Latest Update (Part 1)

Boat Improvements

August 3, 2015 - August 5, 2017


Boat Improvements

Over the last two years we have made some big changes to the boat to fix problems that have bugged us for a while. And lots of smaller changes.


* We Finally Fix Our Mast the Right Way -- Throw it Away and Start Over

* We Finally Fix Our Rudder the Right Way

* When You Find Yourself in a Hole -- Dig it Deeper

* We Decide to Store our Poop on Board

* We Become an Official Super Yacht

* Keeping the Bugs Out in Style


A New Mast

We'll start with a big change.

As you might remember, back in 2013, we discovered a few cracks in our mast.


We pulled the stick and the very competent guys at Alloy Stainless & Marine ground out the cracks, welded them up, and covered the welds with thick aluminum patches (which were both screwed and glued in place).


This repair worked fine for thousands of sea miles. But it bothered us.

We think these cracks resulted mostly from operator error. But it didn't help that the Sundeer masts were a bit skinny to begin with. And we upped the ante once we shifted to the "tall rig" back in 2003. A two-spreader rig 70 feet off the water...

The "operator error" came from two mistakes –– first, we are in the habit of hanging our dinghy from the main halyard at night.


Hanging makes the dinghy harder to steal, keeps the bottom from fouling, lets rainwater drain out and means that we won't lose the dinghy if the painter chafes through.


Unfortunately, however, we have a fractional rig. That means the top of the mast is unsupported, except for the backstay.


Beth at the masthead. Notice that only the backstay supports the mast at the very top.


And we had a tapered mast. Do you know how they make a tapered mast? They take a saw, cut a big slice out of the mast, bend the aluminum to fit the remaining parts together, and then weld up the cut. Yikes, doesn't that sound like a great idea?


We think the weight of the dinghy hanging from the top of the mast, and probably bouncing around a little because we didn't have it strapped in well enough, eventually opened the welds used to make the taper.


Nowadays, we still hang the dink, but use spinnaker halyards to help support the top of the mast. And we make sure the dinghy is so tightly strapped in that it can't move around even when the boat rolls. And our new mast doesn't have a taper.

Also –– more operator error –– some years ago a rigger forgot to pin the turnbuckle on the forestay. That turnbuckle is hidden inside the furling mechanism, so we didn't catch this mistake –– and actually we had several professional rig checks that didn't catch the mistake either.


Can you see the turnbuckle here? We can't either…


So that turnbuckle just slowly unscrewed itself, and the forestay got looser and looser, and the mast vibrated around more than it should have.

Aluminum has just so many million cycles in it, and then it cracks…

No excuses here, we should've caught this before it got bad. (The lack of a tight forestay would've been obvious if we ever sailed to weather, but we wouldn't do something silly like that.)


The vibration opened up some welds in a few other places. Including one right at the partners (where the mast goes through the deck) –– where it turns out Forespar had welded an extra section to make our "tall rig". Our mast had a doubler inside there, but still... that crack isn't a good thing…


So, anyway, we made our repairs, and sailed like this for a few years with no problems. Probably everything was just fine. But we were always thinking about those patches on the mast...

One thing we've learned from our years at sea –– if something bothers you when you're tied up to the dock, then it will sure as hell bother you on a dark and stormy night at sea.

Plus, we know that someday we'll have to sell Eagle's Wings. Can you imagine how that sales pitch is going to go? "Oh, don't worry about those patches –– just a few cracks in the mast, but it's all fine…"

Basically, we wouldn't have bought the boat with cracks like that ourselves. So why sail it with that problem?

And here's the thing –– not counting the rigging (which we needed to replace anyway) –– the new mast cost about half as much as our (Hydranet) sails!



So, anyway, the old mast came out.


And then, after a few months of anxious waiting (nothing feels as naked as a sailboat without a mast), we got our new mast. It looked really similar to the old one –– except for that third spreader. Which makes it much, much stronger. And we didn't even notice the lack of a taper.


The new rig has discontinuous rigging. Which is less convenient (you have to go up the mast to adjust it) but much stronger and stiffer, because the shorter sections can't stretch as much. Also, we used Hamma Pro Strand wire which gave us quite a bit more strength. And the wire sizes are all larger.


We had our new rig made by an independent outfit called JT spars. Here's JT, attaching some of the rigging.



Beth keeps an eye on JT, using her fancy new prism spectacles. We got this idea from our godson Greg Parker, who is a big-time rock climber – – these things let you watch your partner up high without putting a kink in your neck.


We decided to go with Spartite for a mast boot system this time around. You might remember that in the past we had a lot of trouble with our rubber mast chocks loosening up and falling out.


Here Ken has constructed a "tape dam" to keep the Spartite polymer in place while it hardens. You can't see this here, but at the bottom of the partners, between the mast and the mast collar, Ken has also built a clay dam to stop the polymer from just running down the mast.


