Offshore Log: Painless Stainless

While in Australia, Calypso gets a new radar reflector protective cage, and a handsome pair of winch islands on which to mount the long-awaited secondaries.


We are sometimes a little slow getting around to finishing things, but most jobs do eventually get completed. Several jobs that have been on the list for quite a while were finally wrapped up during our month-long sojourn in Scarborough, Australia, prior to heading up the Queensland coast and across the top of Australia to Darwin.

Offshore Log: Painless Stainless

Protection for the Radar Reflector
Our mast-mounted Lensref radar reflector has taken a pretty bad beating in the last three years. The culprits have been our spare halyards, which are secured to bails at the base of the mast when we are sailing. No matter how tightly you pull the halyards, they flog against the plastic ball enclosing the Lensref.

In addition, we have managed to catch halyards behind the Lensref when hoisting the dinghy out of the water, inflicting loads that it was never intended to take. Enough is enough.

We finally designed a protective cage to keep the halyards at bay. It was fabricated for us by Noble Engineering in the Brisbane area, but could be easily copied by any stainless fabricator.

The cage consists of a framework of 5/16″ stainless steel rod, bent to conform to the shape of the Lensref. Stainless steel lugs form small feet, which are drilled for #10 machine screws. Six stainless steel machine screws secure the frame to the mast. The only tricky part is getting the bevels on the feet right to conform to the shape of the mast. Halyards can still catch on the cage, but it is strong enough to take this kind of load.

Secondary Winches At Last!
For four years we’ve had stowed below a pair of winches that were intended as secondary cockpit winches performing a variety of functions: power for the genoa car pullers in heavy air, power for the running backstays in a breeze, control for the spinnaker pole afterguy and foreguy, and trim for the staysail sheets.

Most importantly, however, these winches are meant to provide the grunt for reefing the genoa and staysail. Even with oversize furlers, reefing the headsails is hard work. In fact, it can be dangerous in a squall, when we are forced to luff the genoa, with the rig feeling like it’s coming out of the boat due to the flogging.

When on starboard tack, we could use the open starboard genoa winch to reef the headsail, which was a real eye-opener. On port tack, we were out of luck, particularly when a big squall coming out of nowhere would catch us on a moonless night. It was enough to make you think about giving up sailing.

The problem was mounting the winches. Our primaries are installed on custom-built stainless steel islands, and the secondaries needed slightly smaller versions of the same thing. Getting someone to replicate the originals has not been easy.

We finally cornered Rob Noble of Noble Engineering in the Brisbane area, who made the mistake of admitting that his high-tech engineering company could do the job. Noble Engineering usually designs and builds industrial equipment, such as military field hospitals and heavy-duty pumps for aquaculture applications, but Rob is also a keen Mumm 36 and Etchells sailor with three sons who are all Olympic-caliber sailors.

Offshore Log: Painless Stainless

At the end of the day, Noble’s secondary winch islands are virtually indistinguishable from our originals, fabricated by Specialties Unlimited back in Newport.

The secondary winches themselves are a bit of history. They are two-speed Barlow 27 self-tailers, dating from the mid-1980s. Stored since that time in plastic bubble wrap, they were in perfect condition 15 years later—NOS (new old stock) in the terminology of the automobile restoration world.

You may not remember it, but Australian Barlow, along with Barient from the US and Lewmar from England, was one of the big three winch manufacturers not that long ago. Barlow was bought by Barient, who manufactured part of the line under the Barient Offshore label before Barient, too, folded in the recession of the late 1980s, which almost killed the US sailboat industry.

Fortunately, I bought a lot of rebuild kits for Barient and Barlow winches before the companies went belly-up more than a decade ago. Winch pawls and springs are interchangeable between most winches in the two lines. Pawls and springs for Barient winches are still available from Lewmar, and are sold through many marine catalogs, such as West Marine, so your antique winches are not complete orphans. Don’t drop the bearings overboard, however, as they might be a bit harder to replace.

All the winches aboard Calypso are either Barient or Barlow, and they have proven to be excellent, trouble-free winches whose manufacturers were simply victims of the faltering economy.

While we were involved in installing the new winches, we decided to strip and overhaul all nine winches on the boat. This was about three days of work, followed by a day of polishing on Maryann’s part to bring them all back to like-new condition. The chrome plating on all these winches has held up astonishingly well, with no peeling and only nominal pitting, perhaps because they get a fair amount of attention.

Offshore Log: Painless Stainless

We always manage to contribute a fair amount of money to the sailing industry in any country we visit for more than a few weeks, and Australia has been no exception. While this eats into the cruising budget, it also keeps the boat looking like new, and functioning that way as well. After seeing the kinds of breakdowns suffered by cruisers who don’t spend the time or money to maintain their boats, we’d rather pay earlier, rather than later.

A Better Throw Rope
Sunlight is tough on everything in the marine environment. A case in point is our West Marine throw rope. A throwing line in the cockpit is a key piece of man-overboard equipment. Unfortunately, after four years in the sun, the nylon bag of our West Marine throw rope completely rotted out.

I know, you should really remove the throw rope and stow it below when you’re not at sea, but who always remembers to do that? Inside the bag, the line was still in perfect shape, but without a replacement bag, the line was pretty useless.

In New Zealand, we found a virtually identical throw rope made there under license to US company Omega Corp. The bag for the Omega throw rope is of a tough, plastic-coated material that should last longer than the uncoated nylon used by West Marine. In addition, instructions for the Omega rope are silk-screened directly onto the bag. This may be better than the sew-on instruction panel on the West Marine bag, which actually rotted off more quickly than the bag itself deteriorated. We’ll see how the ink lasts.

Cost of the Omega throw rope in New Zealand was about $30, a little less than the West Marine throw rope.

At the least, we’d like to see West Marine sell replacement bags for the throw rope. At best, they should look at alternative materials for the bag for this critical piece of safety equipment. In the meantime, we give the Omega throw rope the nod over West Marine’s product, solely on the basis of the bag. (Omega Marine Products, PO Box 1513, Stony Brook, NY 11790; 800/966-6342, fax: 516/246-9084.)

Nick Nicholson
Nick Nicholson is a boatbuilder, racing sailor, and circumnavigator. He began his career at Practical Sailor as an Associate Editor in 1979, and has been Editor-at-Large since he left full-time work in the early 1990s to finish building a 40’ cutter in his backyard, and subsequently sail it more than 40,000 bluewater miles. The voyages of Calypso were chronicled in the Offshore Log section of Practical Sailor during that circumnavigation. He has also raced from the US east coast to Bermuda more than 20 times, winning numerous navigator’s trophies in the process. In recent years, he has primarily worked as a race official and technical rules advisor in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup. He also chairs the Technical Committee for the Newport Bermuda Race.