Friday, 21 December 2012

Out with a Bang

It was only meant to be a short out-and-back trip to the Port of Crouesty to replace the heating system.  Three days and one call-for-help later, we made our way back to our mooring in the Auray river with a new heating system and a burning desire for a long quiet holiday.

The new heating system (Webasto) was supposed to arrive at the electronics shop on Friday -  Monday at the latest.  Tuesday morning, we sailed the one hour down to Crouesty for the installation, with plans to return to the gulf on Wednesday morning with the last of the incoming tide.  There were special weather bulletins warning of near-gales (Beaufort 7 with gusts) but our gulf, protected by a larger bay, doesn’t usually see the full force of such gales and we knew we could manage a little “rodeo” if we had to.

The system never showed up.  The electricians went ahead and removed the old system on Tuesday afternoon and confirmed that the system would arrive early Wednesday morning.  We decided we could put off our return until Wednesday afternoon with the 2nd incoming tide.

Wednesday morning came and went with no deliveries.  After delaying as long as we could, we decided to leave and make an appointment to install the new heating system in early January.  Patrick informed the electricians, who apologized for the delays and wished us happy holidays.

We cast off and headed into the channel with a 17-knot headwind.  The channel is rather narrow, with shoals and rocks on either side (see image below).  We decided to motor out of the channel and then, turning north to head into the gulf, we would have a tailwind that would give us a smooth sail home with just the genoa headsail.

As we reached the penultimate channel marker, the engine sputtered and died. What the !*%$?  We tried to restart it twice, pulling out all the tricks we’ve learned over the last 4 months without success.  After the 2nd try, I told Patrick we needed to get the sails up fast.  We were already drifting outside the channel towards the rocks.  He went below to try one more trick to restart the motor while I prepared the mainsail.  After flailing around to unzip the lazybag and get the halyard ready to run, I realized we were no longer facing the wind but had been blown onto a broad reach … impossible to hoist our heavy mainsail at 90 degrees to the wind.  I didn’t know if we could point into the wind sufficiently with the genoa alone, but we didn’t have much choice.  With a loud snap, the genoa unfurled rapidly in the stiff wind.  I winched it in flat and Spray responded immediately.  The answer is YES, we can point into the wind (rather well, in fact) with just the genoa, although it’s not particularly stable or comfortable.

The Crouesty Channel - site of our first "incident".
With the boat now manoeuvrable and headed back into the channel, we were out of immediate danger but were still “in a pickle”, as we say back home.  Patrick called the Harbour Master on the VHF radio to tell them we were coming back into port under sail.  They responded immediately and told us they would have a boat meet us at the breakwater to help tow us into a slip.

As we headed into the port, it dawned on me what had happened.  The electricians had removed the heating system the night before, which runs off the main diesel fuel reservoir.  They had opened up the fuel line that feeds the heating system and didn’t close it off, thinking they would be installing the new system before we left. Oops. As soon as we got the boat tied up, we looked at the reservoir, and sure enough, the diesel valve was closed and the intake tube to the absent heating system was open to the air. 

The culprit.
Patrick went to express his strong disappointment and returned with a very pale electrician and his manager.  They re-attached the old pump to close the fuel circuit, allowing us to use the engine while waiting for the new heating system to arrive.  But it was too little, too late, and we’d missed the ingoing tide to the gulf.  We decided to sit it out another night in port and head back into the gulf the next morning

But later that afternoon, the electrician showed up proudly displaying the new heating system that had just arrived.  He was willing to work late and start again very early the next morning and assured us everything would be installed by 10:45 am, allowing us to catch the last of the tide.  At noon, they finally finished.  I calculated that we would have about 2 knots of current in the nose, but with 21 knots of wind on a broad reach, we decided we could push our way through.  It was a bumpy ride, but we made it back to our mooring just as a squall arrived.  We prepared the boat and waited for a break in the weather. 

When the dinghy was loaded and ready to go, I looked around at the sky and saw a steel-grey front headed our way.  I wanted to wait it out, Patrick wanted to try to outrun it.  I lost the battle but won the war in the form of a moral victory, which, truth be told, is only of minor comfort.  It was, by far, the STUPIDIST thing we’ve ever done. (Patrick, too, now admits this.)  As soon as we were in the middle of the river, still 5 minutes from shore, the grain overtook us.  The waves built up behind us and we were surfing, fighting to keep the dinghy at an angle to the waves so that we wouldn’t be flipped sideways or swamped from the waves breaking behind us. Pelted by wind-driven hail, visibility was nil and the only thing we could do was to follow the waves.  There was no way to aim the boat where we needed to go without turning over.  After several long minutes of white-knuckle petrifaction, we made it to an anchorage area where several large boats provided enough of a wind shield that we could redress the direction of the boat to head to the dock. 

