Showing posts with label topping lift. Show all posts
Showing posts with label topping lift. Show all posts

21 February 2020

More Rigging Tweaks - The Topingliftectomy

The boom on a sailboat, while attached rigidly (hopefully) to the mast at one end, is balanced with various up and down forces at the other. There are plenty of down forces: The vang, the mainsheet and the weight of the whole thing.  One of the up forces that most boats have is a topping lift. Some boats also have a rigid vang which pushes the boom up. While sailing, the sail itself is holding the boom up, and during this time, the topping lift is superfluous - or worse.

Capt. Bob

Argon was rigged from the factory with a covered stainless wire topping lift. She was also rigged with a Forespar rigid vang which can push the boom up. When Argon was first commissioned, the boom always hung on the topping lift while the sail was down. The Forespar vang didn't have quite enough push to balance it.

The Forespar Rigid Vang - properly adjusted

One day, I was going through the boat manuals and came upon the Forespar manual. In there, they clearly say that you should  adjust it so it does fully support the boom. Ours had two positions of adjustment left so I moved the pin up to the next set of holes and ever since then, our boom balances perfectly without any tension on the topping lift.

So why have a topping lift at all?

With our rigid vang, the lift still comes in handy when the sail is down and we're motoring (or sailing with headsails only) in rolling conditions. In these circumstances, you really need to stabilize the boom and the only way to do that is to apply a bunch of opposing forces to it - typically by pulling down hard on the sheets against the topping lift pulling up. This was about the only situation where there would ever be any tension on our topping lift.

The New Sail

One of the things we did in Grenada over the summer was have a new Doyle Mainsail made. It was a moderately frustrating experience with needing to have it re-cut three times (each time requiring the sail be removed, taken to the loft and re-installed and tested).  The new sail performed much better and was slightly different from the original in a few ways:
  1. It has slightly more roach (at first, it had way too much roach to tack without hitting the backstay - hence one of the trips back to the loft).
  2. It has two sets of Antal Low-friction rings for the slab reefing line to run through. 
  3. It has really heavy duty batten pockets for the round full battens.
Not related to the topping lift, but here was one of the reasons we had the new sail re-cut three times.  The top three battens were sticking out past the backstay!

These are all great improvements from a performance and sail handling standpoint; but a new problem emerged.

The Topping Lift Cries Foul!

During one of the first sails with the new sail, the topping lift got fouled and wedged in one of the leech line cleats.  It was brute force alternately raising and pulling down on the reefing line to finally break it free - but not without shredding the vinyl coating over the stainless wire.
The shredded coating on the topping lift wire caused by getting caught in the leech line cleat.

My clever fix for that was to put some whipping line around the cleat to prevent anything from entering it.

Whipping line around the leech line cleat to try and keep the topping lift out. You can see it still tries to get in there.

That worked for that particular foul point and we were fairly trouble free... for a while. During a few subsequent sails, we noticed the topping lift was getting hung up on the batten pockets on the sail. While this never prevented the sail coming down, it made us nervous to see it caught on anything up there.

Approaching Barbuda

"Not a lot of time before the reefs."
"Okay, I know".
"Let's get the sail down"
"Working on it"
"Really not much time!"
"I know!"
"We really need the sail down now!"
"I'm really trying!"

On our passage to Barbuda, we made a final approach into the wind outside of the more hazardous shallows. I went forward to lower the sail and flake it and noticed that the Topping Lift was very seriously fouled - this time on one of the Antal reefing line rings.  Not only that, but it had gotten caught on the block for our split backstay! So, not only would the sail not come down, but we couldn't really turn off the wind without putting a lateral load on the back stay... and those shallows were not far ahead!

The topping lift caught in front of one of the Antal reefing line rings

Once again, it was extreme brute force and some back and forth tacks that got things to finally shake loose.  We dropped the sail in a heap and navigated in through the coral heads.  Phew!

Having just struggled with lowering the sail (again), I assume my duties as eyeball navigator lookout.

This Thing Has To Go

I made the executive decision right then to get rid of the topping lift. For the few downsides I could think of with not having one, I now had a bigger downside with having it: Sooner or later, we would have a serious problem and not be able to get this huge sail down - and it would probably be offshore, at 2AM in driving rain and 40kts of wind.

The worst thing that will happen if the boom comes too low is we will damage the canvas on the top of the bimini. This is a brand new expensive bimini so that actually is a pretty bad thing that I would like to avoid.  Having a properly adjusted topping lift prevents that from happening for sure.

