The story of Topaz Rival

28 May 2020 | Totnes
16 May 2020 | Bristol
15 April 2020 | Bristol
01 April 2020 | Bristol
25 March 2020 | Bristol
24 March 2020 | Bristol
04 March 2020 | Totnes
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26 January 2020 | Totnes
09 January 2020 | Totnes
01 December 2019 | Totnes
18 November 2019 | Totnes
08 November 2019 | Totnes
09 October 2019 | Totnes
03 October 2019 | Totnes
30 August 2019 | Bristol
28 August 2019 | Noss Marina
27 August 2019 | Salcombe
25 August 2019 | Plymouth

Some choices to discuss

01 April 2020 | Bristol
Martin Whitfield
Today was the day that Topaz Rival was supposed to be sailing again after her refit. As we know, this is not happening for the foreseeable future.

Sitting at the dining room table instead, I was wondering if it would be helpful to anybody thinking of undertaking an update of an older boat if I went through the reasons for the various bits and pieces of work that have been carried out. The decision making about the purchase of Topaz Rival are right at the beginning of this boating diary.

It goes without saying that all the choices I have made are not supposed to be the definitive way as everybody has a different approach and differing priorities. I have been fortunate in being able to indulge a few of my prejudices, which might not be to everybody's taste.

So here we have a blank page of a 1990 Rival 36 being kitted out for longish-term adventure. Some of the items on the refit list have been predetermined by the surveyor's report and have to be done for safety or insurance reasons - replace the rigging and comply with modern gas regulations to mention but two.

Others are dependent on the type of journey going to be made. For example, if I wasn't planning to go cruising abroad I am sure I would not have replaced the engine, merely wait for it to die of its own accord in its own good time.

Where to start? Well seeing as I mentioned the engine, let's begin here. The old Bukh 36 had been lightly used and ran very sweetly during the 2019 season when it did about 175 hours and didn't miss a beat. However, it was 30-years-old and not very economic, using about three litres an hour. Also, it was not the easiest engine for maintenance, with some things like the fuel and oil filters quite difficult to get to. I never managed to replaced the engine anode as access was blocked by a wiring loom and I didn't have the right bendy spanner to get to it. The new engine is also smaller and weighs 100kg less - not an insignificant amount.

Our local Beta dealer gave us a very good price for a new 35hp replacement, plus a trade in deal on the Bukh. As I have mentioned before, we like Beta engines. The have a good reputation for reliability and are very easy to service. I have to confess we did not really look at any alternatives. Topaz Rival came with a Brunton's Autoprop and a rope cutter, both of which we are keeping. The propeller was given a service at the Brunton factory and we bought a SigmaDrive coupling at the same time. This (linking the engine and gearbox to propeller shaft) is supposed to reduce noise vibration to a minimum - we shall see! We also replaced the old fuel filter with a Racor model, again for ease of maintenance. My only attempt to change a fuel filter element at sea resulted in getting air in the system as two small "O" ring seals looked identical, but weren't. Thankfully a BoatUS subscription meant we didn't have to pay for the consequent $1,400 tow....

Although the engine was expensive, if was not the biggest bill (by some way) of the refit. This prize went to the refurbishment of the electrics and electronics.


One of the things that made Topaz Rival attractive was the fact that all her electrics and electronics were 1990s vintage. This gave us a clean sheet with which to work with as the pace of change with electronics is dramatic in three years, let alone 30. Even a 10-year-old boat will almost certainly need at least a partial electronics upgrade and then you are left with the very real dilemma of how to get different generations of equipment to link up. Much of Topaz Rival's old equipment was state of the art circa 1996 like the basic GPS and a rather fine sonic log. However, other bits were not working - the wind instruments and the cockpit VHF, for example. The batteries still held a charge, but were due for replacement and the battery charger, although working, made a lot of noise and ran very warm...

The new electrics and other pieces of equipment (electric windlass, autopilot, electric outboard etc) would need more battery capacity and also some means of generation when at anchor and away from shore power. Solar power has advanced dramatically recently but Topaz Rival has limited space for solar panels on deck and a wind generator alone would not be sufficient, as we know as previous owners of two Rutland 914 generators. The solution was to mount a solar panel arch across the stern which would also carry the new more powerful Rutland 1200 generator as well as a couple of aerials. Hopefully, this will give us enough power to be relatively self-sufficient at anchor and on long passages without having to resort to the engine's alternator for battery top up.

The panels and turbine and associated controllers (necessary to prevent the batteries being overcharged) would be linked to four Rolls 115 AH AGM batteries in the domestic bank and a Fullriver AGM starter battery for the engine. This would more than double our existing battery capacity and give a reasonable amount of power for a 36 ft cruising sailing boat. A new mains battery charger and a modern battery monitor completes the input side of the equation.


