Posted by: yachtanomaly | July 30, 2011

Widgets and Gee-Gahs

A boat has many widgets and gee-gahs: the peculiar hardware required for the anachronistic business of powering a boat with wind. This is an affectation, there is no rational reason to do it. On ‘Anomaly’, the sails cost well over twice what the diesel engine cost, the rig required to set the sails 5 times again. Nor is the operating cost a recommendation: more has been spent so far on maintaining the sails than has been spent on diesel fuel or oil. The long term prospects are equally dim, since the diesel is likely to outlast 3 or 4 sets of sails.

But we sail anyway, for the sake of Art.

These widgets break or commit suicide on a fairly regular basis. For example, we have Tylaska spool shackles attaching the reefing lines to the leach of the sail. These are a small piece of aluminum (less than a dollar’s worth), machined to capture a line (about 1 minute of CNC machine time, I estimate), but sold for a King’s Ransom, because it is Sailboat Gear. If these were mass produced and sold at Target, they would be $4.99, instead of $80.

Tylaska spool shackles, priced like gold

Tylaska is glowing in their add copy: “Flog proof”, they claim, will not loosen “during the most severe flogging situations”. This is referring to the tendency of sail hardware to loosen and commit suicide by leaping overboard when the sail is flapping in the wind. And so one did, sailing from Portsmouth to Salem, no “severe flogging situations” even involved. The wind barely got about 10 knots all day. Just after lunch I looked up to see that the spool shackle had come undone, and it was only the friction of the line through the reefing cringle keeping the line and shackle in place. It is about 20 feet off the deck. I had a choice: bring the boat head to wind and drop the sail to attempt to retrieve the shackle, or continue on and hope. Bringing the boat head to wind is guaranteed to flog the sail, very likely flinging the widget overboard. I reasoned than the line and shackle might have been in the condition for some time (though I noticed it just now), and might continue to hang on till we reached Salem. However on the very next tack, the sail flapped twice, the line came loose, and the shackle committed itself to Davy Jones Locker. It had every opportunity to land on deck. When tacking, the sail starts over the deck on one side and ends up over the deck on the other. Nevertheless, water has a magnetic attraction for expensive bits of hardware, and the shackle could not find the deck, preferring its watery grave.

Another piece of esoteric widgetry is the boom vang. This is a mechanism that pushes the boom down, counteracting the sail’s tension trying to raise it. On ‘Anomaly’, we have a unique version of this in that it is mounted upside down. Ordinarily a boom vang pulls down on the boom from below, on ‘Anomaly’ it pushes from the top. The mechanism in question in a pair of hydraulic cylinders, since they push instead of pull they had to be custom made by Navtec, which you can imagine did little to reduce the cost. These have double duty: while sailing, they push down on the boom with hydraulic pressure; when not sailing they hold the boom up with nitrogen pressure, like the gas struts on a hatchback automobile. 850 lbs of nitrogen pressure. Navtec has used a nitrogen fill port of ancient design that is very difficult to use. So difficult that none of their authorized agents can use it. The last attempt was in Mount Desert Island, the task was accomplished with some reservation that perhaps the seals had been damaged in the process.

Looking up at the boom, boom vangs, and mast

Arriving in Portsmouth, I discovered hydraulic oil sprinkled over the foredeck. The source was quickly traced to the port vang cylinder. The o-ring sealing the fill port had a hernia, releasing the nitrogen pressure and a fair amount of hydraulic oil as a bonus. It was on the sail, on the deck, down the open hatches, on the lines. This “never happens” according to Navtec. I will add that to the growing list of things that “never happen” but nevertheless have happened to me. My mother always said I was lucky.

So I applied a tourniquet to the vang cylinder. It would not stop the leak, but at least (I hoped) soak up the leaking oil. And off we sailed to Salem. In Salem, the authorized Navtec repairman tried 5 times in vain to refill the cylinder and get the o-ring resealed. It has now been returned to Navtec for their opinion. The boat cannot be sailed without it, we hope for some expediency on their part.

Port vang cylinder, with tourniquet applied

And so we add that to the list of repairs: broken alternator drive shaft, lost reefing shackle, leaking boom vang cylinder. Three things in 500 miles. If you had three failures in your car every 500 miles you would be furious. However a sailboat is not a car. Its reliability characteristics are more like a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Only 3 breakages in 500 miles isn’t a bad trip.



  1. I love your boat. I notice you have no Dorades. What do you do for ventilation at anchor when it’s raining?

    • Thanks for the compliment. I could not find a place to put Dorades on the deck plan, and yes, we suffer from it. I put a rain awning over the front hatch when I remember to do so. No good sailing though. One of the changes I will do this winter is remove the two front vent hatches and replace them with Dorade boxes. I have mocked this up and bought the cowl vents, just have to make some custom boxes to match the existing openings. I meant to do it last winter but it fell off the list. The Dorades will be more useful than the vent hatches they replace. Its a little complicated because they need to be transparent to function as skylights – one of them is the only natural light in the forward head.

  2. Love the pictures!

  3. Seems like you and Ann are having a pretty good time.

    Pat Foster

  4. […] down the coast of Maine, I lost a Tylaska spool shackle when the sail flogged it loose. These are, according to Tylaska “flog proof”. They are […]

  5. Re swimming shackle spools: is there any way of fitting a thin (?Spectra=very thin) safety line to the priceless spools, so when they fly loose, they don’t swim?

    “Anomaly” looks like a boat just bursting with ideas: is there any online/public record of her evolution and construction?

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