About Bob

Bob is a 1977 ‘West Indies 36’ designed by the legendary boat builder Charlie Morgan and built by the Heritage Yacht Company. As far as I know they built about 38 of these things and then went out of business. I’ve no idea why, but I’m going to tell myself that it was because they were building them too well and not making enough on top of their overheads. At any rate she’s a superb vessel, heavily-built and well suited to ocean cruising. I bought her in the summer of 2007, at which time she’d been laid up for about 10 years in a marina in Cape Canaveral, Florida. If anyone reading this is considering visiting, don’t! It’s a horrible place with little to offer but strip clubs, fast-food, the largest sex shop I’ve ever seen and a menagerie of bars and restaurants all selling the same stuff. Having spent the last of my borrowed money on a life raft, a couple of life jackets, an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon – quite a handy bit of kit to have on board) and some rum, my mate Ed and I cast off and set sail for Bermuda. The boat was in terrible shape but she held together admirably and we made the passage in 7 days. It could have been 6 if we’d cleaned the bottom, which was cocooned in gooseneck barnacles, but we didn’t fancy swimming in the feces-ridden marina and our conviction that we’d jump overboard and give her a scrape once we were out of the marina evaporated once it really came down to it. That was Bob’s first voyage and I could write much, much more about it but I’ll leave it there for the sake of propriety! Having made some major structural repairs and improvements I managed to convince 3 friends that it would be a good idea to sail the boat down to the Caribbean and spend the winter there. We left far too late – December 20th – and ran into some awful weather about half way between Bermuda and the Caribbean. We got pretty thrown around but the boat was rock solid. We spent 4 months down in the islands with 4, 5 and then 6 of us living on board and taking it in turns to sleep on the floor. We didn’t have a fridge or a shower, the water system was barely adequate and the electrical system was sketchy at best. Things were pretty basic but we made do and sailed back up to Bermuda in April. That was 2009. Things have changed a lot in the last 6 years. I’ve spent pretty much the entire time (when I haven’t been working to make money) working on the boat. There’s very little that hasn’t been replaced. She’ll never be finished, but I don’t think there is such a thing in the world as a ‘finished’ boat and the time has come to get moving again!

Info on equipment and technical stuff that probably won’t be of any interest to anyone:

Sloop rig, single spreader. Quite a tall mast for the size of the boat (54 feet if my memory serves me correctly). Retro-fitted with intermediate shrouds (to complement uppers and a single set of lowers), baby stay, dyneema running inner-headstay and two sets of running backstays; one to oppose the inner headstay and one to oppose the baby stay and stop mast pump.

Sail wardrobe: mainsail, old 100% working jib, new 110% working jib to be picked up in St. Maarten, old 150% genoa, oldish 130% genoa, new ‘AP’ asymmetric cruising spinnaker, old lightweight symmetric racing spinnaker (from a farr 40), old racing asymmetric spinnaker (from a J105), old storm jib (which sets on the dyneema inner-headstay).

Navigational stuff: Useless very fancy B&G chartplotter with all sorts of fancy stuff that I’ll never use. I don’t even have any chart chips for it but it tells me where I am and that’s the main thing. Standard Horizon radio with inbuilt GPS, DSC and AIS receiver. Paper charts as far as the Galapagos Islands. Unfortunately it looks like the company I was planning on getting my charts from has gone out of business and I can’t find anyone else that does stuff at reasonable cost so I think I’ll buy some large-scale passage paper charts and a chart chip for the B&G. Haven’t quite figured that out yet though.

Update 22/04/16: We decided not to fork out $250 for the Pacific chart chip for the B&G. In fact, I regret buying the chart plotter in the first place. We have electronic charts for openCPN (on the laptop) and aquired paper charts for the whole Pacific from another cruiser in Panama for $100. As well as a book that gives details of specific anchorages for most of the islands in the Pacific, we think we’re good now until New Zealand.

