Friday, 18 June 2010

A new outboard bracket - repairs and improvements

Nice fishing weather going by, but I have decided fitting an outboard to the cat has to be a high priority - apart from greatly easing the loading of ice and getting in and out of harbour (and potentially, unloading fish!) it will allow me to work the boat single-handed. Sometimes the weather is great... and all potential crew are busy doing other things.

So I've almost finished building an outboard bracket. The problem with many outboard brackets for catamarans is that they hang low enough under the cockpit floor to catch the waves, making noise and slowing the boat down. And I'd been told by the previous owner of the boat that going downwind in a storm, waves overtaking the boat from behind would frequently wash water right over the engines. So in trying to find a solution to these problems, I went to Millbrook in Cornwall to have a look around. Only one catamaran currently in the yard used outboards, but the brackets were an inspiring design:

This bracket is hinged at the front. Though the engine would need removing first, the bracket could potentially be raised level with the cockpit floor. However, the engines, like the engines I got with my catamaran, are 9.9 hp Yamaha's, weighing around 50kgs each. That's too much weight to lug around at sea, lifting an engine into a locker.

My new outboard is a 6hp Tohatsu, weighing 25 kg. That's light enough to be able to lift off the bracket and put into a locker (something Seafish require me to do at sea, to still qualify as an engineless fishing boat). So I figured, once I've put the engine away, why not put the bracket away too, and fill the gap in the cockpit floor with a removable floor section? That's what I'm building now, a bracket like the one on the cat in Millbrook, but removable rather than just hinged.

Here's the state of play so far:

Most of the stress will be borne by oak along the top and at the back. The rest is plywood epoxied together. Being a complex shape, I'm having to glass it in several goes, so it's taking a little time.

Meanwhile, I've rebuilt the winch that was playing up. Taking it apart, I saw that the wrong sort of grease had been used the last time the winch was serviced, causing some corrosion that I had to smooth to a good surface with wet/dry sandpaper, before rebuilding using the right grease. Good as new now. Unfortunately, I'll have to do the same to the other two winches on board, but it can wait.

The outboard has gone back to the shop for its first service.

I've sorted out the mess that was the spinnaker.

I'm changing the clips on the longline snoods from fiddly snaps to bigger clips - much easier to connect/disconnect. This should enable me to set my lines much more quickly. While I'm at it, I'm attaching a lead weight to the middle of the snoods to prevent them from spinning around the mainline. This should enable me to actually catch some fish.

I'm making other changes to simplify my use of downrigger lines. I'll post about this if it proves successful.

Enough! My last dose of epoxy on the outboard bracket is hard enough now to allow me to get on with the next session.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

First trial of new techniques

Loaded six boxes of ice, and we were off into a messy seaway with a gradually fading wind. Perhaps we took our preference for fair weather a step too far...

Becalmed on the Skerries bank for the afternoon. A good spot to gather bait, but once we had some bait, we'd have the chore of refreshing their water to keep them alive, so we waited till the wind began again. When a breeze arrived, we fished for sandeels, and found only a couple of mackerel. Oh well, we can try for bait at the fishing grounds, or rely on softbaits.

The wind came from the south west, as did the tide, so we pulled up all sail and tried to get round Start Point before the tidal stream became to strong but we didn't make it. Managing only 4-5 knots in a light wind, having to tack through a current of 1-2 knots directly against us - do the trigonometry - no progress. It had been a long day, having been up at 5 to make preparations for the trip, and getting the ice and so on, so the prospect of sailing against the wind and tide round the point for most the night held no attractions. We decided to anchor at Hallsands:

and managed to dump our anchor right on the outer anchor symbol.

Hallsands at sunset:

and Start Point:

Our GPS has an anchor alarm function - if our position moves by just 20 metres, the alarm is fired. Unfortunately, the alarm isn't very loud at all, so I moved things around so I could sleep with my head next to the GPS.

