Choosing my next sailboat..

A friend asked me what was the decision process involved in choosing my latest boat, a Beneteau First 30 JK which is not your typical/traditional sailboat to say the least. I tried to explain there was method to my madness, or maybe just madness 🙂  I will attempt to articulate the madness as best as I can in this post.  It started a long long long time ago with Nixon…

Racing Nixon in her first regatta in 2004

My first boat was a ’83 J/24 called “Nixon was cool..” (named by previous owners but couldn’t change the name because it was a winning boat). I bought it in 2003 to race one-design because I wasn’t too enamored with handicap racing. The IRC rated RORC offshore races I had participated in in England were a crapshoot. Some old wooden boat finishing last over the line would win on handicap! You never really knew how well you were doing until well after the race. Anyway I digress..

Getting ready to round the downwind mark

I dry raced Nixon in the one design class for 3 years in San Francisco bay which was a great experience but it was hard to cruise her. Every time I wanted to take her out I had to move the trailer to the crane, drop in the water, etc and back again. Too much work and I was getting older 🙂 

I also found out that I really enjoyed light air winter sailing because it required a lot more skill to make the boat sail fast and it was more tranquilo 🙂 In addition I wanted to start sailing outside the bay to explore the Farallones and other destinations on the pacific coast. 

So in 2006 when I started searching for my next boat, my requirements were pretty simple:

  1. A performance boat that I could sail in light airs and potentially race
  2. Offshore capable 

That led to me buy a ‘92 Beneteau First 38s5 which I named “Sudden Stops Necessary”. It was a good sized performance cruising boat that was rigged for bay sailing and it was reasonably priced!

Sudden Stops Necessary – Beneteau First 38s5

I did a lot of cruising inside and outside the bay also started sailing single-handed after I installed a wheelpilot and a monitor windvane which was great fun. It was my form of meditation, the serenity when the boat is sailing in the groove and all you hear is the water rippling past. Glorious  🙂 However I realized the hard way that docking a 38ft boat singlehanded was challenging if the wind piped up. The boat carried a lot of momentum and was hard to handle just by myself.

Then in 2008 I decided I wanted to go cruising and cross the pacific to Australia. For this I needed an ocean ready boat, which Stops was not. But it was the depths of the financial crisis and no one was buying boats. It took 2 years to sell Nixon after halving the asking price!

So I decided to refit Stops for ocean cruising which took up every weekend for over 2 years. I blogged about some of the numerous projects here

Stops with the Symmetrical kite

On both Nixon and Stops I sailed a symmetrical spinnaker with pole, which was great when you had a bunch a crew you needed to keep busy but difficult to carry when shorthanded. So I ended up getting a North G2 75oz asymmetric spinnaker with a sock which I rigged on the anchor roller. 

Here we are flying the asymmetric on Stops just about to cross the equator on my 23 day pacific crossing. Asymmetric was definitely the way to go for shorthanded sailing! 

Anyway, after making it to Australia on Stops we were stuck waiting for a good weather window in the gold coast on our way to Sydney and I started dreaming of my next boat as a way to bribe myself to go back to work in San Francisco 🙂

My list of requirements had expanded somewhat 🙂

  1. A performance boat that I could sail in light airs and potentially race
  2. Offshore capable 
  3. Around 30ft for easier single-handed handing
  4. Bowsprit for better asymmetric spinnaker performance
Secret Agent Man – J/92

That quickly narrowed it down to a J/92 which I named “Secret Agent Man”. Secret Agent Man was a great bay boat, did some racing on it and a lot of single-handing after I installed a tillerpilot. It was easier to sail single handed with the tiller on the J/92 (rather than the big wheel on Stops) because I could go forward and do other things like tacking while still holding onto the tiller extension. 

I also bought a sock for the asymmetric which I used when cruising.  The sock was great but you still needed someone to go up on the bouncing foredeck which was tricky if you are single/short handed and the wind had piped up.

Then I moved to Amsterdam in 2015 and started thinking about my next boat.. It was the same time the latest Vendee Globe was going on and I was really impressed by the use of top down furlers for their spinnakers. They could just be furled and unfurled like a genoa. This led me to investigate top down furlers which were now available at reasonable cost for cruisers. However they have to be installed on fixed and rigid bowsprits because the anti-torsion cable needs significant tension when furling the sail. I also wanted a boat size similar to the J/92 with a tiller for easy of single handing.. And so the list grew..

