Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Naked Truth

Exibit A
When we inspected the boat during our first visit, I noticed a patch of rust on the hull around the propeller shaft tube (see exhibit A).  “That’ll clean right up with a good wire brush and a new layer of gelcoat - nothing to worry about,” I was told. 

Exhibit B
We were convinced that the rust was actually coming from the junction of the tube and the prop shaft seal (see exhibit B), which is not particularly worrisome, and can, indeed, be fixed with a wire brush and a little extra polyesther putty.

Now that Spray is “naked like a worm”, as Patrick says, following the sand/water blast of the hull, we see that our trusty rust patch was actually the only thing plugging a crack between the shaft tube and the hull (see exhibit C).  How long it has been there and how much damage the infiltration has caused is unknown and largely unknowable without exploratory surgery.

Exhibit C
The mechanic offered an Armageddon scenario involving a completely rusted shaft tube and massive flooding, with a 30% chance of making it back to port before the boat sinks even with the bilge pumps operating at full capacity.  (Okay, those were not his exact words, but that's what I heard.)  Thankfully, for a mere 2000 Euros, it appears we can avoid all this.  We called in the big guns (Guru Bob and another motor-head friend) to get additional opinions.

In short, they both agree that this is not something to ignore or something that can be treated with a slap of putty in the offending areas.  Guru Bob drew us a graph of the problem, where the red circles indicate our leaks:

Propellor Shaft Tubes 101 by Guru Bob.
We were lucky to be located next to an expert working on a neighbouring boat who overhead the conversation and came over with his hygrometer to check the humidity of the hull.  Everything was fine, even around the affected area.  This is not to say there is no infiltration but simply that the hull material itself has not absorbed any water.

As fate would have it, this discovery comes only 72 hours *BEFORE* we are supposed to sign the final bill of sale.  To be honest, if we can split the costs of replacing the shaft, seal, tube, and stratification, it may be to our advantage to go ahead and have the work done, even if the doomsday scenario is unlikely. The disadvantages?  1) stress in a negotiation process that has heretofore been exemplary, 2) 1000 Euros out of our pockets for the work, and 3) 2 more months in dry-dock !?  There are 2 “stratification guys” that work at our boat yard, and they have an accumulated 1000 hours of work in front of them before they can get to us.  This being France and this being summer, only one of them will be working at any given time in July or August.

Another new concern:  when I mentioned that the current owner had stratified the rudder a year ago, the expert raised his eyebrows in surprise and informed us that this tends to add a lot of weight to the rudder.  Having rapidly perused the Dehler Owner Association forum, it seems that the Dehlers have a rather sensitive rudder system, so now I’m a bit concerned about this potential problem as well.  The owner says it only added 3 kilograms, and anyway, the sandblast just removed it all.  Further investigation required.  For now, I hear a very large Gin and Tonic calling my name.
Posted on Thursday, May 31, 2012 | Categories:

Friday, 25 May 2012

Cracks in the Luddite

Despite having a big fat diploma from a major technology institute, I’m not a gadget geek. I don’t even have a cell phone, nor do I want one. Honestly, if I wanted to be tracked every moment of every day, I’d have a chip installed under my skin. But when the Kindle came out and my fellow book-lovers raved about it, my luddite shell developed a few cracks. I argued, I squirmed, I launched counter-attacks, all of which blew up in my face the day someone said “Hey, this thing would be great on a boat.”  Just damn. 

Not only can I carry my whole library with me, it fits inside the pocket of my sailing jacket (those large outside ones anyway).  And I can get new books delivered in seconds anywhere and anytime I have an internet connection.  And it’s cheaper than buying physical books, with the added advantage that no one can see what I’m reading !  And, the final nail in the coffin: I can get over 1000 kilograms of books into 250 grams of Kindle*, not to mention the space savings.  Just so that I don’t sound like a born-again convert, the Kindle cannot replace technical publications or guides because of the limited graphics ability and screen size, so my new boat will not be bookless by any means.  I also will sorely miss those charming book swaps in the port offices of many destinations and may take along a few paperbacks from time to time just to have something swapable on hand.
*estimate based on Kindle capacity of approx. 3500 books, with an average weight of 340 grams each.

