Monthly Archives: March 2014

Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 4 (of many)

Drill Baby Drill!

At the end of part 3 I had started the drilling process. The Edson tiller arm can lock to the shaft in one of three ways: key, set screws or through bolt. For a hollow pipe rudder shaft I would think a through bolt is the easiest to deal with. A key will require an existing keyway or some machining work on the shaft (that will need to be removed from the boat). The through bolt is probably easier then set screws which would require drill/tapping two holes. I went with through bolt but your mileage may vary.

After I drilled through the outside in I chucked a 10″ 3/8 bit (Black Oxide) and started going at it. I used tape on the bit to gauge my progress. With lots of pressure I got through it in about 20 minutes. I pulled the bit every few minutes to clean the shavings. I could tell when I crossed from the stainless steel shaft to the bronze arm as the drilling got smoother and quieter. Never had any issues with overheating.


Starting with the long 3/8″ bit



Rudder Stop Modification

After getting the tiller arm attached I started working on rudder stop modification.  The rudder travel cannot exceed the drive travel or else the drive can be destroyed.  I hooked up the drive to the tiller and and moved it by hand to see where the drive stops are.  I then measured the distance to the rudder stops using drill bits as feeler gauges.  I then added 1/4″ as shock protection.

The rudder stop on the Sabre 36 is a piece of steel angle with rubber blocks.  To move the stops I shimmed up the rubber blocks using King Starboard blocks that ripped on the table saw.  I used two 1/2″ pieces to get to 5/8″ and 7/8″ on the rudder stops.  I wound needing a second attempt to add another 1/8″ to be sure even under hard shock load that the drive limit would not be tested.  Better safe then sorry.


Bump stops moved out using black starboard

Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 5 (of many)

Wash Your Lines

Calypso spent many years at a slip in Stamford, CT within sight of the NYC skyline and a mile or so from I-95.  Her lines had a nice pollution black tinge to them.  Last year we had minimum commissioning time (and the boat was 250 miles away) so I left them alone. This year I have some time to get things really shipshape.

I read a number of articles about cleaning lines in the clothes washing machine and decided to take the plunge.  There are some warnings around about doing damage to lines or the machine.  I minimized this by using our front loader, tightly coiling the line and bagging it in a pillow case with knot tied in the end to keep the line in.  For soap I used a normal dose of Tide HE and a few tablespoons of Oxyclean.  The line escaped the pillow case a few times but this is not an issue in the front loader.

The results are fantastic.




Much Improved

Sabre 36 Shower Support and Cabin Sole Repair (Part 1)

Taking an intermission from the autopilot project to introduce another project I have had underway since the fall.  Rebuilding the shower support and a section of cabin sole on a Sabre 36′.  Other Sabres have similar construction so I know this also applies to a 38′ MKII and others.


First let’s talk a little bit about Sabre construction and some common problems as these boats age.  I love these vintage Sabres.  Beautiful lines, good performance and they are true hand built boats.

Sabres are “stick” built similar to traditional home construction.  After the hull is assembled,  stringers and floor beams (glass covered plywood) are tabbed in.  They then install bulkheads and subfloors.  This is followed by furniture (berths, cabinets, doors).  Finally the finished floor (cabin sole) surface, trim and doors are installed.  The joiner work is excellent.  My 36′ has an abundance of teak veneered surfaces and lots of teak trim.  There is a lot of wood in these boats.  The 36′ does have molded headliner aft, over the quarter berth but that is it.  The end product is a boat that is very tight and stiff with no creaks, groans, flexing, etc.  The interior speaks for itself.

You cannot compare this to molded fiberglass pan interiors of other production sailboats.

There is a downside.  Water and leaks and can reek havoc on this type of interior over time. Keep the water on the outside of your Sabre!  Maintenance to keep this water out should be given a priority and will take more time and money over a fiberglass interior.   The oil finish needs to be maintained as well.  Most Sabres of this vintage came with oiled interiors (more on this another time).

