Once the winter cover was removed and stowed I turned my attention to the bimini. I remove all the exterior canvas in the autumn before installing the winter cover, so in the springtime I need to reverse the process.
The first step is to remove the two foremost stainless steel bimini supports, reposition then ahead of the backstays, and then reconnect them. This permits them to fan forward and support the canvas.
Securing the canvas to the stainless ribs is as simple as fastening eight snaps and zipping a half dozen zippers. And yet for the second year in a row I false started, half-attaching the cover backward before realizing my mistake. In the photo above Errant’s bimini is secured, taught, and ready for sailing.
Next up? Time for a scrub-down.
I loaded up the pressure washer before heading down to the marina, planning primarily to simplify hull cleaning (in anticipation of bottom painting). The chore was moderately successful, but the worst soiling turned out to be a dock-rub that remained unchanged no matter how much I abused it with my jet of high pressure water. Looks like some heavy duty compounding will be necessary.
But there’s a silver lining.
Errant’s topsides were overdue for a eep cleaning, and the pressure washer proved its mettle removing stains and last season’s grime from the nonskid. I cranked the pressure and made pass after pass, waving the wand back and forth and watching the gelcoat emerge [almost] like new.
Not bad, right? No soap. No significant elbow grease. Just water, pressure, clean…
About the Bimini…
I noticed while installing the bimini that it’s beginning to fail. Too much weather. Pinholes are beginning to appear. The vinyl window is foggy, scratched, yellowing. It’s time to consider a replacement (and possibly a couple of modifications). Here’s the outfit that fabricated the bimini. I’m curious if they’re still around. Time to find out…
Spring at last! Errant will be launched on May 15. I will be traveling much of the time between now and then, so lots of pre-launch preparation and dewinterization needs to happen quickly, quickly. Today I got a good jumpstart.
The morning started with removing the winter cover. Temperatures were cool, but skies were clear and the winds were light. Pretty optimal conditions. Step one was to loose all of the teathers that secure the winter cover to the boat and cradle.
Once all of the winter cover tie-downs were untethered, the lacing at the bow needed to be removed.
Mission [almost] accomplished… unfortunately the lacing finishes way out of reach — even using the step ladder — so I had to climb up inside to work from the bow deck. Here’s a glimpse of the cockpit looking aft from the companionway.
And here’s a view forward once I finished unlacing and unzipping the winter cover from the bow.
The next step was to disconnect the bow section from the stern section by unzipping a series of connections roughly perpendicular to the mast. I folded the bow section on itself in 2–3 foot rolls, and then we folded the long roll of surprisingly heavy waterproof fabric until the bundle is compact enough to fit in a stuff sack for storage.
Then I continued the process with the winter cover’s stern section, starting at the mast and folding my way aft.
Once entire cover is removed, folded, and stuffed into the storage bags it’s time to remove the support substructure that supports the campus. I tend to go a little overboard installing styrofoam insulation on all obvious stress/abrasion points to reduce the chance of damage from wind and snow and ice during the winter. Before dismantling all of the supports, it’s necessary to clip the wire ties that hold the stars one place and then gather all of the styrofoam insulation for reuse in the autumn.
Mission accomplished! The winter cover is off.
Wire tie detritus.
With the winter cover removed and stored, it’s time to install the bimini. Stay tuned.
It’s time for fresh bottom paint, so I checked in with Errant’s previous owner to see what he had used. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! He’s always been a huge help, and my bottom paint question is no exception. Here’s a screenshot from our exchange.
Some day he’ll probably ask me to leave him alone, to stop bugging him with maintenance questions, etc. But until then, he’s proven an amazing resource.
So, let’s take a look at the product I’ll be using to refresh the antifouling paint on Errant’s bottom.
Interlux VC 17m Extra
VC 17m Extra with Biolux® is a thin film antifouling paint for racing sailboats and powerboats that is formulated with Fluoro microadditive to reduce friction and drag. When applied the VC®17m Extra will immediately give a hard, super smooth, racing finish that would normally take days of tiresome sanding. VC®17m Extra incorporates the Biolux® technology along with the metallic copper to achieve complete protection in freshwater or low fouling saltwater. VC®17m Extra is great for use on inflatables.
Thin film antifouling for racing sailboats and powerboats.
With Fluoro microadditive for a low friction surface.
Hard, smooth surface for use in fresh and low fouling salt water.
