The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • The Most Dangerous Thing Offshore Cruisers Do

    Last week I linked to a well-done report and some associated testing over at Practical Boat Owner that made a convincing argument that sidedeck jacklines are worse, at least when used with a standard 6′ long tether, than not clipping on at all, because of the risk of being killed by dragging.

    And then a few days later I came across a Scuttlebutt article titled, “Nearly half die when falling overboard”, with statistics from the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch supporting the title.

    At first I was going to link to the latest piece in a tip with a scary title like “Why We Clip On” or some such.

    But that felt kinda wrong so close to the first tip—when does informing turn into scaremongering?

    So I decided, instead, to just remind us all that offshore sailing, at least when done with common sense and basic seamanship, is pretty safe.

    Sure, people die by falling overboard. But people also die by their furniture falling on them at home.

    So what’s the most dangerous thing most cruisers do? My guess is getting into an automobile…that is, unless they are wingsuit BASE jumpers, too.

    Oh yes, here’s a link to the Scuttlebutt article, worth reading…at least as long as we keep things in perspective.

    And if you are wondering about the photo, that’s Phyllis with our good friends and experienced offshore voyagers Wilson and Thelma, taken in Quebec during our drive of the Trans-Labrador Highway in 2019.

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  • Carry Spare Banjo Fitting Washers

    Banjo fittings are ubiquitous on engines (there are a lot of them around, too), usually in the fuel system, but the fresh water cooling circuit often has a few as well.

    And each of them has a small copper washer each side of the fitting that acts as a seal.

    Here’s the thing: the washers are not reusable…but most people do, including many professional mechanics who should know better.

    Which is why a lot of engines are plagued with leaks.

    So it makes a lot of sense to carry a few of each size. We could buy them one by one or we can buy a lifetime supply over at McMaster-Carr.

    Thanks to my friend Wilson, who warned me about this when we bought the J/109, so I had the right washer to hand when the engine started pissing diesel fuel.

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  • Check Tachometer Accuracy

    There are all kinds of good reasons to check our engine RPM, including making sure:

    • We are not overloading before the engine warms up.
    • We are not under-loading after warm up.
    • To figure out fuel burn.
    • To check that the prop is not under- or over-sized.
    • To check that the engine has not lost RPM at wide-open throttle, an early sign of all kinds of things that should be fixed before damage is done.

    But the problem is that tachometers can drift into inaccuracy.

    And an even bigger problem is that if we change our alternator to a larger and more robust one, as many of us cruisers do, and most of us should, it’s likely that the tachometer will be wildly inaccurate afterward because the new alternator sends a different number of pulses per revolution.

    Wait, there’s more. If we change to a serpentine belt, again as we should, that likely changes the ratio between the crank shaft and alternator RPM, making the inaccuracy even worse.

    The good news is that handheld RPM counters are both accurate and relatively cheap.

    And then once we know the actual RPM, it’s reasonably easy…OK, a pain in the ass…to recalibrate the tachometer.

    Phyllis spent an hour crunched up in the cockpit locker poking at the little calibration button while I read the rapidly changing numbers and yelled “press”, “let go”, “press”.

    Why an hour? Because I adjusted the wrong way…twice…but let’s not go there.

    Worth it to have an accurate tachometer, though…at least as far as I’m concerned…not asking Phyllis.

    You can usually find the calibration instructions for your tachometer online, but here’s a typical set of instructions.

    Further Reading

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  • V Booms a Great Idea

    Pocket Boom, V Boom, Park Avenue Boom, it doesn’t much matter what we call them, these booms are a great idea that should be adopted by a lot more sailors than do.

    A great way to simplify sail handling, and make it easy to put on the sail cover, but without the complexity, weight, performance loss, and, yes, dangers of in-mast or in-boom furling systems, and way cheaper, too.

    If you are considering an automated mainsail system, do yourself a favour and think long and hard before you pull the trigger and blow a wad of cash.

    Instead, fix the slab-reefing system on your boat properly—a good 80% of the slab systems I see are poorly designed and set up—and, then, if you want to take it to the next level, buy a V Boom.

    This one from Offshore Spars looks like a nice implementation. I’m guessing it’s a derivative of the brilliantly designed V Booms that Hall Spars used to make.

    I wanted one of these in the worst way, but after we got done replacing our cracked aluminum mast, there was no money left.

    More on how to decide between in-mast, in-boom, and slab reefing. Yes, there are situations when one of the first two options makes sense…but not that many.

