Problems in Ajaccio
We left Ajaccio on Tuesday. To keep on schedule we want to get to Tunisia by the middle of the month, so we had to keep moving. Things didn’t go so well for us in Ajaccio, our port engine driven 110 Amp Mastervolt alternator that charges our main lithium battery bank stopped working. Outremer arranged for parts to be sent to Ajaccio for us, so we waited there 3 extra days, but they never arrived and we needed to keep going, so we had to leave without them. Our starboard alternator is working fine, and pretty much all our power needs are handled by the solar panels and the hydro generator, so it’s not a huge issue to be without half our engine charging capacity.
We had an accident at the Ajaccio fuel dock before we left. I was pulled up well forward of the dock and we had the fuel fill hoses extended out to top up our tanks, when a power boat came in behind us and lost control of his boat in a wind gust and smashed his anchor into the back of our transom. The damage isn’t severe, but we exchanged insurance info and he called his insurance company to tell them it was his fault. We will have to deal with the repairs and claims once we get back to Marseille.
This accident happened the day after Gavin and I had to push off another boat that was about to run into us in the anchorage as they were pulling up their anchor. It’s just too crowded here and too many of the people have very little experience.
We stopped on Tuesday night in another crowded anchorage 20 miles south of Ajaccio, and after having to adjust our rode twice during the night so other boats wouldn’t swing into us, we decided we had had enough of crowded Corsica and it was time to move on to Sardinia.
The passage to the NE coast of Sardinia involves traversing the Bonifacio straight which was pretty sporty as we had 25 to 30 knot winds and 3m seas. We had a very fast sail over to Sardenia and found a nice anchorage just south of the islands.
Another 25 knot wind from the NNE yesterday brought us to Porto Frailis on the SE coast of Sardenia. It’s one of the only anchorages we could find that gives protection from northerly winds. We are staying here an extra day as it’s blowing a gale from the north again today. The strong winds have given us some excellent, fast sailing days, but the crew is getting a bit tired of all the motion.
Things that have broken
Ocean cruising boats have literally thousands of systems and components and for the most part everything works great, even in such a harsh environment of wind, motion and salt water. But stuff breaks all the time and that’s just part of the experience when cruising. The trick is to have enough spares, tools and MacGuyver skills to fix or work around the problems as they occur.
I’ve really benefited by talking to other sailors about problems they have experienced and how they solved them, so I’ll do the same and list the problems we encounter on Wildling as we go along.
Mastervolt alternator failure. I’ve already talked about this, see above.
Sea water pump failure. The pump stopped working because the internal pressure switch broke. I can’t find a replacement switch so this remains out of action until we get back to France.
Starboard shower drain pump failure. It looks like the pump got stuck and the nylon gears stripped out. There was nothing unusual about how we were using the pump so it’s a fault in the pump. We can’t get a replacement until we get back to France so we are all sharing the port side shower.
The water level gauge in the port fresh water tank is broken, it constantly reads 100%. I will need to get Outremer to look at this as it’s the second time it has happened.
The top batten on the mainsail has snapped at the back of the fitting that attaches to the mast track. This is not a new problem, I think it happened during the Outremer cup, but I didn’t realize the issue until yesterday. We can still sail but I’m a bit worried about why it happened and how we can fix it to be sure it won’t happen again. We will have to talk to Incidences, the company that made the sail.
Getting Ready for Tunisia
Corinne, our guest for the last week, is leaving tomorrow morning to go back to London. She has been a lot of fun to have on board and we will miss her a lot!
Once the winds ease a bit we will continue on to Tunisia. It looks like the weather will be good the next few days, so we will hopefully leave tomorrow.
We arrived in Ajaccio this afternoon. The sailing today was perfect! Winds 18 to 20 knots true at 50 degrees apparent. The forecast was for 20 knots by 10am, but as we left at just after 10, it was only 5 knots. The forecasts in the Med are pretty accurate though, so we raised the sails with 1 reef in the main and full jib and sure enough, within 30 minutes we had 18 knots just forward of the beam. We spent a very fun couple of hours between 10 and 12knots boat speed.
After leaving Calvi we stopped in an anchorage under some cliffs, just west of Porto for a night, and then spent the next night off the beach in Sagone. The Porto anchorage was very deep and very rocky. We arrived as it was getting dark, which was not great because we couldn’t tell where the rocks were. We took a guess, dropped the anchor, and then I had Gavin shine a flashlight into the water while I snorkeled around the boat. The water was so clear, that I could see a lot of big boulders around us but they were deep enough that we weren’t in any danger of hitting them.
