Since arriving in Tunisia, we have been busy with work and travel, but now that winter has come I am getting some boat projects done (and enjoying the Volvo Ocean Race on YouTube!).
2017 was a good sailing season for us, and Wildling is much improved this year following the sailplan changes we made. I’m becoming more in tune with her, and am starting to feel more worthy to be her skipper, as I learn how to make her go, while keeping us all safe and comfortable aboard. I’m also pleased to report that I am abusing her less with my stupid mistakes!
On this blog I try and balance the good stuff with what went wrong and what I learned from it, as it’s the unpredictable and challenging aspects of sailing that I find most interesting, and hopefully I can help other sailors avoid some of my mistakes.
Since our sailplan refit this year, we have traveled more miles and learned something about high performance sails. We cruised a lot with family and friends on board. We crossed the Med from North to South and back again. We visited mainland Italy for the first time. We returned to the island of Corsica, and we finished up by making our second trip to North Africa. In this post, I will go over what I learned along the way and some of the projects I am working on this winter.
Our new sails are great, but we have to be careful of chafe!
Our North 3Di sails are incredible! I have gone on and on about how much difference it has made to have these sails on our boat, and I really mean it. If I had known this when I purchased Wildling, I would have never wasted my money on the Incidences Hydranet sails that we ordered from the factory. BUT! Although Hydranet is heavy and inefficient, it is virtually indestructible, and since moving to 3Di I have had to learn to pay way more attention to chafe. While North 3Di fabric is a tough material, it is not as abrasion resistant as conventional fabrics, so it has to be handled properly to avoid damage. I have experienced three situations that required me to change how I handle our 3Di sails.
- Topping lift contact – The high roach mainsail shape means the topping lift (TL) has a lot of contact with the top section of the sail. It’s fine when the TL is on the leeward side, but after a tack or jibe the TL is pushed against the windward surface of the sail. It’s not possible to loosen it enough to flip it around the sail leech to the leeward side. Our topping lift has not caused any damage at all to the sail, but I’m concerned that over long distances it might. I was interested to see that the Volvo Ocean Race boats* solve this problem by disconnecting their topping lift after they hoist (see below) which I will start doing also. This will need a slight modification to how the topping lift is attached to the boom, which is on my project list.
- Lazyjacks tension – I made a mistake of having the lazy jack lines too tight once when I jibed the mainsail, and the sail was pressed hard against the leeward jacklines for a few minutes until I released the tension on them. The result was some damage to the outer cover of the sail about 1cm in diameter at one of the points of contact with the lazy jacks. Nothing serious, and easily repaired with the kit that North gave me, but evidence that my bad Hydranet habits had to change. After this, I started running the lazyjacks forward to the mast when I’m not using them to support the sail bunt, and making sure they are quite loose before a jibe when they are in place .
- Keeping headsail sheets off the staysail – When the staysail is unfurled, there is the possibility of the furled genoa or gennaker sheets rubbing against the back surface of the staysail. Philippe at North sails was very clear about the need to constantly check for this when he was teaching me how to use our new sails before we left France. The solution is to keep the non working forward headsail sheets tied down at deck level or pulled far to the side to make sure they can’t touch the back surface of the staysail. I’ve done this consistently and there is no damage at all on our headsails.
*All of the Volvo Ocean 65 boats have North 3Di sails, and they only get one set to last the entire 39,000 mile round the world race, so they have to treat them well. I’ve been watching the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) video coverage, and paying attention to how the crews manage chafe on their sails. (BTW, I’m really happy that Volvo has hired Conrad Colman to provide commentary this year. Conrad is an excellent sailor and a hugely inspirational guy!)
There is no boom vang on a Volvo Ocean 65, so they use a topping lift, (same as on (most) catamarans). You can see in the photo below, the MAPFRE crew has disconnected the topping lift and pulled it forward to the mast base. Without the topping lift, more attention has to be paid when reefing, since the boom will drop as the halyard is eased, but they deal with this by winching in the clew reef lines as the sail is lowered to keep the boom supported. The downside for a cruising boat, is that an emergency mainsail drop will put the boom on the bimini roof, so the topping lift would need to be reconnected first!
