Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Coruna Crossroads

When you pull into the marina in La Coruna, it becomes immediately clear that you’ve arrived at a cruising crossroads.  No longer solely accompanied by boats from Spain, France or the UK, you tie up amongst a flotilla of boats from Sweden, Norway, Holland, Switzerland (yes, Switzerland), Germany, Belgium, and even Australia and the USA, most making their way south into the Med or to the Canaries in preparation for a fall Atlantic crossing. 

Marina Real Club Nautico, La Coruna

The "Glass City" architecture around the port.

Spainish Air Force team streaming the red and gold of Spain over the port control tower of Marina Coruna.
Many, like us, arrive here by hopping along the coast, working west and south around the rias.  Because the marinas are spread thin in this region and the weather is capricious, there is a sort of gregarious migration underway from port to port whenever the wind is right.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve made friends with several of our fellow drifters and these friendships have added a new and important dimension to our cruising.

A new friend sailing around Cape Ortegal.
Talking to experienced long-distance, live-aboard cruisers is worth any number of how-to books.  Sharing stories (the good and, more often, the bad) has allowed us to place our own experiences in a context we didn’t have before.  All these crazy things that have been happening to us (instrument failures, delayed departures, re-routing, unpredicted storms, fishing nets around the propeller, etc.) are just part of the cruising life; dramatic to us, banal to the seasoned cruiser.  In talking to others, we’ve been able to gain confidence about the things we did right and have some new ideas about things we might try the next time.  (Definitely getting a Jordan series drogue). 

We’ve been inspired by many of these new friends, some of whom have been live-aboard cruising for many years, others who have taken up long-distance cruising with much less experience than we have, some with boats less adapted to long-distance cruising than Spray.  One couple who has crossed the Atlantic and sailed all over Europe and the Mediterranean refers to themselves as cowardly “chicken” cruisers!   Almost everyone we have met has been very humble about their accomplishments and they just seem thrilled to be out here, taking it one day at a time, the good with the not-so-good.

As for us, we’ve come to a new crossroad ourselves.  A few weeks ago, after our surprise storm, we decided to stop long-distance sailing altogether.  We were convinced that we didn’t have what it takes, and our motivation was sinking fast.  Now Patrick says he couldn’t imagine a finer lifestyle than this (at least 6 months of the year anyway).  Of course I agree.  We truly fall into the “chicken cruisers” category with persistent doubt and stress, bumbling our way through each new experience.  But knowing that everyone else has gone through the same thing – and that they still get nervous from time to time - has been a big comfort.

Our biggest regret now is that we will have to turn around to start the trek home in a few days while our merry band of boaters continues to further horizons.  We’ll just have to make new East-bound friends.

Castel San Anton between the two major marinas of Coruna.

The Tower of Hercules, the world's oldest functioning lighthouse (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

A view from the top.


Lovely local beaches.

 
The fiesta of Vigen del Carmen.


Oh, and La Coruna is a great place to have a twisted ankle x-rayed...  (all's swell.)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Rias Altas

We finally made it to our first "high ria", Ribadeo, a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve and a RAMSAR wetland, noted (according to the brochure translated from Spanish) for its unique slime habitat that attracts thousands of migratory birds every year.   More than a century ago, Ribadeo became an affluent town in the region where wealthy families settled after making their fortunes in Cuba.

The Moreno House, Ribadeo
Yesterday, we planned to leave for the next ria, Viviero, at the end of the outgoing tide.  As we pulled out of our slip, we got stuck on a sand/mud bar, which was curious since the port proudly states it has been dragged to 2 meters.  We pulled back into our slip to wait for another hour as the tide rose.  A second attempt with 30 centimeters of additional water under the keel, we tried again, and again got stuck in the mud.  This time, we decided to stay for another night since the tide was picking up and we didn’t want to have a strong current in the nose.  Patrick went to the office to check in again, and they gave us a free night to make up for our troubles.

But it’s a lovely place to be stuck.

Sailing into Ribadeo

Ribadeo Port


Slime habitats beloved of migratory birds

 
The Ribadeo Lighthouse

Lighthouse with little mauve flowers everywhere


Churros con chocolate !  A great way to spend an extra afternoon...

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

There's a reason it's called WATCH !

I was, admittedly, watching my kindle when it happened, but I swear I was looking up with each new page.  With no wind and an oil-smooth sea, we were motoring and the pilot was steering.  Patrick was napping below and we were having a lovely day.