Just as I was getting over the fact that I’d caved in over the Kindle, Patrick came home one day last week and proudly announced that he had just bought an MP3 player.  He went straight for the jugular:  “This will be great on the boat – we can listen to the radio, download all our music and cds, and buy a docking station with speakers to use instead of installing a traditional radio / cd player on the boat.  Think of all the space and weight we’ll save !”  I could feel the blood draining from my face.  I was about to throw out some feeble arguments such as “but we don’t even like music” or “it’s dangerous to plug your ears during your watch”, but then I thought of all those great radio shows I could download from NPR and BBC.  With a tear in my eye, I could already see myself standing behind the helm on the high seas, tapping my toes to the latest from NPR’s Mountain Stage. With a smile on my face, I imagined myself laughing with Click and Clack on Car Talk.  And with chin-in-hand in a thoughtful pose, I knew that the BBC’s In Our Time would take up a lot of my spare time.

I have no choice but to admit defeat in the face of the space, weight, and money-saving advances in home (boat) entertainment, but this sure puts a crimp in my “back to nature” ideas.  I’ve decided to treat this like any other potential addiction and will keep telling myself that a gadget now and again isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that I can stop anytime I want.

Monday, 21 May 2012

On Horsepower and Hull Speed

An anonymous reader (I feel like I’m doing science again – responding to reviewer comments !) pointed out that the original 18 HP engine for the Dehler is a bit underpowered, and that we might consider upgrading to something stronger.  We had always used a simple rule of thumb to judge the appropriate size of the motor:  the horsepower of the motor, multiplied by 2, should be greater than the length of the boat in feet.  So an 18 HP engine gives a result of 36, which is greater than the 34 feet of the boat, indicating that the engine is about right for the boat.  This method, you realize, is total nonsense, since you don’t push length, you push weight.  I decided to get to the bottom of all this.

A brief tour of the web in both French and English provided a better rule of thumb:  for a sailboat, you need approximately 5 HP of power for every ton.  The Dehler’s displacement is about 4 tons, so we need 20 HP to push it, which suggests that the original 18 HP engine is, indeed, a bit on the small side. 

A nice example of a wave of a boat at hull speed.
Being a bit more rigorous, I decided to estimate the theoretical hull speed and then calculate the power required to reach that speed.  Let me explain.  As a sailboat moves through water, it has to push the water out of its way, and thus creates a bow wave that moves along the side of the boat as the water is displaced.  As the boat gains speed, this wave gets “stretched” and becomes longer.  When the boat reaches its hull speed, the wave length is equal to the length of the boat, creating a lovely sine wave* with a crest starting at the bow, a trough in the middle, and the end crest at the stern. If you were to go beyond this speed, you would stretch the wave to the point where the trough that was once in the middle of the boat would now be at the stern.  This literally means that the boat’s stern would be in a trough and that the boat would now have to go uphill, requiring an excessive amount of energy to overcome.  Sailboats under sail alone (at least monohull displacement boats) don’t have the power to do this. 
* okay, physical oceanography friends, I know that ocean waves are actually trochoids and not sine waves, but let’s keep it family friendly here, shall we?

The method for calculating theoretical hull speed and the power required to reach it are, of course, riddled with assumptions and highly criticized.  But let’s throw caution to the wind and judge the value of the method depending on whether or not we like the result it gives.  (Gee, now I REALLY feel like I’m back doing science again !).  Here are the equations:

(1) Hull speed = 1.34 x square root (length at waterline in feet).     (result is in knots)
(2) Power required to reach hull speed = Displacement (in pounds) / ((150)^2 / (hull speed)^2)     (where the symbol ^2 means to square the expression in parentheses).

Plug-n-chug the numbers for the Dehler and you get a theoretical hull speed of about 7 knots (significant figures would be total fantasy here), and a power requirement of 20 HP.

So the good news is that this answer jives with the (much simpler) rule of thumb of 5 HP per ton and suggests once again that the 18 HP on the Dehler is underpowered, or at least not powerful enough to reach the boat’s theoretical hull speed.  Now, most sailors, when faced with the theoretical hull speed of their craft, take on an indignant tone and announce that they have routinely sailed in excess of this speed.  This illustrates one of the criticisms of the estimation.  The “1.34” constant in Equation 1 is for a boat that moves by displacing water, as is the case for most sailboats.  Naval architect Dave Gerr has recently revised this constant, and now proposes 1.49 instead of 1.34, which gives us a speed of almost 8 knots for the Dehler.  This new number, however appealing, still doesn’t take into consideration the true motion of modern boats through water.  Modern design has made the sterns wider and flatter, giving the boat (and the crew) a more comfortable motion when wind and waves are from astern.  This also means that the boat has the ability to plane, or surf, as it slides down the waves, and when it does this, a fraction of the boat’s motion is no longer via displacement, but rather by planing, which requires a different calculation.  But even I don’t want to go there, and even if I did, I don’t have the numbers required to calculate this for my boat.    

