Thursday, December 02, 2021


Cruising update

It’s been great to get cruising again and with summer now underway this can only get better. 

It’s now official that La Nina weather conditions are expected this summer, bringing warmer than average sea and air temperatures (the sea temperature off Kawau is already 20.5d). The downside is La Nina also brings NE winds, increased rain and potentially some cyclonic conditions with the probability of increased thunderstorms. These can be problematic due to sudden and sometimes severe wind direction shifts, so anchor with care to allow for this.

We’ve done two week-long cruises recently, one to the Ponui area and one to Mahurangi and Kawau.

Diane landed this monster 72cm snapper in 35 metres SE of Kawau

You can’t always get what you want

We’ve owned our 16 metre Salthouse SportFisher, Rapport, for two years now and after 177 nights aboard find her a capable and comfortable cruiser. But when you buy a pre-owned boat you inevitably make some compromises and a major one for us was not having a large RHIB. We really enjoy exploring areas around our anchorage and ideally wanted a RHIB at least three metres long with a 15hp 4-stroke outboard and able to be lifted aboard using a crane. Rapport came without a crane and with an old Chinese built Takacat inflatable that we rubbished after a few weeks as it had too many pontoon air leaks to be economically repaired. In any case we didn’t like the Takacat’s inflatable floor limiting movement in the RHIB.

It was December and we urgently needed a dinghy that two of us could easily lift onto our foredeck cradle, so bought a new lightweight (33kg) Aquapro SLR 2.6m rigid-hulled inflatable and Honda 2.5hp 4-stroke air cooled outboard. We used the same outboard during our Med cruising years and found it very reliable and easy to start and lift. But for Rapport this was always a temporary solution and so aided by our best friend and long time boating companion, Frank, we started researching deck cranes and larger inflatables.

We knew this was going to be an expensive project and that making improvements to a boat doesn’t necessarily add value. A trusted marine broker’s thoughts were that future potential buyers of Rapport would expect a vessel of this size to carry a substantial RHIB and crane, so adding these would increase her sales appeal and value. We didn’t need too much convincing and reassured by his advice and the prospect of lots more fun ahead decided to proceed.

Finding a suitable crane

It would be possible to lift the new outboard from the RHIB using a simple transom-mounted hand-operated winch, unload the other gear and then pull the empty RHIB onto the foredeck by hand, but we’re getting a bit long in the tooth for that and want to be able to launch and retrieve the whole rig with minimal effort.

The RHIB with its outboard, fuel and gear will weigh about 150kg so we need a 24V DC powered crane with a safe working load of at least that. We find plenty of options for large cranes but few for smaller units.

Motor Yacht Services (MYS) are the New Zealand agent for Brisbane-based Australian Davits and Cranes (ADC) and we find them very helpful having fitted many ADCs with good results. MYS’s owner Dean Ryder checks Rapport and quotes $13,973 plus installation for their 350kg capacity crane mounted on our starboard side with its standpipe passing through our master berth’s wardrobe down to the keel to support the load. Delivery was quoted as 8 weeks ex factory.

Oceanlift cranes are produced on a bespoke basis in Rotorua and we find owner Mark Thomson also provides lots of information. Coincidentally the boat owner next to us in the marina is very happy with his Oceanlift. Mark visits Rapport and quotes $13,711 plus installation for his 200kg capacity crane with 6 weeks delivery.

Both units will suit us however the ADC’s additional capacity will provide an extra safety margin, more future flexibility and enhanced resale value. These factors combined with the fact that MYS install their ADC cranes whereas we need a separate contractor to install the Oceanlift lead us to choose ADC. We expect the installation to take around three days and to cost to around $6-8,000.

Which RHIB will suit us best?

We’re looking for a rugged rigid-hulled RHIB about 3 metres in length with room for four adults, able to plane with at least two adults aboard using a 15hp outboard, with generous beam for lateral stability, a snub rather than pointed bow for greater internal space forward, a false flat deck for easier internal movement and to keep contents dry, a high bow to deflect spray, robust pontoons with three separate air compartments, paddles rather than oars and rowlocks, internal lifting points, rubbing strakes, storage for anchor and accessories and handles on the pontoons and bow. We’ll also fit top-of-the-line Beachmaster pneumatic wheels and two rod holders. We have a preference for a powder coated alloy hull (being lighter and easier to repair), but will accept GRP all other things being equal.

We eliminate centre console options as in our view they take up too much room in a 3 metre RHIB and add too much weight, complexity and expense.