Leaving Santander.

BAM !  thump thump thump, followed by the screeching motor alarm, signaling its displeasure at being stopped with the key still in the ignition.  Patrick bounded up on deck and stopped the alarm and we both looked behind us, already knowing what had happened.

Behind us was a 30 meter trail of fishing net, snagged around our keel and (worse) the propeller.  With the boat hook, we pulled as much of the net on board as possible.  I put the swim ladder in the water and stripped down to my knickers, then eased waist deep into the water to see if I could simply pull the net free.  No go.  With the boat hook, I tried pushing it off of the rudder.  I leaned over as far as I could go and almost had it free.  BAFFFF ! then a long slow hiss.  Always conscious of safety, I was still wearing my life vest when I went down the ladder.  As I leaned over, the edge of my vest touched the water and the automatic inflation mechanism activated, puncturing the CO2 cartridge and blowing up the vest around my ears.  Okay, sometimes notions of safety need to be adapted to a particular situation.

Oops...
I climbed back on board and stripped down properly this time, outfitted with a short wetsuit and snorkeling gear.  It was a sunny day, the water was warm (ish) and, with no swell, there was no reason not to take a look under the boat.  We tied a line to a fender and trailed that out behind the boat so that I would have something to grab on to if the boat started drifting.

The sight was beautiful and horrifying at the same time.  In 200 meters of water and with bright sunshine overhead, the water was a beautiful cobalt blue and visibility was excellent.  The vision, however, was disheartening.  The net was wrapped around the keel, the rudder, and firmly twisted around the propeller shaft.  With our best bad-ass knife strapped to my thigh, I first slid the net off the keel and the rudder.  That was the easy part.  I gave a few tugs on the line wrapped around the propeller shaft but it was so tightly wound that I couldn’t even budge it. 

Part of the 30 meters of fishing net we snagged.  

I cut away the rest of the net, leaving a 1 meter section of line on each side of the shaft and we hoisted the smelly mess on board to get it out of the way.  I dove down and tried to un-wrap the line wound around the shaft, but in the water, you have no leverage,  so my little girly tugs were getting us nowhere.  Cutting it away bit by bit would have taken forever and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep free-diving repetitively for long without getting over-tired.  I needed some leverage, so I tried a new maneuver:  swim under, flip upside down, place one palm and then the other on the underside of the boat, grab the line between my legs and PULL!  One turn around the shaft popped free but there were still 3 turns firmly twisted.  I swam over to the other side of the boat (resting at the swim ladder in between each dive) and did the same trick.   The next twist popped free.  Three more round-trips and it was all clear.

The last messy smelly bits.
We pulled everything out of the water and tried to figure out what to do with it.  I wanted to keep it on board (trophy?) so that wouldn’t get caught around the next guy’s propeller but it was too big to stuff in the chain locker or store on board.  We tried calling the Coast Guard to signal where it was but they never responded.  (Hmmm...  glad we didn’t need them to come get us!).  So we tied the loose ends together so that at least the net wouldn’t drift in long filaments and I attached a few empty water bottles to keep it floating at the surface rather than drifting just below the water as it had been.  Of course, Patrick wasn’t buying into my theory and said that the net probably WAS floating at the surface and would have been visible if I hadn’t been too busy reading on my WATCH!  But since I redeemed myself by cleaning up my own mess, he decided not to harass me about it further.

So much for a relaxing sunny motor-sail to the next port.  For the next 6 hours, we kept a vigilant watch, popping our heads out of the cockpit like startled meer-cats, dodging every speck of flotsam and jetsam floating anywhere within our field of view, sure that it was another net.  I had been told that if we sailed long enough in these waters, we would eventually get something caught around the propeller but I thought we’d have a longer grace-period than we did. 

In any case, we’ll say it was a good experience and we got a good story out of it.  When Patrick retells the story now, he has me jumping naked off the side of the boat with the knife in my teeth, a much better version than the one that has me first easing into the water from the swim ladder with my life vest still on.  People around the docks have been coming up to me and shaking my hand, calling me “the diver.”  It’s funny and embarrassing but much less traumatizing than the storm.

We've been in Gijon for 5 days now, waiting for the weather to cooperate to continue our route west to the high rias. We aren't complaining, though.  Gijon is a good place to be stuck for a few days.

