Working with the experts

We’re starting on the upgrades we have been planning for the winter. When we moved Wildling from La Grande Motte to Port Corbières in Marseille, I was very fortunate to meet Philippe Escalle, who is based in L’Estaque, and in addition to running the regional North Sails loft, also designs, manufactures and installs the rigging and custom carbon components for a number of offshore racing monohulls.

It’s quite amazing how much knowledge and talent there is in the French sailing community. These folks are seriously into sailing, and ocean racing in particular. It’s no accident that nearly all the singlehanded round the world records are held by French sailors, it seems to be part of their DNA. What’s great for me, is that although I have no interest in racing, I am learning a lot from these guys that applies to offshore cruising, and also that I have people working on our boat that have been out there testing, using and perfecting their equipment in the most challenging conditions imaginable.

Philippe has done a lot of racing himself, much of it in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and he has a good amount of experience with multihulls, which makes him a great partner to design and install the changes we want to make to our sailplan.

In this post, I’ll summarize the modifications we are making, with links to some research info I found useful. I’ll explain each change in a more detailed post with photos and video as they are done.

Project List

Replace self tacking jib with new Genoa – We are removing the self tacking jib, and replacing it with a North 3Di Genoa. The genoa will be on a furler that is either fully furled, or fully unfurled i.e. no reefing.

New Staysail – aft of the Genoa we are installing a self tacking staysail. This will also be a North 3Di sail on a permanent 0% or 100% furler. The staysail will balance the mainsail when it’s double reefed.

New storm jib – aft of the staysail we are adding a storm jib. This sail will be on a detachable, textile stay, that is hoisted when required. The storm jib will balance the mainsail when it’s triple reefed.

New headsail furler winch – on the foredeck aft of the trampoline we are installing an electric winch with a remote control at the helm. This winch will allow single handed furling of the staysail, genoa and gennakers from the cockpit.

Running rigging changes – We have had problems with chafe and creaking on our reefing lines at the boom end, and the halyards where they exit the mast top. The lines are Dyneema, but the covers are polyester which overheats and separates due to friction under load. We are replacing the reefing lines and halyards with Dyneema core, Technora cover lines, with an extra Dyneema cover at the friction points.

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Anchor replacement – Our 35 kg Spade anchor is undersized for our boat. Even in excellent holding, and plenty of scope, we are creeping backwards in gusts over 25 knots. After a lot of research and discussion we have decided to replace it with a 45 kg Ultra Anchor.

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Anti-capsize and Man Overboard safety system – There are now quite a few 5X boats that are using the UpsideUp anti-capsize and man overboard recovery system from Ocean Data Systems. I’ve discussed this with other owners and also with Christophe Lassegue at ODS to better understand how it functions. The system serves three main purposes:

  • Anti-capsize – monitor the rig loads and heel angle and automatically depower the sails if the load or angle exceeds safe limits
  • Automatically detect a man overboard, then sound the alarm siren, release the Jon Buoy, and mark the MOB GPS position in the water
  • Environmental monitoring – monitor wind speed, wind angle, water depth and traffic and alarm when safety ranges are exceeded.

While we always try and sail conservatively and anticipate bad weather, on a voyage as long as we are planning, we will run into unexpected situations, and this system might help us avoid or at least better cope with an accident at sea.

Here is a video (sorry there’s only a French version) explaining how UpsideUp was designed for offshore racing and then adapted to the cruising marketplace.

I’ll be adding more details about each of these changes, including why I think we need them in upcoming posts.

Outremer Cup 2016 Video

Here’s a really great video that pro cinematographer Christophe Nizou made of the Outremer Cup in La Grande Motte in May. We were lucky enough to have Christophe aboard for the 2nd day of the regatta, and he took some excellent video of us and Wildling!

Since we really wanted to avoid having a diesel generator on Wildling, we had to install a power generation system that would be a viable substitute. Solar panels are the central element of our charging systems, but they have their limits. During night passages, with all of our navigation, instruments, lights and radar running, followed by several days of cloudy weather, the batteries get depleted and need to be charged by other means. We have our Mastervolt 24V alternators, which are rated at 110A each at max rpm, and give us about 70-80 amps each at 1,500 rpm, so we can recharge our lithium batteries pretty quickly, but I hate running engines on a sailboat, so our supplemental plan is to use a hydro-generator.

I had no previous experience with hydro-generators before we purchased Wildling, but Outremer has been using the Watt & Sea generators for a while with good results, and a lot of the round the world race boats use them, so I decided to give one a try. These systems are very expensive, and they appear pretty fragile, so I was a bit skeptical about how well they would hold up in a long distance cruising environment.

