06 November 2018

Bermuda Passage: A Spot of Bother

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Friday 2 November - St. George, Bermuda (4 days after leaving Newport):  A contorted sixty foot aluminum headstay with a thick stainless steel cable interior lays out of place along side Argon at the seawall in Bermuda, just a stone's throw across the inlet from the Customs Dock. It is oddly twisted with a shattered roller furler at her distal end. The local and semi-famous rigger, Steve Hollis of Ocean Sails, comes wandering up with his two dogs on leash having already heard about our tribulations through the cruising chatter and says in his understated, polite manner "Well, well... looks like you've got a spot of bother here". Yup.

Argon's bent and sagging head stay, tangled genoa and jib, and lashed on roller furler upon arrival in Bermuda.

Newport to Bermuda...

... is a common passage for cruisers from New England to make this time of year on their transit to the Caribbean. On a decent boat, it's typically four to five days (~650nm/750 miles). The trick is that it is often difficult to find a window between weather systems of more than two or three days this time of year. The other challenge is that one must cross a 50nm wide river on the way:  the Gulf Stream.

We had our weather window and we had our excellent crew. The synopsis of the weather was that it was going to be difficult on the front end, then ease up as the passage went on. If we waited, things would have been a little easier at the start but we would have had more headwinds for longer at the end. We chose a departure date along with about 20 other boats from Newport Yachting Center.

Many sailboats gathering at Newport Yachting Center in late October preparing to head off shore to Bermuda as a stopping point on their way to the Caribbean.


Monday 29 October:  Uncomfortable Start, as Expected

We left the Yachting Center dock in Newport at 0930 and headed out to sea with a few other boats close behind. Immediately upon leaving the harbor, we encountered some fairly uncomfortable seas sailing high into oncoming 6-8ft waves. This was expected but that didn't really help make it any more fun. Jeff and Linda had a bit of an issue with sea-sickness during this time. Jeff won for sheer volume but Linda took style points. We were sailing close reach with a double-reefed main and the jib.

These conditions remained for the whole day but toward nightfall, the winds started to veer and we got a little more off the wind. Things got a bit more comfortable but not much. The wind eventually did get around enough to switch from the jib to the genoa initially on a beam then a broad reach. Helming required much physical exertion and concentration; certainly no autopilot.

Linda working the helm on Argon during the first day.

Tuesday 30 October:  Challenging but Fast

The wind continued to veer and the waves were not so head on. Argon screamed along at 10-12kts most of the time under a reefed main and the 150 genoa in 18-25kts of wind. At about 1700 hrs we were at 38N and just entering the Gulf Stream. As we watched the water temperature tick up from about 56 degrees to a balmy 76 we expected things to get nasty but surprisingly, the stream was relatively smooth... for now. Still requiring deliberate working of the wheel but seas were following and not dramatically erratic.

The partially enclosed cockpit kept us relatively warm and dry during the front end of the trip and our entry in to the Gulf Stream.

Wednesday 31 October:  The Finicky Gulf Stream Screams "I'm not done with ya yet!"

Note: No photos during the shit-storm.

At about midnight Tuesday night in to the early morning hours of Wednesday, Lance was working the helm hard as we were nearing the outer edge of the Gulf Stream while the rest of us tried to rest amidst the howling wind and roar of ocean against the hull. Bob took over from an exhausted Lance around 0100 and resumed the struggle still sailing very fast with a reefed main and the genoa when the sea state took a pretty sudden turn for the worse. We encountered some very steep and confused waves that were tossing Argon around pretty hard. Eventually, these waves started hitting our quarter and rounding us up into the wind. I was trying to rest down below to have the strength to get through my upcoming turn at the wheel but was kept awake not only by the severe motion of the boat and the normal loud creeks and sounds of water rushing against the hull, but also an unusual seemingly vibrato noise radiating down the port side chain plates where I lay. Bob began to struggle more with controlling the boat yelling some expletives when I jumped up to help.

