Riding the Mistral to Tunisia

With our sails all finished and adjusted we were ready to leave France and head south for the winter. We visited Tunisia last year and really liked it, so we thought it would be a good place to make our home base this winter. It’s too hot in Tunisia to do a lot in the summer time, but winter there is very nice, and gives us a base to do some overland trips into the Sahara desert!

We left Marseille at 2pm during the tail end of a north west Mistral wind blowing a steady 25-28 knots with a double reefed main and staysail. The winds continued to build during the afternoon to 38 knots with brief periods of up to 43 knots. When we started seeing 40 knots we went to the third reef in the mainsail and switched down to the storm jib. Wildling was flying along at 13 to 15 knots with a max speed during the night of 23 knots. The waves were around 5 meters and very close together and steep, which produced a lot of motion and some impressive surfing! Here’s some video that gives a bit of an idea of what it was like.

Fortunately, I have not done too much sailing in winds over 40 knots, but it’s quite an impressive situation. There was whitewater everywhere and waves breaking all around us. At times we were tipped sideways at such an angle that everything on our galley counter was thrown into the air and onto the floor. We had waves breaking over the transom steps, turning the cockpit into a swimming pool. When standing in the cockpit some of the waves bearing down on us were higher than the level of the boom, which puts them over 5 meters. It felt like we were sailing inside a surf break. Having a balanced sailplan that gaves us penty of drive and speed made this all feel very stable and easy. The boat just tracked really well and even when we got hit by some really big waves, Wildling just shook them off and kept charging ahead without a problem. This is a boat that continues to give us more and more confidence in what she (and we) can handle!

We kept the wind angle at 150-155 degrees true, which also gave us a direct course to our first waypoint at the south west tip of Sardinia. 155 is about as deep as we can sail while keeping good speed and also preventing the mainsail from blocking the headsail. Although we had strong wind and big seas, we felt very steady, and the autopilot had no problem steering us the entire night. By morning, the wind had calmed down to 30 knots (it’s amazing how calm 30 knots feels after a night of sailing in 40 knot winds) but we kept our triple reef + storm jib sail configuration until we were sure the wind was not going to increase again. We traveled 235 nautical miles in the first 24 hours!

By mid morning of day 2 the wind was holding steady at 25-30 knots, still from the NW, so we switched back to double reefed mainsail and staysail. Once we had rounded the bottom of Sardinia, the winds dropped to 15 knots and we furled the staysail and switched over to the Genoa. We kept our two reefs in the main, because there were still a lot of waves, and the reefs helped to keep the boom and mainsail from flogging back and forth as we rolled sideways.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been experimenting with a boom preventer arrangement that reduces the slamming and shock loads on the preventer line and the boom in conditions where the winds are light but there is a lot of wave action. Here’s a video of the shock absorber setup that I have been using, which works really well!

By the afternoon of the 2nd day the wind died off completely so we had to turn on the engines, and we ended up motoring the rest of the way to Port Yasmine in Hammamet. All up we covered the 550 nm distance in just less than 3 days, which wasn’t too bad given that we had to motor for 26 hours.

Enjoying the calm, final leg to Port Yasmine

Two dolphins came to escort us the final 2 miles into the marina

Organizing the mooring lines and enjoying solid ground again after some sporty days at sea!

Happy to be in Tunisia!

The North sails team finished off the final adjustments to the new mainsail on Friday, in the middle of the 40 degree heatwave in Marseille, thanks guys!  We took Wildling out today to try everything. The mainsail is perfect!

Main and genoa downwind in light conditions

We did the weight comparison. The 3Di mainsail (with no battens) weighs 80 kg (175 lbs) and the old sail with no battens weighed in at 117 kg (257 lbs). I’m guessing the difference in weight of the battens is around 15 kg (35 lbs) which means we reduced the weight of the mainsail by 40% and removed 52 kg (115 lbs) from the boat, and most of it up high.

