The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Tips, Tricks & Thoughts:


  • Q&A Hydraulic In-Boom Roller Furling in Antartica


    Very experienced member Matthieu Chauvel asked:

    Does anyone have experience with hydraulic in-boom furling systems in below-freezing conditions (and/or proper heavy seas, 50 kts+)? Asking for owners of a yacht heading down to Antarctica that has what they (and the builder of course) say is quite a beefy, reliable custom system, but it hasn’t been tested in polar conditions yet.

    Even night temperatures should remain well above the hydraulic fluid freezing point (call it -20 C with a little error margin) during the summer season, but maybe viscosity becomes a problem above that level? General ice build-up solutions and difficulty of sending crew forward while getting hosed down, at night, in towering waves already mentioned to them, but it would be nice to hear from people who have managed in that environment without problems, if any. 


    Sorry, I don’t have much useful experience with hydraulic in-boom in extreme conditions. I was in the Arctic with one of those systems, but it did not get that cold.

    The one thought I do have is that fisherfolk out of Atlantic Canada regularly work the waters of Hudson Strait in early winter, and so do Norwegian fisherfolk up as far as Svalbard, with hydraulics so it must be a solvable problem.

    But, more importantly, if I were taking a boat into the high latitudes I would not have a complex system like that, particularly since the builder admits it has not been tested in those conditions.

    I’m assuming this is a big boat, but even so I would go with slab reefing and then if worried about sending someone forward to the mast, bring the lines aft, although that would not be my choice. Instead, I would do good mast pulpits and a proper centreline jackline system.

    I might also consider a Park Avenue boom, but that could also catch snow and ice, so maybe not.

    If worried about loads on the reefing lines because of the boat size, I would install cross connected winches with coffee grinder pedestals. Two people can easily move a lot of line with a setup like that.

    One could also add a hydraulic drive to the winches, but that adds risk and I would want to know the boat could be operated safely if the hydraulics failed.

    Skip Novak has managed big boats fine in extreme conditions this way for decades and Phyllis and I had no trouble with slab on a 56-foot boat, including reefing and striking in 50-knot winds on one memorable occasion.

    I would also say to your friend, if the boat is too big to handle with these simple systems, then add crew, probably professional.

    We only have to look at what happened on Escape to see the dangers of a boat that is too big for the crew, and has complex systems, and that was not in the Drake Passage where conditions are likely to be far worse.

    And I can’t tell you how scared I was of the automated rig on a big boat I went to Greenland on. If we had encountered 50 knots and big seas things would have almost certainly ended badly.

    I do differ from Skip in one regard. I would add a storm trysail on its own track with its own halyard, so when expecting extreme conditions the main would come down and the trysail set. This, together with a storm jib set on an inner stay, is a rig that can take us to hell and back in safety.

    If your friend decides to stick with in-boom, then I would strongly recommend this change. In fact, they could just motorsail to and from Antartica with this rig up, and be safe.

    Matt, given your experience, I’m guessing I’m preaching to the choir, and I get that your friend won’t want to make all, or maybe any, of my recommended changes for one voyage, but maybe that just means he or she has the wrong boat for going to Antartica.

    Anyway, thinking and writing about this was interesting.

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  • Reefing Horn Hack

    Reefing horns are a nice simple way to secure the tack when reefed, but they can also foul the sail when hoisting. A PITA, particularly on boats with the halyard led aft to the cockpit.

    This simple hack using a piece of fuel hose with the same ID as the horn OD, that I had in stock, solved the problem.

    Transparent reinforced water hose would look nicer, but hey, the black matches the carbon sails that came with the boat!

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  • Spinlock 6D—One Size Does Fit All

    Our friend Margaret, who is of the petite persuasion, wearing the Spinlock 6D we are testing here at AAC.

    One of our concerns with the new model was that with only one size, instead of three as the 5D we have used for years was available in, was that fitting a smaller person might be a problem, particularly since we think that it’s vital that the chest strap be snug.

    Turns out we need not have worried. Thanks, Margaret, and Spinlock for providing the jacket free for evaluation.

    We will be publishing a full report once we have had more experience with the 6D, but so far we are liking it a lot.

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  • John Kretschmer Reefs Downwind

    A few days after we published my article about the causes of the tragedy on Escape, I received this unsolicited email from John Kretschmer:

    I am writing to commend you for your recent piece,”Lessons from a Tragedy at Sea.” It’s sober but hopefully enlightening to many. You are spot on.

    The notion of coming up to reef the main, in a big boat especially, is madness and, simpy, bad seamanship.

