Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Anatomy of a Shakedown Cruise

Day 1:  Put the boat in the water at Arzal, with typical last-minute crises.  Electrician diagnoses problem with auto-pilot computer.  Sends it off to be fixed, installs a temporary one for our cruise.  Diagnoses potential problem with GPS.  Suggests repositioning the antenna so that it is not sitting below the out-board motor.

Day 2:  Winds force 5-6 from east but no swell; Head 30 miles west to the port of Crouesty for meeting with the sail maker.  Discover that mast is not 11.8 meters as documented but 13.40 meters !  Will have to reposition 3rd reef cleat and pulley on the boom for new sail, and reposition the “stop” in the mast track for the mainsail slides.  **addendum:  the sail maker came back a week later to re-measure when he realized that our mast was significantly different from the standard Dehler 34.  The luff length (P) is 12.4 meters, where the normal length is 11.8 meters.  The mast height from the top of the mast to the deck is 13.4 meters.  Normally, the idea that someone has fiddled with aspects that upset carefully calculated stabilitiy ratios would bother me. Suprisingly, though, this news comforts me.  I've been whining since we bought the boat that she's simply too physical for me... it's very difficult to hoist the mainsail alone and we have to reef pretty early in the game to avoid excessive heel.  Now I know why.  This extra 60 centimeters gives us 1 square meter more of sail area than the standard Dehler (mainsail area = P * E / 1.8 where P is luff length and E is foot length of 4.10 meters).  This is great news for light winds sailing (whatever the hell THAT means when you live and sail in Brittany).  At least I no longer feel like a whimp for reefing early.

Day 3:  Head to Port Louis 35 miles west to pick up Guru Bob.  25 knots of wind on a broad reach.  Test 1st then 2nd reefs and genoa furler.  Head door breaks a hinge after being (accidently) left open at the precise moment that a big swell hits the boat.  Temporary auto-pilot seems to work okay.  Hear message over the VHF that the military will be firing into the sea in an area loosely defined by a mysterious polygon vaguely marked on our charts.  Whatever it is, we seem to be in the middle of it just as the wind dies.  Motor out of the polygon at a determined-yet-dignified clip and head to port.

Day 4:  Motoring out of Port Louis with me at the helm, wishing to make a gracious arc to position the boat perfectly between the channel markers, Spray lurches to a halt.  Stuck in the mud.  Test full reverse (worked) and head out in light winds to a small mooring area called Port St Nicholas no more than a gap in the cliffs on the south side of Groix island.  Test windlass and anchor. Test cockpit table and corkscrew.  Bob and Patrick fix head door. Test masthead mooring lights. 

St Nicolas Port, Groix Island.  Cockpit table and corkscrew work beautifully.

Port St Nicolas, Groix Island.
Day 5:  Winds force 4-5 on a beam reach (re-test 1st reef) for 27 miles to Houat Island.  Auto-pilot does not work when motor is on.  Moor at Beg Salus beach (re-test windlass and anchor).  Inflate boat tender and test out-board motor (sputters to life after 10 minutes of cord yanking and air/fuel adjustments).  One oar blade is missing a button for the spring latch that connects it to the aluminium poles.  Houat is beautiful as always.  Neighbouring boat badly anchored with no one aboard drags its anchor and comes to rest at Spray’s side.  Fenders deployed.  Test righteous indignation when owners return.

The Grand Plage, Houat Island.

The port at Houat (nice, but not deep enough for us...).

Scenes from Houat.

Scenes from Houat.

Scenes from Houat.

Day 6:  Meet up with our sailing association for a 2-day rally; head back to Port Louis for the evening.  Light winds.  Test sailing wing-and-wing with poled-out genoa. 

Sailing wing and wing with poled-out genoa.

Day 7:  Rally moves to Concarneau, 30 miles west.  Winds vary from nil to force 5.  Race against new RM 12.60 for 3.5 hours; even match.  (We’ll get ‘em with our new mainsail the next time…).  Notice small leaks in front cabin coming from worn-off silicone seals at the base of two stanchions.  Temporary fix.

