Saturday, December 23, 2006

Marine engine cooling water filters

I was out on a clients yacht recently, and because we had little time to cover the items that I was on the boat for, I did not do my normal full range of checks before casting off. Sure enough as we were motoring home at the end of the day, the over heat alarm activated on the engine.

Once he had the headsail rolled out and the boat sailing, I opened the water filter which was the obvious place to start. It was one of those modern black plastic ones with the large screw top and cup shaped nylon mesh filter. On first inspection the filter was empty and clear, but when it was removed, there was a thick layer of algae on the outside of the filter. This algae was thick enough to stop the flow of cooling water to the engine.

Apparently there is a history of this engine doing this occasionally and instead of the owner checking the filter regularly and cleaning it prior to every trip, they only cleaned it when the alarm activated. Fortunately the engine had not over heated when they were in a confined space or hazardous situation. An engine never overheats when you do not need it!

I have never seen this happen before as on most engines the water in the filter slowly drains out when the engine is stopped so that any growth would die between uses of the vessel. However, this vessel has a saildrive unit and I think that this is what made the difference, the seal on the system must be good enough that the water filter was remaining full all the time, thus creating an ideal environment for the algae to grow.

Hopefully this cooling system will get checked before use every time in future!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Maldives Weather

I am off to the Maldives at the weekend for two weeks of diving. In the lead up to this trip I have been monitoring the weather in the Indian Ocean and its seems to be unseasonably wet, windy and cloudy out there at present. The rains should have eased off at the end of November but on some days recently there has been no sunshine and up to 6 or 7 cm of rain!

I am hoping that the weather clears up soon, especially at there is a tropical storm brewing on the other side of the Equator, I don't know this area well and am hoping that this may indicate a change in the weather over the area generally. Perhaps a local expert could enlighten me.

We have just been told today that Bandos where we were booked to go on Sunday is over booked and they have moved us to Sun Island, seems hard to believe that they managed to do this, but I guess one island is going to be much like another. From reading reports of holidays this does not seem to be unusual at Bandos. At least we will get a free sea plane flight out there which should be a memorable experience.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Leadership styles

When we run skippering courses one of the skills we need to develop in yacht skippers is the ability to lead a crew.

I always find the difference in ability and styles of leadership amazing; there are so many different ways of achieving the same result. My normal approach as an instructor is to try to build on the abilities and personality of the trainee skipper rather than to impose my own style of leadership on someone for whom it may not be appropriate. Sometimes it is just a question of removing some of the rough edges from a natural leader and occasionally it may be necessary to build confidence and command presence in someone who has never told anyone what to do in their life.

When thinking about leadership models, examples from military experience are of obvious interest, the high stakes involved tend to produce exaggerated examples of the different styles that are employed.

One of my earliest leadership experiences was during the final stages of basic training for the Royal Marines. Our training troop has started with 36 men and by the time we were taking the final tests this number had been reduced to 19 by injuries (the weather had been appalling) and attrition (withdrawn from training), although nothing was said, I got the impression that our NCOs were under pressure to make sure there were no more drop outs.

The biggest challenge they had left was one guy (John) who was claustrophobic. As one of the physical tests consisted of a timed cross country run, that incorporated several obsticles made up of tunnels and pipes that John had never been able to complete, there was no way he was going to pass and earn his green beret despite being very fit and capable in all other areas.

The two parts of the course that had caused John problems were a water filled tunnel that you had to go through and a 100ft long 30inch concrete pipe. He had always frozen when traversing both these obstacles and had taken about 20 minutes to complete the passage through the pipe.

When the day of the final run through the Endurance Course came up we were split in to teams of three and the time was taken for the last of the three to arrive at the end of the course, this meant that the run had to be a team effort and it would be up to the two people teamed up with John to get him through somehow. I realised in later years that the NCOs knew we could get away with motivation methods that they could not!

I and a friend (Steve) had done fairly well in all the previous challenges and were both in contention for special recognition for leadership, so not surprisingly I suppose, we were teamed up with John. The odd thing that I remember was that we never even discussed what we were going to do; we just assumed that John would do what he needed when the time came.

The first of the obstacles we came to was the underwater tunnel, when we arrived; Steve and I just grabbed John, jumped in the water and held him down so the only way out was through the tunnel, not surprisingly, he went through in record time!

