Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Becalmed in Cowes

I took some clients and guests racing on a Farr 65 today in Cowes Week, with the ever-reliable OnDeck.

Initially there was a nice westerly breeze, but the Eastern Solent turned into a millpond as the afternoon progressed. Understandably, given the boat we had, we kept moving long after some of the yachts taking part in other races around us had formed involuntary, but cosy, clumps.

Eventually, however, even we had to accept the inevitable and retire. For all that, Cowes Week offered a great day out for a nice bunch of people, including Lloyds TSB, who had kindly taken me along last year but who - for obvious reasons - were not chartering yachts themselves this year.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Third Time Singlehanded

Well, so much for the "BBQ Summer" that the Met Office promised us. As Positive Weather Solutions put it: "As with 2007 and 2008, the position of the jet stream is unfavourable, and current projections show it may well stay there, meaning, we had our Summer at the end of June and start of July."

So I grabbed what seemed like the first fine day in weeks - or the Friday afternoon at least - and headed out in the hope of beating the next front to come passing through on Friday night.

Not much to say really. It was just a relaxing sail, enjoying my increasing confidence in sailing singlehanded, the spirit of which I've tried to capture in the vid and its soundtrack rather than wittering on about it. You can, incidentally, see the next batch of cloud already building ahead of the looming warm front, as the trip progresses.

One more day's sailing next week - in Cowes Week on Wednesday - then I am off to Italy in search of SWMBO and the bambini...and maybe some reliable sunshine...The long range forecasts say that the weather might improve from late August - fingers crossed.

Conditions: SSE backing E, F3 - F4, mixed cloud and sunshine. Sea state: slight
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 12.4 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 124.1 NM
Engine hours: 1.6 (total for 2009: 9.6 hours)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arabella's Kid Sister

Chris Waller sent me this great pic of his Pandora International on her first sail of the season, back in April. Arabella's sail number is 535, and as you can see, the sail number on Chris's Pandora is the next in sequence.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

RTIR 2009: 50th overall

Arabella came in 50th overall this year - not as good as her best result of 30th overall in 2007, but if anyone had suggested beforehand that we would manage two top 50 placings in three years, I wouldn't have believed them. We should have done somewhat better, in fact - but that's racing for you.

Above: Some fun ArabellaCam (tm) footage captured us surfing under spinnaker between the Needles and St Catherines Point. To view all Arabella's vids, go to Arabella's Movie Gallery or her new YouTube Channel.

We drifted over the start line on the tide, in no wind at all, but as the breeze filled in, things began to speed up.

Above and below: A civilised start-time for a change, but no wind!

As the GPS track below shows, we picked up the tidal conveyor through Hurst just right, and had a tremendous run round the back of the Island - surfing down the waves under spinnaker at up to 9.4 knots - and rolled over what looked like hundreds of boats.

Above: Rounding the Needles, quite a long way back in the fleet........(image copyright Sailing Scenes, used with permission).

Above and find rather a lot of boats in front of us....(below image copyright Sailing Scenes, used with permission).

Below:...although thankfully not too far ahead of us...

Above and below: ...and after a few hours of surfing downwind, rather of lot of them now seemed to be behind us :-)

At this point we were beginning to entertain thoughts of a very good result indeed, but it all went wrong for us on the final leg up the Eastern Solent. We found ourselves becalmed in a sea of much, much larger boats squeezing round the easternmost marker post for Ryde Sands. In all the dirty air, our sails flapped uselessly, while the big boats with their taller rigs proceeded to sailed over us, and we went backwards on the tide.

Above and below: The marine car park at the eastern Ryde Sands post (visible centre) and what it cost us in terms of progress.

We wasted an hour like that, first heading out into the main channel to see if we could get clean air but finding that the breeze had died off. Eventually, we got brave and headed back inshore, passing through the marine car park once again. We then tiptoed along the edge of the sands, once touching them and (luckily) tacking back off, until we picked up a favourable eddy right up against the Island shore. With what little wind there was, we and a few other brave souls that had stayed close in managed to pull back some of the places we had lost.

