During an Atlantic delivery this spring, we got intimate with a Garmin eTrex, Hood mainsail furling, and a lot of plumbing.
Our delivery vehicle lies in Bermuda, ûmid-passage.
At Practical Sailor we field a lot of questions about offshore sailing, the pursuit of which some take as a matter of course, others see as sort of a holy grail, and still others are content to regard from a distance. In any case, an offshore passage is a true adventure, the lessons from which tend to come in concentrated form.
At any given time, it seems that at least one of our regular contributors is offshore—along with what must be a fair proportion of readers, judging from e-mail addresses and hailing locales reported in letters.
It's always good to get reports from the briny world. Here's one from a contributing editor who went on delivery duty this spring—signing on for a 1,600-mile passage aboard a 1978 Hinckley Sou'wester 50 from the Virgin Islands to Maine.
The Boat The Hinckley 50, designed by Henry R. Hinckley himself, is, of course, a well-built boat. One doesn't worry about it coming apart. The bulkheads are tabbed to the hull and deck. There are strong floors below the cabin sole that provide rigidity to the hull. The deck is through-bolted to the hull. Hinckley is fond of saying that it builds a wooden boat inside the plastic hull, and this is true.
While handsome and well-made, it has a few deficiencies, the first of which is weight. Coupled with already moderate displacement (338 displacement/length ratio) and teak decks, the Sou'wester 50 is a heavy boat. Rather than speeding over waves like, say, a lighter displacement Swan, it tends to lumber through them. Motion is comfortable, but the boat tends to be wet. Part of the reason is the relatively low freeboard, owing to its lovely lines and classic sheerline. Low freeboard also makes less windage, so there are tradeoffs.
Inside a Hinckley no fiberglass is visible. A great many pieces of solid teak are fitted with screws and covering bungs. But what happens when a deck leak develops? Water migrates between the deck and liner, seeping through at the first opportunity. The source might be a cleat forward whose bedding has cracked, but the drip might be 15 feet aft over a midship berth. During our passage, both port and starboard berths were wet from green water washing over the leeward decks. About the last thing you want to do is start drilling out bungs and disassembling the pieces, but at the same time, leaks cannot be left unfixed.
This particular Hinckley has a chain-driven steering system, which has less stretch than wire cable, and is stronger, but provides less feedback. Perhaps on such a large boat this is desirable. We found the boat fairly easy to steer, though she did tend to wander a bit.
The Sou'wester 50 has a keel/centerboard arrangement. Centerboards housed in trunks must necessarily have loose tolerances so they don't seize up. Unfortunately, this also gives them the chance to develop increased slop. At some point, one begins to worry about the integrity of the pivot pin. On our passage, the skipper elected to keep the board retracted at all times, simply because he did not want to risk the board opening up the trunk and possibly flooding the boat. Draft with board up is 5' 9".
This particular boat's accommodation plan is a bit unusual in that aft of the forward cabin there's a large double berth/enclosed owner's stateroom to port and bunk berths to starboard. Normally, some of this area would be part of the saloon. On this boat, the saloon is shoved aft and limited to an L-shaped dinette to port and a sideboard galley to starboard. The principal shortcoming we found to this plan is the absence of a starboard settee for sitting and for use as a sea berth. Offshore, you really must have open seating and sea berths on both sides of the boat.
The Rig Because the Sou'wester 50 is a keel/centerboard, it's a bit tender. The owner sought to mitigate this condition by having carbon fiber spars — main and mizzen — built by Goetz Marine Technology. This greatly reduces weight aloft and helps keep the boat sailing more level, and thus more comfortably. The cost is enormous, but the workmanship is beautiful. Winch and hardware platforms are exquisitely shaped.
Tom Morris of Morris Yachts once told us that he can't think of any other single change that so dramatically improves performance of an older boat as taking weight out of the rig.
This boat has Hood Yacht Systems furling throughout, including the mainsail and mizzen. Operation of the mainsail furling had to be done very carefully and even then problems arose.
