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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Compass clean-up
18/04/2010

Our Sestrel binnacle compass is Roaring Girl's original, making a solid, beautiful object now 33 years old. When we had finished all our work in Ipswich, which included quite a lot of new electronics, we got the compass refurbished, and then swung. This is an arcane art, now practiced by a few specialists, and involves making sure that the magnets positioned around the compass are oriented in such a way that the magnet needle does indeed point due north, despite the nearby attractions of the engine block and other chunks of metal. We got ours done by the lovely Peter Garrod of Seath instruments in Lowestoft and a fine job he did.
But several years later, the compass had fogged up. A horrible brown yuck, reminiscent of fluffy ear wax, coated the compass card. The dome had become dulled and semi-opaque. Altogether an unpleasant and (more importantly) unusable object.
We were not prepared to pay for a new one. Anything resembling our splendid old one would be prohibitively expensive. Besides, we have this astounding teak mounting, made for us as a generous civil partnership present by Chris Dean in Ipswich, and we don't want to tamper with it. And getting it refurbished here in Rome would be, if possible, very costly. So we took a deep breath and decided to tackle it ourselves.
We now have a gallery on this blog, and if you look at the album 'Compass Clean-Up' you'll see pix of this process. We've written it up at length, to help any other cruisers with the same problem.
Before we started, we had Plans B and C. We have a small binnacle compass, which we keep for use in the dinghy (though we never have used it) which we could dig out and use for a while. Or a cheapy one from a dealer such as Plastimo, might be slotted into the stand for this summer, till we either find a compass refurbisher in Malta or take it back to the UK.
With this security in mind, we tackled the job. First of all, we polished the outside of the dome. That had no effect at all on the legibility of the card or the brown yuck in the oil inside. So secondly, we opened up the small screw on the side, which is where little quantities of oil can be added to top up if a bubble has formed. It was immediately obvious that the oil was badly contaminated and merely adding or exchanging small amounts would make no difference. Now we were moving outside our comfort zone of previously achieved tasks. After a deep breath, we removed the collar around the outside of the dome, which contains the screws attaching the compass to its base. That made no difference to anything.
There seemed little hope but to drain out all the oil, and see if we could do any cleaning up inside. With trepidation we unscrewed the brass ring around the compass base and then peeled away the thick plastic diaphragm that holds the oil sump.
Very carefully we drained it all out into various containers. A short note here on compass oil. Some cruisers report success with various more common oils, in particular Johnson's baby oil. We have always tried to stick to the manufacturers recommended oil, which is an extremely fine grade with a high level of transparency which should not cloud or discolour in response to changes in temperature, and not weight the card so that compass motion is overdamped. (Note that different compass manufacturers use marginally different oils.) We carry a bottle of the stuff especially for dealing with bubbles. The whole compass holds about 1.5 litres. After draining the compass, we therefore had over a litre of mucky oil which we would have to clean up somehow if it was going back into use.
