Disgusting

Some things on boats are just disgusting. I have written about the Joker Valve – an essential piece of the sanitary plumbing which must be replaced periodically. But if you think the Joker Valve is disgusting – at least the old one gets thrown away (hopefully sealed in a plastic bag).

But what about the Outlet Hose? This is the bit that connects the Joker Valve to the outside world – which means that everything that passes through the one, also has to pass through the other.

However, a new Outlet Hose is a lot more expensive than a new Joker Valve. Moreover, it doesn’t wear out, so you can’t justify replacing it. Instead, it has to be cleaned.

Let me explain why (you’re going to enjoy this): The combination of human waste and salt water – as passes through the marine toilet – causes a built up of calcified “material” on the inside of the outlet hose. This is rather like domestic pipes getting furred-up or arteries being choked with cholesterol.

Domestic pipes get replaced. Clogged arteries involve surgical procedures which don’t bear thinking about.

Actually, clearing the deposit in an Outlet Hose doesn’t bear thinking about either. Here’s how you do it.

Remove the hose, take it ashore, find a nice open space with a good hard surface and swing the hose three time around your head before whacking it on the hard surface.

I should add that this is tremendously satisfying. It clears the hose in no time at all. However, the cleared “material” does come flying out of the end of the hose and shoots off in all directions. Fortunately, most passers-by have no idea just what that material is.

I used to think that the contents of the Outlet Hose and clearing them out was about the most disgusting aspect of boat-ownership.

But no, I have found something even more appalling.

Here’s what happens: The galley sink drains into a “grey water tank”. Grey water is that type of boat effluent which is one up from “black water” (I’ll let you use your imagination on that one).

Actually “grey water” sounds quite attractive – like something to do with interior décor and water features.

It’s not: Do you have a kitchen drain at home that sometimes gets blocked with grains of rice and slivers of onion and coffee grounds? How does that smell once you’ve neglected it for a few weeks.

Now imagine all of that in a plastic tank in the bilges. It should be emptied by a “gulper” pump – that is, one which is designed to cope with rice and onion and coffee grounds. What do you suppose happens if the gulper pump gets switched off accidentally. The Law of Gravity will still cause the sink to drain all that “grey water” into the tank and if it doesn’t get pumped out, it will overflow – escaping into the open bilges.

And since the bilges are down there somewhere (out of sight and out of mind), you won’t know anything has gone wrong until you smell it.

This is when you take off the top of the engine casing and shine a torch down through the pipes and wires into the bottom of the boat.

For a moment or two, I couldn’t understand why the usual puddle of seawater was orange. The last time I saw orange seawater was in Bilbao in the 1970s – before anyone got excited about pollution. But, when you think about it, I do use a lot of paprika.  Paprika turns the washing-up water a brilliant orange, doesn’t it?

So the bilges – indeed, every part of the boat underfoot – is now coated with a sticky deposit of orange goo which smells, unmistakably, of drains.

I don’t even want to think about what I’m supposed to do about it.

Oilies

When I was eight years old we graduated from a dinghy to a “proper boat”. Torgunn was a Folkboat  – 25ft long. She had a cabin. The whole family could sleep on her. We could sail to Holland!

It was time to get properly equipped and so my father took his crew to be fitted for oilskins.

This was 1957 so they weren’t really oilskins – not sailcloth treated with linseed oil. On the other hand, no-one had thought of Gore-Tex either. These were hard PVC which stuck to itself and was cold and clammy when you first put it on – and then got hot and sweaty if you went and did anything.

My two sisters, being the foredeck crew, had trousers and smocks with integral hoods so they could crawl around with the North Sea breaking over their heads.

Father and I, being in charge of the cockpit, were more dignified in long coats and short black boots (nobody had thought of yellow boots). On our heads – or course – we wore sou’westers.

Mother didn’t have any of this stuff as far as I remember. I think the idea was that in any sort of weather that called for oilskins, somebody would have to be making tea.

By the way, this is no reflection on 1950s women on boats – after all Beryl Smeeton had sailed round Cape Horn by this time, being both pitchpoled and rolled on the way (and still countersinking the screws when she repaired the smashed deckhouse in the middle of the storm.)

And now, more than sixty years later, I have gone back to oilies.

Judging by the Facebook arguments on the subject, I won’t be the only one. Everybody seems to be asking everyone else for recommendations for the best “foulies”. For years I was a Henri Lloyd devotee – then Musto came along. Helly Hansen, I tried – and finally, with Samsara, back to Henri Lloyd.

