Notes on Upgrading White Knight’s Navigation Systems

Starting point.

When we bought our Contessa 32 White Knight her electronic navigation instruments were largely original. Some were not working; others were becoming unreliable. So upgrading the navigation systems was a significant part of our early refit budget.

White Knight’s Navigatorium was well appointed for its time. The teak faced chart table was still in good condition, regularly polished and covered with a canvas cloth when not in use. The crew very quickly learned and adopted the draughtsman’s creed of not to use it for cooking, drinks and eating.  The chart locker under the desk lid gets used for storing many other small things people want to “put out of the way but handy”. Regular rummaging, spring, summer, autumn and winter decluttering is gradually getting the melee under control.  Mounted above the chart table was a pair of Stowe Navigator display units and an antiquated Furuno GPS. The original VHF Radio predated GDMS but had an external speaker in the cockpit which was not working.  A NASA Navtex was out of sight in the quarter berth and the original (and much modified) switch panel beside the navigator’s seat. The domestic and engine batteries were secured beneath the Navigator’s seat with the selector switch on the front panel. Safety equipment including grab bags, flare packs and lifelines get stowed in the locker under the chart table.

Starting point, Chart table with 1970s Stowe instruments, 1980s VHF and 1990s Feruno GPS

The compass is a Plastimo Contest bulkhead mounted with an internal light. It worked, the lens was clear, and it seemed to be reasonably well adjusted when checked. There was no need to change it.

The electronic instruments were a set of late 1970s Stowe Navigator series with depth sounder, log and wind sensors, a pair of displays at the chart table and repeaters including a wind direction display in a pod over the main companion way.  The wind instruments did not work and there was no obvious fault in the wiring. The depth sounder worked well with an in-hull sensor in the forward locker. The log also worked for speed but kept losing its memory of overall distance covered.  The through-hull paddle wheel sensor was mounted to starboard of the leading edge of the keel in the heads compartment.

Starting point, Pod with 1970s Stowe depth, wind and log. Almost new Raymarine Chart Plotter AKA “The Mutts”

The Furuno GPS had been set up in the 1990s to link to a laptop and link to the tiller pilot however the system belonged to a bygone stage of GPS development and had been abandoned in-situ, superseded by Jeff’s chart plotters. For many years Jeff had sailed White Knight with a handheld Raymarine GPS 40 with a small colour chart screen mounted on a small bracket by the hatch. He had upgraded to a Raymarine A Series 9 inch Chart Plotter which he mounted on the sliding hatch. It was in prime position to be seen from the helm and block the view of the Stowe instruments in the pod. The whole electronics system predated any form of network like NMEA 0183.

What do we really need?

I have never been a fan of being totally reliant upon electronic equipment at sea. My “hierarchy of need” is

  1. First and foremost: Can I sense it myself without any instruments at all i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste or feel? In familiar water one rarely needs anything else. Polynesian navigators crossed oceans finding tiny islands without artificial aids to their navigation, but with huge skill and depth of oral knowledge. 
  2. Stand-alone easily repaired aids to senses: burgee or windex, magnetic compass, hand bearing compass, sight tube for fuel level, lead line, clock, barometer. Backed up with paper charts, almanacs, pilot books, plotting instruments and good data on the boat’s performance. I am not yet confident to navigate with a sextant but do enjoy playing with one.  Yachtsmen successfully cruised the globe with this level of navigation aids well into the later part of the 20th century. 
  3. Stand-alone electronics: echo sounder, I loved the old Seafarer flashing diode echo sounder because it was so simple, robust, reliable and easy to repair. Like an analogue watch, one can gauge the depth at a glance without having to read a digital display.  A transistor radio for time signals and weather reports. Handheld GPSs with spare batteries. Handheld VHF radio. This was our standard set up for many years on our Cornish Shrimper Daisy when sailing the Irish Sea and Clyde.
  4. A Hardwired Networked system:  To minimise the risk of a single failure bringing down the whole network in designing the new hardwired system, I made sure that each of our main networked instruments can either work totally independently or revert to a standalone aid if all the others fail.
  5. Wifi / Blutooth: data to remote displays, laptops, I Phones, I Pads, Tablets, Smart Watches etc. Definitely not “Essential” but fun to play with for those who are so inclined.

After several years of chartering boats and sailing Daisy I have built up my personal carry on board navigation tool bag. It comprises; handheld VHF radio, Garmin 72 GPS and Iris 50 hand bearing compass, pencils, eraser, dividers, Bretton plotter and pocket logbook. It also includes Imray charts, pilot books and almanacs. In addition we all had our IPhones and an I Pad each loaded with Imray chart plotters, tide data and various weather forecasting apps. I have also dabbled with a notebook computer with Sea Clear and Open CPN chart plotters linked to a blutooth GPD module. So if all else failed this bag of tricks could get us through.

Round 1: Initial Upgrades and replacing what did not work

Our first upgrade was to remove the old VHF radio and the Furuno GPS and replace them with a new B&G V60 GDMS VHF radio with built in GPS and AIS receiver. The existing cabling and aerial were tested and found to be OK. The external speaker did not work so was left for another day. We carried a handheld VHF radio in the cockpit.