Since we were carrying the powerful 150% genoa, it was very difficult to steer back off the wind and we found ourselves stuck beam-to the seas. When we were rounded up high into the wind, the rig was shaking violently. The cockpit was repeatedly flooded with large (and very warm) waves. At about this time I called down below for Lance and Jeff to join us in the cockpit. Bob was still at the helm when another large wave came rolling over the starboard coaming. Bob recalls looking down and seeing the autopilot display under water! Another wave rolled over the cabin house top and unfortunately spilled down below in to the galley and salon (as Lance and Jeff were suiting up). This wave set off our SOS Dan Buoy which inflated in the cockpit, its strobe light flashing. Bob thought, "well at least we know it works" whereas I momentarily panicked as I thought it was a spreader that had come down. In another few seconds, the LP gas alarm started going off... it was quite the cacophony! (We eventually ruled out a gas leak and determined it was due to the sensor that had gotten wet from the incoming water.)  All of these things raised the intensity of the situation... it was like being in a flight simulator when they start throwing in faults for you to solve under pressure. But this was no drill and we were hundreds of miles from help.

We attempted to roll up the genoa and found it very difficult to do so. Clouds obscured the partial moon obliterating the horizon making staying oriented extra difficult. We sacrificed our night vision and turned on the deck light for some forward visibility. This is when it was clear that something was seriously wrong with the rig. The outer headstay that carries the genoa is normally not extremely tight and has a bit of sag, but this was way beyond sag... it was bowed away from the boat in a large arch. The outer stay had come lose from the masthead. We fought to roll up the genoa as best as we could with Bob and Jeff precariously on the foredeck, Lance in the cockpit using all his might with the furling line and sheets. And me working the helm struggling to keep Argon downwind but not jibe. We attempted to put the jib out to relieve some pressure from the wind on the genoa but the jib was now getting fouled with the sagging and swinging outer headstay. Upon rolling the jib back up, it got horribly twisted upon itself as the waves and wind continued to batter us.

The manhandling of the genoa took all four of us working in orchestrated chaos... Bob and Jeff bravely spent quite a bit of time on the fore deck in the churning seas as Argon continued to get rounded up and crazy waves bombarded us from seemingly every direction. Although tethered in, I was petrified that one or both would loose their balance and be thrown over a life line only to be in a different type of peril. I managed the helm trying to navigate the waves (there had already been a few unintentional jibes earlier in the evening). Lance did all the line work from the cockpit including somehow eventually getting the genoa furling line coaxed with Bob and Jeff working the sail from the bow. All of this was done over the constant roar of the wind in the rig and the rushing of water against the hull.

Once we finally got the genoa mostly furled, Bob secured the furling drum to the bow with a dock line and we sailed along dead downwind still in complete darkness with just the reefed main to minimize the whacking of the loose outer head stay against the taught inner stay with only the reefed main. A few hours later at daybreak with some muscle and Lance's idea from past experience during a race, we got the jib untwisted and re-deployed... revealing a dramatic diagonal three foot tear about a third of the way up; but still providing a bit of power.

Bob back on the foredeck the morning after in calmer seas with the flailing headstay with partially furled genoa and the sliced jib.

We were soaked, physically spent, and emotionally fried. But encouraged that we had things under control. I was still massively nervous that the whipping around of the heavy headstay was going work it's way loose from the mast and come crashing down on the deck (and the crew).

Spectacular sunrise the morning after.

Conditions were expected to ease up over the rest of the passage and thankfully they did. The stress on our broken rig was reduced but we could not forget that we still had a headstay hanging by the halyard sixty feet above our heads. We could have chucked it (and the genoa) overboard by removing a pin at the bottom, but we decided that since conditions were easing so much, we would continue carrying it and hopefully salvaging the headstay. We periodically eased a bit of halyard out to spread out potential chaff spot as we fired up the motor on relatively flat seas with easing winds.

Recuperating after a difficult night

The weather was continuing to soften and we found ourselves in very light and variable winds under clear and warming skies all day. We expected the wind to continue to veer around behind us so at about 1400 we fired up the engine for what we thought would be a relatively short motor until we got a better wind angle later.