Replacing the zippered mainsail bag with a removable cover was a good move – I wasn’t sure I would like the changes to our sail cover, but it’s worked out really well. I now remove the cover completely and stow it before I raise the mainsail. Once the sail is raised, I tie the lazyjacks out of the way so there is no flapping sailbag or lines to chafe when underway. BTW, It’s not necessary to have a removable cover like mine to do this, you just need to be able to roll the cover and tie it against the boom. Most of the new Outremers have this ability now, but my sailbag did not. I went with removable because I like that under passage there is no wear or damage to the cover.
More reefing plan changes – With more miles under the boat, and more experience with Wildling in different wind strengths and sea states (and also since we changed the sailplan), I have revised our reefing plan a bit this season. There are so many tradeoffs involved in reefing decisions (wind speed, sea state, boat comfort, risk of damage, stress, fatigue, time of day, safety…) that it really comes down to each skipper’s personal philosophy on how they like to sail their boat and take care of their crew.
I would summarize my reefing approach in the different types of sailing conditions we encounter during a passage, as follows:
- Light winds, flat sea: In winds from 4 to 8 knots, we’re trying to keep moving as fast as possible. All sails are up and we’re trimmed for max power.
- Moderate winds, fair sea: From 8 to about 13 or 14 knots, the waves are usually pretty small, so we can fully power up and sail fast. This is like driving a Ferrari on a smooth, open road. Plenty of room for speed, so we can push the gas peddle down, and there are no bumps or sharp turns to slow us down. Sailing in these conditions is pure pleasure!
- Strong winds, developed sea – Once the true wind builds to over 15 knots, the waves get bigger and going fast becomes uncomfortable and tiring. This is when we reef not only to de-power the rig, but just as importantly, to keep boat speed under control. This is like driving a Ferrari on a winding, dirt road. We could definitely go faster, but it’s no fun! In these conditions I like to stay under 9 knots boat speed when close hauled and under 13 knots on a reach. Downwind is usually OK to surf faster without too much stress, unless the sea state is really developed.
Here are the numbers for the latest version of my reefing plan. The inshore numbers allow us to carry more sail and go faster when the seas are flat.
|Mainsail||Headsail||Inshore AWS (knots)||Offshore AWS (knots)(1)|
|Mainsail(3)||Headsail||True Wind Speed|
|Full Main||Gennaker or Spi||<15|
- When upwind offshore, if AWS is >20 knots, reef the mainsail according to this table and use the traveler to keep boat speed under 9 knots.
- Genoa is setup for best performance when reaching. Use the staysail when close hauled for better upwind performance
- Reef Mainsail based on TWS to no more than can be safely rounded up if required
Volvo is having engine electrical problems and many of us are suffering – While I am loving the Volvo Ocean Race, I’m pretty annoyed with Volvo right now, due to the unresolved electrical fault on their D2 series engines. There is an electronic interface module called an MDI. This module is failing repeatedly with a variety of symptoms, the worst of which is the inability to start the engine. Do a Google search on “volvo mdi problems” and you will see what I mean. I know owners that have replaced their MDI 3 times last season (at $800 a pop). Volvo are supposedly working on a fix for this, but so far no word as to when it will be ready. It’s a good thing the Volvo Ocean Race boats don’t need to use their engines I guess!
Turning the tide on plastic and stopping the water lugging madness!
All of us sailors are painfully aware of how much plastic junk is floating in our seas and oceans, and I hate to be contributing to the problem when we are out cruising. The fact is, every time we reach a port we have a bunch of plastic water bottles to recycle, and we spend a a lot of time and energy lugging full bottles back to the boat. I decided that enough is enough, there has to be a better way!
We have a watermaker, that produces plenty of pure drinkable water, but the problem is that once it has been sitting in the tanks for a while, bacteria starts to grow, and it might no longer be safe; also, there are times when we have had to top up our tanks at a marina, so we can’t guarantee the safety of the water that goes into the tanks; and water that’s been sitting in plastic tanks doesn’t taste too good.
The solution is to purify the water coming out of the tanks before drinking it, and I have been searching for the best way to do this for a while. After a bunch of research into various filtering and UV light sterilization systems, I purchased a filtration system that I am going to install this winter. I’ll post more on this soon.
We’re not safe when working at the boom in rough conditions
At times, we need to go up on the roof to work on the mainsail or reefing lines, which is unsafe in large seas, as there is a lot of motion and not much to hold onto. I am installing jacklines along each side of the boom frame so we can clip in while we are on the roof.
I’ll post again soon with photos and details of the projects I am working on this winter.
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.
Organizing the mooring lines and enjoying solid ground again after some sporty days at sea!
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!
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…
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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.