There is a lot of debate about where to fit a chart plotter. Jeff’s preference was to mount his to be visible in the cockpit on the companionway hatch under the spray hood. This makes a lot of sense for shorthanded sailing particularly in the cooler wetter climes of Scotland and the west coast. Others prefer to keep their Chart plotter at the chart table and rely on a tablet or I pad in the cockpit. This may be OK for larger crews and in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean or for soft southern navigation.  An IPad would not last long exposed to Scottish or Welsh rain no matter how well ruggedized.  We kept with Jeff’s choice.

Crossing the Firth of Lorne in fog. AIS on the radio gave a crumb of comfort.

This set up served us well for our first cruises around the Inner Hebrides and into the Clyde.

Round 2: Building the hard wired NMEA 2000 Network

With White Knight ashore for her first major winter refit for 20 years and with the mast down we were able to check out the aged Stowe wind sensors. We could also start to plan our new instrument layout and how we could start to link them together. First priority was to link the AIS to the Raymarine Chart Plotter to display targets on the one screen, also to be able to cancel the alarm from the cockpit. If this had been the limit of the improvements, it could have been achieved with a NMEA 0183 link between the VHF and the Chart Plotter. But the Chart Plotter had a much greater range of untapped functionality and we had also made some savings in the budget so we decided to take the plunge and install new wind, depth and log sensors to link to the Chart Plotter.

To help plan the network I drew out a single line diagram of the existing system and then started to plan in various upgrade options. Key considerations at this stage were;

  • The positions of each of the sensors on the boat (Mast head, through hull fittings, GPS aerials, engine sensors) 
  • The locations where we would need to access which data (chart table, cockpit and elsewhere)
  • Also, what systems may in the future be driven from the network e.g. tiller pilot.

Using this diagram I was able to plan out cable routes, lengths and connection points to drop cables.

NMEA 0183, NMEA 200 or Raymarine Seatalk? NMEA 0183 is gradually being superseded by NMEA 2000 protocol instruments. The Chart plotter and the VHF supported both NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 but since we were primarily replacing the analogue Stowe Navigator instruments it made sense to go straight to a NMEA 2000 network. Raymarine Seatalk is essentially a NMEA 2000 compatible data stream but uses slightly different connectors between the instruments and the backbone. All other manufacturers use compatible “Micro C” connectors.  Our Raymarine chart plotter came with a Seatalk to Micro C NMEA 2000 interface cable so we decided to adopt NMEA 2000 backbone and connectors as our standard for the network.  A B&G combined depth, log, and wind instruments with a Triton2 multi-functional display (MFD) and a basic NMEA 2000 backbone package was on special offer as a winter deal from Cactus Marine at a relatively attractive price.

I decided, for the initial installation, to keep the Stowe depth and log sensors and chart table displays as an independent back up system.

Over three weekends and a Covid Lockdown I installed the basic network. The first weekend was spent removing the pod and Stowe repeaters, pulling back all the disused cabling and pulling through the basic backbone cabling.  A fiddly job best done without anybody else around to distract or hear the language. By the end of the first weekend I had connected the Chart plotter to the VHF and proved the AIS interface worked. The power of the Chart plotter as an all singing MFD was demonstrated. We rechristened the Chart Plotter the “Mutts Nuts” in deference to Jonathan’s dog who had recently been castrated.

The next weekend was spent installing the new sensors. To mount the Airmar combined depth and log in the Contessa’s deeply vee’d hull we bought a specialist bronze through hull fitting from Jeremy Rogers Yachts. Boring a 50mm diameter hole vertically below the water line was a big step. It then took quite a bit of rasping and cleaning to make a good snug fit with roughened sides ready to receive the fitting and a bead of marine epoxy to bed it in. Being a cold day the epoxy took several hours to cure and had to be propped from below. Meanwhile Ian & Jonathan tackled the wind instruments. The old Stowe sensors were well and truly corroded on. But with oil, heat, brute force, ignorance and a grinder the screws were eventually removed.  The cable was pulled back along with a mousing line ready for the new cable. The new mast head mounting bracket was relatively easy to fit. But the cable connectors would not fit down the mast track. B&G’s technical department were not able to advise what size field connectors we would need to replace them. They were smaller than the NMEA200 standard “Micro C” connectors. Eventually, running out of time, we cut off the lower connector with about 300mm of cable as a tail, as this would need to be reconnected inside the cabin, we had time and spare cable to work out a suitable fix.   The new cable slipped easily down the mast.  Jonathan took the pod, Mutts and Triton2 MFD home to make a new deeply varnished dashboard to take the new instruments.  A few days later we entered the first Covid Lockdown.

With lockdown eased it was only a few hours work to refit the pod, pull through and secure the backbone cable for the Triton MFD and the Mutts. Then tidy up the rest of the cabling and make the final connections to make sure it all worked. The through hull fitting was wet tested as we launched. No leaks, whoopee! and the depth looked reasonable, even better. Reconnecting the cut wind sensor cable was slightly trickier. All the advice was to use a field connector, if you can get one, even so it would be tricky. My brother, an electronics fiend, initially suggested using “breadboard” and soldering the very fine wires. But then suggested the wonderfully named “heat shrink butt connectors” as a more water-resistant solution and easily sourced via Amazon. I also brought some larger diameter heat shrink rope end protector to add an additional layer of protection over the butt connectors.  An electric hot air paint stripper provided sufficient heat to do the job.  All cabled up and switched on, the network all worked together.