  1. A performance boat that I could sail in light airs and potentially race
  2. Offshore capable 
  3. Around 30ft for easier single handed handing
  4. Fixed bowsprit to rig a top down furler for the asymmetric 
  5. Tiller for easier single handing 

I looked at quite a few racers/performance cruisers and then I came across the new model Beneteau First 30 JK and I fell in love with the lines. I bought the only used boat in the Netherlands and named her “Magic Carpet”.

Magic Carpet – Beneteau First 30JK

The first production boat designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian (Volvo Ocean Race designer) and Michel Desjoyeaux (two time Vendee Globe winner) she looks a bit like a mini IMOCA Open 60, with a fat arse, twin rudders, hard chines, square topped main, aft mainsheet traveller, plumb bow, fixed bowsprit, T bulb keel and tiller steering but inside she has a proper and “heavy” cruising interior with heating to boot. She is pretty petite at 32ft but feels as big as 38ft Stops. 

Sailing the asymmetric hot on Magic Carpet

So far I have sailed with a sock on the asymmetric but looking forward to installing this Harken Reflex top down furler in the next few weeks!

Harken Reflex Spinnaker Top Furler

Going back to madness, I already have my eye on my next boat.. an Outremer 45 performance cruising catamaran for the tropical circumnavigation I hope to complete some day.. assuming I win the lottery obviously 🙂

Kenneth Grahame was right..

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Secret Agent Man graces San Francisco bay

Finally got around to putting the name on my new J/92 sailboat, Secret Agent Man. It had to be three worded to keep with tradition and I didn't want to go with Never Again III (which was more apt). My previous boats were all three worded "Sudden Stops Necessary" and "Nixon was cool.." (which I didn't name, I am a liberal!)

Secret Agent Man sporting it's new name.. She/he is a J/92 with a bowsprit for an asymetrical kite.

SAM in yard
Secret Agent Man at Svendsons getting the bottom painted and a new flex-o-fold folding propellor installed.

Refitting S/V Sudden Stops Necessary

I spent 2 years refitting Stops to go cruising, a project I coined “wide blue yonder” to keep my motivation up, especially when I ran into many roadblocks installing American equipment on a French boat!  I tried to do most of the work myself to save on labor costs and also so that I would know all the systems intimately hopefully allowing me to complete repairs myself in the remote places I intend to visit. The only downside is that it took at least three times longer to do it myself which meant working every weekend for two years and nearly every night after work for the last four months to get the boat ready!

The best source for information I found was other cruiser’s blogs that described their refit projects in detail. I hope the posts below (which I am still writing as I get time) will be helpful for others embarking on similar projects.

Electrical and Energy Generation
Designing and building new electrical system with 450AH house battery bank and monitor – Jan 2010
Designing and building a 170W solar energy platform with MPPT controller – Jul 2010
Installing a KISS wind generator – May 2010
– Wiring and installing a 80W Balmar High Output Alternator with smart reg – post coming
– Installing a Inverter – post coming

Designing and installing a second diesel fuel tank – May 2010
Installing a Racor 500MA fuel filter – May 2009
Rebuilding the raw water pump – Aug 2008
Installing a Kiwiprop feathering propeller – Mar 2010
– New shaft, cutlass bearing and dripless seal – post coming

Self Steering
Installing a Monitor Windvane – Nov 2009
Installing a Raymarine wheelpilot – Jan 2009
– Installing a tillerpilot on my J/92 – post coming

Navigation and Instruments
Installing a Raymarine C80 Chartplotter and Radar – Nov 2008
– Installing new Raymarine ST60 wind, speed and depth instruments – post coming

Installing a new Lewmar H3 Windlass – June 2009
– New Ground tackle for offshore work – post coming

Standing Rigging
Replacing the rod standing rigging, furler and backstay adjuster – Mar 2010
– Installing a new LED masthead tricolor & anchor light – post coming
– Replacing all in mast wiring and masthead instruments – post coming
– DIY Installation of new standing rigging on my J/24 – post coming
– Building a new boom for my J/24 – post coming

