Converting old winches to self tailing

My cabin top desperately needs a second winch on starboard where the mainsheet, jib sheet, outhaul and main halyard are located. I usually resort to cross winching the jib sheet to the port winch but this results in the occasional “clothes-lining” when coming up the companionway.

I was lucky to source some older Barient winches, and while they are in perfect condition it would be nice if they were self-tailing, although I do have clutches close by so it isn’t a deal breaker.

It led me to wonder if there was a way to retrofit old winches to be self-tailing. There are several options.

  1. Barton Winchers  – rubbery rings that fit on top of winches.
  2. Winchmate which fits a plastic top onto your old winch, less than half the price of a new winch. $425 USD for #27, no options for smaller sizes.
  3. Hutton-Arco conversion to metal jaw self-tailing configuration for superseded ARCO Standard and Self-tailing winches and Barlow, Barient & Lewmar Standard winches.
    Alas not for the #22!


Bosun’s chair

Falling off my mast isn’t my preferred way to “go”. Having said that, enjoying my hobby probably isn’t the worst way to check out; I’m more concerned it might be a bit premature and somewhat unplanned.
I’ve been to the top of my mast many times, and a few other boats too. I currently need to replace my anchoring light and windex so I need a safe way to get up there in the spring.
My boat came with a MastMate loop-strap ladder and I’ve tried using, it was a most unsatisfying experience. There are two issues that make it a less than ideal solution on my boat. Firstly, my in-mast furler makes it impossible to use track slides. (The solution offered by MastMate necessitates taking down the main….) this leaves the ladder swaying loosely from the mast making it difficult and dangerous to climb.
Secondly, I didn’t have a spare main halyard so I couldn’t get to the very top of the mast as the jib/spinnaker halyards sheave box is about three feet from mast-top. (I have since run a spinnaker halyard as a spare/safety line.)
My main is an in-mast furler and I am aware of the possibility of the mainsail getting fouled in the mast. Going up to sort out issues would completely rule out dousing the mainsail to use the main halyard. This pretty much rules out the Mastmate for me.
This brings me back to the good old bosun’s chair. Always on the lookout for ways to leverage my investment in my walking-foot sewing machine, I came across an old chair that was moldy, stank of fuel with rotting stitching, but otherwise, not bad. I decided to knock-off the stinky old chair.
I’ve gone up masts on everything from a plank of wood to a super-fancy brand new padded chair and I can say I definitely prefer something with pockets, straps, and hooks. Preferably something that has a space for tools, ropes and of course a camera! (that’s my foot atop Esneca

I patterned the old chair, took notes on the stitching sequence and placed an order for straps and hardware from JT’s Outdoor Fabrics in Barrie. I already had the blue nylon from making a bag for my folding bicycle (the material for the bag and bosun’s chair was $15 from Fabricland!). It took a bit longer to stitch the chair together than I anticipated, making me appreciate the value of mass-produced goods.

I used this project as an excuse to make a leaf that fits into my dining table so that the sewing machine sits flush with the table. This will make larger projects, like the new bimini and dodger I plan on sewing this winter, easier. My sewing machine is a generic knock-off of the old walking-foot Singer/Brother. It is the same base machine that Sailrite uses, cheaper but doesn’t come with a case or telephone support.



Cabin Heater

After sleeping on Georgian Bay this weekend, it occurred to me that a cabin heater might be prudent, especially with small children that like to throw off their covers and then cry “I’m cold” at 4 am.

Dawn mist on Georgian Bay
small black heater
Cheapo 120v heater

Our Hunter 340 came with a heat exchanger and blower to make use of engine heat, but that’s only useful when the Yanmar is running (incidentally, it also heats the hot water too). I have a little car 120v forced air heater I picked up on clearance at Canadian Tire. Plugged in it provides fast heat and warms the cabin quickly. It’s rated at 900w and I suppose I could plug it into the inverter but that seems like an awfully destructive thing to do to a battery bank and inverter.