Before tackling that problem, we needed to clean inside the compass. Pip liberated two brushes from her mug-painting kit. Very carefully we brushed inside the dome and across the card. Although some of the earwax lifted and resettled, our strokes had no effect on the grime caked on the inside of the dome. Time for even bigger risks. We broke out the meths as the least damaging degreaser we could think of. Acetone would be very damaging to the plastic and rubber elements. A little dab on the brush and hey presto! The grime came away. The glass began to clear, and the figures on the card began to show. With great precision, Pip brushed away with the meths, gradually dislodging and removing all the yuckiness. This left us with a clean looking dome and card but knowing a lot of stuff was still inside.
We pondered the possible damage of methylated spirits to sealants and diaphragms. In the end there was little choice. We put small amount of meths inside and swilled it around, gradually draining it out. Of course we didn't have that much meths on board so in the middle of this we had to go out and buy some, which meant discovering what meths is called in Italian. (Alcool denaturato, thanks to Google translate!)
This left us with a clean compass, empty of oil and unusuable. We certainly didn't have enough unused oil to refill it, so we had to work out how to clean (or 'polish') the oil. We set up a wee filtration factory on our table top, on a handy bit of oil cloth. Step 1: run the oil through a filter made out of a (purpose-bought) small strainer and a double piece of 10-denier mesh (aka a cut up piece of tights). This is where the coffee filter papers, unobtainable in Italy, would have come in handy. Repeat several times, replacing the mesh if necessary. Step 2: Put a plug (a wine bottle cork) in the bottom of a Racor diesel filter and suspend it on a skewer over a clean container. Pour the first-filtered oil through the diesel filter, giving it time to soak through the paper. Repeat.
For the least mucky stuff this worked well and quickly. For the really filthy stuff, Step 1 was modified by adding kitchen paper into the strainer. This was great at catching scummy bits, but a lot of oil was wasted by soaking into the paper, so we reserved this refinement for the dirtiest oil.
Now we had lots of lovely clear oil and a clean compass, and the challenge of reuniting them. Could we find our small funnel? Of course not. After two hours searching we went out and bought about ten assorted funnels. Back on the boat, none of them fit into the screw hole designed for the job. An hour later the small funnel decided to surface, and after all that, it didn't fit either. Life on boats! Eventually we found a 2ml syringe in our medicine chest, the nozzle of which fit in the hole.
We re-seated the diaphragm at the bottom of the compass, sealing it on with black sikaflex. We then replaced the brass ring that sits over it. Those screws are really soft metal and we broke one in situ, finally sealing the hole with a copious dab of the black goo. Then we left it overinight for the glue to go off.
Time to begin. We lined up the nozzle, stuck the small funnel in the top and slow, slowly, slowly started refilling the compass. Eventually it began to fill up, and resemble a normal compass with a large bubble. As it reduced, we guarded our precious oil stocks. Once the bubble was the size of a large washer, we sealed everything up, and put the compass in the fridge. This is standard because the colder oil creates a larger bubble for gradual replenishment. Then when the weather is hotter, the oil expands, making the bubble vanish.
Over the next few days we have gradually reduced the bubble, and at the time of writing its diameter is about 3mm. We even have about 50ml of polished oil and another 50ml of unused oil left to gradually eliminate even that. The photo above was taken a day or so through these final stages. You can see the oil is beautifully clear. So long as the diaphragm and seals don't leak, we think the compass will see us through to Malta and a professional refurb.
We know the professionals will throw their hands up in horror. And we wouldn't recommend this process as a general habit. If you do need to set about it, you will need the meths, funnels, filters and containers we've talked about. And enormous amounts of kitchen towel: we got through at least two whole rolls during this exercise.

