the option that way. Then there needs to be a ‘Home’ button so that you don’t have to press ‘back’ five times to get back to the main screen.

Also it seems I may not be able to update the pilot, ecu and display as I don’t have any other Raymarine displays and it seems that you need one to be able to update. I hope that this isn’t the case but I won’t be at all surprised if it is.

 

Update 21/8/14

 

Oh dear. The man at Raymarine has asked me to compare the various compass readings on the pilot against a fixed one. I did this but frankly don’t see what good it will do. The deviation was small on all points. He also asked me for all the info regarding the settings I have used but it is getting boring now. Clearly there is something wrong.

I decided to try and reinitialize the pilot. This can be done by restarting the compass. But in my case it simply says ‘task completed’ and seems very pleased with itself even though it has managed to come up with a deviation figure of 188 degrees. Apparently going around in circles will change this but all I get is dizzy and a figure of —

So now I have no working pilot.

The man at Raymarine has been very patient (as I have) but he now suggests I call in an engineer to sort the problem. Funny this: I have been here before and after that last time I vowed never to buy another Raymarine product as long as I lived. Will I never learn? That was on my old boat. The engineer came and he was about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. He had no idea why the pilot wouldn’t work and I suspect the engineer that will come this time will be none the wiser.

Either I have been supplied with a dodgy unit or the EV100 won’t work properly on a Dana unless one accepts a lot of unnecessary movement and noise. Now I have to waste more time with an engineer on the boat while we go through all the obvious stuff all over again. I suspect the man at Raymarine thinks I am an idiot and have poorly installed the pilot. Despite that he has at least offered to pay for an engineer to visit even though I installed the pilot myself. So full marks for Raymarine’s willingness to solve the issues I have been having.

The saddest thing about all this is that had the pilot worked well from the start (as it should have done if their blurb is to be believed) I probably would never have started to look closer and discovered an almost endless host of issues.

It has been an education fitting this pilot. Until it starts working properly on my boat I cannot recommend it at all. Had it worked I might forgive the limited adjustments, the poor interface, the noisy drive and the three different NMEA protocols and their associated wiring and converters. Far too complicated.

 

Update Sept 14

 

The software has been updated. The engineer came with a Raymarine chart plotter that he had to wire up and use to get the updates onto the EV.

Then I was told to turn off the calibration and compass lock, make sure the speedo is working and turn at at least 4 knots through a 3 to 4 minute circle. Yeah right. I can see them there laughing at the thought of me driving round in circles. Like I haven’t got anything better to do with my time. Emails back and forth. Waiting for an engineer. Staying in expensive ports while waiting. I am getting very bored with all this.

So I went around in circles for half an hour and nothing has changed. Still just — marked for the deviation and if I try a compass reset it comes back straight away to the 188 degree variation.

Then I got a call from the French engineer who came. The fact that the deviation is 188 degrees is no problem. So long as the light in top of the sensor is green and constant it’s fine. Well it is but Raymarine UK say that it is not fine and should be replaced.

 

Update 22/9/2014

This morning a new compass arrived which was duly fitted. Straight away the pilot seemed to work better with very little movement and fairly quick responses to what wind and wave there was. It is impossible to tell with so small a test if the pilot will work better in more severe conditions but it proves one thing and that is there was a problem with the EV compass sensor.

This explains a lot. If the compass is sending dubious information, the best autopilot in the world won’t work well. There’s no reason why the EV won’t steer my boat especially as it is an easy boat to steer by hand in the first place.

So apart from the drive exploding, the compass unit failing, the strange interface and inability to change certain parameters while in auto mode it seems to work well. Raymarine have been very helpful and got to the root of the problem eventually.

I’ll update this blog sometime in the future after the EV has had a proper work out in all conditions. What I can say is that on a flat sea under motor it works very well. For the rest you’ll just have to wait.

Update March 15

 

It was a lovely day with a nice breeze blowing. ‘Let’s go sailing’ I said and so we did. A great opportunity to use my new working pilot. My arse. As soon as I put it on I could tell there was something wrong. The boat would come off course and sails would start flogging. Frankly it was pathetic. ‘Here we go again’ I thought.

Despite messing with hard over times, response levels, rudder damping, nothing I could do would make the pilot steer the boat. So I checked the deviation only to find that instead of reading a nice small number like 4, it said —. This basically means that the deviation is over 25 degrees and there is a problem.