We now have lots of battery power. Where will it go? The simple way to do this is to add up all the bits of equipment that use electricity and multiply that by the hours you expect to use it. This normally results in an amount which would mean the whole bottom of the boat would be full of batteries. Again from past experience, the big drains on power are the fridge and the autopilot.

Both Dawn Chorus and Alice in Red had windvane self-steering gear. This is fantastic for long passages as it means the boat steers itself with no power. However, we only ever really used it for the two Atlantic crossings and I was not sure the huge cost was worth the expense just for these trips. A Hydrovane or similar costs around £5,000 plus fitting and the installation would mean our stern boarding ladder would also have to be sacrificed. The decision was made to rely on electronic autopilots for the moment.

Topaz Rival had an old Autohelm system which uses a mechanical connection to the wheel to steer the boat. The recommended top end for use is around 7.5 tonnes - roughly what Topaz Rival weights and you do not want an underpowered autopilot. We opted for a Raymarine upgrade (EV200) as we are familiar with their operation and they could be integrated with the Raymarine depth and wind instruments (again very familiar with these). We looked at the alternatives, mainly B & G but liked the EV200's linear drive motor the best. Prejudiced against Garmin for a whole host of reasons which I can go into if you like! The linear drive operates on the steering quadrant below decks and has a reasonable reputation for reliability. As a backup I decided to keep the old Autohelm as it is a completely separate system and was working OK last summer.

The autopilot decision partly dictated the other instruments. You can mix and match these days but having all Raymarine or B & G is probably easier as the autopilot wind and depth all talk to each other. The second big decision in this area was what chartplotter to install. This is very much a personal choice, but my decision was to go completely without. Dawn Chorus had a chartplotter at the chart table, Knot Telling had one in the cockpit and Alice in Red had none. On all three boats, we almost exclusively used iPads and iPhones for daily navigation and maybe a laptop for longer crossings. Going around Britain and coming into port, I did find the chartplotter on Knot Telling useful as I could have it set at one scale and the iphone/ipad set at another. However, it was always the mobile device which was more convenient to use. Dawn has always used mobile devices primarily. Although chartplotters themselves are not hugely expensive, they have added installation costs (pods and mounts), extra running costs (chart chips etc), and work best with dedicated same make radars. Going the ipad/iphone route we were limited to one radar choice, Furuno, as this is the only one of the manufacturers which has a wireless option, rather than having to go through a chartplotter. Fortunately this Furuno unit is also one of the cheapest.
We have used radar seldom - mainly to spot squalls at night and it was a cost/benefit trade-off here. We do have all radar functions but probably not of the same quality as an all singing, all dancing Raymarine or B & G device.

On the recommendation of our installer (Devon Marine Electronics) we opted for an Em-Trak AIS transceiver and an Actisense NMEA 2000 WiFi gateway to broadcast all the electronics to our devices. Obviously I have not been able to test all this gear so far, but I have checked with Weather 4D, the App I use mostly for navigation, and they say it should all integrate well. Actisense and Weather 4D have both tested each other's products and are "partners". I was tempted to add a Beta Marine engine monitoring NMEA 2000 unit to the system but couldn't really justify the cost unfortunately.

Other electronic items include a new VHF DSC radio with external mic in the cockpit (Standard Horizon 1850) which links to the NMEA 2000 network to get its GPS position and a new Sony Bluetooth radio for the saloon so we can play music from out devices as well as listen to the radio. Up the mast, which was taken down for the osmosis treatment inside, new LED lights were fitted in addition to the radar and everything rewired. Finally we have had USB ports placed in all cabins and in the cockpit, plus a cigar lighter style connection for things like charging the outboard battery, the Dyson vacuum cleaner and the emergency 12V spotlight.

The two autopilot controls will be at the helm while the depth and wind instruments are over the companionway where they are easily read from the wheel or sitting on the cockpit seats if the autopilot is engaged. The external VHF is at the helm.

Sails and rigging

Away from the world of electronics and on to sails and rigging. The insurers demand a new rig every 10-15 years so it was inevitable that Topaz Rival would be due a new set of wire during the refit. We managed with the old stuff for a year following a rig check before sailing to make sure it wasn't going to come down immediately. However, that still left a decision on what to do with the furlers and mainsail, plus what sort of downwind sails would be needed for any long distance sailing. Topaz Rival has an Easyreef retrofit in-mast furling main. We like mainsail furling but the bolt on types are not the best. Unfortunately, stripping out the in-mast and reverting to slab reefing would mean quite a bit of work, plus the possibility of a new boom and new mainsail. The alternative was to see how the existing system worked following and overhaul and replacement of the furling lines (inhaul and outhaul) to reduce friction.