In the circumstances, we decided that getting 50th overall was a better result than we had any right to expect. But we also learned some important lessons which we will try to apply next time:

  • Arabella sails so much better to windward than before as a result of her new sails. But they can't save her when she is trapped in the dirty air from larger boats. To a point, at least, clean air matters more than a fair tide. After the debacle at Ryde, we learned to cover our windward side, agressively if necessary, by sailing so far inshore that anyone bigger would have been suicidal to follow us. That policy paid good dividends as we worked up the Island shore, recovering some of the tens of places we had lost.
  • Sailing inshore is not free from risk, but as well as encountering less adverse tide close in against Ryde, we also picked up a favourable eddy close inshore between Norris and the Shrape, while competitors further out were visibly still stemming the tide.
  • At the relatively late stage at which we tend to reach Ryde, the flood is well established but with a few hours of rise still to go. That does mean we can have two or more metres of tide under us, with which to scrape over the sands. I think that I will recce that area in more detail in the coming months, and see whether the fabled inshore route is viable for Arabella on a rising tide. It would be handy to have that knowledge in our tactical toolkit for next time.

Conditions: NW backing SW, later veering W F1 - F4, mixed cloud and sunshine. Sea state: slight to moderate.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 76.3 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 111.7 NM
Engine hours: 3.9 (total for 2009: 8.0 hours)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Final Preparations

The last bits of deck gear were installed on Arabella with two days to spare before this year's Round The Island Race...

Above: New halyard winch fitted to the mast.

Above and below: New Harken adjustable genoa track

In addition, a new outhaul had been fitted, which now gave a decent purchase when the time case for hardening it up. With new sails and all these go faster bits on board, and with her interior stripped out, Arabella was starting to look like a proper little racing yacht - if, that is, you were prepared to ignore her twin keels.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Going Pro (as it were)

Never being one to miss up the chance of playing with a new gadget, I have invested in the new GoPro Wide POV Cam, in the hope of capturing some decent footage of the RTIR.

I've toyed with the idea of using action cams in the past, but have been discouraged by the poor quality video output of the consumer-priced models that were available and unwilling to shell out for professional quality kit. Now that GoPro have brought out reasonably-priced models with 5 megapixel quality and wide angle lenses, however, I thought I'd give it a go.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Match Racing

More corporate sailing - taking 27 clients and colleagues out on three Beneteau 40.7's with OnDeck Sailing . Training in the morning, and match racing in the afternoon. OnDeck are really good at organising these events and I highly recommend them if you're looking to organise a client day that's a bit different from the norm.

However, it is important to guard against your guests becoming over-tired ;-))

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Second Time Singlehanded

Above: Reefed down and goose-winged in a has since been pointed out to me that you reef a loose-footed mainsail properly by securing the bunt by tying it around the foot of the sail, not around the boom...

The forecast had predicted cooler, cloudier weather and easterly F3-4 breezes. It got the direction right, at least.

The sun was shining brightly, but of slightly more concern to Arabella and me, having exited the marina swiftly and smoothly, was the fact that no way was this a F3-4. The breeze had strengthened and veered sharply from NE to SE just before lunchtime, while I was still attacking Arabella's coachroof with the orbital polisher. Now, bouncing into an increasingly choppy flood tide with the tillerpilot struggling to hold Arabella's head into the wind, I was seriously wondering whether it had been wise to come out on my own today.

I managed to get the main up, opting for two reefs. As things would turn out, I'd be very glad I had put those reefs in, as the wind briefly touched the top of a F5 - 20 knots - before settling to 17-18 knots and staying there for the rest of the afternoon. Letting out about a third of the genoa, I pulled the kill switch on the outboard and started sailing.

I made a complete pig's ear of my first tack, and the second too. The net gain to windward was zero, although the sails flogged most impressively, if I say so myself.

That was frustrating, but I saw little point in turning back. Granted this was a bit more of a step up than I had intended from the benign conditions of my first singlehanded effort eleven months ago. But I was out now, and if I couldn't get this bloody yacht to windward singlehanded in a steady F5, then I might was well give up all thoughts of independence and go back to pottering round under tuition from the long-suffering Roger. Or put another way, if I could do it, then an awful lot else that the Solent will usually chuck at you would seem that much easier.

I glanced up to my right, at the Southampton VTS control tower. I was making a dick of myself right in front of them. I could just imagine them, watching me through the panoramic control tower window and having a wry chuckle at my antics.