Gijon.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Storm, or Why You Should Love Your Barometer

We were preparing to leave San Vincente de la Barquera at the morning high tide, the only time we could get out of the little branch of the estuary we had settled in for the night.  We had checked two marine weather sites via internet the night before.  All was clear:  14 knots with gusts to 17.  The barometer, however, was screaming at us not to go.  “That’s funny, the barometer says we’ve lost 6 hPa in the last 6 hours and the little high-wind flag is showing,” I said to Patrick as if it were a passing curiosity.  But with 2 trusted internet sites telling us to go, I somehow decided the barometer must be mistaken or simply giving us some highly local advice. 

We headed west for Ribadesella under a milky sky and good winds.  All was smooth sailing until about 1:30 in the afternoon.  In the span of 45 minutes, the winds shifted 90 degrees, and stiffened steadily.  One reef, two reefs, three reefs followed in rapid succession.  The 3rd reef lasted less than 10 minutes.  As we pointed into the wind, both of us saw 50 knots on the anemometer but said nothing to the other about it.  The swell had mounted to 6-7 meters, dead ahead.  An uncontrolled jibe provoked by the swell sent the boom zinging to the other side, ripping the cleat for the 3rd reef off the boom.  The boom brake was on but at the lowest setting (since we weren’t expecting high winds…).  Time for bare poles.   I tried ever-so-briefly to put the boat into a hove-to position with the boat at about 50 degrees into the wind with the bar hard over.  I’m sure my technique was lacking, but this put us in a position of almost being rolled by the breaking swell.  Time to surf downwind and down-swell.

Once things were more-or-less stable, I dashed below to find out where “downwind” was taking us.  If there was any good luck in this situation, it was that the swell was pushing us back to Santander, the only deep water port in the area that we could enter in bad weather.  The bad news was that we had to keep things stable and moving forward for another 10 hours.   Patrick took the helm most of the time, and I was posted under the dodger, looking back and him and the mountainous swell coming at us, directing him so that we would stay in a good surfing position and not get rolled.  After 4 hours or so, things calmed down a bit… we were never so happy to see 30 knots and 4 meters of swell.

GPS trace of our losing battle against wind and swell.
We pulled into Santander marina after midnight, held each other, cried a little, and vowed never ever to go sailing again.  The boat could be sold in Santander and we could take the ferry home. 

The next morning, we met up with a solo British sailor who had left Santander a few days before us.  He had been caught in the same unpredicted storm and he, too, had been blown back to Santander.  His story was remarkably similar to ours: 1 reef, 2 reefs, 3 reefs, bare poles, surf.  We felt somehow comforted by this.  But it wasn’t unpredicted…we should have listened to our Barometer.

The rule of thumb (which I can never seem to remember) is that a change of pressure of more than 1 hPa / hour or 4 hPa / 3 hours will give you winds of between Beaufort 6 – 7.  More than this is very bad news.  We now monitor the barometer at least 6 hours before departure and every hour while at sea.

After 4 days in Santander, drying out, talking to others, talking to sailing friends back home, we decided not to give up just yet and keep pushing west to Gijon.  One friend emphasized the necessity of waiting for good weather along this coast, and told us he had waited for 4 weeks once before having a good weather window. 

We’re still a bit traumatized by it all, but some good lessons were learned.  Despite a few other mishaps (stay tuned…) we both agree that we do love the cruising life and it would be a shame to give up after a knock-down that caught better sailors than ourselves off-guard.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Still Wild North Coast

A friend told us we had to visit the north coast of Spain while it was still “wild”, by which he meant undeveloped for recreational sailing.  Ports that can accommodate sailboats of 10 meters or more are few and far between.  All other harbors are small estuaries or fishing ports that are home to small recreational fishing vessels or large commercial boats, and sailboats have to be “creative” about finding a place to moor.

Before leaving home, I thought all of that sounded romantic.  After only 2 weeks, I can tell you that the honeymoon is definitely over.  The first problem is that we’re working our way west, against the dominant winds and swell (almost never less than 1.5 meters in this part of the world).  We knew it would be a slog, but spending 10 pain-in-the-ass hours to cover what should be only a 30 mile hop is causing us to question our motivation for heading west.  What is it we wanted to see again?  Is it really worth it?  Are we having fun yet?  The second problem is that even once you make it to one of these little villages, it’s not at all certain that you’ll be able to find an adequate place to moor if you have a draft of 1.8 meters or more.  A helpful local said, “You know, you really need a lifting keel here.” 

