Additional correspondence received at YM this month

Tip Top Sail service
I must respond to the article in your April issue concerning the NovaSail sail cleaning system. Tip Top Sail Laundry has served the sail-making trade for 22 years and has about 50 sail-makers as current customers, including most of the major players.
We wash thousands of items per year – sails of all types, materials and sizes, sprayhoods, covers, dodgers and awnings – and have gained considerable experience. We encounter few complaints and those are always resolved promptly and to the satisfaction of the customer.

All these customers might be concerned to read your reporter’s comment: “It’s hilarious to think we clean sails by attacking them with a yard broom or a jet washer before scrunching them into a big ball and shouldering them into a large washing machine.’ This clearly implies a lack of care.

You also claim that these processes “give sails a pummelling the like of which they would never get in an entire season’s sailing, as well as washing away any of the fabric’s UV protection and protective resins”, but you offer no evidence to substantiate these statements or demonstrate that the NovoSail system avoids these suggested problems.

Such terminology is derogatory to the care taken by our staff and indeed to the judgement of the many sail makers who have used our services for so long and who have continued to do so despite the introduction of NovoSail’s new service last autumn.
I would not seek to detract from the investment in new technology made by our competitors at NovoSail but I suggest that it is not the complete answer to sail laundry that your article implies. The methods and machinery seem over the top and unnecessary.

As a simple comparison, it is well known that automatic car-washing machines can scratch and damage car paintwork and that hand washing is preferable. So it is with sails. There is always a balance to be struck between trying to achieve a very clean result and damaging the sail or cover in the process. We adopt different techniques according to the item being laundered – laminate sails, for instance, should be washed only with water to remove salt since some other treatments can cause permanent damage to the fabric.

About 80% of sails, and all covers, sprayhoods etc are hand washed flat on the floor. Machine washing is reserved only for spinnakers and smaller sails of a “soft” nature. The crucial stage in every case is that they must then be hung up and thoroughly dried in constant warm air overnight before being hand folded and bagged. Any moisture remaining would lead to mould forming during storage.

One wonders if the “clever bit” to which your article refers in the NovoSail system, ie the addition of various coatings to sails, might be necessary to try to replace whatever the automated cleaning system may have removed from the sail in the first place?

Your article also makes a price comparison which we feel does not reflect the full picture.

Time will tell whether NovoSail’s price remains at £6.99 per kilo but as I understand it this does not include collection or delivery. Currently we do not intend to increase our prices to sail makers until the end of 2010.

We are a trade service only and our service to sail-makers, and our price, includes weekly collection and delivery by our own transport and drivers as far afield as the West Country, the East Coast and occasionally Ireland. Using national carriers we also service several major customers in Scotland, north Wales and the north east of England.

The sail makers in turn provide services to their customers in checking sails and in some cases providing winter storage. All these factors are reflected in the price paid by the end customer – which in most cases is around £4.00 per kilo including VAT.
This partnership with sail makers is popular with boat owners, many of whom have their sails washed here year after year. This winter we have been as busy as ever despite both the recession and the new competition from NovoSail.

Evidently, these owners have not found the wash process detrimental to their sails, which should reassure those of your readers who may have been concerned by the alarmist nature of your article.
Trevor Leppard (Tip Top Sail Laundry) by email

Distress flares and France
I was amazed at the response from the RYA to the query about flares in France in Ask the Experts in April’s edition of Yachting Monthly. Surely we should expect the RYA to be able to provide advice on such a basic matter. The reply “the RYA can not offer definitive advice on French regulations” smacks of an answer from someone who is more concerned with being sued if they get it wrong than a reply from an organisation whose aim is to help yacht owners.

If your readers can understand French, the answer can be obtained from the French Government’s web site at This states that three hand held automatic red flares are required plus three parachute flares and two floating smoke flares. The parachute and smoke flares are not needed if a working DSC VHF (VHF/ASN in French) is fitted. The web site also has a link to an English translation of the regulations. Unfortunately this does not agree with the French version or the French summary and I assume therefore it should be ignored.
John Walker

Flares in France 2
It was interesting to read the question and answer column in the April 2009 edition of YM. The RYA cruising officer, Carol Paddison, replied to an enquiry about the obligation to carry flares in France. I think she may have been quoting from the French regulations originally issued 23rd November 1987. From 11th April 2008, French regulations have been updated by something called Division 240, and this can be accessed on the French website although only in French.

This new “Division 240” makes it obligatory for all French leisure craft under 24 metres to be equipped with a number of security and safety items. These include the necessity to have up to date flares on board. The type of flares required depend on whether the vessel ventures not further than 2 miles to sea [basique], 6 miles out to sea [cotier], or further than 6 miles to sea [hauturier]. In fact the new list of “materiel obligatoire” is worth reading; it contains a great deal of very sensible safety equipment required by law in France.

No doubt most British yachts would carry all of the equipment listed. I have been regularly cruising to France for 30 years and try to be up to date with French regulations just in case their customs or marine police decide to imply French regulations to visiting craft. Happily this has happened on just two occasions and the safety equipment carried on my yacht fully complied with the French law. [We had to show that the life raft was in date and that fire extinguishers were in date] As Carol stated, French authorities may insist that foreign vessels in French waters comply with their regulations.

In my experience, French police and customs have always been most polite unless the vessel has little or no proper safety equipment. I am sure the British or any other country would take anyone to task for not being properly equipped when going to sea. But it should be pointed out that French regulations have been recently changed. The best tip I can suggest is to be aware of the French regulations, they are not much different to the sensible RYA minimum equipment suggestions for foreign cruising. But I would recommend keeping a short hand written log of the passage and places visited. This has been requested by French customs on more than a couple of our trips over the years.
John Kibble.