Tonight we are in a very crowded anchorage just beside the port of Ajaccio. It’s deep again. We are anchored in 17m which is right at the limit of our 50m of chain. I really should have ordered 75m of chain when I purchased the boat, 50 is not enough. I do have more nylon rode attached to the chain, but it’s not very useful because I can’t attach the bridle to it.
There are a lot of boats in this anchorage, squeezed in like sardines, and they have been arriving steadily all afternoon. I suspect many are looking for a refuge from the 25-30 knot winds forecast for the next few days. It seems pretty calm in the anchorage, but the winds are swirling around and everyone is swinging all over the place. It’s a bit of a worry because in deep anchorages like this with lots of boats, there’s more likelihood of someone swinging or dragging into us.
We are going to a restaurant tonight for Robin’s birthday celebrations, and we are very excited to have Corinne, a family member from Australia joining us on Sunday, for the rest of the trip down Corsica and then to the south end of Sardinia.
We arrived in Calvi just after 21h00 and anchored in crystal clear water with a sandy bottom 9m deep. It is incredibly beautiful here! There is a field of mooring bouys on the south side of the bay close to the entrance to the Port of Calvi, but we decided to anchor to the north as there was more room and it was quieter.
We’re exploring the town of Calvi this morning then will be sailing to the south this afternoon.
We’re about to arrive in Corsica after four days of sailing.
We left Bandol on Saturday and motored for an hour until the wind lifted and settled in at to 10 to 12 knots. We sailed with Code-D and mainsail to the island of Porquerolles where we spent the night. Porquerolles is nice but VERY crowded. We managed to find a place to anchor on the edge of the anchorage. The bottom was weed, so not the best holding, but the wind was light so we didn’t have any issues.
On Sunday morning we sailed to St Tropez. We had wind at 8 knots on the beam so we were sailing with the main and Code-0. I really like the Code-0. It’s a very easy sail to handle and allows us to sail upwind in anything above 6 knots TWS.
We stayed overnight in St Tropez at the anchorage just north of the port, which is an easy dinghy ride into the town. The water level gauge on the port fresh water tank broke again. It is constantly reading 100% but the tank is half full. The same thing happened last year, so something is not right!
Our sea water pump also stopped working last night. I pulled it apart and found the pressure switch is not working. Hopefully I can find a new pressure switch when we get to Corsica. We use the seawater pump to save fresh water when we do the dishes, so I’ll just have to run the water maker a bit more until I can fix it.
We left St Tropez at 5am on Tuesday (today) for the 105 nautical mile passage to Calvi on the west coast of the island of Corsica. The winds were 3-5 knots the whole day, aside from a few hours when we had 8-10 knots and were sailing nicely, so we spent most of the day motorsailing. Not much fun, but the warm weather and calm seas made up for it!
The chart plotter says we will arrive in Calvi in less than 1 hour at 21h00 which should give us enough light to find a place to anchor.
Next Generation Fenders
When we were at the multihull boatshow this April in La Grande Motte, we were introduced to a company called Fendertex that is making boat fenders using an entirely new material and process. The new fenders are very light, have a cover built-in and are much stronger and more abrasion resistant than standard fenders. I ordered 4 of them to try them out and they are fantastic!
The big advantage of these new fenders is the weight. They weigh 1.5kg (about 3lbs) each. Compared to 5.1kg (11lbs) for the old fenders. On a boat our size this really adds up, so switching to Fendertex fenders provides a weight savings of almost 50kg! But even better is how easy they are to use. They are so light, it’s no trouble at all to pull them out of the lockers and put them out, a job that we all hated with the old fenders because of how big and heavy they are. Now that we’ve been using them for the past month, Robin has told me we have to replace all of our old fenders with Fendertex!
Since we moved Wildling over to Marseille, we have been trying to get some projects done before our trip to Corsica, Sardinia and Tunisia in August. Our spinnaker isn’t ready yet, so we will be sailing with just our Code-D downwind gennaker this trip. We did get the padeyes installed on the bows, so now we can fly either a symmetric spinnaker or an asymmetric spinnaker tacked to the windward bow when we have one. It’s a bit disappointing because I really wanted to try the spinnaker on this trip.