Varnished Dashboard with linked instruments displaying on MFDs Triton and “The Mutts”

Calibration took place through our shakedown cruise around Loch Fyne. The depth was initially calibrated to match the Stowe depth gauge. The set point Zero was a seemingly random depth somewhere between the water line and the sensor head. We quickly found that the keel depth was 1.4m below the set point. Standing instruction to all helms “maintain a minimum 2m on the depth sounder”.   Initially the log over read by 30%, however the Triton2 includes a calibration to allow the through the water speed to be calibrated to the GPS. A few runs at slack water up Loch Fyne gave reasonably consistent results. We checked the log again using the distance markers off Arran. Wind angle seemed to set well right from the start. We had no way of doing an accurate measure of wind speed at the top of the mast but the readings seemed about right when checked against a hand held anemometer at deck level.  

Calibrating the Log Loch Fyne

With all the instruments talking with each other, reasonably calibrated and good displays for the helm. The Navigator was in nerd heaven for our summer cruises and delivery trip from Scotland to North Wales.   The Triton2 display next to the chart plotter was scrolled through all its many displays. Favoured display on passage was GPS position, course to next waypoint CMG and ETA.  Closing the coast the combined depth and speed display was favoured. The wind displays were called up regularly, particularly wind speed history as squalls came through. The chart plotter with AIS overlay provided reassurance particularly when visibility decreased. A short coming with the Raymarine A Series touch screen display emerges in wet weather when the touch screen controls stop working. MFDs with hard controls like the B&G Triton2 and Zeus do not suffer with this problem. 

The Navigator’s tools were stowed in a teak rack for the pencils and dividers. A teak box for the sighting compass was secured where it could be reached from the cockpit and a teak binocular box was also secured beside the chart table.  

A paper deck log (Aldard Coles Pocket Logbook) and marked up Imray passage chart were kept on the chart table along with the passage plan and an A4 spiral bound note book for radio traffic, shipping forecasts and rough notes. The fair log is kept in an A4 loose leaf folder. At this time there were no shelves suitable for A4 books and folders so they were kept in the Navigation bag, or added to the melee in the chart locker.

With this set up we completed our second summer of cruises and the delivery trip from Scotland to North Wales.

Round 3: Chart Table

With the helm adequately supplied with data it was time to consider the next round of improvements to the navigation systems. At the chart table the Navigator was being left without access to data as the Stowe displays started to become unreliable.  The small display of GPS and AIS data on the VHF was adequate but not easy to read with wet glasses and a lively motion. As a quick fix the new VHF had initially been mounted on top of the box with the Stowe displays, all of which was held to the bulkhead with a single screw. All rather wobbly and annoying. We were also finding that the Navigator was as likely to nip below and work standing at the end of the chart table as to sit facing the desk. So visibility of displays needed to work both ways.

One of my pet hates is loose fittings and dangling cabling, especially around a Navigation Station. The Contessa being a 1970s design tends to heal at 20 to 30 degrees when sailing to windward “in the groove”.  Moving around the boat safely under these conditions requires reliable grab points. As a rough guide anything a crew member may grab to prevent a fall needs to be secure, and all loose items need to have secure stowage. So in tidying up the Chart table, cables needed to be managed out of sight and secured. Accessible stowage was also needed for the charts, log books and A4 folders.

I started by relocating the VHF under the side deck to the side of the chart table. To replace the Stowe displays I got another B&G Triton2 MFD on offer from Cactus Marine. This was mounted in a marine ply box under the VHF which also kept the NMEA 2000 connectors and cables safely secured out of sight. In this location the MFD is clearly visible to a Navigator either standing at the end of the chart table or seated. The box also holds the chart table flexilight. This arrangement also kept enough space for A4 folders, almanacs and pilot books to be stowed in the cubby hole at the side of the chart table.

Tidy and Modernised Chart Table

Round 4: Going Wi-Fi

A feature of the Raymarine A series chart plotter is that it can be linked via wifi to an IPhone using the RayView app to replicate the screen or to an IPad using the RayControl App to control the display remotely. But, this could be confusing to a helm piloting up a narrow channel while the Navigator was using the app to scroll screens and do some other navigation tasks.

Giving the Navigator independent access to the NMEA data would be an advantage. The old Furuno GPS has included a RS323 to USB link to a laptop which, with suitable software like SeaClear, could be used as a chart plotter and possibly even control the tiller pilot. Electronics have advanced significantly in the 20+ years since the Furuno system had been installed on White Knight. Open CPN seems to be the laptop navigator’s weapon of choice these days combining raster chart data with AIS overlays and a wide range of navigation functions. Tablet computer Apps are now widely and cheaply available that can display all the NMEA data in a range of formats. Navionics and Imray Chart plotter apps have the full functionality of their Chart Plotter MFD equivalents.   Programming geeks are developing new functionality all the time. Self-writing logbooks, data analytics, push button polars, the geeks are at work. All that is needed is a way to link the NMEA network to the laptop or tablet.