We have about 75 gallons of diesel at this point which should be enough for the rest of the passage, but not by much.

Sagging head stay with the attachment plate pulled away from the top of the mast.

Thursday 1 November: Lots of Sun and Shorts, But Low on Fuel

The wind did not veer and pick up as we hoped/expected - it stayed light and directly on our nose. We spent a lot of time stressing over the dwindling fuel gauge. Lots of typing on a calculator and frowning followed. The wind was definitely not going to cooperate and it was becoming clear that we would likely be motoring the rest of the way and would cut it very close with fuel. Our calculations, even being extra conservative, indicated we should have enough fuel but the gauge did not agree.

The lights of Bermuda were just beginning to illuminate a patch of the sky on the distant horizon. Our destination seemed so close, but it was still 10 or 11 hours away. The fuel gauge did not look like it had 10 hrs left in it... as it bounced between E and up to maybe 3/8. At this point, we killed the engine and turned off the tiny bit of wind as Bob was sure we wouldn't make it. Everyone woke up, and we decided to get a first hand look at how much fuel was in the tank... Bob and I pulled the cushions off the port settee and opened the access panel on the top of the tank.

Shining a flashlight down into the hole, and using a kitchen knife as a dip stick, we saw a very reassuring sight: the tank was still at about 40% (which was in line with our calculations).  By now we figured we had done about 75% of the required motoring so we were sure we would make it. We fired the engine back up and motored on (checking the diesel level manually via our sophisticated method one more time several hours later... just to be sure).

Jeff and Linda peering up at the wildly swinging head stay hoping it would not come crashing down.

Friday 2 November:  Bermuda In Sight and Arrival

All of this time, we still had the main sail up to try and get a little bit of lift, but now the wind was so light and directly on the nose, that it wasn't helping. At about 0200, in the dark cloak of night of course, Bob and I were on watch and we decided to lower the main sail. This routine maneuver turned out to be more stressful and hairy than it should have been. Our lazy jacks had broken at some point earlier in the passage and lowering the main just dumped the huge, slippery sail all over the deck. Bob first tried to bundle the sail with some sail ties but eventually resorted to dock lines. During this operation, Bob lost his balance and nearly had a good fall but managed to catch himself. It was just one more unnerving thing.

As we approached Bermuda on the final stretch, the wind kicked in directly on our nose. We did not attempt to sail both because of the amount of beating needed, but also since the torn jib would have further marginalized our VMG. We knew we had enough fuel to plow directly on.

Happy crew on the home stretch.

Our first contact with Bermuda Radio was an encouraging milestone 20 miles out still in the dark of early morning hours; followed a few hours later in the morning light of overcast skies with radio confirmation upon reaching Mills Buoy that we could proceed through The Town Cut in to St George Harbor and the customs dock.

Motoring through The Town Cut in to St. George Harbor with our sagging headstay, lose genoa, ripped jib, and messily bundled main sail.

A ritual upon arrival after a long passage is a toast with Dark-n-Stormy's. But Lance and Jeff jumped in to action as soon as we tied to the seawall taking down the damaged sails and removing the headstay. The DnS's would wait a bit longer.

Taking down the torn up sails for repairs.

Carefully lowering the head stay.

Evaluating the twisted head stay and busted roller furler.

We salvaged what we could from the outer headstay, including some of the furling drum parts, pins and other rigging hardware.  The foil itself was deemed trash. Bob borrowed a torch from Steve Hollis to try and disassemble it, but quickly switched to a borrowed sawsall to chop it up.

Bits and pieces.
Argon's happy crew with her busted, disassembled head stay.

Argon's neighborhood while awaiting repairs (view from the road leading up to Bermuda Radio).

Close up of the damaged carbon fiber where the attachment plate for the head stay pulled away from the top of the mast.

Now we are immersed in a full damage assessment as well as triangulating communications with the local rigger, Tartan and the insurance company. We are immensely grateful that we all made it to Bermuda with only minor injuries (lots of bruises), a broken but repairable sailboat, and relationships stronger than when we departed. Just a spot of bother.

