John's Tips, Tricks and Thoughts

Weekly Digest:

Small Problems Add Up To Big Problems


Member Tim Newson sent us the attached account of a serious situation that developed when several small oversights and maintenance failures came home to roost during a challenging early winter voyage across the North Sea—only Brits would think such a cruise might be fun!

…OK, I have done that sort of thing, too, but then I have a British passport and went to school there, so that tells you everything you need to know.

Anyway, Tim does a great job on the postmortem and lessons learned, as well as sharing the story of some good seamanship exercised in adversity that resulted in things ending well.

I highly recommend you take ten minutes to read Tim’s paper, you will learn a lot, as I did.

The only things I would add are:

  • I don’t think dry powder fire extinguishers are a good idea in engine rooms, but there may be regulations in the UK that make my preferred option not available, and I’m certainly no expert on fire suppression agents, although I have written some thoughts.
  • I would recommend installing a digital battery monitor on the boat, since I’m guessing from the account that they were using voltage to assess state of charge—very inaccurate, except on a battery that has been disconnected from all loads and charging sources for at least an hour.
  • I have also ranted and raved about the need for windlass clutches and brakes and entirely support Tim on this.

Tim’s Report

Question and Answer—Limited Fuel Range Voyage

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Member, George asked:

I’m presently faced with challenge of a transatlantic delivery Maine- Azores and beyond.

Boat is old 1978 NY 40, Palmer Johnson built. Pretty solid for IOR era as it was intended for Bermuda races as well as inshore events. Stickey issue is the 12 gallon fuel tank! I don’t like lashing 5 gallon jugs on deck nor approve of diesel storage anywhere below without approved design tankard…

…Barely considering propulsion, just battery charging for auto pilot and house loads, probable 14+ days at a stretch, 40 gallons seems minimum. We’re fitting an old Navik wind vane, so if light conditions, if it doesn’t break we can augment the Garmin auto pilot. 4 on board so hand steering is also an option.

I have a 20 gallon approved for diesel, can be installed below deck flexible tank. Thinking about installing that under aft bunk.

I’d still need 4 more 5 gallon jerry cans & suitable plumbing for safe fuel transfer to main tank. Any words of wisdom?


As you say, stowing cans on deck is not a good option.

The good news is the NY40 sails well and there should be good breeze on that voyage, so as long as you watch the weather and make sure not to get too far south into the Bermuda-Azores high, you should be able to sail the whole way.

That leaves charging. I’m thinking the best answer is a Watt & Sea hydro generator. That should provide all the electricity you need, as long as you are careful and hand steer some so the fuel can be kept for propulsion.

Expensive, I know, but by far the best solution to this problem and a longterm fix for the boat’s small tank, too.

I don’t much like the idea of the flexible tank because of chafe issues. I have been on a boat when a diesel tank ruptured at sea and it was beyond horrible!

So how about adding a small rigid tank? Would be a good upgrade, anyway, not that hard to do, and you have time.

Even if only say 12 gallons, that would bring the total up to an acceptable amount for the passage, since you would not need any for charging.

The other idea would be say two to four cans below, maybe in a cockpit locker, well padded, and filled as Rob suggests. Given you will have charging covered off, you can wait for calm to transfer, and may not even need to do that.

Anyway, good on you for not giving into the temptation to lash a bunch of jugs along the lifelines, as is all too common, and horribly un-seamanlike.

Thoughts on The Golden Globe Race 2022




Member Jim asked:

So now that GGR 2022 is in the final stretch – What do you think? Seems like the later start had some benefits – if I recall correctly one boat sank (auto-pilot broke off?) otherwise barnacles seems to be the biggest issue… and kudos to Kirsten!


Yes, the later start was a great change. That said, I’m still not a fan of Don McIntyre playing God as the sole dispenser of weather information, other than SSB.

And given the amount of damage from broaches, it still would have been a good idea to require a Jordan Series Drogue, in my view.

All that said, I’m following the race avidly and rooting for Kirsten to be the first women to win a round-the-world solo race, although if Abhilash were to win after showing such incredible grit to go back out there after the last race, that would be cool, too.

And if Simon Curwen was first home that would be a fun and just result given the disappointment of having to make a stop.

Incidentally, it’s now pretty certain that the boat loss was due to a structural failure even though she had been almost totally rebuilt. To me this calls into question sending people into the Southern Ocean in boats that are over fifty years old, no matter how well refitted.

My suggestion for future races would be a GGR one-design class of new boats designed and built for the race—might even be less expensive than trying to bring an old boat up to a safe standard.

More on the GGR and the benefits of requiring a JSD.

Answer to Electrical Quiz

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The Answer

A bit over a week ago I posted an electrical quiz question.

A couple of members came close in the comments, but no one got it exactly right.


I had the volt meter connected between a reference anode, immersed in the water next to the boat, and the boat’s bond system, and was looking to see if the meter kicked when I disconnected and reconnected loads and charging sources from the main positive busbar.

If the boat had been metal I would have been connected to the reference anode and the hull.

The clues to the right answer were that I was measuring volts, not amps or continuity, and that neither of the meter probes are present in the picture.

I’m pleased to say there was no kick, but if there had been, that would have indicated stray currents flowing from the battery positive, through the connected piece of gear, through the water, and back to the bond system, and eventually the battery negative—we must always think about circuits.

This is a good test to perform regularly on any boat and that goes triple for metal boast and those with saildrives.

Further Reading

Jordan Series Drogue Works Even if Caught Beam On


Susanne Huber-Curphy and I were chatting by email about her use of the Jordan Series Drogue, our (and her) recommended storm-survival gear, when she clarified a point I think many people worry about, unnecessarily as it turns out:

The most amazing thing of the JSD is that after a front has passed with a dramatic wind shift the boat might lay sideways to the old sea, but if a breaker hits the boat from the old direction she will immediately swing around against the new wind direction and take the impact safely on the stern. That’s easy to explain, as the force of breaking waves is stronger than the windage of the boat. I guess you have to experience this to really appreciate the magic of the JSD.

