Features March 2002 Issue

After 38,000 Miles

Steve and Linda Dashew are regular contributors to Practical Sailor. They're always on the move, always watchful, always curious about how things can be developed and improved for cruising sailors—and they're as prolific in their note-taking as they are in their travels. Steve Dashew last reported at length about Beowulf's gear and systems about 18,000 miles ago. Here's his update.

As designers and boatbuilders, over the years we've found it helpful to build "test beds" to check new design ideas and systems. We've usually kept these boats for a couple of years, put some miles on them, and then turned them over to new owners. We wrote about Beowulf and our experiences with her gear after 20,000 miles in the May 15, 1999 issue of Practical Sailor. A variety of factors have conspired to keep Beowulf in our possession. As she sits in the Virgin Islands, now with 38,000 miles under her keel in her six years of service, we thought an update would be of interest. 

Beowulf power-reaches under a big,
versatile sailplan, including asymmetrical
main and mizzen spinnakers.

Beowulf is a 78-foot ketch, designed to be handled by a couple—which is how she has been sailed for a majority of her miles. While she is light displacement—58,000 pounds in cruising trim on a 77-foot waterline—her hull shape and 7,500 pounds of water ballast create a very powerful combination. We tend to push harder than most cruisers—we like to go fast—so the loads on her gear are far above average.

When we reported at 20,000 miles, our systems had been generally reliable. We're happy to report that three years later the report is, remarkably, still the same.

We have used two watermakers by Village Marine. One is a NF1200 model, with pump power supplied by a DC genset (of our own design). This unit still makes its 50+ gallons per hour of fresh water, and has been trouble-free until the past few weeks, when it developed a leak in one of the pressure vessels. Village Marine tells us this is normal after six years of service, but they have changed the design to eliminate the problem. The second unit is a 24V DC "Little Wonder," and it still works fine as well.

Our Electrodyne alternators (there are two) each put out 3,400 watts of power on a consistent basis. These models have remotely mounted diodes, so they run relatively cool, and have been trouble free. The alternators charge a single 24VDC "traction" battery, of 1,100 amp-hour capacity (again, 24 volts), so they spend a lot of their lives at full output – a very hard service.

Our experience with ShurFlo pumps has been nothing short of miraculous. We use the same model pressure pump for fresh water, supplying the watermakers, and cooling one of the fridge compressors. And we are still using the original three pumps.

Beowulf is divided into three watertight compartments, and each has its own Jabsco diaphram bilge pump. To keep pump inventory to a minimum we use the same model pumps on head sinks and showers. The bilge pumps rarely see any work, and the sump pumps are used perhaps twice a day for short periods. There are eight pumps in total and we've replaced two motors—which seems a lot with such a small amount of service. In addition, on half a dozen occasions the drive pulleys have come loose (not a big deal to tighten as long as you can reach the pump).

There are two 3/4-hp, 60-gallon-per-hour, self-priming Scott pumps. One is employed as a damage control pump and has only seen test service. The other is used to fill our saltwater ballast tanks and is used frequently. Both are still working fine.

The engine is a 170-hp, four-cylinder Yanmar. It has consumed three saltwater impellers in 2,200 hours of use, but nothing else. Service has consisted of changing the oil. We recently had the injectors checked and they were not in need of maintenance.

The engine is connected to a Hundested controllable-pitch prop (we can adjust the blade angle underway for maximum efficiency) via a SCATRA CV Axle. The CV Axles are rated at 2,000 hours in our particular application. We carry a spare, and change them at 1,000 hours, and then send them in for service. So far there has been no report of wear and service has consisted of replacing the grease. The shaft exits the hull via a Strong shaft seal. This employs a lip seal to keep water out. After 1,500 hours of use we started to get just a hair of a leak. Replacing the seal is easy as we have a spare already on the shaft. However, we are waiting for the leak to get worse before making the change.

We use a diesel boiler for heating the boat in cold climates and for domestic hot water for bathing. Our unit is manufactured by Teledyne, and had a 35,000 btu rating, which we had upgraded to 45,000 btu two years ago. Up until a few weeks ago this unit operated flawlessly. Then a problem developed which was finally traced to a faulty electrical connection—not the heater's fault at all. Once this was corrected, and the burner was cleaned, things went back to normal.

Our radar is a Furuno model 1941, with an open array antenna and a 48-mile range. It has 1,650 hours of operating time and is still working well. Target definition is superb.

Our Furuno Model 207 Fax has had several problems. The battery which supplies power to the main memory failed after three months. The dealer in Auckland, New Zealand, told us there was no battery and the unit was OK. The main board failed at the four- year point, and when we put the fax back in service it had a bad battery. However, as a fax receiver it works quite well.

Our autopilots are supplied by WH in Bainbridge Island, WA. We have two isolated, either of which can be used to steer the boat. These have handled the boat in 50+ knots of wind and breaking seas without difficulty. We've had one motor controller go bad on us, but this appears to have been the result of a short due to chafed wiring between it and the drive motor.

