Features April 15, 1998 Issue

After 17,000 Miles

Part 1—Author, boatbuilder and circumnavigator Steve Dashew tells why he likes his Lewmar hardware and Trojan batteries, and describes his engine set-up that make motoring quieter and more efficient.

Building an efficient, easy-to-maintain cruising yacht is very much an exercise in compromise and experimentation. There are literally thousands of decisions that must be made, each of which affects others. The only way to know what works (and what doesn’t) is to get out there in the “real world” and put a few thousand miles on your decisions. That is why periodically over the past 20 years my wife Linda and I have built new yachts, and then taken them to sea to find out how some of the design trade-offs worked. The survivors have found their way into our clients’ designs—the rest, well, you can’t win them all!

Beowulf & Its Rig
Our latest test bed is a 78-foot ketch, Beowulf. She is 16' 3" wide, draws 7' 6" and displaces 63,000 pounds in cruising trim on a 77-foot waterline. She is designed to be sailed by a couple, and with 17,000 miles under her keel I can tell you she is the easiest boat to handle at sea we’ve ever passaged aboard. In addition to a very stiff hull form, Beowulf carries up to 7,500 pounds of saltwater ballast. She develops significant righting moments so the loading of rig and gear is quite high.

The ketch rig (supplied by Forespar) is short, but 25° spreader sweep does away with the need for a standing backstay, and allows for a large, full roach main (980 sq. ft.) and mizzen (800 sq. ft.). The forward triangle is fractional with a 650 sq. ft. non-overlapping jib. All working sails are Bainbridge Spectra laminates, designed by Dan Neri and built by North Sails in Rhode Island. The Spectra sailcloth has stood up as well as Dacron (perhaps even better) and we’d recommend it to anyone at all concerned with performance. Standing rigging is continuous to the deck, 1 x 19 type 316 stainless. We use hydraulically attached swages at the top and Norseman fittings on the bottom. The quality of the Norseman fittings seems to have gotten worse since the last time we used them; the threads are quite rough, making assembly much more difficult than in the past.

Fully battened rigs, set up correctly, are easy on maintenance. We use solid round battens from Bainbridge/Aquabatten. These stand up better than any other style we’ve tried and are modestly priced (although heavy). We’ve split three battens (all at the top), each repairable with duct tape. Getting the sail up and down easily is a function of making sure that the attachment hardware runs smoothly and does not rack in the mast track. Our main and mizzen heads are attached with two plastic-coated stainless sliders, connected with shackles to the D-ring at the top of the sail, with the slides seized together so that they run easily (a single slider or two, unseized, tend to jam).

Battens and intermediate connections are attached with BattSlide hardware. Our sliders are 2.75" long. This extra length prevents them from twisting in the sail track. The intermediate attachment hardware is a key factor in making the sails easy to get up and down (webbed slides, unless they are double webbed, tend to twist and actually create more friction than battens). Beowulf’s batten hardware loading is certainly in the upper range of what you would expect from this gear, yet the system has been trouble-free, with less maintenance than we’d have expected years ago with conventional short battened sails.

Sail chafe between battens and spreaders and shrouds is always a problem. We use 1/16" UHMW plastic sheeting, sewn on the sail as chafe gear along the battens and at spreaders. This material is bulletproof and can be used with conventional sails for chafe as well (it can be sewn on or covered with sticky-back sailcloth).

Deck Hardware
On deck we used a combination of Lewmar blocks and tracks and Harken winches. Most of the blocks are the new Racing line, with Solent sheet cars and tracks. All performed well, although we did have some corrosion between stainless and aluminum parts after our first 8,000 miles. Lewmar indicated this was an early problem, since resolved, and they serviced the blocks for us at no charge when we were in Auckland.

The Lewmar Wave-grip rope clutches are by far the best we’ve ever used. They easily hold up to their full rating (our experience with Spinlocks in this regard has been less than satisfactory). Chafe has not been a problem and they are easy to bleed off (ease) under load. Even on our mainsheet clutch, which sees 2,000 pounds-plus of load, the Wavegrip clutches have performed well.

