John Champion takes a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the perplexing things he has come across in his many years around boats of all descriptions.
The scale of these things ranges, and there frequently seems to be no cost/benefit relationship. One issue with huge possibilities is boom height. Plenty of vessels have the boom perfectly placed to crack the scone of anyone of medium height or over. This is undesirable, but the logical fix, siting the boom higher up the mast, has consequences too. By raising the boom we essentially need a taller mast to achieve the same sail area and increase the vessel's build cost and bridge clearance requirements. We may then need mast steps to get at the head of the sail, another expense and inconvenience. Of course, by putting sail area higher in the air we may play havoc with the designer's art and need a bit more ballast to achieve the same performance under sail; ballast, of course, is not free. In the wash-up the boom stays put, and we learn to be very wary of, it which is perhaps not a bad thing.
Less understandable is a smallish access port when a larger one will fit in the available space with no additional cost yet great benefits in ease of maintenance.
Some issues are not so clear-cut. Recently I inspected a newish mid-sized production yacht with two cabins and the drop-down saloon table providing an extra double berth. So what's up? you ask, nothing new there! But wait, there's more. In this instance the table did not drop down to form the berth, instead it raised up in the air and remained above the sacrificial sleepers like a flat, wooden Sword of Damocles. An additional hunk of timber stored under the V-berth mattress fitted into the settees to replace the hovering table top. I would be deeply indebted to anyone who can explain the logic of this one because the extra timber, suspension equipment and the like probably didn't represent a cost saving.
On the side
Nowhere near so dumb but not smart, was another production builder who included vertical electric windlasses on a couple of model runs. A quality machine, but they were mounted horizontally in the chain locker and big surprise, did not quite operate up to expectations. Primary problem was chain slipping from the gypsy and spooling out at gravity's highest speed. You could learn to live with it, but why was it so in the first place?
Some boats have air shut-off facilities for the engine bay. The theory is that diesels require air to operate properly and many manufacturers have gone to varying degrees of trouble to see they get it. Some of these methods are less than perfect. One model had dual stainless fittings like rotary louvres either side of the companionway. These when open, supplied air directly to the engine compartment for the diesel's pleasure. Should said diesel catch on fire the louvres could be closed, eliminating the air supply and suffocating the fire. Sure thing, the engine bay is airtight, huh? Well, what it did accomplish might have been an aid to fire control, providing it was raining hard at the time of our nautical Guy Fawkes Night. The companionway mouldings were such that any water getting past the dodger would be channelled pretty much directly to these vents and hence into the engine room. Closing the vents didn't stop the deluge onto the diesel, which, while appreciative of air, does not require water (on the outside) to operate at peak efficiency.
Many other manufacturers have serpentine runs of fragile ducting from the engine bay to a shielded or hooded vent, usually on the transom. This would work, but the ducting is some kind of wire/paper/plastic number and really doesn't stand a chance running unprotected through voids and lockers. In the unlikely event the delivery crew avoided tearing the stuff to ribbons it will be destroyed first time you load the esky. This is easy to understand. Cost is obviously the factor, and the ducting helps the vessel to qualify for some standard or other.
Not so easy to understand was the placement of a through-hull. This was for the gravity-drain holding tank, which is a fine, reliable system. The problem was you had to climb down into the engine bay and reach past the motor to open the seacock. The issue here is obvious: how long until some fool tries this with the engine running and gets chewed up by the alternator or the like? Now I like this system from a natural selection point of view, but it would probably be only a matter of time before I was the one selected.
Many boats have multiple water tanks and the benefits are obvious – if one is contaminated, all is not yet over. Multiple tanks also make a very accurate gauge; when one is emptied over a given time consumption rate is known and plans can be made on when to refill or cut back on the usage. Multiple tanks usually require change-over valves; the location of these valves can be a source of huge amusement for boat-builders. Imagine how they laughed at the factory when on one small monohull they placed them under the aft bunk as far from the door and any head room as possible.