Others cast aspersions on Equation 2, noting that propeller efficiency is never considered here.  What you calculate is just the energy required to turn the propeller shaft, but this doesn’t make allowances for how that motion is translated into push by different blades and blade-angle considerations.  The other problem is that this number only tells you the power required to reach a certain speed for a certain weight on a flat calm body of water with no wind.

So what have we learned?  I am now convinced that the 18 HP on the Dehler is not sufficient for us to reach the theoretical hull speed.  But now comes the real conundrum.  Is that something I really want to do?  As with most problems, the key is to appropriately formulate the question.  What is it I really want to know?  Am I asking “what is the biggest engine I can put on my boat without incurring structural damage or doing back-flips?” or “what size engine should I have to get me out of sticky situations (no wind, rapid currents) but that will not penalize me in terms of weight or fuel efficiency for the other 99% of the time when I am not in a sticky situation?”

Having recently read Lin and Larry Pardey’s excellent book, “The Self-Sufficient Sailor” where they extol the virtues of doing everything by sail and using the empty motor compartment to install a homemade bathtub, I’m leaning more towards the “less-is-more” approach.  In any case, this whole discussion is a bit academic for us, since we don’t have the money to install a new engine right now. 

But the real question that I should be asking, the one that will really get to the bottom of everything in a useful manner is, “What does my INSURANCE AGENT think is the biggest engine I can put on my boat?”.

Now I’m really in a pickle.  (“In a pickle” is another hillbilly expression meaning in a big mess.)  My insurance agent will simply look at the “maximum HP rating” for the boat, and, here in France, will officially allow a tolerance of 15% over this number.  If I look on the constructer’s plates, I see that the maximum power for my boat is 9.8 kilowatts.  With 1 HP = 0.746 kW, that gives me a maximum HP of (gulp) 13 !  Even with the 15% tolerance, the original 18 HP Dehler engine is already “too powerful” !?  I’m bamboozled.  Either I’m missing a conversion somewhere or there is some sort of interpretation of this number that escapes me.*

With a quivery chin, I broke down and decided I needed help on this one, so I sent an email to a friend who is a retired naval architect and spent many years as an expert boat inspector for an insurance company.  He estimates that with the 18 HP motor between 2/3rd – 3/4th  full throttle on the Dehler, I should be able to do 6 knots, which, in his opinion, is sufficient to get out of sticky situations, even if it wouldn’t allow us to go anywhere we want, anytime we want (although he also notes that our folding 2 blade propeller will reduce our efficiency somewhat).  A quick survey of the available French boating forums also suggests that the insurance companies really don’t care what size motor you put on the boat as long as it’s “reasonable” and that it is declared with them before you have an accident involving excessive speed. 

In the end, I like my friend’s summary of the situation, in part because it makes sense and in part because it accords with the limitations of our bank account at the moment:  when discussing the need to go beyond 6 knots with the motor, he simply replied, “After all, it’s a SAIL boat.”

*Addendum:  Now that we have the original papers for the boat, I see that the maximum HP rating is 19.8 kilowatts, not 9.8 !  Apparently, the “1” etched on the metal builders plate has not stood the test of time.  19.8 kilowatts gives 26.5 HP, which makes more sense.  The Dehler 34s were originally delivered with either 18HP or 27HP.  

For further and more comprehensive reading on the subject:
  1. The most excellent article by Bryon Anderson on The Physics of Sailing in Physics Today, now available on-line for free.
  2. Excellent posts on the forum of
  3. The great post on Pocket Yacht Cruising entitled “Sailboat Math"

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tool Time

Spray / Zephyr back on the hard.
Our “To Do” list is long and we haven’t even finished signing all the paperwork yet.  While the jobs all seem relatively simple, I’m getting anxious to sail.  It’s a zoo on the water in southern Brittany in July and August and we’d like to get out for a few good shake-down cruises without too many on-lookers or obstacles. 