Our French coastal pilot guide book is of little help, since it was written by someone sailing in a small boat with a draft of less than 1.5 meters and tells us that we have numerous places to anchor.  Since it was written, it’s clear that the port management has changed and boats that were at anchor in a mooring zone are now on buoys, meaning that a visiting boat can’t anchor anywhere near them because there isn’t enough room for the boat to swing with the current and winds without hitting the boats on mooring buoys.

San Vincente with the Picos de Europa in the background.
San Vicente de la Barquera was one of these wild surprises.  The guide pointed out numerous options:  tying up along the stone quay when the professional fishing boats are out, mooring in the channel, or mooring in a small channel that branches off the main channel that can only be entered or left at high tide.   When we arrived, there was only one other sailboat in the whole estuary, a Bavaria 37.  We dropped our anchor next to him, re-positioning ourselves 3 times in the 3 knot current to try to find the best compromise between water depth and distance away from the other boats on mooring buoys that wouldn’t swing like us.  The owner of the Bavaria showed up and suggested we try the secondary channel where he assured us there was a small deep zone that would retain at least 2 meters of water at low tide.  With our navigational software zoomed to its maximum and hand-signals from the Bavaria owner, we held our breath and tip-toed into the pool area, where we dropped the anchor another 3 times trying to find the center of the pool where we wouldn’t run aground if the wind or current changed directions.  


Nestled in the sand in San Vincente de la Barquera
As it was, we did run aground, but only gently and in a few centimeters of sand.  We were told that no one was allowed to tie up to the fishing quay anymore.  There was a small port area with floating docks, but they were completely filled with small recreational fishing vessels.  The Bavaria owner told us we could tie up to the outside dock (where the refueling station was) but that we would be chased away at 8 o’clock the next morning.  It’s still a mystery to us as to who, exactly, would chase us away, since there was no port office and no port workers as far as we could tell.   We asked at the tourism office as well as local boaters about this and they told us that there was a telephone number to call if you wanted to speak to someone about the port.  So we stayed in our little pool of water, anxiously looking at the depth sounder every low tide. 

Notre Dame de Los Angeles
But the biggest disappointment was the lack of weather information.  We didn’t hear a single weather forecast on the vhf the whole time we were in San Vincente.  The port, such as it is, didn’t have weather information posted around the docks, either.  We went to a bar with wireless internet and looked up the weather forecast the night before we planned to leave.  We checked 2 sites, typically more-or-less trustworthy, and both said the conditions were good for the next day.  Stay tuned to find out just how wrong, and dangerous, that was.

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Crossing

Destiny is a fickle thing.  Just when you’re convinced that you’re living under a dark curse, it turns out that all the bad things happening to you are actually sparing you greater troubles.  Thus began our first multi-day crossing of the Bay of Biscay.

As we approached the meeting point we had set with our friends making the crossing with us, we realized that our vhf marine radio was not working.  After a few telephone calls, we agreed that it would be folly to try to head out without the means to contact each other (or emergency services) and so we called our electrician and re-routed to a nearby port to look at the problem.  Our friends were on a schedule and had to go on without us.

After 2 days, the problem was solved and the weather looked pretty good so we decided to go ahead and cross to Bilbao by ourselves.  After meeting up, we learned that they had a much rougher crossing than we did, and if we had been with them, we probably would have been traumatized. 

As it was, we were none too happy.  We agreed that we would never, ever do something so stupid again.  It’s too stressful, too tiring, and no fun!  Why on earth are we doing this to ourselves?  Then there were moments of grace:  the first day was gorgeous and we were sailing wing-and-wing from morning to sunset on a flat sea, the sky was full of shooting stars, the ocean turned a deep royal blue as we moved into 2000 meters of water, and the next morning, dolphins came to play with us.

First night jitters
Off to a great start

Sailing wing and wing most of the first day on a flat sea.

Our at-sea berth with lee cloths to prevent rolling out: 2 hours in, 2 hours out, repeat.

Neptune's greating committee

But the weather worsened and we hit an 18-hour period of 20-25 knot winds and swell hitting us a-beam.  The motion was uncomfortable and no rest was possible.  We didn’t trust the pilot in those conditions (wrongly, I think) and so we steered for about 40 hours straight, including a pitch-black night with no visual reference other than the dim red glow of the compass. 