I felt sick.  Patrick said “Woo Hoo !  We made it !” 

Later that night, we both realized that every muscle in our bodies ached from the stress.  We agreed that this whole adventure was an important learning experience, not to be repeated if at all possible.  And thus ends 2012 sailing with Spray.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cold Weather, Warm Camaraderie

This week’s outing was our first winter-weather trip on Spray, complete with watery eyes, heavy frost and icy mornings.  It was also the trip where we discovered that our on-board heating system is dead.

Spray with frost on her boom and ice on the docks.
In port, we have two different heaters we can use running off of shore power:  a fan heater that heats up fast and chases away the humidity, and an oil-bath radiator that gives off a steady (and quiet) heat for the night.  When we’re at anchor, however, we have to rely on the boat’s heating system, which runs off the diesel fuel for the boat.  It worked well a month ago (when we didn’t need it), but stopped working now that it’s really cold.

Alone on Hoedic Island ... with shore power !
But when you have neither shore power nor on-board heating on a cold night, the next best thing is to be rafted up in between two big friendly boats with warm saloons and crews.  We met up with two boats from our local sailing club (Aldiana, an Oceanis 323, and Argo, a Romanee) and spent a lovely evening moored at Belle Ile, bouncing between the three boats:  drinks and munchies on Argo, back to Spray for dinner where we could heat the boat with our own cooking, then over to Aldiana for desert, and a quick jump into our winter-weight sleeping bags back on Spray.

Sailing with other boats means photos of yours under sail !  Thanks, Argo crew !
In between the cold weather and warm camaraderie, we actually managed to fix a few things.  Since the weather has turned cool, we noticed that the GPS takes almost 20-30 minutes to home-in on 3 satellites necessary for a position fix.  I suspected condensation and a bad contact, and after heating, drying, and insulating the connection to the antenna, things work brilliantly.I’ve been complaining for some time about our schizophrenic auto pilot, and after moving a 12 kg anchor that was just below the flux gate compass and re-doing the entire sea trial calibration (swinging the compass, auto-learn process), things work very well.  Having a reliable auto-pilot is a huge relief when sailing short-handed.  Patrick bravely fixed the toilet for a second time.  He replaced the pump assembly a couple of weeks ago and everything worked well for 3-4 days before seizing up again.  (For the more curious among you, the answer is NO, we do not put anything down the toilet that has not first passed through our own bodies.)  After reading some helpful hints on sailing forums, he dumped a bottle of cooking oil down the pump assembly and that seems to have done the trick.

Our 5:25 pm sunset and a late arrival into port this week also gave us the opportunity to realize that none of our running lights were working.  They had been working well a few weeks ago. When the electricians came to check out the heating system, they found some very unorthodox mingling of wires between our AIS system and the running lights, including one completely melted wire. Once the wiring got straightened out, we had to change the bulbs that had been fried during some mystery power-surge.  That, of course, meant climbing the mast and changing 2 bulbs.  Long story short:  wrong bulbs and stuck light-cover casings meant FOUR trips up the mast in very cold weather.   

Winter not only brings cooler temperatures and shorter days but also storms, and Spray’s mooring lines suffered severe chaffing over the last 2 weeks during several gales that had her tugging and bobbing on her mooring ball.  If we hadn’t had the protective garden hose on the mooring line, it would have been cut in two.  Of course, we always have 2 mooring lines attached, just in case…  We’ll be very glad to move Spray into the port of Vannes at the end of the month !

Winter storm chaffing.

Today the high temperature is 2 C (35) and we’re enjoying a cozy day at home…getting price estimates for boat heater replacement.  They don’t make replacement parts for our 20 year old heater anymore, so it looks like we’re in for a new system.

Just think, starting in 2013, we’ll have a boat docked a comfortable 15 minute walk from home and all her systems and sails will have been recently repaired !  Glass half full, glass half full, glass half full…   

*note:  this issue was resolved several months later when I discovered the notion of TTFF:  time to first fix.  The fact that the GPS was taking forever to get a fix when we first fired it up in cold weather had nothing to do with the cold weather or condensation, but the fact that we weren't sailing as much in the cold, and thus, had not turned the GPS on regularly.  When you turn on the GPS, it has to download a lot of information.  If you've turned it on recently, those updates are relatively fresh and take less time.  If you don't turn it on for a week or more, you'll have to wait. (Some sources say up to 15 minutes... we waited 30-40 after leaving it off for a month.)  

For more articles on winter sailing, visit The Monkey's Fist !