Sunday, 19 July 2015

Cruising the Dark Sky Country

While Jersey and Guernsey islands are rich in history and culture (you’ve all read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, right?), the memories of our short visit have been quickly reduced to scones with clotted cream and jam, carrot cake, fish and chips, cheddar cheese, swanky shops along winding pedestrian streets, bus tours, rugged coastlines and lush hilly farmland with some of the most beautiful cows you’ve ever seen producing some of the richest ice cream you’ve ever tasted, and tax-free diesel for the boat.  

Sad, really.  Because we’d visited the islands only 2 years ago, there wasn’t much of a sense of discovery. 

But this time around, armed with a swing keel boat, we spend 2 days anchored off Sark Island.  In the mid 1500s, the island was granted as a fief to a Jersey nobleman by Queen Elizabeth I with the condition that he manage to keep the island pirate-free.

Mareda anchored in Derrible Bay (click on the image to see the panorama).
What makes a great pirate hide-out?  Bad weather, difficult navigation, numerous coves for anchoring with narrow passages protected by hull-shredding rocks, high cliffs to provide look-outs and strategic outposts, fresh water, game (rabbits and pheasants abound) and the all-important caves to hide booty.  Sark, in other words.  

The new Sark pirates (tougher than we look...)
Mareda in Derrible Bay, Sark.
As we wandered around the island, we kept seeing signs saying "welcome to a Dark Sky Community."  Strange, I thought, to actually advertise to tourists that it's always grey here.  After digging a bit deeper, we discovered that this distinction is given to communities with no light pollution, allowing for great astronomy. When the cloud cover permits, that is.

Mareda (2nd from left) in Dixcart Bay.  Derrible is prettier, but Dixcart is easier to debark with the dinghy.

Mareda goes it alone for the night in Dixcart.  Who's afraid of a little swell?

The cliff path up from Dixcart Bay.
We spent two days in lovely anchorages with few neighbors.  Apparently, the anchorages here are well-known to be a bit rough (swells), but we found it to be more or less comfortable in Derrible and Dixcart Bays with winds from the West to Southwest.  Next up:  the Chausey Islands and then on to St Malo for Mareda's first 50 hour motor tune-up and rigging tune-up. 

Havre Gosslin, the other good mooring on the island (but not good for westerlies)

Good place to hide booty.  Location undisclosed.

Local fishermen.

Local horses.

The precipitous pass between Sark and Little Sark.

This is what they call the main port.  I'll anchor out, thanks.

Town with ubiquitous tractor.  They pride themselves on not having cars on the island, but the bloody tractors are everywhere.


Monday, 13 July 2015

One month out

We’ve now been sailing and living aboard Mareda for one month.  We’ve sailed slowly around southern and northern Brittany and are now island hopping our way around the Channel Islands.  Time for a review of how things are going.

One month of laundry at Lezardrieux.  Is it still Bling ??
Performance:  We’re thrilled with this boat !  Fast, stable, smooth, easy to handle.  The twin helms provide excellent visibility and the twin rudders give great control in the water.  You never feel like the boat is on the verge of rounding up into the wind.  With the keel fully down (2m25) we can sail into the wind at about 35 degrees.  I’ve lifted the keel fully (1m10) when sailing downwind and it seems to give us an additional 0.2 knots of speed.  With the hard chines, the boat heels over about 15 degrees and then glides along happily.  When the wind gusts, you can feel and hear the sails tense, but the boat doesn’t heel over much beyond its 15 degrees. 

Mareda in St Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

Pat and Jacko in Jersey.
We’ve only had to reef three times so far. The first time, we had 20 knots with gusts to 25 on a close reach.  We rolled in the genoa about ½ and put one reef in the main and she did beautifully – smooth and stable.  The single winch system (used for both the mainsail and genoa sheets) is no problem.  You just have to plan ahead for gybes (but don’t you always? heh heh heh…)  It’s always reassuring to have the mainsail sheet close at hand.

The wide stern gives the boat a see-saw motion with swell from behind rather than a rolling corkscrew motion.  While the see-saw motion is more “rodeo” than with rolling, I’m convinced that it is less seasickness-inducing.  That corkscrew motion on round-end boats gets nauseating fast.  The motor is more powerful than we imagined.  With smooth seas, we can get 6 knots at 2000 rpms.  At full-throttle we can get almost 8 knots.  However, the combination of the sail-drive system, twin rudders, and a boat that sits high in the water means that port manoeuvres are a wee bit stressful, like trying to park a car in a tight spot on sheet ice.  I suppose we’ll get used to it.  For now, our strategy is to put out lots of fenders !