Running Rigging
Rebuilding Lewmar winches – Jan 2009
– New “incockpit” reefing system – post coming
– Installing a Dutchman boombrake system – post coming

Installing an ICOM M802 SSB Radio with Pactor 3 Modem – Jul 2010
– Installing a Standard Horizon VHF Radio with AIS- post coming
– Installing a Brookehouse Multiplexer for sharing navigation data with a laptop – post coming
– Installing a Bullet wifi booster – post coming

New sail wardrobe – July 2010

– Installing all new below the waterline thruhulls – post coming
– Installing a larger bilge pump, automatic bilge switch and bilge monitor – post coming

Liferaft – Aug 2010
– Fire equipment overhaul – post coming
– Category 0 SOLAS flares – post coming

The bottom job – Jan 2009
– New Dinghy and Outboard motor – post coming
– New propane tanks and fittings – post coming
– Replacing the glass and seals in all hatches and ports – post coming
– Installing outside speakers for music system – post coming

Survey, Bottom Job 2 and 2 BOATs for thru-hulls

Just had a survey completed by Peter Minkwitz a Marine Surveyor. No issues found (phew!) apart from a corroded below the waterline thru-hull. To be extra safe I am replacing all the other 7 "below the waterline" thru hulls to add to the other 3 I replaced in March… Unfortunately it will cost 2 B.O.A.Ts 🙁 They definitely chose the right word for BOAT (Bring On Another Thousand)..

Also getting the bottom job done with 2 coats of Petit Trindad Pro. This time I wasn't doing it myself. Don't want to lose friends 😉 While I am doing the bottom job I am also getting the waterline raised by about an inch. The crazy thing is that I may need to put 300 feet of chain at the bow just to balance the boat fore and aft.. I was so focused earlier on reducing weight at the bow..

Stops today after sanding off the old paint, new paint goes on tomorrow..


Installing a 80W Balmar high output alternator with smart regulator

Based on my energy usage projections I planned to generate 80-100 Ah/Day of energy without using the engine but when the engine was on for motoring I wanted to maximize the energy it could generate. The alternator would be a backup to solar and wind as well as a way to fully charge up the batteries once a month to recalibrate the Victron battery monitor I had installed.

The 20W original alternator

First Job was removing the old alternator

Wiring up the new Balmar alternator

I then started wiring up the high output alternator. I chose Balmar because it came highly rated in the cruising forums. Because of the engine horsepower I was limited to 80W max. With larger engines and AGM batteries (that can take almost any amount of charge) you can obviously put on much larger alternators.

The new Balmar fit perfectly

The Balmar fit perfectly into the space. I also upgraded the belt since the loads were going to be higher.

Installing the regulator

The Balmar also has a smart regulator which I installed above the echocharger (blue). Once I had everything installed and started the engine the alternator worked perfectly through all the stages of charge.

However I noticed one issue. The temperature alarm light on the engine panel did not come on when I switch the engine power on. This was obviously a major problem because I needed to know if and when the engine was overheating. This problem unfortunately took a month to solve going through numerous sources.

Wiring diagram for the relay

Finally I managed to get hold of someone at Balmar with knowledge of Volvo Penta engines and they recommended installing a relay in the alternator wiring to the engine which did the trick. I was sooooo glad to get this issue resolved.

The old alternator

Finally I sealed the old alternator in a waterproof bag and kept it as a spare for the pacific crossing I had planned.

Project Summary

Total cost: around $1,000 mainly for the Balmar alternator.

Total project time:  Took a weekend to get it installed and working but another month to figure out the engine temperature alarm issue and then install the relay.

Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.

Everything worked great, no failures on any part of the system. Only used the engine to charge up the batteries a couple of times on the whole trip, but obviously it was very useful for charging up the batteries to full when motoring.

Installing a second diesel tank

Stops only had a 29 gallon diesel tank which didn’t give her much of a range if we hit a long patch of no wind in the doldrums. Also diesel wasn’t that easy to come by in the south pacific so I knew I needed the ability to carry more. Jerry cans would be an option but I needed to double the capacity of the boat and didn’t have space for a whole lot of Jerry cans on deck. So I started looking into adding a second tank. As it happens I wasn’t using the second head on the boat and didn’t need the holding tank that came with it.

