Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good Ideas, Bad Ideas, and Stewardship

rev. 11-8-2013

I would like to share a  post by another blogger: Stewardship-not-Ownership

What, if anything, we owe to the future owner of our boats, or to ourselves if we keep the boat longer than we first anticipated? Unlike cars, which for me at least are valuable only as scrap metal when I'm finished with them, sailboats are like houses and generally see generations of owners. With good maintenance, the useful life of a fiberglass sailboat is at least 50 years--perhaps more--dependent on care and use. Some boats are unique, were made in limited productions runs, and will never be reproduced. My Stiletto was like that, like a classic race car, built of pre-preg Kevlar honeycomb and cured in an autoclave. I would have felt not only loss but guilt if I had wrecked it, either by accident or by poorly considered modifications. Instead, I am proud to have passed it on to its next owner in better shape than I received it, even after I extracting 15 years of adventure from her. A 30-year-old rocket that could still manage 20 knots with the right breeze and crew. She was just no longer the boat her then 50-year-old owner and family wanted.

We focus on well thought out up-grades and modifications, we try to match or improve upon factory engineering and craftsmanship, all while pinching pennies as tightly as humanly possible. How do we feel about the results? How will feel about becoming the dreaded and much maligned PO (previous owner) in the future? How will we feel, in the future, cursing our own short cuts or impulse-driven modifications?

On my Stiletto, the PO was a moron and I redid everything that he touched, with few exceptions; poor choice of materials, no understanding of wiring, and no rigging sense. On the PDQ, the PO deserves better marks, if only because he subbed major work out. I try to do better, since I'm a long-term owner.

A few of my failures and successes, offered for public display.

Good Ideas

Alternative Storage Ideas. Or rather, all storage ideas that don't require drilling and cutting. Every owner will have his own ideas about stowage, so I like removable stuff and dislike permanent changes. Dividers inside bins, out of site, are different; suit yourself. I've added hammocks (laundry) and fabric catch-alls liberally. Winch handle holders have been added and moved. Lashing points have been added where useful. But it can all be removed with very little lingering evidence. Few boats are set up for cruising; they are set-up for daysailing and overnights. So try some things, and change them as your needs change.

Winch Handle Holder Near the Mast Base. I can't believe the PO climbed around the side decks carrying a handle in one hand; I need 2 for safety. Besides, I only made the trip twice about 20 times, going back for the forgotten handle, before I installed a forward holder.

Supplemental Lighting in Deck Lockers. I hate digging out fenders or sails by flashlight. Not hard to make "factory" installation, with a good pair of ratchet crimpers, an eye to factory installation pattern (assuming the boat is well-wired), and an eye on the amps. Automotive and RV products seem to work just fine in interior areas. I only worry about wattage and LEDs on high-usage applications, not lockers. Trunk lights are stock on cheap cars... why not boats?

Chain Lock. Helps secure the anchor and prevents inadvertently loading the windlass. I could have bought one, but I enjoy working metal, have some skills, and made a factory-quality version. I sealed the core at each hole and installed a mated aluminum backing plate.

Wrapping Wheel and Hardtop Columns with 1/4" Line. Very comfortable (cool and warm) and better grip. Cheap, but a little labor intensive. A must-do, we actually did this the evening before our delivery trip. My first upgrade!

Propane Heater. Should be stock, for a boat built in Canada. Curious, in its omission. I took my time and did a by-the-book installation. I even sailed around with a cardboard box model taped to the bulkhead for a season before I committed to the final location; I didn't want a 4-inch hole in the ceiling as a reminder of a bad planning. I fabricated my own line deflector, as the factory version was too high-aspect. I think the install looks factory.

Storm Windows. Should be stock up north! Piece of cake and they match the screens nicely.

Bathroom Vent. Standard on houses... and I got paid more for the magazine article than the material cost plus my healthy self-appointed labor rate!

Secondary Stern Mooring Points. Should be standard on all cats; keeps mooring lines away from the tender. No drilling required. I use them every day.

Window Covers. Takes a big load off the AC, extends window life, and install without drilling.