I chose an Actisense W2K-1 NMEA2000 to Wi-Fi Gateway again on offer from Cactus Marine. This rugged device is little larger than a credit card, about 10mm thick and includes a micro SD card which depending on how it is configured can record about 16 days of NMEA data before over writing the oldest data. Using a NMEA2000 T piece connector it can be easily added to a NMEA200 network. The Wi-Fi access is secure and password protected but does not connect to the World Wide Web. 

With a couple of minutes work sorting out the configurations I had Open CPN running on my old Netbook with GPS and AIS data from the NMEA network. I also setup my IPad to stream the NMEA data into Imray Instruments app. This app allows the user to configure their own instrument panels from a wide selection of options. With the Wi-Fi I can access this from anywhere on board.

Removing the Stowe instruments from the bulkhead leaves room for an IPad holder above the Chart table, close to a USB charging point.

Round 5: Where Next?

AIS Transponder: For the sailing we have done to date with White Knight the AIS Receiver built into the B&G V60 Radio has certainly been a valuable aid to navigation. We have not (so far) felt the need to be transmitting AIS data in the relatively quiet waters of the West of Scotland and a Covid Locked down Irish Sea. It is a real pain coming into a marina with so many AIS targets of parked yachts alarming and distracting the helm from the job in hand. Part of the joy of sailing is to get away from it all. Having family able to track our every move and get worried if they can’t see us on their mobile phone 24/7 is a mixed blessing that would not have occurred to sailors even a few years ago.  

Moving to the busier waters of the southern Irish Sea and English Channel, the safety driven argument for an AIS Transponder increases rapidly. Many vessels are now relying more and more on AIS rather than visual lookout and radar to spot potential collisions.  The mixed blessings of the family Marine Traffic watchers pale into insignificance when compared to 70,000 tonnes of bulk carrier travelling towards one at 20+ knots.

Had we known that the B&G V60B with built in AIS Transponder was coming we may have held off, but decisions are always made with what is known at the time. “If only” is after all the saddest word combination in the English language. Good NMEA 2000 Class B AIS Transponders are now available for about £600, with a VHF splitter these can be wired into the main VHF aerial. Alternatively a separate aerial would reduce the reliance on a single point of failure.  I will probably go for the splitter to get maximum range from the mast head aerial with the boxed emergency aerial kept in the chart locker just in case.

MOB Devices and Personal Locator Beacons are amazing devices in extremis. I would prefer myself and my crew not to go over the side and get into that sort of situation in the first place. A controlled dose of the fear that turns brown and smelly will I hope teach the crew to move more carefully and clip on so as not go OB.

Back to basics. We recently had an interesting exchange on WhatsApp after posting a photo of us passing through the notorious Swellies in the Menai Straits. The eagle eyed viewer spotted that the Chart plotter was in plain sight and commented that he thought we would have been glad to have it on. On the contrary we were not using it. We were navigating through these treacherous waters using the same transits described by the Caernarfon Pilots for bringing far bigger vessels through between the rocks and under Telford and Stephenson’s mighty bridges. 

Just as when driving down a motorway, I spend far more time watching the road and other traffic than glancing at the dials, these amazing aids to navigation are just that, aids.

Mark One Eyeball Navigation. Following the Transits Through the Swellies. West Abutment of Stephenson’s bridge in line with the small day mark on Prices Point gives a clearance transit for the Platters, and the Swellies Rock
Under Mr Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge

Raid Lugger

Preparing Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger for the 2008 Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raid.

Racing is “not a very Drascombe thing to do” but raids are different. In essence a raid is a very sociable series of rowing and sailing races over a week covering about 60 to 100 miles.  Raids have increased in popularity since their inception in the late 1990’s when French Lawyer Charles-Henry Le Moing set up Albacore to organise the River Douro Raid in Portugal.

Owner in Sea Kilt

The Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raids follow the Caledonian Canal starting at Lochaber Yacht Club south of Fort William via Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and Loch Ness to North Kessock on the Beauly Firth.  Accommodation ranges from the hotel boats Fingal of Caledonia and Eala Bhan, through camping with gear transferred between sites in a van to the Highlander Trophy “camp and self sufficient” standard.  Event management includes the provision of safety boats, evening meals and entertainment often in the shape of “Mark the Bard” the only piper I know who slips Flintstones and Adams Family themes into his vast repertoire of more traditional music. There is of course the last night ceilidh.

Entries in 2008 were grouped into three classes, Class1 (Traditional boats), Class 2 (Centreboard boats) and Class 3 (Drascombes). Class 3 was made up of three Luggers a Dabber and a Swale Pilot.

Racing conditions can range from sailing and rowing in winds ranging from calm to force five gusting six. Safety is paramount with tows available for boats that do not feel up to the conditions. Many boats carry outboards for non racing sections, but are banned for the Highlander Trophy. In this part of Scotland winds from the North East generally mean bright sunshine. Winds from South West are usually accompanied by overcast and rain.