Spray (still officially named Zephyr…see earlier posts) is in the boatyard waiting for a water/sand blast (“hydrogommage”) of the hull and keel, and an epoxy job for the keel. The boat is in administrative limbo right now, since we have signed a “promise to buy” with a down payment, but aren’t officially the owners yet.  Last week, we started cracking open our piggy banks to pool resources for the big check, but doing this through several banks takes time, especially in France, especially in May, which has one official holiday per week where nothing gets done. I'm living the Randy Travis tune, "If the phone still ain't ringing, I assume it still ain't you."

But down time is not wasted time and we’ve decided to start going through the garage to determine how many hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. we have, with any duplicates going into “the boat toolbox”.  We’ll also need to considerably augment our meagre collection to tackle even those “simple” initial jobs already on our list.  I’m counting on the miracles of WD-40 and Duct Tape, myself. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Killing the Serpent

I knew that the French rebaptizing ceremony involved some complex acrobatics such as turning the boat in circles or figure-eights, but couldn’t determine how or where this fit into a ceremony for appeasing Neptune.  Quite simply, the French ceremony has nothing whatsoever to do with Neptune, but is rather an elaborate ballet whose intent is to kill the magic serpent that lives in the boat’s wake and has been assigned to follow the boat where ever it goes.  Once killed, a new serpent can be assigned to follow the newly named boat.  Apparently having this serpent follow the boat is both a necessary and good thing.

Cutting the serpent.
The exact method for killing the serpent is the following:  after removing all traces of the former name as with the Anglo-Saxon version, you must kill the serpent by first anesthetizing him with (what else) champagne, and then you must cut him in half at least 3 times by cutting through your wake.  The preferred method is to have a friend in another boat follow you and to have them cut across your stern as close as they dare three times.  Three appears to be the minimum accepted number of crossings, and many sources suggest that this should be accompanied by firing a gun into the wake as it is crossed.  Firing blanks is in the same league with trying to substitute water for the blood sacrifice and should be avoided at all costs.  However, being the progressive and peace-loving people that they are, the French have decided (and apparently the gods of the sea serpent – whoever they are – have approved) that in lieu of three crossings with gunfire, one may safely substitute up to 7 crossings without having to employ fire power of any sort.  A variant of the crossings is available for those with no sea-faring friends, which involves sailing in figure-eights and thus cutting across your own wake.  Logic would dictate that these figures would have to be unrealistically quick and tight, but I think we can agree that any culture willing to believe in a magic sea serpent without even knowing what gods the serpents answer to are not going to be sticklers for logic at this or any other point in time.

That said, we are in France, and this bit of mythology cannot be so easily dismissed.  In the interests of Franco-American cooperation, we decided that we will include the snake cutting ceremony at the end of the REAL one.

Phase II: The Renaming Ceremony

Phase II:  Request for renaming

The delay between requesting that the old name be removed and that a new name be recorded is traditionally 24 hours, although several more modern sources, no doubt influenced by modern electronic communication methods, suggest that the two ceremonies may be carried out one after the other.  However, any of you who have tried to unsubscribe from a commercial email list know that you will keep getting those damn advertisements for at least 48 hours after you’ve made your request.  Proceed at your own peril.  In the very least, I would suggest using the depth finder to determine your depth and then estimate the time it would take for your metal tag or ashes to touch the bottom (another point in favour of the metal tag), then multiply by 2 to be safe.

Vigor’s Interdenominational Ceremony is a bit disappointing here, and simply adopts the traditional christening ceremony for any ship by standing on the bow and reciting “I name this ship [new name here] and may she bring fair winds and good fortune to all who sail on her” at which point a bottle of champagne (yes, another bottle) is broken over the bow.

While I can eventually resign myself to the idea of coughing up the 2nd bottle of champagne, after having spent quite a lot of time in the shipyard repairing dings in the gelcoat, I don’t like the idea of breaking the bottle over the bow.  I also feel that the ceremony suggested by Vigor is not equal to the request and may even offend.  To augment the gravitas of the situation, I have found the following ceremonial variant, which, while avoiding new dings in the gelcoat and adopting a more supplicant and grovelling tone, does, alas, require even more champagne.
“Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, we implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as [speak new name here] guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.  In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation and in honour of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.”
At this point, the Champagne is gently poured from west to east over the bow.  But before groaning about the loss of more champagne, there is a slight but appreciable variation at work here.  This variant says you may offer one glass for the master and one glass for the mate, then pour the rest over the bow as an offering to Neptune.  The downside, of course, is that you must now open up a third bottle to continue with the rest of the ceremony. 

