Features December 1, 1998 Issue

Offshore Log: ‘Routine’ Maintenance Is A Lot of Work!

After two years cruising, we decide to strip down Calypso’s deck hardware. And a good thing, too, because insidious corrosion was already starting.

Our primary sail-trimming hardware—mainsheet traveler and blocks, genoa cars and puller tackles—is all Harken, and has proven to be an excellent choice. It is not, however, entirely maintenance-free. Nor, for that matter, is any other brand of deck hardware we have seen.

After arriving in Venezuela from Trinidad, we began a systematic overhaul of all the deck hardware—winches, blocks, anything else that moves—and have once again been reminded that “low maintenance” does not mean “no maintenance.”

The Harken catalog, as well as the instruction sheets that come with most of their hardware, provides explicit maintenance instruction. Succinctly, it boils down to “flush everything thoroughly with freshwater to get rid of salt and dirt.” For boats that live at a dock or are used in freshwater, this is not a problem. For a cruising boat, it takes a little more conscious effort, particularly when you spend most of your life living on the hook.

We are not particularly lazy—we spend an average of about four hours every day on boat maintenance of one form or another—but I have to admit that we have pretty much ignored the Harken stuff, since it has all worked flawlessly. When we finally got around to what should be routine maintenance, we discovered just how important it is to make “routine maintenance” really routine.

The biggest problem is that old bugaboo—the interface between stainless steel and aluminum components.

We started by stripping off all the sheets and control lines for a good wash and the annual end-for-end. We then flushed anything that moves with freshwater. Next, we cleaned the stainless with Wichinox, Wichard’s stainless steel polish, which is available at many chandleries and is by far the best product we have ever used for removing the surface oxidation from stainless steel.

This would have been the normal stopping point, but since there had been difficulty in removing some of the stainless fasteners, I decided a strip-down was the real answer.

We ended up, of course, with the buckets full of ball bearings, bushings, and other parts that are the inevitable by-product of overhauling high-tech deck hardware, and a few moments of panic about getting it all back together. Fortunately, our deck layout is symmetrical, so I could overhaul a component such as a traveler control block (it’s amazing how many bits go into making these up) while leaving its twin intact as a reassembly guide. Unless you’re a professional who overhauls this stuff every day, I advise you to do the same.

We found substantial oxidation wherever any stainless component—the mounting plates for the traveler control blocks on the mainsheet traveler car, for example—lives in direct contact with aluminum.

Harken’s Hardkote anodizing is obviously very good, for there was only a little cosmetic pitting of any aluminum component. The surface oxidation on the aluminum cleaned up well with Garelick Eez-In Aluminum, Stainless, Chrome Polish applied with an old toothbrush. This polish is one of the few we have found that explicitly states that it is suitable for use on anodized aluminum.

Rinsing all the ball bearings revealed a surprising amount of small grit and dirt, a function of the neglect the hardware had experienced. Eventually, grit and salt will wear the plastic bearings, which is why it is so important that they get flushed regularly with freshwater.

When reassembling, all stainless-to-aluminum mating surfaces received a light coat of Boeshield T-9. In addition, all stainless steel fasteners were lubricated with Lanocote, an organic anti-seize compound. The only problem with Lanocote is that it works so well that you need to periodically check the tightness of any fastenings that are subject to vibration just to make sure they haven’t worked loose. Lanocote should be used on fastenings requiring periodic removal, but I would recommend a locking anti-corrosion compound for stainless fasteners that do not need to be removed regularly.

It took the better part of a day to disassemble, thoroughly clean and reassemble just the mainsheet system and its sub-components. I’d call it time well spent. It was a relief to discover that my neglect had not significantly harmed a lot of very good and quite expensive hardware.

It brought home an important lesson, however: The fact that something still works doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need attention. You wouldn’t drive your car without changing the oil until the engine seized just because it still ran, would you?

Not for the Squeamish
When PS looked at piping solutions for marine toilet plumbing, we found that rigid PVC pipe—the same stuff used in new houses—makes the best waste plumbing aboard a boat, if you can manage to fit in the rigid components. In contrast, flexible white PVC sanitation hose—widely used due to its excellent bend radius, ease of installation, and good appearance—is a mediocre performer. In our experience, calling white PVC sanitation hose “mediocre” is being more than kind.

After two years in daily use aboard Calypso, we can tell you that white PVC sanitation hose stinks.

We are extremely disciplined in the way we operate the head, pumping it much more than would seem necessary to clear sewage from the lines. Every installation is different in this respect, as the length and height of drain hose, plus the capacity of the head’s discharge pump, determine how many “pumps” are necessary to really clear the lines.

In your own installation, the best way to see how much you need to pump is to put a small amount of toilet paper in the bowl, then pump it overboard while an observer outside watches for the last traces of the paper to appear through the hull fitting. It may be necessary for the observer to be underwater, at which point it becomes obvious why the test should be performed with a clean piece of toilet paper. Having determined the number of pump strokes required to clear the line, add another 10 for good measure, making this the minimum number required each time the toilet is used. Simply pumping until the bowl appears clean is not enough.

While we have religiously adhered to our own rules, it hasn’t done the job. We have arrived at the point where a change of discharge hose is required. While we’re at it, the Wilcox-Crittenden Imperial toilet will also get its first complete overhaul.

Unfortunately, the only spare sanitation hose we carry is more of the same white PVC. Yes, we actually carry spares for this. Now we know that this hose is expendable. You can be sure that we will keep an eye out for a better long-term solution.

[Ed. Note: In tests we have not yet published, SeaLand’s relatively new Odor Safe PVC hose outperformed other conventional types of white PVC by a wide margin.]

Contacts- Boeshield T-9, PMS Products, 285 James St., Holland, MI 49424; 616-786-9922. Lanocote, Forespar Products, 22322 Gilberto, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688; 714-858-8820. EEz-In, Garelick Mfg., 644 2nd St., St. Paul Park, MN 55071; 612-459-9795. SeaLand Technology, PO Box 38, 4th St., Big Prairie, OH 44611; 330/496-3211. Wichinox, Wichard, 507 Hopmeadow St., Simsbury, CT 06070; 860-658-2201.

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