Carbon Boarding Bridge
When we got to Marseille we had a fitting manufactured and installed on the forward crossbeam so we can attach our boarding gangway (called a passerelle in France which sounds much nicer). We need this because we have to dock bows first at our new marina. I also replaced the folding passerelle that came with the boat with a lighter, non-folding carbon passerelle, because the old one was heavy and difficult to use. A carbon fiber passerelle is ridiculously expensive (of course, because it’s carbon fiber!) but it’s half the weight of our old one and MUCH easier to rig and stow.
Fighting Rampant Dinghy Theft
I’ve been a bit concerned about the rise in reports of dinghy theft coming from the cruising community, particularly in the Caribbean. There’s a very useful reporting service for all areas of the Caribbean that keeps track of burglary, assault and theft incidents reported by cruisers. It seems there’s a dinghy or outboard stolen every few days, and most of these are chained and locked in some fashion.
I did some research into the security of different locking devices and it’s pretty scary to see how easily most of the common locks and chains in use can be cut or broken. And while it’s impossible to stop a determined thief with the right equipment, you can make it damn hard for them to steal your dinghy. I went to a motorcycle store in Marseille and purchased a bolt cutter proof, boron steel chain, and a massive lock that fits around the base of the outboard motor.
I still need to get the ABUS lock for securing the outboard to the dinghy, but most thieves are only interested in the outboard motor, so I decided to secure that first.
Sailing from Marseille to Bandol!
Last weekend, we had some friends visiting us from Austin, Texas. Kevin, Ruthie and their children Bennett and Audrey who have been friends with our kids since they were babies. It was great to see them, and we spent the day on Sunday sailing Wildling from Marseille to Bandol. A very nice trip, and although Kevin had never sailed before he has a lot of powerboat experience, and most importantly, he knows how to tie a bowline knot! Bennett was really interested in helping us sail the boat as well, so they were both a big help and gave Robin a break to “socialize”, while we sailed the 35 nautical miles over to Bandol.
I was a bit worried how much sailing we would be able to do in the light weather conditions, because we had less than 10 knots of wind most of the way coming from dead astern of our destination. We gybed back and forth with the Code-D to build some apparent wind and sailed between 7 and 8 knots the whole way. It wasn’t until the wind dropped below 7 knots that we had to drop the sails and motor, but by then we were only a mile from the anchorage, so no big deal.
What the heck is that strange critter?
It seems that each time we sail in the Mediterranean I see a Sunfish. They rest at the surface and then flap off slowly when we disturb them as we sail by. I’ve never been quick enough to photograph them, but they are really strange looking creatures! Bennett and I were lucky enough to spot one on our trip to Bandol.
Before we left Marseille, I removed the sterilizing cartridge from our watermaker and flushed it, then when I went to run it, nothing happened. I checked we had power everywhere, then opened the panel to see what was happening. The fuse on the circuit board was blown, and the spare fuse blew immediately when I inserted it. I called Stéphane at Outremer and within 15 minutes he had figured out the issue and ordered a new board to be sent to the Dessalator dealer in Bandol so it would be there when we arrived.
We took Wildling into the port of Bandol on Monday, and tied up at the welcome dock so the Quick Service folks (the Dessalator dealer in Bandol), could replace the circuit board, control switch and LED card. It took them less than 1 hour, then they tested everything was working just fine. Stéphane had also told them to install a rubber gasket around the access panel lid, which they did, so we would be sure to not let any moisture into the panel in the future.
A big thanks to Outremer and Dessalator for the super fast service on this!
Outremer 5X hull number 2, MOANA is in Fiji. I caught up with the owner Urs Rothacher this week to see how things have been going. I’ve been following Moana with interest for some time because up to this point, she’s the 5X that has traveled the furthest, so I was interested in learning how the voyage was going.
Urs purchased Moana 1 year ago, and is planning on ending his voyage in New Zealand in October this year, so he’s putting her up for sale soon, and will deliver her to a new owner anytime between July and October in either Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia or New Zealand. Here’s more information about Moana along with details on how to conact Urs.
The original owner of Moana was Johan Salen, who along with his wife are veterans of multiple Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, so both very accomplished sailors. They sailed Moana with their young son from La Grande Motte, to New Caledonia where they sold her to Urs. Here’s the post I wrote in 2015 after talking with Johan about his experiences crossing the Pacific on a 5X. After purchasing Moana, Urs continued on to sail the east coast of Australia and then back across the Pacific to Fiji along with his wife and three young boys.