So with little to lose I decided to restart the compass. Again it came up with 188 degrees. The man at Raymarine says this is perfectly normal and what it actually means is that I now have to turn in a circle at more than four knots taking four minutes and that I must have a speed input into the pilot. The man at Raymarine thinks I don’t understand this. True, I think it extremely strange than rather than say, ‘go around in a circle’ the display simply says 188 degrees. Nothing in the manual makes this any clearer.

So I wrote to Raymarine. Again. The reply was hysterical. ‘Go around in circles at four knots etc’. You are having a laugh right? Clearly there is a problem. The pilot has never worked well from the start and I realise that reading through this fiasco I have been making excuses for this pilot because I so want it to work although it clearly doesn’t and never has.  I am done with going around in circles. It’s all supposed to be automatic anyway. What’s with all this compass calibration anyway?

Anyway the upshot is this. It’s going back to Raymarine. I have insisted on a complete new system in the hope that there is some strange bug that causes the pilot to be chronically inconsistent and lose its mind every time I want to use it. I am thoroughly disappointed. What a waste of money and my time.

Maybe a new unit will work better although I hold out little hope but I have to at least try. There’s a gaping hole in my boat where the display should be for a start. There’s no guarantee that they will give me a new system. But that’s up to them. If they do, it will be the least they can do to sort me out. If they don’t I’ll just put it down to experience and make sure that the next time I absolutely DO NOT buy anything from Raymarine. Twice bitten Thrice shy!

Update: April 2015

 

Duly received the complete new unit. Installation was easy as all the screws and cables were still there.

I ran through the settings changing it to Sail and telling it what kind of rudder I have etc and then went out to calibrate the compass. This is automatically achieved when the boat turns through a circle at some speed.

The first time I did this with the old unit, it initialised before the boat was even out of the marina. I thought it a bit odd at the time. This time the deviation was still marked — even once out at sea. After about three quarters of a circle the deviation came up initially at 0 degrees but soon after 5 degrees. This is exactly what should have happened with the original unit.

The last time I used the old unit, the deviation had disappeared and gone back to showing — it also wouldn’t steer the boat. Somehow it had lost the plot from one day to the next. Not that it ever worked properly in the first place.

This time the boat immediately held a steady course. The wake behind the boat straight as an arrow and what is even more encouraging is the fact that the turns were crisp and fast and the boat would come back on its new course quickly. The original unit never worked like that.

Admittedly I have only tested the EV100 under motor but already this seems a vast improvement and when I switch the unit on and off it does not lose the deviation setting.

Maybe I got an early test version before. Maybe it was just a dud, I don’t know. I’ll update when the EV100 has been tested under sail too. Fingers crossed.

Update May 2015

 

Finally some good news to report. I have had a chance to test the new EV100 under a variety of conditions and am pleased to report that it works well. It could do with some fine tuning but straight out of the box with no adjustments it has managed to steer the boat under sail, in light airs, with more wind, with the spinnaker up and with waves.

What is apparent is that this EV100 is nothing like the one I had before. This one is quieter as it moves less. It only really moves when the boat does and if the boat yaws strongly, the pilot moves strongly too. It seems like it is working as it should be.

Obviously it will need to be tested more thoroughly over a longer period of time but I can say that it works better now than the Simrad. It is stronger and more able to cope without having to reef down so early. It seems more intelligent than the Simrad. One senses that there is a brain inside that does something more than just turn left or right.

If only it had been working like this last year when I had more time to test it. I’ll update this post in the months to come after the EV100 has had a proper work out.

Categories
boats

Prebit LED lights review

L1008366

The Prebit R1-1 NV Golden Gloss, Glass Brown, Dimmable, Warm white led lamp

 

After nearly 8 years Doolittle’s original Cantalupi bunk lights were looking a bit worse for wear. The lacquer that protected the brass finish had come off in patches and where the brass was exposed to the air the colour had changed from gold to silver. These lights were not even real brass, they just had a thin coating of something. They looked OK when they were new but now they just looked really scruffy. And since they were not even brass they couldn’t even be polished. All I could do was paint them but that was not a very pleasant option.

It was time to replace the lights. Because we live on the boat it’s nice to have good lighting so I decided I wanted to try and buy something of real quality that would hopefully last a bit longer than 8 years or could at least be polished when it looked tired. The search was long. There is a staggering array of choice for bunk lights. There are also many companies who make lights but nothing I could find looked any better than the old ones.

Then I came across a German company called Prebit who make a range of high quality lamps with Led bulbs. I chose their R1 design as it is the closest to the size of lamp I had before although I decided to go with their glass shade option which illuminates when the lamp is on. One of the problems with the lamps I had before was that they were very directional with their metal shades and I wanted something that would spread light around the boat a bit more evenly.