And, of course, all of them were brilliant – warm, comfortable and dry. Also, the clever Gore-Tex fabric was able to “breathe”, doing away with all that clammy, sweaty business on the inside. I remained a Gore-Tex devotee for years.

Until this summer. You see, now I am a full-time sailor. Before, it had been weekends and holidays (five years living on the catamaran didn’t count – we tried not to go out if there was the possibility of getting wet). But now, after three years aboard a proper seaboat, the latest suit seems to be completely porous.

This revelation crept up slowly: First, the stylish jacket and salopettes seemed strangely heavy when it came to hanging them up after a lively trip. Then they were still damp the next time it came to put them on – and finally, there was the discovery that my clothes underneath were sopping wet around the knees and elbows. By the time this had reached the back and shoulders, I was asking for advice. I had washed them in special waterproofing detergent. I had sprayed them with waterproofing spray. What was going on? They were only three years old after all…

The advice came flooding in: Iron them – the waterproofing is activated by heat. Paint them with liquid Fabsil – the aerosol product is useless and expensive: Apply the stuff with a paintbrush – the more the better.

I bought three litres and used the lot – and then ironed it in for good measure.

None of this made the slightest difference. I began to suspect that manufacturers of foul-weather clothing rather like the idea of their customers spending the best part of £1,000 on a new set every three years or so.

Then someone suggested the French-made Guy Cotton clothing. It’s what fishermen wear – PVC and tough as old boots. Of course, you can’t buy it in chi-chi yacht chandlers – at least not the ones I frequent. But in a proper ship chandlers in Mallaig, I found shelves in all colours and sizes.

Well, not quite all colours: Bright orange for the fishermen or yellow and blue for the yachties. And it appeared that PVC has come on a lot in the last sixty years: This was soft and pliable. The fabric had a sort of lining bonded to the inside to take off the chill as you pulled it over your head. Naturally, there was no attempt at “breathability” – but then, as every fisherman knows, if you want to keep the water out, the best way is to keep out the air as well.

Also, at around £80 a throw, compared to £800, it had to be worth a try. I could spend that much of Fabsil.

And here’s what I found: Not only is this PVC completely waterproof but I’m not even inconvenienced by the cold and clammy/hot and sweaty dichotomy: Because they don’t come with a loose inner layer to keep you from the soggy outer layer, they are much easier to put on in an emergency and take off while waiting for the next one (knowing that it won’t take long to put them on again when the emergency arrives).

All of which means that as soon as I get below, I do take them off… with the added advantage of not soaking all the cushions when finally I do sit down with that cup of tea.

Guy Cotten Peche Smock

Coppercoat

There is so much discussion about Coppercoat anti-fouling I thought I should post my pennyworth.

For non-sailors who would like to persist with this post, Coppercoat is a brand of antifouling paint intended to stop things growing on the bottom of your boat. It does this not by using the normal chemicals but copper powder held in epoxy paint. A light sanding exposes the copper and, as Nelson knew, there is nothing better than having a copper bottom.

When I bought Samsara she had about ten layers of conventional paint below the waterline. Since all of it would have to come off, it did seem like the ideal opportunity to upgrade.

Besides, she was a cheap boat. I could afford to splash out on extras.

However, I did have a bit of history with copper antifouling. Back in the 1990s, I had tried something called CopperBot on the catamaran Lottie Warren. Within a year, it developed enormous blisters.

The consensus was that because the boat had been built in a shed in Falmouth without today’s strict humidity controls, the Atlantic winds had blown a good helping of moisture into the lay-up.

That wasn’t going to happen this time. Not only had Samsara been epoxy-treated already but it was now mid-summer and anyway, she had been sitting on the hard for months. Indeed, the survey found not so much as a percentage point of moisture. The yard made a beautiful job of it. The finish was like glass.

So why did it come up in blisters three months later?

As you can imagine there were a lot of anxious phone calls between owner, yard and manufacturer (with everyone blaming everyone else).

Eventually, we all decided to blame a fourth party – the company which had applied the epoxy treatment back in the 1990s. Conveniently (or perhaps consequently) they were long-gone. Anyway, the consensus was that the treatment had been done the cheap way: Instead of three coats of filler and then two of epoxy, they had applied one of epoxy first which smoothed out a lot of the bumps so they could get away with only two applications of filler before finishing with a single layer of epoxy – which, of course, didn’t keep the water out.