There are a couple of things that stand out for me about this particular 5X and the two families that have owned and sailed her.
- Moana is a 5X that is well configured for short handed sailing. I like the way that Johan configured Moana. He knew that she would be sailed mostly either single-handed or with a crew of just two people. He kept the rig and sail controls simple and efficient, and has provided the best validation to date that the 5X is truly a boat that can be sailed by a cruising couple alone. And although it’s tempting to dismiss this claim due to the exceptional abilities of her original Volvo Ocean Racing owners, Urs and his wife (who are experienced sailors, but still normal humans) confirm that regular folks can handle a well configured 5X.
- Moana is a sailors boat, without a lot of the heavy, complicated (and expensive) options that some of us have chosen. All 5X boats are comfortable, and Moana is no exception, but some of the more elaborate items have been avoided to keep her light, easy to sail, and easy to maintain. No air conditioning, no generator, single wheel helm. And some nice options well suited to shorthanded ocean sailing, cutter rig for simple and efficient headsail changes, watermaker with high and low power modes, redundant auto-pilots, oversized solar array and so on.
I like this boat a lot, and the fact she is already in the pacific is a great opportunity for someone that wants to cruise this region, but doesn’t have the time available to sail a 5X from France to Tahiti before they can begin their pacific cruising program. Urs hasn’t listed Moana for sale yet, so if you’re interested, you have a great opportunity to get her before she goes on the market.
Here’s an Article about Moana that was recently published in the Australian Multihull World magazine.
When we purchased Wildling, I didn’t order a spinnaker because I wasn’t sure if we would need one, and if we did, what type and size we should get. I’m glad I waited, because now that we have sailed our boat for a year, I have a better idea of what I want a spinnaker to do for us. So this month I went through the process of selecting our spinnaker.
Although Robin and I have sailed many miles with a spinnaker on our Catana 471, I really enjoyed learning more about spinnaker design during this process, and I thought I would share some of that information in this post. I would like to thank Jean-Pierre at Outremer (designer, test pilot, and catamaran guru), Nick at Doyle Sails UK, and Volker (who’s 5X is now under construction and will be launched later this year) for sharing their experience and advice.
First a bit of theory: When sailing to a downwind destination in a catamaran, particularly a fast one, we really want to sail on a reach (90-130 degrees AWA), because it’s much faster than sailing deep downwind. Once the angle starts to get more than 130, things begin to slow down to a point where at 150-160, a reaching sail isn’t much use. On a performance boat, as we sail higher (further towards the wind), the boat accelerates and the apparent wind angle moves further forward, which makes sailing a reach very effective, and even though it might be at an angle to the destination, requiring us to travel further by gybing back and forth to stay on course, the extra speed means it’s still the fastest way to get there.
On a technical note: this technique of creating apparent wind is what allows true performance catamarans to move the apparent wind forward of the beam and create speeds well in excess of the true wind speed. take a look at the Americas Cup multihulls that sail at boat speeds close to 40 knots for a demonstration of this.
So every boat should have a downwind reaching sail, which for us, is our Delta Voiles, Code-D gennaker, and you would think that since reaching is the fastest way to get downwind, then that’s the only downwind power sail you need! Well, perhaps… if you’re a racing sailor, then yes, reaching is the way to go. But it takes a lot more work and attention from the crew. You have to trim the angles just right, compensate for wind shifts and watch things carefully. But when cruising, our objectives are different to a racing sailor. What we want is low-stress, comfortable, and fast enough.
So what’s fast enough? I’m sure this is different for everybody, but on Wildling, our target speed range is 9-12 knots. If we’re under 9, I’m working to get us more speed, either by sailing different angles, changing sails, or dialing in the trim. If we’re over 12, then I’m going to start reducing sail to slow us down. There’s no extra benefit to us from sailing a reach and doing a bunch of gybing if we could go fast enough, and more comfortably, on a direct course.
We’re going to be sailing Wildling back home to Australia, a voyage that involves may thousands of miles downwind in the tradewinds, that are often blowing at 15 to 25 knots. It would be ideal if we could turn the boat downwind, set our sails for our “fast enough” speed and not have to constantly mess with the sail trim. That’s where the spinnaker comes in. With a spinnaker, we can sail deeper downwind angles than the limit of our Code-D. But which type of spinnaker should we buy?
