Beefing up the bow roller

Our boat Andiamo, a Wauquiez Pretorien 35, was designed in the late ’70s as a cruiser/racer, and it was a competitive racer in its day. Those days are now past, and we are outfitting the boat in preparation for our planned circumnavigation starting in 2004.

The existing bow roller was a small device that permitted the anchor to bang against the hull and wouldn’t hold a larger anchor well. We wanted to have a couple of anchors ready to be deployed on the bow and one on the stern. Last year we installed a 1,400-watt Quick windlass to handle our 210 feet of 5/16-inch high-test chain rode with 180 feet of 3/4-inch three-strand nylon backing. It was obvious to us that the existing bow roller needed to be replaced.


Since the Wauquiez roller was combined with the stem fitting, it wasn’t a matter of just going down to the chandlery, purchasing a new one and bolting it down. We had to custom design and fabricate a new combination stem-fitting/bow-roller assembly. The first thing was to determine what was required from the new unit. We needed to carry two 45-lb anchors, attach the forestay and be able to install a tack block for a future asymmetrical sail. Some friends of ours, Sam and Kay, who own the sister ship Beluga, had already replaced their stem fitting, so we were given some empirical data to start, which made the design process much easier.

Since the anchor was beating up the forestay clevis pin, we raised the tack a couple of inches to put the pin above the anchor-rode path. When we installed the roller furler last year, we anticipated this by shortening the forestay and installing short, temporary link plates to make up the length.

The next step was to prepare a set of design drawings to get fabrication estimates. I drew these with AutoCAD software, so I was able to email them to the fabricator, Alaska Copper. That saved us time and money, because Alaska Copper could then use my AutoCAD for the computer that cuts the material. Alaska Copper cut the six members using a high-intensity waterjet. They delivered pieces that were very accurate. We used 3/8-inch-thick side and center plates and 1/4-inch-thick stem strap, bottom and backer plates. All the material was 316L-grade stainless steel.

First, all of the exposed edges were given a full radius, using grinding wheels, followed with a belt sander to start the polishing process. The 3/8-inch plates had a heavy mill finish that I first sanded off with an orbital sander and working from 80- to 320-grit sandpapers. Then I polished the stainless on a homemade buffer with 8-inch-diameter wheels. The first buffing wheel was sewn sisal with coarse abrasive, followed by a sewn cotton wheel with fine abrasive and finally a loose cotton wheel with white rouge abrasive. The polishing process reduced the finish to a wonderful mirror-like finish. The reason wasn’t to make it beautiful. The better the finish, the less it will rust and discolor with exposure to salt water.

The next step was to have it all welded up. Rich Pakker, a local stainless-steel artist and liveaboard sailor, did the welding. He did a great job and got the assembled unit back to us in less than a week. He built jigs to hold the pieces properly aligned and made nice, clean, continuous welds. Still, the material does move around when welded, and the base plate needed some field adjustment with a 10-lb dead blow hammer!

The final step was to have it electro-polished, which electro-chemically removes the surface molecules from the stainless that’ll rust over time. The process actually slightly dulled the finish, but it also removed the coloring that occurs when stainless is welded. Railmakers who specialize in fabricating pulpits and such for the boating industry did the electro-polishing. They were very helpful and told us when we could schedule it, so they could do it while we waited, and saved us another hour-and-a-half round trip.

Lisa and I removed the existing fitting, cleaned all the old holes and plugged them with polyester filler. The new fitting aligned and jigged in place with ropes and tape to hold it exactly vertical and on the centerline while the new holes were drilled. New machine screws and nylon locking nuts anchored the new roller in place. The edges were caulked with polysulfide sealant, and the new roller was ready to go.

John and Lisa Caruso sail in the Pacific Northwest and are outfitting Andiamo, their Wauquiez Pretorien 35, for a 10-year circumnavigation starting in 2004.

By Ocean Navigator