We write this at the end of the 2020 sailing season. For many of us it’s not been the best. But in the light of all the current troubles of the world, we consider ourselves lucky to have done any sailing at all. With not much to report on the sailing front, I’ve made this blog mostly about the maintenance and reliability of equipment and systems in the light of 6 seasons’ use. Hopefully, it may help others to make decisions about their own boat’s equipment.
Like many others, due to the Covid situation, we were not able to launch until much later than usual. In our case, it was early July when the boat went in. By then, UK Marinas were just starting to allow a few visitors, post-lockdown. We took a berth in Brighton for a month. It felt great just to be out on the water again after months cooped-up at home, but it was necessarily going to be a short season with no scope for foreign cruising. Therefore we took the decision to just stay local, and do things that we haven’t been able to do for a few years.
We invited many friends and family, who had been unable to visit when the boat was in the Baltic, to come and sail with us. This resulted in lots of short day sails, many with people who had never sailed before. We really enjoyed having them aboard and sharing the joy of being out on the sea. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to come out with us and made the summer such fun. After a month, we moved the boat to Gosport, and kept the open invitation going.
We greatly enjoyed re-visiting all those Solent places that we hadn’t been to for many years – Cowes, the Beaulieu River, Lymington, Yarmouth, Osborne Bay, Stokes Bay, Bembridge and Newtown Creek amongst others, and added a new one, Bosham, which we really loved, visiting with a fellow lifting keel boat. Yes, it was a bit crowded at times, and tactical timing plus forward booking was necessary in some places, but after lockdown it was great just to be living on-board and sailing again.
So that was our 2020 sailing-wise. Hardly epic, but in the circumstances, we made the best of it. The boat is now back in our local Yacht Club yard for the winter.
Maintenance and upgrades
The boat now being 6 years old, we have taken the opportunity of having her near to home again to catch up on maintenance work. Warning! This may be of interest to other boat owners, but friends and family may wish to skip the details!
Overall 6 years in, we’re very happy with our Ovni 365.
In addition to the usual end of season servicing and maintenance, we planned and completed a number of other bigger tasks during 2019/2020, some of which we had been planning for a while, and some like the first item that were sprung upon us!
That sinking feeling
“There seems to be a bit of water in the dinghy”, Jane mentioned, as we puttered across Newtown Creek. Halfway back to the boat, and the dinghy had turned into a salt-water bath-tub.
Willing the outboard to keep going as the freeboard got lower, we made it back with just soggy trousers to show for the adventure. On investigation, the floor of our 20+ year old Bombard dinghy had split. Given that we do use the dinghy quite a bit, I decided to sport out on a new one rather than patch the old one, and have it fail again at some inconvenient moment. A bit of on-line research revealed that the yacht tender market is now pretty much completely dominated by Chinese dinghies. The old stalwarts Avon, Zodiac, Bombard etc. either only now sell larger boats, or they are very expensive. Pity, I really liked our old Bombard AX3. It was fairly generously sized, light weight, and quick to deploy. It also had a lot of memories associated with it. It had been on 3 of our boats, and our kids had learned to row with it. I didn’t realise you could become so attached to a rubber boat! The new one seems OK though. We opted for a Waveline Lightweight It’s certainly light, always a good thing when you are trying to pull it out of a deep locker, and it folds up nice and small. Not sure if the quality is as good as the old one, but you can’t argue at the price.
This one was an epic DIY project. We would never make another, but it turned out great in the end!
Having seen boats in Sweden with purpose-made winter covers, we decided to make one for Grey Wanderer. Our local club yard is great in a lot of ways, but it is quite dirty, and “blessed” with a huge number of starlings, who like to deposit their droppings all over the boat. So Jane designed and planned an overall winter cover. It would have been prohibitively expensive to have one made, so she set to with our domestic sewing machine, and after a couple of months, and a few trial fittings, this was the result.
It stood up to several severe gales last winter, and it makes working on the boat in winter much more pleasant. It helps to protect paint and equipment from the elements, and when you take it down before launching, you have a nice clean boat.
We are very pleased with it, but lost count of the many, many, hours that went into making it!
The fabric is “Sunbrella”, we found a Dutch firm on-line selling rolls of seconds at reduced price. Given the amount of bird droppings that it attracts, there’s no point in using the full priced stuff !
The supports are fibre-glass tent poles, and the whole thing is made in a number of sections which zip or velcro together.