I’ve had good experiences with Aquapro and Frank has with Quicksilver, so we make a short list including these plus Southern Pacific and Zodiac. Initially we weren’t aware of AB and Seafarer and later add these to our list. All sellers we speak to are able to provide a complete package including outboard and are willing to negotiate deals.

Frank and I discuss design with Neil at Seafarer

Ruggedness largely relates to selection of pontoon material and the current four mainstream offerings are plasticised polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as pvc or vinyl), blends of pvc with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), blends of polychloroprene (commonly known as Neoprene) with chlorosulphonated polyethylene (commonly known as Hypalon) and lastly straight TPU.

In each case these materials are used to coat a polyester or polyamide (commonly known as nylon) fabric. Although there’s lots of debate about the pros and cons of each material due to different product qualities and variations in design, manufacture and quality control, the above list represents an ascending order of technical excellence. Manufacture and quality control are vitally important and we’re aware of two successful New Zealand brands that encountered major problems when they switched production to China, eventually reverting to New Zealand manufacture.

Until recently the Neoprene/Hypalon blend was considered the gold standard, but opinion has largely turned towards TPU taking that spot, in fact the US Navy conducted a study of pontoons in 2001 concluding “tubes constructed of TPU exhibit better key physical properties than tubes constructed of Hypalon ... better tensile strength, tearing strength, puncture resistance and abrasion resistance.” It also has superior air retention, chemical (ie fuel) resistance and seams can be welded whereas Hypalon can only be glued.

Despite the above Frank and I have both experienced good results previously with RHIBs having pvc pontoons and their life can be maximised by always using a storage cover and fitting chaps to provide the pontoons with extra ultra violet, abrasion and puncture resistance.

Wed been inclined towards Zodiac, their brand being synonymous with RHIBs, but they only offered us RHIBs built in Indonesia with GRP hulls and pvc pontoons and availability appeared to be an issue. Of the imported brands we’re most impressed by AB, produced in Belgium with an alloy hull and using a Neoprene/Hypalon blend for tubes. However wanting a few custom features added we visit local producer Seafarer Inflatables, based in Dairyflat north of Auckland where we’re immediately impressed by owner Neil Curtling’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his extensive knowledge based on 35 years in the industry. Seafarer use a unique hot air welding process and their product incorporates all of the features we’re looking for and more, such as U-Deck providing a great cosmetic appearance and underfoot feel. They also produce for another well-known brand as well as repairing all types of inflatables and can produce pontoons using either a PVC/TPU blend, Hypalon or TPU. We’re also impressed by their 10 year warranty. After discussions with Neil we decide to go a little larger than 3 metres and buy their SF340R, 3.4 metres long with a generous beam of 1.8 metres. Although we would have been happy with pontoons made from PVC/TPU we decide to go with the top of the line TPU, largely because this is the ultimate in durability and our RHIB is our life boat in a worst case scenario. This costs an additional $755 bringing the price to $6,992. Neil’s attention to detail continues to impress, for example suggesting that he drill the mounting holes for wheels and rod holders in the alloy hull prior to its powder coating to minimise future corrosion.

Look for Part 2 shortly covering outboard and ancillary equipment selection and then Part 3 covering crane installation and RHIB performance.

Saturday, October 09, 2021


Our last posting detailed how cruising at around displacement speed dramatically decreases fuel consumption and increases cruising range. It also highlighted the problems which can be encountered through cruising consistently at low rpm. Running diesel engines for long periods at idling speed is particularly detrimental and engine “wear” is said to occur at about double the rate compared to running them under normal loading. Ideally for that reason engines should only have 3-5 minutes of idling following start up and then be brought up to around 1,200 rpm with some load applied.

Not only can idling cause a build-up of carbon in the engine but also causes mirror glazing, which is the creation of a mirror-like surface finish on cylinder bores, eventually allowing more oil to pass the rings and creating more blow-by (the adverse effects of which were detailed in Part 1 of this article). Mirror glazing can also be caused by constantly running engines at the same rpm, so this should be avoided. Before shut down a diesel should also be idled for 3-5 minutes to allow the turbo to cool down. In practice this is catered for when entering your marina or approaching your anchorage.

Now let’s consider some options for low speed cruising and their relative merits.

Option 1 – run both engines at low rpm

If you’re wanting to do this, avoid running below 1,200 rpm and it’s recommended to at least run at 60-75 per cent of WOT for about 30 minutes after reaching full operating temperature, then again for about 15 minutes every 4 hours and then for about 30 minutes about 1 hour before shutdown. This last one is considered to be especially important to reduce soot formation and to clean the turbocharger and it’s better to spend less than optimal time at higher rpm than none at all.


