Thursday, 5 December 2013

I'm anchored in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, ready to cross to the Caribbean when visitors have left and the weather allows. (The voyage here, across the Biscay, down Spain and Portugal was overshadowed by very unpleasant family problems that put me off blogging entirely - hence the gap between launching and arrival in the Canaries!).

It seems a good time to begin to update the blog with descriptions of what has worked and what hasn't. I've done 3000 miles or so in the last few months, and have been living on board full-time since July. I've sailed most of the blue-water parts single-handed, and been gunk-holing in and out of ports in northern Spain and the Algarve. The boat is now as prepared for crossing the Atlantic as I can imagine it to be - I just need to stock up on food and check my water, and I can pull up the anchor and set off.

I'm reading blog postings from sailors who entered the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and I'm watching how the weather changes and how they cope. The obvious first lesson from these observations is that joining a rally is itself a most unseamanlike approach! The rally set off with only a day of following winds. A low was headed this direction, and still they went, 250 boats or so! The boats dispersed in their various efforts to mitigate the weather problems. Those who stuck to the pre-planned route had light, then contrary winds, getting up to 35 knots on the nose, with gusts reported at 60 knots. Then they had squalls, and then it all passed by and they were left with not enough wind to sail. Many did so much motoring that they re-routed to the Cape Verde islands for refuelling. A few boats went around the north of the depression. They had the strongest winds, but were never becalmed, and they are clearly in the lead now. Some have almost arrived - while some who persisted on the southern route are still east of the Cape Verdes.

At last, 10 days after they set off, the trade winds have steadied, and progress looks easy. Rule number one for safe and comfortable cruising: schedule voyages according to the weather - not arbitrarily chosen rally departure dates, or airline schedules.

I find the blogs fascinating. I read of brave helmsmen standing by the wheel through much of the night having waves occasionally crash over them, and I have to wonder why they don't switch on the self-steering gear and go indoors. What kind of game are they playing? Self-steering systems - either wind-powered or electrical work great, and if set up properly, can often steer better than the most careful helmsman. I switch on my self-steering gear before I start the engines or lift the anchor. Apart from manoeuvring in close quarters, the self-steering gear does it all. Standing outside in all weathers only debilitates the crew, and is not a safe practise on a long voyage. It's unnecessary and just silly.

I guess if people are steering much of the time, they don't have time for cooking. Many bloggers have been referring to their ready-meals. I like cooking at sea. I like reading too, but I am reading almost the whole time, so cooking is a pleasant interlude. I wonder what these people do with the time saved by using ready-meals. Read more? One boat had only an electric cooker, and when the generator died after a week, they were left with eating cold food out of cans for the rest of the trip. Others have had freezers pack up on them, and had to eat as much as they could before the food went off.

Toilets! It's amazing how many blogs refer to problems with the toilets, and the nasty work involved in fixing them. I've noticed that with this blog, the most viewed posting by far is the design of the toilet on this boat. I have to say that not having to deal with all those pipes and pumps and valves and holding tanks is just great. Several people in the Algarve have taken a close look at my toilet and decided to switch to the same 'composting' toilet setup. At sea, I resort to the simple bucket-and-chuck-it method - no need to cart the stuff around with me out there. I was amazed to hear one story in the Algarve, of a fellow who had just sailed there from Canada. He told me his holding tank exploded exactly half-way across the ocean, rendering his forward cabin on his little boat uninhabitable even after extensive cleaning. It took a further week of cleaning once he got to Portugal and the replacement of his mattresses to finally deal with the stink. I forgot to ask why he was still using his holding tank so far out to sea - presumably he'd been under the impression that his valves were set up for direct pump out.

And rolling - someone reported spending more than 24 hours rolling through 90 degrees, unable not only to sleep, but find any position where they could wedge themselves into a corner to get some rest. I guess rolling is a natural consequence of a lack of hulls - but some half-catamarans are rollier than others. Rolling downwind all the way across the Atlantic sounds an awful prospect - and perhaps explains the reluctance of some sailors to cook.

Ah but in case you get the impression I want to simply indulge in some schadenfruede and list the ways my boat is superior to everyone else's, here's a photograph of my front beam, with the anchor rollers under the A-frame. I think I put the anchor rollers there because I could make use of the tabs I needed to support the forestay attachment. I showed my design to two other catamaran re-builders before I had the beam welded up. They thought my design looked fine too. No-one asked how I was to get the anchors through the A-frame! It's quite a hassle I must say! Much of the time, for short trips, the anchor sits on the net, with the chain left on the roller. Longer trips, I take the trouble to unshackle the anchor from the chain so I can put it all away in the lockers. Dumb, dumb, dumb! It would have been so simple to have placed the rollers outside the A-frame....

Live and learn!

There'll be more details on what has worked on this boat and what hasn't in the following posts.