New UV strips were ordered for the main and genoa and minor repairs to them both and the gennaker which was damaged last summer. Additionally, the sprayhood (horrible brown colour) is to be replaced and a new genoa purchased to give the twin headsail option for downwind sailing (the furler has a double slot to hoist both sails together) as well as a spare sail in the event of damage to the existing genoa. Topaz also has a hank on cutter staysail of quite thick material which will serve as a storm jib if necessary. All riggers and sailmakers agreed that the staysail was probably too small to warrant a separate furler. We are about half way through replacing the running rigging which survived last season with a good wash in the washing machine.

Deck gear

Lots of debates are to be had about anchors and anchoring. On purchase Topaz Rival had a 45lb CQR on the bow with around 50m of 10 mm chain and a spare Bruce-type anchor as a kedge. I'm a big fan of new generation anchors (Rocna, Mantus, Manson Supreme etc) and opted this time for a Scottish-made Knox anchor, also a new generation type. This anchor (purchased in 2019) is a few kg lighter at 18kg and fits perfectly on the bow roller despite its roll bar design. We haven't really tested this anchor yet, but the times it has been deployed it has set and held well. As part of the upgrade, we switched the (working) Simpson Lawrence manual windlass to a Lofrans Kobra electric windlass with 60m of 8mm chain and 30m of 14mm Anchorplait nylon rope. Although the chain is of smaller diameter, it is of higher quality and both Knox and everyone else I could talk to thought it would easily be sufficient and resulted in another 50kg weight saving.

No decision has been made yet as to whether to keep the Bruce anchor and add some chain and rope or replace it, probably with a lightweight Fortress anchor.

All the (seven) winches have been serviced, a first time for me, and are in good working order.

Dinghy and outboard

Although not part of the refit, the decision on the new dinghy and outboard is worth mentioning as they are both a bit unusual. Until now, we have always had inflatable dinghies of various sizes. The last one (not the tiny one on Knot Telling) was a 2.6m Excel. No problem with this boat apart from that it would not fit easily into the single large cockpit locker on Topaz Rival. Consequently, it would either have to live below or tied on the deck somewhere. Larger and heavier dinghies would have the same problem. Being a bit of a sucker for nice lines, I always fancied a Nestaway folding dinghy - wonderful looking, but very pricey. Again, the problem was stowage - even the smallest would take up virtually all the spare deck space. While looking around the Nestaway site I did come across the Portabote design. A bit agricultural but these dinghies have their fans among cruising sailors. They have lots of space inside (no fat tubes) and fold up into a surfboard sized package which can then be strapped to the stanchions or the coachroof and still leave room to pass by on deck easily. Last season I rigged up a launching bridle to use the spinnaker halyard to launch the dinghy and it worked a dream. The only problem is that the Portabote is a bit stiff as it hasn't been used much (newly secondhand and less than half-price of new) and is difficult, but not impossible, for one person to set up until it gets more use. It likes warm weather which softens the tough plastic to make it easier to handle, a bit like me really! Pictures of the Portabote can be seen in last year's posts in this diary.

Coupled with the Portabote is the Torqeedo electric motor. This is the new 1103 model and is very silent with a much better battery. We have a love-hate relationship with out old Torqeedo as it occasionally refused to work with obscure error messages. The good things are its quietness, the fact that it is light and comes apart and finally, it means there is no inflammable petrol on board. If it doesn't work out as planned we can always revert to a good old Suzuki 2.5.

My plan is see how all this new stuff lives up to expectation and let people know if they are interested. If you are still awake, the picture is of Weather 4D, my favourite navigation app at the moment (excellent for displaying weather too).
Vessel Name: Topaz Rival
Vessel Make/Model: Rival 36
Hailing Port: Dartmouth
Crew: Martin Whitfield and Dawn Kelly
About: Plus dogs Buzz and Bonnie
Topaz Rival's Photos - Topaz Rival as purchased (Main)
Photos 1 to 11 of 11
Topaz on her original berth: She has been here for 20 years or more
The quarter berth: No to sure whether to believe this, but was told this was the original plastic cover!
Instrument panel: The depth and autopilot work, not so sure about the GPS!
Bukh 36: I’m told that Bukh paint is first class. Well this engine is 29-years-old...
Survey lift shows keel shape: Topaz is the scheel keel version 1.5m draft
Rudder and skeg: As Tom Cunliffe says “a wholesome compromise between precise steering at sea, comfort, and athletic steering in harbour”. We’ll see about the latter...
Dirt and mould: An image of neglect
Deck: Nothing that a good clean can’t solve
Crazy portlights: There are 10 of these...
Winter refit at Baltic Wharf
38 Photos
Created 2 November 2019
A selection of pictures from sailing in 2019
31 Photos
Created 1 August 2019
Topaz Rival at or about the time of survey in December 2018
14 Photos
Created 8 May 2019
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