There will be a considerable reduction in fuel usage and increase in range.

All ancillary equipment driven by the engines such as power steering, refrigeration compressors, hot water manifolds will operate (unlike Option 2).

Both gearboxes and drive trains will be cooled (unlike Option 2).

Full maneuverability is maintained and there is no rudder bias (unlike Option 2).

There is no potential problem with prop shaft couplings (unlike Option 2).

In practical terms this option is easy to manage.


Some monitoring and planning is required for the periods at higher rpm and it is difficult to achieve on short cruises.

May cause issues with alternators.

Hours-based service costs may increase because you are using more engine hours to run a given distance.

Option 2 – run on one engine at a time at higher rpm

Under this system only one engine is used at a time, alternating periodically (eg every one to two hours).


It will take more rpm on the one selected engine to reach your chosen speed than it would be using two, thereby eliminating or at least minimising the problem of light loading.

Fuel saving and range increase will be considerably less than Option 1, but still in the order of 10 to 15 per cent.

Higher rpm will make your in-use alternator run more efficiently.

The process is relatively east to manage.

The frequency of hours-based engine servicing is reduced thus saving service costs.


Maneuverability is considerably reduced using one engine, particularly at low speed so this option should only be considered in open waters and not for example coming into or out of marinas.

There will be a slight steering bias in the direction away from the in-use engine ie using only the port engine the vessel will veer slightly towards starboard.

The not-in-use engine’s prop will still turn or “windmill” causing drag and the gearbox to operate. The inactive engine’s gearbox must be kept in neutral so that the engine doesn’t turn over. Most gearboxes are water-cooled using its engine’s heat exchanger, so without the engine running this cooling will be lost and gearbox damage can potentially occur. Consult your installations Owners’ Manual to ascertain for how long you can windmillThey normally suggest running your engine for about five minutes before wind milling and will advise the allowed time interval before it needs to be started again to activate the heat exchanger and circulate gearbox oil. My Caterpillar manual recommends idling the engine every 12 hours for five minutes, however the Twin Disc gearbox manual recommends idling the engine for a few minutes every hour, so I will follow that guideline.

If initiating this procedure it would be a good idea to check the temperature at the rear of the wind milling prop’s gearbox using an infra-red thermometer to see how long it takes for the temperature to rise. The lower the boat speed, the less the wind milling engine’s gearbox temperature will rise. Bear in mind there’s a good chance that some time in the future you’ll have a problem with one engine and need to run just on the other one, so this is not a wasted exercise.

Take into account that engines often run ancillary equipment, for example Rapport’s port engine runs our refrigeration compressor while her starboard engine runs our power steering and heats our hot water supply.

Some stuffing boxes have no cooling system beyond the sea water coming into it, others have oil or grease lubrication to keep temperatures down, while others and more particularly most dripless shaft seals are cooled with sea water supplied from the engine’s sea water pump, so for this latter category no cooling will be supplied if the engine is not running.

Note that some vessels have a system where either engine can supply cooling water to both shafts. However if this is not the case it is best to compare the temperatures of the not-in-use shaft seals with the in-use shaft seals using an infra red thermometer to determine for how long you can allow wind milling. A temperature up to about 40dC should be OK, in fact as a general rule mechanics say if the stuffing box is not too hot to touch it’s OK (be careful doing this though). Another measure is that stuffing box temperature should be 7-22dC above sea water temperature.

Note that some cruisers have adopted measures to eliminate wind milling. At an extreme level one cruiser crossing the Pacific decided to remove one prop until half way across, then replace the prop and remove the other one so the in-use engine could be changed. This was done at sea using a block and tackle to support the prop’s weight. At a less extreme level it’s not uncommon for long distance cruisers to install a mechanical or hydraulic system enabling either prop shaft to be locked so it cannot rotateI have discounted the use of such a system based on the inconvenience and practicalityof changing over engines and the compromise to maneuverability in the event of an emergency.

When an engine is driving your vessel it is trying to push the prop shaft and coupling flange towards the engine, therefore not putting any load on the securing boltsWhen the prop shaft’s wind milling it’s trying to pull away from the engine and therefore your coupling flange, so connections should be checked initially and at regular intervals thereafter.

Option 3 – run both engines with one engine at higher rpm than the other

Another option is to run one engine at high rpm and the other at low rpm so that all engine-driven equipment is operating, then interchange every couple of hours or so. If adopting this option avoid running the low rpm engine below 1,200 rpm for the reasons outlined in the opening comments.


The issue of light loading is eliminated.

Economy gains similar to running two engines at low rpm are achieved and range is increased.

There is little loss of maneuverability.

There is no issue with cooling of gearboxes and shaft seals.

There is no issue with prop shaft flange connections.

The process is easy to manage.

All engine-driven ancillary equipment will operate.


Both engines are still ramping up engine hours, so no servicing costs are saved.

There will be a very slight steering bias in the direction away from engine operating at higher rpm.

The alternator’s efficiency is compromised for the engine running at low rpm.


As mentioned early on Di and I prefer to cruise much of the time off the plane, even when cruising long distances, so considering all of the above options here’s a practical solution based on Option 2 for Rapport.

-Start both engines and leave the marina using both at low rpm (although preferably above 1,200 rpm wherever possible) providing maximum maneuverability.

-When in open waters shut down the starboard engine and as temperatures rise, gradually increase rpm on port to about 1,850 = 66 per cent of WOT. This will operate refrigeration and efficient alternator operation and battery charging at higher rpm. The power steering will not operate so hand steering will be necessary, however this is not much of an issue in open waters. Any time that power steering and autopilot is wanted I can start the starboard engine.

-When the freezer reaches its operating temperature (after roughly three hours on first day out and on subsequent days after about an hour), run the starboard engine at about 1,850 rpm and shut down port

-Then continue to alternate engines as required about hourly.

For subsequent days we normally use the genset every morning so the batteries are fully charged at that time and the alternators don’t need to run at high outputs. Every several engine hours I’ll run both engines at about 2,200-2,400rpm for 15 minutes or so as well as doing this for about half an hour an hour before shutdown.

Happy Slow Cruising

Sunday, October 03, 2021


 Although five of the six boats we’ve owned since the 1980s have been planing boats a large chunk of our cruising has been in the Med aboard Envoy at around 6 knots. During that time we really grew to enjoy life in the slow lane and now find that even though our current boat, Rapport, is capable of about 20 knots we prefer to cruise mostly around 8-10 knots.

Most our time aboard Envoy we cruised at about 6kn. Max speed was about 8kn

Most cruisers we speak to own twin-engine planing vessels and many of these choose to cruise on the plane when going some distance to their destination, but then cruise off the plane
in the general area around their destination. There are some good reasons for this philosophy including some of these:

- You’re on the water to relax so why not enjoy the journey as well as the destination

- Helming at slower speed needs less attention so you can leisurely enjoy the scenery at your leisure and have more time to navigate safely, especially in what may be an unfamiliar area

- Many skippers prefer to tow their RHIBs at slower than planing speeds

- You’re often close to shore where in any case speed is limited to 5 knots (within 200 metres)

- At slower speeds you generally don’t have to move gear around as you often need to in all but calm conditions when going on the plane

- At slower speeds you’re not generating so much engine noise or causing so much wake

- Slower speeds are generally more comfortable for crew and it’s easier to undertake activities like making cups of coffee, using the head or having lunch under way

- At slower speeds your journey will take longer allowing more time for battery charging, for engine-driven compressors to reduce your refrigeration temperatures and for manifold hot water heaters to heat up. This is important because if for example we leave our marina for Oneroa and cruise at planing speed after the engines are up to temperature the journey will take about 90 minutes and this is insufficient time for the refrigeration to become fully effective. At 8 knots or so the cruise will take about three hours which allows plenty of time. This is not so much of an issue on the following days when refrigeration is already cold

- At slower speeds you can troll and catch a kahawai or kingi on the way (good luck with that one!)

- Due to lower rpm at slower speeds you’re saving a considerable amount in fuel costs and increasing your cruising range between fueling stops

In addition to these factors by nursing your engines along at low rpm you’re looking after them right? Actually NO - this is quite wrong so read on.

Although Rapport's top speed is about 21kn fully-loaded, we prefer to cruise at 8-10kn

So let’s focus on reduced fuel consumption and increased range even though we and most people we know aren’t greatly concerned about fuel costs, understanding this is one of the cheapest of boating costs.

Here are four examples of fuel savings and increases in range (taken from Pacific PowerBoat magazine boat reviews). Note that fuel usage expressed in litres per nm is more relevant than litres per hr as the former takes into account the shorter distance traveled due to slower speeds.

