A great bag of readers' letters this month – including plenty of thoughts on a myriad of subjects from binoculars and flares to red diesel and lifejackets...


Get rid of flares!
The only time I tried a flare it
failed to go off! Why should I carry unreliable, expensive and dangerous
‘safety’ equipment when there are very much better solutions?

I have two very reliable VHF radios
on board, usually a couple of mobile phones, and an EPIRB if I can’t see land.
Let’s catch up with the 21st century, ban dangerous pyrotechnics and support
the best and most reliable safe solutions.
Michael Furminger

A great pair of bins
Following Ken Endean’s article Binoculars,
the skipper’s best friend
(November issue), some
35 years ago I bought a pair of ex-Naval 7×25 Barr & Stroud glasses for the
princely sum of £8, from an optician in Leigh on Sea. Made for Fleet Air Arm
ship-spotting, with filters that drop in by lever: yellow for haze ,
darker for bright sun, very dark for object in direct sunlight on sea
surface, they still perform well to this day. In fact, they were better than a
pair of Zeiss Jena 7x50s that I had on board for a short time.
Terry Pond, Althorne, Essex

No reason to call the RNLI
I was saddened to read the letter Saved
by our fender plank
from Dick Turnbull
(November issue). It highlighted a huge problem with the skills (or lack of
them) and attitude of modern yachtsmen. Whilst I applaud Mr Turnbull’s solution
to his engine problem, I am appalled by his suggestion that when faced with a
£500 tow fee, he could call out the RNLI for a free tow home! This not only wastes
the time of the volunteer lifeboatmen and the resources of the RNLI, it
endangers those who may genuinely be in distress. Mr Turnbull was not in
danger. He was safely anchored. His only distress was to his wallet or the
inconvenience of having to wait for a favourable tide and a slow sail home.
Brad Swain

Most statistics on the lives saved
by lifejackets confirm the old adage, ‘There are lies, damned lies and
statistics’. Lifejacket stats should include all those who wore one and
didn’t fall overboard, but they rarely do. They should also describe
those who fell overboard because they were wearing a lifejacket and then found
that keeping afloat is only one of the problems caused by falling

Modern lifejackets seldom cause
people to fall overboard directly, but how about those who were just a little
casual about holding on because they were wearing a lifejacket? 

I was a recreational sailor for 50
years. I fell overboard once because I thought the skipper wanted me to, but
then found that the racing rules disqualified him if he didn’t finish with the
same number of crew as he started with!
Hugh Quick, West

An Open Letter to the Operators
of Flotilla Sailing in Greece

I have recently put my boat to bed
in Aktio near Preveza after our second full summer in the Ionian. Having ‘done’ most of the north coasts
and islands of the Med, I cannot think of a better area.

When I see the flotilla fleets
coming out of their bases I know that lots of people will be having terrific
fun in this marvellous area, and a lot of good, safe sailing.

But, from the point of view of
summer live-aboard cruisers, this gives us the ‘Ionian Conundrum’.

If we want to spend time in a
popular anchorage, or on a town quay, we have to get there about midday or we
won’t get a slot. But if we want
good sailing, we have to wait until the afternoon for the breezes to get up. It
is a trade-off that has dominated this summer.

In some harbours, the ‘mother ship’
of the flotilla goes to the harbour and hogs five spaces by going alongside,
thus killing the place for the rest of us – even early afternoon.

Then there is the safety
consideration. In fairness, I have watched three of the biggest operators
training their clients in the techniques of Mediterranean mooring, and doing it
to a high quality. But (again) I have seen so many tangled anchors when the
flotillas have been around. We
were once cut up by a flotilla boat whilst we had our chain down and were
reversing on to a town quay. Luckily, my crew (actually wife) rapidly put out
more chain before their propeller hit it – we have 10mm chain and it could have
wrecked their prop and possibly engine. Perhaps a better briefing?

I realise that a lot of the flotilla
clients do sail at home, and that they do have experience. I cannot count the
number of incidents I have winced at, that more experience would have avoided.
This also holds true for some owner/sailors.