Better Winterizing.  Why a boat built in Canada wouldn't come with the right valves escapes me. I added valves to add glycol the head and potable water systems. 15 minute winterizing.

Swing-away TV Mount. I'm not thrilled with the finish, but it's mechanically perfect. If the next owner doesn't like it, I drilled no holes.

Improved Dinghy Lifting Takle. The original, with 3:1 purchase and awkward cleats was a challenge when tired and impossible for my child. The new version, based on dingy mainsheet parts, is 6:1 with a cam cleat. Works like a charm.

Pad Eyes on the Deck Near the Mast Base. Very handy for securing halyards, without crowding the mast.

Storm Windows. Great for the cool season.

Bug Screen for Companionway. On the PDQ 32 the roof slider is a large area, is covered from rain by the hard top, and really lets in air... and bugs. A screen makes creek anchorages enjoyable.

Transom Extensions. Faster, sure, but mostly I love the more user friendly aspects of low transoms with a nice place to stand.  A lot of work, but well worth it.

Keel Fairing and Extension. After relocating the genoa sheet lead, the most speed and handling for the dollar and labor. If your trailing edge is blunt and she has too much weather helm, do it.

Bad Ideas

Secondary Bow Anchors. I added a second bow anchor well to my Stiletto. The thing of it is, a second anchor is never actually deployed from the bow. Stern anchors are placed from the stern. Bahamian anchors and other angled sets are generally deployed from the transom and then the rode brought to the bow. IF an anchor IS to be rowed out, it's loaded into the dingy at the transom. So, on my new boat I have a rack for my spare anchor (Fortress F-16) in the stern locker and keep the rode in a bucket next to it. Much better. I wouldn't accept a second bow roller and windlass if they were given to me; I would never use them. Fortunately the anchors on the Stiletto are light, so the new owner should be OK with the PO!

If you ever set twin bow anchors, with the rodes both in lockers, and the boat spins a few times, best luck getting it untangled. Another reason twin bow anchors windlasses and lockers don't work.

Substandard Wiring. The PO added several fans, all without fuses and all with poor connections. Two small fires resulted, damaging only the fans, but the potential was far worse. In 2 cases, the fans were wired-in by  stuffing the stripped ends of the power wires into other spade connectors, and hiding the connection under the upholstery! NEVER leave a hazard. I wrote an article on wiring for Practical Sailor reporting the results of a 1-year torture test of crimps and electrical components, a result of my quest to find a better means for more permanent repairs in damp areas. My Stiletto suffered from poor wiring when I got it, and I wanted to do better on the PDQ.

Wiring Color Codes. Guilty. I often use the wire I have, but I try to bundle the wires in such a way as to minimize confusion. Labling wires with tape helps.

Traveler for Spinnaker.  Worked great on the Stiletto, but I seldom needed it because the boat was so fast (apparent wind forward of the beam). Failed utterly on the PDQ because of the bow light location on the gull striker (broke the light). However, I do make use of the control cleats, I'm recycling the parts, and no drilling was required. A 2-lind bridle with 3:1 purchase on each bow is better.

Clamp-on Fishing Rod Holders. The PO had a clamp-on holder. It might work for a few small fish, but anything worth catching trolling would pull the rod out; the clamp could never prevent the holder from rotating on the rail. Simple 18-inch lengths of 2-inch PVC pipe lashed to the stern rail in 3 places are cheap, less cluttered looking, can hold any pole (boat hook etc.), and are very strong. I just lash them on with 1/4" line, as I like the look and it leaves no marks.

Cheap Foam Cabinet Liners. I spent a non-productive afternoon scraping the rotted rubber from shelving. I muttered unkind things about the PO. I like indoor-outdoor carpet better, where needed. Stays put, dries better and lasts longer.

Self-tailing Winch With no Backing Plate. I pulled it out of the deck on a breezy day. Not even fender washers. Stupid. Now it has a big FRP backing plate. PO's short-cut work could have cost a valuable bit of deck hardware.

