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...

16 February 2020

More Boat Projects in Paradise

After an indulgent extended weekend in Saba, attention was quickly re-focused on Argon. We had a few more days tied to a dock at Simpson Bay Marina on the dutch side of St. Martin thus a perfect time to tackle our latest nautical to do list.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Back to Cruising Life - More Boat Projects in Paradise

Just few weeks ago we were feeling accomplished when numerous projects and chores where completed while docked at Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbor. But alas, the new list started to form even before we left Antigua.

Topping Lift

The topping lift runs from the top of the mast to the aft end of the boom. Most of the time it hangs a bit slack and does nothing. Sometimes, such as when motoring in sloshing seas, the topping lift is important for holding the boom up off the bimini and dodger. Recently (ever since bending the new main sail in Grenada) the topping lift has caused us trouble periodically by fouling in the leech cleat, batten pockets or reefing rings causing angst and mild terror when struggling to drop the sail including once when approaching dangerous reefs in Barbuda. The assessment, options and solution will be a topic of a separate blog coming soon.

The topping lift has been causing problems - getting caught in the leech cleat, Antal rings (for reefing) and the batten pockets. This has been quite frustrating and a bit scary when it interferes with getting the sail down. Bob has been thinking a lot about options. A detailed sailing geek blog dedicated to the topping lift is forthcoming.

Getting ready to be hoisted up the mast to check out the topping lift and re-run the lazy jacks.

View from just above the first set of spreaders to re-run the lazy jacks. Also removed the connection of the topping lift at the top of the mast

Boom Pad Eye and Backing Plate

It's just a little pad eye... what's the big deal?

We were awoken suddenly in the early morning dark while anchored near St. George, Grenada, back in November to a crash and loud rhythmic squeaking as the boom thrashed back and forth violently, its inertia accentuating the sounds in the swell. The dock line that runs from under the boom, normally attached snugly to a midships cleat to keep the boom stable and quiet while at anchor, lay slack. Quickly we found the culprit - a busted pad eye. This pad eye also attaches the boom brake (which made the crashing sound when falling on to the deck). @#$%! We re-fasten the boom temporarily and commited to making a more complete assessment at day light.

Argon's boom is a carbon fiber pocket style. Inside the V of the boom is a flat base allowing for a long hollow chamber for the out haul and reefing lines to run through in addition to the backing plates for the head of the vang and several pad eyes with backing plates to attach various blocks and run lines. After considering options, we decided to move an existing extra pad eye to the recently opened hole. That extra pad eye is normally the attachment for the Wichard Boom Brake. We knew we had mostly upwind sailing in the near future until at least Antigua so this wasn't that urgent as the boom brake is more instrumental when sailing down wind. We planned to fully address the busted pad eye situation in Antigua a few weeks ago, but our time at dock there was during an especially windy spell which prevented us from doing anything that required removing the boom from the mast. But now that we are in St. Martin at a dock with low winds, with more down wind sailing for the next few months, it is time to get this fixed appropriately.

Back in November (Grenada) a pad eye under the boom busted (strangely, while we were at anchor). Now that we are in the cruiser's shopping mall of the Caribbean and on a dock, it is time to get this fixed properly.

Main sail taken off on a low wind morning in preparation to try to get the busted backing plate out of the boom. Good time to also inspect the sail track cars and replace any missing ball bearings. We wanted to use the broken backing plate as a template to get a new one fabricated and remove it to prevent it from perhaps fouling something someday.

First, let's retrieve the broken backing plate from the boom by tilting the boom up...

Ok, tilt it more; shake it around. Nothing. No sign of the backing plate.

Let's try removing the boom completely and hanging it vertical. (What can go wrong?) Ugh - still no backing plate! Bob said it must have gone in to another dimension.

Ok, now dinghy across the lagoon over to FKG Rigging to get a new pad eye and backing plate fabricated (and a spare). $200 and a couple days later - voila!

New pad eye and backing plate; and a spare.

Messenger line attached for the patience-testing activity of getting the new pad eye through the boom, pulled in to the slot in the carbon, and re-fastened.

After several tries and permutations with messenger lines and a metal hook...

Almost... now to get those fasteners in.

FKG did a very nice job fabricating the new backing plates without one to use as a template, but the threaded holes were just a tiny bit off center of the clearance holes in the carbon.  We opened two of them up just a bit.

Ta-da!!! Phew, that was quite the project. Now time to get the main sail back on.

Dinghy Scrubbing

Algae and barnacle growth on the bottom of Argon as well as the dinghy requires regular attention. Argon has ablative anti-fouling bottom paint which helps control the growth but still requires us (and occasionally a professional diver) to scrub and scrape. The growth on the aluminum dinghy bottom and hypalon inflated pontoons is particularly stubborn. I have been unable to get the dinghy bottom clean with a scrub brush while she has been in the water. This is going to require a more concerted effort and chemicals.

Dinghy bottom before: The stubborn algae was impossible to scrub off with a stiff brush in the water. Time for more concerted effort (and chemicals).

The outboard, bench, and all contents removed; dinghy hauled up on to the dock, Calbert and I attack the dinghy with diluted On-Off, Simple Green, Magic Eraser, regular boat soap and elbow grease.

After:  Much better! We are now going to be more disciplined about hoisting the dinghy on the davits more often when not in use to keep the growth at bay.