Here are a few more photos…

Fully raised mainsail. We checked the battens in 6 knots of wind, and they tacked over no problem.

We were very fortunate to be able to take our dear friends from Austin Texas – Scott and Deanna and their two boys – out on the boat with us today. They are visiting Marseille on their vacation, and stopped off to say hi.

Another hot day in the Med, but perfect for sailing and swimming at Iles du Frioul.

Mainsail Upgrade

We have crossed back to the mainland after our trip to Corsica, and everything went really well with our new headsails. We had ordered a new mainsail before we left, but it got held up in customs so it didn’t arrive in time to fit before we had to leave, so we have returned to Marseille to get the new sail installed and setup on the boat.

Replacing the mainsail was the last item on our project list, and it’s also made it really clear just how much difference there is between standard cruising sails and the new high performance molded sails. Any sailboat racer will tell you that your sails are the primary engine on the boat, and if you want to win races, you need a great engine. I really respect and admire the racing folks, but it’s just not my thing. I like being out at sea, with long distances between course changes, and feeling the freedom and peace that comes from a well trimmed boat sliding through the water, so I didn’t really consider buying high performance sails when we purchased Wildling.

But as with many other activities, advances in technology used on the racecourse lead to new possibilities for regular folks, and what North Sails is doing with their new 3Di molding process is truly revolutionary. These next generation sails are almost half the weight, deliver more drive and speed, are easier to raise, trim and reef, and are as durable as traditional cruising sails. They really do provide the best of all worlds! Just like it no longer makes sense to install anything other than lithium batteries in a cruising boat, I think we’re approaching the time when the same can be said for installing anything other than molded sails.

The mainsail we ordered from the factory when we purchased the boat was just the base option (Incidences hydranet fabric with an area of 124 sq. meters). I’ve talked in previous posts about how we had problems with the top batten attachment fitting breaking on the sail, but we also had trouble with the sail holding it’s shape in light winds. The top battens would fold backwards when the sail is tacked and the upper roach section of the sail would flop over to leeward, which essentially eliminates the power from the top section of the sail. It’s not until apparent wind speeds increase to 10-12 knots that the sail will tack the top battens properly and take the correct shape. I’m not sure what’s causing this, but my guess is that a sail this size in hydranet fabric is too heavy to work properly in light air, and the weight also requires a lot more effort to hoist, reef, and stow. The video below shows what I mean about the hydranet sail deforming.

I was so impressed with the North 3Di headsails that we purchased, that I took Philippe from North Sails, Marseille out on Wildling in light winds to show him the problem we were having with our mainsail. Philippe promised me that North could build us a 3Di mainsail of the same size, that would hold shape when tacking in light winds, would generate more power and would be significantly lighter than our hydranet sail, while still being a very durable world cruising sail.

North offers a range of options in their 3Di sail line, and we ordered the North 3Di Endurance 760 sail which is high performance but optimized for durability for cruising. They have other sails that are more racing oriented for the folks that want to go in that direction.

The new sail was delivered to the boat and fitted, and we went out for a test. I’m happy to report that Philippe and North definitely delivered on their promise! No problem with sail shape, noticeably more power and drive, and the sail is MUCH lighter and easier to handle. We haven’t weighed the old sail yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 3Di sail is half the weight of the hydranet sail. (I’ll report back with comparison numbers when I have them.)

We still have some adjustments to make to the batten tension and we have to re-position the reefing line attachment points, which the North guys will take care of, and then Wildling will be ready to cross the Atlantic ocean on the first leg of our voyage back to Australia!

I was a bit too busy sailing the boat and checking all the details of the new sail to take many photos, so I will just post a few previews for now. What I can say for sure is we are definitely faster with the new mainsail. Although it has the same area as the old one, there’s a lot more drive in the 3Di sail, and you can feel the acceleration due to slight changes in the wind speed much more than the old sail!

The first thing you notice about the sail (aside from the stealth-fighter gray color) is how thin the material is!

The battens are rectangular section carbon fiber with a Dyneema sleeve. Very light and strong.