“Water's out, honey!” calls the pouty, showering blonde. “Change the tank, Sweetums!” So Sweetums, pushing two metres and 120kg, crawls into the aft cabin under the lowering cockpit floor. He squirms to the far side, pulls off the perfect hospital-cornered bedding, yanks up half the mattress, bending it in two in order to do so, lifts a wooden hatch and sticks a sizable head into a small, dark, cavity. Yes, dark. “Goddammit!” comes the bellow. “Forgot the flashlight!” Much reverse squirming later, Sweetums has the necessary light and, dear friends, heads once more into the breach! One turn of the elusive valve and the tank is changed. By this time the pouty blonde is no longer showering and stands with soapy hair glaring at the dishevelled wreck that was recently a perfectly made and tasteful creation of her self-expression.
Just as vicious was the placement of a holding tank pump. This manual diaphragm pump is under the V-berth, so mattress off, bed buggered, up timber and reach into the hole and pump away until empty. The toilet is plumbed direct to the tank so repeat daily until sufficient rage has accumulated to attempt replumbing.
Some decisions are attributable to building to market-driven price points. All the companies have a duty to employees and stakeholders to produce a profit and hence maintain steady employment and income to the benefit of all. Customers need a product that meets their expectations at a price they can afford and the greater affordability of modern boats means more people can enjoy the eco friendly activity of sailing. That may be true or not but building a yacht and not putting side gates in the lifelines is an insult of the highest order. This act of ultimate meanness is the manifestation of some neurotic desire of the manufacturer to strike back at the very reason for its existence, the customer. Easily remedied after market, this sickness should be addressed prior to purchase by the simple expedient of buying a yacht with lifeline gates as standard. Only in this fashion has the disturbed manufacturer any hope of recovery.
Another example of economy and lifelines is the height of them. Most all brands are guilty of this – lifelines are simply too low. A nice tight wire at knee-height makes a pretty fine aid to tripping. However, you will come to realise the value of a harness. Some component manufacturers are also diseased and exploit the madness of boat-builders by offering them product that if fitted will ultimately cheese off the boat owner. Steering systems without a wheel brake is a good example. Take a perfectly robust and well engineered system, omit the wheel brake and you have the joy of a rudder flapping back and forth unrestrained. This is spiteful. Irritating noise is one by-product and accelerated wear and potential failure others.
Hatches are good things on a yacht. When at anchor you can open them to allow cooling breezes to sooth one's fevered brow. Why then has one builder placed them in such a fashion, so they can't open fully? Centrally located above the saloon, this hatch opens forward, contrary to all standard practice. No doubt this is intended to increase air flow when at anchor, which is a good concept. The execution is not so good. The vang sits directly above this hatch, so it can only open a few centimetres: nasty.
Equally nasty is the popular concept of placing an opening port over the nav station and all the associated electrics. The port could always be left permanently closed, of course, but who is made of stone? High thirties centigrade, 90 percent humidity, it's getting opened, all right. If it opens then sooner or later it will be left open, and you will wish it hadn't. So manufacturers need to take the issue of temptation into consideration when designing boats. The flesh is weak, and we will submit to bad habits if they let us.
Picture a 11.5m yacht, light/moderate displacement and consider the anchoring gear required, yes easy. Not so easy to explain is how it ended up with a 25lb anchor and 10mm (3/8 inch) chain. Save $50 on the anchor and spend $500 or so extra on the chain? Or never wanting a repeat of that dragging sensation the big chain was specified when ordering the windlass and then we decided to save the 50 bills, thinking the chain will solve our problem?
The anchor winch installation presented another conundrum. This quality machine was fitted with electric up and down foot switches so our delicate fingers need never become minced. Good and sensible choice. Not so to mount the foot switches inside the anchor locker either side of the vicious chain gypsy. Seems toes are expendable.
Spray dodgers and biminis are common sights on cruising boats and rightfully so. The dodger keeps spray, rain and all types of evil out of the companionway. The bimini keeps the great yellow orb from prematurely ending our lives and will also catch rain. As you can tell, I am fond of these accoutrements. Not so when some fool has made them too small! Many is the dodger that will not allow a winch handle to turn through 360°. Worse is the bimini that will not allow anyone taller than a Hobbit to stand upright in the cockpit. Also hateful are the straps, poles, wires and other crap holding them up that make getting on the side deck an act of utter humiliation. Marine canvas workers should be forced to take an oath stating they will never create one of these abominations, irrespective of the wishes of delusional new boat owners. They must realise the need to protect the owners from themselves! Perhaps some form of counselling or hypnotherapy?