Undersize In-line Fuel Filter. PO addition, increased resistance without being large enough to help with bad fuel. I replaced with a nice pair of Raycors. Overkill, but an improvement. Heck, a big part of my career is fuel processing, so I need clean fuel. I also re-routed the fuel lines to reduce air pocket formation and added a few vents and drains.

Fragile Freshwater Strainer From Factory. Broke in thunderstorm, releasing all water to the bilge. Upgraded to something strong.

Stern Rail Mount for Dingy Engine. Or at least I believe this was a bad idea. I'm certain the risk of my dropping the engine overboard or injuring my sometimes weak back FAR exceeds the risk of it coming off the tender: It's a light 3.5 hp 2-stroke, it's tightly clamped to the tender's transom and has a back-up tether, and the davits are sturdy. I've up-graded the davit tackle and I trice up the tender if it's really nasty. If I should ever chose to take it off, it will fit in a stern locker more quickly than I could securely clamp it to the bracket. The mount had been removed to my basement.

Repaired Damaged Engine Mount with Marine Tex (PO), When FRP Was Needed. Could have lost an engine. Rebuilt it with epoxy, glass, and pre-laminated FRP. Better than factory.

Using Silicone as an Adhesive. Or as a sealant, in most cases. Generally a short-cut method that does not last. My only use on the PDQ is to make a removable mounting pad where oil is present or to seal a wire passage. I used silicone too many times on the Stiletto, and it generally let me down. I didn't know... at first.

Curtains. The PO did a very nice job, but I removed them anyway. After seeing another PDQ without, I realized they just made the cabin claustrophobic. But I left the tracks and if a future owner or an older me feels differently, they'll go up in minutes.

Wind Vane on Bow of PDQ. I hate looking up and I like and indicator down low. On the Stiletto a bow vane worked well; I did inside jibes on the chute. On the PDQ I do outside jibes and creamed 2 vanes with the sheets. I replaced them with flexible wands with a yarn at the tip; that seems to be working well.

Side Boarding Ladders. My Stiletto had one (factory), and we learned it was far too easy to leave the sucker down, and it takes a beating underway! Fold up transom ladders only slow you down 1/2 knot when you forget. The Stiletto gained a transom ladder, hand fabricated from aluminum square tube and Starboard because of unusual dimensions.

Salted Paint for Non-skid. Mixed results, actually. Great for varnished areas, draws dirt on white areas. Works well and wears well, though.

Nylon Rope for Jacklines. Polyester is a better choice. The nylon offers nice shock absorption for a cat, but perhaps a little too much. Goes slack when wet. Better than something truly non-stretch and great as a handhold.

Head Intake Filter Located Behind the Head. Impossible to clean. Moved to holding tank compartment.

Occasionally, given time, GOOD items migrate into the BAD column. Given time, I get smarter and some BAD ideas are re-engineered into GOOD ideas. Some of the ideas I've listed as BAD are GOOD on catamarans. We're not always smarter than the designer's engineers, and our workmanship (or more often our short cuts) occasionally plays us up. My main goal is to "do no harm." The factory did pretty well.


  1. Excellent post, Drew.

  2. I saw Windborne's post the other day too, and it made me feel bad all over again about a modification I made to my boat this past summer. In my defense, I did search high and low for something more professional, but in the end desperation prevailed.

    We had just had a bunch of stuff stolen off the boat while docked right behind our house. There was no lock on the salon door, and in 3 years of ownership, I had never felt the need to add one.

    After the theft, I started searching the web for something that might work on the salon slider. I asked on the forums and visited several local locksmiths. Finally, having failed to find anything that would work and look good, I ended up bolting a hasp onto the plexiglass slider and cutting a slot through the aluminum door frame, so that when the slider is closed the hasp protrudes through the door frame and can be locked with a padlock.

    It looks as bad as it sounds, and it can only be locked from the outside. I hate it, but I was terrified the thieves would come back and needed something quick. I can just imagine what the future owner of my boat is going to say about me.

    Keep up the great posts.

  3. Perhaps he'll be glad that it's secure.

    The locking system for the PDQ seems like a manufacturer afterthought, so I can understand where you were coming from.