We started out with an SGC 2000 SSB radio, which saw little usage. Two years ago the speaker quit working and we sent it up to SGC for a complete overhaul. They advised that everything would be checked, and returned the unit to us after charging $475.

A month later we were in Panama and met up with Jim Corenmen, the father of SailMail. Jim set us up with a Pactor 11 modem and the required software.

You can imagine our surprise when we found that the SGC radio would wander off frequency. Many phone calls back and forth followed and it was determined that there was nothing we could do with the radio.

We've since changed to an Icom 706Mk11 which has worked flawlessly for the past two years.

The B&G 790 instrument system, with a performance processor, has worked with only a couple of gremlins, both of which were software-related, and sorted out by helpful tech support with a couple of phone calls. Last winter the bearing on the masthead windspeed unit failed (after 35,000 miles). Its replacement was quite simple.

Beowulf has a 24V house system, but we need a source of 12V for some of the electronics. This is supplied by a Newmar 24V to 12V converter. It is still going strong.

Our AC requirements are handled by a Trace 2400-watt inverter. It works fine for AC, but has never been able to work full time at its 50-amp 24VDC charging rate. However, since we are rarely tied to a dock when the boat is in use, this has not been a problem.

Keys To Success
Our lack of systems-related problems may seem surprising, in light of the experience of many cruisers. For the most part, we're using the same gear as everyone else. The difference probably lies in three areas. First, we devote considerably more space to our systems than is usually the case. This makes it easy to keep things clean, and stay ahead of maintenance issues. Second, all systems are kept dry. There are no deck leaks to create problems. Third, careful attention is paid to wiring, and we make sure that critical gear sees no more than a three- percent voltage drop. This keeps operating temperatures on the motors lower than is otherwise the case.

Deck Hardware
Our blocks and travelers are by Lewmar. The majority of blocks are the Ocean Racing series. For the most part these have been trouble-free. The exceptions have been six halyard blocks which had faulty bolts (all have worked fine since the bolts were replaced), and a problem with freezing of the set screws, which then prevent the blocks from swiveling. Basically, since the first year of use we have not been able to change the orientation of the blocks. In the past year the main and mizzen travelers have started to stick—a sign their ball bearings need to be replaced (this is on the "to do" list). Finally, we have eight lightweight Lewmar blocks used for lazy jacks and running backstay retrievers. All eight have shed their ball bearings.

The Lewmar rope clutches look a bit flimsy with their plastic sides. But ours have stood up well. The clutches on the main and mizzen sheets have just been replaced, but only as a precaution (these see working loads at the top of their rated range). We have had no problems with line chafe, and the clutches can be used (carefully) to bleed off line when required.

After some initial teething problems the Harken winches, both electric and manual, have functioned fine. We tear these down and clean them once a year. About the only wear we've seen is on the pawls.

The Maxwell V3500 windlass has the chore of lifting our 240-pound Bruce anchor. It has continued to work well, although the main shaft is showing wear on the keyways, and will need to be replaced one of these days. We are careful always to bring battery voltage up before using the windlass, so its electric motor runs cooler. We did have a shear pin fail between the motor and gear box. But this is easily replaced (and of course we carry spares).

Running Rigging
Our halyards, running backstays, and working sail sheets are all Yale Spectra, with polyester covers. We are still using our original material. Last year we end-for-ended our 2-1 halyards, cut off the splices at the top, and examined them. We could see no appreciable wear. We sized this material to operate at 25% of its rated strength. One problem: with their very tight covers, our halyards are difficult to ease—they maintain the wraps from the winch, and you have to push these down the halyard as you drop the sails.

We changed to a single-line reefing system and obtained some Spectra from Sampson without a polyester cover. When the material was new, the blue die bled onto the sails and any awnings the reef lines touched. But operationally it seemed fine.

A word of warning about high modulus lines with polyester covers. We've had several problems with opening the clutches under load on smaller diameter lines where the cover would break. The core, which does the work, was still OK, but the cover then needed to be repaired. As a result, when we have to ease off our small-diameter (3/8") control lines, we always do so from a winch rather than with the clutch.

Two-and-a- half years ago our stainless lifelines were due for replacement. As an experiment, we switched to polyester-covered Spectra. These are secured at the ends with multiple lashings of lightweight Spectra. The original set still look good, and are quite a bit stronger than stainless, without the worry about corrosion which comes with metal. On an original-equipment basis, they will also be less costly as well as lighter.

We are also gradually switching many of our stainless shackles in running rigging to Spectra lashings. These appear to be lighter and more reliable.

There has been considerable speculation in the yachting press recently (including Practical Sailor) about proper termination of hi-tech lines. Yes, splices are certainly the best approach, but often high-modulus ropes are used in situations where they are sized to reduce stretch rather than for ultimate breaking strength. We have several situations aboard where this is the case, most notably in our spinnaker halyards and main and mizzen sheets. In all three cases, we have used the lowly bowline for securing the ends, without difficulty.