    And if you think in-boom systems are easier to use, watch this:

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  • Edson Radar Tower

    We are really happy with the way our new radar installation came out, particularly the Edson tower.

    We have long felt that the best place for a radar is on a tower, not on the mast or backstay.

    It even inclines for when we are heeled in fog…yes, we get wind and fog here in Nova Scotia.

    And here’s a fun hack. When I got it installed it was a little wobbly due to the slight play between the tube glassed into the hull and the tower tube, so I preloaded it to the rail with Dyneema lashings—lighter and easier than struts.

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  • Take a Racer Sailing

    I have long argued that one of the quickest ways to become a better cruiser is to go racing as crew.

    It also works the other way around. Brooke (on the left) owns and seriously races a J/109 on Narraganset Bay. So while she was visiting with our friend Ed, she came out sailing on our J/109 and taught me a huge amount.

    This was particularly good because she owns the same boat, but even without that added advantage it’s well worth persuading a skilled racer to come sailing on your cruising boat. You will learn a lot.

    Pro tip: Racers love beer.

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  • Sidedeck Jacklines Worse Than Nothing?

    We at AAC have long argued that sidedeck jacklines (jackstays) are not safe because of drag risk.

    But PBO are taking that up a level by suggesting, based on some very sobering testing as well as even more sobering analysis of sailors falling overboard and being dragged by their tethers, that it might even be safer to not be clipped on at all than to use a standard-length tether clipped to a sidedeck jackline.

    We agree with the problem they identify, but feel we have a better and well-tested solution that reduces drag risk to near zero while still staying tethered.

    Read the Practical Boat Owner article, highly recommended.

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  • Is Your Radio Talking to Your GPS?

    Even though I have been working on our new-to-us J/109 off and on for nearly two years, there are still chores on the to-do list, one being to program our new MMSI number into the VHF—I did our AIS transmitter as soon as we got the boat.

    Luckily for me, although disturbing to find out, there was no MMSI number in the VHF, so the two previous owners were forgoing a big safety feature.

    I say luckily because radios and AIS transmitters sold in the USA can only be programmed once, or at most twice, at least without help from the manufacturer. Who thought that was a good idea? Homeland Security, as I understand it. Don’t get me started.

    Anyway, I had assumed that the radio was at least getting GPS positioning sentences, since there were two wires leading from the correct terminals on the radio to…the wrong terminals on the source.

    I hadn’t changed that, so clearly it had been that way for years since the “professional” hooked it up and never bothered to check it worked! Saints preserve us from “professionally maintained boats”.

    The fix took minutes and was confirmed when “GPS” came up on the panel.

    With these two problems put together, the nice red distress button on the radio was for decoration only.

    So I have made a mental note to always check the display for that indicator when I turn the radio on, since it would be easy for the wires to get disconnected or a parameter to get changed in the source GPS (say BAUD rate), rendering this important feature useless.

    By the way, while this crappy little radio is adequate for our needs, if I we were still going offshore and cruising countries where DSC is used more than it is here, we would be replacing it. More here.

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  • Bluetooth Autopilot Remote Rocks

    Given that, this remote control for our new B&G autopilot is invaluable and just generally adds to the fun. A couple of button presses will even make the boat tack automatically while I handle the sheets—beats heck out of steering with a foot while tacking.

    Highly recommended and way better than wired remotes or running back and forth to a fixed autopilot control panel, although we need that too in case Bluetooth goes screwy—not to be relied upon for mission-critical stuff.

    B&G sell the gadget with a neck strap, which, if you think about it, is a very bad idea, particularly for a singlehander constantly hanging over and grinding winches—do these people actually ever go sailing?

    Anyway, it will also fit on a velcro watchband. I bought one from Amazon and then kluged it to work with a needle and palm. Supposedly B&G sell a band, for extra (of course), but I couldn’t find one.

    Note to B&G: Stop being jerks and just ship the thing with a band before someone strangles themselves!

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  • Pull Tackles Tight When Laying Up

    I have been doing this sailboat ownership thing for over 60 years and still I learn stuff, usually when something bites me on the ass.

    We were all set to bend on the main last week when the outhaul jammed solid. No way to pull it out to shackle it to the clew.

    When we took the main off last fall, I guess we left the outhaul tackle slack inside the boom, and at some point when the boom was being moved, a loop of the tackle hooked over the floating block as shown in the photo.

