More Questions For The Bernons

By Bernadette & Douglas Bernon
July, 2000

We just love reading about your cruising adventure as it unfolds. My husband and I are in the process of upgrading our Hylas 44 for a sabbatical cruise just like yours, and we're going through exactly the same emotional challenges as you describe. It's fun to compare notes with you every week. You guys are an inspiration to us, and we feel like we know you. What changes and upgrades do you plan to make to Ithaka, now that you've lived on the boat for a few months? Meanwhile, we hope to see you out there ourselves in 2001!


Anne, thanks for the nice message. It's great to hear about your plans. Just remember, you're in the roller-coaster year, which is exciting but tough in a lot of ways, so hang on tight and keep checking things off your list. We're all right in there with you.

Our boat was pretty well equipped when we purchased her last September, as the family who owned her had built her for the purpose of long-distance cruising, and already had done an extensive cruise. We did a bunch of things to the boat over the winter (noted in previous log entries and in the answers to other questions, so check back in the archives for more on all this). But here are some observations Douglas and I have had since we moved aboard last May.

1. We increased the size of our bilge pump to a larger-capacity Ruhl pump, added a high water alarm and installed a pump-cycle counter mounted on a bulkhead in the guest cabin (to let us know if the pump goes on while we're off the boat.

2. Here's a big one. We've been trying out the trim-tab self steering system on the boat, and although it's fine when the wind is abeam, we're not completely thrilled with its performance when we point upwind or head downwind. And in really light airs, well, forget about it — it just doesn't hold a course all that well, which has been disappointing. I've had excellent experiences with Monitor (servo-pendulum) self-steering on all these fronts, and so we decided to bite the bullet and buy one, as high-performance self-steering gear is crucial to us. We're in the midst of installing the Monitor right now. Unfortunately, this has meant hauling the boat at the Jamestown Boat Yard, so that we can take the trim tab off the externally hung rudder and glass in the resulting holes. (Normal installations are done in the water; our situation was unique.) Otherwise, the Monitor installation has been straightforward. We look forward to playing with the gear next week, and we'll let you know how it performs. (Also, see Cruising World's extensive feature on self-steering systems, due to be published in a fall issue.)

3. We installed a Max-Prop, which has indeed improved our boat speed by about a half knot — we're thrilled with the increased performance. Although now that we're living aboard and using it all the time, I do notice that the boat takes longer to respond to the throttle in forward and in reverse than it did with our old prop. However, in reverse, it provides considerably more power once under way. We called the company to be sure that we had the Max-Prop pitched correctly. We had. But they said this modestly more sluggish throttle is to be expected, because the blades of the prop are flat, not cupped like traditional blades, and so they don't "grip" the water as quickly. Now that I understand it better, I just need to practice my docking, taking this into account.

4. On the shaft, between the strut and the prop, we installed the razor sharp, clamp-on PropProtector, to guard against our fancy new prop getting fouled by lobster pots in the Chesapeake, where we plan to spend the fall. We also fabricated a simple stainless steel guard that blocks the aperture between the rudder and the skeg. On our boat this was a spot vulnerable to catching errant lines. So far, so good.

5. We wanted to abide by the advice of other cruisers and get the biggest dinghy and outboard we could, but we've failed in this original goal. Douglas and I decided that the six-person rigid-bottom inflatable with the 15-horse outboard (which came with the boat) was just too weighty a hassle when hauling them onto the boat. Plus, on deck, it stored awkwardly and obscured our vision through the dodger. We signed it over to our local marine consignment store, where it sold quickly, and we bought a new (fifty pounds lighter) nine-foot folding-floor inflatable and a (20 pounds lighter) 9.8 hp Nissan outboard. I can hoist the boat aboard with the main halyard myself and deflate it, and using a block and tackle on the extension arm on the aft-mounted radar post, and I can lift the engine up out of the dinghy and onto Ithaka's stern mount without help.

6. We have freshwater and saltwater foot pumps for the galley sink, and use them almost exclusively. We're adding foot pumps to the sink in the head, too. It's too much of a hassle to go back and forth to the electrical panel to turn the water pressure on and off just to brush teeth, and with the foot pumps we can better control our water consumption.

7. When we painted the bottom, we should have raised the waterline another two or three inches. Now that we're loaded up, the waterline is a bit low — especially when one of the water tanks is empty, I notice that the boat lists enough on the opposite side just enough to dip her topsides into the water. Next time around, we'll take the line up a bit.

8. Our sails have been reconditioned and are in really nice shape, and we have a new Yankee (Ithaka is cutter-rigged). Although now that we've been sailing all summer, and especially now that we've spent two weeks in windless Long Island Sound, I can see the merits of a larger Genoa, and I wish we had one. Instead of our traditional Yankee, we should have gotten a bigger 135% Genoa, which would be perfect for those light-wind situations. And then when the wind pipes up, we could simply roll in the furler (to Yankee size), raise the staysail, and off we go, neat as a pin. Next time, we'll go for the bigger sail (with no scooped foot, so that we can see under it a bit, and so that the sail doesn't ship water). However, the good news is that we're learning to use our gennaker, which is easy to fly and really gives Ithaka a lot of acceleration, and Douglas loves that sail. To increase the ease of use, we're buying an ATN sock for it. The advantage to that piece of gear is that the sock has a rigid cowl, so the sail doesn't foul, and it has an independent sleeve for the hoisting line, so that it doesn't tangle with the sail inside the sock.

9. Another sail-shape issue: Ithaka, we've quickly learned, is in desperate need of a boom vang to help flatten out the main. We're looking at the different models available, and I think (because we have a boom gallows and don't need the support of a rigid vang) that we're leaning toward making our own. The plan is for a cable rope and 8-to-1 purchase block and tackle system. I'll let you know how that project turns out in the weeks ahead.

Well, Anne, that's it for now. Douglas and I are heading for Maine in a few weeks, where I'm sure we'll add to our list of modifications. We're quickly learning that there's an endless string of projects to accomplish on any boat, new or old. The most important thing to do is to cut the ties and go, and just do the projects along the way. Best of luck to you on your countdown year. We're rooting for you!