The anchor held, but I was awoken at 2 am by the noise of waves slapping against the hulls. Looking out, I saw that the wind had increased and shifted to the north, the increased fetch allowing the waves to build. The wind was still pretty light though, so I lay awake considering the options. If the wind increased and the anchor didn't hold, we wouldn't have long to retrieve the anchor and get the sails up and before we were driven onto Lobster Rock, or Shoelodge Reef or something else hard and just a little way downwind. At the moment, the tide too was heading south, and with the wind and tide in the same direction, the water was relatively smooth. When the tide turned at 4 am, we'd have wind against tide, which builds waves much larger than just the wind can manage. We get no more sleep after that time. Then also, the tide would again prevent us from getting around Start Point.

At 3 am we went out into the dark to pull up the anchor and to raise the sails, to get around Start Point before the tide turned. Normally, it would be easier to raise the sails first, but since our route was downwind, we could do without the complications of sails flogging about in the dark as we were on the foredeck getting the anchor up. We could just raise the jib later.

Without a windlass, getting the anchor up can be hard work! So we lead the anchor rope across the coachroof to a sheet winch, and Fred winched from the cockpit as I pulled from the foredeck. We had to stop for a minute so Fred could come and see the sparkling fluorescence on the rope, but otherwise, it went smoothly. With just the jib, we went round Start Point slowly, but I didn't want to turn into the wind to enable us the get the mainsail up until we were clear of all those hazards, made more hazardous due to the dark.

With all sail set in the breeze, Fred sailed for the Catlin banks as the sun rose. A couple of hours later, I took over the watchkeeping and we arrived at 7 am. I set about laying a longline so that we could be fishing as I had breakfast.

The longline was fiddly to set up. All worked as planned, but there are a lot of lines involved and my makeshift line-handling equipment slowed things down, as did the snood clips being too small to easily connect to the mainline. It took 1.5 hours to set a length with 25 hooks. The next time would be quite a bit quicker, as some things I had to do wouldn't need doing again. I'd set the the length of line between the floats and the weights at 25 metres, so the lures would be close to the bottom:

The wind was light and fickle, and it took a fair bit of work to get the boat to sail for the banks at a gentle 1.5 knots - fast enough to make the lures wiggle, but slow enough to keep the mainline low. Storm jib and double reefed mainsail in a force 1-2!

After breakfast, we drifted over one of the banks, and I was disappointed to see on the fishfinder than the depth was closer to 35m than 25. Some of this would be due to the tidal rise, which I should have accounted for. So the lures were 10m from the bottom - not very useful, and tedious to pull it all in to reset. So we left it down, and sailed over slowly the other bank, which was a bit shallower, but not much.

A fisherman friend had come out in his boat and had a couple of small ling and small pollack, and I gave him a couple of buckets of ice to keep them fresh.

Hauling in the longline, we had our first fish with this method:

But that was it - a lot of work for one small pollack. Notice the green snood line is twisted round the mainline - I need to add weights to each snood to prevent this from happening.

So, we had tested the trolling longline idea, and found ways to improve it. And from the evidence of our poor haul, the view on the fishfinder, and our fisherman friend's catch, there weren't many fish about. So there seemed little point in resetting the longline.

More important was to try out my other new method, the improvised downrigger setup:

This worked just as planned, with the small weight on the fishing line sinking the float on the downrigger line. We were easily able to keep our lures close to the bottom sailing and up to 3 knots. Details of this system are available here. Unfortunately, trailing lures through nearly empty water doesn't make fish come by magic.

Our fisherman friend came back in the afternoon for more ice. He had a few fish - a few small ling, a few small pollack, and an embarrassingly small cod. I think he done better because he'd used live bait, and he had been running about all day trying one spot after the other. Oh well, I had plenty of ice to spare.

It was time to call it a day. A small pollack and a couple of mackerel is a pathetic haul, but I'd tested by setup, and found ways to make improvements for next time, and next time, we'll go further to find the fish, the Channel islands perhaps.

Meanwhile, some things to fix. The Rutland Charge regulator, which prevents my battery becoming over charged from the solar panel has died. I had to bypass it, but I need it repaired so that the battery can regain a full charge after each trip. I put some wooden wedges into the gap between the daggerboards and the daggerboard cases. One of the wedges has slipped down, jamming the daggerboard so that it can't be raised. Tricky. I'll have to winch it up, but before I can do that, I have a sheet winch to fix - one of them has become quite stiff of operate. And when all that's sorted out, I need to sort out my longline materials before I'll be ready again for another trip.

