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Resolving Some Classic Boat Problems

This article was first published on SailNet in August of 1999.

Whether its leaky hatches, keeping the fuel clean, or just finding a place to stow everything—there are a variety of solutions for the on-board challenges that offshore mariners face.

After living aboard for almost nine months and sailing almost 4,000 nautical miles, we've reached the stage where we feel confident grading some of our own innovations and adaptations aboard Hawk. The following items have proven themselves useful and durable, and could be retrofitted on many existing boats. It's always the little things that make the big difference. So have a look and perhaps you'll get some ideas of what to do and not do on your own boat.

Wave Breaks    When green water sweeps over the boat in gale conditions, it hits hatch seals with a force greater than a high-pressure fire hose. The deck configuration aboard many boats doesn't sufficiently protect vulnerable hatch seals, and may even guide breaking water to the bottom of hatches. Though on Silk we had to stand on the main hatch to compress the gasket enough to dog the hatch, we still had water squeeze through the seals on that hatch with the force and volume of a bathroom shower on several occasions.

So on board Hawk we had our builder weld two-inch high wave breaks a few inches away from the front and sides of each hatch to guide the water up and over instead of into the hatch seal. When water sweeps the decks, we can watch as it hits the wave breaks, dissipating most of its force before it reaches the hatch. On fiberglass boats, wave breaks could be glassed in place for troublesome hatches or deck configurations.

Engine Day Tanks    The vast majority of engine problems we came across during our recent circumnavigation were caused by contaminated fuel or air in the fuel system. Contaminated fuel caused the only serious engine problem we ever had while voyaging on Silk. Gale conditions often stir sediment up from the bottom of the tanks, rendering the engine useless. On Hawk, we designed our fuel system to prevent contaminated fuel from ever reaching our engine and to minimize the chances of introducing air into the system.

The system begins with a fuel pump that lifts fuel from our main fuel tanks, located in Hawk's bilge, to a 12-gallon day tank, located under the cockpit sole over the top of the engine. En route the fuel passes through a Racor filter. The fuel then is routed by gravity through another Racor filter before reaching the engine's own fuel filter. If our main tanks become contaminated, or if our fuel pump dies, we will still have 12 gallons of clean diesel that requires no pump or electricity to reach the engine. The gravity feed keeps air from getting into the fuel lines, even when changing the Racor filters. This system can be retrofit on any boat where enough space can be found above the level of the engine for a small fuel tank.

Stowing Clothes    To be most useful, boat storage needs to be accessible and compartmentalized, and of course,well-ventilated. Ventilation minimizes dampness, which in turn reduces mold and mildew. We designed our main cabin clothing-storage unit around these three requirements. The unit consists of individual plastic baskets (from the Container Store but also available from catalog suppliers of storage solutions) installed in separate compartments. The baskets slide out on a plastic track, making everything in them visible and accessible. Shock cord with snaps holds the baskets in place when we're at sea. The front of the unit is covered with an open weave plastic like that used on lawn chairs or the underside of boat cushions. This retains anything that might come out of a basket in a knockdown situation and allows free air circulation throughout the unit. Zippered panels provide access to different columns of baskets. This approach can be adapted for almost any size space and can be used to stow everything from clothing to fresh produce.

Sea Berths    Sea berths need to be the right size to hold a sleeper securely in place. Unfortunately, the right size changes depending on the size of the person and the sea state. In rolly conditions, a narrower berth will allow the user to wedge himself in place, but the same berth will feel cramped when the boat heels over. We installed canvas bags along the hull side of our sea berths for storing our passage-making clothing. We have since discovered that these bags also allow us to alter the size of the berth to suit prevailing conditions. A couple of layers of clothing provides a yielding cushion when we're on starboard tack and sleeping against the hull. A pillow or some blankets can be used to narrow the berth in rolly conditions when we want to wedge ourselves in tightly.

Of course there are many more solutions to the myriad of minor problems that can beset you aboard a boat. These are just a few that we've found useful.

Suggested Reading:

Stowing the Provisions by Beth Leonard

Criteria for Successful Cruising by Liza Copeland

The Well Equipped Galley by Kathy Barron


Buying Guide: Freshwater System Pumps

Beth Leonard is offline  

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