Starting Point

Our starting point was Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger Mac Puff’ (an unfortunate conjunction of McPuffin and MacDuff, the boat’s original home port). Gordon has owned McPuff’ since 2002. The boat is a fairly standard late Honour Marine Drascombe Lugger with the standard single rowing position and 8’ ash oars (rarely used) and the standard boomless gunter yawl rig.  This rig has limited performance into the wind and on the dead run. Performance on the reach is reasonable given the relatively small sail area. For the raid though racing is either into the wind or running.

The sailing characteristics of the Lugger are legend, a stable balanced hull form, based loosely on an east coast coble. Thought very safe and seaworthy Luggers are not known as flyers. From a safety perspective the boat’s main vice is in a severe swamping when water floods above the centreboard case requiring a towel to stuff into the gap when bailing. The standard pump is only useful for removing rainwater and spray.

Both Gordon and I have been messing about in boats since childhood and started sailing together in 2003 with day trips to the North Wales coast. In 2007 we took McPuff’ to the Drascombe Associations Largs Grand Fleet event and fitted in a short camping trip circumnavigating Bute.

Sailing

Our preparation started with reading Hans Vandersmissen’s inspiring book “The Shallow Sea Drascombe” (published by the Drascombe Association). Gems included using reefed main and staysail to get to windward in winds over F4, rather than the usual staysail mizzen combination which works better off the wind. Also keeping the gaff as close to the mast, in our case using high parrel beads. Others used a twin halyard set up.

Working to windward with reefed main and stay sail, a winning combination

Off the wind (running) we set up whisker poles on the staysail and main (a boathook). On the mizzen the whisker pole allowed us to power up and de-power the rig very effectively. Over force 4 however it did tend to induce broaching.

Sailing in confined water meant we needed to be able to stow sails quickly. With the staysail, roller reefing is almost standard. Hand rolling the main tightly around its leach proved a very quick way of taming the beast.

Rowing

Dispensing with the outboard motor was a huge leap of faith. The Lugger at 350kg is no light weight, add in camping and other gear and a couple of under exercised middle aged men and half a tonne all up displacement is a fair estimate. To rig the boat for rowing we set up a double scull arrangement. An email exchange with Stewart Brown at Churchouse Boats brought back sound advice and the necessary parts, a pair of rowlocks, sockets and teak infill pads. We fitted these on the Friday afternoon before driving up to Fort William so had no time to check the arrangement.

For the additional set of oars we borrowed a redundant pair of 10′ carbon fibre maccon racing sculls from a local rowing club.  We used these in the stroke (aft) rowing position where crossed hands were not a problem. For the bow rowing position we used the standard 8’ wooden oars. The short inboard length allowed the oars to pass the person rowing stroke. To provide foot bracing we fitted foot rests made from off cuts of pontoon decking secured to the floor boards with bolts and penny washers. Not pretty, but effective.  

The first rowing race is 12km so somewhere to sit comfortably for 3-4 hours while rowing is essential. Sliding seats are not allowed. We chose foam cushions on the centreboard case. The chafe was uncomfortable. Next time we will make some proper thwarts.  

With no practice rowing the Lugger the rowing races were always going to be a bit of a leap into the unknown. Strong headwinds did not help but we found that if we kept a steady pace with each of us taking a drink every 20 minutes we could maintain a reasonably steady pace. Power came from long strokes leaning back and not from our arms. We minimise windage by removing the mizzen and gaff. Under water we kept the rudder fixed with shock cord and the centreboard down to stop us drifting sideways and give us steering control.


Approaching Fort Augustus. Will this head wind ever cease?

Man-hauling

Unremitting headwinds drove us to try man-hauling the Lugger for one of the non racing stages. The arrangement that worked best was a long (kedge) warp tied part way up the mast to keep it above the vegetation and gorse stumps along the towpath. We could maintain a steady walking pace without too much exertion.

Stowage

The basic principles of stowage in a Drascombe are:-

  1. Trim which is vital to keeping the boat moving efficiently
  2. Having space to handle the boat so keep the cockpit as clear as possible
  3. Accessibility 1st priority given to safety equipment, 2nd to operating gear with oars & rowlocks stowed tied on deck, warps and fenders in side lockers with the boat hook and sail ties, 3rd day time needs and 4th camping gear.
  4. Secure everything to the boat.
  5. Keep sleeping bag, clothes and tent as dry as possible.

Our stowage plan had Safety Equipment accessible from the deck or if necessary water. The flares pack was lashed to mizzen, a bucket drogue was secured to the engine mountings ready for immediate deployment in case we needed slowing down approaching locks. A complete change of dry clothes was stowed in a watertight drum secured in the engine well. Bucket bailers and an old towel to plug the centreboard were stowed by the foot of the main mast. We also fitted rope strops around the main sheet horse to help get back into the boat from the water. This was to prove vital escaping from a lee shore in Loch Lochy. Sail Caledonia provided a guidance list and carried out a thorough safety inspection before boats were allowed to join the raid.

Heavy items were stowed around the foot of the main mast. The anchor and chain stowed in a bucket which helped when moving it around the boat. The tent and sleeping mats were stowed in a large rucksack dry bag double wrapped in the boat cover. Heavy food (tins, bottles) were stowed in a cool bag. Beer was stowed in the bilge, but unfortunately during a minor swamping the cans floated and got crushed.