When we were 50 miles off the coast of Bilbao, the wind died down and it began sprinkling.   The sky roared with thunder and lightning lit up the sky as far as we could see along the coast.  Late in the evening, we saw a strange tubular cloud develop in front of our eyes like a tornado turned on its side.  I quickly ran below to look at cloud pictures in our marine atlas but couldn’t identify it.  I suppose it is caused from northerly winds laden with humidity hitting the mountains and being lifted up, condensing, sinking and getting re-hit by northerly winds, creating a roll.  Once the roll gets heavy enough, it takes on a life of its own and rolls "downhill" with a wind shear.  Or not.  Will look it up later...

While the wind was from behind, this thing was moving towards us, very quickly.  We didn’t know what it was but were certain that we didn’t want to have any sail up when it hit.  We briefly thought about trying to sail around it or run away, but it was too large and moving too fast.  We decided the best strategy would be to charge at it perpendicularly to pass under and out as quickly as possible. 

The not-so welcoming site over the north coast of Spain.
Under the cloud roll, the winds rose to 35 knots and the rain pelted down but the winds were in the nose and there was no swell, so it actually wasn’t so bad.  A few minutes later, a second roll hit but it was less structured than the first and the winds lighter.  After those few harrowing minutes, things calmed down to what a friend calls “dog breath weather” … warm, humid, and un-breathable.  We motored through the rest of the night in relative calm with light steady rain and a pink and yellow lightning display dancing along the coast but without any strikes in the area.  We finally decided we could trust the pilot to steer, which allowed us to get some much needed rest for the final leg of the journey.  The industrial harbor of Bilbao appeared at dawn and those red and green channel lights were the most beautiful sight we’d seen in a long time.

Bilbao harbor entrance after a rough night.

Post-crossing dry out and nap.
With a few days behind us now, and several hours of psycho-therapy with our friend who has a couple of solo trans-Atlantic crossings under his belt, we've decided it wasn't so bad after all and that we're now better prepared to tackle those rought spots that frighten us.  But being capable of doing something and actually wanting to do it are not the same thing.  We'll revisit this theme again soon, I suspect.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

And we're off !

The weather and our nerves have stabilized (somewhat in both cases, anyway) and we’re making final preparations to head across the Bay of Biscay to Spain for 3-4 months of cruising.  We’ll be buddy boating with a Sun Odyssey 40, much bigger and certainly faster than us in most conditions, but we’ve agreed to stay in radio contact (about 25 miles), which is a huge comfort for our first multi-night crossing.  The skipper of the SO 40 has 30 years of experience including transatlantic solo races, so we’re in good hands.

The plan is to head down to the new port of Laredo on the northern Spanish coast.  This is one of the rare ports in the area that can be entered at any time and all conditions, with easy and safe anchoring just outside the port if needed.  The big hop should take us about 48 hours.  We’ll float around roughly in a westerly direction with our buddy until we reach Gijon, where they will head back east and home and we will head west and south down to Bayona close to the Portuguese border, then work our way back north and east through the rias of Galice.  We’ll head back to the French coast (somewhere around the Bordeaux region) by mid-August to avoid the unsettled weather that develops in Biscay, and island hop our way back home in no particular hurry.

Next update from the road ! (er..um… Spanish port somewhere).

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

First Night

The sky was clear, the moon was nearly full and the winds light.  The forecast was for steady westerly winds, force 3 to 4, a perfect night to test our night navigation equipment and ourselves.  That reverie was short-lived.  Around 1:30 in the morning, we put in the first reef, one hour later, the second, and by 3 a.m. we had rolled up the genoa entirely and were wondering whether or not to start rigging the 3rd reef (which we failed to do before leaving because the sky was clear, the moon was nearly full and the winds light, etc.)

The plan was to head down to the Loire river estuary, buzz around the waiting cargos to test our AIS system, then head back in time for sunrise.  Half way there, the southern sky was illuminated along the coast by lightening and we started getting pummelled with strong gusts.  U-TURN !  A big anvil-shaped cloud blocked out our moon and the wind howled through the shrouds as we made a dash back into the relative calm of the Quiberon bay.

We zig-zagged across the bay for the next 3 hours, trying to maintain a comfortable and stable course.  We dodged a couple of fishing boats and had the piss scared out of us by a huge unidentified unmoving blob lit up light a Christmas tree, which we eventually identified as wind turbines along the coast (not shown on our charts).  At daybreak, the wind died out completely and a light steady rain fell.  We tried to coax the sails to stay filled but we finally cracked and started up the motor for a wet one-hour trip to the port of La Turballe.

