Category Archives: Topic

A nasty hack on the shin

In the summer of 2015, while departing for the Netherlands, I hit the concrete footing outside Fort Blockhouse in the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. There’s no excuse for it — I was cutting a corner inside the channel marker, confusing it with the next one out.

This Google Maps image shows the footing quite clearly, but not the channel marker. In reality, this concrete is hidden under water, but you can see how nasty it is.

It was a big knock for Tammy, but I didn’t get to see the damage until I hauled her out in early 2016.


Oh dear. That’s the forward edge of the starbard keel, about half-way down.


And that’s a bit further up on the inside.

I ground away the damaged fibreglass. The hole went right through the skin, revealing a black wet fibrous substance behind. I’m still not exactly sure what it is, but I suspect it is some kind of resin encapsulating the keel ballast.


The material stayed wet, so I decided to investigate by digging a small hole into it.


The hole wept a black fluid, which kept flowing for two days, gradually slowing down. Once it stopped flowing, I stuffed tissue paper into the hole to encourage the moisture to wick out of the material, and eventually it dried up.


What was left was slightly fibrous and crystalline.


I decided not to worry about it any further at the moment. The next time Tammy is ashore for the winter, I may drill holes into the bottoms of the keels to drain them and then re-seal them in the spring, possibly with some kind of shoes attached. The undersides of the keels are looking worn, as you can see in this picture taken while she was on a crane later that year.


Here are both the holes, cleaned up and dry. Some of the fibreglass along the forward seam was looking a bit dodgy, so I decide to patch that as well while I was working. You can see where I’ve cut a groove between the holes.


With that done, I started to lay up glass to repair the hull. As I’ve seen recommended in several videos, I laid down a large patch first, then added smaller patches until I’d built up a repair.



I then ground away the excess to restore the keel shape.



With hindsight I could’ve added another layer of glass.

Finally, I applied clear gelcoat, then sanded the result smooth. I somehow forgot to take a picture of the smooth result!



You might wonder why I chose to use clear gelcoat. Well, these repairs are below the waterline, and will be covered by antifouling, and I didn’t see any cosmetic reason to hide them. I’d rather be able to see clearly where my repairs are and perhaps see into the top layers of layup for problems. I also have no motivation to hide my mistakes and repairs, as you can tell by this blog!

This year I dried out Tammy at Portchester Sailing Club, to inspect and clean her bottom, and that gave me a chance to look at my repairs.



There’s no sign of any problems, and I’m happy that Tammy is seaworthy. I plan to make a more thorough investigation of both keels when she comes out this winter. In particular, I think I’ll make some small inspection holes from inside the boat and send in my dad’s endoscope to see what’s there. I’ve read articles from Corribee owners saying there are quite large voids above the ballast, and even one suggesting they might be a good place for water tanks.

If you have any suggestions for improvement, or ideas about what’s inside my keels, I would be very interested to hear.

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Filed under hull, Repairs and Modifications

Sister Rings

When I first rigged up the Hebridean wind vane self-steering, I used some hard anodized aluminium rings instead of blocks to run the tiller control lines. These rings are mechanically simple and very slippery, and they’ve done a great job. A couple of years ago I started to think about where else I could apply them.

Tammy Norie has “sister blocks” in the main sheet to evenly distribute load across battens. These are simply two blocks attached back-to-back.


There’s nothing wrong with this, and Tammy’s are in good condition, but I wondered if something simpler and lighter could be made from anodized rings. And here it is: the “sister rings”!



This is such a simple idea that I can’t believe someone hasn’t done it before. It’s just two rings joined together with a double eye splice. In this case, two 16mm Barton “high load eyes” joined with Dyneema.

This is a simple, lightweight, cheap, strong, and easy-to-make alternative to sister blocks, with comparable friction, unlike the traditional wooden euphroe.

To form the splice using single-braided line (such as Dyneema), form two eyes like this. Note that the long end passes through the short end (the opposite to what you might expect) and this involves passing one of the eyes through the braid.