Our return journey was fast, as we set off with a favourable tide and wind. We raised the spinnaker for the first time, and I was disappointed to be slowly overtaken by a couple of monohulls close to the coast. When they furled their jibs and left their mainsails up, I remembered that whenever I am overtaken by another boat, it is usually because they are running their engine!

The spinnaker stayed up till we got to Berry Head, where there were lots of little boats fishing for mackerel. The sock refused to come down over the spinnaker, so we had to drop it onto the net between the hulls, full of wind as it was. Tricky, but we managed it, and sailed round to the mooring with just one tack, leaving behind a monohull that was motoring behind us.

Oh yes, I have a bundled up spinnaker in a bag to sort out too.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Off fishing

Finding crew has frequently been a problem. Offering a share of the catch doesn't count for much if the catch is tiny. I sail according to the weather, and if it blows hard for a week, there is no work. Work is 'occasional', and so only occasionally attractive to people with jobs and other commitments.

Today I have crew, booked for the next three days. The unpleasant weather is passing, and the wind is dying to a pleasant breeze. I have hopes that if my new techniques can catch a reasonable quantity of fish, I'll have less trouble in future finding crew.

Hurray! If you're really keen, you could watch us preparing to leave on the Fish Quay webcam, watch our departure on the Brixham Breakwater webcam, and monitor our progress across Start Bay on a much better webcam. If you watch carefully, you might see us stop by the Skerries on Start Bay to gather some sandeels, before disappearing into oblivion (round Start Point) to look for the bass. Good luck with that.

Now, where's my sign? last -

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fair weather fisherman

The boat is ready to go, and for a change, crew is available. Winds are light, but tomorrow there'll be heavy downpours, so I'm postponing going out till Friday. The forecast for Friday till Sunday is perfect - light winds, and if the forecast is reliable, we should get following winds for both the trip out and the trip back.

When I tell people I'm trying to be a commercial fisherman, a phrase I often hear is 'out in all weathers'. As if fishermen are expected to endure everything the weather can throw at them and just carry on fishing. It's a strange idea because heavy weather just makes everything an effort - even going below to make a cup of tea can seem not worthwhile. Heavy weather is tiring, and makes accidents more likely. I'm a fair weather fisherman, and am glad to have it that way.

I guess the reason some fisherman have to be out there day after day is that they have so much invested in their boats, they can't afford to have the boat idle while they go and occupy themselves with gentler work. And perhaps some fishermen may not have other work to do. My boat was a tiny fraction of the cost of a trawler, and a day tied to the mooring buoy isn't a huge expense. So with other work available, I can choose my seasons and weather, even postponing a trip by a day to avoid rain!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Dinghy repairs, and new windows for the catamaran.

My dinghy is an old Wayfarer sailing dinghy, with a centreboard. When I returned from my last trip, it was half-full of water. It had sprung a leak at the junction of the centreboard case and the hull. I guess I had damaged it lugging boxes of ice on board. It was a weak point of thee dinghy that I'd considered removing, but I left it in place, the sooner to get fishing. False economy!

So now the dinghy is out the water, the centreboard case chopped away, the slot filled with offcuts of Airex foam, and then glassed over. While I'm working on the dinghy, I'll fit a chain I can use to lock the outboard in place. I had been taking the outboard home with me, but it is heavy and if I keep struggling back and forth with it, one day, I'll drop it in the water. Probably better to risk theft, and do what I can to make it difficult to steal.

Meanwhile, I have been given a whole set of new windows for the boat! New, thick sheets of Perspex, cut to shape. The original windows are old and crazed and ready for retirement. When I fit the new windows, I'll be able to sit indoors and keep watch. Even in pleasant weather, it's nice to get out of the sun and the wind for a while and relax. And when it's cold, it's great to leave the boat to the Autohelm, and sit inside with a cup of tea. Not sure when I'll get to fit the windows though. I need nice dry weather to do that, which is also fishing weather. Perhaps, if the wind falls really light, we might do it as we sail to the fishing grounds.