    I could see it with my borescope but there was no way to flip it off without drilling out five 1/4″ pop rivets and removing the forward boom-end fitting—you can’t make this up stuff up.

    Note to self: when removing mainsail, pull outhaul tackle tight and tie off.

    Actually, there’s an even better answer to this. Any floating block, particularly in an inaccessible place, should have a piece of shock cord that keeps the tackle under slight tension at all times.

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  • Neater Webbing Cow Hitches Hack

    If we are sewing a loop into a piece of webbing to cow hitch it to something, as is often the case with jacklines, the end result will seat better and be way neater if we sew the loop with a half turn in it as shown below.

    More on making your own jacklines and tethers in this Online Book.

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  • All Doors Should Latch Open

    There are many little tricks that can make maintaining a cruising boat easier.

    One of them is that all doors should have hooks or latches to retain them open so that air circulates, and should be left that way as much as possible.

    This one change can cut mildew growth and general mustiness way back.

    I just added a hook to what we call the “mouse door” connecting the head and cockpit locker.

    And, if we use a hook and eye, it’s a good idea to also add a second eye to retain the hook when the door is closed, otherwise it will make a very faint, but nonetheless hugely irritating, noise as the boat moves.

    The one on the left, that I just added, is a better bet, because of the rubber insert that reduces clinking, than the one on the right, which the builder provided for the aft-head door.

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  • When Did Your Inflatable Lifejacket Last Feel The Love?

    I have to confess that unpacking, test inflating (24 hours), and repacking lifejackets is one of my least favourite chores—getting them back together all nice and smooth with no lumps is just one of the many tasks I’m not naturally gifted at.

    But even so I just did all five of ours—two Spinlock Deckvest 6D and one 5D for the J/109; and two Deckvest LITE we wear when rowing our turbocharged Whitehall.

    We go through this process once a year, at the beginning of the sailing season. Here’s a good instructional video for the 6D.

    One piece of good news, one of the many improvements Spinlock have made to the new Deckvest 6D is that it’s easier to repack neatly than the older 5D—I will be writing more about the 6D in a future full article.

    Further Reading

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  • Buntline Hitch With Bury Splice Hack

    I was cleaning up the dog’s breakfast of frayed and knotted lines making up our jib in-haulers when I came up against the problem of how to attach the Amsteel™ line to the low-friction ring the sheet passes though.

    A Brummel splice was one possibility, but it’s difficult to get a splice snugged up really hard so the ring won’t slip out; also, if I need to adjust the length, which I may, it’s pretty hard to undo and then redo a properly tapered splice.

    Then it struck me, just use a buntline hitch, which pulls ever tighter under load, and then bury the end using my D-splicer.

    Takes longer to write about it than it took to do.

    And the beauty of this is that if I need to undo it to change the length, it’s simply a matter of pulling out the buried end, undoing the knot, adjusting, and putting it back together the same way.

    You will note that I did not taper the buried end. That’s intentional, even though it reduces the strength a bit, since once the end is tapered, it would be hard to get it buried again.

    One caution, I would not use this hack for anything heavily loaded like a halyard, since the knot will reduce the strength quite a bit—halyards, particularly using high-modulus lines, should always be spliced. But in this case I’m only using Amsteel for its low stretch, not strength—probably have a 50:1 safety margin.

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  • When is Enough, Enough?

    “Enough” is realizing that the opposite—an insatiable appetite for more—will push you to the point of regret.

    Morgan Housel

    I have quoted this guy several times before. Even though he writes about investing and finance his thoughts are often relevant to life and cruising.

    A great thought to keep in mind when we are deciding how much gear to add to our boats.

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  • Pete Goss on Mainsail Automation

    Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness constantly campaigning for simple rigging systems, so it’s nice to read a well-reasoned article from a deeply experienced sailor on the subject.

    I spent a bit of time with Pete a few years ago, and he’s worth listening to, even if we disagree on a couple of boats.

    Further Reading

    And if you are trying to decide whether or not to automate your mainsail, we have a complete buyer’s guide to that decision…and, yes, it includes the advantages of automated systems.

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  • B&G Navigation App Not Ready For Use

    We ended up with a B&G system on our J/109, mainly because most of it was already there when we got the boat.

    Given that, I thought it would be a good idea to use the B&G App on our iPad, which we use to supplement the plotter.

    What a mistake that was:

    • No manual
    • Constant hangups
    • Clunky synchronization of routes with the plotter
    • Terrible and counterintuitive interface
    • Dangerous autorouting function

    I just canceled my subscription, thankfully before the two-week trial ran out.