I did some research on cabin heaters and like all things boat, it seems you need to drop roughly $1000. Burning anything in your boat requires venting for exhaust and fresh air intake, so add money for flues, vents and extra time/money for installation.  A heater means cutting through your cabin top and headliner then sealing it. You now have another thing to get your rigging caught on and a new tripping hazard!

small stainless and brass bulkhead propane heater
Cozy Cabin heater

My first thought was a wall mounted propane/kerosene/diesel heater.  Seems the Force 10  Cozy Cabin (now a Dixon/Sig product out of Vancouver) runs $600 plus tax plus plus. Forum feed back is that this propane heater is not sealed and propane is a very moist fuel.  This means that after several hours you will see quite a bit of moisture buildup inside the cabin.

bulkhead mout heater
Dickson Newport

The Dixon Newport received very good reviews, but again, $800 plus plus…. and it requires 12v for the fan and needs 4′ of clearance from the ceiling…. There is the solid fuel version that might work for the occasional heating, but carrying sticks and charcoal seems redundant when I already have propane and diesel onboard. It’s also big and ugly.

Stainless Refleks bulkhead heater
Refleks 66MW Diesel Heater

More surfing led me to find the Danish Refleks diesel stoves. Apparently, they are the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. Simple, efficient and well built.

Alas, they are over $1,000 for the baby wall mounted unit.  Most are stove topped and would be perfect in a larger boat with a bit of floor space to mount it.
There doesn’t appear to be a Canadian Distributor, but they are available in the EU.  Here’s a fun video about Refleks from an entertaining and industrious Dane.

Finally, I looked at used truck diesel heaters from Webasto and ESPAR.  These units are widly available and burn diesel and are fan driven with thermostats.  They cost over $1,000 new but can be had for three to five hundred off ebay in various states of neglect. I have read they need frequent cleaning (glow plugs) but are generally very reliable if taken care of. Of course, they need an appropriate space, to be wired, plumbed and upgraded to marine standards if you have a truck version. If you are brave enough to take on this on the upside is you can tee into your main diesel tank, so no axillary tank to locate and fill. Finally just set the thermostat and crawl up with book, all very civilized.



Crispy, Hard and Smoking. pt.2

Launching a boat is a process couched in optimism. The annual ritual of unwrapping, polishing, swapping fluids and slapping on bottom paint leads to a triumphal splash that marks the beginning of another sailing season.

This year I was somewhat organized but left starting the motor until the last minute. I wasn’t too concerned as my Yanmar 3GM30 has always fired up easily. This year, it was already in the water when it finally started…. but I’m getting ahead of the story.
Tortuga was already sitting by the crane when I arrived an hour ahead of my scheduled launch time. Uli was unusually efficient that morning and the crew were itching to launch. So much for a leisurely pre-splash inspection. I grabbed a pail of lake water and scrambled onboard to start the motor while the slings were being fitted. It seemed that the battery was weak as the cranking rpm was low and the motor wasn’t catching. Strange… Complicating the starting process was the crane’s diesel motor was idling six feet from my head. I think roaring is a more apt description as I couldn’t hear the engine cranking and was relying on the tachometer to see if the engine was actually turning over. This really threw me as the batteries should be, and were, fully charged by the solar panels. This was confirmed by the voltage showing. I’ve never started the engine deaf, relying solely on the tach, so I wasn’t sure how fast it usually spins on startup.

Rather than delay the launch any longer, I gave the go-ahead to splash. I figured this would give me time to charge the batteries and figure out what was going on. I set the charge controller to equalize to get a deep charge. I let it sit for an hour. I finally got the engine to start and immediately there was a smoke coming from the engine! A quick shutdown and inspection revealed that the alt was seized?! Now I’m completely confused as the alt was fine at haulout and recently rebuilt! The boat is dry and the water fresh so corrosion shouldn’t be a factor. I loosened the belt and then loosened the alternator pivot bolt – this freed up the alt.