    We reef Quetzal exactly how you describe reefing Morgan’s Cloud, using the preventer to maintain boom control, easing off to about 100° apparent, and having a slippery track and cars, and stout gear for hoisting again.

    I have completed 161 training passages aboard Quetzal in the last 19 years, which is kind of crazy, and logged more than 150,000 miles on this old girl in the process, and we have reefed off the wind every time. And I almost always have inexperienced crew, or at least crew new to Quetzal, so it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners.

    John Kretschmer is one of the most experienced mariners of our time and always worth listening to. I think the most important part of the quote for most of us is “it’s not that this is a strategy reserved for master mariners”.

    John went on to provide some tips on reefing off the wind with in-boom roller furling systems, which I will share in a future article.

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  • Susie Goodall Tells Her Story

    While I’m no fan of the Golden Globe Race, or at least not in its present form, I am a huge fan and follower of Susie Goodall and was absolutely gutted when she lost her boat in the 2018 race, particularly since she was one of the few competitors to fit what I believe is the correct storm survival gear, only to have it fail due to a defect.

    After the race Susie kept admirably quiet about the whole thing as she processed the huge disappointment she had suffered, rather than capitalizing on the media frenzy around her, as many would have.

    But now, four years on, she has told her story. A worthwhile read, and great to hear she has put her life back together and intends to go cruising.

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  • Batteries And Generators Are Different Things

    It drives me crazy when sales people suggest that installing their lithium batteries automatically means we don’t need a generator.

    Batteries are a storage device, generators are…wait for it…a generation device. They are different things.

    Sure, installing a larger capacity battery bank (of any chemistry) might mean that we can anchor for longer, or sail for longer, without starting a charging source, but eventually, and in some way, those batteries will need charging…duh.

    And if we have enough solar to never need a generator, then we might not even need lithium batteries.

    Point being that confusing this basic difference between batteries and generators, sets us up to make bad system design decisions…and often spend our money unnecessarily.

    Navico should know better.

    More on the generator decision here (needs updating).

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  • ABYC Bans Twin Busses For Lithium

    Turns out that the new ABYC E13 standard for lithium battery installations on boats in effect bans separate busses for loads and charging sources. (Thanks to member Rick for pointing this out.) BMS shall respond to any conditions outside the SOE by activating the output disconnect device.

    My guess, and hope, is that this is probably the result of poor drafting, rather than intended. The problem, of course, is the word output.

    In my view, compelling the BMS to dump the loads just because of an overcharge does not increase safety, it decreases it, since load dumps are dangerous in and of themselves and overcharge is the most likely scenario to cause a disconnect.

    Hopefully ABYC will fix what I believe to be a mistake soon. Banning something that most industry experts I have talked to consider much better design (separate charge and load busses) does their credibility no good at all.

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  • Mirage 24

    This little boat on the mooring next to us, belongs to a young couple with a year-old baby, who get a lot of fun out of her. I’m told even the baby likes the boat.

    She has two berths, a galley and a head, and was designed by Cuthbertson & Cassian of C&C yachts, although built by Mirage, which means she will sail well and without bad habits.

    I’m a huge fan of the original designers at C&C. Good wholesome designs that can still surprise on the race course.

    But here’s the best part. The boat cost the young owners less than a lithium battery bank…a lot less.

    Sailing, and even overnight cruising, does not have to be expensive…unless we choose to make it so.

    If you are waiting and saving to go voyaging, this would be a fun boat until then.

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  • Dead Ending Reefing Pennants

    Most people dead end reefing pennants round the boom with a bowline, but that’s hard to tie tight and even harder to untie after it’s been under load. And don’t even think about using a buntline hitch unless you want to use explosives to untie it.

    There’s a better way: the humble timber hitch, finished off with a figure eight, as shown.

    Quick to tie, and easy to untie no matter how hard it’s been loaded.

    Not sure where I learned this—the sort of thing the great Rod Stephens would have come up with—but I have been terminating reefing pennants this way on all kinds of boats for some 50 years and have never had one fail on me.

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  • Killer Dyneema Scissors

    I have been doing a bunch of splicing of single-braid Dyneema (AmSteel) lately—lots of storm preparation.

    The stuff is seriously difficult to cut without making a mess of it, particularly when cutting single strands to taper the bury, but these scissors from D-Splicer do a lovely neat job and will even cut through a full 12mm with a single easy snip, even though mine are only meant to go to 10mm.

    I have had a couple pairs of scissors that purport to be for Dyneema before, but these are way better. Highly recommended and worth every penny of their admittedly eye-watering price.