Self-steering: Fleming auxiliary rudder wind vane. Older model (2000 I think) but never installed. Had some teething problems but it seems to be pretty solid now. Also a navico tiller pilot that attaches to the emergency tiller and will one day attach to the auxiliary rudder on the wind vane.

Update, 22/04/16: The Fleming vane fell to pieces en-route to St. Maarten. It has since been replaced with a hydrovane, which has brought us thus far to the Galapagos Islands and which I would highly recommend to anyone in the market for one of these wonderful gizmos. The old navico tiller pilot (for use when motoring) did an incredible job until it finally retired in Colombia. It has been replaced with a Raymarine tiller pilot which we picked up in Panama and which I would also recommend based on it’s performance so far.

Engine: Westerbeke 40. Old but hasn’t let me down yet. About the only thing on the boat that I’ve pretty much ignored as I don’t consider an engine to be vital equipment on a sailboat.

Update, 22/04/16: As you may gather from the earlier posts, this lack of attention paid to the engine has caused some small grief, though nothing major yet……………..

Water: 80 gallons of tankage. I made the tanks by fibreglassing the storage spaces under the settees and making the whole space into tankage, since I got tired of the soft tanks catastrophically failing on me and getting custom tanks to fit the hull shape was a no-go here in Bermuda. I’m picking up 20gph water maker in St. Maarten so hopefully that will do the trick of keeping water a non-issue.

Update, 22/04/16: The water maker was installed in St. Maarten and has been absolutely brilliant in every way thus far.

Power: 4 x renogy semi-flexible solar panels. You can see them mounted in the picture. Charge controller is a rogue systems MPTsomethingorother. Batteries are twin lifeline 255AH AGMs.

Length Overall: 36 feet(ish). Unless i’m paying for something that is length-dependent, then she’s 34.5 feet, which is the registered LOA.

Waterline Length: 33 feet

Beam: 12 feet

Draught: 5 feet 3 inches officially but more like 5 feet 6 loaded up 3/4 keel (like a full keel but with the after section cut out) and skeg-hung rudder

January 2017:

A fellow owner of a West Indies 36 left a comment on our blog recently asking if I’d be willing to email him with some info on Bob, work that I’ve done to her, preparations for voyaging and heavy weather tactics. I got a bit carried away in my response to him and it ended up becoming a bit of a diatribe. I thought I’d post it here in case anyone else is interested. Since my correspondence was aimed at a fellow WI36 owner, the reader is assumed to have a good knowledge of the layout of a WI36, and also a working knowledge of nautical terms (which can, I’m aware, sound like an entirely different language from English to the uninitiated!). Some of my comments will therefore be of limited interest to many of you, but there are also many points that I think could be applied to any boat, or at least a wide range of different boats. Hence, I decided to post the bulk of that email on this page. Here it is:

First of all, I should mention that Bob is one of the few WI36s that was built with a fixed keel rather than a centreboard. Bob draws 5’3” officially (actual draught when laden for cruising is a good few inches more) and I believe the ballast is about 1,000lbs more than the centreboard model.

I have done extensive work on the boat, some of which probably wasn’t necessary, but I’ve learned a great deal about it in the meantime.

A bit about West Indies 36 construction, some of the jobs I’ve done, and modifications I’ve made to Bob:

It looks like the WI36s were built along a centre-seam. The two halves of the hull were moulded separately and then stuck together with glue and layers of glass on the inside. The extensive internal support structure of wooden beams and steel athwart-ship ribs is important in holding the whole thing together. The attachment of the keel is also, I’m guessing, structurally important in keeping the boat together. Unlike most keels which are either cast and then bolted on, or encapsulated as part of the hull, ours appears to be both. It looks like the keel was cast separately, bolted on and then glassed into the hull afterwards, making for a very strong keel attachment.