In a flash, all my confusion vanished and all the sensory feedback made sense. The alt mounting arms have 1.5mm of play on the engine mount, I must have tightened up the alt and that warped the housing enough to pinch the rotor. Luckily releasing the pressure released the pinch and no real damage was done.

I shimmed the gap with a washer (will have to get the proper diameter) and replaced the belt with a new Gates AX 37 TRI-POWER, keeping the old lightly toasted belt as a backup.
I hope I haven’t over-stressed the poor starter motor, I am actually surprised and impressed that I was able to start with a seized alt, not something that I want to repeat.


Lessons learned

  • I should have started the engine at least the day before in the quiet of the yard. Being in a rush and feeling pressured to meet the yard schedule isn’t the best path to clear thinking.
  • I should have stopped cranking and inspected the engine, although catching a seized alt is hard to notice, stopping and thinking might have led to my remembering that in the fall I adjusted the belts and must have tightened the alt mount with more vigor than previously.
  • I should trust what I know. I knew the batteries were charged, I could see the voltage was high and the starter battery cable was warm to the touch. This should have registered in my brain that the cranking loads were high and something was amiss.


Bildge float switches

My Hunter 340 came (to me) with a Rule bilge pump, it is the kind that automatically fires every 7 minutes. If there is no resistance on the pump, indicating no water to pump out, it shuts down. So far this season (May – September) the pump has fired 70,000 times according to the counter at the Nav station.

While I appreciate the security of a pump that is always checking, I can’t imagine it is doing anything but slowly, unnecessarily wearing the pump out. It also makes a racket that I’ve gotten used to. Given I’ve got solar panels I don’t worry about the battery drain either, but that could be an issue for some owners.

My bilge is dry, the only moisture coming from the fridge drain or the odd bit of rain water from accidentally left open ports. If there is a bit of water in the bilge, the pump makes a splashing-gurgling noise that echoes in the empty chamber – it is a good indicator that I need to sponge the bilge dry!

A friend stayed on the boat and remarked that my boat sounds like Star Wars, full of strange mechanical noises in the night, startling him awake as he drifted to sleep. The bilge pump whirrs, the fridge breathes like Darth Vader and the old water pump would hammer for half a second every half an hour or so. The pump is gone, the fridge stays so this leaves me wondering about the whirr in the bilge.


Quick web research reveals that the floating hinged (ball bearing or a tube of mercury) types (Rule, Seasense, Seaflo ) are generally only good for a couple of years at best. These also tend to foul on debris.  Given my bilge access is beneath the dining table, there is a frequent stream of cheerios, crumbs and craft bits like string, paper and beads falling into the finger holes in floor/hatch, I would like something that can’t be easily fouled.

Current Sense

I looked into the electronic current sensor types, the most popular brand being the Water Witch. The drawback seems to be that the sensors stop reading if the water is contaminated oil or grease. The sensors use the conductivity of bilge water to pass current between two electronic probes, if oily, the sensors don’t receive the current.

Also, Water Witch seems to have hit and miss user reviews despite their claims that they are used on US and Canadian coast guard vessels.

Finally, there are physical switches in enclosures. The leader of this segment appears to be Ultra Saftey Systems,  Aqualarm appears to be a cheaper knock-off of Ultra.
the benefit of these is they should not foul from debris and are less prone to firing from boat motion.

Navigation Electronics – part 1

As a computer literate sailor, and convert to digital charts, I thought it would be a good idea to get all my systems talking together, ideally using the processing power of a real computer (not a phone, tablet or overpriced doodad from WestRaymin. Systems like autopilot, chart plotter, depth, wind speed, compass, and GPS should all be interconnected.

Here’s what I want to cobble together.