The Renaming Ceremony, Phase II bonus round

Aeolus, ruler of the winds.
The remainder of the ceremony has the added advantage of once again appealing to the lesser gods and their minions, namely the gods of the wind, effectively allowing you to humbly back out of the ceremony in the same way you entered.
“Oh mighty rulers of the winds, through whose power our frail vessels traverse the wild and faceless deep, we implore you to grant this worthy vessel [speak the new name here] the benefits and pleasures of your bounty, ensuring us of your gentle ministration according to our needs.”
Now you face north and raise a glass of champagne while continuing:
“Great Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavours, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.”
At this point, the champagne is flung into the air.  As you follow along the ceremony described below, you will realize that you are going to be doing this for each of the cardinal points, and, if there is any wind at all, one or more of these glasses of champagne flung into the air will inevitably be blown back in your face.  Just accept this as an added benediction and do not attempt to duck or you risk offending the gods.  Now face west with a newly charged glass:
“Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavours, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.”
Fling, reload, and turn east:
“Great Eurus, exalted ruler of the East Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavours, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your mighty breath.”
And lastly, south:
“Great Notus, exalted ruler of the South Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavours, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.”
The finish line is in sight and it only remains to back out of the ceremony humbly, forever burying the old name and sailing into the new one.  To do this, you must sail the boat into the wind, let her come to a complete stop, and then allow the boat to drift backwards for several meters.  Depending on the winds, tides, and how much champagne you’ve offered yourselves during the ceremony, this may be a rather delicate manoeuvre, so caution is required.

If you are Anglo-Saxon, your trials are over and you can sail forth without fear.  But any French reader of this missive will be indignant, asking “where is the wake cutting ceremony ?!”

Vigor's Denaming Guidelines

The incantation is given below.  It begins by flattering the lesser gods and bureaucrats (always a good idea) and then moves on to a solemn yet humble request.

"In the name of all who have sailed aboard this ship in the past, and in the name of all who may sail aboard her in the future, we invoke the ancient gods of the wind and the sea to favour us with their blessing today.  Mighty Neptune, king of all that moves in or on the waves; and mighty Aeolus, guardian of the winds and all that blows before them: We offer you our thanks for the protection you have afforded this vessel in the past. We voice our gratitude that she has always found shelter from tempest and storm and enjoyed safe passage to port.  Now, wherefore, we submit this supplication, that the name whereby this vessel has hitherto been known [speak the name here], be struck and removed from your records. [Here is where you cast the item containing the name of the boat over the bow during the outgoing tide.]  Further, we ask that when she is again presented for blessing with another name, she shall be recognized and shall be accorded once again the selfsame privileges she previously enjoyed.  In return for which, we rededicate this vessel to your domain in full knowledge that she shall be subject as always to the immutable laws of the gods of the wind and the sea.  In consequence whereof, and in good faith, we seal this pact with a libation offered according to the hallowed ritual of the sea."

The libation offered should be of the best quality you can afford and you must accept to offer the WHOLE BOTTLE to Neptune and his servants.  Some of the cheap-asses among you may, at this point, be considering a blood sacrifice, but I regret to inform you that despite an extensive search I have found not one shred of information regarding the appropriate blood-equivalents for the volumes required. Listen, before whining about this, just tell yourself that if you plan to be a world cruiser, you need to get comfortable with the whole baksheesh culture, so get over it.

Renaming a boat.

Or How to Avoid Neptune's Wrath.

Legend has it that King Neptune personally records the names of all ships in his Ledger of the Deep, and that he knows by heart who is who, especially those who venture into his high seas realm.  Now, imagine the anarchy, not to mention the insult, that would ensue if one were to simply rename a boat without first removing the original name of the boat from the Ledger.  You may be certain that once Neptune’s civil servants straightened out the mess, all fingers would point to you as the guilty party and there will be hell to pay. 

The appropriate procedure is to first humbly request that Neptune remove the original name from the Ledger and then appeal for a formal recognition of the new name.  Having spent more than 10 years working as an international civil servant myself, I sensed instinctively that such requests would require considerable grovelling of the “I’m not worthy” type as well as various offerings and submissive postures to help move the request from department to department up the chain of command.     

The documented instructions for making the request are, however, many and varied, and seem to have both regional and cultural variants.  Nevertheless, a comparative analysis suggests that there are two fundamental rules that must be respected regardless of the method chosen; 1) the ceremony simply must be done, and 2) wine or champagne have proven to be acceptable to Neptune when a blood sacrifice is not possible, but faking it with water is worse than no ceremony at all.  Two ships who disobeyed these rules, respectively, are the Titanic and the USS Arizona.    