Once you have the rings in place and have tightened the eyes, trim and tuck the ends inside the braid between the rings, fixing the eyes.

I use Selma fids for this kind of splicing.

I’m experimenting with using these rings to replace blocks in other parts of the rigging. It’s easy to carry rings and line and make up or repair things that you need on board, and that very much fits with my philosophy for Tammy Norie!


Filed under Repairs and Modifications, sheet

Bungie Boarding

One of the greatest risks for a solo sailor is falling off the boat. When I’m sailing alone in all but the safest conditions, I’m wearing a lifejacket. I also clip on, especially when the autopilot or self-steering gear are engaged. What a nightmare it would be to fall in the water, away from shore, and see your boat sail away from you, suddenly freed of your weight!

Even if you’re clipped on it’s very difficult to get back aboard. When Tammy is at rest I’m able to haul myself up onto her side-decks, but not over the transom. And what hope is there that I could reach a side-deck if she’s sailing?

So I’ve taken an idea I’ve seen on mini-Transats: a permanently installed elastic step at the transom.


The trick is to use some webbing tube threaded with elastic cord, strung across the back of the boat. The elastic should be taught to keep the line out of the way, but the webbing should be long enough that it forms a step that you can reach to get back aboard.

Here’s the step strung between the drogue attachments at on Tammy’s quarters. It should be fairly easy to reach from the water, even if I’ve had to haul myself along the safety line to catch up with the boat. The elastic keeps it out of the way of things like the self-steering gear.


Here it is again with me standing on it.


I’ve adjusted the length so that my waist is at the height of the pushpit rail, allowing me to bend forward and flop into the cockpit even if my arms are exhausted.

It’s one of those things I hope I’ll never need to use. It was easy to put together and might save me. I might even be able to test it (with some help).


Filed under Equipment

The Trials of my Hebridean

I have finally edited the video footage of my various trials of my Hebridean self steering system during and after my Netherlands cruise. This is a system I built over two weeks in July. Here’s the result.

Here are a few things I mention in the video that are worth repeating.

  • When I set off, my Hebridean was not complete and I had no experience with wind vanes.
  • This is a story about my Hebridean on my boat.
  • Very small boats and junk rigs may require mods to the plans.
  • I should have spent more time experimenting with the bungee.
  • Don’t copy me until you have tried the system according to the plans.

Thank you everyone for your help and support with this project. Special thanks to John Fleming for showing great patience when dealing with me. Paul Thompson for keen technical insight. And Stephen Crowther for useful observations and support.

I’m sure the story’s not over yet, but part one is complete.


2015-09-14 · 21:42

Bow light LED hack


Before you install LED bulbs in your fittings please consider carefully how they might affect the colour and visibility arcs of your lights and the insurance of your boat. Please check MGN 393 Navigation light units: maintenance and the use of new technology light sources, such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), as navigation lights on SOLAS and non-SOLAS vessels and also I suggest Warning not to use LED bulbs in filament bulb navigation lights from PBO.

My battery ran very low after my 32 hour passage from Rye to the Breskens. The main power draws were the tiller pilot, the VHF, and the navigation lights. The lights were the worst, drawing over 2A by the ammeter. I had incandescent bulbs that came with the boat: 10W in the stern and 25W in the bow, so they ought to be drawing 2.9A.

The chandlery in Willemstad had a cool white (6000K) replacement for the stern bulb, but nothing suitable for the bow. If you put a 6000K LED behind the usual green plastic filter then it shows up as blue. The only solution I’ve seen for this is to use an expensive bi-colour LED bulb.

But the chandlery also had warm white (2500K) domestic LEDs with brightness equivalent to 25W. They ought to give the correct colour, and they were much cheaper. The only problem was the fitting.

Time for a quick hack with the soldering iron!


I soldered some copper flex into the feet of the LED bulb.


The spring contacts to the bulb unscrew and come out, leaving holes for the flex.


The unscrewed contacts have a convenient hole drilled down the centre. I threaded the flex through these holes.


Then I just reassembled and tested the bow light.