Increasingly frustrated and angry, I had another go, and another, and another. Bit by bit, the tacks improved, the sails were trimmed a little better between tacks and the gain to windward increased. So lost was I in concentration that quite a time passed before I realised a couple of things.

Absently glancing over my shoulder, I saw that Arabella and I had travelled long way upwind, despite the adverse tide. Dock Head had fallen well back into the distance. And those three dinghy racer thingies, which had emerged out of Netley some time earlier, all hiking out, flying spinnakers and capsizing, were no longer rocketing past me as quickly as they had been. Not surprising, with 5.4 knots showing on the log.

I had chosen to sacrifice a bit of pointing in exchange for more speed, as I relentlessly tested my hypothesis that speed would kill off Arabella's leeway, and just as on the previous such occasion, it appeared to be true. I trimmed the sails a little bit more, and watched the log reading climb to 5.7 knots. And stay there.

This was becoming fun, all of a sudden. I put in another tack, refining my technique. I was finding that, without the encumbrance of crew sharing the cockpit, what I lost in helping hands I made up for in other ways. More space to work in, for a start, but other, more subtle gains as well.

Once the bow had passed through the wind and began to pay off, there was a short time - 3 seconds, perhaps - in which the helm could be abandoned, and the genoa sheeted in hard by hand, before Arabella succumbed to the urge to round up . Then, staying on the low side of the boat, I could take the helm with one hand, and the winch-handle with the other. Once the genoa had started to draw on the new tack and Arabella had begun to accelerate, I could gradually sheet on the winch in while luffing gently up , then finally trim the mainsheet to the telltales.

I was trying to apply the principles I had been reading about in the racing and sail trim books, about "going up through the gears" as boatspeed increased following each tack. I was quite sure I was getting the practical application of much of the detail completely wrong, but I got the general principle, and since it suited my approach of sailing for speed first and pointing second, I was happy to apply it.

Combining all of the tasks in a single person was not physically easy in these demanding conditions. But because only one person's central nervous system was involved, the co-ordination between the trimmer and the helm was seamless. The trimmer could trim the sails to the course steered by the helm, or indeed the helm could steer to the sails. And I had stopped looking at the log - I could feel Arabella accelerating, even in small degrees, through the seat of my pants and tweak the course or sail trim accordingly. This was a sensation that I had never previously experienced, only ever read about, but on this day it was palpable.

I glanced at the log anyway, and was rewarded with 5.8 knots for just the briefest of instants, before Arabella fell back into the groove at 5.7 knots again. Upwind. In a F5. With two reefs in. And two keels, come to think of it. Awesome.

I tacked round downwind, goose winged the main and genoa, and headed back for home. And - oh, yes, I nearly forgot - took a picture, the only one I took all day. Too busy sailing, you see!

Conditions: NE veering SE F5, mainly sunny. Sea state: slight.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 12.1 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 35.4 NM
Engine hours: 2.2 (total for 2009: 4.1 hours)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Testing, Testing...

Above: C. gets to grips with Arabella

Saturday dawned bright and clear. And warm - could it really be that we were going to have a nice, hot summer after the previous two appalling years? I spun by the lock-up early, and picked up a couple of bits that would be needed to sail with, then headed for the marina for a full English while waiting for my brother, C. to turn up. There would be slack water until about 10.15, and I was keen to get away before the flood tide arrived.

My obligatory gadget fix for the week...

Yesterday, before leaving home, I had set up (yet another) bit of technology.

Jon Fewtrell, the author of the PassagePlus software that I used on my MacBook Pro, had alerted me to a rather nifty VNC application, discovered by one of his other users, that allowed the use of iPhone or an iPod Touch as a wireless handheld repeater for a Mac laptop.

If it worked, this would be a Godsend. Each year, on the Round The Island Race, I would find myself perched miserably out on the side deck while our lunatic racing skipper called on me to provide him with real-time tactical information as he hurled Arabella suicidally into the shallows, in an attempt to cheat the tide. Which would be fine, if I wasn't out on the side deck and therefore completely unable to see the chartplotter screen displayed on the laptop. I did have a Garmin 60Csx handheld, which lived in my pocket. I like the Garmin very much, but it only displays vector charts - and as noted elsewhere on this blog, I'm not a fan of them when they are zoomed in on a small screen. It's too difficult to make out the contours and hazards. For close-quarters navigation, I want to see an actual Admiralty chart and that means using raster charts.