03 August 2018

Data Are a Thing

I believe we're goin' places again this winter.  I'm sure Linda will fire up her blogging machine soon with details. But it's time to revisit and collect lessons learned about having data while traveling abroad (or out of your carrier's service area).

Bob Damiano

We wrote in detail about this topic while we were in the Caribbean and still stinging from some hard (and expensive) lessons.  Here are a few more ideas.

Dark Side Disclaimer

Our computers are Windows and our mobile devices are Android.  Yes, we are fully on the dark side. Yes we are very happy to be on the dark side. I am certain that there are equivalent settings for most of what I show here on MacOs and iOS.  In fact they are probably much more superior and shiny and sparkly.

Metered Connection

This is new in Windows10 and it's a great feature. When I wrote about this last time, I didn't realize how useful and important this was. But Windows10 is a downloading fiend if you don't enable this feature.
You can designate any of your wireless connections as Metered. Windows treats these connections differently and the OS itself will do much less chatter over them.  To set this up, just right click on the connection and choose properties. In the settings dialog, just flip the switch.

This setting is per-user, so if you have multiple user accounts on your laptop like we do, make sure it's set for everybody.You also have to have admin privileges to make this change. On my work computer, I had to temporarily elevate myself to make the change. Don't tell the boss.

Note that you can also set a data limit per wireless connection.  I don't do this myself because since I'm working along the way, running out is not an option.

Turning Metered Connection ON for my Android Phone Hotspot

Some Applications like the Microsoft Office Suite pay attention to this metered connection status and will give you an opportunity to not use it.  Probably other apps do or will soon start having similar prompts.

Microsoft Outlook asking if I really really want to connect to this Metered Connection

Biz Email For us Working Stiffs

If you are connected to an office and working while traveling, my condolences. But, if you are using Outlook at your company, you might want to ask your friendly (ha!) IT department if they've also turned on the Outlook Webapp.  If they have and you really want to conserve, I strongly suggest using it rather than the Office Outlook Application.  The Outlook Application is quite the little chatterbox.  Warning: the user experience of using the outlook webapp is pretty miserable. You get used to it.


Boy, isn't that gmail app pretty these days?  Sure is, but that fancy "rich client" application is a bit of a pig. If you can live with a functional but less gorgeous and reactive user interface, you can save a lot of bandwidth by using the HTML version of Gmail.  It's right here:

It does all the bits you need but without the fluff.

Phones are Data Pigs

They way phones inhale data, it's almost as though they are connected to a limited costly mobile data plan.  Oh wait... they are.
One general thing you can do to reduce this is to turn off Automatic App Updates.  If you're like me, you have a zillion apps and they are all doing periodic updates.
In the App Store settings turn off Auto-update apps.
But of course, you want your apps to update.  This puts it on you to manually do the updates when you are sitting on some free wifi somewhere.  I've been on mobile data for about ten days as I write this, and I see I have 36 pending updates. They will wait.

That Chatty Facebook

Not everybody has Facebook, but for the 99.99999% who do, here's an important one.  Facebook notifications burn up data.  Not much per-notification, but if you have 70 friends who are all posting pictures of what they had for diner or their child's 39th week birthday, it adds up. On one of our offshore legs, I connected my phone to the satellite to do a quick email check to see if anything important came from our weather router.  As soon as my phone found a network, ding, ding, ding ding... "Frank is interested in an event near you".  "Mary had Oysters at an Oyster Bar - yum!!".  I looked at the console in the satellite app and those two vital communications cost about $5.

Go deep into the Facebook app settings and turn off Push Notifications. Again, turn them back on when you're on someone else's dime if you want to be sure not to miss anyone's cute cat pictures.

Phone to Phone

Here's the tricky one.  Phones and phone apps have settings that reduce data usage when not on Wifi.  That's great, but if Phone A is set up as a Hotspot and Phone B connects to Phone A, Phone B thinks that's regular ol' free unlimited wifi and has a data party.  For that reason, be aware of when one phone is connected to another and be mindful of what you do. For example Stitcher Radio will download latest episodes of every podcast in my playlist when it's on wifi.  I probably don't want it to do that when that "wifi" is really just another mobile device.

