Wednesday, 24 April 2013

May Day (not MAYDAY !)

We head off on the 1st of May for our first 2 week stint of “spring” sailing (where quotes indicate irony of the word with respect to the forecasted temperatures and weather conditions).

Spray in the port of Vannes.

I hesitate to call it a shakedown cruise for summer sailing since that might tempt the gods to throw lots of nasty repair jobs our way, but the timing and duration will make a nice test run for longer sails coming up soon. 

Goals:  

Leave the Gulf during the Week of the Gulf traditional boat festival madness (6-12 May).

Avoid the Belle-Ile area during the Round Belle-Ile race (4 May).

Swing the compass and carry out the auto-learn calibration for the pilot.

Test the AIS system with MaxSea (now using the serial cable directly from the AIS to the computer instead of the USB connector and its creepy serial-to-USB port conversion).

Expand our navigation zone outside of the Quiberon Bay (plans are to sail between Groix Island and Yeu Island, weather-willing; see red arrows in graph below.)

Convince Patrick that we CAN eat well on the boat after the pre-prepared meals have run out, and that there ARE good food markets in many port areas. 

Learn to enjoy sailing again without squalls every 48 hours or constant breakdowns (equipment and crew). 

Test our new folding bikes: storage on the boat, performance on the road, ability to transfer bikes to shore with the inflatable annex ?

Post my first blog report from sea.

Return to Vannes safe, sound, and happy for a family gathering and bathroom renovations before heading off for longer adventures.

Navigation Zone: Groix Island to the Northwest, Yeu Island to the Southeast (red arrows).

Friday, 12 April 2013

Motor Maintenance: Last Call

Grilled thermostat anyone ?

Today we changed the zincs on the motor, checked the cooling system and the thermostat.  I’m no expert, but the expert confirmed my suspicions:  this one is thoroughly grilled (but at least it was stuck in the Open position).  The zincs were pretty messy, too, but after liberal bathing in WD-40, they came out without too much of a fight. 

Now our “To Do” list for the motor has been whittled down to:  replacing thermostat, rinsing the motor with fresh water and “no salt” product (or vinegar?), and putting some fuel injection cleaner in the diesel tank.   

We kept pummelling the poor mechanic with “what if” and “what about” questions until he finally cracked, threw his hands up in surrender and said “I don’t know what you want from me… you’re motor’s FINE !” 

And with that, we will now (fingers crossed) be closing this year’s chapter on motor maintenance. 
Posted on Friday, April 12, 2013 | Categories:

Monday, 8 April 2013

Lewmar Wavegrip Winch Maintenance

This week, we attacked the winches.  We didn’t know when they had last been cleaned, so armed with the Lewmar maintenance manual, white spirit, light machine oil, winch grease, and piles of rags and miles of paper towels, we opened up our first winch.

Everyone will tell you that cleaning and remounting a winch is not difficult, and it’s true.  Everyone will also tell you that it is all too easy to lose pieces overboard, so be very careful and keep all parts  inside the cockpit at all times.  And oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true, but you won’t believe how true it is until it happens to you.

The basic dismounting, cleaning, and remounting is fairly straightforward and is covered in the manual.  Our first surprise was that we didn’t have the right manual, or rather, we didn’t have the winches we thought we had.  Our winches are the older Lewmar Wavegrip series (30ST and 40ST), made between 1983 and 1991, easily identifiable by their 4 cross-head screws on the top cap.  The schematic for these winches is available at: http://www.pyacht.com/lewmar-winch-schematics.htm

The 30STs were pretty clean.  These are the ones that stay under the dodger. 

Before and after cleaning.

But the 40st were full of gunk (dried, clumping grease) and we noticed cracks in the gel coat underneath both of these winches.  We put some silicone over the cracks to prevent creeping and leaking.  But does anyone know why these are there?  Stress fractures?

Dried grease on bearings.


Mystery cracks underneath both 40STs.

We followed instructions in the manual about using winch grease everywhere except the pawls, where we used a light machine oil.  Several boating friends told us they simply used grease everywhere, but that seems to gunk up the pawls after awhile, so we followed the instructions and used only oil there. 

In reading the various nets and blogs, there are a couple of issues not covered in the manuals that can cause problems.  We fell into these traps, too, but figured them out with a little trial and error.

The first one deals with the 2 collets sitting just underneath the top cap and on top of the feeder arm.  The collets support the spindle and keep it at the right height in relation to the gears at the bottom of the winch.  They fit like puzzle pieces into notches cut in the center stem and they must also be aligned with the grove at the top of the spindle when you put them back together.  You have to lift the spindle up a bit to get the grove to align with the notches.  If you don’t get them aligned, you’ll notice that the collets have a gap between them and you won’t be able to line up the screw holes.