The new sail stacked on the boom, it looks about half the size of the old one.

Reinstalling the track gate on the mast after all the luff cars have been fitted

The leech reefing lines run through titanium rings, with additional guide rings to prevent them from chafing the sail edge

The new sail almost fully hoisted

One thing I was quite surprised with regarding the 3Di sail is how sensitive it is to traveler position compared to the old sail. We put the boat on a close reach and as soon as we eased the traveler down, the boat just took off. On the old sail, the traveler position has much less effect. Because of the rigid airfoil of the 3Di, it’s very obvious when the sail is trimmed correctly, which makes traveler and twist adjustments much more precise. It makes the boat feel quite a bit different, and I’m really looking forward to spending time on the water with the new sail to get to know it!

Sunset in Corsica

One of our winter projects was to upgrade our 35kg Spade anchor to a 45kg Ultra. After 3 weeks of cruising and anchoring with the Ultra, I feel like I can give some feedback on how it’s going. Although we haven’t had any really strong winds at anchor so far this trip (the top was around 20-25 knots) we have had no trouble setting and holding in many different bottom types, including weed, rock and sand. The Ultra has worked perfectly for us in all the conditions we have encountered. It definitely sets better on a short scope than the Spade. We can reliably set on 3:1 scope on the Ultra, where we needed 4:1 scope or more on the Spade. This may be due to the extra weight, but in any case, the Ultra is definitely better.

I nearly always dive on the anchor after we drop to check we are set well, and I really like the shiny stainless steel finish of the Ultra, which makes it easier to spot when we are setting in weed bottoms.

Here’s a video of our Ultra in a sand bottom in Sargone Bay, Corsica. The anchor reset overnight after a 90 degree wind shift. You can also see our anchor roll in the video, which is a really handy little buoy that makes it easier to drive towards the anchor when raising it.

Our new sails are rigged and final projects finished so we were finally able to leave port and do some sailing! I have been really looking forward to trying out all the new gear and modifications on a voyage with a variety of different conditions, but before I talk about sailing, I need to let you know that Robin has created a @sailwildling Instagram account where she is posting photos each day. You can see her latest photos in the sidebar of our website or subscribe to the @sailwildling feed to get her latest posts.

Robin’s brother, Kirk, and his wife Shelly and their daughter Saylor joined us for the first part of the trip, sailing with us as far as Cannes. We left Marseille and stopped off in Bandol, Porquerolles and St Tropez before arriving in Cannes. We had mostly light winds so we were using the Genoa upwind and the Code-D downwind with full mainsail. The North 3Di Genoa has become my favorite sail! It’s very easy to deploy and trim, and generates a lot of power.

It was great sailing with Kirk, as he is good sailor and loves it as much as I do, and I was really sad that they had to leave us in Cannes. We continued on, just the 4 of us, past Nice and Monaco and over to Imperia Italy. We had a lot of wind for this part of the trip, 25-28  knots on the nose, so we were close hauled and tacking back and forth the entire way with the staysail and two reefs in the mainsail. These were similar to the conditions that I had all the helm balance and steering issues with last year in Sardinia. The new staysail setup is MUCH better. No balance issues at all and the autopilot had no trouble steering us the whole way. I kept us as hard on the wind as possible but not so close that we lost too much speed. In these conditions at around 40 degrees apparent wind angle, we can keep our speed at 8 or 9 knots  and with the daggerboards down, we make very little leeway. Easy, fun sailing!

We stopped for the night in the port of Imperia Italy to get out of the still building easterly winds, and the next morning we decided that rather than trying to beat further east, we would turn south and head for Corsica a bit sooner than planned. This leg started out with wind at 25 knots and close hauled, but after a few hours the wind eased to 10-12 knots and shifted around to our port aft quarter. These are Wildling’s favorite conditions, and with full main and Genoa she pulls the apparent wind up to around 60 degrees and we skimmed along at 9-10 knots on smooth seas all the way over to the north west coast of Corsica. We covered the 100 nautical miles between Italy and Corsica in an easy day-sail, arriving just before sunset.