The ceremony is carried out in two-phases.  Phase I:  Removing the existing name from the Ledger.

In general, this involves removing all items from the boat bearing the current name.  This includes not just the name on the transom, but ALL documents, logbooks, charts, life buoys, pictures, books, inflatable dinghies, oars, life vests, and key chains.  Numerous web resources provide advice on cleaning products that can help you to erase or otherwise obliterate the name on just about any textile or support.  The mantra for this phase of the work is Be Ruthless.  One reference suggests that White-Out is acceptable for removing the name from any documents that you must keep aboard, but I would suggest using this with caution. Ideally, this phase of the ceremony should be carried out a full 24 hours before moving on to Phase II.  If you cannot remove the name from the transom before heading out to sea for the ceremony, it is acceptable to cover over the name with tape, making certain that the name does not show through the tape, of course.  It goes without saying that the new name of the boat should not appear anywhere on the boat or any of the materials she carries, and the new name should not even be uttered until the appropriate moment arrives. 

Once you’ve ensured that there is not a single scrap of identification lingering anywhere, you are ready to make the formal request to Neptune.  This involves writing the current name of the boat on something and casting it off the bow during an outgoing tide.  Some suggest a metal tag with the name written in water-soluble ink, while others suggest a more formal sacrament that involves writing the name on a piece of paper, placing this in a small wooden coffin, burning the ensemble, and then offering the ashes to the sea from the bow.  My personal view on this is that while the later ceremony certainly has the potential to dazzle, it also carries the risk that some of the ashes may be caught up by the wind and not actually make it to the deep in an expedient manner.  This would be like having part of your carefully-prepared application file sent to the wrong department and possibly lost.  

The act of submitting this request to Neptune is to be accompanied by incantations and blood sacrifices, where it has been previously established that wine or champagne may be substituted for blood where necessary.  While there are numerous ceremonies and incantations that have proven to work over the years, each with its own particular cultural or religious flavour, I’ve chosen to base our ceremony on John Vigor’s “Interdenominational Boat Denaming Ceremony”guidelines. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Name Game

Unfortunate boat names, indeed.
Of course, we had no intention of actually naming the boat MacGyver, and finding a good name for the boat turned out to be almost as difficult as finding the right boat.  As with most things, it was easier to define what we didn’t like: eliminate all arrogance (Excelsior), vulgarity (Passing Wind), or names suggesting that the owner is a pathetic hen-pecked wimp who needs his wife’s permission to go sailing now and again (Mary Ann).  This left Greek gods, Celtic sea mythology, and seabirds.  We also toyed around with Breton names, quite popular here in Brittany, but since no one in my husband’s family spoke Breton, this felt a little bit silly.

We decided to wait and have some “face time” with the boat before choosing a name.  I had narrowed the list to 3 or 4 potential winners, but soon stumbled onto another problem, a typically French one.  Sex.  Or rather, gender.  For the thirteen years I’ve been living in France, the French have never ceased to torture me with their mind-boggling insistence on attributing a gender to inanimate objects.  In English, there is only one non-living thing that has a gender, and that’s a boat, and it’s feminine.  In keeping with their millennial-long passion for pissing off the English (and by cultural association, all English speakers), the French couldn’t just step aside and let us have this ONE thing.  No, French boats are masculine.  That doesn’t mean that French boats never have female names, but when I speak of a boat named “Marilyn” and using the pronoun “he”, I have the uneasy feeling of  being transported into a Pedro Almodovar film.  So my list was narrowed down even further.

For awhile, we thought we would have to keep the boat’s current name in order to a) avoid the well-known wrath that the gods of the seas reserve for those who dare to change the name of a boat, and b) to be able to keep the owner’s mooring in the Auray River for the rest of the year, saving us innumerable headaches and almost $1000.  We grew accustomed to Zephyr, one of the Greek wind gods, who represents the west wind and is the bearer of light spring and early summer breezes. One of our sailor friends scoffed, saying that this hardly evoked the sort of swashbuckling adventures we intended.  But after further study, I decided that any wind god capable of killing a boy by hurling a discus at his head or carrying Cupid and Psyche to their love-cave is good enough for me. 