This is our first experience with Harken sheet winches. We found them more difficult to strip down and maintain than the Lewmar equivalents and they seem to require a shorter interval between servicing. We stripped, cleaned and oiled them in Auckland after just four months at sea. After another three months usage between New Zealand and California they are now sticky again. The control system for the electric winches was difficult to install. In use, the winches work fine, except for an occasional catching of the outer braid on the stripper. On the other hand, we love the Harken winch handles with their oversized grips.

We started out with jib hanks in the forward triangle, but in New Zealand we switched to a Profurl roller furler on the headstay. I hate to admit it, but I think I am sold (and Linda certainly is). We found the system easy to install and it works well, even in a strong breeze. I especially like the ability to roll the sail up to keep the sheet under load so the sail does not flog. We did find that the set screws holding extrusion sections in place tended to work loose after just a few thousand miles at sea. After discussing this with Profurl they suggested we keep some sheet load on the furled sail to prevent it from whipping the headstay (when motoring or sailing with just main and mizzen). This has helped and we have not had a recurrence of the problem.

For running rigging, we use a mixture of low stretch Dacron, Spectra and Vectran. Our running backstays (which go to the masthead of the main and mizzen) were replaced with Yale Vectran. It is lighter, does not chafe the sail or spreaders, and it is much easier to get the lazy runner tight since there is less mass flopping around. (We had PVC tubing slipped over the line before the eye splices were installed. These were seized in place on the boat at each spreader for chafe prevention.) Halyards are all Spectra (we’re using Vectran on a sistership) and have stood up well. We’ve had no problem with chafe or maintaining luff tension. Our highly loaded main and jib sheets are Spectra with the rest low-stretch Dacron.

The clew loads are so high on the main and mizzen (up to 8,000 pounds in some situations) that we were having trouble finding suitable outhaul gear. We decided to try a Spectra webbing (12,000-pound breaking strength) backed with Velcro to strap the clews to the booms. A conventional outhaul line (led internally to a 3:1 tackle and then to a winch) was used for foot adjustment. When I first held this lightweight, inexpensive strap I said, “No way.” But the mainsail strap went 16,000 miles before needing replacement, and the one on the mizzen is still going strong.

The Spectra and Vectran lines are so strong that they can be used for making connections where a turnbuckle or shackle might have been used in the past. Take our jib sheets for example. We could use a shackle for the sail connection, but then you have to worry about it flying open if the sail flogs, not to mention getting hit in the head. We ended up using six turns of 1/4" Spectra line. It’s soft, light and less expensive than a shackle. We now carry several hundred feet of light (3/16") Spectra for use in jury rigging.

Beowulf is powered by a 170-hp. 4-cylinder Yanmar. We first started using these engines in our production boats and have found them reliable, very smooth running, and maintenance-free. For the first time in many years, we fitted a Hundested controllable-pitch propeller. This is a heavy unit, with more sailing drag than a Max-Prop. However, it is more efficient. We average 60% efficiency underway compared to 40% with a Max-Prop. The Hundested, with pitched blades, is much quieter and the ability to vary pitch as conditions change is marvelous. Our average speed under power on long passages is 10.5 to 11 knots and our average fuel consumption is in the 2.7 gallons-per-hour range. The Hundested has the further advantage of being able to be pitched in forward or reverse, allowing us to control the direction of stern torque so we can always pull the stern onto or away from the dock in any situation.

The main engine air cleaner is superseded by a Walker AirSep. This unit relieves crankcase pressure from piston ring blow-by, removing the oil from it and returning it to the sump. There are several advantages: The engine is quieter, you can go longer between oil changes as there is less condensation in the pan area, and the engine space does not get covered with that oily film we are so used to. I’d never do another boat with a Walker Air Sep.

