Day 9, Guernsey to Lanzarote

Stravaig'n the Blue
Sat 17 Oct 2020 19:21
Position: 31.49.00 N 011.59.72 W   (134 NM west of Moroccan coast, about 20 NM south of Safi)
Position timestamp: Saturday 17th October 2020 11:00 BST (UTC+1)
Distance travelled last 24 hours: 142 NM
Distance travelled total: 1320 NM
Average speed: 6.41 knots
Distance to destination (Arrecife): 192 NM
ETA based on average speed so far: 17:00 Sunday 18th October 2020

Good but unsurprising progress given that we have had the engine on since yesterday afternoon: 142 NM motored, distance to destination reduced by 148.  How is it possible that the distance reduced is greater than the distance motored? Good question to which I don’t have an answer. There are situations where this can happen but this isn’t one of them …. we are travelling in a straight line to the next waypoint so there are no corners we can cut. I’ll give it some thought later.

In the Day 7 and Day 8 posts, the weekday names in the position timestamps are incorrect - Day 7 was Thursday and Day 8 was Friday. Hopefully I’m not making mistakes with the positions (and the blog software is finding them ok) otherwise our route on the home page graphic will be very strange.

There's been enough wind to sail (11-13 knots with occasional spells in the mid teens) but insufficient to get us to Arrecife in good time. It is frustrating and the drone of the engine is definitely beginning to wear.  There’s very little to do apart from regularly checking the chart plotter and radar, and scanning the horizon, for approaching vessels.  I think there have been three in the last 24 hours. And very few decisions to be made. At some point we’ll adjust the engine revs slightly to prevent the cylinders developing a weak spot (quite possibly the sailing equivalent of an urban myth) and give us a change of pitch in the drone.

It’s at times like this (engine on, little to do and too much time for idle thought) that I ponder why most sailors nowadays choose a motor boat rather than a yacht. I know that motor boaters say they don’t understand the attraction of a boat that goes so slow and sail boaters say they don’t understand the attraction of a boat that requires so little skill. But I think it must boil down to the journey vs the destination. Motor boaters want to get there and back as fast as possible and are willing to put up with the inconvenience of the engine noise and slamming through the waves in order to spend as much time as possible at the destination. Whereas sail boaters value the journey at least as much as the destination and enjoy understanding the elements and harnessing them to get there. Each to their own.

We have been testing out the fruits of our summer boat projects.  First up is the 40 litre freezer that’s been built in under one of the chart table seats. It is keeping everything at -18C on its minimum setting which bodes well. I’m fairly sure the compressor isn’t on that often (so isn’t being a big drain on the batteries) but I’ll know for sure when I complete this project and install a LED to show when the compressor is actually running.

On the electronics front, we installed an Echomax Active X and S Dual Band spreader-hung Radar Target Enhancer, RTE for short. Small boats don’t show up well on radar and most install some form of passive radar reflector, as high up as is practical, to enhance their radar image and the range at which they can be seen. A 2007 study commissioned by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Board following the loss of the yacht Ouzo concluded that there were no passive radar reflectors on the market whose performance met the relevant ISO8279 standard - and I think this is still the case. Some failed the testing narrowly, others failed miserably with the Plastimo 4” tube deserving of a chocolate teapot award. The only device that met the standard was an active device (ie one that requires power). This was the X-band only See-Me which is no longer available. However, the Echomax RTE has come on to the market since the report was written and it responds to both X-band radar (mandatory on ships over 300 tonnes) and also S-band radar (ships over 3000 tonnes).

What does the RTE do? Its primary function is to detect when we are being painted by another ship’s radar and to send out a strong signal (much stronger than a passive reflector would generate) that the other ship’s radar will detect and show us on their radar screen.  The control panel at the chart table has a two LEDs, one for X-band and one for S-band, that come on momentarily when an incoming X or S band signal is detected. There’s also an audible alarm that, if enabled, will sound when an incoming signal is detected.

Does the RTE work? The LEDs and the alarm certainly work. The LEDs flicker like mad when we are crossing a shipping lane but if we are alone in the ocean there’s not a flicker until the nearest ship is about 30 miles away. So we know that they are there but do they know that we are here? Yesterday I hailed a passing yacht, several times. It was the only boat for over 30 miles in all directions and the LEDs were not flickering. I was going to ask the other boat to confirm that their radar was off and to then request that they switch it on in the expectation that our X-band LED would spring into life and that we’d show up clearly on the other yacht’s radar while our RTE was on and less so if it was off. However, the yacht which shall remain nameless did not respond to my channel 16 hails. Tut tut. This situation illustrates neatly the challenges of proving to yourself that your marine communications equipment is working 100%. So we’ll need to wait for another similar situation to arise to complete our testing.

We have also run our new watermaker (a desalinator) a couple of times to top up the fresh water tank.  We managed to do without a watermaker on the way to the Canaries last year and on the return to Guernsey in May by being frugal and using sea water to wash dishes and rinse out the coffee pots. But being frugal and using sea water whenever possible will be insufficient on a 20+ day transatlantic crossing, so in went the watermaker.

The last project I’ll mention was one of the quickest and cheapest yet one of the most satisfying. The shower tray is below sea level so there’s an electric pump (a Whale Gulper no less) to draw the water from the drain then up above sea level and down and out.  The switch for the pump that Allures fitted required that you keep it pressed in for the pump to operate. This meant having to stand for what seemed an eternity mid way through and at the end of a shower with thumb on button while the water pumped out. So we changed it for a regular on / off switch. I suppose the problem Allures was seeking to avoid was the situation where the pump is switched on inadvertently and the pump runs when there’s no water to drain. However, the spec for the pump says running it dry won’t damage it and besides which, when it is running dry, it lives up to its name and makes loud gulping noises. It is unlikely this would go unnoticed (unless the engine is running). Anyway, the new switch has made a whale of a difference to our showering experience.

All is well apart from having to put up with the drone of the engine.