We quizzed 254 skippers who took part in the 2017 ARC rally about the spares they shipped and the repairs they made en route. The lessons gleaned from their Transatlantic sailing problems can benefit us all
Thankfully we can learn from the experience of skippers who have already completed ocean passages. During the 2016 ARC crossing, 60 per cent of the 290-strong fleet reported a breakage of some sort. So, after last year’s ARC, we quizzed the 254 skippers specifically about which spares they carried and what repairs they made at sea. The tips and feedback for what they’d do differently, make invaluable reading
In the six months leading up to the 2017 ARC last November, an average of nearly €12,000 per boat was spent on spares – a significant investment that represents the value skippers place on carrying back-up solutions. We asked skippers on the 2017 ARC and ARC+ what spares they carried, in particular for steering/autopilots, power generation, engines, sails, cooking, plumbing, refrigeration and navigation.
Of immediate note from their replies and comprehensive lists of spares is just how well-prepared most yachts and skippers are these days. The World Cruising Club (WCC) is partly to thank for this with its thorough guidelines and minimum gear requirements.
But, however prepared you think you are, there will always be niggles or problems that can expose gaps in your spares inventory and call upon resourceful measures for repairs. Ripped sails and damage caused by chafe are the most common casualties on a tradewinds crossing, but the variety of problems the last ARC fleet encountered were widespread.
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The high number of yachts carrying a second autopilot shows how much skippers value having an electronic helmsman. Over 20 skippers noted that they had at least one back-up autopilot, with many shipping comprehensive spares and service kits, from rams to hydraulic fluid.
The Jeanneau SO49 KALU’ III had two steering systems and two autopilot systems, for instance, and the Berckemeyer 48 GreyHound carried a windvane and autopilot, plus spare autopilot drive and computer.
At least ten yachts carried windvanes that they could use as back-ups to autopilot failure. The Shannon Pilothouse 38, North Star, found their Windpilot indispensable when their house batteries failed to hold enough charge to run the autopilot.
Barracuda of Islay, a particularly well-prepared Ovni 395 (they didn’t have to make any repairs and did not lack any tools required), had a Pacific Windpilot as the primary means of steering control, with a hydraulic autopilot as back-up.
“The Windpilot can cope with nearly all steering conditions that we have with the exception of coloured sails in gusting winds (ParaSailor or asymmetric),” skipper Graham Walker explained.
Our 2016 ARC gear survey on breakages showed how skippers who reported steering linkage problems favoured replacing steering lines with Dyneema – and recommended carrying suitable lengths of line as back-ups. It is sensible to go through your steering system and evaluate how you would replace each part if it failed. Have you tried using the emergency tiller? What would you use for an emergency rudder? Do you carry a drogue?
“In the event of rudder failure we have a Seabrake drogue system that we can use for emergency steering,” Barracuda’s Walker continued. “We carry a spare blade, spare bolts and a tool kit for the Windpilot, and a maintenance kit and fluid for the autopilot.”
What happens when the lights go out, when you lose power? How do skippers best prepare for that?
Catamaran sailors will know the benefit of having two engines of course, but a variety of alternative means to generate power is prudent. Whether diesel power (engine or generator), wind, hydro, solar, or fuel cells, many skippers had a choice of at least three means of electrical power generation.
The Allures 40 Passepartout and the Hallberg-Rassy 46 Shepherd Moon took no chances and used a mix of power. The Watt&Sea hydrogenerator continues to increase in popularity, with 17 listed as a spare means of power generation in the ARC fleets.
As we saw from the 2016 survey, generator problems are largely caused by a lack of routine maintenance and cooling issues (typically impeller or water pump failure).
And there was overriding advice from the 2017 skippers to make sure you have enough spares to maintain and service diesel engines and generators adequately: reserve oil, filters, impellers, belts, fuses, coolant, etc. Some ARC skippers also advocate carrying a spare water pump, diesel pump and alternator.
The ultimate back-up to engine failure is, of course, your sails. The feedback shows it is wise to take spare sails and plenty of rope and also to learn how to repair sails.
A comprehensive set of spare sheets, halyards, blocks, Dyneema strops and soft shackles are also recommended. A thorough sail repair kit as well as the time and patience required to fix sails can also negate the need to carry too many spare sails on an ocean crossing.
The majority of ARC yachts were extremely well-equipped with electronic navigation and back-up systems. Most had at least a couple of alternative means for electronic chartplotting, as well as handheld GPSs and VHFs. Sextants were also carried by at least 24 skippers.
Steve Jobs probably had no idea his Apple products would one day be considered a viable means for sailors to navigate across oceans, but some skippers simply listed an iPad and iPhone as their spares for navigation.
Others were more comprehensive in their alternatives, such as the Beneteau Oceanis 55 Julia which recorded: “Sextant, supporting books, iPad with iSailor and separate batteries, handheld GPS, two handheld VHFs and a spare satphone.” And the Bowman 48 Tairua carried “SSB, Satphone, two VHFs, two iPads, charts, sextant and tables”.
Many skippers carried spare water pumps or repair kits for each of the heads aboard. A solar shower is also a useful back-up.
An electric hob or microwave is a good alternative to gas – if you have sufficient principal and back-up electric power sources. Most yachts carried between three and six spare bottles of gas.
A cockpit barbecue is a good alternative for cooking in the open and acts as a back-up solution if there is a problem with the galley hob.
Carrying out repairs while sailing the Atlantic
Breakages can still happen even aboard the best-prepared yachts, so how do you deal with them when they do occur? The answer is to carry the right tools and spares, and be creative and resourceful.
Measures to combat chafing
Chafing issues and anti-chafe measures were once again the most common repairs made during the 2017 crossing. Using Dyneema sleeves on sheets and baggywrinkles on the rigging is advised to combat chafe on long downwind passages.
A galley chopping board was used creatively aboard the Beneteau Oceanis 55 Julia to help reduce chafe. “The spare halyard was moused and replaced as it was worn at the top of the mast,” skipper Louie Neocleous explained.
“The spare halyard then also wore, so a plastic bush made from a sawn chopping board was fitted to stop wearing at the top of the mast.”
A chopping board also came in handy on Indian Summer, a Hallberg-Rassy 42, when the crew had to fashion a boom vang repair.
“The pop-rivets collapsed on the port side where the boom vang is fastened onto the mast,” Cecilia Hellner told us. “It probably happened when we accidently dipped the boom into the sea during a night watch in strong winds when sailing goosewinged.
“We took three straps and tightened the boom vang fastening onto the mast as much as we could. The red plastic you can see on the photo (above) is a soft plastic cutting board from IKEA that we had in the galley, cut into pieces to avoid chafing on the straps.
“To release the forces on the boom vang further we connected a spare mainsheet from the boom to the very bottom of the mast.”
Innovative rigging repairs
The crew of the Rival 38 Haji had a busy crossing. They replaced three different sheets, repaired a hole in the mainsail, recut the thread in a heavy shackle, and adjusted the rig set-up to fly twin headsails.
Meanwhile, aboard the Sweden 45 Wild Iris, the snap shackles on three 10mm rope blocks broke under load. Mark Pollington reported that they replaced the shackles with Spectra.
When the D1 shrouds snapped aboard the 72ft Challenger 2, both sides of the rig were stabilised using lines taken to winches. Aboard the Bordeaux 60 Tommy, a spare Dyneema strop was used to repair the genoa’s electric furling system. The Wauquiez 43 Khaleesi had to cut their spinnaker pole down, drilling and bolting the top to create a shorter but usable pole. And the Seawind 1160 Victory Cat “used aluminium bars to build a temporary rudder guide after track/car bearing failure.”