Here’s a video from one of the biggest purveyors of Interlux VC 17m Extra. (Helpful video, but I was pleased to discover that Willsboro Bay Marina sells Interlux VC 17m Extra in their ship’s store, so I’ll happily keep my business local. Thanks, Tami!)
So I mentioned in my last post (Late Winter Check-up) that I need to remove the wheel from Errant. I’ve decided to forego replacing the stock Edson wheel with a Lewmar folding wheel. I still love so much about it, but
it adds one more thing to break and maintain,
it’s a slightly spendier gadget than I should justify now,
and I’d rather “test drive” one before committing.
But I’m ready to swap out the hot-or-cold-or-clammy feel of a stainless steel wheel, and adding a suede/leather cover seems like a smart upgrade. But first I needed to remove the wheel to take it home. (More on the new wheel cover soon.)
How to Remove the Wheel
I should start by acknowledging that I got lucky. Removing Errant’s wheel was quick and easy. Apparently that’s not always the case, but I’ll leave instructions for trickier removal to my unlucky counterpart wrestling the wheel free.
In my case, the task was completed in three simple steps:
To remove the wheel from Catalina 310 you will first need to remove the nut.
Once you have removed the nut you can slide the wheel off. (Note: You may need a gear puller to loosen the wheel.)
Once you remove the wheel from your Catalina 310 be careful not to misplace the key.
Here’s what it should look like.
What About the Autopilot?
Good question. I did skip explaining how to remove the autopilot prior to removing the wheel. Hope that doesn’t confuse anybody!
I have some autopilot maintenance (or replacement?) that I need to undertake and that I’ll report in a separate post. I’m still figuring out the best path forward. But, for the sake of clarity, if you have an autopilot that attaches to / syncs with your wheel you’ll obviously need to remove that before you remove the wheel.
Today was the picture-perfect start to the sailing season. The sunshine and warmth and wind delivered an auspicious rebuttal to yesterday’s chilly, drizzly launch. And even more fortunate, I was joined by my father and sister for the sail south from Willsboro Bay Marina to the Essex Marina.
Lazy Day Log
The mostly north-northwest wind varied 6 to 12 knots with very minimal wave action. We motored north out of Willsboro Bay and raised our sales as we rounded the tip of Willsboro Point. Smooth sailing all the way, and approximately four hours of catch-up time. My father sailed most of the way, and my sister helped with the charts/navigation and even spent some time at the helm.
Docking still revs up my anxiety meter, and while I know this will change as my skills/confidence improve, I arrived at the Essex Marina with a twinge of dread. But light winds, forethought, and ample good fortune served me well. The boat responded perfectly, and my crew stacked the odds in my favor. A huge relief!
Projects on the Horizon
Errant feels ready for a summer of sailing. I’m excited as I look forward.
I still need to rig one or two reefing points. I’ll try to take care of that over the course of the week plus a handful of other projects that I still need to tackle including ordering and installing new halyards, ordering and installing new name, sealing a couple of slow topside leaks. But all in all, Errant feels ready for a summer of sailing. I’m excited as I look forward.
Water Level Worries
Unfortunately recent rains have elevated the Lake Champlain water level by 2+ feet, and the waves are now breaking over the marina’s docks and fingers. I had to set up a temporary spring stretched across the channel just to keep Errant off the dock. Fingers crossed that the rains will diminish in the lake level will begin to fall.
I’ve just finished installing the main which was repaired by Vermont Sailing Partners over the winter. Yesterday I installed the genoa which they repaired also. While the sails are far from new, they were well repaired and fit great! Now I can rest a little easier that they’ll perform reliably this season.
Here are a few more photos of the last two days’ progress.
Installing newly repaired mainsail on May 29, 2015.
Installed newly repaired mainsail on May 29, 2015.
Installed newly repaired mainsail on May 29, 2015.
Installed newly repaired genoa on May 28 and mainsail on May 29, 2015.
Installed newly repaired genoa on May 28 and mainsail on May 29, 2015.
I replaced the old, worn out sail straps with three sizes of Blue Performance Sail Ties.
Dutchman Sail Flaking System
I’m still sorting through lots of new-to-me items that take a little extra time and attention the first time through. Today one of those was the Dutchman Sail Flaking System. I think I’ve gotten it installed correctly, but I’ll plan on fine tuning it the first time I sail Errant.
If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a helpful video about the Dutchman Sail Flaking System.
