21 April 2010


While waiting for the antibiotics to work their magic on my poor battered shin, I have been working on my to-do list. Top on the list today was to mount sidelight boxes in the Blue Moon's shrouds.

Sidelights are the red and green running lights that sailboats must show at night. The Blue Moon came with tiny, electric sidelights, in the shape of a small plastic light that looked like it would be more in place on a kids bike than on a boat.

Even though these tiny lights were barely visible, they gulped enormous amounts of electricity from my solar-driven batteries. Taking another page from the Pardey's books, I long ago decided to use kerosene running lights.

Traditionally, these kerosene sidelights are mounted in sidelight boxes that are lashed to the shrouds. I'd knocked these boxes together out of left over wood, the night before leaving home for Florida. I'd mounted the port sidelight back in Tarpon Springs, and was surprised at how time consuming the job was.

Even worse, I'd dropped my lashing needle overboard halfway through the job, and had to finish the job without it. Since then, I'd been puzzling over how to mount the starboard box without the lost needle. The answer -- and a pretty good answer, I think -- came to me as I was working on a preliminary job.

Whoever had last set up the Blue Moon's rigging hadn't bothered putting cotter pins in the turnbuckles, and the rigging had worked loose in the last couple days. I decided to start my chores by tightening up the turnbuckles, and securing them with cotter pins.

That's when the solution came to me....

There are probably many ways to secure sidelight boxes to the rigging, but I decided to use waxed thread.

Starboard sidelight box on my bunk/workbench
photo jalmberg

The technique -- that I got from someone on the Wooden Boat Forum -- is to drill 4 holes for each lashing point. This allows you to use an 'X' style lashing, which is stronger and more secure than a plain loop around the shroud, as you would have to make if you just drilled two holes per lashing point.

The 4 waxed threads pre-tied on
photo jalmberg

From the experience of doing the port sidelight, I cut 4 pieces of waxed thread, about 1/2 fathom each, and tied them to the 4 mounting points. It is much easier to secure these thread in the security of the cabin, than to do so while leaning over the side of the boat with the box literally hanging by a thread.

This is not the place to be cheap with the waxed thread. Having plenty to lash and tie off avoids the predictable and annoying problem of having too little.

So, I had the holes, I had the waxed threads... How to make it easier to push the thread through the holes?

My little boat-building micro invention
photo jalmberg

Announcing a little micro invention that is actually better than the needle it replaces. At least for this application.

Instead of a needle, I used a cotter pin, selecting one that was small enough to fit through the holes, but long enough to stick through the 5/8" thick wood. This cotter pin is about 1" long.

Instead of just threading the cotter pin through it's hole, and leaving the end loose, as you would with a needle, I learned from my bitter experience and tied the cotter pin on. That way, if the pin managed to slip out of my fingers, it wouldn't be able to dash like an escaped dog, back to it's Mother the sea, but would be brought up short on it's wax thread leash.

And don't you know it tried to do just that -- three times? That's three cotter pins saved, plus the warm satisfaction of outwitting the slippery devil!

The starboard sidelight box, lashed to the shrouds
photo jalmberg

And here it is, securely lashed to the shrouds. It's hard to see from the picture, but I cheated a bit by wrapping a bit of black electrical tape around the shrouds, underneath the lashings. I'm sure it's possible to do this without the tape, but I don't know how.

With the tape, and the lashings, this attachment is very strong. You could probably stand on it, if, for example, you wanted to jump into the rigging with your brass telescope to spy a far off ship of the line.

So, I finally have a complete set of kerosene running lights. This will be a big comfort to me the next time I'm caught sailing as the sun goes down.

The Manatee River, at sundown
photo jalmberg

Sailing or building? Sailing or building? What is more fun?

Hard to choose, but this is the Unlikely Boat Builder blog!

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  1. An alternative to the pvc tape is to finish off the top lashings ( at least) with frapping turns - ie take the the thread out through the back of the board & wind it around the lashing between the shroud & the back of the board several times pulling it tight each half turn. This will take up any looseness left in the lashing.

  2. What about LED lights. They use no power. I use them on my rowing skiff (not my wooden yachts) by inserting my bike headlight into the existing nav light - one of those double header jobs. Chris.

  3. Don: Thanks for the tip about frapping turns. I'll give that a try the next time I do something like this.

  4. Chris: yup, LED's would be the sensible thing to use. I've been thinking about buying a couple bright LED lights to stick in the sidelights, just in case I run into a situation where I can't light the kerosene lamps, or they won't stay lit.

  5. I would go with the LED lights as I don't like to have anymore fires than needed on a boat.


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