Methanol Fuel cell
We like to stay away from conventional marinas where possible. But being away from shoreside power has its’ challenges. We can easily live for a couple of days or so on the storage capacity of the batteries, but much beyond that, and we start thinking about turning off the fridge, and/ or running the engine to put some juice back in the batteries. Ideally, we’d like to be able to remain independent of the shore, without resorting to these options. Conventional wisdom is to fit solar panels, and/ or a wind generator. Alternatively, a small petrol or diesel generator. I did some research on wind generators, and even went as far as mocking up the size I wanted in wood so I could check the blade clearances with our aerials etc. But frankly, I think they look a bit ugly. Added to that, as others have pointed out, when you anchor you tend to look for places that are not windy! I’m sure they work well topping up the batteries on boats which are left on swinging moorings, but I’m not convinced they will be ideal for our pattern of usage. If we were going to the med, I imagine Solar would be a no-brainer. But in our corner of Europe? Also, to fit a couple of decent sized panels to the gantry on Grey Wanderer would greatly add to the windage of the boat. Something we are not too keen on. Many people these days seem to hang solar panels on their guard rails and then angle them, when in use, with a line to a high point on the back stay. Whilst this makes for an easy installation, it seems to me that they are just inviting damage from other boats coming alongside. So then I looked at I/C generators. But I couldn’t imagine running one rafted up on a town quay, or in a crowded anchorage, without becoming very unpopular and destroying everyone else’s peace and quiet. So I’m looking at fuel cells. Not the cheapest option, but they do give a steady charge, irrespective of weather conditions, are silent, and unobtrusive.
The market leader seems to be Efoy. With their limited life, I can see why they wouldn’t appeal to long-term cruisers, but I think they would well suit our seasonal use.
If we take the plunge and invest in one, I will post after a seasons use.
Reefing system upgrade
When we first purchased the boat, it was designed for single-line reefing, but fitted with reefing pennants only at the leach of the main. Don’t know why, but this is what Alubat did. Therefore, you had to go forward to clip each reef on at the luff. I sometimes end up on tip toe pulling the luff down, and I am 6ft tall. Jane, who is somewhat shorter, has always been concerned about her ability to reduce sail if anything happens to me, so we planned some changes to the reefing arrangements. Other sailors will be aware of the pros and cons of various reefing methods, so I won’t go on about that here. But, given that other Ovnis seem to successfully use single line reefing, we have converted the 2nd and 3rd reefs to single line, with decent low-friction blocks on the luff pennants. Sure, you end up with more spaghetti in the cockpit, but it’s not un-manageable. We have no “shuttle block” inside the boom, just sheaves each end, and it works just fine. So we now have a system whereby one person can get the 2nd or 3rd reef down un-aided without leaving the cockpit.
On the way home through Holland last year, the service bank was supporting the load for less and less time between charges. It turned out to be one failing battery, (there are 3 in the bank). But on the basis that the other two would undoubtedly follow shortly, all 3 were replaced last winter. The old Vetus batteries had lasted quite well, (6 years). But unable to source the same ones, I went for 3x 85AH Vartas this time. We’ll see if they last as long.
During our time in the Baltic, we kept up the regular engine servicing routine fairly religiously. Some work was done professionally, and some by me. However, as the Nanni N4-38 had reached 1000 hours use by the time we got back to the UK, we decided to celebrate this milestone by treating it to a professional service by West Marine Services at Brighton Marina. We also took the opportunity to address some other related maintenance. Including an overhaul of the prop shaft, a slight change to the prop pitch, and a new stern gland and shaft. West Marine are very good people to deal with. I have no association with them other than being a happy customer. Apart for being competent and knowledgeable, I like the fact that they listen to you, and are prepared to work with you to achieve what you want. (It’s surprising how many in this industry don’t do this)
The engine had never made its’ rated RPM, topping out at 2700 RPM in flat water, where it should make 3000. I.e. It was a bit over-propped. After discussion with West Marine, and the prop manufacturer, Darglow, we went for a slight decrease in pitch, which has increased the revs, and also resulted in smoother running with no discernible lack of “grip” when manoeuvring. The Darglow Featherstream prop features a “pitch cassette”, which is effectively a wedge that limits how far the prop blades can open. Darglow will just machine you up a revised one for the new pitch setting. All very clever, and minimal re-engineering of the propeller. These Feather Stream props are beautifully made bits of kit, which add greatly to the manoeuvrability of the boat under power, and the speed under sail.
