The story of Topaz Rival

16 September 2021 | Lymington
15 September 2021 | Chapman’s Pool
14 September 2021 | Weymouth
13 September 2021 | Weymouth
11 September 2021 | Bridport
10 September 2021 | Brixham
06 September 2021 | Dartmouth
05 September 2021 | Dartmouth
04 September 2021 | Dartmouth
02 September 2021 | Plymouth
31 August 2021 | Polkerris
29 August 2021 | Malpas
28 August 2021 | Falmouth
28 August 2021 | Helford River
27 August 2021 | St Michael’s Mount
23 August 2021 | Crosshaven
22 August 2021 | Approaching Ireland
21 August 2021 | Biscay
20 August 2021 | Biscay
19 August 2021 | Biscay

Splash next week

28 May 2020 | Totnes
Martin Whitfield
It's all fixed to go back in the water on Tuesday, 2 June. Hopefully, the work will be finished on time and Topaz Rival will be floating to catch the high tide around 2.30 pm. All very exciting after eight months on shore. Initially, Topaz Rival will go on the trot moorings at Noss Marina until we are allowed to stay on the boat again. The no overnight stay rule is a real pain in the backside (as well as making no sense whatsoever) as I will have to drive 100 miles each way instead of just sitting on the boat overnight in splendid isolation. It's annoying to be caught in a position like this which is designed for second homes and caravan parks rather than boats moored in the middle of a river. Still, should be able to get some jobs done in the long days like getting the sails back on and tidying up the boat ready for movement, maybe in July. Even days sails are possible.

Time for sailing again?

16 May 2020 | Bristol
Martin Whitfield
Here are a new clock and barometer for Topaz Rival - the hands of the old clock have fallen off and are sadly lying at the bottom of the glass. However, we will have to wait to put them in place as Baltic Wharf is not reopening until Thursday next week unlike many marinas which are already allowing boat owners on board. We have been trying to fix up the last remaining bits of work to be carried out asap and the new plan is to launch sometime in the first week of June. The yard is not taking bookings for relaunch until after the Bank Holiday but hopefully we will be early in the queue as we had a launch booked on 31 March. It will be good to get the boat back in the water, although options then remain limited. At the moment, it is possible to go for day sails only - overnights are not permitted for some reason. I guess this is for the government to appease second home owners and caravan parks which might get upset if boat owners were allowed to stay even though it’s hard to imagine a more socially distanced person than someone at anchor somewhere!

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).

Upgrade review

25 March 2020 | Bristol
Martin Whitfield
As we are not allowed to go sailing and are stuck at home, I thought it might be an idea to give a breakdown for anyone interested in the work that has been carried out on Topaz Rival during the refit and in preparation for adventures abroad.

1. Hull. Full osmosis treatment for hull and rudder. This is the "HotVac" system and all done under temperature and humidity control. Finished with Coppercoat antifoul.
2. Engine. Old Bukh 36 replaced with a new Beta 35. We have had two Beta engines before on Lazy Bones (20hp) and Alice in Red (38hp) and they were fantastic. Lots of other bits and pieces replaced as part of the engine upgrade, including a new Brunton's SigmaDrive coupling to go with a service for the Autoprop feathering propeller.
3. Electrics. All shorepower (AC) system overhauled with new battery charger. Four new Rolls AGMs as the new domestic battery bank together with a new engine starting battery. Solar panels, and a Rutland 1200 wind generator installed on a stern gantry which also has room for AIS and GPS aerials. New Furuno radar (viewed on iPads and iPhones), new LED lights on mast complete with rewiring. New USB charging points in cabins and in cockpit (waterproof). New Sony stereo radio with Bluetooth.
4. Electronics. New Raymarine wind and depth transducers and i70 instruments. AIS and wireless NMEA 2000 hub. Standard Horizon 1850 VHF with additional microphone in cockpit. Raymarine EV200 Autopilot installed in addition to old Autohelm (left as a backup).
5. Water and waste. New holding tank fitted with external deck fitting for pump out. New Jabsco toilet and smelly pipes replaced. New pump for salt water in galley.
6. Rigging and sails. Full rig replacement by Allspars as well as new guardwires. Furling gear serviced on main and genoa. Running rigging being upgraded (some done by Allspars, more to come). Existing sails cleaned and repaired with new UV strips and new downwind genoa and new sprayhood ordered from Sanders Sails (delivery when we can get to Lymington)!
7. Deck fittings etc. New Knox 18kg anchor (2019) now matched with 60 m of 8mm chain and 30 m of anchorplait to run with new electric Lofrans 1000W windlass which has up/down switches On deck forward and in the cockpit.
8. Cabins and accommodation. All portlights and hatches reglazed and revealed. New curtains throughout. Lee cloths on saloon and quarterberth added.

As you can see, this is a major upgrade and although most of the work has been done there are a few other things such as a new liferaft which are yet to come.

The only problem is that we can't sail anywhere at the moment! But guarantee as soon as we are able, we will be back in the water. Just have to be content with sowing seeds in the greenhouse.

Stranded ashore

24 March 2020 | Bristol
Martin Whitfield
Covid-19 has brought everything to a shuddering halt. A week away from relaunch and Baltic Wharf is in lockdown with no work possible and no real idea of when things might be back. The good news is that the solar arch is in place and Nick (electrician) says he would have finished by the end of the week and Allspars say adding the final guardwires will be top of their list when everything re-opens. So we are close and should be ready to hit the water whenever restrictions are lifted. When that will be is anybody's guess. Stay well

Looks like a boat now!

04 March 2020 | Totnes
Martin Whitfield
"Looks like a boat now", so said the crane driver at Baltic Wharf after lifting the mast back on Topaz Rival. New rigging all around the old mast, as well as a service for the furling mechanisms of both the mainsail and the genoa. Plus some new furling lines and a topping lift (more running rigging to follow). The new engine is now ready to be started after the exhaust was set up and a new Racor fuel filter (easy and simple maintenance) installed. Feels like real progress with the end in sight. Other minor things have been finished such as a salt water pump in the galley and a new engine water strainer. The single biggest item left on the list is the solar panel arch, half of which was in the shed and hopefully this will be set up next week after which the electrics and lifelines can be finished. The target is for a relaunch on 31 March as the tide times and depths, plus the Easter holidays, mean this is the last day available until 14 April. Keeping fingers crossed.

The new rigging is ready

Beta engine control panel. The box to the right is a waterproof USB point

These will be the new depth and wind instruments

For engine buffs, easy service Racor filter
Vessel Name: Topaz Rival
Vessel Make/Model: Rival 36
Hailing Port: Dartmouth
Crew: Martin Whitfield
About: Plus dog Buzz
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...
49 Photos
Created 30 March 2021
Post Covid sailing
5 Photos
Created 11 June 2020
Winter refit at Baltic Wharf
38 Photos | 1 Sub-Album
Created 2 November 2019
A selection of pictures from sailing in 2019
31 Photos
Created 1 August 2019

Previous | List | Random | Next