Some of the water gets into the boat through the mast. The mast is keel stepped and sits on  a heavy beam fiberglassed into the hull.  The problem with Sabres of this vintage is the sole also sits on the beam and without a properly designed drain, the water will work into the cabin sole over time.  Sabre did put in some drain holes and sealed the floor edges with resin but after 20 years the holes clog and the sealing breaks down.  Many owners do not realize the progression until a major repair is needed.  When we were looking at Sabres, we came across one S34 MKII where the entire subfloor was wet.  I know of one S36 in Marblehead with a complete sole replacement ($$$) and many boatyards in New England are familiar with the issues.

Because of the stick built nature, a full replacement is very labor intensive as much of the furniture needs to be removed and the old sole cut out.  The new sole needs to be rebuilt in layers to follow the gentle curve in the fore and after section.  The original construction is 1/2″ subfloor + fiberglass  + shaping filler + 1/4″ teak/holly top piece.   It is built like a brick $hit house.  If you catch the issue early it is very easy to remediate with a number of options: better drainage holes, a redesigned step casting to catch the water, keeping the floor edges water tight.

When I first looked at Calypso, the cabin sole looked pretty good with even color and very minor staining.  I lifted up the floor boards and felt that the underneath of the subfloor was dry, a good sign.  I did notice some water in the shower pan and that the shower support (a piece of plywood that supports the edge of the floor at the head and keeps the shower water in) was in rough shape.  When we had the boat surveyed, this was the #1 item to get repaired. When I looked closer I saw there was some water damage in the subfloor amidships of the head.  I decided to wait on the repair until I could get the boat out of the water and dry.

At some point during the 2013 season my wife’s foot went through the floor right where the shower support had disintegrated.  The surveyor had the right idea making it #1.  I put a patch over the floor and started tackling the issue in the late fall after the boat had been hauled and the area had dried out a bit.


I started by unbolting the mast step casting, then I broke out the multi-master and cut away the rest of the shower support.  I also cut away the bottom some trim around the mast step that was wicking water.  I immediately saw the root cause:  There was a small “channel” in the beam that was funneling water right into the shower support.  This did good as it kept water away from the main cabin sole but after 23 years it finished off the shower support and damaged the cabin sole amidships of the head.

After the support was removed I could lie on the sole and reach my arm underneath to feel the extent of the damage.  Pretty bad right inside the support but drier forward and the main cabin sole was dry as it is seamed at the main beam.  You can see some staining the below picture where some moisture got in the corners.  I got out a straight edge and tape measure and marked the section to remove.  Patience and a multi-master is what is needed for this work.  I experimented with a hand held jig saw and straight edge but the multi-master wins. With practice you get amazing control.


This picture shows the section of sole removed. I was already starting to fit the new shower support and made some brackets to help support the new subfloor. Note the massive main beam that supports the mast.

Next part will cover the fitting of the new shower support and subfloor.

At Dawn on the Sea

I have always enjoyed night passages especially the morning watch.  Seeing the sun come up on the water reminds me of the boundless aspects of sailing a small boat on a big ocean.

Nothing like enjoying a nice cup of coffee while shaking off the night chill as the sun comes up.

Perfect conditions for reflections on life.


Unknown tall ship at dawn in the Gulf of Maine 2009


Headed East at dawn


Motoring at dawn in the calm waters of Long Island Sound during an overnight delivery 5/2013


Morning coffee off Nova Scotia – Marblehead to Halfiax

Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 3 (of many)

I am making some good progress on the project.  Over the past few days I have the drive aligned and the mounting foot bolted in. I threw together the wiring with temporary rudder sensor configuration and was able to successfully complete the Simrad autopilot installation program and drive test.  Everything is looking good.  Below are some notes for the alignment phase.