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  • This Won’t End Well

    It seems like Brunswick Corporation is buying up just about every marine electrical and electronic company out there: Blue Sea, Ancor, Mastervolt, and more, and putting it all under the banner of Navico, which is a conglomerate itself comprising many hitherto independent companies.

    I know, they are on this acquisition spree with the goal of enhancing products and services and wouldn’t dream of stifling competition or price fixing…I also have a nice bridge over the East River you might be interested in buying.

    What the hell ever happened to the trust busters? Margrethe, we poor yacht owners need you…OK, maybe not.

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  • A Cruiser’s Way Stop Gets Hammered

    Phyllis and I were fortunate. Being in the safe semicircle and well away from the centre of Hurricane Fiona, we had only gale force winds with gusts to around 50 knots.

    Our power was out for just 36 hours and even our internet came back on today.

    We were lucky, others were not. We are thinking of Atlantic Canadians to the east of us who had a far rougher time of it, and particularly of the residents of Channel-Port aux Basques, a town we have visited countless times over the last 30 years, either on our boat or when taking the ferry to and from Newfoundland.

    You can search Google to see videos of significant wave height seas of 14 metres, which means there were probably waves of at least 25 metres, crashing in and sweeping parts of the town away. Truly terrifying.

    The harbour, with its many sheltered wharves, friendly people, and good provisioning, as well as fun and interesting walks, has often been both a way stop and refuge from heavy weather for us and many other cruisers. We know it well.

    A welcome haven after the tough beat south along the west coast of Newfoundland, or a crossing of Cabot Strait.

    To remember the town in better times, here are a few photos I took over the years. (Click on each to see them bigger.) The wedding appearing out of the fog is my favourite and says the most to me about good people living in a tough place and making it home. They will fix their town.

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  • Here Comes Fiona

    We are just starting to feel the outer bands of Fiona here at AAC World Headquarters…our cottage in the woods. Thankfully, it looks like we are in the safe semicircle and so will likely avoid the worst of it, but we may be “off air” for a while.

    The photo is our J/109 stripped and snugged down for the storm.

    Phyllis and I are sending good thoughts to those in eastern Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland who it seems will feel the brunt of Fiona.

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  • Securing Mooring Shackles

    Over recent years I have noticed that many mooring service companies, ours included, have started using wire ties instead of seizing wire to secure shackles.

    I always ask for seizing wire and even provide the wire when the mooring is commissioned in the spring.

    But even so, while checking today, I found wire ties.

    Fixed now. Note the locking turns so that even if one strand breaks the seizing will stay put.

    Worth checking what your mooring service company does.

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  • Mooring Check Hack

    With hurricane Fiona heading our way I have just checked our mooring bridle attachment and swivel.

    To make this easy, even though the chain is quite heavy because it was sized for our last boat, I attach a spinnaker halyard to the bridle and hoist it up while it runs over the bow roller, as shown.

    Way easier and less messy than attaching a line to the bridle and running back to a sheet winch.

    Note that this only works in winds under about 8 knots since more breeze will blow the boat back and cause the bridle to jump out of the roller.

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  • Dinghy Tow Rope Q and A


    A few years ago I wrapped the dinghy’s painter round the prop while manoeuvring to anchor in a very crowded anchorage. I don’t like towing a dinghy at sea but we had only come round the corner from a lunch spot and I forget to shorten up the line. 

    My question is: would we be better off with a floating painter ?

    Member, Mark


    I didn’t have a good answer, but AAC member Rob did.

    And that got me interested in options in North America. Turns out that New England ropes makes a line specific for this use, with a polypropylene core to make it float and nylon sheath for easy handling.

    I’m no fan of towing a dinghy, but sometimes it makes sense, so I will try this rope out.

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  • Sail Care Q&A


    What’s the best way to pack and store sails? I am unable to fold the hank on sails properly on deck, in a blow, solo. So I somewhat stuff it in the bag. Then on a nice and calm day, I will dry them by hoisting, and try to fold it as neatly as I can (not very neatly), before putting it in the bag.

    Should sails in general be folded? Folded in the same spot every time, or is it preferred to fold it differently every time? Do they need to be rinsed and dried?

    Member Arne


    People get really worked up about sail care, but as long as they are woven how you fold them is not that important, although folding is generally better than stuffing, but not a lot, as long as the bag is big enough that you don’t have to jump on it to get it to fit.

    If it were me with hank on sails, I would get a couple of sausage bags made, like race sailors use, and then zip them into the bags prior to taking them off the headstay and stow like that without refolding. Any decent sailmaker will be able to make these for you.

    The two things that really hurt sails (of all types) are UV (sunlight) and flapping (flogging), so the key to long life is to always cover them and not let them flap any more than you must.

