Saturday, 10 August 2013

England 1: France 0

On Monday 5 August, Meteo France predicted Southwest winds, force 4-5 with gusts (11-21 knots), veering west and calming to force 4 in the afternoon.  We were happy to finally have some wind after several days of calm and this looked like a good opportunity to make some distance.  Little did we know that the Jersey Coast Guard, a mere 40 miles away, had issued a gale warning (34-40 knots) for the same day.  Guess who was right? 

The interior after a gale.

I’ve seen many books on heavy weather sailing but never bought one.  Me: “I have no intention of sailing in rough weather.”  Yes.  Well.  Um.  I’ll take 2, please.

We left the river port of Lezardrieux with a strong current and light tail winds and averaged 7 knots over the 9 miles to open water using only the headsail.  When we turned west, the winds were stronger so we decided to hoist the main with a reef, just to be zen.  The euphoria of smooth sailing at 7 to 8 knots didn’t last long.  My log book looks like this:

9-10h:  1 reef + Genoa
10-12h:  2 reefs + ½ Genoa
12h30:  3 reefs + motor
Emergency 3rd reef job.

We’ve had “learn to install 3rd reef” on our TO DO list for quite some time now and we never seemed to get around to it.  Nothing like learning in extremis.  With 30 knots of sustained winds, gusts to 38 (true wind; 43 apparent wind) and 3-4 meter swells, this exercise was a wee bit challenging, but adrenaline can work wonders.  Because we were also close-hauled, we had difficulty maintaining our route and added a little motor power to try to stabilize things a bit.  And then we just gritted our teeth and bashed it out for not 1, not 2, but 4.5 hours.

Unfortunately in Northern Brittany, there are not a lot of ports that are accessible at any time of the tide.  As we were making such good headway earlier in the day, we decided to go around the “7 islands” and head to the next port down the coast, Trebeurden, rather than the closer one, Perros-Gueric, because the loch there didn’t open until  5pm.  The gale hit while we were just beginning to go behind the islands, and by the time we got to the other side and started heading back towards the coast, the tide was beginning to turn… and not in the good direction.  So we rounded the islands, put the current and wind on our bums and headed to Perros, making it there just in time for the loch.

At the worst of the bashing, our MaxSea navigation software died.  Fortunately, good old OpenCPN came to the rescue.  Our on-board GPS was only giving fixed-point data at that point since (as we discovered only recently) we don’t have the electronic charts east of Perros-Gueric.  As we weaved back and forth across the zone, we were playing peek-a-boo with our virtual selves, which is not so convenient for navigating in a gale around rocky areas you don’t know very well.

It was whilst swapping horror stories with other sailors in port that we learned that Jersey had issued a gale warning.  I called the Cross Corsen (coast guard equivalent for this zone) and informed them that conditions were 7 with gusts to 9 rather than the 4 with gusts to 5 that they were STILL predicting as we pulled into port.  They said they had indeed received a few calls about this… but of course, that’s Meteo France’s problem, not the coast guard’s.  A day later, with everyone still talking about the mystery gale, a port manager took the defense of Meteo France and proudly stated that Meteo France issued a gale warning later that evening.  No comment.
So what have we learned?

 I’ll never trust Meteo France again if I have any other choice of met service info.  I was told by local sailors that when Meteo France predicts Southwest winds for northern Brittany, watch out.  It’s apparently a very unstable situation and one they often get wrong.

 I’ll be buying a book on heavy weather sailing very soon.  I think we may have been better off with a storm sail up front rather than the 3rd reef in the main, but it’s not at all clear to me.

Always have 2 computers with navigation software on board.  This occurred to us earlier in the cruise but now we have more convincing evidence that it’s important.  The MaxSea problem was rapidly resolved with a call to the technical support service (had to reconstruct its links with the databases, but all seems well now).

My VION Meteo Concept weather station has a strong wind alarm.  I didn’t know this before.  But it scared the bejeezus out of me at first, and once I figured out where the alarm was coming from, I couldn’t turn it off.  It was not the right moment to read the instruction manual, so I just yanked the batteries out of it to stop the screaming.  It’s back to its normal self now with no apparent signs of damage.

We’re buying a smart-phone with 4G for internet connection and access to weather information without having to rely on Meteo France weather bulletins over the vhf radio.  I’m also hoping we can get one with a GPS and nautical charts as an additional back-up.

Patrick and I came through unscathed physically and the mental stress is diminishing with each passing day (except on days with southwest winds predicted).  No one was sick and I even managed to go down below to make ham sandwiches for lunch.  We both had to change clothes twice because we were soaked from packets of water hitting our faces and drizzling down the necks of our foul-weather gear.  It was exhausting.  This makes us wonder how we could have kept going for much longer without getting really worn down.  With only 2 people on board in that kind of situation, rest is simply not possible.  For shorter coastal hops, it’s okay … you will probably never have to tough it out longer than 5-10 hours.  But on longer passages?  We’ll definitely re-think the whole “extra-crew” issue now.

And last but not least, we’ve now learned how to properly install our 3rd reef.  It turns out that we had everything we needed.   1) Put a small pulley in the reef point on the leech of the sail.  2) Attach the reef line to the bracket on the boom with a bowline knot.  3)  Run the reef line up through the pulley on the sail and down the other side to a directional pulley fixed on the side of the boom.  4) Run the line down the boom to the cleat on the boom.   5)  Attach a small spectra cord through the luff side reef point and fasten it around the boom when the sail is taken in.  Much better !

Reef job: bracket with bowline and pulley in reef point 3

Reef job:  return pulley and cleat.

A good 3rd reef.