There are two types of spinnaker: asymmetric and symmetric, with the asymmetric being the most common spinnaker on a cruising catamaran. Asymmetrics are more like a gennaker, in that they have a different length luff, and leech, but they have a lot more curve in the luff than a gennaker, which allows the luff to twist around to windward and generate power at a deeper angle. They are good for deep reaching, usually up to about 150 degrees, and they can get deeper still if the tack is moved to the windward hull. They’re good because they are versatile, and if you don’t have a gennaker, and want only one downwind power sail, then the asymmetric is the way to go. There are a couple of problems with running deep angles on an asymmetric though. Running deep is not their optimum power zone, and in order to gybe, you have to first douse the sail, move the tack to the other bow, gybe the boat and then rehoist the sail. Some folks rig a system of lines to move the position of the tack between the bows, which saves some of the work when gybing, but depending on the amount of wind, it’s usually safest to douse the sail and rehoist.
Since we have a Code-D, we’re looking for our spinnaker to fill in the 140 to 180 degree angle range, and that is the domain of the symmetric spinnaker. Symmetrics are made to run deep, and gybing is essentially automatic, because they just float around the front of the boat onto the new point of sail, with a few tweaks on the control lines. No need to douse and rehoist.
We decided to get a symmetric spinnaker for Wildling, so the next step was to figure out the size, cut and type of sailcloth for the sail. For our tradewind ocean sailing we want to be able to handle situations where the wind builds more quickly than we expected, and we don’t want the spinnaker to tear if it gets hit by a 25 knot gust. We also don’t want it so big that we can’t get it down in a breeze.
There are many excellent sailmakers that can make a great spinnaker. We chose Doyle sails, mainly because I’ve used their sails before and know they are well made, and Doyle was willing to listen and understand our needs and design a specific sail that will work for our boat and our cruising plans. They are making us a symmetric spinnaker with a fairly wide and deep cut in the top section of the sail which will allow it to lift and fly out in front of our mainsail. We sized the spinnaker to be 30% smaller than our sail plan specifies with a heavier 1.5oz fabric that will handle 25+ knots of breeze. This should give us a strong sail that will hold it’s shape well and be fairly easy to control and douse with a spinnaker sock.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is another symmetric sail that is becoming more common, and that’s the Parasailor. It’s essentially a symmetric spinnaker with a parafoil wing in the center. The wing provides some lift and also can spill the power from gusts. It’s a great idea, but we decided against this sail for two reasons: It’s more difficult to get the sock down over the parafoil wing in stronger winds; and we know of another 5X that tried the sail and found it didn’t work very well. The 5X has a lot of acceleration and it tended to collapse the sail too much when they sped up on waves (although it seems that could be solved by experimenting with the size of the sail).
We don’t have the all the deck fittings and control lines needed to fly a symmetric spinnaker on Wildling, so now that the sail is ordered, the next project is to prepare the boat to be able to use it.
On May 23rd, Outremer had arranged a crane to lift a new 5X into the water, so we were able to take advantage of that to lift Wildling out so we could check to see if the saildrives were damaged when we changed over to the EWOL propellers.
The smaller diameter, replacement EWOL propellers weren’t ready in time for the crane lift, but we decided to lift out anyway because I needed to know if the engines were damaged, and the only alternative was to take the boat over to Canet-en-Roussillon which is a 3 day round trip journey, and a major hassle.
The lift out was very easy, the guys have done this many times, and you can tell. They have it down to a well organized process. The Volvo engineers came and removed the EWOL propellers, then inspected the drives and used some instruments to measure the shafts to make sure there were no problems with the bearings or the shaft geometry. Everything checked out fine, so they put the original 4 blade folding Volvo propellers back on.
As soon as we lifted out we noticed that there was a large misalignment between the two rudders. Since the boat was hauled out the previous month in Canet en Roussillon, the misalignment must have been present at that time, but nobody noticed? In any case, it’s another reminder that you should always be there in person when your boat is being worked on!
After correcting the alignment of the rudders, we put Wildling back into the water, and the following morning we took her out for a quick test drive to make sure the engines were OK. All the vibration and noise that we had with the EWOL propellers was gone, and our engines were back to their previous smooth and quiet operation. A huge relief, but also a disappointment that our EWOL propeller test didn’t work out as I had hoped.