When letting sail out, care must be taken not to unwind too much sail via the electric motor before pulling the foot tight with the manually controlled outhaul. Misjudge it, and the sail fills the hollow inside the mast and jams. Then you may have to roll up the sail again, hoping it's a tight furl that won't bind. The first time we had to use both the electric motor and the manual backup at the mast to unjam the sail. After we got the hang of it, however, this was not a problem.
What remains a problem is furling the mainsail in windy conditions. If there's too much tension on the sail, the circuit breaker on the electric motor trips and one must wait a minute before trying again. Usually you have to head the boat directly into the wind, luffing the sail, before sufficient tension is eased. This isn't always easy or desirable offshore. The boat's skipper said it's important to reef early with this system because in a big blow he isn't confident of being able to get all sail in. Getting caught with too much sail up, and no way to furl, could be potentially dangerous.
Slab or jiffy reefing is much less expensive, and, with battens, allows a full roach on the mainsail (to preserve the already modest 14.7 sail area/displacement ratio), and is pretty much foolproof. A continuous line system keeps the crew from having to go forward to the mast, but does involve more friction of control lines through lead blocks. The furling system for the mizzen worked flawlessly, no doubt because of the lesser forces involved.
Restraining halyards is always a problem on boats; thrumming halyards are annoying and can abrade the spar. Owners develop their own favorite ways of frapping them. On this Hinckley, small L-shaped plastic fittings were screwed to the tops of the lower spreaders to provide a hook for holding each halyard off the mast. We weren't able to determine the exact material, but they appeared to be nylon or Delrin. UV-treated plastics will certainly last longer.
Lifelines Two features of the lifeline systems stand out. First, the lifelines anchor at the pulpits via threaded studs that fit into the pulpit sort of like ball and socket rigging terminals. This eliminates the turnbuckle and the inherent problem of keeping them from unscrewing themselves. We've always been amazed that even circle clips in the holes have a way of coming undone. Cotter pins are better, but watch out for the points.
The other noteworthy feature lies inside the stanchions, where tank vents are cleverly hidden. There's a hole at the stanchion base for excess liquid to escape. Overfilling the fuel tank can cause some diesel to seep out of this hole and onto the deck, but that can happen with a vent located anywhere. The stanchion location eliminates unsightly vent fittings in the hull or cabin side, and makes it hard for water to enter. About the only possible problem we can foresee would be if an insect made a nest inside the fitting; that could be hard to diagnose.
Hatches Hinckley prides itself on making as much of the boat's components as possible, including metalwork like the stem fitting, which on some models is quite elaborate. The hatches are made in-house and are of simple design. The sides are wood and the tops a translucent acrylic. They fit over the high lip molded into the deck, and there are rubber gaskets to make a tight fit. However, on this delivery, green water on deck squeezed through anyway, soaking the area below.
Dogging the hatch tighter doesn't help in a situation like this. Indeed, this is a common mistake by owners, as it simply crushes the gasket material, which eventually loses its memory. The proper solution is to install new gaskets and then dog the hatches just enough to make them watertight. We found that tying a rope "dam" about the perimeter of the hatch sufficiently broke the momentum of water to keep the seal watertight.
Plumbing TSeveral plumbing problems slowed us down. None was the fault of the builder or supplier. First, the fuel transfer switch, used for moving fuel between the forward and aft tanks, did not work on our arrival. The contacts were corroded; as soon as they were cleaned the pump worked fine.
Second, the water hose below the hot water tank split open and all the water was lost into the bilge. Fortunately, there was enough slack in the hose to cut off several inches of the split end and still get the hose back on the fitting.
Third, a brass hydraulic fitting on the engine transmission split up the side and no amount of tinkering could keep it from leaking. We were but several hours out of Bermuda when this happened, so had to turn off the engine and sail back at just two knots. Fortunately, the clever skipper found an identical fitting on the engine and was able to get us going again by bypassing the transmission cooler. One wouldn't want to do this for long periods, but it enabled us to enter the narrow cut to St. George's Harbour under power. An automotive supply store in Hamilton had the part we needed, in stainless steel. Installing the new fitting was a quick and simple job and we were again underway before sunset.
