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Ericson 38--Refit after Hawaii Cruise 2017

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2017 breadcrumb trail here. Click on the day icons for log entries.

I spent more than a year outfitting and preparing the 1984 E38 for this solo sail from LA to Oahu and return. Upgrades included new standing rigging (partial), running rigging, uncoated lifelines, backstay chainplate, diaphragm bilge pump system, renewed DC panel, three Group 31 batteries and charger, 9 oz. mainsail with three reefs and 120 high-clew genoa. Most projects are covered in the blog. Of gear and gizmos,


--Cabin house fuel jug racks. Made of 3/4 inch exterior ply with glue and drywall screws, they are a snug fit for two-each 5-gallon diesel fuel containers from Home Depot. The idea is one-cruise use, but in fact when I went to discard the old racks built for the 32-3 and kept outside behind a shed, I had to break them apart with a sledge hammer. Such racks have to withstand breaking waves, and when full of fuel they're heavy. I did have to alter the attachment to the stays offshore, after they shifted when leeward stays became slack. Fuel jugs tied to lifelines along the rail, a common solution, are hard to secure well and more likely to be swept by green water.

--Sailomat Vane steering. I mounted on this boat the Sailomat 800 from the 32-3. Once again it performed well, even in light air on the larger boat. However, in heavy weather and 10-foot seas on the approach to Oahu the oar seemed often to lose contact with the water, meaning 36 hours of lousy control and an irritated skipper. On arrival I realized that the angle of attack of the oar had changed 10 full degrees. Hmmm. Five large bolts maintain that critical angle, and any one of them would hold it. All five were loose. After several beers and a look in the mirror, I recalled a comment made to myself a day before departure. The comment was, "don't forget to bring both 18mm spanners so you can finish tightening the vane bolts." I never did it. With the bolts tightened the vane behaved perfectly on the sail home. It is true that, when going to windward, a squall makes the boat head up even if wind direction is unchanged. On upwind legs, the sail plan must be adjusted for large changes in wind velocity. I think this is true of all wind vanes.

--AIS transponder. With this boats' existing mast-top antenna I picked up commercial shipping 100 miles away, and on approaches had a dozen ships on screen simultaneously. And they had me. (Much greater range than on the 32-3, where Bruce later found the coaxial cable to be badly frayed at masthead). Time to Closest Point of Approach was accurate. The Vesper 800 unit draws half an amp per hour and is always on. One glance at the nav table and one's own course, speed and lat and long are visible at all times. It is just a superb system, especially for short-handed crews. A piercing alarm awoke me when any ship got within 5 miles. Twice the collision alarm sounded, meaning the CPA was .10 nm or less. All commercial shipping uses it now. Everybody except the US Navy, which prefers to run silent so you won't know they're there until they run into you.

--Bunk Boards. I built a plywood board to fit between the table and the bunk. With a flange to capture the lower bulkhead, it requires only two screws into the underside of the table. This rig confines the sleeper on starboard tack, isn't too hard to get in and out of, and greatly strengthens the table (which takes heavy lunge-punishment in a seaway). A standard bunk board worked well to keep me secure on the long port-tack sleeping bench.

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--Universal diesel. With 75 gallons of fuel aboard and a burn of only 1/2 gallon/hour at 1700 rpms at 5+ knots, I was able to cross 700 miles of doldrums, of which there were more than expected this time.

--Diesel blanket. It is amazing how much the low and high-frequency sounds of a diesel engine are reduced by packing blankets and pillows around and under the companionway steps. Made all the difference and even allowed me to listen to the stereo under power, sort of. I plan to create a permanent under-ladder blanket of Sunbrella and sound-deadening material to be left in place all the time.

--Companionway reefing. I led luff reef cringle downhauls back to rope clutches on the port cabin house. I could stand in the companionway to reef and shake out. I could do it on all points of sail and in all weather (the downhauls help pull the sail down when running in heavy air). What makes such a system work without fouls is to take up slack on all lines as you reef, so the affair remains neat at all times. This was a case where not having a dodger was a joy. All the lines lie before you and visibility is excellent. The small companionway of an E38 remains dry most of the time, and even in a rain squall the hatch can be drawn to one's waist as you work. If green water comes aflyin', it is usually preceded by a loud warning as the hull cleaves a breaking crest. At night the effectiveness of the warning is reduced by 39 percent. Saline eye wash is very healthy, however, and I find it easy to push an eyeball back into its socket with my thumb.

--Hatch bib . I made a plywood shield to direct rain water away from the closed hatch. This allows the companionway to remain open in a downpour or gentle squall. Near Hawaii the cabin temp is sometimes 90 degrees, so sealing yourself below without ventilation is to be the frog in the pot gently approaching a boil.

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--Table caddy. A custom box to hold drinks, plate, book proved effective. Mine has nonskid on the bottom and fits between the table rails. Without such a gizmo nothing can be put down unattended on the cabin table. The seat is still tilted of course, and sitting on one cheek gets old fast, so my next invention will be a butt caddy to alleviate the half-assed nature of sitting at a table to windward.

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--One-piece transparent acrylic hatch board. In an out with one hand, stores in bag in lazarette. In rainy weather, kept in quarterberth for easy access. It is very useful to be able to see out in bad weather.

