Saturday, 27 October 2012

Foggy Memories

This week’s episode of the Spray Logs reminds us that Halloween will soon be upon us.  As we approached the island of Houat, the wind died and a wall of cold fog moved in from the east, blending the horizon and the water into one seamless smoke screen and reducing our world to the size of a… well, a 10 meter Dehler 34, to be precise. 

Visibility < 100 meters
We reduced speed and strained our eyes, searching for any feature that might assure us that the world beyond the bow was still there.  Trying to keep a compass heading when there is no horizon to indicate motion became difficult and we began helplessly weaving back and forth.  In the heightened tension, I fully expected to glimpse the Mary Celeste come drifting dead ahead at any minute.   

We turned to our autopilot and navigation software for comfort.  Patrick told me to duck below and get the fog horn.  This is a small plastic trumpet used to signal one’s existence to other ships in such cases, and we dutifully gave a couple of blasts every few minutes.  A rather ridiculous sound resembling that of a cheap party horn served to reduce the tension, which, truth-be-told, is probably the horn’s most useful feature. 

The fog horn.
Our navigation program told us that the island was only ½ mile ahead and yet we still had no indication of the high rocks that should be rapidly approaching.  Our plan had been to head to a mooring area on the south side of the island to shelter us from the northern winds predicted for the evening.  But that route involves wiggling one’s way through a maze of rocks and sand bars.  We juggled our options.  We could change course and head towards the port of Houat where we could grab a mooring buoy at the entrance to the port.  But the buoys aren’t marked on the navigation software or charts, and neither are other boats.  The lack of visibility would make this option more dangerous than confronting the labyrinth of rocks that were at least clearly marked on the charts.  It was also a route we’d taken many times and we knew there was a large flat beach just after the first set of obstacles where we could always drop anchor if things got too hairy.

Our track, blindfolded.

With me down below calling out course changes and Patrick manning the auto-pilot controls, we made our way slowly along, passing first Er Yoc’h, the 23 meter high rock (never saw it), sliding around the only-slightly-submerged rocks Bonen ar Rade and the isolated danger buoy Men er Houteliguet, which we managed to vaguely identify at 150 meters.  We made a wide slow swing around the Begs (Tost, Creiz, Pell), not forgetting Er Gadoerec a Vez along the way, and lined up to pull up to our mooring ground.  As we did, the wind picked up and slowly pushed the fog to the south east, giving us reasonably good visibility as we set the anchor.  By the time the motor was cut, the sun was out, birds were zooming around merrily and fish were jumping (mullet, we were later told).  All of nature seemed to be saying “trick or treat !”.  We promptly treated ourselves to a bottle of rosé.

Treat after trick.
After this harrowing beginning, the next 3 days were, literally, smooth sailing.  We tried to squeeze in to the port of Hoedic to take on water (after last week’s gaffe with the watercow) but found 4 boats waiting for 5 places already occupied.  As the weather and wind were perfect, we decided to head over to the Quiberon peninsula to the port of Haliguen, not known for anything more enticing than a large visitors’ dock with water and electricity.  After tying up, we bumped into a friend from Vannes who was there alone in his 9 meter motor yacht.  He has sailed in this area for over 30 years, and we spent a lovely evening grilling him about favourite mooring spots in the bay and gulf. 

The next day, a moderate gale was predicted for the evening so we decided to go together to our friend’s favourite mooring spot in the gulf, which he assured us was sheltered from winds from any direction.  We had passed this idyllic spot before with other people’s boats, but didn’t dare take Spray this far up into the river because of the narrow and shallow channels all around.  Having a guide lead us through and up to deep-water mooring buoys was an opportunity not to be missed.  It was, quite simply, the calmest mooring location we have ever experienced in almost 10 years of sailing in this area.  And one of the most beautiful.  The wind was, so they say, blowing about 45 km/hr (25-30 mph), but our wind turbine didn’t even budge.  The water was oily smooth and we slept in complete silence.  

Our new favorite mooring spot in the gulf.

And of course I have absolutely no intention of telling anyone where it is.  Foggy memory, indeed. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

O La Vache !

The French phrase “O La Vache !” (literally “Oh, the cow”) is a popular expression of surprise similar to the English expressions “Oh my God” or “Holy Cow”.  During this week’s cruise, we applied the phrase liberally to another French cow:  the “Water Cow” (vache a eau) is what the French call the water tank on a boat.  We managed to have a wee accident with our Water Cow, eliciting not just “O La Vache !” but also another favourite and useful French phrase, “Putain !”  (…and if you haven’t yet seen the “Learn French in One Word” video that has gone viral on the internet, here’s the link: 

Form 1: Function 0
The problem was one of form-vs-function and fault should properly be attributed to the faucet and not the water tank itself.  When we bought the boat, we were attracted to the double sinks and lovely faucet that the previous owners installed in the Caribbean (see Bricolage Update for tales of earlier difficulties with Caribbean plumbing).  We have now learned why such faucets are not standard on boats.  It’s too bloody easy for them to open accidentally.   

I took the wheel and Patrick went below to try to activate the AIS setting on our MaxSea software (…still not working).  While he was down there, I asked him to make a log entry, as one is supposed to do every hour or so at sea.  He claims this is where all our problems began.  Somehow in the process of climbing from the nav station to the table where the logbook was (boat heeled over about 15-20 degrees), his foul weather gear or life vest managed to snag the water faucet handle and open it.  He was not alerted to the sound of running water because, inside the hull of a boat charging through waves at 7 knots, this is not an unusual sound.