Joshua Slocum's SPRAY.
Joshua Slocum with silly hat.
But a phone call from the harbour master one week before Zephyr’s sea test informed us that we could, in fact, stay at the mooring for the rest of the year even though the boat’s ownership would change hands, and we were thus free to name the boat whatever we wanted.  For days, we ran  around the house shouting out possible names three times as if we were making a call to the harbour master or coast guard, just to see how it sounded.  We finally decided on Spray, in honour of Joshua Slocum’s boat, which he sailed single-handed around the world between 1895 and 1898.  I had spent 6 years living in New England, not far from where Slocum left for his circumnavigation, and the story of his voyage, “Sailing Alone Around the World”, was and still is an inspiration.  The name Spray also had the advantage of being short, easily pronounceable in both languages, and was, thankfully, gender-neutral.  

But we aren’t out of the proverbial woods yet.  We were told that in addition to the unavoidable French administrative hurdles involved in changing the name of a boat, there are also strict rituals to be observed in order to avoid the aforementioned wrath of Neptune. The nature of these ancient and compulsory rites, however, varies wildly depending on who we ask, and so I set myself the task of carrying out a thorough investigation.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Dehler Top 34

The Dehler Top 34
Our newfound dreamboat is a Dehler Top 34, 1992 by naval architect Van de Stadt.  It’s robust, stable, and rapid, designed for open ocean and short-handed sailing, has a hand-laid fiberglass hull reputed to be impervious to osmosis, and has a beautiful mahogany interior.  The chart table is the most impressive I’ve ever seen, with a full sized table and modern instruments next to an electrical control panel that looks like something you would find in a small airplane.  And there is storage space EVERYWHERE.  It is clear that this boat was designed to sail, and sail, and sail. 

We had learned that one of the first questions to ask owners is what sort of sailing they did with the boat.  This tells you immediately whether the boat has just been lolling around local waters on family outings or if it has been outfitted for real sailing by real sailors.  I was already over the moon about the boat just based on the photos and description in the announcement.  When the owner told us he and his girlfriend had just come back from a one-year tour around the Atlantic, I was sold.  And just before their Atlantic tour, they had replaced just about everything:  rigging, sails, and electronics, and all were still in excellent condition. 

We are currently stumbling clumsily through the arrangements between buyer and seller like kids at their first dance.  We have never bought a boat before and they have never sold one, so we’re all babes in the woods here. We have laughed our way through most of the official hurdles and have become quite chummy.  When we signed the first slew of papers, they asked us if we intended to keep the name of the boat.  That sounded like such a simple question.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

But first, we needed a boat.

The experts will tell you that the first thing you should do when looking for a boat is to define your navigation project in order to know what sort of boat will best suit your needs.  This is a good exercise to do.  And once you’ve done it, you should promptly wad up the paper you wrote it on and throw it in the nearest trashcan.  Such an exercise is like asking your mother what kind of man you should marry.  The only thing that will sustain you through all the expense and frustration of boat ownership is lust.

Our search for the perfect boat: The Dating Game
If my search for the perfect boat were The Dating Game, Bachelor Number 1 could only be labelled “the Metrosexual”;  flashy and attractive, but not nearly robust enough for the rough stuff.   

Bachelor Number 2 was “Mr. Viagra”; artificial performance in an old hull.  

Bachelor Number 3 was “Keith Richards”.  No further explanation required, me thinks.

Bachelor Number 4 was a bit more promising, but the only name that came to mind was “Sloppy Joe”.  This was the same model as the Metrosexual, but outfitted for more performance, with detachable forestay and headsails, davits on the stern, and a winch on the mast.  Unfortunately, the upkeep of the boat was lamentable, the rigging rusty, the repair jobs sloppy, and the sails looked like my grandmother’s panties drying on the line.  After 3 visits, we made an offer that was just this side of insulting.  We’re still waiting to hear back.

Bachelor Number 5 was “The Family Man”.  A steady, comfortable, safe, reasonably well-maintained floating camping car.  On the lust scale, this boat was a 3 out of 10.  We said we’d think about it. (When we’re in our 80s.)

And then there he was, just in time to save us from the jaws of despair.  It was too good to be true.  It was “MacGyver”; a little bit of age on him, but capable of doing anything and going anywhere, with a certain style to boot.  We were in love. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Transition

Our Eco-Lawn of Micro-Clover.
The first two years in our new hometown of Vannes were filled with what we called our “transition activities”.  The first major task was buying a small semi-detached house in town with a handkerchief-sized garden and getting it ready for repeated abandonment and eventual renting.  Any plant that showed the slightest sign of dependency issues got whacked.  We ripped out the old roses in the front yard and put down decorative stone.  We churned up the lawn in the backyard and planted an eco-mixture of slow-growing grass and micro-clover.  We stored a limited selection of our professional and dress clothes in the attic and gave the rest to the Emmaus Association.  I cancelled my subscription to the Economist, whose relentless weekly arrival had become a source of stress in my life, and subscribed to two monthly sailing magazines instead.  We prepared a large room in the garage (that we took to calling “the baby’s room”) to store sails and various boat parts. 

