Major hotspots: Just Cruising by Keith Fleming


Preventing sudden gear failure can be avoided if you identify the problem areas early.

OFTEN the first indication of trouble with a boat is catastrophic, like the mast suddenly falling down. Now why the heck did that happen? How come I didn?t see it coming? Perhaps because you were not looking? It is the hidden electrolysis-prone areas that are slowly progressing under some cover or breaking gear that cause the problem. On one trip back from the Louisiades recently we had cleared in at Townsville and spent a week at the Breakwater Marina, restocking and catching up on friends. The day before we were to leave to head back to our home base in the Whitsunday?s, I was telling a friend where we were going. We were standing on the marina at the bow of our yacht, Zodiac, when he pointed out the problem. He had noticed, by pure chance, that the forestay connection to the bowsprit was fractured and about to fail. Now, how often do you go right to the end of your bowsprit and inspect the attachments? I had been walking past that fitting for a week and not seen it. It was only noticed by him because the fitting was at eye level as we chatted. Over the years, I have seen the results of many disasters both major and minor and I am always keen to learn the cause so I can relate them to my situation, and as a journalist, pass them on to other skippers.

A nice, shiny winch is lovely thing. But what about its base and inner workings? Do you regularly remove the drum of the winch and check how it is fitted and grease the bearings? On one occasion I had one winch that was on the mast actually drop off one day while I was working it raising sail. The cause? The difference in the metals of the winch base and the alloy mast had reacted and just eaten away the base metal. I thoroughly checked my winch bases every 12 months after that. When was the last time you emptied and flushed out your main fuel tanks? Over the years the fuel reacts with the materials that the tank is made of and you can get dirt, water, and algae-type growth inside the tank. All potential stuff that will stop your engine. Probably the engine will not fail at the marina but will happen when you out in a storm and the fuel is being sloshed around as the tank is stirred up. This will block the filters and stop the engine. Another hotspot is the heat and UV sun rays. Everything on your boat that is exposed for a long time to the sun will break down to some degree. The sails and the awnings will be the first. The problem may not be with the cloth itself but with the cotton with which it is sewed together. Make sure your sails are covered at all times they are not actually being used. Ropes can also suffer and break down in the sun.

Many of us have copper gas lines from the bottles to the regulator and then fit those fancy flexible hoses to the stove. Under those nice shiny flexible hoses is a rubber

Masts fall down frequently. Many skippers seem to think that stays last forever. Often the wire breaks about half an inch into the swage. You don?t get any warning because the swage cannot be seen. The wire is very tightly compressed inside the swage and the mast flexes ever so slightly and the movement is translated to that little bit just inside the swage. It is important to have your stays made by a competent rigger so that just the right pressure is applied. I know it is a big and expensive job to replace stays but it can be a lot more costly and dangerous if your mast falls down. It is not always the stays themselves that give way. The chain plates should be securely attached to the hull and are often hidden behind cupboards or bulkheads. On some small yachts like trailer sailor?s they use U-bolts for chain plates and if water gets in between the fitting and the deck it can corrode. Another hotspot is in-mast halyard wire-to-rope splices which may not always be visible when raising or lowering sails. They can both wear and perish. While up the mast, have a close look at the boom gooseneck fittings. While we see them every day. we do not often actually look into them. The whole steering system is hidden and it needs lubricating regularly and does wear. I know it is a lot of trouble to remove the compass and check out the bearings and chain but it is another job that gets missed because you can?t see it.

Cruisers often have solar panels fitted to keep up the power supply. They must be outside and fully exposed to the elements in order to work. But the wires connecting the panel to the boat power-supply are not always water proof. Out of sight out of mind. For instance, does the wire that leads from that little black box lead down or up? Can salt water dribble down the wire and enter the box? Annually remove the panel and open up the box. Of course, you do have an amp metre fitted so you know the panel is actually working?

The engine room is a frequently neglected area. There is often a lot of oil and fuel around that hides cracked or broken fittings. Like engine mounts, for instance. Do you carry spares? On a recent trip to Lizard Island there was a yacht stuck at Cooktown for a couple of weeks with two broken engine mounts. Also, the exhaust system is often hidden which makes cracks and burnt holes difficult to detect. Usually the first warning you get is a feeling of sickness from the fumes. Finally, when ever you fit something new to your boat assume that it is going to get wet and make sure you waterproof it thoroughly.

Cyclops Marine
M.O.S.S Australia
Race Yachts
West Systems