Sails and Rigging
Beowulf's original sail inventory was built by Dan Neri and Ken Read at Sobstad New England (now North Sails Rhode Island) from Bainbridge Spectra/polyester SCL cloth. These sails held their shape remarkable well considering the extreme loads of the big roaches on the main and mizzen. In the summer of 2000, at the 28,000-mile mark, we started to see signs of failure in the polyester fibers from sun damage. Dan Neri designed new sails using a North Spectra cloth with larger than optimal polyester threads to increase UV resistance. Time will tell how this works out. After a year, the sails still look new, and they are very fast. The clews of all our headsails are soft, i.e. they are made up from sewn webbing rather than pressed rings. These have proven to be highly reliable.

Beowulf has full battens and spreaders swept aft 25 degrees. Contact between battens and shrouds is unavoidable. To eliminate chafe we employ thin strips of UHMW plastic glued and sewn to the sail, over the battens, where they come into contact with the shrouds and where the spreaders interact with the sailcloth. A light insignia cloth over the UHMW protects it from UV damage. It works great, and chafe has never been a problem.

We started out with round polyester battens, but eventually switched to tapered vinylester (Blue Streak) battens. We are now using carbon battens which are lighter and stiffer. We've had no batten failures with the vinylester or carbon. Batten hardware are Battslides, from Schaefer. The slides are 3 inches long, and for attachment between battens we use the Schaefer intermediate hardware. This system is lighter and a fraction of the cost of ball-bearing cars and tracks, and takes less stacking height for a small penalty in friction.

Both main and mizzen clews are attached to their booms with a combination Spectra webbing and Velcro strap. These straps are much lighter and closer to the boom than would be the case with metal fittings. The first set of straps went 18,000 miles before we replaced them on a preventative basis.

We have a ProFurl roller furler for the working jib. We do not use it for roller reefing as we do not like the resulting sail shape, but we do use it to roll up the sail while the sheet is loaded (to keep the sail from flogging). The control line is 3/8" polyester covered Spectra. The only problem we've had is with the bolts working loose in the top joint, allowing the extrusions to separate. This may be due to a looser than normal headstay (we have no fixed backstay). We have retrofitted a longer splice and so far it is working fine.

Beowulf carries four free-flying headsails, all on Spectra luff ropes. These are furled with ProFurl gear, and work well as long as the halyard tension is kept very tight. In particular, we've found the cruising Code-Zero sails (one for the bowsprit and one for the mizzen) to be powerful and versatile sails. Both are built from North Nordac polyester/mylar laminate.

Our standing rigging is 316 stainless, by Loos Cable, with Norsemen terminals on the bottom and swages at the top. We recently replaced our headstay on a preventative basis, but upon disassembly we could find no problems. The rest of the standing rigging has shown no signs of deterioration.

Odds and Ends
Our Sunbrella sail covers are still going strong after six years, albeit with a few chafe patches. The same can be said for our hatch covers. Awnings were replaced last year, but this was for improved design rather than due to fabric breakdown.

We have a dozen Vetus "Yogi" plastic cowls. Within four months of installation these turned an ugly brown on top. Vetus told us this was due to air pollution,but since most of this time was in the South Pacific we suspect something else may be the problem. The best answer we've found is to paint the cowls with a spray paint made by Nicro for this purpose. One application seems to last two years.

Thinlight supplied our fluorescent lighting. All of these units are still functional. We do replace the bulbs when the ends start to blacken, which helps to save the electronics. The fluorescents do not interfere with the radios.

We started out with Guest fans. Within 18 months a majority had failed and were replaced with Hella Turbo fans. These have now been aboard for five years and are still working. However, for really hot areas we use a $15 AC fan, run off the inverter. It draws about 15 watts, and is quieter, with significantly stronger breeze than the marine fans.

The Mansfield (Sealand) VacuFlush heads have been trouble-free. We've had three experiences with them becoming plugged with too much toilet paper (operator error); all cleared, thankfully, with the use of a household plunger.

Deck hatches on Beowulf are subjected to occasional high-velocity water impacts as she shears wave tops when power reaching fully ballasted. The only hatches of which we are aware that will stay watertight in these conditions are made by Bomar from cast aluminum. Of the nine hatches on our deck, only one has yet had its gasket replaced.

We are on our second Splendide washer/drier. The first one was getting tired, but this was from its location at the forward watertight bulkhead where motion is severe uphill. The new unit spins at 1,000 rpm, and does a much better job of washing. However, the "condensation" drier (with no external vent) is virtually useless. Our previous model with a conventional vent worked much better.

Finally, two oldies but goodies: We've had the same pair of Fujinon binoculars for 19 years. They're still watertight and work great. The other bit of historic gear is our 15-year-old 30-hp Yamaha outboard. Except for a shaft seal and water pump impeller, this engine has taken nothing but spark plugs during its long and arduous career. Some marine gear really does last.

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