We have also fitted a Preluber, an electric oil pump that comes on when the ignition key is first turned and prelubricates the engine so you don’t have an unlubricated cold start. When you shut down it again runs for a couple of minutes helping to cool the engine and prevent coking of the oil. The pump is used to change the oil.

With a controllable-pitch prop, we need data on engine loading for optimizing pitch setting. We get this in two ways. First, by measuring exhaust gas temperature (EGT) with a pyrometer. EGT is an indicator of the work the engine is doing as well as any difficulties (lack of supply air, exhaust back pressure, exhaust valve problems). These are easy to install and require no current. An even better way to track loading is to measure fuel consumption (diesels average about 18-hp. for every gallon per hour of fuel burned). Towards this end we installed for the first time a Flo Scan fuel meter. It is an easy installation and has proved quite accurate. This is a valuable management tool for anyone trying to stretch their range under power.

Electrical System
We have stayed with DC-based electrical systems. The foundation is a large bank of “traction” (lead acid type used for vehicles such as forklifts) batteries manufactured by the Trojan Battery Company. With all due respect to modern battery construction, these are still by far the most efficient, bulletproof batteries you can own in terms of usable amp-hours per pound, per cubic foot or per dollar…if you can fit them in. Our system is 24 volts and we have 800 usable amp-hours (you can cycle these batteries to 80% and they are guaranteed for 1,500 cycles on this service basis). Our batteries are fitted in the keel sump and are considered part of our ballast package. Smaller versions of these batteries are available and if you have 17" of vertical in which to fit them, they are worth considering.

There are a few electronic products that are only available in 12V (SSB, VHF, stereo, computer). While we have a 12V tap off the 24V bank, we normally use a Newmar 24V to 12V converter for these accessories.

We started out with a Balmar DC genset, a prototype unit with variable speed control. We could not get this to work so Balmar then supplied us with a conventional 18-hp. Kubota diesel fitted with two Lestec alternators. When we installed the unit the alternator brackets were out of alignment, the wiring was crudely done (using cheap, untinned, thick stranded wire) and the diesel would not handle the load of the alternators on start up. (Bill Montgomery of Balmar told PS that Dashew’s installation was ‘experimental’ and that voltage wasn’t limited properly for Beowulf’s big traction batteries.)

The alternators would run five or six hours and burn up. With departure time closing in we replaced the alternators, carried a spare and took off. Between California and New Zealand we got less than 20 hours use from this Balmar unit.

We replaced it with a genset of our own design based on a 4-cylinder 50-hp. Yanmar block, turning two Electrodyne alternators (140 amps/28V hot rating). The alternators have remote-mounted diodes cooled with a built-in fan, so they do not contribute to the heat build-up in the windings. The genset is controlled with a throttle, so we can slow it down as the charge cycle progresses (it starts out at 1,700 rpm and finishes up at 1,200). We average a half-hour per day running time to cover a very high electrical load. The genset is so quiet that no insulation is required. We feel these features more than offset the additional weight and cost of this large block diesel.

Editor’s Note: In Part 2, Dashew describes his experiences with bilge pumps, refrigeration, radar, fans, ground tackle, stoves, toilets, watermakers and that most indispensable item aboard any boat, duct tape.

Contacts- 3M, 612/736-2436. Electrodyne, 800/341-0242 or 207/883-4121, fax 207 883 4427. AirSep, Walker Engineering, 818/895-7788, fax 818/909-7694. Bainbridge, 800/422-5684. Forespar, 714/858-8820. Harken Yacht Equipment, 414/691-3320. Hundested (Denmark) phone 011-45-42-33-7117, fax 011-45-42-339902. Lewmar, 203/458-6200. Mariner’s Choice, 310/598-5861. Preluber (Sales Professionals), 800/836-8601 or 215/992-9904, fax 215/992-1159. Trojan Batteries, 800/423-6569. Newmar, 714/751-0488.

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