The Dutchman Sail Flaking System is basically a super effective, easy, user-friendly system for controlling a mainsail. The Dutchman’s vertical monofilament control lines are woven/laced through the sail and secured to the topping lift. When the mainsail halyard is released the Dutchman gathers and automatically flakes the sail above the boom. Because my halyard and reefing lines are led aft, I can operate the system entirely from the cockpit, facilitating short handed sailing which is one of my short term goals with Errant.
Sloppy manufacturing… [is hopeful not] not what I will experience when my ATN Mastclimber arrives next week. As with the other potential concerns addressed above, I will offer a personal review once I’ve gone aloft. Successfully. I hope… (ATN Mastclimber)
Okay, I have to admit that I’m still feeling that tingly, slightly electric feeling in my bones. All of them. Even though I’ve been down from the mast for a few hours. That’s the “bad news”.
The “good news” is that the ATN Mastclimber is an impressive piece of equipment. It seems well built; none of the obvious ATN Mastclimber quality concerns I cited in previous post. And it works! I was able to ascend like an “inchworm” all the way to the tippy top of the mast to recover the top of the roller-furler which gravity had stolen last autumn.
I won’t pretend that the experience was enjoyable enough to repeat for fun, but there was a certain thrill (laced with primal fear) that helped propel my cloud-ward. And while ascending isn’t necessarily easy, it’s not nearly as difficult as some other reviewers have suggested. Once I got the hang of the ascenders and fell into a rhythm, I was able to reach the top of the mast relatively quickly. Of course the omnipresent awareness that I could plunge to my demise served as a useful motivator!
But while ascending proved easier and quicker than I anticipated, descending proved slower and considerably more awkward than I anticipated. Several times I descended too far on my upper (harness) ascender, making it it tricky to release my foot ascender. And vice versa. In these cases it was necessary to slide one or the other ascender back up slightly. Aggravating. And slow.
But I did get the hang of it, and I did successfully accomplish my task atop the mast and then return safe and sound to the deck. That, after all, is the bottom line.
In general the seat and harness are more comfortable than I expected. They are sturdy and super secure. Tight webbing wrapped around my groin isn’t exactly the sort of experience I savor, but I’d rather feel secure than comfy when going up the mast. And the ATN Mastclimber’s storage bag which doubles as a gear/tool bag is a good idea, but a less-than-perfect compromise. It has to be large (long) enough to accommodate the rigid swing seat, but this then makes it slightly deeper than ideal. Locating items at the bottom while working at the top requires a bit more effort than ideal. But it works. And it’s sturdy. And it is attached to the harness with solid hardware.
As I mentioned above, I am confident that the workmanship is good. Yes, it’s premature to judge the quality construction. No, this is not my final and last word. But I carefully examined the harness, seat, ascenders/hardware, and stitching before entrusting my life and limbs to the ATN Mastclimber. I would not have gone up the mast unless I felt confident that it was well built. And I would not have kept it after making my initial ascent if anything gave me cause for concern. I would have shipped it back and requested a refund. I didn’t. I stowed it for the next time I have to go aloft.
Mast Damage Concerns
I mentioned previously that some reviewers expressed concerns about the ATN Mastclimber causing damage to the mast. I can verify that there are indeed abrasive edges that could gauge or scrape the mast. Knowing this in advance I was able to avoid contact between the ascenders and the mast. No damage. But I was on the hard, and there was virtually no wind. I can easily imagine a scenario where the variables are increased and the mast might endure damage.
I wondered beforehand if it would be easy or difficult to use the ATN Mastclimber. Easy or exercise? Both. In all honesty, it takes some doing, especially descending, but if you’re fit enough to sail, I suspect you’re fit enough to propel yourself aloft with the ATN Mastclimber. Just save some energy for the descent…
Another takeaway involves the potential wear and tear on the halyards. The teeth in the ascenders’ jammers/breaks abrade the line, no way around it. Observing this from on high at roughly the same time I discovered an especially worn section of my halyard triggered a line of reflection still ongoing: how can I develop a convenient and reliable backup? I’m wondering about a grigri on a secondary halyard. Research ongoing, and I’ll share my experience when the time comes.
At the very least, my venture aloft with the ATN Mastclimber definitely highlighted the value of replacing my halyards. ASAP!
Spring is in the air. Not only is the weather warm enough today for me to work on Errant barefoot, but I broke a sweat removing the winter storage cover.
Gravity helps rather than hinders. And disassembly is just plain obvious.