Removing and re-seating the collets.  Lift the spindle to align the notch and spindle groove (red arrow).
The second problem we had was in putting together the upper and lower crowns of the self-tailing jaws.  When you place the upper crown on the lower one, with the stripper ring in between, you have to rotate the upper crown until it “clicks” into place on the lower crown and it no longer rotates freely.  If you don’t do this, you’ll notice that your upper crown is wavy when you tighten down the screws (as if it’s not seated correctly, which it isn’t.) 

Place top crown (not shown) over bottom crown and stripper ring and turn until it clicks into place.
In general, our winches were in good shape.  One pawl spring broke and that was a good sign for us to buy a replacement kit and change them out .  The only major kerfuffle was when one of the upper crowns went sliding down the gunwale like a hockey puck before making a big PLOOF sound as it hit the water.  We had been working on our hands and knees in the cockpit floor to avoid losing any pieces overboard, and this happened when one of us stood up to dry the part.  The water in the port is about 2 meters deep with zero visibility and is still very cold.  Diving for it blind is a last-ditch option.  We managed to find a company in the UK (winchspares.com) that still sells parts for these older models, but stocks won’t last forever.  Next time, we’ll have a better appreciation for what “be very careful” really means.    
Posted on Monday, April 08, 2013 | Categories:

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The North and the South

It’s a miracle.  I’ve finally met a Breton sailor who says positive things about sailing in the Mediterranean.  (Name withheld for his protection.)  He spent 3 years cruising in the Med and highly recommends it.  Here in France, there is a constant stand-off between devotees of these two major sailing zones, fed regularly by articles in sailing magazines emphasizing the commonly-held prejudices about each.

A dreamy anchorage near Gozo / Malta, and dinner after diving for sea urchins in Tunisia. (They're not so bad with lots of butter and garlic...). 
In Brittany, you will hear the all-too-familiar refrain, “In the Med, there’s either too much wind or not enough.”  You will also hear that the ports are too expensive, too crowded, and that they are full of flashy motor yachts and gigantic catamarans and their obnoxious owners.  Of Brittany, Med sailors will simply point out that it’s cool and rainy, even in the summer.  There are elements of truth to both, but animosity aside, most sailors would eagerly sail both zones if given the chance. However, except for shallow-draft keels (<1.40m) that can pass in the canal system linking the Atlantic coast to the Med, travel between Brittany and the Med means a very long trip across the Biscay Bay and around Spain and Portugal, and a round-trip is usually more than a single sailing season will allow.

But it was the wife of the Breton Med fan (an excellent sailor herself) who posed the critical question for me: the choice all depends on why you sail.  If you sail as a way to explore the world, there is no place better than the Med, birthplace of western civilisation where a simple day sail can take you into a new country with a different language, culture, and cuisine.  Rod Heikell, author of many of the IMRAY guides for the Med, has this to say about the too much wind / not enough wind mantra:  There is some truth in it but more often than not it is used as an excuse for poor planning”.  He goes on to suggest that many people who complain about the sailing conditions in the Med are those who should have opted for a motor boat rather than a sail boat – those who can’t tolerate the idea of sailing at less than 3 knots or those who feel they need to heave-to when the afternoon breezes reach force 6.     

We have crewed on boats between Corsica and Sardinia, and from Tunisia to Sicily via Lampedusa and Malta, and have known both dead calm and near gale-force winds with short choppy seas.  But we have also known these conditions in Brittany.  What I have never known in Brittany, however, is a hot and sunny day with exotic port stops at World Heritage sites.  Maybe it’s the result of this dark, never-ending winter, but if you ask, that’s what I want. 

In the end, we are firm believers in Jimmy Cornell’s warning that the most dangerous thing on a sailboat is a calendar.  If you have the luxury of taking your time (and we do), you can choose your weather windows to suit your motivation levels wherever you sail.

Alas, for this summer, we need to get some more miles under our keel and get to know the boat a bit better before heading that far away from home, which will mean staying in a zone between Southern Brittany to the Basque country, with fingers crossed for warm weather and mild winds.     

Time to stop dreaming and get back to work: 

Today, we patched a slightly frayed patch on the bottom side of the genoa clew using a sail patch our sail-maker gave to us (we’re good clients already …).

Newly patched Genoa.
After several pseudo-philosophical exchanges with sailing friends, we were made to realize that the rudder angle indicator is an OPTION for the auto-pilot, and one that not everyone thinks is particularly useful.  Since we would need to have a new metal connector made to repair ours and because the assembly takes up much needed space in the cockpit locker, we simply unplugged it.  If we decide we miss it, we can always plug it back in later.  The next time we’re out at slack tide with light winds, I’ll swing the compass and do the auto-learning process again to recalibrate everything and see how it goes.  It will be a relief to have a reliable pilot with just the two of us on board.

Disconnected 4 wires from rudder angle indicator to pilot computer.