Raymarine wireless anemometer. These have multiple mounts so you can choose either the helm or a mount on the binnacle facing the companionway. With that mount I could see wind speeds without leaving the cabin. The wind direction indicator at masthead flops around in slop and sometimes reads erratically. But the anemometer functioned well. Unit is powered entirely by a solar panel on the readout. Buy it from West Marine, with the extended warranty. Nobody knows how long these things will last.


New Forespar Carbon Fiber Whisker Pole. The control line exploded ten days out in 15 knots of wind, meaning I was stuck with a short pole for a thousand miles. There is a design flaw: the exit port of the control line is too small, and sharp CF chafes the line (the factory line port is shown in the photo over "Forespar"). It took me 12 hours to enlarge the hole and run new line in Hawaii. I expect Forespar will fix this defect, which has been reported by other sailors this summer. I also expect them to replace my $2200 pole.

[Note: Forespar later sent a truck to my house to pick up the pole. The repair is here ]

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Chafed-through roller furler control line. This was a brand new line which exploded five feet outside the drum. I had enough line to replace it, but never could, in the next 2,000 miles, figure out where or why such chafe occurred. I conclude something got fouled on the bow at night, and damaged the line. But what? How? There was never such chafe again, but of course I couldn't see the future so the puzzle nagged. A busted roller furler line sends the entire genoa streaming. It is not a good situation for a singlehander, who must wrestle down a big unhanked sail, fix the line, rewind it on its drum, and then somehow feed the sail back into its luff groove on the pitching bow while hauling up an internal jib halyard on the mast.

Hurricanes. None came close. I put this down to the Jordan series Drogue Ignacio loaned me, and a sea anchor, and an emergency life raft. The storms concluded that I was well prepared and it would probably be easier to just drown somebody else. A drogue does give you lots of unjustified confidence--but hey, any confidence is better than none.

The Trade Winds. You call those trade winds? Stop, start, cough, wiggle, promise, disappoint? It was like dating all over again.


All in all, a fast and enjoyable passage. Eighteen days out, 22 back. Would have been much faster with more wind. On the other hand, motoring keeps the beer cold in the refrigerator. The Ericson displayed no design flaws, remained completely dry inside the entire journey, and was wizard to windward in heavy air and light (that third reef really helps). Although there were no big issues, I used every tool I brought (and I brought them all) and fought chafe on every moving part every day. I must've tightened two dozen machine screws on boom, mast and other gear that were loosened by motion; replaced half a dozen cotter pins and rings; caught just in time many incipient failures, and greased or tightened or re-taped or re-led or repositioned a hundred things that in the normal course of yachting are no problem, but when sailed 24 hours a day slowly work themselves into a dither. Find them before they break and all is well. Miss one and the penalty is unpleasant.

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  1. Tomwine's Avatar
    Christian it is always such a joy to read anything you write. Thanks for providing many nice mornings drinking my coffee and reading your posts providing tons of great information for all of us that love to sail.
    Tom Winesett
  2. Christian Williams's Avatar
    The link to the breadcrumb trail and noon position reports is here.
  3. GregB's Avatar
    Lets ship that baby up to the Salish Sea. I think all the former Theloni(eye?) should live up here.

    I'll get my checkbook ready.

    Welcome home!

  4. ignacio's Avatar
    With so much motoring, I wondered about the performance of the wheel pilot...did you install a new one on this boat? I didn't motor as much as you did, but had several electrical and mechanical problems with mine.
  5. Christian Williams's Avatar
    I had a new Raymarine EV-100. It works fine motoring or sailing below 15 knots (might have to reduce sail by 15 knots, and it can't handle a seaway which makes for constant robust correction). Overall, same as the SPX-5 earlier model.

    One trick is to reduce the "hard over time" setting, which makes the unit respond slower and therefore not work so hard. I use "6" cruising. But that is far too slow a turn for in harbor, where you steer by the buttons. In harbor, or for daysailing, I change the setting to 20, which gives a prompt turn to dodge buoys or other boats. The setting is entirely counter-intuitive: a lower number makes for a slower response, even though the setting is for number of seconds lock to lock.

    At $1200+ for the whole deal, I consider these units basically disposable, and the most useful piece of gear on the boat for shorthanded or crowded-cockpit sailing.
    Updated 09-06-2017 at 08:37 AM by Christian Williams
  6. kenstarkey's Avatar
    I just watched your video on the solo sail to Hawaii and absolutely loved it. I also have an Ericson 38 and have dreamt of taking such a voyage.
  7. Plenamar's Avatar

    I have watched several of your videos (including the latest one on the Hawaii voyage). Congratulations on you seamanship and "life-philosophy" observations.

    We can learn a lot from your "no-nonsense" approach to sailing and high adventures.

    Best wishes,

    Marcos Gallacher
    SV "Mar Dulce" (Buenos Aires, Argentina).

    Personal web Page:
  8. Rick R.'s Avatar
    Thank you for sharing Cristian.

    Your "winners" list should be listed not as UL or Good Housekeeping approved but CW Tested, Tried and True!
  9. David Grimm's Avatar
    Excellent book and amazing video. I have my eyes on an 89' Ericson 38! Looking to keep it in the Hudson. Thank you for the inspiration!