I discussed next steps with Xavier at Outremer, and we decided to wait until the next scheduled haul out to try the new model EWOL propellers, so we will be using our Volvo props for the rest of this sailing season.
The following Sunday morning, Robin, Gavin, Lindsay and I left La Grande Motte, to sail over to Marseille. I had called the Port Cobières marina the Friday before to make sure they had our place ready, and they told me everything was fine. Turns out, not quite!
We left at sunrise (or at least at the the time of sunrise, because the weather was nasty) in a cold drizzle, with very little wind. The forecast called for 15 to 20 knots from the South West by mid morning, so we hoisted the main and jib, and motor sailed for about an hour until the wind picked up.
After an hour, the wind lifted to around 10 knots, and later built to the foretasted 18 to 22 knots, so we had a beautiful sail over to Marseille, sitting between 10 and 13 knots boat speed. The wind was coming from dead astern of our intended course, so we gybed back and forth the entire way, keeping the boat between 150 degrees and 160 degrees to the true wind. This is a nice point of sail for Wildling, with comfortable motion and decent speeds.
I really like coastal cruising like this when we’re tacking or gybing back and forth along the coast. The only tricky part is to not wait too long to come about when we’re on a course that will intersect the land. It’s deceptive how much ground you cover at over 10 knots and a couple of times, I cut it a bit close!
Robin and Lindsay were not feeling too great on the trip over, so they took some seasickness meds and had a sleep, so I was single handing the whole way. This is when I love the self tacking jib! Gybing the mainsail is easy also, so single handing is pretty simple on Wildling, and for me, it’s a great way to spend a day on the water.
We arrived in Port Corbières just after lunchtime, and went to our designated dock, but there was another boat already there, and no places free! Damn! We ended up tying up to a concrete pier near the public boat ramp just next door. Not very safe, but there were no other choices.
I called the emergency numbers for the port, and a guy came over and found a temporary place for us. Robin and I started over, but just as we were arriving at the new place, another catamaran came in ahead of us and took it! Damn! And then another catamaran came in behind us and took the place on the pier we had just left! So we were stuck, and had to hold position in the channel while we negotiated with the port after hours staff and the other boat to let us take their spot.
After about half and hour, the interloper agreed to move to another spot. He was smaller than us, so he had more options of where to park, so we could finally go in and tie up at the dock. We were positioned at the dock in between two rows of boats, which meant we were blocking 4 other boats from leaving their slips, so not an ideal situation, but OK for the night, and we were told the guy who manages the port would sort it out in the morning.
The next day we met the port manager and he assured us he would find us a place that afternoon. He said the same thing the next day, and the next, and the day after that, but finally he moved the boat out of the place he had assigned us, and we were able to move Wildling into her new home on Saturday morning!
It seems the sense of urgency we are used to doesn’t really exist here. People are pretty laid back, which mostly is a really good thing, but Robin and I were getting pretty anxious by the end of the week, so we’re happy to finally have Wildling tied up in a safe place.
We have been working out a plan with the Outremer engineering team to sort out our propeller problems. We have decided to lift Wildling out of the water by crane on Monday next week and will have Volvo engineers check the saildrives to see if there has been any damage from the malfunctioning EWOL propellers. EWOL is still making a replacement set of propellers that will not be ready in time for the crane service, so if the saildrives are OK, we will remove the EWOL propellers and put the original Volvo folding propellers back on. Based on what we find during this process I will decide if we will do another test with the new EWOL propellers, but this will have to be after we move Wildling over to Port Cobières in Marseille.
I’ll take video and photos of the replacement process and will post as soon as I can next week.
Matthieu has posted a bunch of photos from the Outremer Cup regatta on the Outremer Yachting Facebook page. Here are some of Wildling in action:
We raced Wildling in the Outremer Cup regatta last weekend, and while we were careful about our sails and rig loads and didn’t break anything, we did push the boat a bit, and there was one point when we decided we should furl the Code-D because it was getting overpowered, and right when we were furling, the gennaker on the boat next to us literally exploded in a wind gust, creating a vertical tear from head to tack!
It was a scary reminder of the need to pay careful attention to rig loads on a catamaran, and it got me thinking, how much is too much, and how do you know when you’re pushing too hard?
When I learned to sail on monohulls, we were taught the two golden rules for managing an overpowered boat.
Rule #1: When the boat heels too much, depower. Usually first by letting the traveller down and then by reefing. Since Rule #1 varies based on experience and sea state, i.e. 20 degrees of heel feels OK to me, but is too much for Robin, we have golden Rule #2.