The original packing type stern gland had always been a niggling problem on our boat. It let in more water than I was happy with, it needed regular adjustment, and it seemed to wear out it’s packing quite quickly. It also gave me a problem one year on launching, when it leaked so much that we had re-lift the boat, despite having been fine when the boat went ashore the previous autumn. Initially, I wanted to replace it with a Volvo maintenance-free gland, but found that we couldn’t fit it in, due to various obstructions in the engine compartment. So, I opted to have a new conventional gland, but this time with a remote greaser. So far I’ve been pleased with it. Minimum water ingress, and the added advantage of a greaser, which means you can stop water dripping when the boat is left for a while un-attended. All our older boats had greasers, and I don’t really understand the trend now for glands without them.
While everything was apart, the shaft was withdrawn and found to be slightly out of true. I can only assume it’s been like this since she was built, as there have been no apparent incidents which could have caused this. However, 6 years on, it’s a bit of a moot point! A new one was fitted along with the new stern gland and a new cutless bearing. The boat had always had a tendency to wear it’s cutless bearings out quickly. I had put this down to the soft rubber-type bearings used in most French yachts, and the relatively heavy prop. However, it now seems more likely that the shaft was the culprit.
Finally, this Autumn I returned to see West Marine for one more up-grade. Previously, we have had an intermittent problem with an air-leak on the fuel system. Usually this manifested itself by the engine shutting down a minute or two after the first start-up of the day. Another reason to always warm the engine up a bit before leaving the berth! Once re-started, it then ran fine for the rest of the day. After several season’s of driving myself mad looking for the problem, I found what I think was a slight sealing issue with the plastic bowl on the Racor spin-on primary fuel filter. Ovnis have their fuel tanks down low in the bilges. This means that the slightest leak can result in air being drawn into the system. (As opposed to boats with high-mounted fuel tanks, which maintain a positive head or pressure on the fuel line, preventing air from entering). Any air tends to end up in the top of the primary filter (highest point in the system), and if it displaces enough fuel for the air to reach the level of the filter outlet port, the air can be drawn through to the injector pump and stop the engine.
In addition to this, I’ve always found the spin-on filters fiddly to change, and frankly wouldn’t fancy my chances changing one at sea in anything other than ideal conditions. So on recommendation from others, I’ve ditched the spin-on unit for a Racor 500 filter. This is a top loader type unit, which means that an emergency filter change can be done quickly, it has more robust sealing surfaces, and it holds a good head of fuel above the outlet port. Time will tell, but so far I’m happy with my choice for this critical piece of kit.
Our Raymarine e series plotter started playing up at the end of the 2019 season. I returned it to Raymarine for repair. And lo and behold, the quoted price for a repair was slightly more than the cost of a new model replacement plotter! I had hoped that this expensive bit of kit would have lasted longer. But at 6 years old it was finished. I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised if a phone or a laptop expired after 6 years, but somehow I still felt a bit cheated by this. We now have a new RM Axiom. They didn’t do us any real favours on the supposedly discounted price we were offered as a “repair/ replacement”, but at least it’s still compatible with all he other RM kit onboard, and their customer service people made sure we had all the right adaptor cables to make it a plug and play replacement. On the positive side, the Axiom plotter has some useful new features. I think we sometimes forget how amazing these modern navigation systems are, compared with the old days.
Our gas flexible hoses were due for replacement, (date marked) so I set about finding someone who could do this and then pressure test the system and issue a certificate. The boat isn’t coded for charter, but hoses have a design life, and a gas explosion would ruin your whole day…. Given the amount of mentions that Gas Checks get in the yachting press, I found it surprisingly difficult to find anyone in my part of the world (I.e Brighton area), to do this for me. But eventually, someone put me on to Rupert Smith Yacht Surveys who sorted it for me at a reasonable price. Again, I have no connection other than being a happy customer.
The hydraulic lifting rudder mechanism has become stiff to use. I received advice on the excellent Ovni Owner’s forum as to the likely cause, so a bit of dismantling/investigation later, and a hole dug in the boatyard to drop the rudder down into, the system was fully disassembled and the corroded pivot pin and bushes replaced courtesy of North Sea Maritime’s excellent spares service for Ovnis. The pin was a little too snug and seemed to make the mechanism stiffer than it should be, so a few thou’ were shaved off on the lathe to get a good fit.
So as Covid continues to limit what we can do, I’m amusing myself with a bit of winter maintenance. Here’s hoping for a better 2021 for everyone!
Robin and Jane