Since nobody was offering to finance a new application, I decided to live with it until I couldn’t avoid painting over it.

And then something odd happened.

Nothing.

It didn’t get any worse.

The blisters broke and fell off, leaving little white spots like a teenager’s chin. But by the third year, I realised there weren’t any more of them. Each time she came out of the water, I photographed the problem and there seems no doubt about it: The before and after photos were identical (and the one above shows the worst of it).

Admittedly it does look a bit odd but the spots are mostly well spread out and in between them the copper does do its stuff: When I dry out against a quay in June or July to grease the prop and change the anode, I take a pack of pan-scourers underneath and, scrambling around in the mud in my B&Q waterproofs, I can clean the slime and the occasion strand of weed in a couple of hours.

So yes, Coppercoat does work. However, I would suggest applying it only to new epoxy – or, best of all, a brand-new boat.

Lockdown 2

There was no escape from Lockdown 2.

November 5th was not the time to stage a dash into the Atlantic like I did in the summer. Instead, I found myself anchored in Kirkwall Bay in the Orkneys, waiting for the weather so that I could jump to Peterhead which, being on the mainland, was a better place to send away the mainsail for repair.

Anyway, Scotland wasn’t in Lockdown. Scotland was in the tiered system – not that it made a great deal of difference: All the pubs were shut and the restaurants weren’t allowed to serve alcohol. Even the magical little Wireless Museum was closed for no better reason than it was simply too small to operate social distancing.

Peterhead was also in the Scottish tiered system – which was just as well because, as usual, the marina wi-fi didn’t stretch to the visitor’s pontoon. However, they did have it in the café at the Fishermen’s Mission and The Dolphin chipper down by the quay – and Peterhead, being a major fishing harbour, has very good fish and chips.

It was the next stage of Sailing Home for Christmas that was going to be the difficult bit: England was in full Lockdown once more and there are precious few all-weather anchorages on the north-east coast. It would have to be marinas – which were all closed.

I did consider sailing the 400 miles to Essex non-stop but what with the thermometer never getting above ten degrees and only eight hours of daylight, you’d have to be a bit of a masochist for that. Besides, the wind never stayed fair for more than 24 hours at a time.

The clincher was that I had been offered a second spinnaker pole in Blyth and I wasn’t going to turn that down. I rang the harbourmaster: Would he let me in?

Oh yes, the port was open. It was just the marina that was closed.

Well, did he have somewhere I could tie up – perhaps in the fishing dock…

His advice – by which I took to mean “official advice” – was to go into the marina anyway. After all, there wouldn’t be anyone there to tell me not to.

I did, arriving at four in the morning for good measure. The visitors’ pontoon was festooned with plastic tape designed, in the absence of a dockmaster, to signify “Go Away”. I tied up anyway, not realising that one of the consequences of the pontoon being closed was that nobody had hosed off the seagull droppings – something I discovered only later having trodden them all over the boat inside and out.

Also, of course, with nobody in the office to give me a code for the gate, I couldn’t get out of the place – not even for a takeaway at the chippy across the road.

I stayed for four days – not plugging into the electricity since I didn’t expect to be charged for being shut in.

The next stop involved a bit more subterfuge – which is why I had better not say where it was. Everybody I rang cautioned: “Don’t tell anyone you’ve spoken to me.”

This proved to be a bit awkward when, five minutes after making fast, a berth-holder checking on his boat (permitted under the regulations, apparently) asked straight out if I had permission.

“Oh yes,” I told him airily. “I know everyone. I’m quite a regular in the winter, you know. It’s all OK. I’m aware of the regulations. I’ll be very careful.”

On the strength of that, I got straight on the phone to a friend who had planned to drive over for coffee. He had presumed I wasn’t “anal” about regulations. I had to tell him that suddenly I had become precisely that.

Six days, I stayed there – until the Windy app promised a spinnaker run down to Walton Backwaters. I could slide in there without telling anyone at all. Indeed, nobody would even know I’d arrived.

Indeed, nobody did – until I was obliged to put into yet another marina because the “spinnaker run” turned out to be six hours of engine – something that never happens in the summer. It was such a surprise to the machinery that the relief valve on the calorifier took fright at the heat and pumped all the freshwater over the side.

Still, given what usually happens to me in “Lockdown Cruises”, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.