Ken and Dave Berg prepare the polymer mix. Notice that Ken is wearing a headset, so that he can communicate with Beth who is down below anxiously looking for any sign that the polymer has leaked through. Wouldn't that be a mess?


And here's the polymer after it's been poured. So far, after one and a half seasons of sailing, no creaking and no leaking! We're happy!


Of course if the mast ever has to come back out of the boat, things could get interesting. But Ken applied Vaseline to both the mast and the mast collar, so hopefully the polymer will just pop out along with the mast.


These days masts have a lot of electrical stuff wired up to them.


Here's a detail from the top of the mast. The wire in the foreground is for our VHF antenna. And you can see a strain relief wire that clamps on to the white antenna wire, and then attaches to a fairlead. This prevents the 70 foot long wire from hanging on the coax fitting at the top. We tried to provide strain relief for all the major wires.


Beth dives into the hole to guide the wires home,


Here Beth prepares a coax fitting at the other end of the wire. We have no idea why she was wearing that headset… But Ken really likes this picture!


Soldering up the coax terminal.


A New Radar

You might've noticed that the new mast had a radar attached to it, while the old mast didn't.


Here's the old radar mount –– on top of the pole at the back of the boat. This setup worked fine with a cloth bimini.


But carbon fiber is a metal –– so it reflects radar waves. And the reflected waves from the bottom part of the radar signal bounced up and mixed with the rest of the signal –– adding, subtracting and generally screwing up the wave pattern.

So this radar installation just stopped working. Something we sort of overlooked when we designed the hard top.

(Actually the radar still worked fine looking backwards...)

The radar was over 20 years old and some of the controls on the head had stopped working, so we decided this was a good time to upgrade technologies from analog to digital.


So here's the new radar.


And we were able to buy a great –– almost new –– radar display on eBay. That saved us a lot of money and avoided the somewhat problematic new touch screen technology.


Furuno did a factory check for us on this used unit. How's that for great customer service?


The new display has all kinds of useful tricks –– like a split screen that shows two different ranges simultaneously. And it can also show AIS targets, do automatic course and speed calculations on targets, and show data from other instruments.

Above right, the radar display does its best to calculate course and speed on a bunch of squalls.


And as part of our radar installation, we were forced to join the 21th century by installing a NEMA 2000 data network. Here is Beth with her NEMA 2000 "backbone". It's a very small backbone, but then Beth is a very small person...


Actually, to be completely honest, the conversion of our existing NMEA 0183 to NEMA 2000 still isn't working on EW… So maybe we need some spinal surgery here.

A New Propeller

Our old Max Prop had given Eagle's Wings great service for 21 years, but it finally just wore out –– the gears got loose and floppy.


So we took the opportunity to install a brand-new Gori propeller. The Gori is special, because the Danish engineers who designed it -- screwed up. (Allegedly, anyway -- that's the cruiser legend.)


When you go from forward to reverse with the Gori, the blades "feather" (meaning they swing closed, to a low drag position) and then come up in the opposite configuration –– and in the Gori the reverse configuration has a bigger "pitch" (meaning that the prop gets more "bite" on the water) and allows you to stop fast without revving the engine to high rpm's.

But here's the "mistake" –– if you switch from reverse to forward while the boat is still moving backwards through the water, the propeller can't feather because the water is pushing it the wrong way. So it will just start turning in the forward direction, but stay in the reverse configuration.

And all that gobbledygook means that you end up in higher gear –– sort of like being in overdrive in a car. Which gives a sailboat better speed and fuel economy at low RPM's –– something that every cruising boat wants.

We've run the Gori for two seasons now, and we're very happy with it -– we can do about 6 1/2 to 7 kts at 1700 RPM, while burning a little less than 5 L of diesel per hour. (Even allowing for periodic runs at higher speed to blow out the carbon.) That gives us over 1200 miles of range, with a comfortable reserve.

And we can motor easily at 8 kn if we want to bump the RPM's up to 2000 or 2100.

This performance also depends on the new 110 hp engine that we installed in 2010. Before that, with the old 88 hp engine, EW could barely make 8 kts, and would blow all kinds of black smoke if we tried. With the new engine we top out at about 9 1/2 kts.

The Rudder Project

For as long as we have had Eagle's Wings, the rudder shaft has leaked. If we took on a full load of fuel, that would sink the stern a bit, and the leak would get faster. And if we put the helm over hard to port or starboard, the leak would get bigger. This was a fairly big problem when we "hove to" with our helm locked over hard.

This issue seems unique to EW -- the other Sundeers don't seem to do this.

This was never a scary problem –– we have three different bilge pumps in the engine room, and the smallest of these pumps could easily handle the water by running just a few minutes a day. (Well, maybe five minutes every few hours when we were hove to.)