I discovered all this because I ended up doing an extensie job on the bottom. Large patches of the gelcoat were not properly bonded to the glass beneath, so I removed all of it and glassed, filled and re-faired the whole hull. This job was probably not necessary but it did teach me a lot about the boat, and explains why there is such an extensive steel structure athwart-ship and why the chainplates on one side are a good inch or two closer to the centreline than they are on the other – because the hull is not exactly symmetrical on account of being built in two halves.

The construction of the rudder is also interesting. Having removed it and noticed that it was unusually heavy I suspected that it had filled with water, so I cut it open only to find that unlike most rudders which are built using a foam or plywood core and are therefore susceptible to water ingress, rust and rudder failure, the WI36 rudder is basically solid resin on the inside. It’s a material that I forget the name of but which was very popular in the 70s and looks like yellow resin mixed with sawdust. Unfortunately I destroyed the rudder in discovering this and then had to built a whole new one from scratch, though I was able to use the original stock and innards. These are strongly built – more strongly than every other rudder I’ve ever seen the inside of. Another big but ultimately unnecessary job.

The deck fittings were not well-installed and as such water has entered into the core over the years and rotted it out. It’s balsa. I’ve replaced a couple of sections of core with closed-cell foam and continue to make smaller repairs on a regular basis as time goes on, usually by injecting polyester resin. Whenever I install a new deck fitting I try to do it properly, removing the core, filling it, re-drilling the holes etc. but I’ll admit I’ve been lazy a few times and just accepted that sooner or later it will start to leak, the core will start to rot and I’ll have to fix it.

The headstay backing plate has been replaced. I had previously wondered why it was so over-built, with not just the backing plate under the deck but also the piece that bolts onto the stem and the vertical plate welded between the two. Now that I know about the centre-seam construction it makes more sense. It helps to hold the two halves of the stem together.

The chainplates for shrouds and backstay were replaced. I considered doing these in all stainless steel but in the end I went with aluminium again, except for the backstay chainplate for which stainless was more appropriate due to the angle that the plate had to be bent to (aluminium is weakened more by bending than stainless). I made this decision partly because of price and partly because 316 stainless flatbar simply isn’t available in Bermuda except by special order. The backstay chainplate is done with 304 and I keep it well-greased. I also don’t like the way that stainless steel is prone to sudden failures due to micro-cracks and crevice corrosion.

I don’t know what rig you have on your boat but I think my mast might be original, with a single set of spreaders. It looks like it was originally designed to have just a single backstay, single headstay, uppers and lowers. The previous owner added a baby stay and intermediate shrouds, and I have added two sets of running backstays, the lower set of which oppose the baby stay and which I consider to be indespensible for extended offshore work. I would prefer to have split lower shrouds but this would have required extensive modifications. I also replaced all of the standing rigging, using 5/16” 1×19 wire for the headstay and uppers, 3/8” for the backstay and lowers and 1/4” for the intermediates and baby stay. I tried to strike a balance between plenty of strength and weight aloft. I did it using sta-lock fittings which I believe are stronger, more corrosion-resistant and less prone to sudden failure than swaged fittings, which I have seen fail a number of times due to unequal loading on the wire strands and crevice corrosion (this wasn’t on Bob!).

I have re-sealed the hull-deck joint twice. The second time I took an angle grinder and opened the seam right up. I filled the entire seam with 5200 to a depth of between half an inch and one inch, then I used a weaker adhesive sealant to re-bed the toe rail (3M UV4000). So far it hasn’t leaked in about 10,000 miles.

The mast step was looking suspect, so I cut it out. Some WI36 owners have replaced the metal work with stainless steel but this was going to be too pricey for me, so I constructed a new mast step by laying up a solid block of fibreglass about a foot thick and then bonding and bolting this to the rest of the metal structure. I am in the camp that believes in lightning protection through grounding. Since this glass block was now serving to isolate the rig from the keel, I grounded it using a piece of heavy wire between the aluminium plate at the base of the mast and the keel. Using glass for this job instead of steel has also eliminated the problem of the galvanic corrosion that I was getting between the aluminium plate and the mild steel I-beam.