Life on Roaring Girl
Close up to the marks
14/04/2010

This is the other end, and shows the marks plus the ties more clearly. The blue should be pretty clear, and most importantly it's very different from the wearing orange and yellow. It's brighter than something like a purple and, in an anchorage, will show through water better than green. We would have liked the purpose made really bright cable ties, but we can't get them here, and what we have will be very to replace if we have to.
Incidentally we also use a swivel to attach the anchor to the chain, which is controversial with some cruisers. Even in the tideless Med we have seen Roaring Girl and many other boats swing and yaw at the far reach of their chain, which can lead to dragging the anchor if this attachment is too rigid. At the same time, we distrust many standard swivels as there is so little information on their strength, in particular how well they stand up to sideways pressure against the 'arm' of the attachment. To resolve this, we invested in a Wasi Powerball swivel, which was not cheap, but we trust a great deal. Our only reservation is that is puts a stainless link between our galvanised chain and galvanised anchor. If we were making a semi-permanent mooring and intending to spend several months in an anchorage without moving, we would remove this for the duration.

Life on Roaring Girl
Anchor chain
14/04/2010, On the dock

When cruisers get together, in the real world or in cyberspace, there are some hot topics. These days, computers rank pretty high, but the old staples rightly take up a lot of air time. Heads (toilets to landlubbers). Money. And anchoring.
A boat's ground tackle is sometimes called her best insurance. Certainly, nobody sleeps well at night who doesn't have confidence in their anchoring system. And the big hook on the bottom is only one part of the overall approach. Your chain, its attachment to the anchor, the windlass (if you have one), snubbing lines, chums and angels all have important roles.
But key is your own technique. We have written before about watching some lunchtime anchorers who put out tiny amounts of chain and then swim or siesta till it's time to return to harbour for the evening's passegata. But if you want to stay solid, you must make sure your anchor is well dug in, you need a strong rode (preferably all chain), and you need to know there's enough chain out. As the saying goes, the chain's not doing you any good in the locker.
We know cruisers who are happy to estimate how much rode they've put out. Some seem always to anchor with so much space around them and so little water underneath them, that they can afford to run out huge amounts of chain without worrying about accuracy. We're not of that persuasion, especially in the deep, crowded anchorages we've visited over the last two years.
We want to anchor with a minimum scope of 3:1. This means that if the distance from the bow to the sea bed is 10m, we want to let out at least 30m of chain. We have 80m, so in practice we don't anchor in more than 25m of water. If there is room, and we have enough chain we will let out more, and of course if the forecast is for wind and swell we will always put out as much as we can. When we sat in Camarinas, northern Spain, waiting for two weeks of rough seas to abate enough to get around Finisterre, we had 40m of chain out while anchored in about 4m of water, a scope of 10:1.
So we want to mark our chain accurately. Last year, it ended up being a pretty sloppy job, and the marks have drifted away from the most accurate spot. For some years we've used orange and yellow marking spray, on the basis that the fluorescent colouring should help. In practice, it doesn't stand up well to long periods in salt water and wears off fast.
What are the features of a good chain marking system? Reasonable durability, at least for a long season. It must not impede the passage of the chain over the gypsy of the windlass, either running out or coming back in again. At any point of the chain it should be possible to look at it and know how much chain is out - so you are not just relying on counting it as it comes out of the locker. It should show up in torchlight, including red light. The marks should be self-evident or easy to memorise. And, for us, the marks should be often enough to be useful when you want to measure the scope accurately.
So this year we laid out our 80m of chain in 10m loops along the quay. This photo is taken from the 'odd number end', so the blue and white section nearest the camera marks 70m of chain. We are trying a new marking system, which at each 10m sees a series of blue and white dashes - seven for 70m. In addition, and after the paint (as the anchor goes over the bow roller), we have attached cable ties, again in the relevant number. At each five meter mark, there is one bright white mark, shown by the line of white halfway along the line of chain.

Life on Roaring Girl
Victualling
12/04/2010, Ostia and Fiumicino

Sometimes we get asked about provisioning. We're not preparing for long ocean trips, but we know from past experience that the islands of the western Med can get very pricey for basic foodstuffs - a combination of island overheads and tourist rip-off.
So we want to make sure we're stocked up, able to live well while at anchor for a week or three without having to rely on wildly expensive local shops. (Take note of this anyone planning to visit the Iles d'Hyere: beautiful, but all food stuffs are scandalously dear!) To this end, we returned to Fiumicino, to the big Auchun supermarket and made a major shop. On return we had our two shopping trolleys and two rucksacks full of provender. To stow it, we took everything out of our various food lockers and put it all together, so it could go away in a manageable and useful fashion.
Here it all is!
You can't really see it in this photo, but there is quite a lot of whisky involved, and Pip's Amaretto tipple. Rice, pasta and noodles, tins of meat, fish and veg, quantities of coffee and tea. Various household items, including cleaning kit. A large sack of flour, and lots of milk.
Some things are astonishingly hard to find here. Milk powder, paper coffee filters. And others are really hard to recognise: we've had huge problems tracking down yeast and in fact brought loads out from the UK. Lievito pane degli Angeli, with deceptive pix of baked goods, is everywhere. But it's baking powder and no help for pizza or bread.
We got most of the stuff on our list, but we still hunting the elusive dried milk and the avocado oil we like on salads. And an important Kiwi food symbol has a prominent place in this display, for those who can spot it.