One More Idea

Before we did it, I wanted to try one more thing. I put a loop of shock cord from the end of the boom up to the shackle at the end of the wire topping lift and put a lot of tension on it.  The idea being that when the sail is up and lifts the boom, that shock cord will still have some tension on it and at least keep the topping lift a little bit tight so it's not as apt to fling around and get caught on stuff.
It didn't work.  I tried a few different adjustments and never got it to apply very much tension to the topping lift at all. Certainly not enough to guarantee we wouldn't have a problem.

Last chance for the Topping Lift.  Will this shock cord keep it taught enough to stay out of trouble while sailing?

Apparently not (and it looks ugly too). You can see it's caught on the antal ring again even though the shock cord is applying some tension to it

Not So Lazy Jacks

So, it's decided for sure - the thing really has to go.  One thing we wanted to double check on was the condition of the main Lazy Jack line. We replaced it with dyneema in Bermuda on the way down but this all made us realize that the lazy jacks might end up with some more tension on them than they used to have (in hindsight, they actually don't) so we wanted to make sure they were in good shape.  Just for fun, we replaced the main line with a new piece of dyneema (44 ft long to be exact).

Proof Of Concept

During those times motoring or sailing without a main in rough conditions, how are we going to stabilize the boom?  Since we can't pull up anymore, we need to think lateral.  We already have a Wichard Boom Brake installed. Part of the solution could be just snugging that up.  When we're at anchor, we typically tie the boom over (to port in the Caribbean) with a dock line to maximize the sun on our solar panels. We decided to make a dedicated line with a snap shackle to be the special line for this purpose.  I made it out of 8mm three strand nylon so it's got a nice amount of elasticity. We figured we would alter our sail dropping protocol slightly by having whoever goes forward to flake, clip this thing to the boom and run it around our midships cleat on the way.  Then as the sail comes down, the traveler is pulled to the opposite side. Between this new line going one way, and the mainsheet going the other, we have some nice lateral stability.

It worked!

We tried this out by completely loosening the topping lift one day (a particularly rolly day actually) and it worked perfectly.  The Boom was quiet and still and in no danger of coming down low enough to touch the bimini.

Getting It Done

We had reserved a week in Simpson Bay Marina in St Maarten coming up, so this was the perfect time to get this and many other pent up boat projects done.

The first job was to replace the lazy jack line.  Unfortunately, I never wrote down the measurement when we replaced it in Bermuda (I had a few other things on my mind at the time) so we had to first pull the existing one through and leave a messenger line in the mast so that we could measure it.  Note to future Bob: it's 44 feet.

Linda ready to go aloft to replace the lazy jack line (new one is coiled in the chair)
The mast sheaves for the lazy jack line. There was no chafing to be seen but we replaced it anyway

I get the easy job of doing a quick Brummel Splice in the new lazy jack line

Running the new lazyjack line

Linda's view from aloft just above the first spreader.
Next, Linda had to go all the way to the top to actually remove the topping lift from the mast crane.

Closeup of the topping lift 65 feet up at the crane.

Successful extraction.

Free At Last

The topping lift is gone.  We kept it just in case, although if I ever did replace it, it would be with dyneema. The old one will make a nice memento along with our old broken headstay.

Will there be times we wish we had it?  Maybe.  But for all the rest of the time, it is one huge thing to not have to worry about anymore.

The rig looks cleaner and more streamlined and as you can see below, there is plenty of safe distance between the bottom of the boom and the top of the bimini when the sail is down. I left a soft shackle on the end of the boom that we can always clip our main halyard to. Between that and the former spin halyard, we can take the boom off the mast to work on it.

After dropping the sail, the boom is quiet with plenty of clearance above the bimini
At rest in an anchorage (even a rolly one which we are very good at finding), the boom is quiet. Between the Wichard Brake, the new line and the mainsheet, there is a nice triangle which applies plenty of lateral support without pulling down enough to compress the vang spring.

The new line on padeye behind the vang. The Wichard Brake and the mainsheet make a nice triangle which stabilizes the boom in the rolliest anchorage.

Under sail, things look so much cleaner up there! No more chance of fouling in the leech line cleat, batten pockets or reefing rings.

No more flailing topping lift banging into the sail and getting caught on stuff.

This is all new.  When I told folks we were going to do this, a few tried to talk me out of it. Others said they had done something similar and had no regrets. To me any downside of not having this lift is outweighed by removing the dangerous situation of not being able to drop this sail. Time will tell...

29 January 2020

Boat Projects in Paradise

Living on a boat, especially in the Caribbean, can be heavenly. Every day I am grateful for this lifestyle. There is, however, far less lounging on the beach with a mojito than one may assume. The adventure and relaxing segments are necessarily heavily intermingled with constant attention to the inner and outer workings of the vessel to keep her looking spiffy, functioning well, and sailing safely.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Quite a few boat projects were tackled back in November in the immediate weeks after Argon was  launched in Grenada. Most days since then include at least a sprinkling of boat chores or logistics. Some days are consumed by projects. Here is a sampling of fairly routine boat maintenance and repairs we have tackled recently during a couple of weeks in Antigua - often at anchor, sometimes tied up at Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbor.