Rule #2: It’s time to take a reef when you first think about it. Or in our case, it’s time to take a reef when Robin tells me to stop leaning us over so far, damnit! Gusty conditions on a monohull are not a big deal either, just reef to give a comfortable heel most of the time, and let the boat heel further every now and then to spill the power from the gusts.
So how do we apply these two golden rules to a catamaran? It turns out, not very easily. It becomes less of a feel thing, (at least until you get to know your boat) and more of a numbers game. Catamarans don’t heel, so they can’t spill the power of the wind, all the power has to be absorbed by the rig. In gusty conditions, this becomes dangerous, as rig loads can become unsafe very quickly, so the golden rule for catamaran reefing is to reef for the gusts. But since the gusts are occasional, how do we know when and how much to reef, and what happens if we carry too much sail? We’re not going to capsize in 25 knots of wind, so no big deal right? Since stories of rig failure, broken masts and exploding blocks seem more common on catamarans than monohulls, I think it might be a bigger deal than I realized.
Our catamaran came with a reefing plan from Outremer. The plan tells us at what wind speeds we need to reef, or change headsails to avoid overloading the rig or capsizing. Here’s the reefing plan for Wildling:
We were above this plan at times during the Outremer Cup, and nothing broke, we even flew our Code-D in 20 knots, so we have proven that Wildling can handle more load than this plan dictates, so is the plan just a conservative suggestion from the manufacturer, designed to make sure no boat ever gets damaged, or is it a prime directive to be broken only at great risk? After our racing experience, the answer wasn’t as clear to me, so I did some calculations to try and find out.
Before I go into the calculations, I want to give a plug to the Attainable Adventure Cruising website. John, the author, has published a large amount of excellent information on offshore cruising and I have learned a lot from him. I was reading his article on rigging a “proper” jibe preventer (because after our autopilot went crazy last year and jibed us without warning, I need to rig a system to protect the boom when it happens again). In the article he talks about mainsheet loading at different wind velocities and how to calculate the forces the preventer needs to be able to withstand. I started calculating the loads on our mainsheet using the Harken formula in John’s article, and the results were pretty interesting, so I ended up building a spreadsheet to determine Widling’s mainsheet loads at different wind velocities and different reefing points.
Here are my calculation results:
What’s impressive to see in these results is how much the rig load increases from a gust. For example, with a full main at 20 knots, a gust of just 10 knots higher, more than doubles the rig load! My calculations are probably not that accurate, so the actual numbers are not very useful, but what is interesting is to see the relative changes in load as wind increases, and as we add or remove reefs.
I wondered how much load we were putting on our boat when we exceeded the reefing plan. The hardest we have ever pushed Wildling was during our delivery test sail, when we had full main and jib in 30 knots on a beam reach in flat water. Our boat speed was 19.7 knots! Sailing at these conditions gives a calculated load of about 3,750kg, which is about 10% higher than the maximum load in the reefing plan at 3 reefs and 50 knots. So I’m going to use this as the maximum safe limit for our boat.
If we plot the loads on a chart, and define a safe zone below the Outremer reefing plan, and a danger zone above our maximum load, and then put a racing zone in between, it looks like this:
This chart helps to put everything into context. The Outremer reefing plan might look conservative in steady conditions, but it becomes much more realistic when you take into account the loads from gusts. For example, with no reefs at 25 knots steady, we’re under the danger zone, but we now have only a 5 knot gust margin. That might be OK in a race when you’re watching things very carefully, but for cruising, it’s just not enough. Taking Outremer’s advice and reefing at 20 knots, gives us the margin we need to handle changing conditions.
So what are the conclusions from all this? For me there are two important conclusions:
- BEWARE OF GUSTS! – The rig loads they generate are extreme and they happen very quickly. Reef early when sailing in gusty or building conditions. Reef deeper if sailing around squalls.
- Follow the plan! – This exercise has given me greater respect for the Outremer 5X reefing plan. It is well designed and has a good balance between performance and realistic gust tolerance
We know from experience that we have a strong boat that can go beyond the reefing plan, and that’s great because it gives us a safety margin, but it’s important not to confuse occasional race conditions with long distance offshore cruising conditions, and the need to sail conservatively. The nice thing about a performance cruising catamaran, is that you don’t have to push it in order to sail fast and be safe.