It’s worth noting that removing the winter storage cover is a fair share simpler, quicker, and less aggravating then installing it last autumn. Gravity helps rather than hinders. And disassembly is just plain obvious. Figuring out how to jury-rig all of those supports last fall made removal all the more challenging. Today was pleasant in comparison, sort of like feeling extra super well after recovering from a cold.
More good news: the winter storage cover made it through the winter without coming unlashed and without getting ripped or chafed. Bravo!
Last night as I started to fall asleep — as I tried to fall asleep — my restless mind flitted idly through to-do lists and then settled on my upcoming adventure up the mast.
Needless to say, it was a shade or two shy of a lullaby. My spine tingled. My palms and feet soles dampened. My heart thumped and my mind raced. Why am I going to go aloft? Why am I going to go aloft solo?!?!
Going Aloft Solo
As a teenager I spent my summers as a dock boy at the Westport Marina. I loved it! Boats, water, sunshine and there always seemed to be a new adventure waiting to happen.
I remember perfectly the first time I was sent aloft in a bosun’s chair. The slow, halting ascent. The breeze. The view. The worry that I’d drop the crescent wrench. The slow, halting descent.
I may have gone up masts a half dozen times in those years. I was willing and sometimes even enthusiastic, and many of my colleagues were more than happy to have me pinch-hit for them.
I also remember a couple of spookier descents. Sudden drops. Always recovered, and probably shorter than they felt. But I grew increasingly aware of my precarious fate, totally dependent on somebody else to pay attention, to man the winch faultlessly. And of course there’s always the risk that the equipment itself could fail.
I grew increasingly aware of my precarious fate, totally dependent on somebody else to pay attention, to man the winch faultlessly.
Years later while climbing with a partner at a rock gym, I came off the wall about 50′ off the ground. I plunged as rope slipped through my partner’s belay device, and when she got control the combination of my momentum and her light weigh lifted her off the ground. It slowed my fall enough that I wasn’t injured when I met the floor, but it shook some sense into me. She hadn’t been paying attention, and the extra fraction of a second made a difference. Happy ending, but lesson learned.
As I adapt to owning and maintaining Errant, I’m reminded that sometimes it’s better to trust yourself. There are no guarantees that I can avoid accidents 100% of the time, but nobody has as vested an interest in my safety as I do. Learning to go aloft on my own obviously makes sense to me. And given that I intend to become an able shorthanded sailor, it’s likely enough that I may one day find myself in need of high altitude repairs without the benefit of an assistant. I hope to be ready!
Going Aloft with a Master Rigger
Following a night of less-than-perfect sleep peppered with bosun’s chair nightmares, I decided that I need a bit of “mentoring”. I’ve trolled around YouTube already, and there’s actually a good bit of learning to be had for free. But I wanted something more.
All roads lead to Brion Toss.
Going aloft is a necessary part of maintenance that sailors often neglect. Brion Toss covers all aspects of going aloft, from safety, types of climbing rigs, and useful tools, in his book Rigger’s Apprentice. Great book to have in any sailor’s library. (SailboatOwners.com)
We have going aloft video…great learner! […] i have a climbing harness, with 2 acenders from a mouintain climbing web site..inchworm style….along with a repelling horn. for coming down…my wife belays me with the main halyard and I use a seperate haylard for my assecnt…allways double every connection and halyard,,safety..safety..safety…. (SailboatOwners.com)
For professional guidance on going aloft, Brion Toss’s DVD on mast climbing safety is as good as it gets without taking a course. Toss is a well-known professional rigger and has spent countless days high above the spreaders. The DVD offers essential tips that not only make working aloft safer, not just for the person in the air, but also the people below on deck. (Practical Sailor)
Sailors, yacht owners, and charteres will appreciate this hour long lesson in working aloft. Don’t wait until an emergency to learn the proper safety routines and teamwork for climbing the mast. Get details on methods, and related knots, gear, and tips. (Amazon.com)
I headed off to Brion Toss’ website and discovered all sorts of *essentials* in addition to his Going Aloft DVD. Here’s what I purchased (and what I’m now eagerly awaiting…)
After several days of research I finally pulled the trigger on the ATN Mastclimber. It’s a solo bosun’s chair that draws upon conventional sailing and mountain climbing toolkits, to solve a common problem with going aloft on a sailboat.
I know, you’re probably thinking the main problem with going aloft is gravity. Unfortunately nothing except hiring a rigger or shipyard travel lift or crane operator to solve your mast-top foibles will diminish the gravity problem. Sorry.
