Friday 18th February 2022 – London

With Storm Eunice approaching, I am picking up on a slight sense of panic amongst many boat owners. Will their covers be OK? Will their boats be OK with those wooden props and wedges especially with the mast up. Will their mooring lines chafe through? etc

With Sumara currently in Scotland, and I’m down in London there isn’t a realistic chance of popping up to the boat to check things are alright. Over the years I have taken various measures to help me feel at ease when a storm sweeps through.

Always Mast Down

Sumara wrapped up for the winter with the mast covered up alongside

I have never left the boat out of the water with the mast up. Partly because it is a wooden mast which needs varnishing every year, but also because masts vibrate in the wind and can shake out wedges leaving the props liable to fall away. There are many boatyards that ban boats being left with the stick up. Furthermore, with the mast down you can fit a tough ridgepole over the boat for the winter cover. You can also carry out a thorough inspection on the rigging. It also strikes me as being really weird that those owners who have gone to the trouble of unstepping their masts then dump them on racks with no covers over them. A long strip of canvas with a few eyelets is hardly a massive expense and it stops the frost eating away at the varnish and the usual boatyard grit and dirt getting into the sheaves.

As for those who leave their masts up with their sails on, they deserve everything they get!

Get a Proper Boat Cover

The aluminium ridge pole and protective foam tubing
Use decent sized eyelets in your cover. The Size 30 wad punch with the hand closing tool lying beside.

So often you will see yachts costing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds with a cheap-as-chips B&Q plastic tarp flapping away in the wind. Normally the eyelets will just pull out in the first gust. They then make a God forsaken din as they flap against all that varnish you spent yonks putting on last spring. If they are not flapping, it will be because they have collected a pool of water which will then burst all over the decks, or they have simply blown away to litter the sea or the nearest tree.

It is still intact but for how much longer?

I have a nice heavy canvas cover which was originally made by a lorry tarpaulin maker. The shape is simple, a rectangle with the front slightly angled back.

When the canvas gets wet it tightens up, so there is nothing to flap in the wind. The ridge pole is made from aluminium scaffold tube joined with key clamp fittings. When collapsed it will fit in my little box trailer. It is supported on vee’s also made with ali scaff tube. It is bullet proof.

I put some gaffer tape over the fittings so there are no sharp edges, and I clip on some split foam tube around the guardrails and on the toe-rail so the canvas doesn’t wear against the varnish.

I wrap a strong line around the keel of the boat and tie the cover down to it. The ties are secured with a bowline into the eyelets and a clove hitch with a half hitch onto the wrap line. I then tape up all the tails with PVC tape. Everyone thinks I am bonkers doing this but knots can come undone and I can be pretty sure my cover will be just as I left it.

Don’t forget that mast cover too.

Cockpit Cover – when afloat

Sumara under the green cover at Dunstaffnage Marina. See how the bungee Spanfixes just stretch to allow the wind to blow through. This is hurricane force 12. No damage whatsoever – not even a scratch.
Sumara is under the wave on the left!
Sumara on the left at Dunstaffnage in a full hurricane. Note the helpful staff on the neighbouring boat.

My cockpit cover is secured with “Spanfixes” to the guardrail wires. Spanfixes are bungee loops with a clip on one end, they are widely used in the entertainment’s industry to stretch and secure projection screens. The cover is a very simple shape with a heavy PVC strip underneath to protect it where it can rub on the boom. The big advantage of these elastic bungees is that in a big gust of wind they just stretch and let the wind blow through.

The Uber Fender

It was well over ten years ago when I had my uber fender made by Henderson Inflatables. Avon stopped using Hylaplon in their fenders and I insist on it, hence the special order. The fender cost more than most small inflatable boats but it has saved me from so much damage. Small boats can’t find a stowage spot normal large fenders so the inflatable one is perfect. It is fat enough to keep the yacht off a wall so the mast is less likely to catch. When rafted up, the owners of the alongside boat look utterly delighted when this big soft fat fender slips between our yachts. Beers all round!

Decent Mooring Lines

Spring line with polyester sleeve over the eye

Use proper mooring lines not old halyards. If you want to save money, you can easily shorten springs into bow lines and top-and-tail the ends with an eye (if you have eyes) which will extend their life but they may have some serious work to do so don’t neglect them. There are more thoughts about mooring lines in the post below:

Hanked on Sails

The Wichard Clip makes fast work for hanking on sails

Hanked on sails are certainly a lot more work, especially on a wet plunging deck but the reduced windage of not having a furled sail aloft is quite noticeable. I use Wichard clips rather than piston hanks so the sails can be hanked on very quickly. Obviously when moored for anytime the sails are bagged up and stored below decks. If you do have furled sails then they must be made super secure in bad weather, when they get loose they almost always tear themselves to death.

Luckily this sail got rescued in the nick of time

The Yard Crew

When the boat has been lifted and shored up, don’t forget to buy the yard crew a drink or leave them a tip so they can treat themselves. It will be the yard crew or marina staff who will be checking your boat while you are away – best to look after them!

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