    Back to TZ iBoat, which is, in my view, the gold standard for tablet navigation software.

    Hopefully B&G will get their app sorted out, since I would love to have a tablet app that synchronized routes with the plotter, but B&G have a long, long, long way to go to catch up with TZ iBoat or to even be a safe and functional app, in my view.

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  • A Required Skill to Go Voyaging

    “The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower,” Oliver Burkeman wrote. “ It’s shocking to realize how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. It is possible, instead, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, like weight training at a gym. The rewards come so quickly that it soon becomes the more appealing way to live.”   

    Oliver Burkeman and Lin Pardey

    Phyllis on the same subject

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  • Beware Auto-Tune on Modern Radars

    Engineer and experienced mariner Eric Klem has just updated his review of his Furuno DRS2D-NXT doppler radar with a sobering account of how the auto-tune feature failed during a night approach to a crowded harbour.

    Eric is an experienced radar user, and so was able to quickly diagnose the problem and fix it by taking over manual control of the gain and clutter settings, but those of us who are used to relying on fully automated radars may not have been able to do the same, or even figure out what the problem was.

    To me the takeaway from Eric’s experience is that it’s vital to take the time to understand what these automated electronics are doing and how to take over when the automations get it wrong.

    Further Reading

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  • An Interesting Boat Decision—Buy or Walk?

    Member Rob left an interesting comment a few days ago that got me thinking:

    I have a boat on offer and am considering backing out of the deal.

    The standing rigging is 41 year old rod, the rudder is wet, mold in v-berth, small leak in hull/deck joint, autohelm removed, small anchor locker (not sure how it could hold required rode) safety gear missing, no tender, no outboard, original DC panel, some “cosmetic” cracks in floor.

    The following is not working: wind speed, radio, knot meter), stuffing box clamps need replacing, engine insulation needs replacing…

    I am looking at 100% above offer price in updates. I would have a boat that is worth half of my investment. The uncertainty of insuring an old boat is concerning also.

    At survey the batteries and water system was not hooked up and therefore all those systems could not be tested.

    I think by writing this down I have made my decision. I thought this was the one and am not happy to let it go. It looked great and is from a reputable builder but was not updated where is matters most.

    Here are my thoughts:

    Your comment reflects the reality for so many who are considering an older boat.

    My first reaction was that none of that should necessarily disqualify a boat if the basic structure is good.

    In fact, sometimes getting a boat where all the kit is busted is a good thing as long as we get some price adjustment to compensate. This can be a better deal than buying a boat with a lot of older gear that still works, but won’t for long, but that the owner still wants to get paid for.

    I don’t even see the rudder as a deal breaker, given that most older boats with fibreglass rudders on metal stocks will be in that situation and there is a solution. Many prospective buyers stick their heads in the sand about the rudder, so good on you for not doing that.

    Also, most boats of this age will need the purchase price spent on them a second time on a refit. That’s just the way it is, as is the depreciation of that expenditure to near zero as soon as it’s spent. So good on you again for recognizing that.

    All that said, I think you are right to walk away because of the too small anchor locker, since a decent anchoring setup is a fundamental need for cruising.

    Further Reading

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  • Twin Rudders Have No Place In The High Latitudes or Maybe Cruising

    We just got an interesting question from Françoise and Jean-Michel who are looking at buying a new boat.


    Boreal’s daggerboards can be broken as you can see on the n° 42 ep ” Bushpoint ” on You tube. It was last year on a Boreal 55 in the north of Norway. Even if it was not a great issue , it can happen. The owner fix it himself.

    My wife and I are looking to build a new boat to change our Ovni 43 and we ask Patrick Lenormand, the yard manager of NYS ( Caen France) to build it .

    We have chosen a Cordova 45 ( design of Jean-François André , well known french architect ) . His choice of a twin rudder system concern me .

    He said that he put two strong skegs welded on the hull to prevent any damage. My worry is also about the drag of these skegs in front of the rudders.
    I know that a boat is always a trade-off but I don’t want to make a mistake.


    You are right to worry about the twin rudders and that’s a great question because it exposes something we are often told: that we can fix a basic design problem by just making it stronger.

    I used to believe this, too, until the engineers that comment here helped me understand it better.

    Sure the boards on the Boréals can break. Boréal themselves talk about this.