Although we haven’t used ours extensively yet, we have used it quite a bit and so I can provide some initial feedback on how it’s going. What I can say for sure, is that it really works well on our boat. Between the solar panels and the hydro, we can keep our batteries fully charged without needing to run the engines. The downside of the hydo is that it of course won’t do anything at anchor, but we use less energy at anchor and usually don’t need any more than the solar to keep us topped up. Long periods of no sun will require running the engines though, which is still better than having a generator in my opinion.

Because of the speeds our boat reaches, we can’t use the cruising version of the Watt & Sea hydro generator. The high rpm destroys the turbine blades, and I know of at least one other 5X that had this problem. The racing version that we have is more expensive (of course!) but it has smaller, adjustable pitch blades that are continuously regulated by a hydraulic actuator depending on charging load and boat speed, so the turbine blades last longer. The downside of the racing version is that it really only produces a meaningful output above 8 knots of boat speed, and I have heard from other owners that the blades will still strip out over time, so you have to carry one or two spare blade kits. The turbine blades will not survive much of an impact either, so spare blades are a good idea no matter what.

Here’s a video that Lindsay and I made on our last trip to show how we have our hydro-gen setup. So far, I’m very happy with it, and I’ll post an update when we have done some more miles.

Sailing to Tunisia video

Here’s some video I took during our trip along the coasts of Corsica and Sardinia on the way to Tunisia. The first part of the video is with winds behind around 20 knots, and in the 2nd part we are sailing at 45 degrees upwind in winds around 7-8 knots with the Code-0. You can see from the instruments how well we do upwind in light conditions on Wildling. We can usually manage to sail about 0.5 knots under the true wind speed.

This is a video I took in May 2016 when we craned Wildling out of the water to remove the EWOL propellers that were the wrong size for our 5X and causing a huge vibration. We re-installed the original Volvo folding props, and fixed a rudder alignment problem during the liftout. We found the cause of the vibration is that the blade edges were too close to the hull surface, which creates a lot of turbulence and cavitation.  EWOL is working with Outremer to try and find the correct propeller match for the 5X. Until then, we will continue to use our Volvo propellers.

On this last trip, we crossed the Mediterranean sea from the south coast of France to the north coast of Africa and back again. We sailed for 30 days, and encountered a variety of conditions from dead calms to 35 knots of breeze and everything in between. We were at anchor for 29 nights and in a marina for 2 nights, and since it’s just over 1 year since we took delivery of Wildling, we are still learning how she behaves in different situations. Here are a few things we learned on this trip:

We need storm sails

The current sailplan is great up to about 30 knots, but over that things get out of balance. Since I posted about the sailplan balance, I have been in contact with the Outremer factory and with Philippe Escalle at North Sails in Marseille. I’m closer to a decision about changes to our sailplan, and I’ll cover that soon in another post.

Our anchor seems a bit undersized

We have a 35 kg Spade anchor, which if you follow the sizing guidelines published by Spade is the correct size for our boat. Our Spade set and held well in most conditions, but during this trip I had two issues with the Spade.

  1. In shallow water (5-8 meters) if the scope is less than 4:1 it will not set. This is part of the design of the Spade, and it makes it very easy to retrieve, but in crowded anchorages, 4:1 is sometimes a bit difficult to achieve as there’s not enough room to swing.
  2. We had an experience where at 5:1 scope in shallow water on a sand bottom the anchor would creep backwards in gusts over 25 knots.

There’s a lot of windage on the 5X, and it is lighter than most boats of the same size, so maybe sizing the anchor based on boat length and weight alone is not sufficient. If I go through the sizing process with a Rocna anchor it tells me I need a 55 kg anchor for our boat. The Rocna and the Spade are very similar designs, so I’m not sure why there is so much difference in their sizing recommendations. Rocna says their sizing is conservative and is based on 50 knot winds and moderate holding bottoms, so perhaps that’s the difference. In any case, I feel like we need to go up to at least a 45 kg Spade for our primary anchor and I’m inclined to go to 55 kg to be safe. I need to do more research on this and also see if I can fit a larger anchor on our bow roller.

