Mid-season maintenance

Varnishing seems to be an inherent part of boat ownership and I usually find myself varnishing either pre- or post-season. Since we’re not taking a long trip on Aurora this summer, she’s been in the pig shed for a few weeks and I thought some TLC was called for before she goes onto her mooring.

I’ve been indecisive about the exterior woodwork for several years. I don’t like varnish on the rubbing strakes, as they get knocked so often. I’ve tried proprietary products such as Deks Ojlie but I don’t like the look of them much. I ended up leaving the wood naked, having removed the aforementioned, but it just looked unloved. I noticed some of the wood degrading on the grab rails, so I decided to act.

In the end I’ve opted for varnish on the grab rails and Samson post, as these dong get badly knocked about. I took the chance to varnish a few other parts (I bodged the varnish on the tiller last winter, and the wash boards always benefit from a fresh coat).

I was given a tip by Nick Scroggs of Cape Cutter Marine, to use disposable foam brushes. They work really well- don’t drop hairs and don’t need cleaning. Finish looks good too.

I chose natural linseed for the strakes, applied 50:50 with turpentine. Easy to apply but did leave streaks on the hull which needed cleaning off after. Time will tell. Hopefully I can do a quick top-up with a cloth, a couple of times a season.

Anyway, Aurora looks spick and span, ready to go on her summer mooring in a week or two.


Varnish and linseed oil

It must be spring! A tin of varnish is out to spruce up the woodwork, the parrell beads are out of their soak in linseed oil, ready for re-threading, and there is also the customary innovation or two afoot (more of that in a later post). The recent cold snap in the UK put paid to any early season Easter sailing, but the time for the first “wet” of the season approaches. This season, I will again be concentrating on quality rather than quantity, with a trips to new waters planned, as well as a return to familiar anchorages. Here’s to the ’18 season!


Centre plate woes

This blog is named Traveling Aurora for a reason; this is the first season we’ve not trailed her from place to place, but instead kept her on a mooring. The plan was for more weekend trips, exploring the Solent instead of towing her to a variety of cruising grounds. Sadly though, work and family pressures have kept the sails furled more often than I would wish.

However the trips we have made were memorable nonetheless and I have learned much, particularly about mooring matters. Aurora’s mooring was one that dries at spring lows and is about 8 mins tender drive from the slipway. 

One recurring problem had been one of a stuck centre plate. I spent quite a bit of time trying to free it during our week in June, culminating with fitting an access hole on the top of the centre plate casing to allow (the blunt end of) a chisel to be applied to the centre plate to “persuade” it down with a hammer. Despite enthusiastic walloping, this has met with no success. 

The next stage was of course to haul the boat out and work on the centre plate from below. I spent a (perfect sailing) Saturday trying to free the plate. By inserting a hacksaw blade between plate and casing, I could feel numerous small stones wedging the plate stubbornly in place. A number of them were removable, but others were impossible to winkle out because of the rollers on the trailer and the limited access working under the trailer. When the boat was returned to the water, my hopes of the plate dropping were still denied. 

Finally, I was left with no alternative but to pay for Aurora to be lifted. Chris Haddock of Gosport Boat Yard (www.gosportboatyard.co.uk) was very helpful and waved away any doubts that my troublesome plate would pose any difficulty to free off. Indeed he was quite right and, after a quick jet wash, the back of a hand saw inserted between plate and casing popped the remaining stones out surprisingly easily and the plate dropped like the proverbial sword from the stone.

Now, though Chris did me a good rate for this job, I don’t want to have to lift Aurora regularly. It seems that everyone who had had a boat on any kind of drying mooring has a story to tell of stuck centre plates.

I had assumed that raising the centre plate fully when mooring was the order of the day, but advice from Bob Steele (Irene) was that it is better to pay out an arm’s length of  plate halyard so that the plate moves up and down a little each time the boat takes the ground. This certainly helps, but does not prevent the plate sticking still from time to time.

It seems the only solution is a deeper mooring and I am very glad that the was a spot close by with a couple more feet of water and Aurora will not need take the ground on a regular basis. 


Outboard service

As a surrogate for being able to sail, I have serviced the outboard. Up to now, I have paid someone else to service Henry Honda (BF-5A), but I wanted to know more about outboards. I used to service my car engine, so I thought a four-stroke outboard should not be beyond my capacities. The owners manual is not much cop, so I got hold of a copy of the service manual (Google is your friend). I post this as an aide memoire, so that I will remember what I did, when it comes time next year to do it again. Assuming the outboard survives my attentions… ;>

Henry with his hat off

0. Make a cup of tea and contemplate the task. The first crucial step in any engineering process.

1. Run the outboard up in fresh water and rinse everything thoroughly in water. Leave running for 10 mins to get everything warm.

2. Stop the engine and dry it.

3. Drain the engine and gearbox oil whilst warm and leave to drain out for a while. Engine drain plug was very tight indeed. I’ll try to get a new copper washer next time.

4. I bought a replacement spark plug, but the one in place looked fine, so I gave the electrode gap a bit of a sanding, checked the gap and put it back. I sealed the new one in a plastic bag and will leave it aboard in case of need.