My natural propensity for cowardice is matched only by my tendency to worry obsessively at whatever happens to be frightening me at any given time. The need to feel in control of the necessary information while up there on the side deck had driven me to distraction. I'd spent hours, usually in the middle of the night, researching all sorts of ideas, but had only encountered expensive PC-based solutions such as a Toughbook tablet with GPS.

I was of course aware of the traditional way of doing things, involving a board with the requisite chart tacked to it under a film cover, with a shoulder-strap and little hooks to trap onto the lifelines. It was a nice theory to try on an ocean racer, where on each tack you'd simply slide over the coachroof and under the boom as it swung across, with all the time in the world. Racing Arabella bore absolutely no relation to that. Tacking was a frantic, bumpy affair. There was no room to slide under the boom and with the cockpit full of two manic racers doing their thing on the helm and sheet winches, going via that madhouse was not an option. Which left sliding round the front of the mast, dodging the wildly flapping genoa and clinging grimly on as Arabella slid over onto a new, dangerous angle of heel that left no room for errors - and all without the benefit of a harness because the jackstays ran along each side deck, not across the coachroof.

That was not an environment, under any circumstances, in which I would contemplate carrying either a tablet PC or a chartboard slung over my shoulder. Whatever I used either went securely into my jacket pocket or it didn't come out onto the side-deck at all.

All of which made this potential trick with the iPod Touch very attractive, and I wasted no time in giving it a go.

Above: My iPod Touch (resting on the keyboard of my MacBook Pro, lower right) wirelessly screen shares whatever appears on the laptop display. Below: If you find that you have to squint to read the iPod Touch screen, you just zoom in, using the touchscreen.

The VNC software - available for US$24.99 from the Apple iTunes Apps Store or via the link on the software developer's own website at - did something that was really nifty. It didn't merely enable my iPod Touch to screen share what was on the laptop display, like a dumb repeater. It also permitted me to control the laptop, by using the touchscreen controls on the iPod Touch, like a remote mouse.

So PassagePlus charts could be selected, scrolled and zoomed just as they could be on the laptop itself. The laptop could be tucked away under cover, and everything necessary could be done from the side deck using the iPod Touch (protected in a waterproof Aquapac case). All that I now needed to check was that it worked onboard, with the USB GPS and the AIS-2-USB hooked up to the laptop in live navigation mode, such that the yacht's GPS plot and the surrounding AIS targets would also display satisfactorily.

Another useful application for the iPod Touch (or the iPhone), that I had downloaded from the iTunes Apps Store, was AyeTides. This clever little App enabled the iPod Touch to display tidal data and real-time tidal curves for 10,000 locations worldwide. It had two important features from my point of view:

(1) It was a stand-alone application - it didn't require internet access to function, because everything was preloaded into a database stored on the iPod Touch, so tidal data and curves were available any time, all the time.

(2) It carried the tidal data and real-time curves for (among the thousands of other places) Ventnor, Sandown and (crucially) Bembridge and Ryde. Those last two locations were exactly where I had previously encountered the most difficulty in promptly providing tactical information to the helmsman on the Round The Island Race - like when to tack before running aground on Ryde Sands. Armed with the current height of tide on AyeTides and decent, clear, Admiralty charts on the PassagePlus chartplotter (via VNC) on the iPod Touch, I now had all I needed right there to hand on the side deck (remembering of course to double-check the AyeTides predictions for that date and location in the traditional way before the race).

(For the sake of completeness, I should point out that if you already own an iPhone, you do have the option of using the built-in GPS receiver and going for a self-contained solution with iNavX, or simply using iNavX as a repeater for GPSNavX or MacEnc running on your Mac below decks. These programs are the competitors to PassagePlus, and by all accounts are very good. For the reasons stated elsewhere, however, I prefer using Admiralty raster charts (ARCS) in PassagePlus, which dictated my choices here.)

Anyway, with luck, that all seemed sorted, subject to testing it today, and I was now free to obsess about something else - like the fact that my brother, bless him, is the kind of bluewater sailor who is an absolute queen about boats and I hadn't had the opportunity to clean Arabella yet...