They are beautifully made in solid brass and then gold plated. Gold might seem a bit extravagant but it is very resistant to the marine environment. They certainly have a lovely finish and a very high gloss. The hand painted (every one is slightly different) glass shade is white on the inside and brown on the outside. During the day the shades appear a uniform brown but when the lamp is on it glows with a pleasant colour and the striped pattern becomes visible.

Fitting the lamps was straightforward. The bases are a bit narrower than the old ones so there is a slight ring of darker coloured teak showing now but it will fade soon enough and in a couple of months will hardly notice. I was fortunate that I was able to use the same mounting holes as the old lamps. The new lamp has a metal mounting bracket, not a plastic one as with the old lights. This gives a much more solid base. The lamp body is held to this bracket by a couple of countersunk screws which pull the lamp body tight to the surface effectively locking the lamp to the wall. The tiny Allen key screws were fiddly to fit as the body needs to be touching the wall before you can get the screw to thread but once tight are almost invisible. The lamp is held very well and there is no play at all. This is a vast improvement over the old ones which always wobbled. Each lamp comes with its own Allen key. Even wiring the lamps was easy as there is a fitted block clearly marked + and – all you need is a small screwdriver.

L1008364

Visible here is the push button that switches on and dims the lamp. The software was designed by Prebit. Almost invisible is the small countersunk Allen screw in the side that holds the lamp to the surface. Very tidy. Note also how snug the lamp base fits to the surface. The mounted lamp is very solid and has no play.

The lamps articulate and can be rotated to almost 180 degrees and pulled out to 90 degrees. What this means is that the lamps can be pointed in almost any desired direction. Because they are so solidly mounted they turn easily and the action is smooth and quiet. The old lamps used to squeak when being turned.

Press the button on the front and the lamps illuminate with a soft start. This is a nice touch. Naturally when you turn them off they simply fade down to nothing. If you want to dim the lamp simply hold the button down. When you release your finger the lamp stops dimming. The lamp always turns on using the previous dimmed setting. What is interesting is that the supply can be cut and the lamps will still remember what level they were at before.

The colour of the light is very warm, partly due to the led itself and partly due to the warmth of the light shade. The effect on the boat is quite something. The ambiance has changed and the boat feels warmer and more relaxing. The lamps give off plenty of light. When they are pointed at the ceiling, they reflect the light and the boat can be well illuminated without having any light in your eyes. This is important. With the old lamps I was constantly having to move them so that they did not shine in my eyes. Because the bulbs are deep within the new ones they do not suffer the same issue.

L1008366

This shows the lamp’s glass shade illuminated. The lamp is dimmed.

Used as reading lamps they have a fairly narrow beam but the light is intense and very effective. Quite literally head and shoulders above the old lamps with the added advantage of being able to dim them to suit. The dimmer allows the light to be reduced by 90% which is excellent for night sailing. It means that the on watch crew can come below and switch on a lamp without disturbing the off watch crew or ruining their night vision.

One surprising thing is that the bulbs cannot be changed! They are made by Phillips for Prebit and are very small and flat. They are quite unlike the bulbs I have been using. Slightly concerned, I contacted the company I bought the lamps from asking about this. The reply I got said that they have been using these bulbs since 2009 and have not had any failures. I asked about the intensity of the light fading as I have seen this with leds too. I was told that the bulbs will not fade and they will last 50,000 hours. That’s confidence for you! Only time will tell if this is true.

L1008352

The non replaceable bulb. This shot was taken with the lamp dimmed down to 10%. Although the bulbs are supplied by Phillips they have Prebit printed on the PCB. Just three tiny bulbs yet they give off a surprising amount of light

Considering how bright they are they take very little power. With all 4 on at full power they consume 1.4 amp/hrs which is more than the old lamps but then they are much brighter and in any case this is not a lot of power for such a lot of light. If I wish to reduce power consumption, all I have to do is dim the lights. The power used goes down proportionally as the lights dim. The head of the lamps gets quite warm when the lamps are set on max brightness but the bulbs themselves and the glass shade remain cool.

Apart from the bulb the entire lamp is made by Prebit. They even designed the software that controls the lamp. There is no flickering when the lamps are dimmed, even when reduced right down but they do make a very slight buzzing sound. The noise is audible but whether this will be annoying on very quiet nights remains to be seen.