Life on Roaring Girl
Guard rails
11/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Another big task has been improving the guard rails. Over the last six years, they've stretched a bit, and Pip likes them taut as she pulls on them getting in and out of the anchor locker. Also, the net we installed, to keep the cats on board, has got very tired and faded. We still need netting: Roaring Girl has absolutely no toe-rail so things fall overboard very easily, but it only need be half as high as the old arrangement.
Our guard rails are fastened to the pulpit (the steel frame surrounding the pointy end of the deck) with pelican hooks, to make it easy to undo them should we need to do so in a hurry. These in turn are attached to the wire by sta-lok fittings. The point of these is to attach fittings to wire without needing a complicated piece of kit called a swage-press. In effect, you unwind a bit of the wire, insert a cone over the central element, seat a small cog over the cone, replace the wire strands into the teeth of the cone, and slide the fitting over all that, so you can screw the end-attachment in.
The nice folks at the manufacturers (just down the road from us in Essex) had sent us new cones, so we spent two frustrating days ripping out fingers to shreds as we shortened the wire. It's definitely one of those jobs which is perfectly do-able by amateurs but is much easier when you do it all the time. When you only do it three or four times in a decade, it's rather more painful.
That job, too, is finally complete, and Roaring Girl looks very smart with tightened rails, newly tightened stanchions, new netting and even plastic covers on the top rail.

Life on Roaring Girl
Pizza (with trimmings)
10/04/2010, The cockpit

All this work needs fuel. Pip's got a really neat line in making dough, and is churning out foccaccio, home-baked bread and even pizza. Here's the latest, which lasted about 10 minutes after this picture was taken.
And the cif is an extra-yummy dressing.

Life on Roaring Girl
Changing a lightbulb
10/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Q: How many cruisers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: 10. One to hold the bulb and nine to turn the boat. (© Pip)

That's not true of course. It takes at least nine. Two to watch and offer meaningless advice while you're up there. At least two to comment on the bulb you removed on the previous trip up the mast, purse their lips and say they don't have one like that. Plus the three others who ask you to come and do theirs as well. All these groups can be bigger, and indeed expand exponentially as soon as the job goes wrong.
Meanwhile, one of you actually has to go up there and change it, while the other one tends the safety lines on the deck.
Our deck light, which is about 10m up the main mast, doesn't see a lot of use, mostly just if it's a really dark night when we anchor, or to light us up really brightly if a fishing boat is paying too little attention to slow yachts in their vicinity. We installed it new in 2003, and it was checked when we had the masts out in 2005. This spring, it wasn't working, so it was time to take it to bits and see what could be done.
In the end it went very smoothly. The ferremente couldn't help, but sent us round the corner to the car suppliers, who took one look and sold us the exact bulb for EU5. Back up the mast, it went in smoothly, the keeper went back in place, the light worked. Woo-hoo. Bulb changed.

Life on Roaring Girl
Everyone's at it
10/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Of course it's not just us. The marina rings to the cries of deck crew and the person aloft asking for a change in height, an additional tool to be sent up on a halyard, or a piece of crucial information.
This is Mike up Aquila's mast. They've only got the one, but it's a lot higher than either of ours. And respect to Linda - they don't have mast-steps, so she has to winch Mike up there. Fortunately, they have electric winches, which takes some of the pain away.
Our six-year old neighbour Veronica, was fascinated by all this and spent some time trying to do the Indian Rope Trick up her boat's spinnaker halyard, very frustrated at her lack of success.

Life on Roaring Girl
Hanging around
10/04/2010, Ostia Lido

It's spring, we're about to go sailing. That means rigging checks. At least this year, we've haven't lost some errant halyard inside a mast. But checking every split pin, every weld and sheave, and washing two big masts still means a lot of time aloft.
Over three days, Sarah spent about eight hours clambering up and down Roaring Girl's two masts - one of the downsides of a ketch over a sloop is that it doubles the rigging checks. Here in Rome, the boat has become absolutely filthy, so every inch of both masts has also been washed down, and the track's lubricated with silicon. That's our trusty orange bucket dangling in the rigging, with soapy water in it.
Finally it's done - a big job crossed off the list.


