From disaster comes education

Published on September 27th, 2021

As keelboats get stored for the winter in the northern latitudes, David Evans reflects on lessons learned from his base in the United Kingdom.


In 1984 I had a Stephen Jones designed Hustler SJ30 (lovely boat) and it was stored ashore for the latter part of the winter, as we had laid-up after Christmas. It was on hard standing with the rig up, out of the normal winter storage area (sheltered), and in a fairly exposed part of the yard.

In early March I had the bottom slurry blasted and one Friday I intended to start painting her, but it was a revolting day with wind and rain so I retired gracefully to the Yacht Club bar! By early afternoon, the Yard came looking for me with news she had blown out of the cradle.

They had recorded a 100mph gust, during which time the hull had generated aerodynamic lift and had lifted and rotated in the cradle and then fallen and rotated to port. But as luck would have it, the Yard had been using a Renner Hoist and had parked it next to my boat for their lunch break. The boat had fallen against the hoist and had hit a large three inch wide bolt head on the hoist with her topsides, and this punched a hole in the topsides on which the boat was hanging!

After a lot of messing about with jacks and shores, they were able to get the hoist out and restore her to her position in the cradle! The only damage was this three inch hole, and by the following weekend it was all repaired, but if the hoist had not been there she would have been a write-off! Since then that yard has always insisted on keels being laterally wedged into the cradle on all boats, with or without the mast being up!

Personally, I have gone one step further on my Hustler SJ32 as I have my keel laterally wedged, but also have four heavy duty straps with tensioners that clip into my alloy toe rail and then clip into the cradle at the widest point! I tension them as tight as they will go onto my very wide based cradle and have never had any issue with her moving or lifting, even during the St Jude’s storm (4-5 years or so ago) when we had 120mph gusts with the mast up!

I have very beautiful nickel cobalt rod rigging and do not want yards coiling and bending them, so my mast stays up and with a keel stepped mast, a mast drain, and low level heating on all winter, I have no freezing issues.

As an aside, in Scandinavia, they rarely use cradles; they park their boats ashore and plant the keel on the center of large timber or steel crosses, then use the same straps that I do, clipping one on the stem, one on the center of the stern, and one on each side. The boat is held solidly like this with no hard points for the hull to sit on (many leave their rigs up) and they seem so have no issues using this method.

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