John's Tips, Tricks and Thoughts

Weekly Digest:

Backer Plate Hack

Pretty much any deck fitting should have a substantial backer plate. I like G10 for this function, although fibreglass sheet can work for less money when less stiffness is required. I keep some of each in different thicknesses on hand.

But how do we hold the backer plate in place while we drill the holes?The best way I have found is to epoxy it to the underside of the deck. So doing also stiffens everything up because the thickened epoxy fills any voids or curves.

Cool, but how do we hold the plate in place while the epoxy dries?

Simple, a dab from a hot glue gun. In the photo above I have applied the epoxy, but left a small area for the hot glue. Hold in place for 15 seconds and it stays put. Works a treat.

Once the epoxy hardens up, drill the hole(s).


Great Core Removal Drill Bits

I think pretty much everyone knows that when installing new fittings on a cored boat we should first remove the core before filling the void with thickened epoxy and then re-drilling for the fastener(s).

There are a bunch of different ways to do this, but the set of Alfa Tools Forstner bits I just bought myself, while far from inexpensive, are the quickest, neatest, and generally best way I have found to make a suitable hole in the outer skin, and remove most of the core, without penetrating the inner skin.

Way better and more controllable than a hole saw.

Highly recommended.


Q&A Winch Service Intervals & grease.

Our friends Mick and Bee helping Phyllis and me service the winches on our last boat, a McCurdy and Rhodes 56.


Member Courtney asked:

In this whole set of articles on rigs/spars/lines and the bits and bobs that make the sailing happen I see no mention of the service schedule or recommended sundries for winches. I found your suggestions for a water-based degreaser, but no suggestions for the grease (And there’s sooo many, and they all claim to be the best. Ugh). With 10 winches on the to-do list for spring, does anyone have a tried and true winch grease?


You hear all kinds of recommendations for winch service intervals, with the most common being every year, or every season.

But like you, we had a bunch of winches on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 so servicing them every year would have been a crazy use of time that could be used more profitably in other areas—there’s never enough time to do everything that ideally should be done on a cruising boat.

So we found that servicing all our Lewmar winches every three years was just fine.

And I have to confess that several times over the years the interval was longer than that.

Anyway, we never had any trouble with our winches as a result of this service interval. I think the key is doing a really good service, when we do it, with close attention to checking for any wear and immediately replacing any parts that show even a little.

That said, in nearly 30 years, we have only replaced a couple of spindles —worn teeth.

As to which grease, people get terribly worked up about this on the forums, but we found that our favourite Lubriplate 130-AA works fine and lasts well over the above interval.

In theory we are supposed to use a light oil on the pawls, but we have always just used the same grease and had no problems with sticking.

That said, when I serviced the Harken winches on our J/109 last year I used Harken grease and Lewmar winch pawl oil as an experiment. So far, there has been no discernible difference.

One thing I would caution against is using a lower quality or thicker grease than the 130AA on the pawls, since if they stick in the retracted position the winch can spin and really hurt someone.

Particularly beware of forum posts touting cheaper lubricants from doubtful sources, which, these days, includes Amazon and eBay—both are riddled with counterfeits of other stuff, so I’m guessing the same applies to lubricants.

Further Reading


Cutting Bolts Hack¹

I’m guessing most of you know this one, but I didn’t when I first started working on boats, so it may be useful.

When cutting a bolt off that’s too long, first put a nut on it as shown in the above. Winding the nut off cleans up burs on the threads from cutting.

But even better, to avoid fragments that will make it difficult to get the nut on, particularly in confined spaces, before winding the nut off, grip it in the vice and use a fine file to clean up the cut end—only takes a moment and makes a world of difference.

¹Bad pun alert


Recommended Deck Wiring Glands

I have a pathological hatred for drilling holes in the deck of our boat, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, and when it is I’m guided by a healthy dose of deck-leak paranoia—it only takes one passage with a leak over your bunk to instill said condition for life.

The cables in the shot will be under the instrument pod, but even so I wanted them properly waterproof, since green water hitting the pod would definitely find a way in—see…paranoid.

These glands from Scanstrut are the best I have used. Multiple sizes and styles and each comes with several seals with different-sized holes and even a blank in case we need a custom size as I did on the one on the right.