Expensive online chandlery
My wife and I regularly buy chandlery items online from websites. It’s convenient, as we live in Oxfordshire but keep our boat in Cornwall. We’ve been persuaded in recent years that it’s cheaper to buy online, too. We can see the devastating effects that this has on small, local chandlers, with many closing and those remaining reducing stock so that what you want often isn’t available, which sends us swiftly back to the internet!

Recently my wife ordered a courtesy flag online: cost £5.18 VAT. Imagine her surprise, when she discovered postage and packing was £3.95 VAT! She accepted reluctantly, but then I checked with my local Post Office and discovered the actual postage cost for Royal Mail First Class should be £1.40! The lesson is: check costs and only buy high value or multiple items on-line. Where possible, support your local chandler, who may not be there much longer if you don’t!
Robert Turner (by email)

Libby on E-borders
Hats (or rather sou’westers) off to Libby Purves for her article in The Times on March 19th. At last, someone is raising the e-Borders issue in the national press. The only time we have met was in Falmouth where we shared several beers (and a few whiskies) with her and Paul on their return from the Azores; I’m sure that they would have been able to file an exact plan for their place and time of arrival?.

In the miserable non-summer of 2008, I planned a trip to Camaret. In the event, after a week of forecasts of south-west 7 and sea state rough or very rough, I left exactly a week later than planned with a new crew as my original crew had to go back to work and after a rough crossing, we diverted to L’Aberwrach instead of Camaret to recover. What problems such a (true) scenario would cause!

The crux of the whole issue is that those whom the e-Borders scheme is trying to catch will never complete the paperwork anyway and therefore the system is fundamentally flawed. I am sure we would all try to cooperate with a system which we knew was going to make a difference but this one won’t. We must all keep fighting this scheme with all our powers.
David Clements, Bagheera of Whitby

Pump problems solved
My wife and I have for the last couple of years been taking our boat to the Medditeranean via the rivers and canals of France. Prior to our departure I had fitted a new freshwater pump manufactured by Munster Simms part of the Whale group.
We first experienced problems with the pump when just outside Paris and despite stripping the head down could not get the pump to work. As the pump was still under warranty I telephoned the after sales department for advice. They were extremely helpful but again no matter what I tried the pump refused to function.

I again contacted Munster Simms who arranged to have parts couriered to Paris for us. The parts duly arrived. I fitted them and all was well. The following year I again experienced problems with the pump. I therefore brought the pump back and sent it back for Munster Simms to check what was causing this malfunction.

Although no obvious fault could be found and despite being well outside of the warranty terms the company have replaced the pump for me with a brand new one as a gesture of goodwill for the problems that we have experienced.

It is difficult enough trying to get electrical parts fixed when in England but being in France, we thought we had no chance. Munster Simms came up trumps, not only were they more than happy to talk through my problems on the phone but to send me a brand new pump when the original one was out of warranty time was amazing. I would like to publicly thank Munster Simms especially Dorothy Hamilton who has been particularly helpful throughout what could have been a very trying and difficult problem.
Keith Baxter (by email)

‘L-drivers’ dangerous lessons
Unfortunately, I don’t have any sailing qualifications, though I did pass my driving test some 25 years ago. One of the main things I learnt then is ‘Don’t do anything that might affect the way someone else is driving’.

For me, sailing has been a matter of going ‘out there’ and ‘doing it’ for more than 30 years. So, on 8 November, 2008, when I left Dartmouth at 7am on passage to Poole, I was a little concerned at the forecast of gales Force 8 to 9, but consoled by the fact the wind was behind me and that by mid-day the tide would also be running with me as I rounded Portland Bill.

The long day passed without incident and I rounded Anvil Point as the light was almost gone. In the distance I saw a yacht with genoa up just off Studland Bay. As I entered the outer markers to Poole harbour I seemed to be gaining on the yacht too fast so I furled my genoa and started my engine.

My boat was now lit up like a Christmas tree, with my steaming light, stern light and nav lights. I was chugging along at a stately 3.5 knots. The stern light of the other yacht was now moving into the dark distance. My final destination was Poole Quay Boat haven so I crept up the middle ship. The yacht seemed to have disappeared, as all I could make out were silhouettes of two moored yachts on my starboard side. Then to my amazement, I picked up the silhouette of that yacht again (in the narrowest part of the Middle Ship Channel) which was beam on to me at a distance of between 50-70 yards with no navigation lights in view.

It then swung round and started heading straight towards me. I shouted ‘Watch your course!’ and it altered course. At the same time, I noticed a small buoy in the water just passing by my starboard beam. A collision was avoided, which was lucky, considering this had been the only other sailing boat on the water in my near 12 hours of sailing.

As I tied up at Poole Quay, I reflected on what the other yacht had been doing. I believe it was a sailing school yacht, with an instructor aboard teaching other sailors some sort of RYA crew qualification and what I had witnessed was them practising a man overboard drill by dropping a buoy.

When I was learning to drive my driving instructor never took me to onto a dual carriageway, asked me to turn off my lights pull over and then perform a three-point turn. I’m sure the instructor with all his qualifications and his students had some reason for performing their manoeuvre in the middle of a narrow shipping channel at night, but I can’t think of one.

They could have fouled my propeller with the man overboard buoy. The only light they had showing was the stern light. The main reason I was able to pick out where they were was because of all the light coming from the cockpit, which also probably meant their night vision had blinded them to me.
Christopher Blacklock, Chichester, West Sussex (by email)