Headed to the Rally briefing at Concarneau (wine cups in hand).  Merci pour la photo, Ginette !

Day 8:  Light winds; afternoon sail to the Glenans Archipelago.  Tentative mooring on the east side of Penfret Island but a badly-placed steel mooring buoy blocks the protected near-shore area.  Moored north of Saint Nicolas Island.

Temporary mooring at Penfret island, waiting for a wind direction change that never came.

Catching up with family while moored at Penfret.
Day 9:  Head back to Lorient area, Port Locmiquelic to drop off Bob.  Light winds.  Test spinnaker !  (Dang!  Wondered what colour that thing was…).  Missing swivel shackle for one of the spinnaker sheets.

White and blue.  Who knew?

Day 10:  Two days of very light winds forecast.  Pick up a new crew member, Jacko, and head to Port Tudy on Groix island.  Run out of cooking gas; change bottle. 

Day 11:  Day ashore; rent scooters and visit the island. 

South coast of Groix Island.

Patrick and Jacko at the Hell Hole cliff, south coast of Groix Island.

Vroom! Vroom!

Day 12:  Special weather bulletin announces strong gales for the next 2-3 days.  Decide to head into the Morbihan gulf about 40 miles away to hunker down at Ile aux Moines for the duration.  Winds moderate for the trip over.  Problems with GPS:  it takes more than 1 hour for first fix.  VHF not turned on until GPS gets a fix, since a very annoying alarm goes off when the vhf doesn’t get position information from the GPS.  Whilst re-crossing the infamous military polygon of this area, we notice a boat with a siren speeding towards us.  He pulls up beside us to tell us that we need to change our route to head south of the Birvideaux lighthouse to get out of the firing zone.  He was very kind about it… I’m sure they had been trying to contact us on the VHF.  Hear explosions and are buzzed by fighter jets all afternoon.  Dock on floating pontoons at Ile aux Moines in the gulf.  Jacko decides to take the ferry to shore to sit out the gale at home.  

Security Boat for Gavres Firing Range
Day 13:  Day at dock.  35 knots of sustained wind with 47 knot gusts.  (As a salty friend says, “It’s blowin like a whore house on pay day !”)  We’re relatively protected on the pontoon docks but it’s still howling out there.

Day 14:  Gale warnings extended.  2nd day at dock.  Reading, cleaning, small repair jobs, low bandwidth internet.

Day 15:  Jacko rejoins the boat and we head back to home port of Arzal.  Winds down to force 5 with gusts to 6.  Coastal water is a lovely jade green after the storms.  Passed the lock at 4 pm, offloaded the boat, then Spray is pulled out of the water at 5 pm and settled onto her cradle for the next 2 weeks.  All’s well below (except for the blasted tell-tale mud clinging stubbornly to the base of the keel from my Day 4 misadventure…) 

Heading home, post-gale.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Splashdown with a Sticky Seacock

Spray was launched for the beginning of her 2014 adventures yesterday.  It’s impossible to be blasé about your boat going in the water when each launch has its own last-minute crisis.  This time:  a stuck seacock.

Just before heading home the night before the launch, I looked around the boat to make sure everything was ready to go.  Clever girl that I am (irony) I decided it would be a good idea to close all the seacocks.  All closed but one:  the toilet evacuation valve.

We tried WD-40. 

We tried gentle and then not-so-gentle tapping with a hammer. 

We tried cleaning with a long bottlebrush from the outside (note: wear eye protection for that one…).  

We gave it another big dose of WD-40 for the evening and went home, defeated, to think over our next move.

We believe that if something hasn’t gone through your body first, it has no place in a sea toilet, so we knew that paper or other “foreign matter” couldn’t be the culprit and reasoned that the blockage must be some sort of dried seawater scum.  Patrick and I both headed to our computers and checked out the various French and English blogs on the subject, then met back to compare notes. 

The winning solution seemed to be to plug the exit hole with a wooden through-hull plug and then fill the evacuation tube with vinegar to let it dissolve whatever is blocking the seacock valve. 