    When I was sailmaking I always rubbed my hands in glee when I saw customers hoisting their sails and letting them flap in the sun to dry them perfectly.

    Damp is not much of a problem, although it can cause mildew, but better that than a lot of flapping or sun.

    If the sails will be stored for a while, hosing the salt off, drying, and folding is worth it, but again, we want to minimize the flapping and sunlight.

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  • Why We Use Knots and Nautical Miles

    A nice post over at Sailing Scuttlebutt on why we don’t use kilometres at sea and shouldn’t be using metres per second in marine forecasts.

    I couldn’t agree more.

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  • Wichard Self-Locking Shackles

    We had the jib off, so I just replaced all the standard Harken shackles our new furler came with with Wichard self-locking ones.

    We have been using these things for decades in places where wiring the shackle is not a good idea (spinnakers are expensive) and never had one back out on us. Highly recommended and really nicely made.

    That said, on an offshore voyaging boat, I would add a drop of Loctite Blue.

    You can see how they work in the closeup below.

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  • Hack To Stop The Headstay Pumping

    On a lot of boats with a roller-furling foil, and particularly with no sail rolled on it, the headstay will start to pump once the wind gets up, sometimes to the point it gets quite alarming.

    Not only that, all that pumping can do real damage to the rig if left long enough.

    But there’s a hack that stops it every time, at least for a boat swinging to the wind on a mooring or anchor.

    Set up a spinnaker halyard just forward of the headstay as shown in the shot above. That’s it? Yup.

    I guess the halyard causes turbulence that breaks up the laminar flow on the headstay foil…or something.

    Anyway, we have been doing this for years and it works.

    Thanks to Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke, as I read the tip years ago in one of their excellent books.

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  • Nice Bags and No Hole Mounting

    I like these sheet and odds and ends bags from Blue Performance a lot, but I hate drilling holes in our boats.

    So I ordered these snap together fastener strips with adhesive backing to stick on the boat, and disks without adhesive to bolt the little mounting doodads the bags come with to.

    Seems to work well, and the same hack can be used for mounting a bunch of different things.

    The pics below show the details:

    Here are the McMaster Carr part numbers:

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  • Harken Bosun’s Chair

    I let my much-loved and venerable Hood Sails bosun’s chair go with her when we sold our McCurdy and Rhodes 56.

    Just received this replacement from Harken. After a quick look over, I’m liking what I’m seeing a lot, but of course I will know more once I have used it and will share that in a two-part series on going aloft that Matt and I are working on.

    What bosun’s chair do you have and how do you like it? Please leave a comment.

    Note we are not talking climbing harnesses here, that’s a different piece of kit.

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  • Cruiser Under $20K, Bayfield 29

    My last post got me thinking about the importance of just getting out there in some boat, any boat, if we really want to go cruising and make a success of it. We can always buy a bigger and better boat later.

    With that in mind, there’s a Bayfield 29 we go by on our regular rows, that caught my eye as a functional cruiser we could get for half the price of cars most people buy these days.

    So buy a modest car and a Bayfield 29 and get out there. Better still, forget the car and use the money to cruise for a year.

    A guy I met the other day had a Bayfield 29 on Great Slave Lake, got drunk one night in a bar and boasted that he was going to sail it across the Atlantic. So then he had to, and did…and back—testosterone is a dangerous drug.

    That said, I have no special knowledge on the Bayfields, so do your due diligence.

    More on buying boats.

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  • A Boat While You Wait To Go Cruising

    I came across this cool article on old small boats available for less than the cost of a good dinner out.

    One of these would make a great project while waiting and saving to go cruising:

    1. Learn some useful skills while fixing the boat.
    2. Then hone sailing skills.

    The O’Day Day Sailer for US$78 jumped out at me. When I was a teenager this was the boat I lusted after. Sails well and even has a tiny cabin.

    If you want to sleep aboard (definitely camping), look for a Rhodes 19 originally built by the same company, albeit for more money, but you might find an old one for less.

    At one point I taught sailing to adults in one of these, and even spent a few nights aboard sleeping on an air mattress.

    Owning, fixing, and above all sailing one of these old boats is way more fun, and will impart way more useful cruising skills, than watching YouTube about lithium batteries and the Unattainable 45.

    More about getting out there cruising.

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  • Brion Toss Splicing Wand

    I have owned this great tool for at least 25 years. I don’t use it that often, but when I do, it saves so much agro.

    The photo to the right shows the way I was using it locked in a vice to Brummell splice 1/2″ Amsteel.

    No way my little D-splicer was going to work to get 40 inches of tail threaded through.

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