At the 30in pipe, every time John stopped, he was pricked in the ankle with a bayonet by the person following him, again a record result for the passage of the pipe!

Once these challenges were over it should have been and easy run back the few miles to the firing range where we needed to shoot accurately to finish the course, but I saw an interesting thing happen which I have remembered all my life. John had decided before he did the course that he was going to fail, and even though he had completed the two aspects that had caused him problems he was still convinced he would fail so he found he could not do the run home despite being a good runner.

He slowed down and would even collapse on the floor, saying he could not go on, despite the fact that he had previously run much further with no problems. Steve and I ended up carrying John's weapons and equipment whilst dragging him, and eventually when he collapsed on the floor, we would kick him until he got up and ran again. Finally, when the end was in sight, he got so mad with us he ended up chasing up back to the end of the course.

John passed the course and on the day he was awarded his green beret, he thanked me for helping him to get through.

I learnt then that it is possible to drive someone to be successful by force of character and that sometimes driving people hard towards a goal can work, especially when it is something that they really want.

Some time later I read of a different style of military leadership. I do not know how true it is but the story is that in the lead up to D Day, General Eisenhower met the men who would lead the first assault on the Normandy beaches. Each officer was given a piece of string and asked to hold the end, then to pull it round a model of the area they were to attack. They had to pull it up the beach and through the streets and roads of their area.

When they had all done this several times and beginning to wonder what was happening, General Eisenhower asked if everyone understood where the units needed to go, when they officers agreed, he then said "now try pushing your piece of string round the same route".

Obviously he was emphasising that they needed to lead from the front and by example, not by pushing from the back.

These are two very different approaches to leadership, and they both work. However, as part of being a leader is knowing when to accept the leadership of someone else, I know that I would definitely prefer General Eisenhower's example!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mooring chains

Over the weekend I was running a course in the Solent, Saturday was fine but over night the winds picked up to 55knots. Fortunately by the time we left the Hamble on Sunday the winds had dropped off to a more reasonable level.

Once we had cleared the harbour we noticed a yacht towing its mooring buoy and making about 2 knots across Southampton Water.

We were able to tow the yacht in to the Hamble and left it secured to the main visitors pontoon. Whilst we were waiting for the harbour master to check the boat over I inspected the mooring system of the yacht.

The mooring lines were of a good size, in good conditon and looked reasonably new, however the chain used for the riser was completely corroded through. The original chain must have been about 1/2inch but in places the ends of the links were down to about 1/8inch. Obviously in the storm the night before one of these links had failed and the yacht went adrift.

It made me wonder how often some people check their moorings. From the direction of travel and the tide, I think this vessel came from eitherthe Calshot or Powerstation Creeks where the moorings are privately laid.

Ideally the mooring should be lifted every year and inspected for corrosion damage, if you, your club or boat yard do not do this, do not be surprised if your boat is not where you left it after the next big storm!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cruising Chutes

Last weekend I went out with some students who had just fitted their yacht with a cruising chute. They were not familiar with how best to use it and wanted some advice on how to put it all together and not get in to trouble.

I have never really been a fan of cruising chutes in the past, much prefering to use a spinnaker if possible. I have often found that a cruising chute only had a narrow range of wind angles where it worked effectively if it was flown with out putting the spinnaker pole on it (which sort of defeats the object of having one).

In this case the chute was going to be handled by only two people (I normally sail with 6 or 7 people) and came with a snuffer which for small crews is essential. I was surprised at how easy it was to use and to get it pulling efficiently.

As often is the case with sails that are retro fitted to a boat, the main challenge was working out how best to attach the fittings and get them set up correctly, not particularly difficult when you have done it lots of time but a bit daunting for someone to take on the first time.

In the end we found that attaching a block to the anchor roller and running a long line from a cleat in the cockpit through this block as a tack line worked best. Because it was easily adjustable we were able to trim the sail on a wide range of headings with out too much trouble. It was tensioned for closer reaches and eased off as the wind came further aft.