Lee Cloths All berths were fitted with lee cloths, and while they did the job, better designs are available. To be effective, the upper attachment points of the lee cloths must be secured on the overhead well outboard of the berth edge. This angle creates a scoop or wedge shape that helps hold one's body on the mattress.
Our lee cloths were secured by three lines that led nearly straight up to small padeyes in the overhead. When the boat rolled and heeled, your body pressed into the cloth and hung out over the sole, off the mattress. This isn't comfortable and interferes with important sleep.
Also, the padeyes were simply screwed into thin pieces of wood trim, one of which had cracked, making for a very weak fastening. Anchors, such as pad eyes, for lee cloth lines must be very strong, preferably through-bolted. Rather than use snap hooks, run the lines through the padeyes, cinch at the desired level of tension, and then secure with a couple of half hitches. Rolling hitches along the standing part work too, if the line isn't too slippery, and allow easy adjustment.
Ground Tackle On two occasions the anchor, stowed on its roller at the bow, started to come loose. We had to steer downwind to retension it with the electric windlass. Conditions were simply too rough, with too much water coming over the bow, for a crew to go forward even to just step on the windlass switch.
It's a good idea to stow the anchor below, but it must be strapped in securely because a knockdown could send it flying, causing grave injury to the crew and/or damage to the boat. Finding such a location may not be easy, so often they're just left on deck. Some anchors can be pinned to the roller. Others should be well lashed. But the force of water can wrench loose even the best-secured ground tackle.
Navigation On board were paper charts for just about every inch of sea and land from the West Indies to Canada, including the entire East Coast of the United States. While the pertinent charts were kept handy to the nav station, navigation was done with the chart plotting program of The Cap'n. A rhumbline was drawn from Tortola to Bermuda and then from Bermuda to Mt. Desert, Maine. Interfacing with a GPS provides all sorts of critical information in a box on the laptop computer's screen that includes latitude and longitude, speed over ground, course over ground, distance to go, time to go, and an icon representing the boat's position on the chart. The computer was hard-wired to the ship's battery bank and was left on 24 hours a day. It's simple and gratifying to be able to glance at the screen and learn where you're headed, how fast you're moving, and how far you're off course, if at all. If you want to enter a new waypoint, this is simply done with the cursor and a few commands. Instantly an entire new set of data is generated.
As a back-up to the navigator's GPS, we used a Garmin eTrex Legend. This is the second-most expensive of the five eTrex models, selling for about $250. (See our review of five handheld receivers, including the Legend, in the December 2001 issue. In that issue we noted that functions of specific interest to sailors are being relegated more and more to the far back burner by GPS makers.)
The Legend has a base map of the US, but you can download from your computer detailed charts on CDs via a cable. On this trip we were more interested in getting to know the eTrex Legend and assess its utility for marine navigation. We won't get into the finer points here, just our overall impressions and gripes.
We like the unit's small size and rubberized back and sides, which help keep it firmly in hand, and from slipping on a slanting surface. The 160 x 288 display resolution is quite good.
There are five basic pages that are easily cycled through. Sub menus also are easy to call up. The "click stick" that toggles in all directions for menus and selections works very well and is quite intuitive.
Like almost every receiver on the market today, the Legend acquired satellites quickly and information seemed accurate. Now for the gripes. When predicting when you'll arrive at your next waypoint, it helps to average your speed over a period of time longer than the few seconds the eTrex apparently uses. As it is, your speed changes constantly and your ETA fluctuates wildly. Some GPSs allow you to select the averaging period—up to some minutes rather than seconds—and we miss that with the eTrex.
Of the 20+ data fields you can select to appear on various pages, there is no course to steer (CTS) to a waypoint. There's a pointer that crudely indicates port or starboard and a general compass direction (N, NE, E, etc.) to get you back on course. These might satisfy a hiker, but are inadequate for use at sea.
Last, we never could figure out why the odometer and trip odometer sometimes reset themselves when the manual says they're accumulative.
We like the Legend, but we still look forward to the day when handhelds can be fully configured with mariners' functions and charts.