Monday, 25 March 2013

The Never-Ending Shakedown Period

When we were visiting boats to buy and would notice little things that we wanted to change, sellers would always tell us that the rule of thumb is that it takes 2 years to get a boat to be the way you want it.  We thought that was just a way of dismissing our concerns.  Now we believe.

Every time we head out, it feels like a shakedown cruise and I’m beginning to think that this is just the way it’s going to be for quite some time.  But rather than listing of all the things that go wrong, I’ve decided to make a more balanced score-card for our cruises to highlight the positive things as well.

Cool but SUNNY !  The shades make their first appearance of 2013.
Things we broke:

The on/off switch for the refrigerator.  Turns out that the long switch that looked like a toggle (up-down) was actually just a push button (in-out).  Who knew?  Attempts to super-glue it back into place were futile.  For now, we’re turning the fridge off and on by inserting the push button pin manually into the hole left behind when it broke.  Not very elegant, but a whole lot cheaper than replacing the whole control unit. 
The metal bracket that broke.

The auto-pilot angle indicator bracket.  This has been a weak spot that we’ve just been putting on the back burner for awhile now (one of the earliest problems noted in our Tech/Mech list).  This metal bracket connects the auto pilot rudder angle indicator to the rudder stock, and has just been held onto the rudder stock with a stainless steel screw-clamp.  We’ll probably need to find a machinist to make us a new part.

Things we fixed:

Mooring and Running lights.
Mooring and running lights.  After two trips up the mast, we finally got the mooring and running lights fixed.  According to the electrician, the original LED bulbs were “those old cheap Chinese LEDs.”  We now have new superior (French) ones.  We also replaced the duct tape around the bottom seal with a bead of silicone, much better at keeping out humidity, according to the electrician.

Oil Change.  We completed our first oil change, changed the oil filter, and changed the oil in the gear box. 

Things we did right:

Successfully executed a tricky new manoeuvre.  This was the first time we’d taken Spray into the port on the island of Houat.  Here, boats moor bow and stern on two mooring buoys connected by “dumbbell” floats (two smaller floaters connected by a metal rod in between the two mooring buoys).  This system allows 2 boats to moor on either side of the buoys, with the dumbbell floaters serving as a cushion between the two boats. Our manoeuvre to pick up the two mooring buoys, back and front, went very smoothly.  See “Things we did wrong” for the rest of the story.

Navigated solo in the Gulf.  While we’ve been sailing in the area for 4 years now, this was the first time we have navigated solo from the entrance of the Morbihan Gulf up to Vannes, an area renowned for its narrow passages between 40 islands, tidal currents among the strongest in Europe (9 knots in places), powerful eddies and whirlpools, and wind-against-current conditions that can bar the entrance to the Gulf with steep waves.  We, of course, avoided most of that by calculating favourable tidal conditions for the passage.  Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do about the wind direction and ended up short-tacking in narrow channels all the way home, but the weather was relatively sunny and mild, so that was actually fun.

Picked up a mooring buoy at Er Gored.  We had a lovely sunny lunch stop at Er Gored beach on the west coast of Monk’s Island (Ile aux Moines) in the Gulf.  We had 3-4 hours to kill waiting for more favourable currents and the bridge opening in Vannes, so we pulled up to the empty mooring field at Er Gored and had lunch (and a nap) in the sunny cockpit.  What a welcomed respite after our sleepless night at Houat ! (see “Things we did wrong.”)

A peacefull Er Gored mooring area...with sun !

Things we did wrong:

Made a bad decision about where to spend the night.  We had not planned on going to the island of Houat that day, but since the wind was good we decided to take advantage of it.  The wind was from the East and was supposed to turn Northeast in the evening.  Plan A was to anchor at Treach Salus beach, one of our favourite spots on the south side of the island.  As we approached the island, I listened to the updated weather report that mentioned 3-4 meter swells from the southwest, which meant that we would not be able to anchor safely (or comfortably) on the beach.  Out with Plan A, move on to Plan B.  The coastal pilot guide says that there are mooring buoys just outside the port of Houat.  We had seen these last fall and it looked like a great spot.  Even though the area would be somewhat exposed if the wind did indeed turn to the Northeast, the pilot said that Northeast winds can raise, and I quote, “a little bit of chop”.  No problem, I thought.  A bit of water slapping and knocking against the hull isn’t pleasant, but as long as the winds are light (Beaufort 3-4) and we’re on a buoy and not at anchor, it shouldn’t be a problem.  We pulled up to the spot.  No buoys.  Apparently, they take these out in the winter but failed to indicate this to the editors of the coastal pilot guides.  Out with Plan B, move on to Plan C.  I’d always been leery of entering the actual port of Houat because the water is not very deep there and we can only use the buoys on the outer edge of the harbour.  We did a slow recon loop around the outside mooring buoys and I calculated that we’d have at least 1 meter of water under the keel at low tide, which would give us a good safety margin even if there was some swell and chop.  We tied up to the last pair of mooring buoys (mooring bow and stern with dumbbell floaters in between the buoys).  The manoeuvre went well, the sun was out, winds were light, and it was a beautiful spot.  Cue menacing music…

Port of Houat.

The calm before a sleepless night.
As the winds picked up and veered Northeast, the chop set in.  No problem.  We’ve done chop before.  The problem was the way we had tied up to the dumbbell mooring system.  We left the mooring lines a bit loose so that the boat could move up and down freely with the swell.  But with the wind pushing us sideways, and with our being tied up on the windward side of the mooring buoys, the bow passed over the nylon line connecting the bow mooring buoy to the dumbbell floaters and began sawing the line up-and-down-and-up-and-down with the bow of the boat. The line was very thick nylon covered with slimy algae and I didn’t think that this would hurt the boat (or that the boat would cut through the mooring line), but still… not a good situation.  We tried adjusting the lines, forward, back, tighter, looser but nothing worked.  I realized that the best thing to do would be to re-moor the boat on the leeside of the mooring buoys.  (Lesson learned:  always moor on the lee side of dumbbell buoys if you have a choice.)  But it was midnight and the winds were stiff, and moving the boat "by hand" without the motor would have been impossible.  The wind had pushed us so far sideways that there was no space between the 2 rows of buoys, so in order to get onto the lee side of our row of buoys, we would have had to push our way in between the two rows.  The concern was that there was a lot of long algae and various bits of mooring lines floating at the surface of the water that I didn’t want wrapped around the propeller.  So we set the lines as best we could and rode out the night with the banging, knocking, and jerking of “a little bit of chop.”  I slept with one eye open and kept checking the lines every hour until about 2:30 a.m. at high tide.  After that, I convinced myself that everything was okay and managed to sleep until 6 a.m.  We headed out into the blustery swell as soon as the first passenger ferry pulled into port around 8 a.m.  (Embarrassment is a great motivator for leaving a port early in the morning…). 

Patrick summarizes the situation by sighing and saying, “Well, we’re less dumb than we were when we left home port.”  And I think this is going to be our mantra for the foreseeable future.