Most of the other modifications that spring to mind were practical rather than structural. Almost everything on the boat has been off at some point, re-conditioned and then re-installed with the glaring exception of the engine, which is a Westerbeke 40 from the 70s that I’ve barely touched except to change oil, filters, coolant and zincs. It leaks a bit of oil, especially from the transmission, but keeps on going for now! I never managed to find acceptable water tanks that didn’t either reduce capacity through wasted space in compartments or leak, so I gave up and built some into the boat instead by fibreglassing the insides of the cabinets under the port and starboard berths. We have two separate refrigeration systems for redundancy, I’ve replaced the portlights, re-done the hatches, installed a solar system, new batteries, re-designed the electrical and water systems, installed a water maker etc. etc. The focus has always been on building in redundancy to systems so that if something breaks it’s not a big problem, and designing things to be simple yet convenient from the outset. Since we planned on being in the tropics most of the time, the hot water system went. So did the pressure water system, which eliminated a load of electrics in one fell swoop as well as reducing our water consumption by about 2/3 and eliminating the importance of maintaining O-rings on taps, pressure-fittings on plumbing and all the rest of it. We do have one water pump and it feeds a single hose which allows us to shower. We do this in the cockpit. Privacy isn’t usually an issue since we cruise mostly in remote areas and by doing it in the cockpit we eliminate the need for a sump pump, waste water reservoir etc.

In the same vein, I have tried to minimise the number of through-hull fittings. A couple of years ago I found myelf on a sinking yacht just off the coast of Bermuda (again, not Bob!) and came to appreciate how difficult it is to find a leak when the cabin already has a foot of water in it. We bailed furiously with a bucket for 2 ½ hours until we were able to reach a harbour, at which point I dived overboard and found the leak from the outside. Thus, I decided to minimise the number of through-hull fittings and simplify the plumbing as much as possible. I have removed an old through-hull that used to be for a paddle-wheel boat speed instrument, and I have removed the through-hull that was previously dedicated as a drain for the sink in the head. That sink now has a removable bowl in it and it’s contents are tipped into the head, which is right next to it. That brings the number of through-hull fittings to 5 including the prop shaft (but excluding the cockpit drains and exhaust, which are on or just above the waterline). Incidentally, I have replaced the conventional stuffing box with a dripless design that allows a spare seal to be kept on the shaft. In the event that the active seal fails it can be quickly cut off and the new one slipped into position without having to haul the boat. I haven’t had to use it yet – the original seal is now 9 years old and still dripless.

I guess the cockpit drains also fall into the category of practical modifications. In heavy weather between Bermuda and Grenada in 2008 we were pooped twice, and it took a little while for the water to drain from the cockpit. I have slightly widened the diameter of the drains and made the drains straight-through pipes with no lattice or anything over the tops of the fittings to strain out leaves etc. They don’t get blocked. Whenever we catch a fish the cockpit gets several buckets of water dumped into it during the cleaning process and the drains appear to work better than before, though we have (fortunately) not really ever put them to the test.

On the subject of heavy weather:

In that storm in 2008 we tried heaving-to, stemming the waves under power, running before the wind and running with a drogue (not a sea-anchor). My experience of heavy weather before this was exclusively academic and based largely on the text of ‘Heavy Weather Sailing’ by Adlard Coles (an excellent book). Since then I have also discovered ‘Storm Tactics’ by Lin and Larry Pardey. They recommend heaving-to in heavy weather and I would very much like to try doing things as they recommend, setting sail such that the boat lies exactly beam on to the wind and, most importantly, creates a turbulent slick to windward to break the seas. However, I have not been able to get Bob to lie like this. A trysail may facilitate this but I don’t carry one and don’t intend to unless we ever decide to take on high-latitude sailing. Since the WI36 has a teak toe rail rather than one of the aluminium ones with unlimited attachment points for blocks and whatnot, deploying a drogue off one side to aid with keeping her beam-on to the wind is not a simple matter.