It showed the correct shades of green and red, as you’d expect, since the incandescent bulb would also be at about 2500K.

I taped the spring contacts to the old bulb and put it in the spares box along with the old stern bulb.  Nothing was destroyed by this hack and it’s easy to put things back as they were if necessary.

The current draw for the LED bow and stern lamps was about 200mA, less than a tenth of the incandescent bulbs.

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Filed under lights, Repairs and Modifications

Why I can’t review the Hebridean

I’ve had a number of people pressing me for an overall opinion of the Hebridean wind vane self steering system.  I can understand why — people out there are reading my experiences and trying to decide whether to go with it.

I’m afraid I can’t give you a review, and here are a few reasons:

  • I have no experience with other wind vanes.
  • I have only constructed one Hebridean, possibly badly.
  • I have only used my Hebridean for a couple of weeks on one small junk-rigged boat.

This site is a blog of my experiences. The intention is to share what happens to me in the hope that it’s useful to others. Writing it is a good exercise for me and helps me interpret my own experiences. I also gain a lot of helpful feedback from other people. My writing about the Hebridean is an account of what’s happened to me. I hope it helps you, but it’s not intended a guide to choosing a system.

Here are a few things I can definitely say.

  • The Hebridean took me two solid weeks and over 100 hours to build, using a small workshop.
  • The Hebridean has cost me around GBP 600 including the plans, the kit, materials, fittings, and tools. (I’ll see if I can get exact accounts together at some point.)
  • I found the plans and instructions quite difficult to follow in places.
  • John Fleming is patient, helpful, and responsive.

My last word for now is this: I’m not a person who will stick with something just because I started it. If I believed it made sense to switch to another system I would do so. The Hebridean is a unique opportunity to build your own, based on John Fleming’s hard work on the design, and gain both the satisfaction of building, and the ability to maintain and repair your own system.

I’m sticking with it. And if you want a review, you’ll need to wait a year or two!


Filed under Constructing the Hebridean, self steering

She didn’t want it to end

Tammy Norie arrived from her North Sea Crossing at Woodbridge at high tide on Monday 2015-08-31, and after a brief stop at the Deben Sailing Club, spent the night in the Tide Mill Yacht Harbour. My crew for the North Sea Crossing, Martin Roberts, lives in Woodbridge and I was very glad to use his shower and drink his family’s tea before heading home.

Steve Crowther very kindly offered me the use of his mooring on the bank just north of Tide Mill, so I came back before the next afternoon’s high tide to move her there.  I walked up to take a look at the dock and lines, then back to Tide Mill, paid my bill, and drove Tammy over the sill.  There was a noticeable ebb current trying to take me downriver and it took a good ten minutes to motor against it up river.


And then of course, I went aground trying to get on to the dock.  I made a couple of attempts, and even attempted to use the kedge anchor to haul myself closer, but it was too late.  I was stuck about 4m off the bank.


A couple were walking along the tow path and took a line to the dock, and engaged me in a long chat about boats and travel. I was resigned to staying there until the next high tide at 3am.  Well, at least I could do a bit of tidying and maintenance.

No chance! Steve called, and we had a good long chat.  Then Martin called and asked if I was in Woodbridge. “Sort of,” I said. He came along and suggested I use the dinghy on the ebbing water behind Tammy. But in fact what I did was stick it on the mud and use it as a bridge to the shore.  It slid along very well on the mud!


And so I spent a very pleasant evening with Martin and his family before returning to Tammy and sleeping until the tide came in again. As a reward I was greeted by this beautiful dawn.


And so the cruise was finally over.

But the blog articles certainly aren’t.  I have about 500 photos to process, several hours of video, and quite a few events to talk about.  Watch this space.

Incidentally, a rough calculation puts the mud under the dock at 2.8m above chart datum. There’s a chance I’ll get neaped. But it’s a lovely spot and I’m certainly not complaining. I’ll take a better measurement when I’m next there. It’s a shame that both my sounding poles (actually garden canes) went missing in the Netherlands.

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Filed under dinghy, Logs, Netherlands Cruise 2015