Second holding tank

So my plan was to remove it an replace it with a diesel tank! Easier said than done 🙂

Off the shelf tank that didn’t fit

I tried getting an off the shelf diesel tank to see if it could fit in the space but the hose fittings need to be horizontal 🙁

So the only option was to get a custom made tank to fit in the space. I found a great company (RDS) that would make a aluminum tank to whatever size and shape I wanted. I send them over a sketch with a design that tried to use up all the space I had. They quickly turned that around with a engineering drawing that gave me a max capacity at 23 gallons for the space.

The nozzles to the diesel intake as well as those to connect to the engine were critical to get right. We had a lot of back and forth. Finally it arrived. It was around $520 to manufacture, which I wasn’t bad for a custom diesel tank.

New custom made aluminium tank!

To protect the tank I glued on some plastic slats to the bottom, figured they would help with all the bumping around. I then bolted it into place with the L fittings I had them weld on.

Installing the fuel fill nozzle.

Next I installed a new diesel fuel fill nozzle on deck.

Connecting the hoses

Then connected new hoses for the fuel intake and the vent. I reused the vent from the holding tank which was the same fitting the existing diesel tank used.

The new tank installed!

The last step was putting a T-junction and a tap on the engine diesel lines that allowed me to select between either tank. This was made easy with the primary diesel tank being so close.

The final final step involved filling the second tank and checking for leaks. I bled the lines and ran the engine on the secondary tank for a few days. Worked really well! All in all the total cost was under $1000, so well worth doing.

On the big trip I carried two diesel jerry cans on deck to give me a total capacity of 62 gallons and a range of 400 miles. That really came in handy on the pacific crossing where I had to motor for nearly 300 miles in the doldrums!

Replacing the standing rigging, furler etc.. just like visiting the dentist

Replacing the standing rigging on Stops was something I knew I had to do but was dreading. I knew it would cost an arm and a leg, but I was worried it might end up costing both arms and both legs and then where would I be..  Stops has rod rigging (muchos dineros) on the shrouds which means I am limited to two riggers in the area who have a Nitronic Rod press. KKMI quoted me $20K minimum and Svendson's estimate came in much more reasonable at about $13k. I have always had a great experience at Svendson's so didn't think that long and hard about it. Was still worried about them finding crevice corrosion in the chainplates or something like that which would mean another $5k-7k for labor and parts. It was with with trepidation that I took Stops to Svendson's in March.. reminded me of going to the dentist, except this dentist specialized in diamond encrusted solid gold teeth!

First I had to derig the boat with Munzie's help. Then Kalem from Svendsons dropped the mast. Nail biting stuff..




And Stops becomes a powerboat and my affection for her drops like a lead balloon. Never liked 'em power boats..

Next Chris and Barret from Svendsons went to work on finding spreader tip cups and other rod fittings that wouldn't require a major changes.. While they were doing that I rewired and replaced all the lights and instruments on the mast.. that's another saga I will write about in a separate post.

As part of standing rigging replacement I also wanted to replace the furler and backstay adjuster. For the furler I was toying between the Harken Mark IV, the Profurl and the Shaeffer 2100 which is well regarding for cruising. Chris dinged Profurl, so that was out. The harken was highly rated in all the forums, but more importantly it would just look cooler on Stops than the shaeffer. And it in end that's all that matters. I went for the Unit 2 which is oversized. My old Facnor furler was the bane of my existence and wanted to make sure this furler had the oomph to deal with what needed to be dealt with..

Next decision was the backstay adjuster. My old one was a block and tackle encased in an aluminum tube. Seemed like the dumbest idea to me because you couldn't monitor and maintain it easily. Anyway, that puppy's days were numbered. Until, I found out how much the hydraluic backstay adjuster cost.. ouch.. Sailtech was $900, with Holmatro at about $1,200 and Navtec a little bit more. Holmatro has been doing Hydraulics since Obama was born, so I figured I would buy from the pros.

2 weeks later, Stops was ready to become a sailboat again. New standing rigging, new furler, new running rigging, new lights, new wind instruments, new vhf aerial, new backstay adjuster, all new wiring.


The new spreader tip cups and rod end fittings.. really well built.. Going to feel a lot more secure in a big blow.