As the tank emptied into the sink, the boat became progressively lighter – by 90 kilograms ! –  on the port side.  As we were on a port tack, the boat heeled over further and the water pouring out of the faucet finally skipped over the sink altogether and started splashing directly on the floor.  This is when I noticed the unusual noise and saw that the faucet was open.  By this time, it was coughing up its last, spitting and sputtering a mixture of water and air from the tank.  It was at this point where the two phrases Putain and La Vache were liberally applied.

It all seems so simple in retrospect:  switch off the power to the water pump when underway.  The positive side of the story is that I was starting to feel guilty about our making such simple trips from the Gulf out to one of the islands and back, but after this latest incident, we decided that as long as we’re still learning important lessons like these, it’s not a bad idea to be close to home.

And we really can’t complain because our home sailing ground is truly beautiful.  (For other photos and stories of Hoedic, Houat and Belle Ile islands, see First Duet and Fall Season Opener with their associated trip photo links at the end).
Beautiful Hoedic.
We pulled into small Port Argol on Hoedic Island in the early afternoon on a Friday and were stupefied to find that we had the dock to ourselves. This is quite astonishing since Hoedic is (a) on a “migration” route for sailors navigating along the southern coast of Brittany, (b) there was a special weather bulletin announcing a gale for the next 24 hours, chasing sailors off the water and into the ports, and (c) Port Argol only has 5 visitors’ slips and fills up very quickly even in mid-week and off-season.        

Snuggled into Port Argol, Hoedic (Spray is the 2nd mast from the left).
The theme of this week’s outing was seafood.  Like the local seagulls, Patrick has learned that the Hoedic fishermen come back into port around 2pm, and has taken to poking around their boats when they arrive to see if they will sell him anything directly.   

What's for dinner ?

Last week it was a dorade (sea beam) and this week it was torteau (rock crabs).   

Rock crabs and pliers.
The next day, we went oyster hunting on a rocky plateau on the southeast side of Hoedic.  “Wild” oysters are difficult to open but they are wonderful to eat, even for someone like me who isn’t generally crazy about raw oysters.  We didn’t have the proper seafood tools one generally uses for opening and eating crabs and oysters, but with all the fix-it jobs we do on the boat, we were by no means defenceless and simply pulled out the pliers and screwdrivers to get the job done.

A lot of work to open but worth it...
We headed home in between squalls, which seems to be our stable weather pattern for the fall.  They hit, last for about 15-20 minutes, and then the sky becomes lighter for an hour or so before the next one hits.   

Our typical fall weather pattern: squall, blue patch, squall, repeat.

We’ve taken to using the smaller headsails quite a bit and we installed a bungee cord system to keep them in order on the deck when furled.  Now if I could just figure out how to get them dry in between squalls before stowing them below…

Yankee bungeed to the lines.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Fall Season Opener

It’s October.  We’ve finally been forced to accept the fact that we will not be making a major summer trip this year.  The “good weather windows” are getting narrower and we still have much to learn (and repair) on board Spray.  But each local outing offers important lessons and this week’s voyage was no exception.

Au Revoir Gwenva

We headed out on Saturday to say goodbye to Gwenva, an 8 meter Kelt sailboat that has carried us far and taught us much over the last 2 years. Guru Bob sold her to a couple of young sailors who dream of sailing her to Turkey next spring.  We’re sad to see her go, but glad she’s in the hands of owners who intend to keep her sailing.

Here’s the summary of the week and a link to photos below:
  • Five days, three islands (Belle Ile, Houat, Hoedic).
  • One day with dead calm; one day with a squall: gusts to 27 knots and zero visibility.
  • One day of tourism around Le Palais while waiting for the winds to pick up.
  • New speed record during the squall: 12.7 knots, obtained with 2 reefs in the main and the jib sheet (solent) up front.  Sorry – no picture-proof this time. (The squall wasn’t the best time to dash down to get my camera !)
  • Realized that we need a mooring line of at least 30 meters to tie up comfortably to the stone way quay in Le Palais of Belle Ile.
  • Confirmed that October is still too early to get a good spot in the harbour of Le Palais. (We were rafted up 4 deep in the outer harbour).  Note to self: need to re-inflate the fenders. 
  • First outing with MaxSea Time Zero Navigation Software.  Mixed results.  Will take some time to get used to.
  • Thousands and thousands of jellyfish along the shores of Belle Ile; probably Pelagia noctiluca (bad stings); probably pushed our way by the recent southwest winds.
  • One Portuguese Man-o-War cruising by Spray one evening at anchor in Belle Ile.  Filed a sighting report with the Mer-et-Littoral “Operation Jellyfish” project.
  • Climbed the mast while in port on the island of Hoedic (pronounced head-ick) to fix the anemometer (much better but not perfect).
  • Reconfirmed that Hoedic can be just as beautiful as her more flashy sister, Houat, across the Sisters Passage.
  • Sailed at slack tide (no current) to compare the speedo speed reading with the GPS reading.  Needs adjustment, but didn’t have the documentation with me.  Top of the to-do list.
  • Tested the Wichard Gybe-Easy boom brake.  Needs refinement (our installation and technique), and probably a couple of dedicated cam mini-cleats.