Perhaps there can be some forum
between the summer live-aboards and the flotillas to alleviate the problems of
crowding as shown in the enclosed photo (of Sivota on Levkada in September)
where no less than three large fleets converged on this lovely place, swamping
all the facilities.

A friend commented that we, the
non-flotilla sailors, are being squeezed out.

I hope not.
Nick Carter, yacht Tess


Stretchy lines don’t squeak
One of the Skipper’s Tips from the
November issue of Yachting Monthly
claims that fatter ropes will help you sleep. However, the photograph
accompanying the claim shows a foredeck with two mooring ropes – a fatter rope
on the port side which is actually a proper mooring rope while on the starboard
side the skinny rope is a clearly marked pre-stretched rope intended to be used
as a sheet or halyard and not a mooring rope. Mooring ropes are constructed of
nylon or polyester, should have inherent stretch and may be three-strand,
multiplait or braid-on-braid. They are usually of plain colour. The reason for
the skinny starboard head-rope in the picture generating noise is that instead
of absorbing the movement of the boat by stretching, it is moving through the
fairlead and generating the disturbing noise.

All boats should carry at least 6
mooring lines (2 head ropes, 2 stern ropes and 2 springs) of appropriate
thickness and length but, most importantly, of the correct construction for the
purpose of mooring.  This will avoid the need to “drag out of
the locker” a piece of rope and use it for a purpose for which it was
never designed. The noise has nothing to do with the thickness of the rope!

On the matter of lifejackets, I,
like Martyn Dickinson (November issue), was hesitant to write regarding the
failure to wear lifejackets in the feature on berthing under sail but I was
subsequently astonished by the cavalier and self-righteous response by Tom
Cunliffe to the letter from Patrick Thirkettle. I totally concur with their
both Martyn and Patrick’s comments and I am sure both the MCA and the RNLI
would wholeheartedly agree with us.
Dr. John Macrae, Inverness,
Cromarty 36 Bernera

Assess your own risks
In response to Martin Dickson’s
reprimand of Tom Cunliffe on his attitude to wearing lifejackets (or not), my
sympathies lie firmly with Tom. Experience has taught me that it is generally
better to encourage grown-ups through experience and training to assess risk
for themselves and make informed judgements about their own safety. I believe
in encouraging thought about safety rather than slavish compliance to hard and
fast rules rules, which are often arbitrary and prone to trip themselves up and
become double standards.
Dave Horrocks

How to identify a Seagull
I read with interest the piece by
Libby Purves about the Seagull outboard. I was reminded of a comment made in
Falmouth, that if all your other senses failed, you could always recognise a
Seagull by the smell!
Mike Gallagher

Why lifejackets should always be

I do agree it’s down to the
individual and as skipper you have a responsibility to your crew. But my own
father was the only crew member wearing a lifejacket aboard a launch in the
late 1960s, and he was the only one to survive when the wash from a large
coaster rolled her over in the Medway.

He instilled it in me from when we
started sailing and I’ve never been afloat without one. I rarely even walk down
a marina pontoon without it on. 

When my yacht was wrecked on
Plymouth breakwater a few years ago, I had my lifejacket on, as usual. I was in
the cockpit, and the force that threw me forward when she hit was worse than
any funfair ride I’ve been on. If my head had struck something hard, instead of
my shoulder, I’d very likely have been knocked unconscious and could easily
have fallen in to meet Davy Jones.

When I called the coastguard, the
first thing they said was “make sure you put your life jacket on”. I replied
that I was already wearing it prior to the event, and instantly there was a
noticeable and approving change of tone over the mic.

And to be honest, if I hadn’t had it
on already, it would have been hard to even locate it, because everything was
flying around the cabin. The other life jackets, stowed in the quarterberth,
had already auto-inflated!