Highly recommended.

And if you are wondering how I built the little shelf for them, here’s the hack.


Now all I have to do is get over my case of the sulks at Tillotson Pearson for building a boat with a nice instrument pod and then not providing a sensible way to get wires to it. I ask you.

This is the kind of stupid, but far too common shit we want to fix with the Adventure 40.

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Wire Routing Hack

I have been running a bunch of new cables up to the instrument pod on our new-to-us J/109 while installing a better on-deck navigation system, including radar.

The cables run through the head under some trim in a very tight space with no room for wire ties, and they needed to stay put while I got the trim back on.

The answer was a hot glue gun. Worked a treat as you can see in the above photos and only took a few minutes.

I bought a low-temperature gun (100c) to avoid any risk of melting the insulation on the cables (105c).

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Oil Change Danger

We have a friend who was well into a voyage across the Atlantic when the oil pressure alarm went off on her engine.

She and her crew made all the usual checks but to no avail.

When they finally got to the Azores under sail and with no engine for charging, the mechanic found parts of the seal from a bottle of oil blocking the lube oil pump pickup tube.

My guess is that someone had let these fragments drop into the container of oil, or maybe a whole seal, a surprisingly easy thing to do, and then dumped the oil into the engine.

It truly is the little things that can get you. And when they do on a voyage it sucks ten times more.

This kind of thing is one of the many reasons I have always done all the routine maintenance on critical systems like the engine myself, and would have done so even if we could have afforded to pay someone else.

Sure we all hope that the guy in the boatyard tasked with doing oil changes would be careful not to let this happen, and strain the oil if it did…

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A Shed For Your Boat

A couple of years ago my friend David sent me the above photos of a Stimson shed he built to winter store his lovely Hinkley 41, the same boat he so kindly lent me for a cruise.

I’m ashamed to admit that said photos have languished on my computer until I stumbled over them while searching for something else.

Anyway, he built the shed for less than ten grand (Canadian), so this seems a good alternative to winter inside storage at a yard for those who can find a piece of land reasonably near a haulout facility, and also a great option for a refit.

He broke the cost down as follows, all costs in Canadian dollars:

  • Ground: excavating prep/ gravel etc. about $2000.   
  • Materials: bows and knee walls, bolts, etc $2500.
  • Griffolyn custom cover $2500.   
  • Added about 5-6 days of 2 days’ labour to assist $2500   

Could be done for much less depending on materials, access to machinery, labour, etc.

Here are some links David shared that might be useful:

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While Converting To Lithium

Member Rob sent us the above photo of the very cool (in more ways than one) equipment and battery bay he and his installer built in the aft cabin of his 2002 Beneteau Oceanis 473 while they were changing the boat over to a lithium house (service) bank.

Prior to that change, as is so often the case with productions boats, the batteries were in much less functional positions, too low in the bilge and subject to engine heat.

This brings to mind two thoughts:

  • Lithium battery systems are way more fragile and complicated than lead-acid, so when making the change we want to make sure everything is well away from the engine, well ventilated, and easy to access, as well as laid out in an organized way to make troubleshooting easier.
  • Lithium batteries are about four times lighter and three times smaller than lead acid for a given usable capacity, so improving location and installation is way easier than it would be with lead acid.

Does this make changing to lithium a no-brainer for everyone? No. Here’s how to decide if lithium is right for you.

For those of you who want to nerd-out, Rob was kind enough to provide the following details on the photo:

Equipment from forward to aft in this locker under the starboard quarter berth (forward = bottom of picture):

  • Two Damp Rid containers in process of being changed and secured with cable ties
  • 3 x LiFePO4 batteries secured with truck-style ratchet tie-downs
  • 3 x Blue Sea safety relays
  • 3 x high-capacity fuses
  • At right slightly out of picture on longitudinal bulkhead, MasterBus interfaces
  • Hidden behind bunk crossbeam is the mains 240V residual current device (RCD)
  • Top right is the MV shore-power charger and inverter Mass Combi Pro
  • Top left are the two MV solar controllers
  • Out of picture and the other side of the boat is the MV AlphaPro regulator connected to MV 130A alternator


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


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.

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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

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

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