Winter Training:  Gale force winds, 3-4 m seas.
Our most important transition activity was joining a local sailing association, and getting our coastal and offshore boating licenses, as well as our marine VHF radio licenses.  With our association, we logged more than 120 days at sea in two years, covering more than 5000 nautical miles on 22 different types of boats.  Our navigation zone was “from Guinness to Cerveza” , Ireland to Spain.  But most often, we sailed along the south coast of Brittany with its technical Morbihan Gulf, the protected Quiberon Bay, and a string of wild and beautiful islands from Ouessant in the northwest to the island of Noirmoutier in the Loire Atlantic region to the south east.

Sailing on so many different boats with different skippers was an invaluable education, and occasionally when we crewed on new boats, we would spend our time fixing things using tricks we’d learned from other skippers on other boats.  While many skippers tried to convince us not to buy our own boat and to keep sailing with them instead, we were eager to embark on our own sailing projects on our own time schedule.  We were tired of the constant out-and-back routine of sailing around home port.  We wanted to vagabond !  

But first, we needed a boat.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

From Parisian Professionals to Breton Sail Bums

Blogs about casting off the lines and sailing around the world* usually start by addressing the prickly issue of financing such folly, or otherwise arranging life to accommodate the adventure.  These most daunting of tasks actually came easily for us, as Patrick was a young retiree with a comfortable pension, and I was sufficiently daft to leave my career whirling in the wake of my sailing ambitions at age 40.  As an oceanographer, I comforted myself by saying that sailing is a great way of getting closer to my subject matter.  Besides, how many people on their deathbeds say, “I just wish I’d worked a little bit longer?”  I was being given the chance to sail around the world* with my soul mate and I would be an ungrateful fool to spit in the face of such grace.
(*the authors reserve the right to change their minds at any point during said adventure.)

Maria's Makeover:  The Reveal !
Honestly, now - doesn't he look happier on the boat?
We left our Paris apartment and moved to the south coast of Patrick’s native Brittany, which is trying to market itself as “Sailing Valley” (supposed to sound like “Silicon Valley”).  For 5 years before the move, we took week-long sailing courses every year with the famous French sailing school, the Glenans.  The Glenans, the largest sailing school in Europe, was established after World War II by members of the French resistance to help young people returning from deportation or activities in the resistance to forget the war and reconstruct their lives.  The training is rigorous, focusing on safety and navigation using only paper charts, a compass, and tables of tides and currents.  The use of electronics is generally frowned on.  The only drawback of my sailing education is that I learned entirely in French, and I don’t even know many sailing terms in English.  When I talk with my American friends, I fumble around clumsily trying to find the right words. They, of course, enjoy telling me I need to go back to school.  I’m hoping that sailing in French and blogging about it in English will help resolve some of these issues.

Monday, 7 May 2012


We had actually never talked about it.  We knew we loved sailing and wanted to stop working as soon as we could, move to the coast, and buy a boat.  One day, a friend asked, “Are you guys going to sail across the Atlantic?  Around the world?!”  We just looked at each other, paused, and said “Yep” and nonchalantly took another swig of beer.  It wasn’t bravado or an honour-saving reply.  We had both been thinking about it but never discussed it, assuming that things would naturally evolve in that direction without having to put the project into words.  Putting it into words changed things, made it more frightening, and opened us up to the possibility of failure and embarrassment.  But the words had been spoken, however un-poetically, and a new chapter of life began.  

As we write this first entry, we don’t know if this will be the story of a couple who sail around the world, or the story of a couple who meander far and wide, or the story of a couple who just decide that sailing around their own local waters is enough for them.  However it ends, it is for now a story of beginnings; the thrill of buying our first sailboat, the awkward process of becoming amateur electricians, painters, carpenters, diesel mechanics, and plumbers, and testing our wings (or sails) and gaining confidence (or not?) for long distance adventures.  Welcome to the Spray Logs.
Will they?  Won't they? Stay tuned !