Monday, 30 March 2015

Isn't she lovely ?

Mareda has arrived !  She was delivered to the shipyard Saturday morning, still swaddled in her transportation packaging. 

Okay, we admit, saying she’s lovely at this point may be a bit like new parents crowing over their beautiful newborn, when to the rest of the world the little creature is the spitting image of Winston Churchill.  But because we know what she’ll look like (more or less) when she casts off her cocoon, we can feel the beauty potential throbbing like a new heartbeat underneath all that plastic. 

Over the next month, the shipyard will install the balcony, life lines, mast, electronics, anchor and chain, a stainless steel arch with davits, the bimini, the lazybag and jacks, and the sails.  The rigging specialist will advise us on modifications needed for the Code D and the sail maker will make his measurements to begin making it.

Eagle-eye Patrick has already noted a problem, though.  Evidently, someone had difficulty parking her and the starboard rudder foot has several dings and pits.  We’ll need to make sure the rudder alignment and joints are still okay, and of course insist that this disgraceful blemish be repaired.  Let the fun begin !

Friday, 27 March 2015

It's that time again

It’s spring and that means Haz Mat Pat is back ! 

Scraping and prepping the hull for its new coat of anti-fouling bottom paint and cleaning off the winter grime that has accumulated up top is an annual event, and one I usually enjoy.  Getting the boat ready for the water again during the first almost-warm rays of spring sun makes me positively giddy.  But this year, my giddiness was damped by the realization that I was getting Spray ready for someone else’s cruising.  (That “someone else” still has yet to materialize, but it’ll happen soon enough…).

Meanwhile, our Mareda is probably still in the plastic-pellet stage at the shipyard (I think they said it takes 15-20 days to make the boat from start to finish !) and our list of equipment to buy and modifications to make grows by the day. 

My favourite new surprise was when I mentioned casually to the dealer that I wanted to buy a spinnaker pole to pole-out the Code D when we’re sailing downwind.  It was one of those “duh” moments.  Besides the pole and a few well-placed blocks, one needs a down-haul and a topping lift for the pole.  It wasn't (and still isn't) clear if the mast was made with a topping lift in mind or if there are any un-claimed clutches in the cockpit for the sheets.  It was at this juncture that I realized that we also needed to install a couple of pulleys and blocks amidships and cam cleats near the cockpit for the Winchard Gyb Easy Boom Brake (love that thing). 

I know we’ll have many other such surprises before we’re ready to sail off into the sunset (and quite a few afterwards, too, I suspect).  I’m just concentrating on remaining zen and rolling with the punches as gracefully as possible. 
Posted on Friday, March 27, 2015 | Categories:

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

No more smoke and mirrors: The new French regulations

Starting in May 2015, French-flagged vessels no longer require smoke (emergency flares) or mirrors (signalling mirror) to sail offshore (> 60 Nautical Miles).  These are to be replaced by an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) that can relay your position via satellite to search and rescue crews.  This is great news.  Beacons are much more precise and they can be activated automatically on contact with salt water if you are unable to reach the beacon at the critical moment.  Flares are messy, only activated manually, prone to failure, and a pain to deal with. They are relatively expensive (about $200 for the formerly-mandatory distress kit), they have to be replaced every couple of years, you have to pay to have the old ones disposed of properly, and frankly, storing pyrotechnics on board always gives me the creeps.

From flares to radio beacons.
And yet, while I’m in favour of embracing proven technology that makes sailing simpler and safer, a few of the new regulations make me a bit uncomfortable.  For instance, it is no longer necessary to have a magnetic compass aboard. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ??!!  I had to re-read that one several times and ask Patrick to check my French interpretation to make sure I was understanding that one correctly.  The new regulations say that a GPS system can replace the compass.  What if you have no electricity or batteries for your GPS?  And what if your GPS burps and sputters at a critical moment as they always seem to do?  Okay, sure, there are always backups and safety protocols, but still… the best back up is to have a magnetic compass on board, no?  For me, the idea of getting rid of the compass ranks right up there with the rumour (sure hope it’s just a rumour) that maritime authorities around the world are questioning the need to maintain navigational buoys since everyone is now equipped with a GPS and knows where they are at all times anyway.

SPRAY's modest but trusty compass.
Several other changes for offshore sailing in 2015 include the requirement to maintain a ship's log anytime you venture more than 6 NM off the coast, the requirement for each life vest to have a waterproof emergency flash light, for boats to be equipped with a hand-held VHF radio, and to have a fixed powerful deck light on the boat to assist with man-overboard searches in the dark.  I think that’s a great idea but I’m still a bit in the dark about how we’re supposed to have something permanently fixed on the boat (like a deck light) that also allows for directional searches required during a MOB situation. 

They also say they are proposing a new composition for the medical first-aid kit, but honestly, after comparing the regulations for 2014 with the new ones, the only difference I see is the requirement to have 4 pairs of medical examination gloves (sizes M and L) instead of the former “1 box of medical examination gloves.”      

