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Thoughts on maintenance and areas to look at

6 October 2011 Phil Smidmore

So that's where my specs got to!!!

"So that's where my specs got to!!!"

Photo by:
Phil Smidmore

Although the sailing season has already commenced and regular maintenance should have been attended to, with the NSW States, the Nationals and the Worlds all to be sailed in the ocean this season, ongoing maintenance will be important to ensure good results and allow for full enjoyment of your time on the water.


Trailer maintenance is more than just bearings and brakes. Quiet often, post regatta, a salty boat is loaded onto a trailer. The salt drips onto the trailer and remains there often accumulating in a small crack or pocket.

Many trailers sit idle for long periods, often outside or under some form of awning. In high humidity areas, such as Sydney and Brisbane, the air contains a lot of salt, which gets deposited on the trailer to slowly eat away at the steel. Those stored under awnings or open sheds are most at risk, as this salt is not washed off by rain.

While most frames are galvanised steel and thus fairly rust resistant, any small rust spot on the outside can be an indication of bigger rust on the inside. Leaf spring style suspensions are usually not galvanised and can be quickly eaten at by rust. A couple of years ago, one of my trailers had a failure of the leaf spring bolt, which is the bolt that holds the leaves together. This bolt is hidden right under the axle and impossible to see.

Of particular importance are the brackets which attach the springs to the trailer chassis and we have had a couple of recent failures of the forward, left hand bracket, which is the one that takes all the load when you clip a gutter doing a left hand turn.

Jockey wheels are always a problem. I think the old cheap-style ones are the best, just replace it regularly. Some of the big inflatable ones do not lift up enough to allow the trailer hitch to sit on the tow ball.


With the NSW States, the Nationals and the Worlds all to be held in the ocean this season, pump maintenance needs to be on top of the list. The diaphragms in the Ferrari pumps fitted to many of the older boats, usually those boats with a pump under each side deck, have a short life of just 4 years and need to be replaced regularly. Most of our newer boats have a single Henderson brand pump, where the diaphragms last longer, but again, not forever. The Henderson pump also has some aluminium parts inside which corrode and need replacing after several years. I stock parts for both these brands.

All pumps are prone to indigestion if they suck up miscellaneous rubbish from the bilge, which can be things like dropped nuts, bottle tops, split pins, etc. HOWEVER, the worst item for them is plastic lunch wrappers, which seem to easily find their way into bilges and then pumps. We recently serviced a boat where the pumps were not working and this is a photo of what we pulled out of the bilge. Stuck in the suction manifold on one of the pumps was a cleat cam, surrounded by glad wrap! The poor pump had no chance of working. Inside both pumps was a vast collection of fastenings. As most boats store their anchor chain in the bottom of one of the bilge sumps, this chain needs to be regularly removed and the bilge flushed out.

Turnbuckles, including the forestay turnbuckle, which is hard to get to, all need regular greasing. Every time you adjust a turnbuckle, especially one under load, a small amount of wear occurs, but this wear can be minimised by keeping up the grease. Brolga recommends their turnbuckles be greased every sailing day and both the thread and the ball race need attention. The screw-winder mast step is usually a neglected item. It too should be regularly greased and as the part that bolts to the aluminium I-beam is bronze, that interface is very prone to corrosion.

If you are having trouble locking off the main halyard, try a spot of grease on the ball. If there is no grease available, a wipe of sunscreen or a wipe with a lip balm type stick is a good alternative. Main halyards break on the backside of the ball, so check there regularly for broken strands and send it to us for re-balling before it breaks and you have to feed a new mouse in.

The life of a jib halyard, which fastens to a cleat, can be extended by cutting it off and re-swaging the shackle end before the halyard becomes too worn by the cleat. Jib halyards with balls are prone to breaking at the ball, but our new jib halyard lock minimises the wear on the halyard.

Ratchet blocks work hard and the auto-ratchets in particular are subject to salt build up. Wash all blocks, traveller cars etc and lubricate them regularly, but do not use petroleum-based sprays such as WD40, as they evaporate away and leave a sticky salt residue. Always use a dry lubricant. Harken recommend SailKote and One Drop from McLube.

The spinnaker sheet turning blocks in the aft deck, are another pair of blocks taking regular high loads. The ones we fit are special high load ones from Harken, which are not usually available at the chandler. They may look the same, but you need the ones with the high load balls.

Etchells were designed in New York, where the wind and sea are significantly less than here in Australia. Melbourne and Adelaide are probably the consistently roughest areas that Etchells are regularly sailed in. The Etchells boom is one item that is under designed and although we sleeve them from new and try to make them stronger, they do bend and break regularly. Check for cracks at the vang, mid mainsheet take off and the outboard pole holder. The mast at deck level is also prone to cracking and needs to be checked regularly. Running in heavy air involves a fine line between not letting the backstay off enough which causes the mast to bend at the hounds and letting it off too much which causes it to invert.

The bow ring frame has done a lot to stiffen up the bow area and reduce the gelcoat cracks in that area. The bottom of the chainplate knee has always been a spot that shows cracking. Usually it is only cosmetic, but water ingress into the plywood needs to be stopped by patching the crack. When detailing the repair, make sure the knee ends in a large curve, rather than a point.

Class rules must of coarse be considered when undertaking maintenance. Denis Heywood has covered some items in this area recently. Worn forestay and backstay deck plates, along with over-length mast gates are the most common infringements I see.

A lot of maintenance comes down to keeping a look out for frayed lines, rusty, corroded or cracked fittings and fastenings and the feel that something is getting harder to work. Lines do not fray for no reason! Usually a frayed line indicates it does not have a fair lead and is chaffing, which not only reduces its life, but also makes operating it more difficult.

One final group for regular inspection is the lifting slings and shackles. Most boats now have the green round slings, which do last a long time, but most shackles are galvanised and do rust out over time. Rated stainless steel shackles are now available and whilst they're more expensive than galvanised ones, they will last a lot longer.

A well-maintained boat will not only perform better, but will add to your enjoyment of sailing.

Good sailing,
Phil Smidmore.


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