  • MacMini – or other
    • screen, keyboard mouse
  • openCPN and all apps.
  • Pulling data from instruments -seatalk or  NEMA 0183
  • External GPS – USB to computer
  • wifi remote desktop to iPad at helm – VNC over local mac Wifi

Below is my scratch pad for research, in a coming post I will outline exactly what I actually build.  I have some components and as usual, am trying to execute this in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Continue reading at your discretion.
Continue reading Navigation Electronics – part 1

Screen Time

We’ve been lucky, we have screens for our major hatches and companionway, so bugs haven’t been a big issue on our travels to date. We were plagued by black flies on the trip up the Rideau Canal to Ottawa, but that was mostly on open water and was actually an entertaining introduction to bug killing for the girls.
We were, however, missing screens for our aft birth and bathroom portlights, two rooms that would benefit from having the portlights open more often than not.I scavenged a couple of square screen frames from a condemned boat and decided to see if I could make them fit the Lewmar (New) Standard ports. Luckily the metal removed from one dimension was just enough to lengthen the other side. I used the method that the screens were originally made with, that is crimping in a piece of aluminum with a punch. I made the joints out of some aluminum scraps.

Continue reading Screen Time

It’s the little things

I’m a big believer in details, perhaps it’s my training as a goldsmith or a pixel perfect developer, but if there’s a speck or a design flaw it will bug me. Having a white boat is a lesson in finding serenity, I swear there is someone out there laughing at all the scrubbing boat owners do.

Having a brand new high-pressure water pump with a faulty shut-off sensor (the backstory) gave me the perfect opportunity to fashion a wash-down pump. A bit of hose, a few clips and away we go!

With 40 psi and 17 liters/min the cleaning possibilities are endless!


The fridge door/lid always made a screech when opened and the gas strut was very stiff. I found a bunch of gas struts on the sale table at Princess Auto for $4 each and they seem to be close to the right size. I only noticed when I removed the old one that there is a manufacture’s sticker and model number.

fridge_strutI only noticed the brackets were not in the same plane when I put on the new strut.  I relocated the brackets to get the door to shut, but also the bottom bracket needed to come over by 3/4″ to line up.
The bottom bush was drilled out to fit on the existing stainless post and luckily the top fitting works!

UPDATE: Fall 2017

The cheapo strut didn’t last the season so I splurged on a new strut (It was only $13 !) I choose one from  Amazon based on the weight of the lid. Here are the specs:

  • Load : 170N ( 17Kg)
  • Hole Diameter : 4mm / 0.16″
  • Rod Size : 172 x 6mm / 6.8″ x 0.24″
  • Hole Distance : 408mm / 16″
  • Total Size : 430 x 15mm / 17″ x 0.6″ (L*D)

After a full summer of cruising here are my thoughts.

  • The piston rod is a bit on the thin side but it doesn’t bend, in the future I might get one thicker but I don’t think it really matters.
  • the ends have plastic caps like automotive ends, they do snap onto the stainless mounts and only fell off once or twice if I really impacted the strut. It did come ball-end mounting hardware, but I thought I would try it and it seems to work. I could drill out the plastic caps and fit the circlips if falling off was an issue.
  • the struts lift is stronger than either of the two, it takes some effort to close and I had to put on two latches to keep it closed (which is how it came from the factory in the first place.


The requirements of a shelf, to be a shelf, are fairly simple. It needs to be big enough to hold the intended items and sturdy enough to stay up, but the shelf in the photo really isn’t a shelf.

new_bathroom_shelf_hunter_340For me, like the boat itself, the shelf is the physical manifestation of my dreams, personality and aspirations. A bathroom towel shelf on a cold winter’s night is less about orderly towel storage, but about making the boat into a floating home, one that we will live on and hopefully take to warmer climes, have adventures, and watch our children discover some of the wonders of the world. This shelf is about providing the best summer home for my young children to make memories in and keeping my wife happy with a nice bathroom (my idea not hers). It’s about having clean dry clean towels to wrap ourselves in after a cold swim. It is about dreaming of sailing down to the Bahamas. It is about making the boat better then new, putting my stamp on it, doing it better than the designers. It is also a great justification for having a shop full of tools and ferreting around boat yard dumpsters.

A shelf that loaded better be strong.

Continue reading shelf