Electrical:  Solar Panel Performance

We have four flexible panels mounted on the bimini and dodger with a total rated capacity of 385 watts. We should be able to depend on around 100AH (Amp-Hours) of energy from these on a typical Caribbean sunny day but the generated energy has been somewhat sub par. Step one was to clean all of the connectors and terminals between the panels and the controllers with alcohol. The good news is that our primary panel (the 135w on the bimini) is now doing great, as is the port side 100w panel.  The not so good news is that we're still getting a little less energy than we should and it's clearly because the starboard side 100w panel is just not performing. We've cleaned everything we can on that panel and we sadly conclude that the panel is failing.

All of the connectors for the solar panels were cleaned with alcohol.

Amperage readings in collected over the course of a day showing peak of about 17 amps midday - less than what it should be if all solar panels were functioning well.

Being the nerds we are, we plotted the net income of Amps from the panels for each daylight hour (over several days).  If that starboard panel was performing, the peak would be well over 20A. Seventeen is the highest we record. The main power consumers are the fridge and our work laptops. The fridge is probably using about 60-70 A-H per day (depending on how many ice cubes we can have in our drinks). Our work laptops have 130w power bricks and they need to be plugged in quite a few hours a day. The end result is unless we can get ashore for powering the laptops part of the day, more is going out than is coming in and we still need to run the engine periodically to make up the deficit.

Electrical:  New Windlass Switches (again!)

When at anchor in Maine, USA a few years ago, we learned that the up and down switches for the windlass are woefully unreliable when our windlass suddenly started paying out chain - potentially very dangerous. Now, as a precaution, we now always keep the breaker for the windlass off except when preparing to set or weigh anchor. And, despite replacing the switches with better quality ones, they continue to eventually start to fail after some time. It's not surprising really considering the location way up front on the bow where they are regularly being blasted by salt water waves while sailing. While in Antigua recently, Bob replaced the pair yet again (and purchased another set of spares for when these fail).

Crouching in the bow locker replacing the windlass switches (again).

IT Support:  Flaky WiFi Router

Starting around Martinique, we noticed that our trusty Bullet Wifi Router was starting to not work reliably (even when we could find some wifi to hijack). Bob was down in to a locker again (this time the transom locker) to get access to the network connection to the Bullet. He put a PoE (Power Over Ethernet) tester inline to see if the Bullet was getting power. It was. And... it was also working now.

Bob squeezing in to the transom locker to access the wifi network cabling.

The PoE tester inline with the Bullet. Plenty of power going through.

The diagnosis: Just interrupting and reconnecting the bullet "fixed" it - meaning we have a flaky connection. Bob cleaned the connectors with alcohol and it's been fine... until today. As we edit this blog and get ready to upload, the Bullet is wigging out again. It may be time to just cut the wires and re-crimp new connectors. In the meantime, we will clean the connectors again and cross our fingers. Mobile data has been our front line strategy for connectivity anyway as it has been rare that we can use the Bullet to slurp up some free wifi.

Cleaning:  Polishing and Waxing

The continual salt and intense sun are formidable opponents to a clean and well functioning boat. Salt spray while sailing gets everywhere and given our need to conserve water, we welcome the occasional heavy downpour for a good rinsing. In addition, it is necessary to rid the surfaces of salt before tackling the polishing and waxing. 

Quite a bit time is spent addressing rust spots on the stainless steel and keeping it shiny with extra attention needed in small crevices, around screws, at the base of stanchions and inside turnbuckles. As with waxing the gelcoat in the cockpit and on deck, this is normally done in the morning and late afternoon hours to avoid the intense heat of midday.

This pic is taken shortly after a welcome rainstorm. We sometimes get out on the deck with sponges during heavy rain to clean off the baked on salt. The cool freshwater rinse of our sweaty bodies is a bonus.

Cleaning off the extra stubborn rust spots and polishing the bow roller.

Shiny bow roller. (I wish I took a before picture too.)

Some of the tools and products for waxing and polishing. Flintz for routine stainless steel polishing; OsPho for the more difficult rusty spots; ScotchGuard wax and 3M light compound-wax combination for the gelcoat.

Bilge and Sump Cleaning

Ah, that important albeit dirty, stinky gully beneath the floorboards... We finally made ourselves pull up the flooring, get on hands and knees, and scrub out the bilge, rinse, repeat. And, while we're down there, there is the sump receptacle that catches the grimy shower and sink water. Cleaning the pumps carefully with a toothbrush to get out all the crude accumulated in every corner restores faith in their reliability. We also used this opportunity to test the manual bilge pump - check!