And now for a spot of actual sailing...

The anticipated breeze (SE F4-5) hadn't filled in when C. arrived, and there was no current at all in the marina, which made for perfect conditions for testing the new morse-style control for the 6HP Tohatsu outboard. I was really, really hoping that this would solve my previous problems with manoeuvring under power. C. and I rigged the mooring lines as slips, and I stepped aboard and gingerly pushed the control lever into reverse and increased the revs. Obediently, Arabella moved astern. For the first time, from this new position, I noticed that there was a fair amount of propwash coming out to starboard, meaning Arabella would kick to port. That wasn't ideal for the way I wanted to turn. Now that Arabella had some way on, I throttled down and, sure enough, the stern came back into line and then, in response to the tiller, swung nicely round to starboard. Reversing the tiller, I put the control into forward gear and gave it a burst of throttle. Sure enough, Arabella's bow swung round to the right course, and she lay, virtually motionless in the still water, waiting to be told what to do next. Fantastic!

We turned upriver for a change, waiting for the breeze to fill in, and raised the new mainsail. First surprise - the new sail was loose footed. Crikey. That was a bit controversial. I hadn't specified it, I'd just asked Peter Sanders to "give me something a bit racier than the average cruising sail". Not that I was averse to giving it a try, and exploiting the benefits of being to adjust the outhaul easily sounded like fun. I like tinkering with sails. On the downside, it would put the outhaul itself under greater strain and I wasn't too sure of the efficacy of the brake - to be on the safe side, after setting the outhaul not too tight, to give the foot of the sail some belly in these light winds, I made the bitter end of the outhaul off on one of the mast cleats. I'd have to see what the RTIR race crew made of that.

Above: Just about the least flattering shot of the main possible, reefed down and running downwind. (Sorry, too busy sailing to take many shots). I see I've been promoted by the sailmaker from K535 to "GBR535". That's posh.

As the promised breeze started to fill in and reached F3, we unfurled the new genoa. That was a bit more traditional, but I notice the leech shape was more curved than on its predecessor. Interesting.

Next, I switched on the iPod Touch to test whether the VNC software would still work with the laptop hooked up to the GPS and AIS receivers in live navigation mode. Nothing doing. The iPod wouldn't connect to the laptop at all. I smothered a curse and - given the choice between sailing and playing with IT below decks - chucked the iPod back in my bag and went sailing.

Off we went down river, into Southampton Water. Having chosen to set off at low water, we would be stemming the incoming tide, and with the wind now from the ESE, we'd be close-hauled. This was a deliberate choice on my part (well, not the wind direction, obviously) - I was looking to replicate as closely as possible the conditions experienced on a number of occasions last year when Arabella suffered badly from leeway, to see what if anything these new sails were going to do about that.

The answer, in short, was: a lot. In fact the results were little short of spectacular. Arabella was sailing upwind, against the tide, in a rapidly rising breeze that soon filled in to a steady F5. The most obvious gain was in our boatspeed. The newly-calibrated log regularly showed over 5 knots on this trip (our SOG, obviously, was lower) - last year, in similar conditions, we often struggled to beat 4 knots. My hypothesis was that the faster we went, the more we could point upwind without suffering leeway, because we would increase the stall angle on the keels. All the indications were that it worked. Between 50 and 60 degrees off the wind, there was no discernible leeway. There was some really, of course - you can't beat the laws of physics - but it was so small as to be undetectible by the naked eye, using reference points on the shore. Trying to luff up beyond that point did introduce some modest leeway - it was a little hard to tell how much of it was due to the tide, now in full flood, and how much was due to the wind, but it was there, nevertheless.

By now, we should really be reefing down, as Arabella was starting to become overpressed. We were having so much fun, however, that we delayed for a while longer, while I played with the set of the sails. It soon became apparent that hauling in on the outhaul (to flatten the loose foot of the mainsail) was not possible beyond a certain point, at least not by hand. I suspect we could have squeezed just a few more degrees upwind if I could have sorted that, and it did make me wonder if it wasn't worth fitting a small winch to the mast base to assist - it would help with the main halyard too.