But the new rule that is the Talk of the Docks is the new definition of the skipper, or Chef de Bord.  The new wording implies that the skipper is now responsible for ensuring that the crew OBEY safety instructions given to them by the skipper.  Ha !  Ha !  They have got to be joking !  The people making up these rules have CLEARLY never sailed with their spouses !  How do you MAKE someone obey when you’re 200 miles offshore and can’t just pop in to the nearest port and put them off ?  The legal minds in the sailing forum discussions say that if an accident occurred because someone did not obey the orders of the skipper, the skipper could not be held responsible.  If that’s the case, then why have the new regulation at all?  This one is really a mystery, but good fodder for some great sea stories with the sailing buddies !

In general the new regulations make good sense and I welcome them.  We've ordered an EPIRB and found some simple emergency flashlight kits for the life vests.  I’m happy to report that Mareda has 2 magnetic compasses, thank you very much, and unless Spray’s the new owner (whoever he or she may be) insists on having it, I will be keeping my old signalling mirror, too.  Love that little thing.

For the more curious among you, here is a link to summary of new regulations (in French, of course):

Posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 | Categories:

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Guadeloupe Reflections

Guadeloupe was magical.  And it was boring.  Not in the short time we were there, of course, but Patrick and I could both see that “another day in paradise” would get old after awhile.  (earlier blog posts and photos of paradise here and here...).

This surprised us.  While planning our trip, we thought we might just fall in love with the Caribbean and decide to make it our home-base for cruising.  After visiting a few ports and mooring areas around the island, we realized that we would be bored silly.  The ports are just places to park the boat while making repairs or re-fueling. One palm-studded sandy beach looks very much like another, and nothing looks more like a Caribbean anchorage than another Caribbean anchorage. The natural environment can be spectacular but it never really changes.

We mentioned this unexpected and somewhat-disturbing discovery of ours to sailing friends who have sailed in the Caribbean. Their opinion was that the Caribbean was an interesting place to sail, but only for a couple of weeks.  Another cruising couple also highlighted security problems that make you very hesitant to leave your boat or dinghy unattended in many areas.  They said they actually stayed on board their boat most of the time and rarely went ashore together. That just doesn't sound like much fun to me.

Rather than undertake a month-long Atlantic crossing only to end up disappointed by the Caribbean and then undertaking another month-long Atlantic crossing to return home, their suggestion was to simply charter a boat locally for several weeks.  How sensible.  And we can say that, for the time being, it doesn't interest us at all. 

Don’t get us wrong: there are TONS of sailing blogs out there (more than 50% I’d say) by people who love love love sailing full-time in the Caribbean, and the revelation that it’s not our cup of tea isn't meant to dissuade anyone.  We will definitely go back to the Caribbean as island-hopping sun-seeking tourists for that extraordinary natural beauty and climate.  We just don’t want to live there.

I've said it before: Patrick and I are travelers who sail.  For us, no place offers more historical, cultural, linguistic, culinary and scenic diversity than the Mediterranean, with the added bonus of warm weather and water at least 6 months of the year.  Maybe the sailing conditions aren't always the best (too much / not enough wind), but that’s not why we’re doing this.  Who knows - maybe we’ll be disappointed with the Med, too, although we've already sailed there three times (Corsica, Sardinia, Tunisia, Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily) and loved it. 

For the first time since we began sailing, our dreams and plans are coming into clear focus.  When we began the blog, we said we didn't know if this would be a blog about a couple who sails around the world or about a couple who gives up sailing after a few years of testing the waters. Now we know that: 

1)  we will continue sailing and living aboard 6 months of the year until we’re too old to make that feasible (and then we’ll just move onto a canal barge and drift around Europe’s waterways !);

2)  we will sail extensively around Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Eastern Atlantic Islands (Cape Verde Islands, Madeira, the Canaries, the Azores, etc.) ; and

3)  we may sail in the Caribbean and South Pacific, but by chartering locally rather than investing time and effort in those long ocean passages ourselves.  (Mom ! Stop cheering ! I can hear you all the way from Florida. How embarrassing…)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Guadeloupe Beneath the Waves

Guadeloupe has buried treasure beneath its waves.  I took my new Olympus TG3 Tough Camera snorkeling with me for the first time and captured a glimpse of this beauty to share.  I learned a lot about underwater photography, although sometimes too late to save the photo (e.g., turn off the flash, use a high shutter speed or take sequential rapid-fire shots when the little buggers start moving, etc.)  I also downgraded the quality so that your browsers wouldn't grind to a halt while loading.  Here is a small selection of what we saw...

Friday, 13 March 2015

The Island of Beautiful Waters

In the 8th century, the Kalina Indians migrated northward to the Antilles from Amazonia and called the island Karukera, the island of beautiful waters.  More than five centuries later, Columbus rebaptized the island Guadeloupe in honor of a monastery in southwest Spain, to which it continues to bear absolutely no resemblance.

It will take weeks, maybe months, to find some order in our minds that would allow us to recount our experiences of the last month in some coherent way.  We are still swimming in a warm turquoise pool of sensations and images: colors with intensity we've never seen before, the warm softness of the air, lush vegetation, rain forests, waterfalls, volcanoes, coral reefs, mangrove forests, tropical beaches, crystalline waters, rolling plantations of sugar cane and bananas, coffee and vanilla beans, strange and wonderful fruits, friendly smiling laid-back people, living on island time.

But we can post pictures worth the thousands of words we can't yet express. Here is Part I: Land.  Coming Soon, Part II: Guadeloupe below the waves !