The weather forecast the next day was for SW winds at 25-30 knots and continuing the same for the next 5 days, so we decided to sail down the coast about 25 NM to the port of Calvi and wait there for the weather to settle down. Calvi has a mooring field which gets a bit crazy in strong winds, with many yachts having problems trying to pick up mooring buoys. There were a few near collisions as boats were blown off the mooring buoys before they could hook on. We had our fenders out more than once to try and protect ourselves from boats coming at us out of control! Pretty stressful! There are two guys in Zodiacs zooming around non-stop helping people get hooked up, and they also act as motorized fenders to keep boats from colliding.

Catamarans have a huge advantage when mooring in windy conditions like this, because you can pick up the mooring from the transom, and since the Zodiac boys were busy when we arrived, this is what we did. The way it works is to position the boat downwind of the mooring buoy with the back of the boat pointing at the buoy, next you reverse into the wind towards the buoy until it is at the transom. It’s really easy to do this and you can take your time and do it slowly. Have a crew member get a really long line ready, and as soon as the buoy is within reach thread the line through the mooring loop and pull the line until the mooring loop is in the center of the line. Now you can reverse back beside the buoy while your crew member walks the line up to the bow mooring cleat and ties both ends onto the cleat. Now you’re on the mooring, and you can take your time to thread the second mooring line through the buoy and over to the mooring cleat on the opposite bow. Use your engines to position the boat as your crew adjusts the length of the mooring lines to position the mooring buoy in the center of the bows.

After the wind died down we left Calvi and we’re now working our way south. We’ll do a series of day sails as we follow the coast down before sailing back over to Marseille.

Here’s the satellite tracker map of our trip so far

 

Staysail!

Our new North 3Di staysail arrived on Monday and the guys installed it on Tuesday. Another beautifully made sail from North, these guys really do produce a high quality product, not a single blemish, mark or defect, and it fits exactly on the boat.

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New staysail hoisted, tying off the halyard at the mast

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Tensioning the luff

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Staysail clewboard

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We installed a guide on the crossbeam to lead the gennaker furling line back to the winch

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The aft end of the gennaker furling line leader (left of the clutches) that positions the line correctly on the winch. The larger clutch is for the gennaker tack line and the two small ones are for the staysail furling line. The gennaker tack line is long enough to allow us to pull the tack over to either of the bows. This lets us run deeper downwind angles using the Code-D or an asymmetric spinnaker.

The only thing left to do now is to rig a tensioner for the slack section of the furling lines to keep them running smoothly when furling and unfurling the sails. We will do that next week, then go for a test sail to make sure everything is working correctly!

Last week we received two of our new headsails from North. We’re rigging the furling lines now and waiting for the self tacking staysail to arrive in the next few days. Here’s some video I took of the North 3Di Genoa and the Storm Jib.

We’re making good progress on the sailplan changes. All the winch and line handling changes are done now. Next steps are to install the stays and sails, and finish connecting the UpSide Up system.

The big news this month is that after 6 months of waiting, Incidences finally installed the broken batten fitting on the mainsail!

Here’s a video of the progress this month:

The team at Escale Rigging is making progress on the sailplan changes and the UpsideUp install. Here’s some video I took today showing the work done so far. I forgot to mention the new anchor, but you can see it in the video under the trampoline.

The team at Escale Rigging is making good progress with our sailplan modifications. Although the boat is a total construction zone right now, it’s great to see all the work getting done.

I’ve had some people ask why I have to make these changes on a brand new boat? The answer is, I don’t “have” to make any changes, but I did think it was likely that I would want to make some modifications to the headsails after I had sailed the boat for a year and that’s what this project is about. If you’ve read my earlier posts on the construction process you know that I was very happy with the advice I received from Outremer when we selected all the options we wanted to install, but there were some things that I just couldn’t decide on without spending time sailing the boat, so I asked Outremer to install the structural elements we would need for the different headsail options, and I deferred the final decisions on the sailplan until after our first year of sailing.