Life on Roaring Girl
Chasing the ferret
08/04/2010, Fiumicino

Ex-pats with fixer-uppers in sunnier climes. Cruisers fixing their boats in exotic ports. A key word in the new language: find the DIY store. American friends look for the hardware shop. In Spain it's the ferreteria (universally known as the ferret by Brits building their illicit homes in the Andalusian hills), in France, the bricolage. And in Italy it's the ferremente.
Or in the way of the western world, your key destination is known by the global brand - B&Q (thanks, Ellen!), or Homebase. On our wanderings so far, the French chain Leroy Merlin has been pre-eminent. Want some clips for boathooks, sandpaper and paint brushes, inox washers or sanitary hose? Don't want to pay inflated chandlery prices? Find a ferremente, and the larger the better.
Here in Ostia there are a few small ferremente, mostly focused on the car-owner, but a good one near the Panorama supermarket. They're helpful and even have English speaking staff, but are inevitably limited in stock and charge slightly higher prices. So, where's the nearest biggie?
The answer is in Fiumicino, which has, besides a canal, a fishing port and an airport, a large collection of retail parks and shopping malls. A free bus runs three or four times a day from Ostia and back. You catch it outside the pharmacy four doors from the aforesaid ferret. (Timetable available from the marina office.) It drops you outside a large covered shopping centre, with all the usual names inside. This mall also include a huge supermarket, which dwarfs anything in Ostia, very useful for large scale victualling.
From the bus-stop, turn away from the mall and cross the railway on the covered bridge. On the far side, catch a bus for Maccarese. You will see Leroy Merlin and Decathlon appearing through the foliage of roads like a distant dream. Suddenly, the bus roars up alongside the retail park you need; ring the bell or it will sweep you off to some unknown flat-lands beyond our ken.
In this retail park, there's a huge Leroy Merlin, various sports shops, and a very satisfactory pizzeria. We made a successful trip with Linda and Mike, returning heavily laden with electrical tape, a new drill and all sorts of other goodies. A well-caught ferret.

Life on Roaring Girl
Working on the boat
07/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Well - we modified the settings on the Victron inverter/charger (that thing with all the superconductors in the last picture) and it seems to have had some positive effect. For the really interested - we found both the charging current and float voltage needed some amendment, and since then we have seen much less high voltage and not the same shocking power drain when high-demand appliances are switched on.
We are still seeing a high drain when we have two or more of our alepnglows on but Pip is about to put new bulbs in all of them and then we'll see. So - some progress and we've learnt a lot about our boat electrics. Still learning even after 7 years!
Sarah went up the mizzen in the morning - and found it was b---y cold once you are 10m up in the air. All the rigging was fine, but it was much too cold to go splashing water about to clean the sail track and other connectors. Which they badly need after sitting in the salty air of Ostia for several months, rain or no rain. So instead of attacking the main mast we faced up to the electrics. And of course by the time we'd finished the wind had died and it was a great day for rigging work.
But instead we opened a bottle of wine to celebrate our successful work on the demon charger.

Life on Roaring Girl
Electricity
06/04/2010, Ostia Lido

Electrics on boats are always challenging, and for us our biggest technical weak point. We have a sophisticated system which is wonderful when it works well, but is accompanied by some lousy manuals. (Come on Victron - it can't be that difficult to find good translators!)
We are trying to track down and cure the high voltage levels that have been causing us some problems with domestic appliances, and have possibly damaged our much loved alpenglow lights. The next stage, after numerous other checks, is to test all the settings on our extremely clever charger/inverter, shown here with the front off.
Yes, it's very intimidating. Our thanks to many friends at the wonderful cruisers forum who are helping us through this process. Things have already improved a bit by adjusting elements of the controls.
We'd still rather climb the mast/rebuild the skeg/paint the hull - almost anything rather than fiddle with electrics. But then - without it we wouldn't be writing and posting this blog from on board, so it has its uses!

Life on Roaring Girl

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