Eventually, we had to accept that we couldn't put off reefing anymore, not with the occasional F6 gust coming through. The only other boats out on this moderately busy day that were not reefed were the big racers, and they were starting to look horribly overpressed. Putting in the first reef was straightforward, and we turned onto a broad reach to calm things down and have some lunch.

Above: a spot of calm on the broad reach

On impulse, we ran up into the River Test, through the docks as far as the upper swinging ground. It was being used to swing, as it happened, by Houston Express - a 330-metre Hapag-LLoyd container ship - with the assistance of two tugs. Discretion being the better part of valour, we turned back upwind and began to beat back down to Dock Head.

We were now in the exact same spot where my long-suffering teacher Roger and I had suffered leeway to die for last year. Roger and I had had two reefs in the main that day. This time around, we had only one reef in. There was leeway, but it was noticeably less than on the previous occasion and before long we were back out of the River Test and round into the Itchen for the run home.

The breeze began to fall off, and we sailed calmly upriver, in almost slack water. The perfect opportunity, while C. helmed and worked on his sun tan, to work out why the hell the iPod touch wasn't talking to the laptop. There followed a short period in which the peace of the river was shattered by bursts of cursing from below decks. None the wiser, and bereft of results, I emerged muttering to myself, and we started the engine and dropped the sails.

A spot of carelessness on my part gave us an excuse to practice our shoe overboard procedure and we rounded off the day with half-an-hour's pontoon bashing, playing with the new morse-style control for the outboard. We found that we could reverse into and out of the berth without complications, and use the full width of the lane between the two rows of berths secure in the knowledge that Arabella would stop and spin in her own length.

Above: where we went today

Everything put away, and C. departed, I took a deep breath and got back to grips with the damn iPod. I must be doing something wrong, but I just couldn't figure it out.

Then, like a light going on, I realised what a fool I'd been. In testing at home, the iPod Touch had been connecting to the laptop via my home's wifi network. Of course it couldn't do that here, away from home. It needed a network with which to connect, and I needed to create one, using the Airport card in the laptop as the host. I quickly set up a network called "Arabella", adjusted the iPod's wifi settings to join that network, re-started the VNC server software and sure enough...

I'm slow, but I usually get there in the end.

Above: It works! !
Below: How it looks on the iPod Touch screen.

Conditions: ESE F4-5, mainly sunny. Sea state: slight.
Distance covered (GPS over ground): 23.3 NM
Total distance covered to date (2009): 23.3 NM
Engine hours: 1.9 (total for 2009: 1.9 hours)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Basically Ready

That was the best description for Arabella when I arrived to rescue her from the tender mercies of the marine trades specialists one bright, sunny Friday evening at the end of May.

Above: Arabella, ready(ish) to go.

Will of Blue Yacht Management had finally got the b*ggers to do their jobs - no mean feat - but my plans for a midweek shakedown sail had been given, quite literally, a rain check when a system swept briefly through, breaking a spell of fine weather with heavy rain and force 7 winds. But that had moved on now, leaving beautiful sunshine and breezy conditions in its wake. On the plus side, the marine tradesmen had won an extra few days to (not quite) finish their work and (almost) put everything back where it was meant to be.

I abandoned the train for a change and took the car down to the coast. Not the ridiculously flash (not to mention obscenely big) new SUV with all the V6 go-faster bits, acquired for a massive discount back in the depths of the motor industry's recessionary despair in February, using some of my ill-gotten earnings from the banking crisis. SWMBO and the bambini had hijacked that and taken it to Italy for the half-term holiday. It seemed to be quite expensive to keep fueled up, if my wife's ever more frequently-texted demands for internet cash transfers was anything to go by. Clearly it was eating into her clothes shopping budget. Instead, I got SWMBO's geriatric VW Golf. As it wheezed down the A3, I could feel the tension of the last few weeks falling away as London fell behind and the rolling countryside of Surrey and Hampshire slipped by in a myriad hues of incandescent green under the glorious sunshine.

