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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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).


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


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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Inflatable Boat Maintenance Wisdom

Our old Avon back when it was a youngster (driver too) pushing a growler off a shorefast, East Coast of Greenland.

I just got off the phone with a local guy who repairs inflatable boats.

Seems like he really knows of what he speaks. I learned a few things:

  • Hypalon, the material our old Avon is made of, goes on pretty much forever, even when exposed to sun. He sees old Hypalon Avons still holding air after sixty, yes sixty, years.
  • Parts are still available for old Avon dinghies, even though the brand is out of business—bought by Zodiac and then trashed…but I’m not bitter.
  • He says he can fix pretty much anything that needs it on this old dinghy, and that when he gets done it will be functional for many more years.
  • If the floor is leaking on any flexible bottom inflatable:
    1. Wait for nightfall
    2. Take the boards out
    3. Flip the dinghy upside down
    4. Put a bright light under it
    5. Circle the little stars of light you see with chalk
    6. Flip over and patch the chalk circles

He is going to rehab our nearly four-decade old Avon. If it goes another 20 years I’m thinking I might be done with it.

Final tip from me: Hypalon may be a lot more expensive, but it’s worth every penny.

More on dinghies (tenders).

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Lubricate Steering Chains and Cables

I mentioned in another tip that I have just finished a full maintenance on the steering gear on our new-to-us J/109 and that nothing was properly lubricated before I started and probably never had been.

On that subject, I have long noticed that the chain and steering cables on many boats are bereft of any grease, even if the rest of the gear is well maintained.

I think this is a mistake, particularly if we are putting on big-time miles, as Phyllis and I were for three decades on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56.

So I always lubricate the chain where it goes over the sprocket, and the cables where they go over sheaves, with my favourite Lubriplate 130-AA grease.

I just put a glove on and slather it on, although I guess a little brush would work too, but that way we don’t get it in our hair…a little dab’ll do ya—if you know what that was about, you are old, too.

Once a year or every 10,000 miles seems to keep everything well and truly slippery.


When Did Your Steering Last Feel The Love?

I’m just about finished rebuilding the steering gear, less the rudder since we did that last year, on our new to-us J/109.

When I pulled it apart half the bearings fell out and there was not a drop of grease or oil on any of it…except the brake pad, where we don’t want it!

I’m guessing Tillotson Pearson assembled it dry 18 years ago when they built the boat and it has not been looked at since.

A steering failure looking for a place to happen.

  1. So even if your boat is brand new, it’s worth checking that the steering gear was greased by the builder.
  2. And, in my view, the steering gear should be fully disassembled and checked over every five years or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first.

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Dive Weights Are Useful In The Workshop

It’s amazing how often I use the stack of dive weights I needed to get neutral when wearing my Arctic-level dry suit, (bought when we were cruising the high latitudes) to hold stuff down or together while glue is kicking off.

In the photo above the weights were invaluable while I was splatting¹ new TreadMaster on our companionway top step.

The heft and curved surface of dive weights works great for this function.

Worth having a few around in the workshop even if we aren’t divers.

¹A technical term Phyllis and I developed while spending three months covering the deck of our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 with TreadMaster.


Winch-Cleaning Solvent

I have always cleaned winches with kerosene, but I hate the smell and I’m guessing that breathing the vapours for hours is not good for us.

So last winter I tried this water-based degreaser from WD-40, even though I don’t like or use their spray lubricant.

The stuff really works. After a good soak the old grease came right off. No smell, and probably better for the environment, although we did take the used stuff to a hazardous waste drop-off.

Is it the best water-based degreaser? Who knows…or cares. It was available at the local hardware store and solved (ouch) my problem.


Credit Where It’s Due: McMaster-Carr

Phyllis and I have been buying tools, fastenings, and half a hundred other things from McMaster Carr for decades, and are such fans that I often say that if the company goes out of business I’m selling our boat and taking up golf…and I hate golf.

Over all those years, and hundreds of orders, I can only remember McMaster-Carr making a mistake twice.

The second time was two weeks ago when I ordered a 5mm tap and got a 1/2″ drill bit.

I emailed them with the photo above and in less than half an hour they replied:

I apologize we delivered the incorrect item. We will issue a replacement for the material you didn’t receive. We will deliver a replacement on Thursday between 2- 4pm.

There is no need to return the drill bit to us. Feel free to keep or discard as you see fit.

And two days after that, I had the tap in hand. No fuss, no excuses, no requirement to return, no RMA bureaucracy, no customs clearance hassles (they always deal with all that), and zero cost to us.

All companies make mistakes, what differentiates good companies from bad ones is how they handle their mistakes. It don’t get no better than McMaster-Carr.


Sealing a Paint Can

Pounding a paint lid down in the centre with a hammer is an all-too-frequently seen practice that will ruin the remaining paint in short order since the distorted lid will not seal properly.

In this case there is $250 worth of my paint in this can that will likely be ruined by next season.

I have brought this to the attention of the yard in question. All yards make mistakes, but if we want things to get better we need to bring it up when they do, but in a non-confrontational way—more yard management tips here.

As I’m sure most of you know, the right way to seal a paint can is to first press the lid down firmly with our hands and then gently and progressively, while working around the can, tap the rim into place with a wood or rubber mallet.


Dripless Shaft Seal Bellows Adjustor

Ever tried to get the bellows perfectly compressed to specification on a PYI dripless shaft seal, or similar, while at full-arm stretch in the bilge, and then get the little set-screws tight before the stainless steel rotor slips back?

Sucks, right? But if we don’t get this adjustment right think sunk boat.

Our friend Phil, he of the amazing salvage, made this gadget up for our friend Hans, he of the great in-boom furling tutorial.

Very simple, very clever, and easy for a machine shop to make.

And, after getting the bellows adjusted right, we could even take the jacking screws out and leave the tool clamped down against the rotor for added security against slippage.


Don’t Guess Antifreeze

I confess I used to just flush out the systems on our boat until the antifreeze came out the end looking “pink enough”.

But that approach can either result in a lot of expensive damage if the antifreeze is overly diluted by the water in the system, or end up being wasteful and expensive when we “use one more jug just to be sure”.

A refractometer is a way better way and can be used to check liquid-filled batteries and engine antifreeze as well.

My kit cost a bit over US$100 when I bought it a few years ago, but I see there are refractometers on Amazon for $20. Anyone have any idea if the cheap ones are reliable?


Sounding Hammer Trick

I was working with a very experienced and smart composite technician today to check out a crack in the gel coat in the bilge of our J/109.

I was pretty sure it was not structural and just the result of sloppy gel coat application but wanted a pro to check.

He sounded it with a hammer, just like anyone would, but then put his hand down as shown and explained that if there is a void he will be able to feel “bounce back” when he taps. Never seen that before.

Good news: all is fine. He figures someone just poured resin in to level it. Seen it before. That said, he is going to grind it out and repair it right with cloth and then brush gel coat.

Says it should take about half a day. The good guys are fast, too. If I tried it, it would take half a day to get the resin out of my hair, never mind the repair.

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