    But that’s a a good thing, not a bad thing. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    A key thing to understand about boat engineering is that saying we will just make it stronger, is actually bad engineering.

    There is no way to build a skeg strong enough to withstand even a six-knot impact from ice, a rock, or a big log (big problem in many places). The key point is that something must flex and bend to absorb force.

    So if we make the skeg super strong and it does not flex, then maybe it rips right out of the hull and the boat sinks. The force must go somewhere.

    So based on that, here are the key points that I think about:

    • When a Boréal board gets damaged, it breaks and the hull is fine. With skeg-hung twin rudders, a bad collision with a rock or ice can hole the boat and the stronger we make the skeg the worse that problem gets.
    • A Boréal can operate fine with no boards (I have sailed one that way). You could even sail all the way home with no boards. Bend a twin rudder and skeg and the steering is jammed until we can haul the boat and then we need skilled metal workers to fix it.
    • When in tricky waters (rocks or ice) on a Boréal, we can pull up the boards and the rudder is protected by the huge keel box. We can never pull up twin rudders, they are always down there ready to get damaged.

    For me, based on some 30 years of cruising, particularly in the north, I would never do so in a twin-rudder boat. Heck, I would not own a twin-rudder boat for cruising, but that’s me.

    And by the way, the reason Boréals will never have twin rudders is because the chief designer, Jean-Francois Delvoye, went to Chile in a twin-rudder boat and broke a rudder on a rock.

    After that he sold the twin-rudder boat, and designed and built a boat with a single rudder and keel box for himself. That was the first Boréal.

    A good example that will help to explain this point about the force being absorbed by bending is the A40 keel.

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  • Install an Engine Space Fireport

    One of the most common places for a fire to start on a boat is in the engine space, and if that happens the last thing we want to do is open an access panel to fight it, and thereby get a face full of fire, not to speak of accelerating the fire by giving it oxygen.

    The answer is a fireport like the one I just installed on our J/109.

    Amazing to me that Tillotson Pearson did not install one when they built the boat comparatively recently in 2004, particularly considering that the first fireport I ever saw was on a brand new Beneteau back in the 1980s!

    More on fire prevention and fighting.

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  • Tidy Up The Wiring

    One of the most satisfying jobs we can do in a refit is to simply tidy up the wiring.

    I took the above picture a few days ago. Certainly not perfect, and not as nice as I could do if I tore the whole works out and started again, but a heck of a lot better and easier to troubleshoot than it was when we got the boat two years ago.

    Everything is now properly fused and labeled, and I also must have taken 50 pounds of unused or over-length wire out of the boat.

    Cleaning up gave me space to move the AIS that some lazy tech had installed in the head to where it belongs, and to install a boat monitoring gadget (far left)—more on that coming in an article.

    And best of all the high-voltage wiring is now safely covered. Here’s how.

    And here’s a pic of the dog’s breakfast I started off with when we got the boat.

    Much more on electrical systems.

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  • Own Our Own Sawhorses

    This tip won’t work for active voyagers far from home, but for those of us who commission our boats at the same yard every year and have a place to store them it’s well worth owning our own sawhorses.

    The things are always in short supply at a boatyard, and the ones we can hunt down are usually rickety and of mismatched heights.

    We need four, three to hold the mast and one extra to tie a spreader to so the mast won’t roll when dressed.

    Ours are a bit over-the-top strong and heavy because we originally bought them to support the mast on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56.

    Something a bit lighter, maybe in plastic, would work well for smaller boats.

    Do you have a brand that has worked well for you? Leave a comment.

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  • Threaded Inserts Save The Day

    Engine access on the J/109 is way easier if we remove the top companionway step, so over the years that’s clearly been done a bunch of times.

    And of course with each removal and reinstallation the screw holes in the retaining battens underneath have got bigger and more ragged. So people have replaced the screws with ever bigger and longer ones.

    But we can only go so far with that, plus there’s a better way that solves this problem forever wherever a screw will be repeatedly removed and reinstalled into wood (or fibreglass):

    Change to machine screws and threaded inserts as shown above.

    Here’s the hole (bottom) with the threaded insert screwed in.

    And for extra points, change to a round-head screw with a washer, instead of the usual countersunk head that will slowly wear through the step or whatever is being attached.

    All that said, don’t try and install threaded inserts without the right tool—only way to get them in straight and true.

    Here’s the finished step that can now be removed any time I want to without worrying about stripped screws. The electrical panel is next.

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