I even got to choose the music for a change - normally I have to suffer through High School Musical 23 (or, like, wha'ever) or Barbie Girl - and lost myself in Cat Stevens' Foreigner Suite, part of the soundtrack of my youth. Not that it's aged any better than I have. Cat still sounds like he can't quite make "Cos you taste to me as good as God made honey taste, babe" scan properly. The last five-and-a-half minutes still make me want to cry, though. Back in the 1970s, I thought Foreigner was the dog's proverbials and used to drive my brother nuts by nicking it from his LP collection and playing it on my decrepit mono record player - do you remember those really crappy boxes, with a lift-up lid and a sort of mesh speaker across the front? I read in the paper just recently that Cat, or Yusuf to give him the moniker he prefers nowadays, was claiming that Coldplay's Viva La Vida sounded suspiciously like the closing section of Foreigner Suite. Viva La Vida is easily one the most-played tracks on my iPod - ever since I saw one of the contestants on the Italian version of X Factor (we're a highbrow household, you see) do a cover version live that kicked Coldplay right out into the long grass - and I can kind of see what Yusuf is on about, but honestly I think he's stretching a point.

The last few weeks had been a little nerve-wracking, as work on Arabella seemed to lurch from one period of inactivity to the next, punctuated by occasional attempts by the contractors to meet their (broken) deadlines. Now she was ready to sail, if not quite finished in the everyday sense of that word - anyone who has ever used a boatyard will have learned that marine tradesmen have a less demanding definition of 'finished' than the rest of the world - and I had also got a couple of small jobs done on her myself - in particular re-bedding the forehatch gasket with a fresh layer of sealant in the hope of keeping Arabella's interior dry if we took green water over the foredeck, as we had done in the Round The Island Race last year. My handiwork had passed the hosepipe test - we'd see what happened if conditions this year were like last year's.

Above: My Round The Island race crew weren't going to like this - remote, morse-style controls for the Tohatsu 6HP outboard would make dismounting the engine more tricky. I was hoping this would be the solution that finally enabled me to manoeuvre with confidence under power in marinas - no more fiddling with the outboard's gear lever and throttle while desperately tryng to prevent it from stalling on me? I'd find out on tomorrow's test-sail...

With only three weeks now remaining until this year's RTIR, I'd opted not to fit-out Arabella's interior with all of her normal cruising comforts. I would only have to strip her bare again before the race, or else suffer the annual round of complaints from my once-annual race crew that she was "too heavy with all this crap on board". Arabella might as well stay light for the race. Her cruising kit stayed safely in my lock-up.

Meanwhile, I made sure that everything was ready for tomorrow's test sail. My older brother, C., an experienced blue water cruising yachtsman, had "volunteered" to come out with me and check everything on board Arabella was functional. You might have thought that was a given, but much of Arabella's cabling had been re-routed at the same time as the new locker dividers had been glassed in, as part of my ongoing campaign to ensure we didn't lose all the electrics to an early bath.

At the same time, all the mast cabling connections had been tidied up and simplified so that a master's degree in electronics was no longer required to disconnect and re-connect the masthead cables every time the mast was unstepped. In the circumstances, I'd have been surprised if everything did work first time out.

Above: One item that didn't work out quite the way it was meant to - what I asked for a removable shelf on which the fuel tank would sit, vented overboard, to limit the flow of petrol fumes into the bilges. What I got was a little different. There was in fact an exterior vent, which can't be seen here, but there was also a very large void, as you can see, leading down to - yes, you've guessed it - the bilges. Perhaps I should have tried harder to explain that petrol fumes are heavier than air. Ah well, there's always next year's fitting-out...

Above: Just in case some water does still get in, the battery now lives in a nice deep battery box...

Above: ...and the lifejackets and other essential items live in Overboard waterproof sacks, with windows to enable quick identification of the contents.

As it would turn out, the electronics all worked just fine. But the most important thing of all that C. and I would test the following day had nothing to do with electronics or cabling. After some dithering over the price, I had splashed out on a new mainsail and genoa from Sanders Sails. These would, I hoped, go some way towards curing Arabella's reluctance to point well upwind without giving away a huge amount of leeway. I couldn't do much about her hull shape and keel configuration, but a decent set of sails, properly set, should generate some decent lift and increase boatspeed, which in turn would bring the apparent wind further forward and counteract the tendency of the keels to stall. That was the theory anyway.