Drive Alignment:

The idea is to get things aligned so the drive is at the mid-way point when the rudder is perfectly centered.  Using a tape measure I hand centered the piston.  The Raymarine type 1 has 12″ throw so I set it at 6″ (as close as could).  I also unscrewed the drive end a few turns so it could either way for fine tune adjustment.  I then centered the rudder and noted that my tape mark on the top spoke of the wheel (helm) was centered as well with the spoke perfectly horizontal.

I connected the drive to the tiller arm and set the mounting foot on the base.  Did some alignment checks with a square and level to make sure everything looked ok.  I then drilled two holes through the foot and bolted it down with two SS 3/8 – 16 hex bolts.  I then checked center position by turn the wheel gently to the drive stop port and starboard and using a tape measure to check the height of what was the center spoke above the deck with the goal of identical measurements on either side (~23″ for a Sabre 36 with a 36″ destroyer wheel).  It required some tweaking and I wound up with a second set of mounting holes as I initially had the drive too far towards the center line.

Once I had everything aligned I rigged up the rudder sensor and ran through the calibration and alignment.  This will also show any inconsistencies with alignment.  The rudder sensor calibration should show consistent angles after setting one side.  During the rudder drive test everything sounded nice and smooth.  I then finished bolting down the foot with all four bolts.

During this phase I also measured for rudder bump stop modification.  The stops cannot let the drive exceed it’s limits which is 35 degrees on either side (assuming 10″ radius arm). The Sabre 36 factory setting is around 40+ degrees.  I gently pulled the tiller arm to the drive limit and then measured the gap.  In measuring I found out the  rudder  stop bar was a bit misaligned so one side needs a 5/8″ extension and the other a 3/8″.  I used drill bits like big feeler gauges to help measure  the gap.  I will post some pics of the bar and modifications next post.  I removed the bar to work on it off the boat in the garage.

I had some more time so I started drilling the 3/8″ hole through the rudder shaft and the long side of the tiller arm.  I used smaller bits to drill a pilot hole and it only took about 15 minutes to get through back side.  I am now working with a 10″ 3/8 bit to get through the far side and progress is slower.  I used WD40 as cutting fluid as it is easy to spray into the deep hole with the little straw.



Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 4 (of many)


Sabre Sailboat Yahoo Group

BTW – For those interested in Sabre Sailboats, please check the yahoo group.  I noticed that yahoo does a terrible job with SEO for their groups and it doesn’t really show up in a Google search for Sabre Sailboats.  There is an active community along with a rich archive of messages, photos and files that covers everything you want to know about Sabre Sailboats.  

Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 2 (of many)

Project List

This project has many facets.  My posts may bounce around a bit but here is the list of specific sub-projects:

  1. Build/install platform for drive.
  2. Install tiller arm on rudder shaft
  3. Align and install drive
  4. Modify rudder stops for 35 degrees
  5. Install rudder reference sensor
  6. Install autopilot control head in binnacle pod (will replace old ST4000).
  7. Install autopilot computer + power
  8. Install compass
  9. Wire up everything (head, compass, reference sensor, computer) on the NMEA2000 bus
  10. Modify below deck steering system cover to fit over ram

This is not a project for the meek.  From what I understand pros could charge up to $5K labor for this type of job.  There is quite a bit of custom fabrication.

Drive Selection and Installation

If you have a typical quadrant/cable steered boat then you will probably need a linear drive and tiller arm.  There are some quadrants designed to have linear drive attached but my Edson quadrant is definitely not one of these.  It is aluminum and not designed to be subject to point load forces from a ram.

There are a few choices in autopilot tiller arms.  I decided to go with the Edson bronze arm.  It is not cheap but it is one fine piece of bronze alloy.  Edson will custom bore it for the rudder shaft diameter.  The Sabre 36 factory spec for my boat is 3.475″.  I used a micrometer to double check and found it to be within .003″ at the top so I went with the factory spec.  It fits perfectly.  Required a twist to work it on and snugs together when the clamp bolts are tightened.