Light gear was stowed in the stern locker. With no engine or petrol tank we could afford to put a lot of gear aft.  Clothes, double wrapped in dry bags inside holdalls, were pushed high right aft. Plastic boxes that could sit in bilge water held the cooking kit, boson’s stores, and light (dry) foods. The standard stern locker door was not secure enough for the conditions. Easy access items like day food, drinks, water, flasks, oilskins, hats and suntan cream were stowed in the cockpit lockers.

Did it work?

It was generally agreed that the conditions on this years Great Glen Raid were unusually challenging with force 5+ headwinds for the first four days. A day storm bound in Fort Augustus provided a much needed rest and maintenance time before following winds down Loch Ness and a near calm out into the Beauly Firth. Our windward rig of staysail and reefed main worked particularly well allowing us to better two knots to windward up Loch Lochy despite gusts well into F6. Off the wind the whisker poles worked well but not as well as the beautifully laminated half wishbone boom on the Dabber Aoibhneas.

The double scull rowing arrangement was very successful but thwarts are essential. A week sitting on chafed bum is not an experience I want to repeat. Ditching the outboard gave us a marvellous opportunity to improve our seamanship.

In all racing events the proof of the pudding is in the results. We won Class 3 (Drascombes) and took the Highlander Trophy for completing the raid unaided, without motorised assistance and carrying all our camping gear. Not bad for two under exercised middle aged blokes in a boat not known for its racing credentials. Most of all it is the most sustained fun I have had for years.

Lunch stop Loch Ness

Sailing with a Seagull

Dad preferred Seagulls. In the 1960s this was not unusual, that Great British piece of Engineering hung from the transoms of most boats under 20’. By the mid 1970s like our motorbikes British outboard motors were giving way to cool hooded and painted Japanese engines.  Why did Dad stick with his uncool Seagulls? “Because it works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers and the right spanners”. Dad’s well stocked toolbox took pride of place at the foot of the companion way on each of his boats.  “Yeh right Dad”.

Like this we sailed much of the year on Ullswater with a Seagull 40+ hanging off the transom of our 20’ sailing cruiser. In the summer we sailed for 2-3 weeks at a time and around the Clyde and Inner Hebrides with a family of five on board and a Seagull Silver Century Plus (with clutch) hanging off the back. 

My own boats came with more modern outboards until I became the keeper of Gnat a Mirror dinghy I had helped Dad to build in 1973, which through another keeper had gained a 1961 Seagull 40+ with its original manual, workshop notes and was still stored in its original factory packing case. And there the little Seagull remained for many years, only opened up to view as a curio.

Enter Daisy, our Cornish Shrimper complete with a quiet, powerful Mariner 8 (with generator).  The beast filled the well, the hood had been modified to not quite fit under the tiller. Its immense weight affected trim and nose weight when towing unless it was lifted and stowed in the cockpit or the car. With dodgy backs this was not an operation to be undertaken lightly and avoided if possible. So the Anglesey mud and barnacles got to do their worst, blocking waterways and encrusting the prop. The Beast rebelled and became mutinous. Lavish and expensive servicing by professionals had little effect.

The little Seagull was exhumed from its box and given a wipe over. The manual was read. This priceless little book came from an age when the nearest a lad could expect from his Dad in the way of sex advice was along the lines “Now son, always remember after a ride to give your bike a wipe over with an oily rag. Don’t matter what the girlfriend is mithering for, this will set up a patina for life”.


The author’s Navy Plug wafts through the intervening half century of enforced political correctness since gems like this were penned.

After 30+ years lying asleep in its box the little old Seagull started second pull. First attempts to use it on the inflatable were less successful. It was set too deep in the water. Back to the manual. Too much back pressure on the exhaust. Raising the engine bracket on the inflatable did the trick. A bit wobbly but it worked.

Heading for Scotland the little Seagull was slipped into a corner of the aft locker. (See “Daisy’s Cruise to the Commonwealth Games” The Shrimper autumn 2014). A few weeks later I had a call for help from Gordon. The Beast would not start and he had missed the tide. Aged petrol gumming the carb and excessive pulling on the starter cord leading to flooding was diagnosed as the problem. The option of dropping the Beast over the side and fitting the little Seagull was only just avoided when next morning the Beast was coaxed into life and behaved for the rest of the trip up Loch Fyne and back to Port Bannatyne. But patience with the Beast had finally evaporated like the biofuel to leave a nasty residue. A new 6hp Mariner with a high thrust prop was contemplated, but after anti fouling, varnishing the mast and replacing the 25 year old standing rigging and mouldy cushions the annual maintenance budget was pleading poverty. An interim solution was called for. £100 “won” us “The best outboard motor for the world” a British Seagull “Silver Century (with clutch)” courtesy of E Bay.

The “new” Seagull emerged from the darker recesses of a garage on the Wirral covered in dust, oil and the flaking remains of an attempt to manage corrosion on the drive shaft and flywheel. It was dropped into a green wheelybin “test tank” and started first pull. A pencil thick stream of lukewarm rusty cooling water ran from the cylinder block. The starter cord, a widow making block of wood on the end of a frayed bit of nylon, was politely declined. The engine fitted in Daisy’s engine well. Cash was passed over and we headed off to Anglesey to launch Daisy.  