Hotspot, Schmotspot

I have two dedicated Unlocked Hotspots.  I never use them and are hereby offered free to a good home. These days there is no reason to buy one. A phone is essentially a hotspot with a little bit of voice sprinkled in (and GPS and Camera and Any apps you want) - for about the same price as a dumb hotspot.

You can buy an unlocked low-end Android phone for a hundred bucks or less now.  You may even find a dual-sim one for that price. Unlocked is the operative word.  This means you can put any carrier's sim in it.  Both of our android phones have been unlocked and both are dual-sim.  Still, we travel with a third low-end android which we use as our travel hotspot.  The main reason is that I don't like prying the back off of the expensive phones all the time as the sim-of-the-day is swapped in and out.

As I wrote about before, the people behind the counter when trying to buy a PAYG (Pay as you go) Sim looked at us like we were from Mars when we tried to buy a sim for the hotspot.  In many cases, provisioning the sim requires sending a text message to the device.  While it is possible to do that with a dumb hotspot, it's a real pain - you need to log into it with your computer to read the text unless you have a really high-end hotspot with a screen that shows it - in which case again, why not just have a whole phone?

My advice: Even if you hate hate hate Androids, buy a cheap Android 4G phone for travel.  That is your hotspot. That is also a handy phone for any local calls you need to make. Pop in the sim-of-the-day and life is good.

28 July 2018

Another Boring Project Blog: New VHF

"Hey, how long has the radio been off?" This was asked more often that we would like aboard Argon when one of us would discover that our VHF Radio had decided to spontaneously turn off at someone unknown time during a passage.  The "fix" was to just reboot it and hope it stayed on this time. It usually did.

Bob Damiano

Argon's instrumentation is almost entirely Raymarine equipment.  Most of it is pretty good, but when it comes to radios, Raymarine has a particularly dismal reputation. Just ask the internet. Tartan equipped Argon with Raymarine's lowest end (at the time) radio - the now discontinued Ray55.  The first issue we had with it was that the remote handset in the cockpit failed. We replaced it ($140) last year. This year, not only did the handset start to get flaky again but the radio started doing this annoying turning-off behavior.

Radios are really important. It's time for a real radio.

iCom and Standard Horizon are generally thought of as the best brands of VHF Radios. We looked at both and the remote handsets that were available for them. The biggest pain was going to be to replace that remote handset wiring out to the cockpit. Not only that, but they seemed to have an equally cheesy connector for the remote set and I couldn't help wonder how long it would be before I'd be replacing those handsets too. I wondered why no one made a wireless remote handset.  Well, they do.

B&G and Simrad (both Navico companies) make a radio and offer a wireless remote handset. They are wireless in the sense that the audio is wireless, but they still sit in a charging cradle which you must get power to.

After reading and researching a bit, we decided to go for the B&G V50 radio and H50 wireless remote. We decided to get a second charging cradle and mount one inside at the nav station and the other out in the cockpit. I found a relatively easy way to get power wiring to both.

IT'S ALIVE - Initial testing phase. Power and antenna connected temporarily


The hardest part of the installation was getting another power wire out to the cockpit. We decided to place the charging cradle on the port side wheel pod and fortunately, it was not too horrible of a job running power there.  We used one of the spare breakers for the charging cradles and I've ordered a breaker label "VHF2" for it. 

The drill template for the charging cradle
The handset and charging cradle ready to mount

Done, and wired.  Handset is charging
New Blue Sea breaker label (and a spare for when I screw up the first one)

The next hardest task was that the rectangular opening in the nav station panel needed to be enlarged for this radio's footprint. There seems to be two common sizes and this one is the taller one. Normally this would have been easy except my dremel saw tool was in the trunk of Linda's car and Linda's car was in a repair shop seventy miles away in Newport. Luckily I was able to borrow a similar tool from a friend at a nearby marina.