We also found that the best way to gybe the cruising chute was round the front of the boat, much like on a sailboard, instead of the way the manufacturer suggested of pulling it through infront of the forestay. The disadvantage of this approach is that the lazy sheet can drop under the bow and run under the boat. On this particular boat (a Legend) the shape of the pulpit caught the lazy sheet each time and prevented this from happening.

It did take a bit of practice when gybing to allow the sail to billow far enough forwards before hauling in on the new sheet, if the new sheet was tensioned too soon it tended to snag on the sail and cause a jam.

Having found that the boat's performance was greatly enhanced by the sail, especially in winds light enough that normally on a passage I would have ended up motoring to keep the speed up I was converted to the cruising chute's usefulness. I would suggest that anyone new to them goes out on a quiet day and experiments with the best way to handle the sail on their particular boat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Marine VHF Radio use

I have just been running an SRC (Short Range Certificate) radio course today. I have been running VHF radio courses for about 25 years now and have noticed a major change in the last few years.

In the past it would be quite difficult to get students to speak out loud when they were doing the practical exercises and many people would be very self conscious despite my best effort to avoid this situation.

In the last few years this inhibition seems to have disappeared almost completely, the only reason I can think of is the common use of mobile phones in public places. I think that many people have become used to holding conversations in public like this and no longer feel self conscious when talking over the radio.

One of the results is that the standard of the students attending SRC courses has improved drastically and it is now rare for me to have a student on a course who struggles with the practical side. It would be nice to think that this is because I am a better teacher than in the past, but I do not really think this is the cause.

Maybe there is some benefit from those annoying conversations you hear when someone is talking out loud on their mobile phone on the train or in a restaurant!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yacht Ownership, part 2!

It is not unusual for me to take on a student who has just purchased their first yacht and on discussion find that they have spent over £500,000 or more on their new toy.

Often this has been the result of some long held dream that has finally been achieved by years of hard work developing a business that makes this purchase possible.

If I had been consulted first, I would have recommended that instead of buying a brand new 40-50 yacht, that their first boat should have been a slightly tatty 30-32 footer. In a smaller boat any errors would have been less critical, but I have noticed that owners are often far more nervous handing a new boat than one that already has a few minor bumps and scrapes. This nervousness itself is sometimes the cause of problems.

This smaller boat would have allowed the owner much more room for error and experimentation so that they had a good feel for boats before taking on the considerably greater challenges of a larger yacht.

In the past if you owned a yacht you probably came from a nautical family, you would have grown up sailing and rowing dinghies, sailing as crew on the family boat, then your first yacht would have been a small vessel with minimal facilities. Every few years this boat would have been replaced by one a few feet longer and by the time you could afford a 50 foot yacht, you would been very experienced at all aspects of running and maintaining a vessel.

This experience is rare now as people can afford to buy quite large yachts as their first boat. Unfortunately, no matter how many courses you take or which instructor you go to, they can not cover all the experiences that are required to feel comfortable and safe skippering a larger yacht.

New Yacht Ownership

Students often ask for my advice about purchasing a yacht, particularly with reference to what they make and size to buy.

I always find this a difficult question to answer because I personally feel that it is very hard to justify the costs and time involved in owning a yacht. I understand the pleasure to be gained in having your own vessel and to have it set up so that you know how it works, and it is personalised to your taste, but the expence involved is quite considerable and I believe that most people who buy their first boat do not realise quite what is involved.

I normally recommend that people charter boats for a few years before considering purchasing. The main benefit of chartering is that you know the cost upfront, but also after you have been sailing you do not have any concern about looking after the boat (with many keen sailors working long hours to pay for their fun, this can be a big factor). Another factor that I mention is that after you have owned a yacht in one area for a few years there is a tendency to become a bit tired of visiting the same ports.

Chartering gets round all these things, you can have different boats, visit different areas and not have the worry of how well the boat is moored when a storm blows up.

Of course the downside is that you are never sure of the condition of the boat you will charter and they are never equipped the way you would prefer. A more practical issue is that of learning to drive a new vessel in a tight space, perhaps with your family looking on!

My advice to people considering buying a yacht is that unless you are retired, taking a long period off work, or in a position that the cost is not important you are better off chartering. Alternatively if you feel that you do want to own a yacht, joining a good syndicate ( or something like Smartsail ( can be good choices, but they do need careful consideration first to ensure your goals are compatible.