One engine is usually enough

I experimented more with engine speeds and combinations during this trip, as we had a few days of dead calms and some days of very light headwinds where we had to motor. There is not much difference between running one and two engines. Here’s what I recorded in calm conditions:

  • single engine at 1,900 rpm = 5 knots
  • single engine at 2,500 rpm = 5.8 knots
  • both engines at 1,900 rpm = 6 knots
  • both engines at 2,500 rpm = 7 knots

If we add the sails and use the apparent wind created when motoring, we pick up an extra 0.5 to 1 knot, so even with one engine at 1,900 we were doing 6+ knots most of the time. I found 1,900 rpm to be the best setting for our engines as they are running smoothly with no vibrations and are quiet, and they use much less fuel. We used less than 1 tank of diesel per engine for our entire trip.

Don’t arrive in “unknown” destinations at night

We crossed into Tunisian waters late at night, and spent a lot of energy and stress avoiding fishing boats before reaching land at sunrise. It would have been better to time our arrival for the afternoon, when there are few other craft around, and visibility is much better. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but I could have planned better on this trip.

Furl the gennakers by hand

Our Code-0 and Code-D gennakers are removable sails that attach to a continuous line furler on the bowsprit. The furling line is run back to the cockpit and can be driven by a winch, but I have found using the winch to furl and unfurl is not a good system. It’s too easy to put too much stress on the furler, the sail and the halyard when furling, and its more difficult to unfurl at the correct speed when unfurling. When the join in our continuous furling line was damaged by too much winch force, I started doing it by hand, and found it was very easy to operate and worked much better than using the winch. The sails also furled much more cleanly and evenly when furling by hand.

I also rigged a pulley block in the cockpit to keep constant tension on the end of the continuous furling line. This made it much easier to operate the furler by a single person. I’ll post some photos of how this works soon.

Carry more spares

I’m still organizing my spare parts inventory, and didn’t have the things I needed to fix a few of the problems we had onboard. Both of our pump issues (seawater and shower drain) could have been easily fixed if I had some spare parts. There are very few places to buy parts once you leave the mainland, so we had to go the entire voyage without some of our systems working.

We love our boat

I know I write a lot about problems we have, but the fact is, we really love our boat and we trust her more and more as we get to know her better. A 59 foot catamaran is big, and it’s pretty cool that a regular family can sail her without the need of a large or professional crew. We got a lot more practice at sail-handling maneuvers of all types on this voyage: reefing, gybing, tacking, raising, lowering, furling, helming, etc. and it was great to see how well we were working together as a team by the end of the trip as we all learned our roles for each maneuver. This was also the first trip where both Lindsay and Gavin were doing night watches (2 hours for Lindsay and 3 hours for Gavin), which gave Robin and I a lot more sleep during passages.

Although Wildling is not a difficult boat to sail, it is really important to think through each maneuver, anticipate conditions and be conservative when cruising as a family. The forces onboard this boat are massive, and you can do a lot of damage very quickly if you’re not careful!

In a previous post I described what happened to us when we were sailing in northern Sardinia, and how the extreme helm pressure required to head up into the wind caused the rudder linkages to slip on the rudder shaft. The rudder slipping was a symptom of a sailplan balance issue. In this post I will explain what happened and what we can do to fix it.

Our current sailplan is unbalanced in strong conditions

A balanced sailplan is important. In basic terms, we need to have the force that’s trying to turn the boat into the wind, balanced by the force that’s trying to turn the boat away from the wind. The mainsail is behind the center of the boat, so when the wind blows from the side, it will push on the mainsail and rotate the bow upwind (this effect is called weather helm). The headsail (jib) is forward of the center, so the wind blowing on the headsail will push the bow downwind (lee helm). If these forces are not balanced, the rudder must be used to counter the unbalanced force and keep the boat moving in a straight line. Rudder pressure acts as a brake and slows the boat down, so unbalanced sailplans are not efficient, and create more work for the helm and autopilot.

A sailplan is balanced when the center of effort (CE) is in line with the center of lateral resistance (CLR)

A sailplan is balanced when the center of effort (CE) is in line with the center of lateral resistance (CLR). If the CE main is too great the boat rounds up to weather. If the CE jib is too great the boat bears off to leeward.

Here’s a good article that explains weather helm and lee helm and the importance of a balanced sailplan.

Most boats are well designed, and their sails are balanced in most conditions. Wildling is like this, she is a very balanced boat, requiring virtually no rudder pressure to keep her sailing straight. Our last boat was not well balanced and had too much pressure from the mainsail, so she kept trying to steer up into the wind.