Glad to be in port when it blows in Jersey.

Deck:  It’s clear that this boat was designed by sailors.  The hand holds and foot braces are right where you need them, even for shorties like me (5’4” or 1m63).  The cockpit is deep enough to feel protected but easy to climb out of to go forward.  We LOVE LOVE LOVE the fold-down stern that allows us to get in and out of the dinghy so easily.  Coupled with the davit and pulley system that allows us to launch and recuperate the dinghy with ease, this boat is made for island-hopping.  The fresh water hot/cold shower on the stern deck is fabulous, too.  The twin helms leave the central stern area open, so no more climbing over or around the helm to get from stern to cockpit.  Bliss.  The solar panels are powerful !  During the day, we can orient the panels to take best advantage of the sun and the batteries stay fully loaded even with the frige and pilot working all day.  We recently spent 5 days at anchor and had absolutely no energy problems. Solar panels make more sense than a wind generator, since you try to anchor in areas not exposed to the wind.  For a long and grey crossing, panels may not be the best option but you can always run the motor.  Better to run the motor during a crossing than have to do it at anchor, no?

Hoisting the English flag for entry into the Channel Islands.
We continue to have problems with the genoa furler.  It’s much too hard to pull in.  Patrick can do it without the winch, but it takes all his force.  We slacked the genoa halyard a bit and that helped some, but not enough.  In calm conditions, I can roll in the genoa without the winch, but at sea with the sail flapping, I can’t budge it.  We’ve tried changing the angle of the furler line between the drum and the cockpit, but it’s still not easy.  We’ve called the dealer and asked to have someone look at this. 

Other problems:

1) a thumb-sized chunk of metal is missing from the genoa sheet traveler.  We don’t know when or how that happened.  We’ve contacted our dealer about that one, too. 

2) The top batten worked its way out of its gouset and tore the sail a bit around the batten pocket.  I fixed it with a temporary patch and tightened the screws but it will need to be fixed properly. 

3) When sailing close hauled into the wind with the mainsail sheet pulled in tight, the mainsheet downhaul rubs against the back of the dodger.  We didn’t notice this until we found a hole in the canvas.  We’ll patch that one temporarily, too, but that’s just bad design.  I suppose we’ll have to move the downhaul forward a few centimetres but I’d prefer to have the dealer do it.

4)  One of the latches of the swim platform broke.  The other one holds well and has a spectra cord and jammer to hold it in as well, so we’re not in danger of the platform opening unexpectedly.  Still, needs to be fixed.

Patrick and I disagree about the spray hood.  I like it, he doesn’t.  It’s big enough to stand under without having to bend down, there are large panels everywhere (even in the roof) to give you excellent visibility (including looking up through the roof panel to see the mainsail as you’re winching).  I was concerned in the beginning that the side panels didn’t extend a bit into the cockpit to offer protection to a crew member trying to get out of the wind, but the spray hood so high and wide that the wind passes over and creates a shadow zone on either side.  With the helm on autopilot, the watch keeper can shelter under the spray hood on either side or lean against the cockpit table with a 360 view of everything that’s going on.  If your ass is small enough you can even sit on the table with feet braced on the companion way.  Patrick thinks the spray hood is too high.  He wants it optimized to just pass over his head.  This would reduce windage and maybe make port manoeuvres a bit easier, but I think the advantages outweigh this problem. 

One complaint is the lack of organization of all the lines under the spray hood.  We tried to keep each line neatly coiled and ready for use, but they invariably ended up looking like a big pile of multi-colored spaghetti.  We bought some organizers (those hook-type things) to keep the mainsail sheet and genoa furling line out of the mess and so far that’s helped keep things a bit more manageable.         

The false teak decks (made of a wood called iroco) is lovely and comfortable for bare feet but a bit slippery.  This is getting better with time.  It was probably treated with something that is slowly washing off. 

Interior:  We’re in a 5 star hotel here.  It’s beautiful, functional and spacious (relatively speaking, of course). There is lots of storage space although getting to some of the lockers requires patience and yoga positions.  The forward cabin is a huge open storage space (read: unholy mess).  I don’t like that situation but there’s no good solution.  We’ll have guests soon so we’ll have to spend a ½ day relocating all the stuff that has accumulated there.  Patrick’s tv and stereo systems are impressive.  We’re having torrential rains today and there are no leaks!   No complaints and neither of us misses home at all. 

Overall score: two enthusiastic thumbs up !  I had my doubts and snobberies early on about buying a production boat, but for now, we can’t imagine a boat that would meet our wishes and needs any better than the SO 379.

Jersey Ice Cream: worth the trip !