The back side of the panel. I reused the mounting hardware from the old Ray55 radio. Notice the N2K wire connecting to the Seatalk "Tee" connector

And, done. Note the future position of the second charging cradle


Argon's network is a modern "Seatalk ng" one with all devices happily plugging and playing together. The exception to this was the Ray55 radio. It only supported a legacy NMEA0183 interface. This is connected to the Seatalk net via some sort of 0183/Seatalk interface. The location of this interface is unknown to me. I can see where the wires start but I have no idea where the thing itself is. If I ever find it, I'll rip it out. The new radio (and any decent new radio) has NMEA2000 (N2K) network compatibility. N2K is fully compatible with Raymarine's Seatalk with only an adapter cable needed to plug in.

The old radio's NMEA0183 connections. Think those signal wires are heavy enough gauge?

With the radio connected to the Seatalk network (via N2K adapter cable), you can see GPS position and Time Data on the screens of the base unit and remote handset

Remote Handset

Most reviews of the B&G and Simrad radios said that the wireless remote sound quality was not quite as good as a wired set. I'd have to agree with that. It will remain to be seen if this turns out to be a practical problem. One reviewer said he had terrible interference when the engine was running on his boat. I asked around and this seemed to not be a common problem. It's not a problem on Argon anyway.

Ergonomically, the wireless handset is awesome. It's really solid and heavy feeling. With dual helms on Argon it will be nice to not be on a short leash to one wheel while on the radio. Without having to disconnect a wire (with a really cheesy connector), we will always bring the handset inside for storage when not in use. It will set in another charging cradle at the nav station.

These radios actually support multiple wireless handsets. This can be handy on very large multi-deck boats I guess. Interestingly, you "pair" each handset with the radio similar to setting up a bluetooth pairing. The pairing procedure worked perfectly as soon as I found the article in the manual.

Built In AIS

Most modern VHF radios have built-in AIS receivers. Argon already had a full duplex AIS transceiver (we could see and be seen). I wondered how our systems would behave with two competing sources of AIS data on the network and I asked that question on a few sailing forums. Eveyone who answered essentially said "No Problem".  Well, everyone was wrong.  While the targets still do show up with both AIS data sources running, they are not quite right. Our chartplotter displays BIG BOATS as bigger targets and will differentiate sailboats by drawing them differently from power boats. With AIS enabled on the B&G, these display details were lost.  As soon as I turned off the AIS function of the B&G radio, these issues resolved.

So the good news is that we do have a redundant AIS receiver in case our main system should have a fault. But the radio must be normally kept in non-AIS mode for it not to interfere with the real AIS data from our tranceiver.

What do do with the old Ray55

Normally, we hate throwing things away. In this case however, I really don't want to give this radio to anyone to use on a boat.  Having a radio that just stops working without you noticing can be a pretty unsafe thing aboard.  Maybe I'll put it in my museum at home.

25 March 2018

Spring Reveal: Getting Argon Ready For Another Season

Argon will be splashed in just a few weeks.  We have a pretty long spreadsheet of things to get done before (or shortly after) that happens.  We're way overdue for a blog so here's a bit about the projects.

Bob Damiano

Stern Light

Argon's stern light is mounted on the stern rail. Sounds logical so far, but then we went and added davits for the dinghy. The problem is that when the dinghy is hoisted, it just about perfectly blocks the stern light. Our rear end is definitely not visible for 2 nautical miles like this.

Stern light needed to be re-positioned from the stern rail up to the transom radar mast so that it is clearly visible when we have the dinghy hanging off the davits.

The logical place to put the stern light up higher would be on the transom radar mast. This mast is a standard Edson 3.5" round aluminum mast. The new light - an Aqua-Signal series 34 LED (of course) has a flat mounting base.

I figured there would be dozens off the shelf thingies - either from Edson, or others - that would provide an easy way to mount this light. I couldn't possibly be the first person who wants to mount a flat thing to an Edson mast, could I?  Well, apparently I am.  After kicking around a few ideas with my brother and others, I happened to be in the hardware store one day and noticed that 3" PVC pipe has exactly 3.5" outside diameter.  I decided to try molding my own thingie out of epoxy.  The pipe made the nice radius and some duct-tape covered cardboard formed the edges of the mold.  Then, I just filled it with six-10 and waited a day.