I had two more little tricks up my sleeve. One of them was technological and would be unveiled and tested tomorrow. The other one involved some new deck hardware, which I had fallen in love with when sailing OnDeck's First 40.7 the other week, and which I had asked the yard to fit in advance of the Round The Island Race. I wasn't going to hold my breath on that happening, however.

I ran my hand one last time over Arabella's newly-varnished brightwork, and headed off in seach of food, leaving her behind in the cool twilight.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Grand Day Out

Those wacky marine tradesmen. They were at it again, the scamps. Arabella wouldn't be ready for yet another week.

Lucky for me therefore that those nice people from OnDeck Sailing laid on a very nice corporate day today. There wasn't a huge amount of wind, which was no fault of theirs, but there are worse ways of spending a working day bobbing around in one of their Beneteau 40.7s

It was tough. But someone had to do it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Refit progress (sort of)

Arabella is nearly ready for the new season. Externally, that is. Her interior will take a while longer.

I really should have learned by now that the marine trades operate to their own, geological timescale. But every year I forget just how awful it was the last time around, just how frustrating it is to get them to do their jobs on time, and leave the boat looking clean and, er, improved, at the end of it all. To be fair, I had been lulled into a false sense of security by the relative speed of fitting-out last season.

I've spared you any shots of the state of Arabella's interior generally, so those of a nervous disposition need not look away. Suffice to say that a very significant clean-up will be required at the end, whenevever that might be. I'm not sure how people can work in such a mess. When I moonlighted as a labourer, I was always taught to leave the work area tidy and clean because it actually enhanced the quality of my work. I'm just very glad I took the opportunity this winter to strip the interior of Arabella clean of anything that wasn't bolted down - at least it's safe, clean and dry in storage, away from the unbelievable mess below decks.

I should just point out that the delay was no fault of Blue Yacht Management, who took over the regular maintenance on Arabella when Boatcare UK folded last year. Will French, who formerly worked for Boatcare UK, has set about creating a really good organization that delivers a quality service on time and on budget. It's well worth checking out his site, as his gardiennage package is a seriously good proposition if, like me, you live a distance from your boat and your lifestyle doesn't allow you much time to make the trip down very often. At least you are free, if you so choose, to just go sailing when you do get down to the boat, and this year I was determined to make that my priority.

Even Will's excellent organisational skills, however, couldn't defeat the traditional marine trades attitudes of his sub-contractors on this occasion. He got a suitable discount out of them, which is more than I've ever managed in the past, and in return I agreed to be patient.

Most of the work shown here is intended to tackle the particular issue of water sloshing around inside the lockers. The irony is that Arabella is an exceptionally dry boat. Water has never entered while she is moored. Unfortunately, repeated attempts to prevent water entering via the forehatch while Arabella is under way have only had qualified success.

The new seal that was added to the forehatch in the last round of work has prevented rain and spray from entering, which is an improvement. However, in the testing conditions of last year's Round The Island Race, Arabella took a lot of green water over her bow, and enough of that found its way inside to make life below very unpleasant. That was the only occasion on which water gained ingress all year, but it was enough to make me want to rethink the cabling arrangements and consider adding divisions into the lockers which are open fore and aft.

I've also located one or two spots in which the forehatch seal is not bedded correctly, and I suspect that would have allowed a fair amount of water ingress. I'll be attacking that separately.

Above: As part of the plan to ensure that any water that enters doesn't slop fore and aft along the lockers, new bulkheads have been glassed in to the locker interiors. This one is to port and corresponds to the aft end of the galley. In last year's Round The Island Race, sea water entered via the forehatch, then ran aft through this point and triggered the hydrostatic valves in the lifejackets stored here, causing them to inflate.

Above: all of Arabella's interior cabling has been re-run along the top sides of the interior lockers, hence - I hope - reducing the risk of it taking a bath in the future.

Above and below: another of the new divisions that have been glassed in to the lockers - this one separates the starboard side locker under the saloon berth from the locker under the V-berth in the forecabin. The primary purpose of this division is to prevent any water from running aft to the battery.

Below: Arabella has been antifouled with hard antifoul once again this year, and her topsides have been polished. The rubbing strake has just been oiled, which accounts for its 'nearly-new' look.

I've asked Will to see if he can get the contractors to finish their work and be off the boat by the end of April...I'm not holding my breath, though.