When we tried heaving-to in that storm I was unable to get Bob to lie comfortably indefinitely. Things would be fine for a bit and then a big wave would slam into us and turn us beam-on to the waves (but with no slick of turbulent water to windward), at which point the next one would slam into us and have us over on our beam-ends.

The first thing we tried was to simply run with the wind. It was fine, but required the helm to be manned full-time. To make matters worse, the conditions deteriorated so quickly that by the time we realised we should have the storm jib set it was too dangerous to go forward to set it. The idea at that time was to set a wire stay on the spinnaker halyard, hank on the storm jib and sort out the sheets etc. It worked fine in the harbour but was absurd to even attempt under at-sea heavy-weather conditions. Thus, we ended up running under deep-reefed main only and the boat was unbalanced with the centre of effort too far aft. When we started surfing down waves at over 13 knots like this we took in the main and ran under bare poles for a bit, but that was also tiring and we were still surfing only semi-controlled, nearly as fast as we’d been going with the main up.

We had steep, short waves, some of which were breaking dangerously. We turned on the engine and stemmed the waves under power. That was fine but it required constant, energetic helming to point the bow into the oncoming waves and then turn off at their crests to prevent the boat from slamming down hard on the back sides of them. It was also burning diesel and we weren’t going anywhere.

Finally, we set a cone drogue (stitched from an old sail and some cargo straps) on two 5/8” nylon warps 250 feet astern of us. Having two separate lines as opposed to one meant that we were able to take more pressure up on one line than the other and steer the boat a little with the goal being to keep the stern into the waves, since the wind shifted around more quickly than the seas. We were pooped a couple of times but not badly, and I ended up going to sleep for 16 hours while Sarah got up regularly to keep an eye out for shipping hazards and check for chafe on the warps.

So, we found towing a drogue to be most satisfactory in those conditions, and I would now go to that option first if we were ever to encounter dangerous conditions in the future, providing we had sufficient sea room. However:

If we were to encounter the same conditions now as those that we encountered in 2008 I am confident that we would be able to weather them more easily and that we would probably be able to keep sailing under self-steering gear with a storm jib set. With canvas set forward and the centre of effort forward as a result, the boat would be pulled along in a stable fashion. I think the hydrovane wind vane would be capable of managing even in those conditions. The setup for the storm jib has been changed since 2008, and I have tried to make it as simple as possible. As I mentioned earlier we have two sets of running backstays. The upper set opposes a strong point on the mast about ¾ of the way up where I have attached an inner-headstay made from dyneema. Being made from a soft material it stows nicely when we don’t want it in the way. When we want it, it attaches to a foreguy which runs through a trong block just aft of the main headstay and can therefore be tensioned from the cockpit. If we are in any way expecting bad weather, this headstay can be set up way in advance and kept up for a whole passage, but it’s also fairly easy to set up at sea. The storm jib hanks onto this dyneema stay, the tack is tied down, the sheets are run aft and on the head of the sail is a snatch-block around the stay. To hoist the sail a spinnaker halyard is clipped onto the snatch block, which keeps the angle of pull in line with the dyneema stay rather than directly from the masthead as it would be otherwise. Again this is not too hard to set up at sea, but if possible we try to have it set up long in advance. By tying two sail ties around the storm jib and around the lifelines and bow pulpit, the whole arrangement can sit up there quite comfortably indefinitely and ready at a moment’s notice, even if it gets really rough. We haven’t strictly needed the storm jib yet on this voyage, but we have set it up four times in response to deteriorating conditions, and have set the sail itself twice for peace of mind, though we were under-canvassed for the conditions we were in at the time.

I think that’s probably more than enough from me for now! I could probably go on for another few days talking about boats, and Bob in particular.