It's not the most beautiful thing, but it worked. See photos to follow

Building the mold

Mold filled with six-10

First prototype extracted from the mold

Final version drilled for the light and ready to paint

Back on the boat drilling wiring hole and drill/tapping mounting screw hole

Wiring done, bracket mounted
And the light mounted to the bracket
The new wire was easy to snake down to the bottom of the mast.  I've ordered some Deutch Connectors for the disconnect at the bottom of the mast.

Ground Tackle

Argon's main ground tackle consisted of 100 feet of 3/8" chain plus 100 feet of line.  The Anchor is a 35lb Lewmar Delta.

This setup has served us well in most conditions.  There was one particular situation during our Caribbean Cruise in 2016 where we wished we had a little more going on down there.  It was about 40 hours straight of 30+ kt winds while anchored in 30 feet of water in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. Our chain alone had us at about a 3.5:1 scope.  We put out some line and also extended our snubber as far as we could but we were still very under-scoped for the conditions.  We dragged nearly 30 feet over the 40 sleepless hours.

We became particularly intimate with our ground tackle while cruising the Caribbean regularly diving in to check the set and confirm there was no debris. And we also decided that even more chain was needed.

So, we purchased a new 160 foot length of 3/8" chain.  I think Defender actually gave us more like 165 but who's counting?  I spliced our existing rode to the new chain, put some marks every 40 feet and installed it. This extra 60 feet of heavy chain would have sure come in handy in Guadeloupe.  It will certainly make me dislike anchoring a little less in general.

Measuring and marking the new chain

Ready to "weigh anchor" and slurp it all into the boat for the first time.

Chain Splice by Bob.

Sanitation System

The head worked. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Marine sanitation systems are built for weekenders.  We lived on the boat full time for nearly three years, so this system had about ten years of normal use on it. I figured it would be much easier to tackle this stuff preemptively while on the hard than it would be during the season while sailing around.

What we did:

  • Replaced all (well most) sanitation hosing including the vented loop
  • Replaced all internal components of the toilet itself
  • Replaced the deck filler cap

What we learned:

Warning: I'm going to say a bit of bad stuff about the Tartan-4000 here.
I have always loved how easy Tartan made it to work on the various systems on Argon.  I am able to get access to and work on just about anything, anywhere on the boat. The sanitation system is the exception. I have to say, I'm really unhappy with the access to this stuff - especially considering that there is some below-the-waterline stuff in there. Access to the Y-Valve, Thru-hull and Macerator Pump are through a tiny door that opens under the sink which is not nearly wide enough to get both hands inside. At one point I stuck my head in there and was not quite sure it was going to come back out. I found myself fishing around in my pocked for my phone in case I needed to make the most embarrassing 911 call ever.  It is extremely difficult to work on this stuff and given how unpleasant the sanitation system already is to work on, this was a particularly miserable project.  I am very tempted to hire someone to completely re-do the pretty round casting under the sink to have a nice big fat access panel. There's just too much important stuff behind there to have such horrible access to. Either that, or maybe I'll get me some trained rodents to work on it next time.

The main access to the vented loop and deck fitting is gained by removing the shelf cabinet in the shower.  That's easy enough to do and actually gives pretty decent access.

Unknown to us all this time was that the vented loop had at some point failed.  The "duck bill" was stuck open so that what was inside the pipe could get outside the pipe when flushing. This explained the occasional bouquet inside the boat which we always assumed was because of permeation of the hoses. No - it was just squirting sewage on the side of the hull and a wiring conduit - that's all.  If nothing else, seeing and fixing this made it worth opening up the shower to get this replaced.