It’s the incident that’s not
planned, not considered likely, that will one day catch you out. Thankfully,
two weeks before my own saga, the RNLI had by chance checked my lifejacket at
one of their regional events

I think we should all re-read and
heed those immortal lines from Arthur Ransome‘s Swallows and Amazons: “BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS. IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.”
Ben Sutcliffe

Open letter to Raymarine
Dear Sir, I have just spent £4,200
on a new autopilot for my yacht: Evolution pack and P70 head. I looked at
all the options before choosing the system, but chose Raymarine, because it
said on page 39 of the manual: AutoTack delay. The time delay between
activating a tack and the pilot applying the helm is adjustable and can be
found in the Sail boat settings menu: Main menu > Set up > Auto pilot
calibration > Sailboat settings > AutoTack delay >”

Now that I have paid for it all and
had it fitted I find out after a very frustrating period, that it is not a
feature of your product. Not all your customers are 20 something gazelles a
delay of 3 to 8 seconds, would be very helpful, for anyone who is advancing in
years, or finds it awkward to get round the wheel!
Steve Osborn

Lifejacket debate
I read Tom Cunliffe’s articles with
interest and often learn from him, but do not expect to agree with everything
he writes. Martyn Dickinson (Letters, November) seems to be heaping
responsibilites on Tom that ought not to be put on any Yachting Monthly contributor: we all need to make our own judgements when sailing.

However, I agree with Tom’s views on
lifejackets. On our boat (sailed mainly two-up, by my husband and me), we do
not wear them all the time, but are conscious of safety issues, work out the
risks ourselves and make our own decisions depending on the circumstances and
conditions. We have some rules for lifejackets, such as putting them on when
the wind rises to the point where we put in a reef, or when working outside the
cockpit other than in a flat calm, or when it is dark or foggy. We normally
wear them in the dinghy, too. Our sailing is often not from pontoon to pontoon,
so Mr Dickinson’s rules would not suit us. Although a skipper may be in charge
of safety for the crew, being safe is a matter for everyone on a boat.
Anne Smith

Don’t indoctrinate me!
The subject of lifejackets seems to
be one that will run and run, at least until the State imposes its control on
this particular refuge of freedom, with the debate appearing to separate those
who seek to control the action of others from those of us with a ‘live and let
live’ view, who actually get a warm glow from seeing the likes of Tom C, or
Paul Lees et al defying the safety police. However one particular set of
assertions in the latest letter (Martyn Dickinson latest issue) cannot go
unchallenged. The writer boldly says, with no trace of shame, that ‘it is the
requirement of YM to show responsibility to its readership by setting
examples’. Where he got this notion from I can’t imagine, as it is clearly the
responsibility of YM to sell magazines by attracting readers. And I can
confirm, as one regular subscriber, that the day when I perceive that I am
being indoctrinated rather than entertained will be the day that I cancel my
subscription. Keep up the good work!
Kevin McBride

The last word on lifejackets
I seem to remember that the life
jacket debate was firmly put to rest by YM some time ago due to the flurry of
correspondence from both sides of the camp.

Please continue to save us from
holier than thou comments from the inexperienced and protect us from the
equally irrational bombast of those who decry their use.

There are so many factors
surrounding this issue – not least clever marketing. May common sense carry the
day; life jackets remain an extremely important safety tool.

Leisure sailors should heed the
RYA’s fine advice:

“Making the decision about
wearing personal buoyancy is generally based upon factors such as weather
conditions and the experience of the crew, however if you are a beginner or
still relatively inexperienced, making these judgements is often not that easy.
Therefore in order to help clarify when a life-jacket or personal buoyancy aid
needs to be worn, the RYA recommends that you wear a life-jacket or buoyancy
aid unless you are sure you don’t need to.”
Julian Mandiwall

Super Seal 26
I was delighted to see a Super Seal
26 on the cover of the October issue but going on to read the article by Dick
Durham left me frustrated and confused by the number contradictions contained
therein. There is no hanging locker over the galley (I have original blueprints
of the boat). In all but there earliest boats there is a position in the saloon
for a table clipped to the keelbox for dining which is moved to a similar
fitting on the Starboard seat back for use as a navigation table. (Most boats
have now retrofitted this.)