L1008364

A lovely warm glow from the hand painted glass shades

Conclusion

This is a beautiful product. It is made in Germany. The finish is superb. The action of the moving parts is quiet and smooth. The articulation is very good. The lamps mount very solidly to the surface. They are easy to connect. They look really nice during the day and especially at night.

The light is warm and bright and the hand painted shades give off a friendly glow. The push button operation is simple and effective and easy to use. The lamps always remember the last setting they were on.

Of course these lights are not cheap but I do think they represent good value. Because they are made of solid brass if they ever start to look a bit rough, at least they can be polished so in theory at least they should last much longer than the cheap ones I had before.

What Prebit have done is to take the humble reading lamp and completely redesign it using the best technologies available to create a truly fabulous lamp. Lighting has come on in the last few years thanks to led bulbs. We’ve come a mighty long way from the caveman’s fire to touch button led lighting!

Categories
boats

Thoughts on fitting an under deck autopilot

ghp-12-marine-autopilot-system-4

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.

P1040209

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.

P1040210

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.

SaildriveRS

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.

ghp_12_autopilot_system._1

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

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

Think before you drill

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Where it comes from I don’t know but I hate making holes in boats. Perhaps it’s the fundamental fact that holes and boats don’t go together. Holes let in water and it’s better to keep the water on the outside of the boat than the inside. There’s another good reason for not making holes and that is because they are hard to hide in the years to come when the essential (at the time) instrument you fitted is no longer working and of course it’s replacement has different mounting holes. Every old boat that I see has many old, unused holes. One or two is not so bad but after years and years they start to stand out and lend a tatty look to any boat which will reduce it’s value.

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When I bought my new boat I was determined not to make holes. Take for example the compass. Normally it is fitted into the cockpit bulkhead on the starboard side. This I find a bit silly really. I can understand the manufacturers reasoning but having the compass only on one side of the cockpit is far from ideal because when you are sitting on the port side it’s almost impossible to read it with any level of accuracy. Worse though, is the fact that it spoils a really good place to sit.

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The solution was to replace the 4 washboards in the companionway with a set of doors. A frame was made that simply drops into the groove where the wash boards used to be. (The doors can be removed and the washboards replaced at any time). At the bottom of the frame I left some space for the compass and other instruments to be fitted. To further reduce making holes, I opted for a tack tick speed and depth instrument that is solar powered and wireless so can be positioned anywhere on the boat. Also on this panel is the gps so all the instruments are in one central place.

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For the autopilot I bought an aerial mount and simply bolted it to the pushpit. I fitted the original bronze pin retainer into the aerial mount. This has worked fine for over 10,000 miles. It’s a much better option than the ugly mounting bracket that you can buy, does not require making holes and can be easily removed at any time.

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When it came to fitting the shower head in the bathroom, the same logic was applied. I made a wedge of wood and that fits nicely between the mirror and the wood trim above it. To hang the shower curtain I made tiny triangles of wood with hooks screwed in and glued them in at the corners where the plastic trim left small gaps.

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For the MP3 player, again I simply made a wedge of wood which sits between the fiddle fitting and the wood trim. I put Velcro on the wedge and on the back of the player to attach it.

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For the clock and barometer I used a loop of bungie cord which I fed behind the wooden slats on the cabin sides and stretched over the instruments. The clock cannot be adjusted, nor the battery replaced without access to the back so this is a better system than tiny screws that would have to removed every time I needed access.

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Fitting the spray hood without making holes caused some head scratching. Normally the spray hood would go right across the cabin top but I didn’t really fancy that since it adds too much windage, makes using the winches difficult and going forward from the cockpit awkward but worst of all requires making loads of holes in the cabin top. In the end I made a small spray hood that just covered the companionway. Now, when the weather is nasty, we can stay warm and dry by sitting on the door step and keeping a look out.

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The front of the spray hood is attached to the boat by sliding a rope into a groove. Normally this is achieved by using an alloy or plastic groove but I made it in wood. Two pieces were routed out and then glued together to create the slot. There was a wood trim there anyway so the new piece looks exactly the same and is only a little thicker.

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A friend made up custom hinges and frames for the spray hood and they are screwed to the wooden trim pieces on either side of the companionway. I have no problem drilling holes in wood as replacing or repairing wood is much easier than trying to repair holes in the gel coat. The sides of the spray hood are held to the boat by Tenax fasteners with the receivers also screwed to the wooden trim pieces.

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It really is amazing how you can avoid making holes if you think about it a little and often the solution is actually neater and more practical than if you made holes.

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!