We also learned from these helpful internet sites that we should have been thinking of this LONG BEFORE launch-eve.  I was so pleased with our winterizing procedures and never read anything about sticky seacocks in other blogs or sites on winterizing.  I’m going back now and adding this one to our winterizing list !

The next morning, with only 45 minutes till launch time, we filled the evacuation tube with vinegar and waited.  After about 20 minutes, lots of bubbling and burping gave us hope that something was dissolving.  With 10 minutes to go, I tried the seacock valve again.  I could just begin rocking it back and forth.  I continued this rocking, with more liberal squirting of WD-40, and within a few minutes it gave way and I could close it ! (and open it ! …and close it ! …and open it ! …).  We were in euphoric disbelief.  

Plugging the evacuation tube.

Double, double, toil and trouble; vinegar burn, and toilet bubble.
After this incident, the launch went more or less without surprises, which is NOT to say that it went smoothly.  The motor coughed and petered out a couple of times before belching black smoke and finally kicking into gear.  The GPS, newly fixed on the balcony and working beautifully on dry land, decided to take more than 1 hour to get its first fix, which only lasted for about 5 minutes before the GPS declared that it had lost contact with the satellites and was unable to get a position.  We fixed the mainsail and had a devil of a time with one of the batten receptacles that came apart and didn’t want to go back together again, an already difficult task made worse by the fact that we were working with a flogging sail over our heads with a capricious wind changing directions every 15 minutes, all the while slipping and sliding on the newly polished roof.  The good news is that we’re less stupid than we were 24 hours ago.  The even better news is that the electrician is coming tomorrow to look at the auto-pilot and the GPS (except he doesn’t know about that one yet…).  

In the lift.

...and in the water.

Tomorrow: our first night on the boat, and then, if we have a GPS, off to start Shakedown 2014 !
Posted on Sunday, April 13, 2014 | Categories:

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A New Spring Wardrobe

The sailing season is upon us and we’ve had no serious offers on Spray, so it looks like we’ll be heading down to Spain (Galice) with her this year.  But the old girl deserves a new outfit for the trip:  we have decided to replace the mainsail !

This is a BIG DEAL.  The mainsail we have is made of mylar / taffeta and is 7 years old, which is the expected lifetime of such sails.  Given that this one has completed a trans-Atlantic voyage and spent one year baking in the Caribbean sun, it’s had a hard life and is ready to be put out to pasture. 

We'll be thrilled to be done with the SOFRAMME sponsor publicity we inherited, too.

Mainsail in profile.
The big thrill is not just that we’ll get a new sail but that we’ll get a lighter Dacron sail (light in comparison to the mylar / taffeta anyway), which will make it easier to hoist, furl, reef, and store in the lazy bag...all great things for a couple looking for less physically-demanding manoeuvres.  The mylar / taffeta sail is a real monster – very heavy and rigid.  Hoisting is a team sport and furling always requires someone to go to the mast to pull and pack.  Trying to squash a heavy, rigid sail into a standard-sized lazy bag is also a feat and I’m surprised we haven’t busted the zipper yet (although we have had to re-rivet the lazy bag runners.) 

I’m sure it’s an unrealistic fantasy, but my dream is to point the nose of the boat into the wind, let run the halyard and have the sail drop into the bag, where only a minimal amount of arranging is needed before easily zipping up the bag, all in under 5 minutes.  Surely, as far as sailing fantasies go, this isn’t asking too much, is it?

In other news, on Sunday, we visited an exquisite Beneteau Oceanis 393 (version performance 2004) as a potential replacement for Spray to take us far and wide.  Result:  Didn’t love it.  It’s impossible to identify anything that was particularly wrong with it except that it just left us cold - no coup de coeur.  One down, how many more to go?

Three more days and Spray is in the water !!  We’ve been working 5-6 hours every day to get her ready and fatigue is beginning to set in. 