1. Nimbus 405 13.3m LOA planing vessel with twin 200hp Volvos and shaft drives:

At 3,000 rpm = 17kn, 95.9 litres/hr, 4.4 litres/nm, 200 nm range

At 1,000 rpm = 7.3kn, 6.5 litres/hr, 0.9 litres/nm, 1,000 nm range - so fuel usage per nm decreases and range increases by a factor of about 5x

2. Absolute Vavetta 14.9m LOA semi-displacement vessel with twin Volvo Penta IPS650 “Pods”, each 480hp:

At 3,000 rpm = 18.7kn, 112 litres/h, 6 litres/nm, 272 nm range

At 1,500 rpm = 7.3kn, 21 litres/hr, 2.9 litres/nm, 564 nm range

At 1,250 rpm = 6.1kn, 9 litres/hr, 1.4 litres/nm, 1,137 nm range – so fuel usage per nm decreases and range increases by a factor of about 4.2x

3. Maritimo S55 17m planing vessel with twin Volvo D13 each 400hp and shaft drives:

At 2,100 rpm = 23.8kn, 226 litres/hr, 9.5 litres/nm, 430 nm range

At 900 rpm = 8.1kn, 26 litres/hr, 3.2 litres/nm, 1,280 nm range – so fuel usage per nm decreases and range also increases by a factor of about 3x

4. Circa 24 - 26m LOA displacement vessel with twin Scania DI 090, each 250hp @ 1,800rpm and shaft drives:

At 1,500 rpm = 12.3kn, 39.2 litres/hr, 3.2 litres/nm, 3,234 nm range

At 1,000 rpm = 8.7kn, 13.3 litres/hr, 1.52 litres/nm, 6,809 nm range - so fuel usage per nm decreases and range increases by a factor of about 2.1x. Note that at 6.5kn the range increases to over 10,000nm

These examples include displacement, semi-displacement and planing vessels and similar results apply to all standard vessels including single engine vessels and yachts under power (however I’m not sure if this applies with foils.)

The above results are based on running both engines and we can see that reducing rpm results in a substantial decrease in fuel consumed per nm combined with a substantial increase in range as a result of cruising closer to the vessel’s displacement speed where the boat’s hull becomes wonderfully efficient. That’s why long distance cruisers are nearly always displacement vessels or faster vessels cruising at displacement speed. The figures would be even more impressive if I’d compared maximum rpm with idling rpm, but I wanted to compare realistic speeds.

However there are some downsides to cruising at low rpm and I want to mention these as well as suggesting several alternative options to minimise their effects. These thoughts are based on our own experiences and some internet research as well as discussions with four diesel mechanics over the last several years.

Diesel engines are not designed to be run for long periods at light loading, which is defined as rpm less than 40 per cent of wide open throttle (WOT). On the contrary the suggested rule of thumb is to run engines at 60-75 per cent of WOT for 60-75 per cent of the time, this 60-75 per cent range being the range of mechanics’ varying opinions.

So what happens if you do consistently run at light loading rpm?

At low rpm and therefore lower than optimum engine temperature the piston rings don’t seat so well resulting in faster wear, additional blow-by (more than double the normal), oil fouling of components such as turbos and carbonisation. Blow-by is the phenomenon whereby combustion chamber gasses consisting of unburned fuel and water vapour as well as soot bypass the rings causing a harmful sludge to build up on the rings in the process and to enter the crankcase. Some blow-by is normal, but increased levels can contaminate lubricating oil forming a sludge that can partially block lubrication feed lines as well as acids that attack engine parts, often resulting not only in later engine problems but in significantly reduced engine life.

This is one of several reasons why engines used in commercial vessels generally have a longer life span than in pleasure vessels, that is their engines are mostly selected according to their intended operational speed and therefore rpm.

Another cause of increased blow-by is over filling lubrication oil so never add oil beyond the dipstick marking.

Additionally alternators don’t operate so well at low rpm. For example aboard Rapport which has 24V battery banks our approx 50amp alternators charge at 23 amps at 1,170rpm and 36 amps at 1,510rpm – a 57 per cent difference. At low engine rpm alternators’ cooling fans also run more slowly causing alternators to overheat particularly in the early stages of charging when the battery banks need for charging is greatest and the alternators are working their hardest. Leaving the marina this should not be too much of a problem as most vessels have shore powered chargers.

A negative for running slower is it results in more engine hours accumulating for the same distance cruised theoretically resulting in an increase in service costs, though practically many vessels have an annual service without reaching their hours of service threshold.

But don’t despair as there are several options available to run vessels at lower speeds without compromising engine wear or longevity, each option having its own pros and cons. 

Read about these options in our next posting.