ATN Mastclimber Solo Bosun’s Chair
Let’s take a look at the ATN Mastclimber description.
The only bosun’s chair that allows solo, unassisted ascents of the mast, the Mastclimber fits over any taut 3/8″ to 5/8″ rope halyard. Constructed from 1 1/2″ ballistic nylon webbing with a fiberglass-reinforced seat, Mastclimber combines a bosun’s chair and leg straps with a pair of one-way anodized aluminum/stainless jammers, located at the chair seat and the intersection of the leg straps. Climb the mast quickly and safely using only leg muscles. With no need for static lines, the easy-to-use climber is operated by alternatively standing up on the leg straps, which allows you to slide up the one-way jammer of the bosun’s chair. To descend the mast, the procedure is reversed. Recommended by Practical Sailor in June 2010. Maximum waist size 50″.
That golden gadget, the ATN Ascender is the “secret sauce” borrowed from big wall sport climbers. But these ascenders have been manufactured with anodized aluminum and stainless Steel so that they won’t rust or degrade in the damp marine environment. Here’s another detail shot.
The system uses two parts, each with its own ascender: One supports the durable fiber-reinforced plastic seat; the other supports a pair of webbed stirrups for the feet. Under load, the ascenders grip the line just like a rope clutch. To go up, you put your weight on one ascender while sliding the other one up a few feet, alternating as you climb. The stand-sit process of climbing is less strenuous than it looks, though it requires a fair degree of fitness, flexibility, and coordination. (Practical Sailor)
Ease or Exercise?
In researching this solo alternative to a traditional bosun’s chair which requires at least one additional person to crank the body-filled gadget up the mast, I repeatedly read grumbles about the difficulty in using the equipment. (I will address a couple of other concerns below.) It’s clear from videos and reviews that a fair amount of exertion is necessary to effectively climb a halyard to the top of the mast, even with a snazzy ATN Mastclimber.
But I spent a couple of years in my twenties rock/wall climbing, and I’m hoping that it’ll be a little bit like riding a bike. And a little exercise seems like a fair swap for being able to service the mast and rigging without an assistant.
Here’s another video that makes the whole process look pretty painless. It’s worth noting that the fellow in the video is Etienne Giroire who founded ATN. The video description anticipates consumers questions about the difficulty of ascending and descending with the ATN Mastclimbler.
The ATN Mastclimber is for a sailor to ascend the mast safely and with minimal effort…
I’ll address this question difficulty in a follow-up post once I have firsthand experience.
Mast Damage Concerns
In addition to concerns with the physical demands of using the ATN Mastclimbler, I read multiple reviews about damage it the mast caused by the ascenders. Basically sharp metal edges pinned tightly between halyard and mast by body weight result in scrapes and gouges in the paint and/or aluminum. To date I’ve been unable to find anyone who has devised an effective workaround.
The new device can scratch mast paint or anodizing, and—unlike the original—can’t be easily “de-clawed” with a leather chafe guard. (Practical Sailor)
In the video above Etienne Giroire secures the climbing halyard to the starboard gunnel which would likely alleviates the mast scratching concern. Others have secured the line to the base of the mast. Perhaps this is the solution?
Construction Quality Concerns
Although some reviewers have praised the robust design and construction of the ATN Mastclimer, I’ve also read a couple of troubling reviews from users who experienced extremely poor manufacturing. The following photograph and review appeared in the Ericson Yachts forum.
Purchased ATN’s new version of the “top climber” called the Mastclimber. Worked reasonably well once you get the hang of it. The downside is the clutches scratch the heck out of the mast when you get near the top. There is no way I can see to keep them from rubbing on the mast as you ascend/descend.
Now the scary part. As I started to descend, during some of the gymnastics that are required to operate the system, I heard a pretty disconcerting “pop, pop, pop”!!! In the pic attached you will see my hand, I’m holding the back support section of the bosun’s chair part. The stitching just let go! Now I wasn’t in any danger once I realized what was happening, I was very careful not to lean back the rest of the way down.
The really creepy part is that I can see NO difference in the stitching anywhere else on the rig. This bloody thing could have let go at any of the far more critical sections and I would not be typing this post. So the next step is emailing ATN and returning it. Too bad, its not a bad idea and the seat is very comfy. I just don’t trust it and won’t ever use on again.
Lifes too short to be killed by something dumb like this.