But the leak meant that we always had some salt water in the engine space, and Ken really didn't like that.

We had tried (several times) to fix this problem – – but in early 2017 we decided to try again.


First, we had to dig a hole to drop the rudder. In the past we would've let Shane –– a great-hearted, super-strong guy who has worked at Riverside for many years –– do the digging. But Shane was tragically clubbed over the head early in January, and is likely to face years of rehab.


Shane, in better days.


The attack on Shane was one of the most shocking things that has hit us in a while. We miss Shane very much.

So we had to organize this hole by ourselves.

Ken says that this is one of several "cruising experiences" where you kind of say "if anybody had told me about this before I went cruising…"


Steve Eichler –– our wonderful carpenter and friend –- really stepped up to help us out. This isn't exactly in the job description for carpentry.


We started with picks and shovels, but man, that ground was hard and rocky. Here Steve fires up a "kango" to break up some of the rocks.


And we decided Beth was well-suited to getting the rubble out of the hole, thanks to her convenient size.


She took all this in stride, as always.


And attracted lots of attention. Here a couple of male cruisers decide whether to offer marriage proposals…


Steve shows the effects of a head butt by the propeller.


And the effects of all that digging.



Once we got the rudder down, the real work could start. Here's a close-up of the badly pitted stainless steel surface of the packing gland.


Steve built a jig to hold a belt sander against the stainless rudder bearing.


And sanded away for hours.


And eventually, he got the pits out.


Well, most of them anyway.


Steve and Beth clean up the huge pile of used belts left over from the sanding.


Then Steve worked on the fiberglass gland surface inside the boat, first building it up with epoxy, and then machining it into a proper circular shape. The original gland surface had been significantly out of round.


We are pretty sure that, in addition to the rudder gland being pitted and out of round, the stainless bearing was actually mounted on the rudder shaft at a slight angle. That means that as the rudder turns the packing material gets tighter on one side and looser on the other side. We could not fix this problem directly.

But our mechanic, Tim Brown, believed that he could fix the problem with a "grease seal." First, Steve machined a groove in the delrin bearing surface below the packing gland. And then Tim installed grease fittings that allow grease to be pumped into the groove. The pressure of the seawater would press the grease up into the packing material, creating a water resistant barrier.


And Tim installed a remote grease reservoir, so that Ken would not have any excuse to let the seal go un-greased.


We have now completed a run from New Zealand to Fiji, including about eight hours hove to, plus a few months of coastal sailing in Fiji. The seal has been completely dry except during the heaving to, when we probably took about half a liter of water in eight hours.

We're going to call that call that success.

A Composting Head


Here's another small change that can make a big difference to living on the boat. We replaced one of our two marine heads with a composting toilet.


Beth demonstrating the "throne".


The thing that's hard to get your head around about a composting toilet is that they really don't smell. I mean, much less than a conventional marine head. In fact composting toilets smell less than a toilet in your house.

The advantages of the composting head are simple –– you can use the toilet normally in places where they enforce the rules against pumping over -– like New Zealand. Not to mention when the boat is on the hard..

This is a great thing when you wake up at three in the morning with the "urge" and the bathroom is half a mile away, and it's cold, pouring rain outside.

And it gives you some options when you're in some nice tropical port and feel bad about the kids swimming nearby.

Plus, there are all sorts of great euphemisms: you "make deposits", the head separates "the solids from the liquids", and then eventually you get to "harvest" the results.

A composting toilet needs an air vent to the outside world. Fortunately our aft head had a convenient dorade vent which we could dedicate. The vent line has a small computer fan which runs continuously, drawing a tiny amount of current.


Of course most sailboats, at least in the US, are equipped with holding tanks. Here's our forward holding tank.


But frankly, holding tanks suck. They are smelly, messy, don't hold very much, you have to move the boat to empty them, and they inevitably allow urine to stand for long periods with seawater. Which results in a huge amount of calcium plaque that plugs all of your sewer lines.

Also, holding tanks take up lots of space. (We had already removed the aft holding tank to make a little bit of room in our engine compartment.)

And, with the composter, you can eliminate all of the plumbing –– seawater coming in and black water going out. Plus no sewer lines to plaque up and get plugged, and no holding tank pumps to service -- now there's a disgusting job.


Not to mention the maintenance difference on the toilet itself. Composters are dead simple -- basically just a bucket, a urine bottle and a hatch. In contrast, here's the exploded diagram for our marine head -– sort of looks like the plans for the space shuttle.


Here's Beth maintaining our marine head. This is just lots of fun. Most cruisers can talk for hours (over dinner) about marine toilets. You hear lots of colorful stories –– like about the time that it got plugged, got pumped up under pressure and then exploded...

Our German friends on Vera call that a "shit geyser."