5. Replace fuel filter.

6. Lubricate as required using a combination of spray lube and thicker grease (depending on the location).

7. Put the oil sump plug back in and fill the engine with oil.

8. Squirt gearbox oil in from the bottom until it dribbles from the top plug, then put the top plug back in (easier said than done).

9. Give the engine head a quick spray with WD-40.

10. Run the engine up for a while to check all is well (started first time!)

I tried to get the prop off to check and grease the spline, but I could not get it off at all. It may well have to go to an agent for them to use a puller. I tried tapping it with a piece of wood, but I was worried about bending the shaft or one of the prop blades.

As a result of this service, I feel a bit more confident about the layout of the outboard and the condition of it (which looks good; it’s ten years old this season). Henry has not had to work terribly hard, but should he get tired or poorly when we’re on the water, I now feel that I would be more likely to be able to work out what’s wrong. Oh, and I saved a trip to the (not especially) local dealer and a bit of cash too.


When the wind blows….


 Like most people who enjoy the outdoors, I am a compulsive weather watcher. I’m sure I have more than 10 weather related apps on my phone. My favorite site is wind guru. It is very accurate for the wind direction, though it has a tendency to slightly underestimate the wind speed (The optimistic sailor’s forecast?). The wind speed is colour coded- more colour, more wind. Pale blue is good, dark blue is lively, pink, red and purple suggest finding an alternative activity! 

The first trip of the season was due to begin tomorrow, and I know Easter is quite early and is known for volatile weather, but wind guru has altogether too much purple in it for me this week. Hopefully we’ll only have to postpone for a day…

miscellaneous, videos

From trailer to sailer

Last time I rigged Aurora was at Suffolk Yacht Harbour in Levington near Ipswich in Suffolk. I decided I would try to make a time-lapse of the rigging process. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be harder than expected. Firstly, the camera exposure is difficult because of the amount of pale sky in the shot. Secondly, its amazing how many cars and people went past the camera during the filming (and I thought at the time how quiet it was!). Well, I’ve adjusted the exposure a bit and edited out all the cars and here is the result. Look out for, Aimee, my wandering helper….




The (not so) Grumpy Cup

We attended the Gaffers’ AGM at Greenwich Yacht Club last month, acting on a tip-off from Sue Farrer of the North Wales section of the OGA. We (or, more accurately Aimee and Alice) were delighted to be awarded the Grumpy II cup. This is an award given to youngsters, in our case to recognise Aimee’s helping skills and Alice’s enthusiastic crewing (well, throwing water at other boats mostly) at the Traditional Boat Festival in Holyhead last summer.

Alice & Aimee Erb receiving the Grumpy II cups 2014



Photo by Pete Farrer

On the back of that, Aimee was asked to write a piece for the Gaffers Log, which will be appearing in March:

Our boat is called Aurora; it’s a Cape Cutter. It’s nineteen feet long and we often sail in it, and sleep on it. It may be small and cramped, but us four all fit in it – snugly.

Before we had a gaffer, we had a dinghy and I went to a dinghy sailing club where friends and memories were made and doors were opened. I remember going sailing with friends from school and the next day we’d pretend to be world-class sailors.

We’ve taken Aurora on many trips all over Britain, since we got her in July 2012. Last year was a very eventful one; Dad adding all sorts of gadgets and gismos to our little boat and going out on many adventures all over the place.

My three favorite things about sailing are…

Firstly, I enjoy meeting people. For example, when we went to the Holyhead Traditional Boat Festival, I enjoyed seeing all sorts of boats, including pirates with cannons. I even got to go up a mast in a bosun’s chair and I could see for miles around! There was racing at the festival and I helmed Aurora. Our little boat may not be the fastest, but it was fun and I felt as if I could sail around the world.

Another favorite of mine is going on adventures and getting soaked. On many occasions, my sister Alice and I would jump off Aurora at anchor and swim ashore. There are many examples and one of the most enjoyable was when went to Falmouth with friends and family. We explored the seas along with Zephyr (another Cape Cutter) and, yes, we did get wet. We trekked beaches and swam in the chilly sea, had breakfast on the boat with a lovely view of the shore and I even got to crew on a Catamaran; I leaned back so far my head went into the water!

My third and most exciting highlight of last season was when my sister and I were awarded the Grumpy Cup II. I don’t know why it’s called ‘grumpy’ but it’s a very good description for my sister (just kidding!). I was very taken aback when our names got called out at the AGM. When my mum told me there were going to be awards given out, I said that there was no point in going, as we never get awards. At first, I was annoyed that mum didn’t tell us she knew about the prize before the AGM, but I was glad it was a surprise. I felt proud, happy and a bit embarrassed all at the same time.

My sister Alice said, “I felt very happy about getting my first trophy. I took it into school and the head teacher gave it out again in assembly. My favourite thing sailing last year was the regatta in Holyhead- I loved sailing around in the parade throwing buckets of water to splash people on other boats; I got really wet. Our friends on another Cutter (a pilot cutter called Mary) let me go up their mast in a harness. I wanted to stay up there all day!”

Those were my favorite things of last year. So that’s why enjoy sailing so much; all that adventure, all those memories and all that fun.

By Aimee Erb (12) and Alice Erb (8)