Susanne Huber-Curphy

This also makes sense in relation to Don Jordan’s original investigations.

And no one has has more experience than Susanne with the JSD in extreme conditions.

Instrument Loads

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Seems like a lot of cruisers are leaving their instrumentation on, even when at anchor, these days.

Do what you want, but this practice could push you into a major electrical system makeover that might not be necessary if we just turned that stuff off.

The above photo shows the load (battery monitor to the right) from the instrument package and NMEA 2000 network on our J/109, added to a 9″ plotter.

Nearly two amps at 12 volts. Leave that on for 24 hours and that’s nearly 50 amp hours out of the battery!

And our system is comparatively small and miserly. Add in a big plotter, AIS, and worst off all, a laptop computer running navigation software, and we can easily burn through 100 amp hours or more.

To put that in perspective that’s over a third of the power Phyllis and I used in the run of a day for everything on our 56 foot live-aboard boat!

When left on all the time, small loads add up to big usage.

Here’s how to estimate usage and choose the right battery bank size, the easy way—no long boring spreadsheet to fill out…we provide a short, and not boring, spreadsheet.

NMEA 2000 Trouble Shooting Kit

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I’m in the throws of installing a new autopilot and radar on our new-to-us J/109.

As part of that I cleaned up the dogs breakfast of a NMEA 2000 network the boat came with to make it both easier to trouble shoot and hopefully more reliable, particularly since this new kit required adding quite a few network devices.

When all was said and done I ended up with a couple of old network cables that I had replaced because they looked a bit manky (another deeply technical word).

I was about to throw the old cables away when it struck me that by cutting them both in half and stripping the ends I would end up with a zero cost NMEA 2000 trouble shooting kit for use with a voltmeter.

I also added a male to female connector I had left over to the kit. Useful to substitute for a T connector to get a suspected device or drop out of the mix, but still keep the backbone connected.

The kit proved invaluable while hunting down a brand new power-T with an open circuit on one of the network lines.

And here’s a good primer on trouble shooting NMEA 2000.

By the way, I don’t think most of us need an expensive N2K meter, particular since a lot of devices, such as plotters, have trouble shooting screens which will let us check for excess error packets and the like—dig deep in the menus and check regularly to catch potential intermittent problems early.

More thoughts on NMEA 2000:

Stopping Rigging Hum Q & A



Member Arne asked:

When I tuned the rig on my OVNI, it started vibrating/resonating in the wind when on anchor. It starts at fairly low wind speeds, and I can’t tell exactly where in the rig it is. I can sometimes feel some vibrations in the shrouds. It sounds like a motorboat approaching a couple hundred meters away, so not super loud, but pretty annoying still. Is this a problem you have experienced or have any tips on a remedy?


Rigging vibration is both common and hard to diagnose, and even harder to stop completely. A few things based on my own experience over the years that may help:

  • Although it does happen, vibration and hum are rarely caused by wire standing rigging. The wire may vibrate, but that’s unlikely to be the source.
  • Rope rigging is likely to be the original source. Places to look include:
    • Topping lift, probably the most common source.
    • Rope running backstays. We loved the change to HM rope on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but there are always tradeoffs. The wire never hummed and the rope often did.
    • Rope halyards that are not in use and set up hard can often be the source.

There are probably more proposed solutions to the rigging vibration problem than there are sailors, and few, if any, work every time. Here are a few that have helped us, but none are a panacea:

  • Change the tension on the offending halyard or stay.
  • If it’s the topping lift, get rid of the damned thing.
  • If you must keep the topping lift, attach a piece of shock cord. Might not fix it, but it’s a good hack.
  • If it is the wire rigging, install a backstay adjuster so you can slack the rig off at anchor. It’s a great upgrade for a whole bunch of reasons.
  • Stringing a piece of shock cord from a tight and humming runner to a shroud and then varying the tension and position until it stops.


That’s all I got. Anyone else have any bright ideas on how to stop rigging hum?

Note, we have already covered rig pumping, which is a different problem.

Is Reading Time a Good Addition to AAC?


Please advise

Early this week we added a reading time estimate to the header of every article (but not these Tips).

The idea is to show how much information you can get from a small investment in time at AAC, particularly when compared to trying to get technical information from YouTube, podcasts, or the biggest time sink of all: webinars.

And also to reassure you before you start an article that we have worked hard to make it as brief as it can be, but still get the job done.

For example, you could learn pretty much everything you need to know about how to choose between lead-acid or lithium batteries in 8 minutes.

Or how to make sure your boat’s underwater metals are not being eaten away in 7.

So does this work for you and, more importantly, enhance your perception of the value of AAC for your money?

Or is it just a distraction or, worse still, make you wonder why you are paying for such a short read?

Please let us know in a comment.

Turnbuckle Securing Hack


Here’s a quick way to secure turnbuckles with no need for taping and that is quick to take off when we need to adjust the rig.

The secret is selecting a ring-ding (a technical term that shows the user is a real professional rigger) that is just too big in diameter to allow the barrel to turn.

Here’s a bunch more rigging tips, including another way to secure turnbuckles that’s more suitable for offshore boats.

Preventing Unintended Jib Unfurls


The furler line is only secured by a cam cleat (under dodger flap in shadow) on our J/109, so when leaving the boat we clove hitch it around the winch. Also note the sheet is half hitched around the standing part.

Before leaving the boat we also make very sure the jib is neatly rolled and the sheets take a couple of tight turns around the clew.

Unintended jib unfurls are common and a seamanship fail.