As a test, it was a good one, although it was not at all the confidence-building experience we had in mind.  Here are a few things we learned along the way:

1.  Head-lamps are a must.  We have two on board but hadn’t put the batteries because we didn’t think we would need them (calm night…no need for reefing, right?).  Trying to work with one hand while the other holds a flashlight on a rolling boat is ridiculous. 

2.  The pilot works well and is very much appreciated, especially at night.  Finally !  We’ve been without a reliable pilot for over a year.  Even after the new computer was installed last week, it was plagued with a bad electrical connection that I was able to track down and fix at sea.  We feel (relatively) confident about it now.

3.  Our watch schedule went to hell as the wind increased.  We tried to take turns resting but the noise and tension were too much until the wind died down around 5 a.m.  For a 24 hour passage, this is no big deal.  Two days or more?  Untenable.  Once the wind started calming down, Patrick managed to get some sleep and I managed to shake out both reefs and unroll the Genoa by myself (with the help of the pilot).

4.  Our at-sea bunk is cold!  Need to put down a sleeping bag.

5.  We had difficulties adjusting our clothing appropriately between the cockpit and the saloon.  We wanted to stay more-or-less fully clothed and ready to jump up to the cockpit to help the person on watch at any moment.  But staying fully clothed meant sweltering in the saloon below (while the bunk itself seemed icy…nasty combination).  Next time, we’ll strip off all the outer gear and just have shoes and lifejacket in place.

6.  Next time, we will rig the bloody 3rd reef point before leaving home, no matter what the weather forecast says. 

7.  We will never believe the weather forecast.  We had thought about putting in a preventative reef at sunset, just in case, but the weather conditions were so nice we decided not to.  It was relatively easy to put in the reefs when we needed them (we’re early reefers anyway) but I think a preventative reef may be a good habit to develop.   

8.  Easy to eat / easy to access food is important.  Since the night was supposed to be calm, I didn’t prepare anything ahead of time.  I was able to make soup and sandwiches, but it wasn’t easy or comfortable.  I also forgot to set up the pot-holders for the stove (to keep the kettle clamped in place). 

9.  The bad stuff gets forgotten easier than you think.  While we were discussing whether or not to rig the 3rd reef, Patrick looked at me and said “I don’t think we’re ready for a 3 day crossing of Biscay,” to which I replied, “There’s no way we’re crossing Biscay.”  24 hours later, we seemed to have forgotten all about our rough night, instead agreeing that, while it was stressful and uncomfortable, we could gut it out for a few days if we had to. 

10.  But it’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it?  This realization came while we were asking ourselves “why are we doing this again?”  We’ve done long crossings before as crew and it was fun, even if there were some rough passages here and there.  But being a short-handed skipper and crew on your own boat is another story and the anxiety is pretty heavy. 

Maybe we should take some smaller steps first, like hugging the coast as far as we can and then making a 24-hour hop to the Spanish coast, rather than setting off directly for a 3 day notoriously-rough crossing.  I’m confident that after a couple of successful 24-hour crossings, we’ll be ready for something bigger.  We’ve got no calendar that says we have to be somewhere on a given date, so why push so far outside our comfort zone?  One of the blogs I enjoy following is called, reassuringly,  “just a little further” where the crew of Nine of Cups stress the importance of concentrating on little challenges first and building experience slowly to ensure that thing stay enjoyable.  That’s the key to keeping long-term sailing ambitions alive and a philosophy that appeals to me on the eve of a big challenge !

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Bringing in the Sheaves

After my lamentations earlier this week about our pulley sheaves that needed repositioning, I was reminded of the American gospel hymn “bringing in the sheaves” and found the original reference in Psalm 126:6 quite amusing: "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Our precious seed was Patrick’s tenacity in attacking a job that required multiple skills (and power tools) that we didn’t have.
 
The challenge:  move 2 sets of pulley sheaves for the single-line reefing system back along the boom to allow us to tighten down the new mainsail at the first and second reef points.  The photo shows a before and after illustration of the problem.  In the “before” image on the left, the reef point is behind the pulley sheaves, making it impossible to tighten the sail.  The “after” image shows the appropriate positioning.

The pulley sheaves and reef points, before and after.