In seawater at the foot of the slip the engine started second pull and being in gear pushed Daisy back onto her trailer. A push down on the clutch lever disengaged the prop, a hard shove on the trailer set Daisy free (no reverse gear here) and the clutch was flipped up again to engage the prop. Exuding smoke in all directions, coughing, spluttering and creating a din fit to wake the dead we crawled around the Gallows Point back onto the mooring. The previous owner had said the carb needed cleaning which explained the uneven running. 10:1 fuel to oil mix accounted for the smoke and a slightly loose fuel tank accounted for some of the excess decibels. The relative lack of thrust was a bit concerning as the Anglesey tides set in.

I took the new Seagull home for some TLC.

Setting expectations 1950’s style

An internet search brought me to the www.saving-old-seagulls.co.uk website. From the serial code on the side of the engine I was able to identify the engine as a Seagull Silver Century made in May 1978 and delivering, when new, approximately 4HP. This was one of the first Seagulls to be fitted with the wider bearings which would allow use of a 25:1 fuel to oil mix.

A call to John Williams proprietor and high guru of Saving Old Seagulls confirmed that the engine would have been factory fitted with the right carb jets for 25:1 running and that the undersized 8” “weed less” prop was the standard fitted to these engines. John was also able to supply all the spare parts I might need to renovate the engine.

Scraping off the flaking paint revealed a clean flywheel and a rusted, formerly chromed, drive shaft. A coat of Hammerite provided renewed corrosion protection to the drive shaft. Next the carb. An adjustable spanner freed the clamp holding it to the engine. Then judicious application of grips, a vice and a bit of heat separated the major components. Following John’s advice a screwdriver handle applied to the end of the needle separated the float to reveal a thick build-up of silt and crud in the float chamber. The second stage fuel filter was missing and the jets were partially blocked. Jizer degreaser and a scraper removed the crud. Assuming problems upstream a finger into the petrol tank came out coated in silt, so out with the spanner and off with the petrol tank to give it a thorough clean. I surmised that this venerable engine had not only been “baptised” at some stage, but had also spent some time imbibing the mud of the Dee estuary.

Removing the spark plug revealed a healthy colour and the 0.5mm gap to be about right (roughly the thickness of a thumb nail if it needs to be checked in an emergency). The emulsion in the gear box was off white. Seagull never tried to keep water out of their gear boxes relying instead on grit resistant bushes, low temperatures and case hardened gears. An oil change was recommended every 15 hours running. An old can of EP140 retrieved from Dad’s garage provided fresh brown lubricant. A clean up with Jizer, a rub with some wire wool on some of the more persistent stains and a wipe over with an oily rag completed the clean-up. All reassembled with a new second stage fuel filter, new compression washers under the banjo bolt and fresh 25:1 fuel the Seagull started on second pull. So ended a very satisfying morning in the workshop.

Back on Daisy the light weight of the Seagull (25kg verses the 50+kg Mariner) makes for much better trim and allows Daisy to float even more prettily than before. The light weight also makes lifting the engine out at the end of the day a synch. The Seagull usually starts within 3 pulls. Advice from the Manual is if it does not start within 3-4 pulls then stop pulling and check the plug. 25:1 fuel mix makes for considerably less smoke, particularly once the engine has warmed up.  The engine sits well below the tiller, but with an exposed revolving fly wheel one needs to be seaman like with the sheets and keep young fingers out of the way.

4hp is a bit underpowered for fighting Anglesey’s 4-8 knot tides so reading the tides and eddies is a skill to be honed. However GPS trials with the 40+ show it can push Daisy along at 3.5knots in calm water.

With a bit more time I would go for a later Silver Century Plus (with clutch). At 5hp this should be more than capable of pushing Daisy along at displacement speeds. Yeh Dad’s right “It works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers and the right spanners”. 

The noise does discourage unnecessary use of the outboard. So with a Seagull on board we do much more sailing.   


A Brace of Seagulls: 1961 vintage “Forty plus” on the tender, 1978 vintage “Silver Century” in Daisy’s well.

Quotations are copied from the 23rd edition of the British Seagull Handbook c1961

Kleppie & the Long Tail

Watercraft Makita Cordless Canoe Challenge 2011

In 2011 Watercraft Magazine threw out the irresistibly silly, but inspiring, idea of a race for vessels powered by a cordless drill. The competition was sponsored by Makita and held at the Beal Park Boat Show. The “Watercraft Cordless Canoe Challenge 2011” was born and I was inspired.

Dad was a keen canoeist and had a 1959 Klepper Slalom folding canoe and later (no doubt to placate or encourage my mother) a Tyne 2 seater folding canoe. At the tender age of 8 months this was the first craft I was taken afloat in. The Klepper Aerius folding canoe originally belonged to Dad’s friend Alfred. In the 1950s and early 1960s Alfred and Dad canoe-toured extensively in the UK and Ireland.

Dad & Klepper Aerius “Kleppie”, Nunnery rapids River Eden c 1960

By a circuitous route I became the keeper of the Aerius “Kleppie” in 2000.