Hull & Deck Waxing, Stainless Polishing, Teak Cleaning

The salt and sun wage constant assault on a boat. I set my sights on polishing the stainless steel, waxing the gel coat decks, and cleaning the teach cockpit. Help is employed to clean and wax Argon's hull.

I splurge and hire Calbert and Pete to clean and wax Argon's hull while I work on the waxing, polishing and other cleaning.

Some of the products used to help keep Argon shiny:  Scotch Guard and 3M for waxing the hull and gel coat. And some Awlgrip wax (not pictured) for a finishing touch on the hull. Flitz for polishing the stainless steel along with OsPho and Spotless Stainless for the more stubborn rust spots.

Cockpit teak scrubbing.

Deck waxing started in St. Martin and finished while at anchor in Anguilla. Well, is it ever finished?

Water Treatment, Tank Filling, Strainer Cleaning and Laundry

Argon carries 135 gallons of water between two tanks. We have no water maker nor a sophisticated water treatment system. To keep the tank water potable, we flush the tanks periodically (difficult with scarcity and expense of good water in the Caribbean) and the add chlorine. When there is enough fresh water to spare, I can do some laundry by hand. Raw water filters for the refrigerator, diesel and air conditioner are checked and cleaned regularly.

Water tanks were low so we decided to give them a good shock with some extra bleach while we were away in Saba. Then inspect to ensure all looked fairly clean and clear, followed by a good flushing. Having access to good potable water at the marina (at 20 cents / gallon!) allowed us to have full water tanks upon departure. We can last up to 3 weeks with very careful usage.

Good time to check the refrigerator and diesel raw water strainers. In addition to needing a cleaning, this one is getting corroded and will soon be replaced.
Several loads of laundry were done at a nearby laundromat but some items were best hand washed on board.

Jib Furling Drum Repair

The Harken furling systems are mostly very well designed. The weak spot is the top and bottom platters inside the drum. They consist of semi-circles of plastic held together by two fasteners. The problem is that the attachment for these fasteners breaks over time. More than a year ago in Bermuda, Bob did a "hack" to hold the platters together after this breakage. The problem if they separate is that they can no longer spin freely inside the drum. And spinning freely is the main thing a furling system is supposed to do.

While sailing from the dutch to the french side of St. Martin, we noticed that the jib was getting difficult to furl (again) and upon inspection, the Bermuda hack had failed and the bottom platter had separated. It was time to re-hack it. Always the engineer, Bob was saying something about a re-design and buying a 3D printer when we get home.

After departing Simpson Bay Marina en route to Marigot on the french side of St. Martin, we realized that the jib furler had an issue. Luckily Bob was able to fix it at anchor without taking down the jib as the winds were up.

WiFi Router - Failed Attempt to Resuscitate

Our beloved ArgonAfloat network is served by a Ubiquity Bullet Titanium router mounted up on the radar mast. The router has been getting flaky over the last few months sometimes working great, other times not so much. Normally cleaning connections and chanting incantations has solved the issue, but now it seems, the Bullet itself is really dead. Bob unmounted it from the mast and did some testing down below and declared "He's dead, Jim". It's been baking in the sun and freezing in the winter for five years, so we don't feel too badly about it. Fortunately, we are at a point in the cruise where we can primarily rely on mobile data from here on out anyway. We're shopping for replacement solutions (maybe another Bullet), but won't buy anything until we are stateside again.

Resuscitation of the WiFi router failed.

Vented Loop and Engine Check

The sump has been periodically kicking in even when no water is being flushed down its drains. If no water is flowing in to the sump, the only other source is that the discharge is siphoning back. A couple years ago, we added a vented loop to the sump discharge which solved the issue until recently. While in St. Martin we purchased a new vented loop and a spare. Time to crawl in to the aft bowls of Argon and replace. And, while back there, we also opened up the access panels to the starboard side of the diesel for an inspection revealing a broken air intake filter laying on the floor of the engine room. The foam was pretty much disintegrated. Another item to write on the shopping list (and we'll get a spare of course). In the meantime, we fabricate a new temporary one.

After clearing out the aft cabin (that functions as our storage closet for all sorts of stuff) Bob crawls back behind the cabin to replace the vented loop for the sump.

Upon peering in to the engine compartment I see the air filter has broken off.

We decide to sacrifice a linen top of mine to make a new air filter.

Jerry-rigged air filter. And one less white top.

Fishing and Sailing

Although maintenance and repairs are continual, and demands of our day jobs are constant, we feel pretty caught up and will be able to spend more time sailing and exploring for the next week or so.

Experimentation with different fishing lures continue as we troll between islands with recent activity. And we eagerly await the arrival of dear friends as we round out our stay in Anguilla.

Switching up lures off the coast of St. Martin.

Landed and carefully released modest sized barracuda.

First time using a simple cedar plug en route to Anguilla catches this marlin but only after his hind third was chomped by a shark or some other big fish. I was able to fillet a fair amount of delicious meat off the remaining part.

My office while at anchor in Road Bay, Anguilla.

Bob's office for a bit at Sunshine Shack, Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla.

Johno's, Road Bay Anguilla.

Our neighborhood for a little more than a week - Road Bay, Anguilla.

Even time for some music making now.