Strange Deck Fitting

The deck fitting for waste pumpout has always been a bit frustrating on Argon.  We first ran into a problem when we lived aboard over the winter at Constitution Marina and tried to get a pumpout "snorkel" made. We could not find anything that would fit the thread properly. Nothing english or metric would fit quite right.  The next indication that this was a strange fitting came when I accidentally swept our filler cap overboard while sweeping snow off the deck one day. Finding a replacement eventually led to emailing Tartan to ask where they got the fittings.  Turns out, they are sourced from a company in Florida that I had never heard of.

The problem really came to a head (ha!) in Turk$ and Caico$.  The marina we were at would only do screw-in fittings for pump-outs. They had nothing in stock that would fit our deck fitting.  Eventually, they took an old fitting and cross-threaded and mangled it enough to get it to suck (then charged us $30 for the pump-out).

As long as I was in there, I wanted to replace that deck fitting with a normal one with a regular ol' thread.  The new one is a White Cap brand.

Shower cabinet removed. Stains on the hull were from the spewing vented loop. Yuk.

Toilet is out (and home)

The old vented loop and hose

Linda working on replacing everything in the toilet at home. PDF manuals on the laptop.

Linda, our head technician.

The replacement parts for the toilet were challenging to source. No kits available and had to search for individual pieces across three different companies. Ended up costing well over $200 for several basic parts. All in all, we spent nearly what a new toilet would cost replacing all the guts of the toilet. Tartan: this would make a nice spares kit!

Removing the old oddly sized deck fitting.

The new White Cap deck fitting installed - easy job.

Rebuilt toilet ready to install. Brand new sanitation hoses already run.
Another improvement to the system can be seen in the above photo.  Tartan had simply butt-spliced the four wires to the toilet.  The new motor for the toilet came with a Deutch Four-Pin connector.  After some searching and several re-orders, I finally got the mate to this connector from a race car supply company called Batts Racing.  The connectors are very well made and waterproof.

The toilet is in (and it runs). Note the tiny access door under the sink.

New vented loop and hose can be seen behind the shower
Generally, when we touch anything on the boat, we try to make it better than it was. On this project, we also replaced all of the low-end hose clamps with expensive non-perf stainless steel ones. We've been doing that all over the boat in other projects as well. The cheap ones are about $0.79/ea and the good ones are several bucks a piece.


Speaking of Vented Loops

I have no photos of this one, but the discharge hose for the sump pump had a loop, but not a vented loop. Argon has always had a slow re-filling of the sump due to siphoning action from the discharge. This became semi-alarming (actually literally alarming) during the six day passage from Bermuda to Antigua as the sump was filling quite often.  Per Tim Jackett's recommendation I also put a vented loop in this discharge line. That problem should be solved.


Headstay Adjustment

We've known for some time that Argon's head-stay could use a little more tension.  We find ourselves hardening up the backstay to compensate even in pretty light air. A couple of different rigging folks have suggested that a turn or two might be good but that it was "pretty close" as it was. Before putting the sails on, I wanted to get to this chore. With the furling head-sail systems, it requires detaching and raising the drum to reveal the turnbuckle.

It's been a while but I finally remembered how to do that. We ended up putting 1-1/2 turns on the turnbuckle.  I measured the head-to-head spacing of the turnbuckle rods and we shortened the headstay by about 4mm.

Measuring the turnbuckle spacing with digital calipers


The best part is that Argon is finally uncovered. The heavy winter canvas cover and metal framework are taken down. Now, we're just hoping for a good hard rain to clean things up. This time, when we took the cover off, we added some labeling to make putting it back on a little easier.

Taking the cover off.
Cover off revealing the frame.

Rolling up and labeling the cover.

Getting ready to fold the bigger rear half of the cover.

Soon Argon's bottom will be painted and then back in to the water where she belongs!

There are other projects in the works as well.  We're replacing the gooseneck bolts with shiny new ones that we ordered from Tartan (another proactive replacement).  We're also adding some control lines for the reacher sheets. And of course there is plenty of routine maintenance such as painting the bottom, replacing all the zincs, waxing the hull & deck, cleaning & treating the cockpit teak, and all the diesel engine maintenance. Oh, and there will be sailing too!