Things we’ve done:

Pressure washed and scraped the hull to remove all anti-fouling paint down to epoxy layers (this is the biggest time consumer)

Washed hull and polished

Washed deck and put on 2 coats of color protection / polish on roof and cockpit area

Miscellaneous silicone and sika touch-ups

Reconnected batteries and tested instruments

Took fire extinguishers for annual check-up

Installed new crown on gas stove burner

Bought new lifebuoy and floating flashing rescue lamp

Rigged dodger, side panels, lazy bag, boom vang and mainsheet traveller

Fixed life lines in place

Had a new auto-pilot angle indicator bracket made

Mastic epoxy on a few spots on the keel

Gel coat touch-ups

Varnish touch-ups

Bought new Bloc Marine 2014 (tide tables, rules and regs info)

Refill pages of Logbook (make my own and just add sheets in a 3-ring binder…)

Things we still have to do:

2 layers of anti-fouling bottom paint

Put on the new anode

Do dock-side / dry-dock tests of pilot (zero rudder angle)

Fix new lifebuoy lamp to balcony railing

Finish gel coat and varnish touch-ups

Secure life raft on roof

Chase the air bubbles out of the fuel line of the motor

Put Spray in the water

Put on mainsail and headsail on furler

Load cushions and all equipment

Inspect and re-provision pharmacy

Food preparation / provisioning

Pack clothes, SHOWER, check the weather and head off ! 
Posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2014 | Categories:

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Batteries in, Bets off

We loaded the batteries on the boat today and rushed to test our soldering job on the GPS antenna .  We are gobsmacked to announce that it works !!  We still have to test it at sea but so far so good ! *

Antenna on the balcony.  Do you think we over-did the tie-wraps ??

The GPS satellite fixes:  7 full bars in under 1 minute ! 

*reminds me of a joke:  An irrepressibly cheery optimist drives his co-workers mad with his positive attitude in the face of even the darkest situation.  One day, one of them cracks and throws him out the window of their high-rise building.  As he falls through the air, he keeps saying to himself, “so far so good…so far so good…so far so good…”.  
Posted on Saturday, April 05, 2014 | Categories:

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

GPS Antenna (Re) Placement

Have you ever wondered what the inside of your GPS antenna looks like?  Me, neither.  Unfortunately, this week we had curiosity thrust upon us and were forced to cut into our Magellan FX324 GPS antenna. 

Our problems began two years ago when we decided to be more clever than the average sailor (uh-hum…) and install our new antenna inside the boat, thus protecting it from sea, salt, and accidents involving things on balconies being occasionally mangled. 

GPS antenna out of harm's way in the closet behind the toilet.

The placement of a GPS antenna inside the boat is hardly revolutionary and we know people who have great reception with this arrangement.  We found a snug place for it in the closet just behind the toilet which, when initially tested, worked extremely well.

After about one year, the kick-ass satellite signals we used to get diminished to the point that obtaining three full signals was like pulling teeth.  We couldn’t find any physical reason for this and of course it only happen occasionally, making it one of those mystery problems so beloved of boat owners.  Several times, after waiting for more than 30 minutes with no luck at all, I unscrewed the antenna from its wall-mount and moved the antenna outside.  Within less than one minute of doing this, we would obtain 9-12 full-strength satellite signals and all was right with the world…except that I was left standing like the Statue of Liberty in the cockpit holding my GPS antenna proudly aloft. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  That’s only funny for so long.

As (bad) luck would have it, the fact that I un-screwed and re-screwed the antenna from its wall mount several times led the cable to split (I swear I was careful not to get kinks in the cable…), and the wires around the cable became frayed to the point that there were only a few hair-thick strands holding everything together.


For sailing season 2014, we’ve decided to move the antenna back outside and to fix it to the balcony, come what may.  We had to cut away the frayed part of the cable and re-solder the new cable end and wires to the electrical circuit board of the antenna.  It looked so easy. 

Before and After.  Here's to hoping that beauty is only skin-deep.

Neither of us is too proud of the resulting soldering job, but we worked on it for over an hour and decided that this was the best it was going to get.  And the best part is that we don’t even know if it works yet, since the batteries won’t be reinstalled on the boat until later this week.  Stay tuned …all bets accepted until the batteries get installed. 

Spray will be in the water on 12 April !!!!  Busy busy !
Posted on Tuesday, April 01, 2014 | Categories: