Thursday, 20 September 2012

Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On

When Italian sailor Alex Carozzo cast off the lines in southern England to begin the first single-handed around-the-world yacht race in late October of 1968, he was so exhausted after months of overseeing the work to his boat that he anchored his 66 foot ketch, Gancia Americano, behind the Isle of Wight for a week in order to rest.  

Or so goes the Hal Roth version in The Longest Race.

I don’t believe a word of it.

We have now tried three times, unsuccessfully, to tuck Spray behind some lovely island to get some rest after months of effort, and it never works.  We can’t manage to get out of shake-down mode.

We recuperated our repaired Jib sheet after our last misadventure, and headed out this week for an appointment with a mechanic to replace the motor’s alternator and to try to figure out why the engine seems to get the burps from time to time (air in the fuel lines).  And then, we told ourselves, we would plunk down behind some lovely island and get some rest.

Stuck in the port of Crouesty
Our alternator, taken out 2 weeks ago for repairs, was still not ready, so we can look forward to another trip to the mechanic’s in another week.  For the burps, the mechanic shook his head, reassuring us that air in the system wasn’t normal, and then further comforted us by remarking that those sorts of leaks were difficult to find.  So we spent an hour blindly tightening various fittings and adding new metal collars to tighten up some connections even further.  A few test start-ups revealed no problems.  But it was too late to head off anywhere, so we stayed in port and Patrick took the opportunity to install a separate speaker for the VHF marine radio so that we can use the existing speakers for a stereo fm / CD / mp3 player.

The next morning as we were preparing to leave, the motor had great difficulty starting, and when it did, it belched out a rather startling amount of white smoke.  I suggested calling the mechanic again but Patrick declared everything to be fine (Grrrrr) and we headed off.  As luck would have it (mine, not Patrick’s) there was absolutely no wind and we had to motor all the way to the island of Houat.  At least we would be at anchor if we had engine trouble the next time.

Along the way, we tried, for the 6th time, to reset the wind speed and direction indicator to no avail, but I did manage to fix the wanky auto-pilot, who insisted on heaving over ~10 degrees anytime you turned it on.  I manually reset the rudder angle indicator arm of the pilot and then reset the controller to 0 rudder angle compensation.  There is still some play in the helm that causes the pilot to work a lot, but we have to build up the courage to fix that one, since it involves replacing the ball joint underneath the steering column.  If it is anything like the last ball joint job, we’ll need help.

Anchored at the Big Beach, Houat.

We did enjoy a lovely afternoon along the “big beach” at Houat.  It’s difficult to take in the scene with a camera.  The picture below shows a Google Earth shot of the area integrated into our navigation software (OpenCPN), where the red boat shows Spray’s position, anchored off the beach.  Patrick managed a swim (armed with a wetsuit) and I lolled around in the cockpit with my Kindle.  And the motor started right up as we prepared to head home.

OpenCPN version of Houat (red boat position not-to-scale)

We had wind for the return trip to the Gulf and even put a reef in the main (more for practice than necessity).  As we entered the Gulf, we broke a new speed record, even with a reefed mainsail: 11 knots !  We entered at the fastest period of the tidal current with a tidal coefficient of 103, which is a measure of the amplitude of the tidal range (the scale is approximately 20 to 120).  We probably had about 5 knots of current in our favour at that point.  By the time I grabbed my camera, we had descended to 10.8 knots, but trust me… we hit 11 at one point.

New speed record !

Our next few weeks will be a continuation of mini-shake-down cruises until we get all the kinks out, or at least the major ones.  Alex Carozzo headed off without doing this and had to drop out of the around-the-world race near Portugal because of a bleeding peptic ulcer.  We’ll take our time…we’re not in a race.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

First Duet

After 8 years of sailing together, last week was our first time sailing ALONE together.  We had anticipated some domestic clashes as we worked out our co-skippering routine of who-does-what-when and coped with the anxiety of being “alone”.  Friends had gleefully regaled us with stories of their first skippering experiences, and like them, I fully expected some tense, doubt-filled episodes.  In fact, there were very few clashes and surprisingly little stress, despite several rather spectacular misadventures.  

First dinner alone on boat.

We headed off for 6 days of easy cruising and rest after 3 months of non-stop work in the boatyard.  The summary of our week goes something like this:
  • 5 nights, 4 moorings, 1 port stop, 2 islands.
  • Tested the new windlass, the boom brake, and inflated the annex (dinghy) for the first time.
  • Sailed wing-on-wing with the jib sheet poled out (briefly… didn’t help).
  • Performed a “Hat Overboard” manoeuvre and recuperated the small dark object after 3 passes.
  • Learned not to succumb to peer-pressure in choosing a mooring location.  (Blindly lining up with the others isn’t necessarily what’s right for your boat.)
  • Learned that putting out an anchor buoy is a good idea to keep other boats from parking on top of your anchor, making it difficult to recuperate your anchor without a close encounter.
  • Learned that 30 meters of chain is really not enough for many fine spots in Brittany.
  • Reconfirmed that the island of Houat is breathtakingly beautiful.
  • Learned that 90 liters of fresh water goes faster than you think it does.
  • Tried to reset the wind direction and speed indicator to no avail.
  • Tried to understand the rather peculiar nature of the auto-pilot that requires one to immediately add or subtract 10 degrees depending on your tack each time it engages.
  • Mild panic attack (Patrick) when the Genoa parted from the furler and started dragging in the water while underway in a moderate swell and headwind.
  • Recuperated and immobilized a flapping headsail on the deck.
  • Put into practice our sailing school experience of installing the detachable forestay and a new headsail (a very nice 25 m2 Solent... Jib Sheet) underway, also in a moderate swell and headwind (Maria).
  • Climbed the mast (Patrick) to recuperate the headsail halyard that had remained firmly stuck to the top of the mast when the jib sheet ripped away from the shackle (in-port exercise).
  • Motor failed to start (thankfully in port) and mechanic on neighbouring boat suggested purging the fuel line to see if there was air in the system.   
  • Mild tantrum (Maria) when Patrick announced he was going to cut the fuel line to install a hand pump to make the job go faster.
  • Joy (Patrick) and panic (Maria) when motor started up after 1 hour of priming and Patrick’s insistence that all was well and good to go.
  • Learned that it isn’t enough to calculate tides and currents in order to get somewhere:  one should also calculate sunset if one wants to find a secluded mooring buoy in daylight.
Personally, I blame our misadventures on the rabbit pâté Patrick insisted on buying on Belle Ile.  Everything was going along fine until he brought it back to the boat.

When I got home, I had an email from my Dad asking what we had learned sailing alone that we hadn’t learned in all our years of sailing with others.  If one discounts my snarky, knee-jerk response that “sailing on your own boat is never a vacation”, Patrick and I would both agree that we learned to appreciate each other’s abilities in different domains.  He would not have attempted to put up a new headsail in the given conditions if I hadn’t taken the initiative, and I never would have dreamt of trying to fix the motor by myself.  Our “to do” list is now longer than when we left, and we are still desperately in need of a vacation, but we plan to head out again next week for several days … for a little rest.