The keel (centreboard) is not
encapsulated wood but a steel plate faired with GRP and the Internal ballast is
not cast iron as stated but a steel plated bonded over epoxy encapsulated shot.
Original boats had a choice of inboard Yanmar 1GM10 or outboard well and the internal
headroom is 5’8″ max not 5’4″. Among other confusing statements you print
“under power its always much better to go stern first….” Please explain how
this can result in prop wash over the rudder!

Mr. Durham must clearly have had an
off-day when he reviewed this boat.
David Tilley, Topsham

Red Diesel
The “red diesel issue” as
mentioned in the october 2013 YM has certainly kept British yachtsmen away from
Belgian marinas but it has equally kept Belgian yachtsmen away from
visiting Britain. This means a substantial economic loss for the tourist
industry of both countries. The European Commission is probably not going
to back off its intention to enforce the directive that red diesel is to be
used by commercial vessels only and once the European Court of Justice gets
involved it is difficult to measure the impact. In fact this would force
customs officers of the European nations to act accordingly. The contradictory
statements of various civil servants in the october issue do nothing
else but confirm the uncertainty for red diesel users.

For continental yachtsmen the
fact that white diesel is not currently available in British marinas leads to a
“catch 21” situation: caught with red diesel in our tanks -even
with a VAT receipt- we are economic criminals and subject to a long and
expensive lawsuit. If we have a problem mid-Channel with an
empty fuel tank because we had not filled up in the UK we are equally
liable for negligence in planning and potentially endangering commercial
shipping and the lives of our crew.

The consequence is that I for myself
avoid visiting the beautiful South coast of Britain, limiting my cross Channel
trips to Dover, Ramsgate and, daringly, Sovereign Harbour.

only permanent solution for this issue is to have white diesel
available at the fuel pontoon. If the British sailing community uses 40 percent
of their fuel for heating it could be justified to fit a separate
tank for red diesel. I am pretty certain that a white diesel pump at the
pontoon will not damage British individuality.
Henry Van Kets, yacht Navassa,

I sympathise with Libby Purves blast
on the loss of the two stroke outboard but don’t totally agree with all her
comments. When some miserable person stole my Suzuki 2hp two stroke outboard
ten years ago I purchased a Honda 2.3 hp four stroke. The only time I had
any problem with it was when I left fuel in the carburettor over the winter
which clogged the jet. Half an hours work sat in the cockpit taking in the
beauties of the Isle of Gigha had it running properly. I always stow it
on its correct side and have never had any problems with oil leaking into the
combustion chamber. The real benefit of the engine is that it is air
cooled, so no seawater clogging up the coolant galleries in the cylinder head,
this is an engine that lives on board so no chance to run and wash out with
fresh water. Clogged and corroded cylinder heads probably kill off more
two strokes than anything else.  In defence of the two stroke I have
a 35 hp Johnson that lives on the stern of my RIB in a marina, used as a tender
to get to my mooring half a mile away, the engine is over thirty years old and
in my twenty years of ownership has suffered much neglect and abuse. I changed
the plugs once. In twenty years it has never required more than two pulls
on the starting cord winter or summer and it hasn’t been flushed through for at
least ten years. They knew how to build them.
Terry Bailey


Response to two articles
Another good issue! I would like to
comment on Nigel Calder’s article on Scottish cruising and also on Ken Endean’s
article on binoculars. Nigel is rightly eloquent on the beauty and majesty of
cruising off the west coast of Scotland but in my 20+ years of knocking about
the islands I find that rather than being perennially stormbound, half the time
there isn’t enough wind! I suppose that, like him, I should be prepared to have
a really loose itinerary and go-with-the-flow as too often I find myself having
to motor to get where I want to go.

I would also like to add that my
stabilised Fujinon 12x35s have proved to be one of the best buys I ever made.
You flick the switch and suddenly you can easily read boat names at half a
mile, reliably identify cardinal buoys and find the entrance to that loch or
hidden harbour.
Dick Turnbull