The long-tail was inspired by a device originally made by Dad. During the descent of the River Blackwater in Ireland in 1962 he suffered a serious back injury slipping on a weir. Not wanting to give up canoeing and being an inventive sort of chap he made a long-tail, powered by a JAP petrol engine “borrowed” from a garden cultivator and fitted to the 2 seater folding canoe. This was used successfully in Scotland and on a descent of the River Eden from Carlisle to the Solway Firth. Reputedly it was powerful enough to “put the back of the canoe under”, and light enough that when they ran aground on a sand bank in the Solway, Dad and his companion were able to pick the canoe up and run with it to catch the rapidly receding tide. The long-tail lay gathering dust in a shed from the mid 1960s, until it “disappeared” some years ago.

Trails of our Long-tail on Gresford Flash

Building our Long -tail

Salvaging bits from various sheds, attics and garages, Jonathan and I made a new long-tail. For the trials a propeller was “borrowed” from a Mariner 2hp outboard. For the drive shaft I machined a stainless steel propeller mount, self lubricating tufnol bushes and thrust bearings all fitted in steel tubing. Jonathan hand-carved the motor connecting block, turned a fairing block and carved other components from ash. The power unit was a 18v Cordless hammer drill borrowed from a friend.

We successfully tested the rig on our local pond. Reaching 5.1 km/h (measured by GPS), with a logged distance run of over 0.5km on one battery we knew we had a contender. To improve steering we made a removable skeg and a rudder with a bamboo whip-staff tiller.

Beal Park and the Watercraft Cordless Canoe Challenge 2011

Beal Park Boat Show was very different from the big London and Southampton Shows. It brought together a marvellous bunch of free thinking individuals who loved their boats and all to do with them. The Amateur Yacht Research Society (www.ayrs.org), small traditional boat builders, boat building academies, amateur boat builders, The Dinghy Cruising Association and classic boat enthusiasts abounded. The stunning setting around a lake on the banks of the Thames in mid-summer with a camp site a short walk away was the icing on the cake.

As a folding kayak Kleppie slid easing into the boot of the Golf, along with all the camping gear, for the trip down from N Wales. Jonathan arrived by train and bike from University.

Day 1 dawned with bright sunshine and a fry up. Kleppie’s folding trolley helped us on the walk to the show, where we assembled her alongside the other craft being prepared for the Challenge.

Entrants were varied and esoteric.

The Competitors

Fast 3 a bright yellow pedal powered trimaran with home built high aspect ratio folding propeller looked up to her name. Four ultra light skin on frame boats were certainly very light, though their power units varied from a drill hooked up to a pedal power unit to a couple of long tails and a very high tech, high precision CNG cut outdrive.   

Beauty in Birch Ply, plus pilot

Head turner of the group was a beautiful folded birch ply boat, supremely hydrodynamic and fast.

AYRS ‘s paddle driven amphibious kayak

The AYRS entry was a paddle powered kayak which was also amphibious, wonderfully wacky but not very fast, the pilot sitting between the paddles.

Round 1 the knock outs were run in flights of three boats, fastest boat qualifying. Weed killed some otherwise hopeful contenders. A burned out motor saw an untimely end to Fast 3’s campaign. Low wind resistance and slick hydrodynamic form helped. Brute force of multiple cordless drills was a law of diminishing returns and most boats hit hull speed quite easily. High aspect ratio model aircraft and pedal power propellers won over more typical low aspect ratio marine propellers. The pedal power experts were certainly ahead in the power stakes. Simple reliability worked in our favour.

Kleppie

Unfortunately, one of our heat’s competitor’s engine was damaged when a spectator played with his motor, smashing the gearbox. Lesson learned take your battery out before leaving the boat.   Rather than getting through on a technicality we opted to wait until day 2 for our knock out race. Overnight our competitor rebuilt the smashed gearbox.

Day 2 dawned overcast with drizzle. Down to the lake and our delayed heat, Jonathan at the helm, and Kleppie’s slick hull held the race.

Round 2 again Kleppie pulled through to make the final.

Lining up for the final

For the final Kleppie lined up in the rain against the birch ply beauty and the twin engine Saltern’s flyer.

The beauty took an early lead with the high aspect ratio prop driving hard and a tight turn at the rounding mark putting the lead beyond doubt. Meanwhile Kleppie and the Saltern’s Flyer were neck a neck to the rounding mark, Jonathan took the tight inside turn aided by the skeg, but Slatern’s twin motor’s and lower drag pulled ahead to take 2nd by less than a boat length.    

The serious point the competition made was that by 2011 cordless drill and battery technology had evolved enough to make a cordless drill powered craft viable. High aspect ratio propellers as used by pedal powered boats had the edge over typical marine propellers. Maximising hull speed while minimising drag and windage allow more straight line speed. Tight turning cuts overall distance, but the drag of our strap on skeg gave the Saltern’s flyer the edge.

Subsequent editions of the Watercraft Cordless Canoe Challenge developed many of the original ideas and brought in some even more off the wall entries including a cordless drill powered human submarine.   

An inspiringly silly idea which brought out the very best of British shed based invention and innovation. All with sunshine, rain, tea and cream cakes on the banks of the Thames to boot. Great fun was had by all.