Cleaning of the sump and bilge.

Thorough cleaning of the Rule 1100gph bilge pump.

Cleaning:  Corroded Propane Tanks 

We have two small (10 pound) propane tanks for our stove/oven. When one empties, we arrange for a refill asap to be sure we never run out completely. With regular use one tank lasts 2 to 3 months. The base of the tanks have corroded severely (but luckily the integrity of the tanks remain) causing some damage to the locker as well as lots of noise as they bounce around while sailing. We searched for fiberglass replacements in Antigua but no luck. In the meantime, the locker was cleaned out and we were able to secure a makeshift new base for the tanks out of cut up pool noodles. (One day I'll do a blog on all the various uses of pool noodles on a boat.)

The base of both propane tanks have corroded.

Cleaning: The Bottom

Argon started off the season in November with a smooth, freshly painted bottom. Despite the effective anti-fouling paint, regular scrapping of barnacles and algae growth is needed to prevent growth from getting out of hand. A dirty bottom can dramatically negatively effect a boat's speed also.

Regular snorkling with a scraper or brush to keep the bottom clean.


Inspecting:  Air Conditioner and Steering Mechanism

As we were docked at Nelson's Dockyard for several days, were were able to plug in to shore power - yeah! In addition to not having to monitor and ration electrical usage continually, we could even turn on the air conditioner! But since this would be the first time running it since April, we did an inspection first.

Argon's air conditioning unit is below the forward V berth thus requires the bed to be cleared and mattress to be pulled out.

Inspecting the air conditioning unit - all working well!

At the opposite end of the boat.... we cleared out the aft cabin. The aft cabin functions as our storage closet on board holding all sorts of things including water and diesel jugs, side panels for the cockpit, 2 guitars and other music gear, deflated paddle board and paddle, charts, storm sail, fishing poles, pool noodles and cockpit cushions. We have not used this space for its intended sleeping berth for several years.

Once cleared, the back access panel is removed to allow inspection of the steering mechanism and the vented loop for the sump.

Steering mechanism looks mostly good except for...

Collar seal around the rudder bearing is torn. Luckily no water is seeping in and although not urgent, its replacement is important. Add to the list.

New Dock Lines and Eye Splicing

Ninety feet of 3 strand dock line was purchased to make 2 new 45 foot dock lines. Bob has gotten quite proficient with various types of splicing.

Making eye splices for the new dock lines.

Re-attaching the Jib Furling Drum

Furling in the jib had been oddly difficult and upon examination, we realized the furling drum was not attached properly since Grenada. The pin which sets the height of the drum was not going through the hole it was supposed to. It was going through a larger opening in the rigging toggles allowing the drum to wobble and turn very hard when the line had a heavy load. On a low wind morning while docked we took down the jib to enable lifting of the mechanism and re-attaching it properly. Then the jib was re-hoisted and furled before the winds kicked in.

Adjusting the jib furling drum on a low wind morning while docked at Nelson's Dockyard.

Oh, And Still On the To Do List...

We have since finished our time in Antigua and have started a new boat chore list including: cleaning the bottom of the dinghy, addressing issues with the toping lift, lazy jack refit, rudder collar seal replacement, more stainless polishing and gel coat waxing, cockpit teak cleaning, water tank sanitation, pad eye retrieval and fabrication, sail track car/bearing inspection, vented loop replacement, etc... Ah, the luxurious cruising life!

The dinghy desperately needs a good bottom cleaning. The algae growth is very stubborn and not easily scrubbed off the hypalon surface. The outboard needs to come off and the dinghy brought on land or on a dock with an assortment of chemicals and elbow grease.

We need to retrieve a broken pad eye out of the boom which will entail removing the main sail and tilting the boom forward (hopefully).
The topping lift will be a whole project blog to come. But the short version is that since getting the new main sail in Grenada last November, we're having a lot of trouble with the topping lift getting fouled on batten pockets and reefing rings on the leech of the main sail due to the increase in roach. More than once, the fouled topping lift prevented the mainsail from being swiftly dropped - one time while we were approaching some dangerous reefs. After much consideration of options, we have decided to remove the topping lift and make some other modifications. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog on how we will manage sans topping lift.

The topping lift hanging up on one of the frictionless Antal rings for the reefing line.

And Now for that Mojito...

In between boat projects, day jobs, and sailing, there is much to enjoy! This is a unique and eclectic lifestyle indeed. Consistent attention to maintenance, repairs and inspections is just part of the cruising lifestyle and enables us to appreciate the more relaxing aspects of island life.

It is not all work! (But perhaps while we are in the water, we should scrub the rudder and water line...)