Nautical Notes - the skipper writes...

Sun 4 Sep 2005 23:20

A few thoughts on the boat, navigation etc for those of a sailing bent, who may be tiring a little of the holiday slide-show...

So far (and I realise we've a long way to go...)

I've few complaints about the boat. 147 miles in 24 hours without trying while crossing Biscay is not bad, in my view. And the motion, so long as we've got some sail pulling or the engine on, has been ok. The crew have suffered a touch of mal-de-mer only a couple of times - on the long beat across Lyme Bay and in the middle of Biscay. We've all managed to sleep - having a number of berths to chose from has helped. I can reef her on my own without too much trouble. I put on the autopilot, point her up a bit, drop the main halyard to the appropriate mark and go forward to hook on the cringle. I may have reason in future to alter this opinion but it seems to me to be a waste of time to go to great lengths to bring all the reefing controls to the cockpit when the spinaker pole is in pretty much permanent use requiring foredeck presence anyway. That said, my cost-no-object boat still has in-boom furling.

Tamarisk is the pretty much the smallest of all the boats we've met planning to cross the Atlantic. I realise that is partly a function of identifying such boats primarily by their ARC flags and I know it's a bit like complaining you' ve got the oldest Range Rover in Chelsea but it has niggled a bit. We've been on a couple of boats that have ticked absolutely every box in the Calder/Leonard books. But the further we get, the less our less-than-pristine bilges concern me. And I'm pretty confident a lot of the non-ARC boats will be smaller. The Alastair Buchan book about sailing Atlantic circuits in boats much smaller than Tamarisk is consoling at such moments. And we've met some very experienced yet still very encouraging sailors.   

Most of the new gear is working ok. We've used the Hydrovane three or four times so far and it's steered us pretty well. I came up from one 3-hour kip to find her a mere 0.04 miles off track. (That could, of course, have been down to the quality of PJ's watch keeping). But the big test will be longer trips with the wind dead aft. Quite a few of the other people who have them had big troubles installing them. We were lucky to get Nigel Waller to do ours. The little platform we had fitted alongside the vane has also proved very handy.

The feathering MaxProp has never failed to open or close at the appropriate moment and I'm sure we're getting more speed under sail and power but I'm keen to see how much of the anode has gone. I plan to get the boat lifted in the Canaries. When we do I'll also raise the water-line. I thought the two or three inches of anti-fouling that were exposed would cope with the extra load but I was wrong. The big addition is the 140ltrs of diesel we've got in the bottom of the cockpit locker. I still won't embark on a 45-mile day sail without fuel for 800 miles and water for a week. That may change.

The Yeoman plotter was great while I had Admiralty charts and I've missed it since switching to Imray for Spain and Portugal. If I can't get it to work with US charts in the Caribbean, I'll buy Admiralty folios. The vhf command mic in the cockpit is excellent. It helps a lot when negotiating your way into marinas and lets you listen to the mad whoops and whistles that appear on channel 16 overnight in these parts without waking everyone below. The diesel cooker has played up a bit recently but generally is ok and it remains a comfort to have no gas onboard. The tow generator gave us an amp a knot all the way across Biscay. You have to really stop the boat to get it back onboard but it's made me feel we'll be ok for electricity on a long passage.

The satellite phone has worked well, with no trouble getting a signal from inside the cabin. The data rate is very slow and the connection to the laptop a bit hit-or-miss but it's good to know you can just press a button and (almost certainly) talk to Falmouth Coastguard.

We spent a lot overhauling the electrics and engine before leaving and both have worked pretty well so far. 

The next leg to Madeira will be our biggest test so far but I think we've built up to it as well as we could. I realise we've been pretty lucky with the weather so far and that we've yet to see how we cope with long periods at anchor. But so far, so good. 

Finally, a real pleasure has been the willingness of cruising types to help each other. I've written about how everyone rallied round to sort the cockpit drains in Falmouth. But we've also had Wim from Yanita giving me an old wi-fi card when I was having trouble sorting email in Torquay, the Germans who had the exact M6 nut I needed in La Coruna and Roy's loan of a whole lot of key charts and pilot books. And there have been others. We've done what we can to repay or pass on the generosity. But the great pleasure is living in an environment in which the first instinct is to help not compete.