P3040948 The new Holmatro hydraulic backstay adjuster.. my Number #1 reef!


The new Harken IV furler. The old Facnor furler drum was recessed inside
the anchor locker but needed a big hole which just made be uncomfortable.
So we moved the Harken IV drum outside with a couple of long Shaeffer
link plates and will create a rubber gasket to reduce the size of the hole. Only problem I now need to get the genoa recut.. off to
Roosters sails..

Chris, Barret and Kalem were great. It wasn't a startforward rigging job because the old fittings were original (from 1992) and moving the furler out of the anchor locker wasn't that straighforward. Would highly recommend Svendon's rigging service!

Installing the Kiwi feathering prop

For a long time I have been wanting to install a propeller that had better performance when I wasn't using the engine. Yes, my 2 blade fixed propeller was a big source of drag when sailing (in the order of half a knot). I looked at both folding props (the blades fold away when sailing) or feathering props (the blades turn and feather into the flow presenting a smaller profile) to reduce the drag.

After a lot of research I decided on a feathering prop since it would give me better performance when motoring, better performance in reverse and less likelihood of the blades seizing up in their off position. The big negative being cost.. All the brass feathering props were over $2k, until I found the Kiwiprop from New Zealand for about $1,200.  It uses composite blades (same material as aircraft blades) and reduces vibration because the blades are lighter. Practical sailor as well as all the sailing forums recommended it highly. Done.

Thought I would need a prop puller to get the old prop off, but it was a already loose because I had put in a new shaft a couple of years ago.

P2170861 The old 2 blade fixed prop. Will do nicely as a spare


I removed the old zincs and cleaned the propeller shaft well


Installing the kiwiprop which was tailor made for my shaft was very straightforward


Finally I painted the Kiwiprop and shaft with Propspeed which should prevent fouling. I heard that composite blades were less resistant to fouling because they didn't contain copper and so was wary of the feathering blades seizing up due to marine growth.

The kiwiprop works great. The boat moves faster forward at lower revs, vibration is reduced and it packs a punch in reverse! So far so good, I would recommend the kiwiprop.

Designing and building a new electrical system with 450AH house battery bank and monitor

One of the biggest issues with Stops and taking it cruising was the capacity of the house battery.

The original house and engine batteries on Stops.

All it had was these two batteries one for the engine and other for the house..A total of 55Ah!  This obviously was not going to cut it, Stops had been setup for day sailing but cruising would require a much bigger battery bank.Not only that, I needed to add energy generation and monitoring systems and upgrade the size of all the wiring to accommodate the higher amperage from the new sources.

This was the probably the most complex project I had to do and so I got a quote from a couple marine electricians. The cheapest was $7,000 without all the parts, so I decided to do the job myself 🙂 Nigel Calder’s Book was my bible. I also validated some of design and equipment choices on cruisers’ forums.

I broke down the key tasks to upgrade the whole battery system. This was before I could add solar, wind and the high output alternator.

  1. Figuring out the size and type of house battery bank I needed
  2. Designing a new wiring system to accommodate all the new systems including solar, wind, high output alternator and a battery monitor.
  3. Building a house battery box to store the batteries
  4. Upgrading the engine batteries
  5. Installing a new battery switch and engine battery trickle charger
  6. Upgrading all the high amperage battery wiring on the the boat
  7. Installing the battery monitor

Figuring out the size of the house battery bank I needed

First job was figuring out the typical electrical usage on my trip to see how big a bank I needed.

Figuring out my electrical usage on passage and at anchor

My calculations came up with around 100 Ah/day on passage and 85 Ah/day at anchor, so I needed a house battery bank of 400 Ah (rule of thumb is 4 times your daily usage). My plan was to also have 3 sources of energy, Solar and Wind to generate the majority of the energy and then a high output alternator on the engine to top up when the engine was running. I didn’t want to run the engine just to charge up the battery for multiple reasons, the environment, limited diesel carrying capacity and the noise and smell it generates at anchor.

Location for new house battery box

First task was to find a place to build a battery box close to the engine. I found a good spot under the aft cabin bunk where a drawer was located. Next task was figuring out what batteries would fit in this area to give me a capacity of 400 Ah. My preference was AGMs but I couldn’t find a size that fit into the space and gave me the Ah i needed.