Here's the main work with the composting toilet – – preparing the coconut husk compost mixture.


You start with the brick that looks like this, and by the time you've added a liter of water and broken it up it fills a whole bucket. Preparing this mix takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes each time you empty the toilet.


Emptying the toilet itself takes just a few minutes –– you just take the seat mechanism off -- a few thumbscrews -- put a heavy garbage bag over the top of the bucket, turn it upside down and let the stuff fall out. Even when you're doing this, it hardly smells at all -- really just like damp earth.

And then you just tie the bag up tight and put it in a dumpster -- it's less offensive than disposable diapers since it is already composted.

Two people will get between two weeks and a month out of the mixture –– depending on your… "digestive patterns".


And keep in mind that with an ordinary marine head you have to pump many gallons of sea water through it every time you pee -- unless you want it to plaque up and plug or unless you use fresh water for pumping. Cruisers spend a significant fraction of their lives flushing the toilet. Not necessary with the composter.


Anyway, we kept one of our marine heads plus one holding tank. Because sometimes pumping over is just very convenient –– and if we ever had a big crew on board it might overwhelm the composter.

And because we need something to talk about over dinner with our cruising friends…

However, much as we love to show off our composting toilet we have decided on a firm policy of never allowing guests to look in the trapdoor. We're afraid that's the image they would remember forever about Eagle's Wings!


Little "Nice to Haves"

And we did lots of little things that just make life easier on board.



When we run two fishing lines at the same time, we use outriggers to avoid tangles. But our old outriggers were homemade and looked kind of crummy.


Plus, they were hard to remove –– but leaving them up was dangerous for coming in and out of docks with high pilings which might scrape them off.

So we asked Steve if he had any better ideas.


Beth shows off our new extendable carbon fiber fishing outriggers.


These are a typical Steve Eichler production –– handmade works of art. Here is the end with the extension fully retracted. Note the swelling on the white pole near the end -- extra wraps of fiber to keep the end from splitting.


And here is the end with a little bit of the extension showing.


Here's what they look like in place.


And tucked away -- narrower than the boat, so they can't get scraped off.


We figure that having our own custom-made, extendable, carbon fiber fishing outriggers puts us firmly in the "super yacht" class. Right? Now we just need some uniforms for the stewards...



Windlass Boot

A windlass like ours, with a vertical shaft, is always going to leak water through the deck –– really no way to stop it. In our case the water leaked in the fore peak locker, which wasn't the end of the world. But the salt water was hard on the windlass gearbox and motor mounted below deck.


So we got Steve to fabricate us a windlass cover which would keep the water out. Here's the framing under construction.


Steve individually tapers each cedar strip to form the complex shape that he's creating.


And here's the final product, after it's been fiberglassed and painted. Another work of art. And not one drop of water in the fore peak on the passage up from New Zealand this year!


Leveling the Stove

Our stove has always been gimbaled, meaning that it could swing freely back and forth as the boat rolled. Unfortunately this never worked very well. First of all it was easy for the swinging stove to get a little too enthusiastic and start throwing pots. Second, putting a heavy pot on one of the burners would upset the balance.

Beth got tired of her brownies coming out slanted.


So, as always, we asked Steve for help. Here Steve contemplates a solution. (Of course the rod does not stick up like that in the finished product.)


And here's how we ended up. We have this unobtrusive threaded rod, which connects to tie rods at each end. Turning this nut changes the angle of the stove.


And now Beth can set the stove to whatever angle she wants, and it will stay there.


She liked the system so much that she talked Steve into making another one for the microwave.

Hatch Screens

Our big sisters, the Sundeer 64's, came with built-in insect screens for the hatches. Those screens slide back into the overhead space. Unfortunately, the 56/60's aren't quite tall enough to accommodate the system –– there isn't enough overhead space.


Years ago, we mounted some snaps in the wooden trim, and made up screens to snap in place. After a lot of careful work sewing additional material into the gaps, we were able to make these things seal up pretty well. But frankly they always looked like an old lady's wrinkled up stockings.


So this year, we found a company that makes flexible framed screens, which you can distort a little bit and then pop into a window frame. They will make these things up to whatever size you give them.


The frames are powder coated steel, unfortunately, but we covered ours with an adhesive backed felt which protects our wooden trim when we are popping the frames in and out.

We had to put some adhesive backed foam around the inside of the hatch frame to ensure a good seal. But we managed to get them pretty bug tight (a little bit of permethrin sprayed on the felt doesn't hurt either). So far they haven't failed us –– they kept out a major bloom of flying ants recently.


And we think they look great –– bet you can't even tell that there is a screen in this picture.


Maybe we'll take the snaps off and get Steve's help to repair the holes.

Anyway, that's life on Eagle's Wings in 2017.

We'll be back soon with further updates. We promise…