Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chinese water torture

Yes I shall miss this place!
Sapphire came out of the water yesterday as planned, and has a bright shiny “A Vendre” (For Sale) sign tied to the pulpit. Alongside her is another yacht with the same sign on it, but its been there so long the sign has faded to be almost invisible and the yacht itself has also obviously deteriorated dreadfully under the withering tropical sun, to now be virtually a wreck – her sails are in shreds, the halyards and sheets and lifelines all loose and rotten, the fittings rusted and doubtless unuseable, paint and varnish long gone to expose grey cracked and buckled timbers underneath, a once proud boat now a corpse.
This is the fate that I dread will be Sapphires, and I have stressed to the Agent that a sale is much more important to me than the Price. If someone makes an offer I will most likely accept it immediately no matter how low.

The workers at the Carenage were naturally surprised to see me back, and commiserated with me at my misfortune. But the most surprising thing I learned was from the guy who had done the work on Sapphire, which included work on the Hydrovane bolts. As previously noted on the Blog, they have been loosening and in need of tightening at intervals since they were first installed in Sydney 4 years ago, and to try to prevent it from continuing to happen, in Raiatea we put a second nut onto each of them, a locking nut. But we also replaced the Bolts themselves with new ones, and as Sapphire was being lifted dripping from the sea, I was told quite casually that this sort of thing happens because those Chinese bolts are such poor quality! I could hardly believe my ears! And he went on to say that its hard around here to get anything other than these poor quality Chinese ones!
The Bolt that snapped

It was too late to feel anger or shock or even disbelief. I just shook my head in dismay.

Later I remembered reading about a scandal involving Rocna anchors, of which I had two. Some owners complained the shafts were bending and were defective, and it turned out a batch had been made in China and the specifications had been ignored, and low quality steel used instead. I hadn’t thought to ask if the bolts were top quality – if I had known, I might have decided not to have them replaced but it seemed sensible to do so at the time.

This episode highlights for me the difference between the sort of sailor I am, and what I think of as a “Real” sailor. For me sailing in its purest form is about finding some sort of unity between a man and a yacht and the ocean. The yacht, to be perfect, is a thing of beauty and grace but is reduced as much as possible to the barest elements that will make it slide across that interface between wind and water – a hull, sails, a place of shelter for the sailor, and not much more. Nowdays of course yachts have a whole lot more than that – “Bathrooms” with hot and cold water , bow thrusters, touch screen GPS navigation systems, satellite TV, motors that have to be run all the time, refrigeration, and more.. Catamarans are increasingly popular in large part because the motion of the sea is largely obliterated by their huge width – and I noticed when sailing in one earlier this year that they all have a roof over the cockpit so its impossible to see the sails. How can a sailor not need to see the sail or feel the motion of the sea?

The sailor, to be perfect, knows everything knowable about his boat, himself and the sea. He doesn’t see the ocean as an enemy to be defeated, or a friend for that matter but a force that can be reckoned with. He can read the sea and the sky in the day and at night, use a sextant and a chart to navigate, he is self sufficient, a navigator and explorer and adventurer…..and I of course am almost none of these! But that is the dream one aspires to. …

All I was really planning to say was that if I had been more of a “Real” sailor, I might have known about Chinese Bolts, and the differing types of steel, and about the tremendous forces those Hydrovane Bolts are under, and maybe I would still be out there right now under the vast night sky, sailing the Pacific…


  1. There is a book called "Poorly Made in China". Its an interesting read!
    All I can say David is I have had this conversation previously about the quality of Chinese made items - the last time it was rigging and that rigging if I remember correctly, also originated in Australia/New Zealand and was possibly of Chinese origin. Perhaps another case of "profit before quality"!
    What would I do in this situation? I would sail Sapphire home to get a decent price and to save her from deterioration and withering under the tropical sun.
    A great many yachts have the Hydrovane system fitted but having looked closer into the actual method of fitting them since your unfortunate bolt failure, I have to say that it is perhaps not the best means of "force distribution" by using a mere four bolts to hold the complete system to the transom.
    How about some more MOJO David? You are a sailor and its time to get back out under the "vast night sky, sailing the Pacific Ocean.
    Don't let a bolt get the better of you! Remember Mark Twain!

  2. The more I think about it..................

    Having been a sailor for the best part of forty years, I walked into a hardware store yesterday and asked the man for four grade A stainless steel bolts for my hydrovane.

    I'm happy now. I've got the correct bolts. Or at least that is what the man gave me and nowhere does it say on the bolt "Made in China" nor "Made in England" for that matter.

    Perhaps the nagging question will always be as to whether they are, or are not, Chinese made. One cannot be master of all things in the universe, no matter how hard we may try.

    Copying is rife in China and perhaps it is a fair comment to say even the most experienced can sometimes be fooled.