Trojan t105s.. they were heavy 🙂

After a lot of research I opted for Trojan 105 deep cycle golf cart batteries. They were proven for offshore cruising and were half the price of marine battery equivalents. I bought 4 Trojan T105s to provide 450 amp hours.

Designing a new wiring system to accommodate all the new systems

The existing basic electrical system

I drew out the existing AsIs wiring system and it was pretty basic. Because both engine and house batteries were both of the same type the charging systems (shore and alternator) were connected to both at the same time.

Logical circuit diagram with all the systems I intended to install

But with different battery types for my house and engine I had to install a trickle charger to charge the engine battery from the house battery. So in the design all the four different charging systems charged the house battery and the engine battery was charged by the echocharger trickle charger (see logical circuit diagram above). To implement this I also need a new battery switch with just on/off and both settings for when the engine battery was dead.

Physical layout of the new electrical system

I was also going to double the capacity of the engine battery so it didn’t need to be charged that often.

Building a house battery box to store the batteries

The trojans fit well

The Trojans fit into the space pretty well but because they were lead acid batteries I needed to build a sealed battery box around them to hold any acid in case of spills in rough seas or a knockdown.  To do this I used tri-ply wood and glassed all the wood on the inside.

Cutting the triply to size

First I cut the tri-ply to create the box.

Covered the inside edges with fiberglass

Next I laid up fiberglass cloth on the inside edges with resin.

Applied fibreglass to all edges of the box and sealed it to the floor

I then glassed the tri-ply to the floor creating a box that was sealed with fiberglass all around. I also created a vent to let out the battery gasses to prevent accumulation. The battery lid was also made of fiberglass.

The completed fiberglass sealed battery box under the aft bunk, with batteries installed!

I also installed straps to hold the batteries down in case of a knockdown. The green caps are hydrocaps which I installed to reduce gas emissions and water refills. I would highly recommend them for lead acid batteries.

I put hinges on the old drawer facade which opened to the breakers and fuses.

Upgrading the engine batteries

New engine battery bank

I ordered new AGM batteries that fit into the space of the old battery box and connected them together to double the capacity of the engine battery. I also installed straps  to hold the batteries down in place in case of a knockdown.

Installing a new battery switch

Drilling out the hole to out the batter switch

I installed a Bluesea battery switch that had additional fuses for the bilge pump and items wired directly to the battery.

The new battery switch and echocharger installed!

I also installed the echocharger (engine batter trickle charger) right next to it.

Upgrading all the all the high amperage battery wiring on the the boat

Once I had all the equipment installed I set about replacing all the existing battery and high amperage wiring because of the increased loads expected as well as the increased wiring distances to the house battery. Estimating the max amperage loads allowed me to calculate the gauges needed.

The magic crimping tool!

After the wire was ordered I used a special heavy gauge wire crimping tool to attach the lugs.

A finished cable with the headshrink and fireproof cover

I then heatshrinked the ends and covered the cables in the engine compartment with a fireproof sheath.

The wiring behind the new battery switch

Wiring the new battery switch took a lot of time.

Installing the battery monitor

With 4 different charging sources working at different times, it was critical to know the state of charge of the house battery. The old way of measuring voltage doesn’t really work since you need to disconnect all the charging sources and leave the battery overnight to get an accurate idea of the state of charge. This is why I decided to invest in a battery monitor. First to tell me the state of charge of the battery banks, especially the house battery and also tell me the current flowing in and out of the house battery so I can monitor the efficacy of the charging sources. I chose a Victron 602 because it was highly rated on cruiser forums.

Installing the shunt in the house battery

First step was installing the shunt in the house battery wiring and checking it worked.

I then installed the head at the chart table so I could see the battery status at all times. In the photo, the state of the charge of the house battery is 82.4%. Great thing to know 🙂

Next job was installing the charging sources: solar, wind and the high output alternator. No rest for the wicked 🙂

Project Summary

Total cost: around $1,500. A lot cheaper than $7,000 the electrician quoted me 🙂

Total project time: Around 3 months from the initial design and equipment choices to it fully working and installed.

Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.

Everything worked great, no failures at all with any part of the system. Only thing was that the battery monitor lost accuracy after a few weeks, so I had to recharge the batteries to 100% every 3-4 weeks.