One fine piece of bronze

One fine piece of bronze.  Took about a week to get from Edson.  Because I have hollow rudder shaft and no keyway I went with the through bolt.

Test fit over the top of the rudder shaft.  Should be perfectly snug

Test fit over the top of the rudder shaft. Should be perfectly snug with no gaps when clamp bolts are tightened

For the linear drive I choose a Raymarine Type 1 Linear drive.  When shopping around you have options for hydraulic and mechanical drives.  I went with the Raymarine Mechanical for a number of reasons: low power consumption, widespread usage, flexible mounting options and flexible installation tolerances.  It also has a decent manual.

Raymarine Type 1 in the box

Raymarine Type 1 in the box

I wanted to tackle the drive install first.  The Sabre 36 has a fairly cavernous area aft of the helm.  I can lower myself completely into the lazarette and get good access to the rudder shaft and the mounting surfaces.   I spent some time in there visualizing the work and decided to install the drive on the port side, perpendicular to the center line.  The arm will be installed facing forward.  The drive will be mounted to a wedge tabbed into the hull.

The first step was to attach the tiller arm and get it on centerline.  I then clamped a 48″ level to it and worked on determining the wedge location.  I accounted for the height difference between the drive mounting foot and drive end using some blocks of wood between the level and arm.  For distance I used the mid-position measurement from the drive manual.  I used a sharpie to start marking:


Marking Locations

After the measuring was complete.  I did some scribing and built a wedge shaped platform using 1/2″ meranti marine ply.   This will be built up and tabbed in with west system and glass cloth.

Dry fitting everything

Dry fitting everything

Trying to keep the drive mid-extension for final dry fitting.

Trying to keep the drive mid-extension for final dry fitting.

Finally I was ready to start thinking about adhesion.  I decided first to install a mini-stringer to give the platform more attachment surface and stiffness.  The old paint and surface roughed up with a Multi-master and carbide grinding tip.

Stripping paint and roughing up the glass.  Using a vacuum to minimize dust in the boat.

Stripping paint and roughing up the glass. Using a vacuum to minimize dust in the boat.

Mini string epoxied in with first layer of tabbing

Mini stringer epoxied in with first layer of tabbing

Platform bonded to hull plus 4 #10 screws into stringer.  More tabbing coming soon

Platform bonded to hull plus 4 #10 screws into stringer. More tabbing coming soon.  Inside has been stiffened with a layer of cloth and west system before installation.

All bonding with done with West System and High Density bonding filler.  All tabbing done with no fillers.

Below Decks Autopilot DIY Part 3 (of many)

Working on the boat in the New England Winter

Most non-obsessed owners put their boats away over the winter.  From the fall to a reasonable point in the spring (mid-April?) the boats are covered, stuffed in a boat yard somewhere and  remain untouched.  The better heeled crowd may have their boat stored inside at reputable yard where pros may be doing larger projects.

For me working on the boat is therapy year round  so no reason to stop when others head for  Florida or the ski slopes.  I am lucky because I have the boat stored on my property (actually my driveway), I live in a town where this is allowed and acceptable (I am sure some of my neighbors are like WTF) and my wife lets me keep it there.  Also, I can do it because I drive a car with a low roofline and have a boat with nice bow overhang.  So the car goes under the boat about six feet, fitting like two puzzle pieces.

The boat stays plugged in with the battery charger on float and a few small space heaters are at the ready for when a project starts calling.  Yes, you do get strange looks from the neighbors when they see you on the ladder climbing in during a snow storm.

Using the heaters I can get the cabin warmed up for general work.  I have also done some epoxy/glass work by keeping one of the heaters focused on the work area until the epoxy is completely set (10-12 hours).

Today was a good example.  Relaxing Saturday – I wanted to get a few hours in on the autopilot project.  Patagonia thermals under the work pants, thermal socks and heavy hoodie pulled over a winter hat.  Put a heater down in the aft lazarette and I am ready to go.ImageImage