Step 1:  Calculate where the sheaves need to be.  This was my job and involved lots of hoisting, tugging, measuring, and a little art work.   

The pulleys and their insets.

New placement.

Step 2:  Drill holes to make the rounded ends of the oval insets for the pulley sheaves.  Had to buy a new tool for that one.



Step 3:  Saw between the holes to make the oval insets.  Had to buy a new tool for that one, too.



Step 4:  Pass the reef lines to the new holes and through the sheaves, then rivet the sheaves into place.  We had a rivet gun but it wasn’t strong enough.  The sail maker loaned us his professional one.



Step 5:  Rivet an aluminium plaque over the old holes.  Done !  (On one side; now repeat for the other side.)



We also found a local machinist to weld two stainless steel shackles to our boom gooseneck.  This gives us a better angle for tightening the reef points along the mast.

Two shackles welded onto the boom gooseneck.

In the midst of all this, the new battery charger arrived and was installed.



And now?   How about a little sailing? 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Change of Attitude

As a homage to the great Maya Angelou who died this week, I’ve decided not to complain about our current situation.  Angelou said “If you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change your attitude.  Don’t complain.”

So this is my story, with no complaints.

This week, we have been blessed with multiple learning opportunities.  We had intended to test the new mainsail and our night-time navigational equipment with a 24-hour, non-stop sail.  The weather was perfect and we were psyched to test the boat and ourselves.

The wind was blowing a stiff 20 knots with gusts to 25 directly in the nose.  Great stuff for testing the mainsail, we told ourselves.  Curiously, no other boats were headed out and we had the loch to ourselves. The loch master mumbled something about being courageous, chuckling to himself. 

We found a wide spot in the river and hoisted the sail to the 2nd reef point.  We tightened down the sail as much as we could and looked up in horror (wait...does that sound like a complaint?  maybe I should say "wonder"?  "amazement"?).  It was a big scoop !  The reef points in the main sail weren't positioned forward of the pulley sheaves in the boom and we couldn’t tighten and flatten the sail.

Sheaves too far forward on the boom to tighten the sail.

Reef number 2, with sheaves in front of reef point.

Reef number 2.  Sheaves need to move back at least 25 cm.

The river was narrowing and a decision had to be made.  I won the short-lived debate and we promptly turned tail and headed back to the loch.  “Back so soon?” the loch master inquired.  While we were describing our new discovery to him, another educational opportunity presented itself: When entering a loch with a considerable water level change, block your wind generator so that it isn’t spinning dangerously close to the cement walls and, if you have the choice, tie up on the opposite side.  No real damage was done and it was a good lesson learned.

Later that evening, dockside radio (e.g., gossip) informed us that two guys sailed out earlier in the morning to test their new mainsail, and they came limping back home 5 hours later with their sail ripped in two.  Old lesson confirmed:  discretion is, indeed, the better part of valour. 

We made a call to the sail maker, who gave us an appointment…3 days later.  While this was initially disappointing, we later realized that it was a stroke of good luck since our battery charger (shore power 220V to battery 12V) chose this exact moment to die, or rather, stop regulating anything.  Of course we didn’t notice it immediately.  The batteries simmered at 15 volts for at least 24 hours before we realized something was amiss.  After adding more than ½ liter of de-ionized distilled water to both service batteries, we called the electrician.  Note to self:  always have battery water on board.

Fortunately for us, the electrician gave us an appointment the next day and also installed our auto-pilot computer that had been sent off for repair over a month ago.  It was during this visit that we learned:  a) that the battery charger (a 20+ year-old German model) is beyond repair and a new French model (lighter, sleeker, more powerful) could be ours for a mere 350 Euros after a 10 day delay; and b) that our GPS antenna is not doing its job but the internal antenna gives great results.  Note to self: always travel with a small portable battery charger.

The visit with the sail maker presented not only new learning opportunities but also prospects for personal growth as we struggled to come to terms with what he said we had to do.  The short version of this tale is that we have to move the 2 reef-point sheaves for the automatic reefing system further down the boom and add two new stainless steel appendages to the boom gooseneck to make the new sail work.  This will involve learning a set of new skills including, but not limited to, soldering stainless steel, riveting, precision circular-sawing, and how to carefully remove and re-set 20 year-old pulley sheaves that, we’ve since discovered, are obsolete and thus irreplaceable. Note to self: there’s Xanax is in the medicine cabinet.

Our obsolete sheaves.