The problem becomes how to keep these forces balanced as the sailplan changes. On Wildling this is a problem when we reef the mainsail without changing the headsail. As the mainsail is reefed, it gets smaller, so the force pushing the bow to the wind gets less. Since the headsail hasn’t changed, it’s force starts to overcome the mainsail and we have the bow constantly turning away from the wind. If the wind gets strong enough, the amount of rudder pressure required to point up into the wind becomes considerable. If we reef the jib, the problem gets even worse, because we move the force on the bow forward, so it has a greater lever effect. This is what happened to us in Sardinia.

The solution is simple, and is what Outremer recommends: When the mainsail is reefed, you switch to a smaller headsail positioned further back towards the mast. In this configuration it’s possible to keep a balanced sailplan upwind in winds up to 45 knots.

Double reefed main with staysail for conditions up to 35 knots

Double reefed mainsail with staysail for conditions up to 35 knots. Because we have the self tacking jib, which is a bit smaller than the genoa, we are very balanced with full main and with the first reef, so we don’t need to change to the staysail until we get to the 2nd reef on the main.

Tripple reefed mainsail with storm jib for conditions up to 45 knots

Triple reefed mainsail with storm jib for conditions up to 45 knots

Wildling was built to have the staysail and storm jib added, but I haven’t ordered them yet, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to incorporate them into the sailplan along with our self tacking jib (which I LOVE by the way).

Attachment points on the longitudinal beam for the staysail and storm jib

Attachment points on the longitudinal beam for the staysail and storm jib

Attachment points for the extra headsails on the mast

Attachment points for the extra headsails on the mast

On the other 5X boats I have seen that have staysails, they have the inner sail setup on the auto-tacker, and a genoa that tacks manually around the staysail. Like this:

yssabeau staysails

But on Wildling, we don’t want the staysails to interfere with the self-tacking jib, so we need a way to rig them when necessary that isn’t too onerous in strong conditions, and I would really like to be able to disconnect the sheets from the jib and connect them to the staysails, so we can autotack on all of the headsails. I’m not exactly sure how we will do all of this, so I’m going to work with the Outremer factory to see if we can find a good solution.

So although the rudder slipping problem was a hassle at the time, it was very easy to fix, and it helped me see clearly how important it is that we add a staysail and storm jib to our sailplan!

Return to France

We had very light winds on our passage back to France, so we had to motor a fair bit. The sea was perfectly calm though, which made for a very relaxing passage. 

Arriving at La Ciotat earlier this morning.


We stopped in at Bandol this morning to get some diesel since we were getting pretty low, then we continued on to La Ciotat where we will stay the rest of the day today and will continue on to Marseille tomorrow. 

No wind forecast again tomorrow, so more motoring required, but we have to be back on Sunday before the Mistral arrives on Monday. We will try and stop for lunch at one of the calanques near Cassis on the way. 

Katy and Orlando missed out!

It’s our last night in Corsica. Tomorrow morning we begin the voyage back to Marseille and soon we will return to life on land, which makes me sad.

Robin tells me that Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom were on a super yacht in Sardinia this month, and judging by the huge number of super yachts we saw while in Sardenia, it is certainly the trendy thing to do, but let me tell you, Sardinia has nothing on Corsica. Sardenia is OK, don’t get me wrong, but Corsica is WAY better. 

Here are some of the things we found in Corsica that we thought were better than Sardinia:

The huge variety of beautiful countryside, the excellent wine, the friendly people, the beer, the olives!!! (Just kidding, Sardinia has great olives too 🙂 The beautiful beaches, no mooring police! No hooligan boat drivers trying to run us over! The great food (Corsica belongs to France after all!)

We loved Corsica and will be coming back for sure!

Our anchorage last night at Sagane beach


Tonight’s anchorage at the base of the cliffs near Porto

Perfect sailing in Corsica

We left Sardinia yesterday, and had two perfect days of sailing up the west coast of Corsica. Winds were 8-12 knots and we were close reaching a little under the true wind speed. 

Aside from the rolly sea between Sardinia and Corsica, the water was very calm. Ideal sailing conditions!

The southern coast of Corsica, the city of Bonifacio on the headland


Close reaching in 12 knots of breeze


We decided to spend our last few days in Corsica at Sargone beach, about halfway up the west coast of the island. The wind is forecast to start blowing 30+ knots in the northern part of the island this afternoon, so we will wait here until it calms down a bit before sailing back to the French mainland. 

Our anchorage in Sargone Corsica


As usual, while I was writing this post in our peaceful anchorage, some dude shows up and decides he has to anchor RIGHT NEXT to us, while there’s plenty of space all around.  This happens so often that Robin and have started placing bets on how close someone is going to get to us. 

The sand on the bottom must be much better right next to us!

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