We had to pull the ceiling lining out to install the genoa sheet lead pad-eyes and to run power cables

The ceiling lining was removed to install the genoa sheet pad-eyes and to route power and control cables and the pneumatic lines for the UpsideUp system.

 

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The cabinets were removed to install controls for the new headsail furler winch and to convert the genoa sheet winches to electric.

 

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Stéphane from Outremer came over from La Grande Motte to show the guys how to disassemble the head lining, and to make sure we had sufficient reinforcement for the new genoa sheet padeyes. Everything is fine because Outremer added the reinforcing when they built the roof. Thanks Stéphane!

Almost all the equipment and materials have been ordered now, and everything should be delivered in the next few weeks.

The new 45 kg Ultra anchor and flip swivel are in place and fit onto the davits with no changes, which is great!

Outremer sent their electrical engineer over to replace the faulty level gauges on the water tanks. Outremer’s R&D team has done a lot of testing with different level sensors to find a model that is accurate and reliable. This was made more complicated because the sensors need to be quiet, as the water tanks are under the beds. The sensors that use a sliding magnet ring are very reliable, but are too noisy, so we needed to find a reliable capacitive sensor that has no moving parts. The new sensors and gauges are now installed and are working well.

The halyards and reefing lines have been replaced with higher performance Dyneema/Technora lines and Escale Rigging fitted extra dyneema sleeves over the friction areas of the new lines to make them even more resistant to chafing.

1st reef reefing line

The original 1st reef line uses a dyneema/polyester blend which shows significant chafe after 1 season of use where it runs through the low friction ring on the sail leech

 

New reefing lines are much higher load and have friction reducing sleeves

The new reefing lines are higher load dyneema/technora and have friction reducing dyneema sleeves

 

You can see the anti-friction sleeve on the gennaker halyard which we use to hold up the boarding bridge when we are at the dock. The sleeve protects from chafe where the halyard enters the mast.

You can see the anti-friction sleeve on the gennaker halyard (which we use to hold up the boarding bridge when we are at the dock). The sleeve protects from chafe where the halyard enters the mast.

 

New halyards

New halyards

We did have one surprise when the guys were up the mast to route the new halyards, they found the outer coating has come away from around the opening where the forestay attachment loops enter the mast,  exposing the carbon fiber edge, which could cause chafing of the dyneema loops.

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Outremer has contacted Lorima, the mast manufacturer, and they are sending us instructions on how to fix it. It’s not a structural fault, but it is something that could chafe the forestay attachment loops over time, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of doing thorough rig checks every season, even on new boats!

Mainsail batten fitting still not fixed!

I’m still waiting for a replacement for the fitting that attaches the top batten of the mainsail to the mast. The fitting broke during the Outremer cup in May, and we have been waiting since August for Incidences (the sail manufacturer) to figure out why it broke and to send us a replacement.

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Our broken fitting on the left vs the original fitting on the right. The 3 holes in a line create a weak zone which caused the fracture.

After Incidences sent me two replacements that were exactly the same as the one that broke, I pulled our broken one out of the sail and sent it to Outremer so they could work it out directly with Incidences. The response from Incidences is that the fitting broke because the attachment holes are all in a line, which creates a weak zone. They are manufacturing a replacement from a stronger material with the holes staggered. I can’t understand why this has taken 4 months to fix (so far) and we can’t use the boat without it, so I’m certainly not a fan of Incidences right now!

New headsails

Our new headsails (genoa, staysail and storm jib) are currently being manufactured by North Sails (I won’t buy sails from Incidences again after the batten fitting debacle) at the North USA factory, which is where all the new 3Di sails are made. I’m hearing really great reports from other owners about these sails having excellent durability on long distance cruising boats, so hopefully we will be happy with them also.

I’ll post an update as work progresses, and hopefully some video as well.

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