Sunday, 25 August 2013

40 days and 40 nights

…and 800 miles of navigation later, it’s time to reflect on our first big cruising experience on Spray.

The 40 day trip:  out (red dots) and back (blue dots).

Trip Out (Red Dots) nautical miles
Trip Back (Blue Dots) nautical miles
Er Gored         6 NM
Concarneau    59 NM
Camaret         65 NM
Aber Wrac’h   37 NM
Roscoff           28 NM
Morlaix            12 NM
Roscoff           12 NM
Tregieur          56 NM
Guernsey        58 NM
Jersey             28 NM

Jersey to St Malo 44 NM
Chausey         17 NM
St Cast            23 NM
Lezardrieux     40 NM
Perros-Gueric 46 NM (storm, rounded 7 islands)
Roscoff           26 NM
Aber Wrac’h   34 NM
Camaret         37 NM
St Hernot        20 NM
St Evette         27 NM
St Marine        34 NM
Glenans          11 NM
Port Louis       30 NM
Houat              29 NM
Vannes           20 NM

1.  Mileage and confidence building.  This cruise was a HUGE step forward for our confidence building in so many ways.  In an earlier blog I mentioned that we would be sailing within our comfort zone this summer, from the southern tip of Brittany to Royan (e.g., the least challenging contiguous coastline of France).  But a mere 2 weeks before heading off, a more experienced friend proposed that we follow him and his crew around northern Brittany and up to the Channel Islands.  This was an opportunity not to be missed.   

We had originally wanted to sail around northern Brittany by ourselves but when I mentioned it to another sailing friend, his reaction was, “What?  You want to sail in the most difficult region of Europe for your FIRST solo cruise?” to which I said, “North?  Did I say north?  No, no, no…my bad French again.  I meant south, of course.”  Needless to say, without a safety net to help us around the scary spots, we never would have tackled this alone.  The experience was made even richer when our friends left the Channel Islands to head home earlier than we wanted and we made our way home alone.  We enjoyed having friends around on the first half of the trip, but were also quite pleased to be “alone together” for the return trip.  (Note that the mileage in between the blue dots is a whole lot smaller than between the red dots !)  The importance of friends merits its own long blog post.  Thank you Daniel and Nelly !

2.  Experience living aboard.  Before we left, I was telling people we were heading off for 1-2 months.  Patrick told me to stop telling people that because he couldn’t really imagine that we would stay on the boat for more than a month without cracking up and heading home for a spell.  As we neared Vannes, neither of us was ready to come home, and the only reason we stopped (for 1 week) was because it seemed a bit silly not to drop in and check on the house when Vannes is on our route south.  Even though the space is somewhat limited on the boat, we have everything we need and are very comfortable.  The scenery changes every day and we love being on the move. 

3.  How to leave home.  I follow quite a few other blogs about live-aboard sailors, but I have yet to find one that describes people who sail, for example, 6-8 months out of the year and then return home when the weather gets rotten.  Leaving a house unattended for long periods is not so simple.  We have wonderful neighbours who keep an eye on things for us, but the yard is on its own.  Three years ago, I planted an “eco-grass mix” with micro-clover that is supposed to give you a lawn that never needs mowing, always stays green and never needs watering.  So far, I give it a 5 out of 10 for success.  Thanks to the wonderful hot and dry weather we’ve been having, the yard was in pretty good shape, although a bit toast-coloured in spots.  We did mow, but could have left it much longer before it got to be an eye-sore.  Four of 7 houseplants placed outside under a tree died, and will be replaced by the best plastic versions money can buy (within reason, of course.)  The weeds took over my decorative gravel terrace out front (e.g. where everyone can see it), so installing a new geo-textile tarp under the gravel will be on my “to do” list when we come home at the end of the sailing season.  (When is that, again ???)

4.  Weathering the storms.  We had a major educational event in the form of a surprise gale and two incidents of the motor dying on us.  Besides the obvious learning experiences those sorts of things provoke, Patrick and I had to learn to work together as a team during these stressful, quasi-emergency situations.  Our approaches are 50% complementary and 50% conflicting, but getting better.  In general, he thinks I’m an overly-cautious, anxiety-riddled maniac, and I think he’s a wilfully uninformed noodle-brain with his head in the clouds.  We’ll keep working on it…   During the storm, however, we were 100% in sync since there was not much we could do but reduce sail and hang on.  We gave each other “check-up” looks (Are we okay?) like children who fall down and look to their parents to know if they’re okay or if they should cry.  It was a good team-building exercise, to be sure, but it bears repeating:  I NEVER want to do that again.

5.  Making new friends.  For the first time, we met sailing couples where both members of the couple take an active role in the sailing and navigation.  In our sailing associations, most members are either skippers looking for crew or couples where one spouse is just along for the ride (and guess which spouse that invariably is?).  We sailed for a few days in tandem with another couple like ourselves and really enjoyed their company.  We had some great laughs exchanging “couples at sea” stories and agreed that RAISED VOICES is just part of any co-skippering program.  The important thing is to wipe the slate clean every single evening (that’s what pre-dinner drinks are for, right?).  We’ve kept in touch with them and hope we can meet up again soon.

6.  Identifing needs.  During this first long cruise on Spray, we’ve identified quite a few needs (okay, most of these are actually wants rather than needs, but still…).  From our gale adventure, we agreed we needed a smart-phone that would allow us to have internet access and thus weather information from multiple sources rather than being limited to the reports from Meteo France on the vhf radio broadcast 3 times per day.  On several occasions, our MaxSea software decided to shut down, so a 2nd computer with MaxSea (wrapped in plastic and stored away for emergency use only) will be on board next time.  We also realized that our on-board GPS system (Magellan 324 FX) only has the detailed electronic charts west of Perros-Gueric and down to Gijon, Spain.  I’m thinking it may be difficult to find these since the model is quite old now.  If we decide to do longer offshore passages, I want an IOR perch, which is basically a 1.8 meter tall floating flag pole that you throw in the water to mark the position of a man-overboard while you manoeuvre the boat to pick him up.  I also want a man-overboard rescue sling and an EPIRB, a small emergency position-indicating radio beacon (gps / satellite-powered).  On a more practical front, we also plan to re-install the black-water tank (e.g., sewer storage) on Spray.  The original one, in stainless steel, was removed by the previous owners because of a leak and never replaced.  All of the plumbing and valves are in place but we need to have a custom-made tank in plastic.  And last but not least, if we head south next year towards the Med, we’ll need some thick dark curtains to keep out the sun.  Our plexiglass portholes are so crackled that we don’t have problems with lookie-loos, but the sun does make the interior quite hot. 

In summary, the last 40 days at sea have saved our sailing project.  This winter was a very tough one for us, with endless repairs, bad weather, and lack of confidence in our own abilities and motivations.  We almost decided to give up on the sailing life.  We even posted an announcement to sell Spray and showed her to a prospective buyer (who was very interested.)  Now when we talk about selling Spray, it’s in order to buy a bigger boat that we could really live aboard for half the year or more.  Spray is a great boat, but she’s a bit too physical for us.  She’s a high-strung thoroughbred, but what we need is a draft horse.  With only 90 liters of water storage, 60 liters of diesel, and only 4 tonnes of weight to weather the storms, she’s not really adapted to a program of long-term vagabondage.  I hate to think about selling her so soon, and REALLY hate to think about all the work that would be involved in buying and refurbishing a new (used) boat.  But neither of us is getting any younger, either, and the clock is ticking !  Decision pending !  But not before another 40 days at sea.   

Next up:  The Route du Vin (the wine route), heading south to the Bordeaux wine country.